You Walk Alone With The Ghost Of Time – Australia and Me (Part 1 of a Few)

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!” Charles Dickens

So, Australia. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and remember back to when I did a series on the Blackwash series of 85-6, which people seemed to like, and I enjoyed writing. This isn’t a history of the Ashes, I leave that to wallet chasers like the Analyst and so forth. It’s what Australia means to me. From the early memories, through 81, the 86-7 series, losing the World Cup Final, the juggernaut Aussies of the 90s and early 2000s, to seeing them in the flesh, to the 2010-11 series, the humiliation of 2013-14 to today, and their current plight. It’s going to take a while. If I have the inclination, I can spare the time, as the Pet Shop Boys nearly said. This is a post of Opportunities, after all.

There is, certainly within, me to lurch back to what Ian Botham thought was the curse of Ray Illingworth. “It was so much better in my day”. As India have closed a test series in Australia with a 2-1 advantage and taken home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, there is time to consider how big an achievement that is for the nation that has most grown the game in the past 30 years or so. But it also makes me look back on the great players of the past that never won a series there for India. While this era may be the time of hyperbole and sell, sell, sell, yesteryear comes with rose-tinted glasses, an in-built editor for the unmemorable, and a forgetfulness for the sub-standard. There was crap authoritarian bullshit in huge supply from the governing bodies. There were players who divided the press, the populace and the players themselves. There were blowhards, know-it-alls, rent-a-quotes and mob rule just as there is today. Today, the players get paid more, and so do the administrators, and even taking for inflation, the people paying this are you and I – directly through ticket prices and subscriptions, or passed on advertising costs for the corporate backers.

So what’s my point, you ask, not for the first time. Well, I’m about to get a bit nostalgic and go back in time a little. The kernel of the idea for this post was planted by Fred’s response to my comment on the current Australian schmozzle over the ball tampering nonsense. I’ve been clear from the start. I think the ban was ludicrous, the reaction over the top, the penance a joke, and the authorities, some of who needed to be taken from the building kicking and screaming, playing the role of sanctimonious, pious hypocrites that I won’t reel back from. These were aided and abetted by a media who have one main role in life – generate heat, to get those clicks and peepers on the TV, to flog advertising. This was a story. The heat generated far outweighed the crime. That it carries on to this day, and Australia submitted meekly this winter to India as a consequence, is bizarre. An act of self-flagellation that will satisfy no-one. A crisis borne of its own self-regard, its own view of the world of cricket. England are not immune from this stupidity. We actually ban players for f*** all, and are told to shut up moaning about it by the authorities, acting with aplomb, the media, acting like ventriloquist’s dummies and the useful idiots in the social media world who clapped the result while not exactly considering what happens next time.

There can be a view taken, and some do, that I hate Australia, and that comment is the basis for what I want to write here. Australia has been the most important cricket influence on me alongside the West Indies of the 70s and 80s. I would watch them at every opportunity. They were an amazing team during the 90s and into the early part of the century. They are the most important series we play in the mind of most.

So with nostalgia firmly in place, for good or ill, let me take you back to my first cricketing memory and move forward. This piece is going to be what Australian cricket means to me, as an England cricket follower, and may take more than one post. Because it’s complicated.

It actually goes back, funnily enough, to a One Day International, probably a Prudential Trophy match, played at The Oval. All I remember about it is that they carried on playing in the pouring rain. I know I remember it because every time this person sat down in front of the TV to watch cricket and it was raining, I would say “well they played out in it in that game at The Oval, why not now?” It appears as though the game may have been this one in 1977 (http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/17145/scorecard/64960/england-vs-australia-3rd-odi-australia-tour-of-england-1977) but my faded memory could have sworn it pre-dated Viv’s 1976 destruction of England – thank god for real facts and not alternative ones. But let’s go from there. Chappell (G) was the danger man. He played the winning innings. Dickie Bird was the umpire in the pouring rain. I have no earthly idea who was playing for England in that game.

1977 was the first Ashes series I remembered, and to be frank, it was no big deal. To me, as a growing enthusiast for the game, my memories, my love for the game, and my fear for England derived from the West Indies team. Not Australia. 1976 was the hot summer, the summer of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding. Immense innings augmented by pace. The game at a different level. I knew not of Bradman. I knew nothing of Bodyline. I had a book that told me we won the Ashes after donkey’s years in 1953 when Compton swept the ball to the Gas Holder. But that was it. In fact, looking back, that book had Randall’s cartwheel on the cover, so I would not have known even that.

1977’s series, won by England, had several memories for me. The Aussie to fear was Greg Chappell. I wasn’t really familiar with many of the others. England gave a debut that series to Ian Botham, and yet his test commencement, great as it was, was overshadowed by a run out. Geoff Boycott, who everyone knew (play a defensive shot out in the street, it would be “who do you think you are, Boycott?) had returned after exile, and came into the team for the third test. A memory of the time is that the series was being played under the shadow of Packer – at the time I never had a clue what that meant (Imagine BOC being around during that!) – and Tony Greig, a favourite of mine, had been sacked as captain but stayed in the team, and some grey-haired posh-speaker had taken his place as captain. The first test (might remember a catch or two, but nothing else) was drawn at Lord’s, the second won by England at Old Trafford. Boycott returned for the third test at Nottingham, and then promptly ran out the prodigal son of Nottingham, Rags Randall himself, and got booed. Mercilessly. I can still picture the head in his hands at what he had done. You can loathe Boycott all you want, but the bloke had some mental resilience. Australia had made 243 in the first innings, and Boycott’s faux pas contributed to England subsiding to 82 for 5. Then came Alan Knott. I remember looking at a TV in some shop window in SE London and Knott and Boycott still being there. They went on, and on, putting on over 200. Boycott made a redemptive hundred. Knott made a match-winning one. Australia set England 180, Brearley made one of his highest test scores to get us on the way to the ticklish total, and Boycott was there at the end for 80 not out. So was Randall. Lovely.

The fourth test of that series was played at Headingley, and this then gets into the realms of how life used to be. I was lucky to be able to go on a summer holiday with my parents every summer, and in 1977 this meant Kalathas in NW Crete. Nothing really happened while we were there. I met my first real-life Americans (they said “hey you guys” a lot and came from the big naval base on the west of the island). My mum had the most momentous strop on the whole family (the only one I ever saw), and as she’s no longer with us, I’m sort of safe to say it. Elvis Presley died. I got stung by a jellyfish – that sort of pain is very memorable. I got wound up by my little brother, turned round to give him a whack, and belted a local kid by mistake (I was 8) – his dad wasn’t pleased.

But the main thing you had to do, before I got a long-wave radio, was to find the shop that sold the British Newspapers. Yes, even at that age I was agog at newspaper writing. I was brought up reading the sports pages of newspapers by my parents. But on holiday finding out football scores and cricket scores was a different, and in some ways much nicer, ball game. If something happened on Thursday, it would be in the Friday paper, which you might get on Saturday, if you were lucky. That weekend, we found one. Boycott had made another hundred. That special one, the hundredth one. Then, every day we tried to find a paper to continue the story. That’s how we found out Elvis died. I’ll never forget where we were – Hania Market. Meanwhile, while Elvis was preparing to leave this mortal coil, England won the match by an innings, regained the Ashes with a 3-0 series lead, and Derek Randall did a cartwheel and ended up on Brian Johnston’s Book of Cricket the following year (a really important book in my cricket life – I still have the remants of it). I saw none of the test, though. Now there’s a problem that still exists today when I go the States. Then you couldn’t watch it. Now you won’t watch it (legally). A game, authorities will never learn.

It never really resonated, the importance of the series, until the next one in 1978-9. By then Australia were decimated by Packer, and the team was a shadow of what could have been put out. It was also the first series I remember where action from far away fields was shown on TV via mid-evening highlight packages. The BBC opened up the geography of Australia to this boy who loved maps. I still wonder to this day when we were going to go to Darwin as we’d visited everywhere else for a test (sorry Tasmania, you were an odd drop at the bottom of the country). We also won, a lot. 5-1. I missed one of those tests on a school trip. Might have been the one we lost. But this was brilliant. England winning easily against Australia. It seemed we reserved our worst performances for Melbourne, but still, mustn’t grumble at 5-1. Of course this was the series of Rodney Hogg. I sort of remember him being really quick. It’s that “sort of memory” we all have of certain sporting events. You think you remember, but you probably don’t. Subsequently, on the recommendation of one of the blog commenters, I got the Graham Yallop book on the series – the fall guy Aussie captain – and it’s superbly bitter. If you can pick it up, get it.

England visited Australia again the following year in a curious winter where we played three tests but the Ashes were not at stake. We lost the lot, I remember nothing. Not even the aluminium bat nonsense. I remember us getting into the haughtily named World Series Cricket final and not looking like getting Haynes and Greenidge out in one of the Finals, listened to no TMS when I could get the chance. Given I lived 8 miles from my primary school, the morning run was listening to this day-night oddity on the trek up to Deptford. This was the Australians being flash for flash sake in my eyes. Even then, as a 10 year old, I was quite resistant to the new world order. I loved test matches. ODIs? Not for me.

After I drafted the main part of the post, I realised I had left two main test events out. The Centenary Test played in Melbourne, where the first formal test match was played, and Lord’s for the English version, where the first formal test match in England wasn’t. Summed it up. The first game I never knew was going on, and it passed this young Deptford lad by. Of course, it was famous for Derek Randall’s solo super effort, and the result being the same as the first ever test. The second event was more famous for the Lord’s members kicking off and getting mad about the weather and the reluctant umpires. Oh yes, and Kim Hughes belting the ball into the pavilion. Boycott may even have made a hundred on the final day, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression on me.

I suppose, like most, the mysticism and aura of the Ashes, and beating Australia, derived from the events of 1981. Cricket, it has to be said, was massive in England then. In 1979 we had lost the World Cup Final, and then appointed Ian Botham the captain for the start of the 1980 season. A 1-0 loss to the West Indies was not a bad result, although the weather played a huge part. Botham’s baptism as captain was not helped by the West Indies being on the agenda that winter, and a 2-0 loss barely covered the tour’s story. Thrown out of Guyana, the death of Ken Barrington and an opposition growing into its pomp, coupled with Botham’s loss of form ramped up the media pressure. Without being melodramatic, if Alastair Cook thought that the media were against him in the aftermath of the 2013-14 tour, he’d walked about 2 feet compared to the mile walked in Botham’s shoes at that time. The media were vicious. This was not just the cricket writers, but the front of the paper mob too. Cricketers, and Botham in particular, were that famous.

The first test was played at Trent Bridge. It was a dull, drab, low scoring affair, played under miserable grey clouds. Australia had a little wobble chasing a small total, but got there and took a 1-0 lead. They had an innocuous looking dibbly dobbler bowler (compared to what we’d seen the year before) who kept taking wickets. Botham was out of sorts with bat and ball. England saw the pressure ramping up day-by-day. Botham was a match-to-match captain as Alec Bedser, faced by the froth and fury of a tabloid world, and an establishment mob who saw Botham as an oik, trying to walk a plank that was going to snap.

The concept that Beefy was constantly on trial was not helped when, immediately after the defeat, Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, announced that Botham was appointed as England captain for the first Test match only. “We have to decide whether the captaincy affects Botham’s play,” said Bedser, with Botham himself trying his best to remain positive over the affair: “It’s better than not being appointed at all.”

Both England and Botham would need a good performance at Trent Bridge to keep the doubters at bay. The Mirror’s “Both on a tightrope” headline summed up the player’s perilous position. – The Guardian – 9 July 2013

After a pair at Lord’s which I missed due to the minor inconvenience of being at school, the legend grew about the stony silence that greeted Botham’s return to the pavilion. As always, it seemed, with Lord’s, this was a bore draw, but England had a big issue. Botham resigned “a minute before he was sacked” (Matthew Engel – Cricinfo). England listened to his sage advice in the now oft-played interview. They picked Brearley as captain. Then came Headingley.

As a 12 year-old I recall the start of Botham’s innings to turn around our fortunes coinciding with attending my little brother’s sponsored walk at Deptford Park. It was a Monday. The first day I knew nothing of the score. The second day coincided with last day of term, so no interest there either. Saturday was sitting in front of the TV, or going out to play football. I saw some of Botham’s 50 in between the horse racing. Then Sunday was a rest day (although we started experimenting with Sunday play in subsequent games – something I welcomed because Sundays were boring), and Monday we were all resigned to defeat. I do remember the Saturday morning being one of the most boring spells of test cricket in my memory. England became shotless. It wasn’t the only time.

So when I got home, England were on life-support, but somehow, someway, Graham Dilley was batting well. Botham was chancing his arm. Now this is what gets a kid truly inspired by the game. Alderman suddenly looked human. Lillee, dominant throughout, not looking too great now. Lawson, tyro Aussie, losing his rag. Ray Bright being ordinary. The deficit decreased. There was still no hope, but this was, at least, exciting to watch. I’d missed many of Botham’s batting tour de forces until then, but now I could watch. Anyone who underestimates the power of visibility in sporting figures needs to take heed of moments like this. You could sense, as the stories of the comeback were being told, more and more people switching over to BBC 2. More and more people willing him, Dilley and then Chris Old on. You sensed it meant so much. The legendary confectionary stall six. The thrashes over the slips, the belt to deep backward point for the hundred, Botham running the first, big sweater on, raising his bat and fist. I sometimes didn’t warm to him as a kid, but you didn’t half love him then. The gesture from Brearley on the boundary to stay there in between the applause for the hundred. All there. Seared in my brain, with or without the endless replays of the game. If this was an epoch in English cricket, mis-appropriated, repeated more times than Dad’s Army, clutched to by England fans during the dark days, then so be it. For it is what sport is about. Victory from the jaws of defeat, attacking and reckless, thrilling and without pressure, it seemed. If you sneer at Headingley 1981, then you are wrong. It made heroes. It gripped people. It is what sport is absolutely all about.

But even me, who did have some grains of optimism, thought 130 to win wasn’t enough. But I was going to watch it all, to the last. My dad was a printer, and he was on the real late shift, so he wasn’t up and about. Mum worked weekdays. My brother didn’t care. So it was me, on my own, in the living room, glued to it. The dodgy first wicket of Wood, who probably didn’t nick Botham’s wide half-volley. Then peace until just before lunch, Australia on 56 for 1. The wickets off lethal short balls to get first Trevor Chappell, and then straight away, the dangerous Kim Hughes, and we were in business. In my head it was now all about one man. Stuff Dyson and his dull first innings hundred. Who could see as dull a batsman as that win the game. It had to be someone getting Allan Border out. Already he had that aura with me. The player to dismiss along with Hughes.

Yallop lasted five minutes, getting another brute from Willis. But with Border there, it was still in their hands. When Old got one through his defences, it was 65 for 5. I thought we had a chance. Willis got Dyson, and then the dangerous Rodney Marsh, who probably brought forth Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ most famous TV commentary “Dilley underneath it….AND HE’S CAUGHT IT”. Lillee gave me heart palpitations before I knew what they were, but when Gatting took the catch at mid-on we could breathe. Willis cleaning up Ray Bright (after two drops in the slips) and then wheeling away in delight had me waking up Dad. I think he was pleased to be woken up with the news.

You can’t put a price on experiences like that. But what did it tell me of Australia? Well, at this time all that had happened was they bothered to put a full team out only at home. They were riven by Packer. They had decent bowling. But they hadn’t embedded themselves in my cricketing soul. The West Indies had. It was important to beat them, but you did not feel like you were beating the best.

I’ll pick up Part 2 from Edgbaston 1981, and take it up as far as I can, probably to the inflection point on the relationship. The 1987 World Cup Final and then the 1989 Ashes. I’d love to hear any memories you have from the late 70s, Headingley etc. All I can say is that I never had a favourite Aussie player, I never particularly cared about playing them, I never measured England on the Australia axis. They were beaten in England, and we could beat them there (I didn’t know any better).

Obviously since those days I’ve bought and read a lot on the above matches. The pictures above are from some of the books I’ve snaffled on Amazon SecondHand Books, or at cricket book stalls. The rivalry is such that now reading about your childhood memories reinforces the views of the day, basked in the hindsight of what was to come a few years later and the Aussie total domination. It’s what makes the game special. It’s why it should be treasured. I look forward to writing Part 2. I genuinely enjoy stuff like this.

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Swear Allegiance To The Flag, Whatever Flag They Offer – Thoughts On 2018

So that was 2018. England started it by completing a 4-0 defeat and with Joe Root burning himself out, literally, in a pitiful rearguard. But it was all fine because (a) it was expected, (b) they had a great bowling attack, (c) Sir got a big double the game before and (d) we weren’t whitewashed. England then humiliated themselves at Auckland, and fought hard in an excellent five day tussle in Christchurch, but ended up with another fruitless test winter. At home, there was a 1-1 draw with Pakistan and a 4-1 win over India. The former looks a bit weak given the travails of that team since, the latter looks more impressive by the day. A 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, yes aided by winning each toss, but no not purely down to that (no way we win that series 3-0 playing like that a few years back) meant the test team, which, frankly given the hit rates on here is all you really seem to care about (ODI only matters during big tournaments), had started badly but finished well.

2019 sees us travel to the West Indies for three tests, a home test squeezed in against Ireland (my addled brain seems to recall that this will be a four day event), a full Ashes series straight after the World Cup – I am just utterly perplexed by this nonsensical scheduling – then off to New Zealand for 2 tests in October (hmm, nice weather for ducks) and then South Africa to round off the year (before I think we visit Sri Lanka again the following spring). It is going to be a busy old year. My hope for it is that a new young star batsman emerges to bring some solidity to the top order. I have absolutely zero idea who that might be!

I like to do a review of the year in blogging as part of my end of the natural cycle round up, but like most things blogging and cricket this year, I have neither the time, nor the inclination to do so. I sit in a neatly compartmentalised mental world at the moment, where I allow specific events to define a year, and everything contextualises around that. With the risk of eliciting a reaction from some who should know better, 2018 will always be defined for me by the passing, quite suddenly, of my beloved border collie. It meant that for the end of the year cricket was relegated very far down the list of my thoughts. I think, being my own worst judge at times, that my tribute post to Jake was the best thing I have ever written. I sometimes look back on my HDWLIA posts and think “whatever happened to THAT person”, and the Jake post was THAT person. I’m not saying that I’m mailing in what I write – you know I don’t – but you have to have that engine, that drive, that passion to really hit the spot. The nearest I came to that on here this year was the Alastair Cook post. 7000+ words on a career that should have been fundamentally straight and simple, a career of accumulation and achievement, became a piece where I tried to explain how an intrinsically dull individual elicited more passion and anger than anyone I have seen since Boycott. I tried, but I was never going to succeed.

And that’s probably my summing up for my efforts on Being Outside Cricket this year. But before I complete my thoughts on that, and due to the prodding of the Bogfather (still waiting on that Barry Richards book review), here are my answers to the poll questions I posed a month or so ago.

  1. Best Journalist of the Year – Dobell is always an interesting read. Your blog team also met Nick Hoult this year, and he comes across (well to me) as a really decent guy, and one we also like for his work. He didn’t recall, or bring up, my “does he ever leave the ECB canteen” comment I wrote back in 2014. I am not a huge fan of the all-rounders that some are. In fact this year it’s the Aussies who’ve tried to take the mantle. But for me, and treat this a little like the Ryan Giggs getting Sports Personality, the best journo/writer for me is Andrew Miller of Cricinfo. I’ve admired him for many many years, every piece he writes I find interesting, and I hope he does more.
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year – With many out of the picture, and Newman taking emeritus status these days, it has to be Simon Hughes. How he gets so many gigs I’ll never know.
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Ricky Ponting. Even if he might have slightly blotted his copybook this week, I find him insightful, passionate, interesting and engaging. Even harder to admit as I never liked him as a player. If he doesn’t count as a commentator, then I would go for one of Simon Doull, Mike Atherton or Nasser (very up and down, but conveys a lot of Ponting’s qualities). Give Sangakkara a couple more years (and Mahela) and they may get there too.
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year – Where do you start? Harbhajan Singh was a lamentable pundit, but he was essentially harmless. I am sick and tired of Michael Vaughan, but it is his written work that angers, his podcast cobblers that riles. I am probably going to go for David Gower. We heard rumours a while back that Sky might have wanted to get rid of Gower and Botham, but couldn’t. Botham has upped his game in my view, Gower has not. Judging by the comments received, Agnew is going to win this from the vote here. Again, I think that’s taking his work outside, and the Cook thing, rather than the day job. But I’m not here to tell you what to do.
  5. England international cricketer of the Year – Tough one. Moeen Ali had a redemption year. Joe Root regained some of his mojo. Anderson was excellent, especially at home. Woakes had his moments. But if 2018 was defined by one player for England, it was Jos Buttler (and Sam Curran, but in just one the format). Stats may not be amazing, but he’s now a key part of the set-up in all three formats. Not a stellar year, but a team one.
  6. World international cricketer of the Year – Virat Kohli and then Williamson and Rabada. Some might put Bumrah in the frame too. Kohli pretty much transcends the game at the moment, whether we like it or not. He’s also great to watch and unlike Tim Paine, I really like the guy (for some reason)
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket – Jos Buttler’s century to win the 5th ODI against Australia. It may have been a JAMODI but to watch him pull a win out from certain defeat was incredible. Both in terms of technique and temperament. An honourable mention to Sam Curran’s Edgbaston houdini act, Chris Woakes at Lord’s, Joe Root in Kandy and yes, Alastair Cook’s farewell hundred.
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket – I think there were just two test double centuries this year. I can check (answer – yes). But to me there were two standout test hundreds. The first was AB de Villiers in Port Elizabeth – a match defining knock, marshalling the last three wickets for 150 runs, and turning the series (126*) before the nonsense – and the second was Virat Kohli’s 150+ at Edgbaston. I was limited as to what I could watch, so Karunaratne’s ton referenced by many of you passed me by.
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018 – Australia’s pious hypocrisy over the Sandpaper incident, which continues to spin out of control entirely of their sanctimonious making. I genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or the ECB and The Hundred. Others do a better job than me in defenestrating this idiocy. It is symptomatic of ECB thinking, most recently espoused by the knighthood for Cook (to put this into context, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Gooch, Vaughan and Strauss all have OBEs – many have gone into coaching, broadcasting and administration – where further honours are received). Cook already was one notch above them with a CBE. Jack Hobbs was 70 when he was knighted. Len Hutton was very young at 40 to get knighted. This is clearly not Cook’s making, but it is absolutely the sort of thinking that annoys many on here of the double standards and so forth. But back on topic, the Hundred is coming and the ECB have mortgaged their future on it. And more importantly, our future. And yet they do a great impression of totally ignoring anything we say.
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018 – Personally it was Surrey winning the county championship. Not a popular view, but one I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the day-nigh game between Surrey and Lancashire, which ended with a thrilling finish. The County Championship is a jewel, but too many deride it, ignore it, or demean it. It doesn’t make money, ergo it is not good is the feeling. It is a really good competition and next year will be fascinating as Somerset, Surrey and Essex look strong. On the international stage, every year Virat Kohli is bang up for test cricket is a great thing. I say it again, he is arguably the most important cricketer in the world since Bradman. If he gives up on tests, we are in strife.

My Dmitris for this year would have been – Sam Curran, Morne Morkel, Surrey, Andrew Miller, Simon Hughes (not sure he’s been one before), the Cape Town test, Tom Harrison and Day 1 at The Oval. Again, a bit Surrey loaded, but it’s about my influences and my experiences.

So to 2018, and what has gone before. I started the year fed up at the media reaction, and those on social media too, to the Cook 244 not out. I took a break from writing, one of my many, and didn’t miss it as much as I thought I might. I then found myself shaking my head through the New Zealand tour, as another lamentable start cost us a series, and there seemed little care about that. The summer will always be defined in my eyes by my reaction to the criticism I received for my report during the second test against Pakistan. In the days before I would have fought back really hard. Now I didn’t have the heart. It was an important moment. A self-reveal. The anger isn’t really there any more. Not really.

I do still love writing, but the nice pieces won’t work here. It’s not what is expected of me. Chris writes his stuff so much more beautifully than I could ever hope to do. I do anger well. I know. I do the stuff around Cook better than anything else because there is a righteous indignation to my prose. That there is such favouritism to a player above all others, sticks in my craw, and I’ll bet it did with some of the team too – notice the lack of mentions of him on the Sri Lankan tour – but of course no-one would mention it. While I love writing, I will still write. But it may not be on cricket. It may not even be for public consumption. My passion at the moment is my new border collie. There’s a blog about him. The Teddy Times. I am far more interested in him, than I am cricket.

As a little bon mot, yesterday an old friend popped up on my Twitter feed. Yes, that old friend. I’d made a tongue in cheek tweet about KP doing more for charity, conservation and being a better player. I clearly don’t think he should be getting a knighthood. Or anything more than he has. It got a reaction from my old friend. I made one comment, and walked away. Maybe my old friend should too. Life really is too short.

So, 2000 words in, and I think I’ll just say Happy New Year to you all, and wish you luck for 2019. For all of us in the UK, I think we are going to need it. For the blog, 2019 looks jam-packed and hopefully traffic, which is still quite constant, will pick up. Some of my old commenters don’t show their faces as much any more, and given some of their comments to me they are displaying my symptoms on attitude towards the sport, but amplified, so I hope they come back. To those who genuinely want to write for this blog, please let us know. We love reading your stuff. And to those who contributed in 2018, thanks so much. It’s not been our greatest year, but after the tumult of the preceding four, perhaps a more restful one.

Some of my favourite pics from the year below…

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The past?

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Sam at Sundown

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So what did 2018 do for me. Maybe a neat little bullet point list:

  • I learned to ignore the haters a bit more, but not enough;
  • I learned that you can only keep on keeping on for so long;
  • The standard of cricket journalism is on a massive decline, filled with people who think being more clever than their readers is more important than being interesting;
  • Cricket blogging, like much blogging, is becoming less read, less interesting and increasingly less true to itself. These may not be unrelated factors;
  • That it is OK to take a break;
  • That good commenters are hard to find, and easy to lose;
  • That English cricket probably needed to cut adrift from Alastair Cook;
  • That you should never trust a blogger who gets paid to write (not to be confused with bloggers who try to get advertising revenue);
  • That Mike Selvey’s cricket blog will never happen;
  • I’ll miss Charles Sale;
  • That the death of a loved one conquers all. Even a dog.
  • Contentment is in inverse proportion to your usage of Twitter

Best wishes for the New Year. New beginnings and all that. It’s likely to be fascinating.

 

 

 

Pick Up My Guitar And Play

2018 is drawing to a close. This is, therefore, a time for looking back, some introspection, some need to set out what went on, and what the future might hold. In previous years this has meant a stream of posts – awards, reviews, even thanking all of you individually for commenting. 2018 has been really, really different. And one day in particular on this blog has sort of made a huge difference.

The year itself has had limited cricketing appeal, certainly in the international game. There’s just not the energy in me to keep up with all of it, and certainly not the passion to constantly write about England. You’ve heard that a billion times before, and I’m not going down that road again. The Ashes ended with a supine media exulting at a 244 not out in a dead game, and a 4-0 series loss seemed somewhat irrelevant. Oh well, that was OK, at least we weren’t whitewashed. Then came some limited overs jollop where Jason Roy actually beat a 25 year old record and no-one cared outside immediate friends and family. A T20 competition no-one seemed to engage with was all by the by, and the New Zealand test series would have gone the same way if we hadn’t seen England perform the mother of all faceplants in the opening hour or so. A loss in that series didn’t matter at all.

An interesting summer with Pakistan and India visiting for test matches, and Australia, for money reasons, playing out an ODI series, were on tap. England performed lamentably in the first match against Pakistan, rallied to take the second (and more of that later) to, yet again, draw a series against the Traveling team. Sam Curran made his debut, which was nice. I like Sam.

England lost to Scotland in an ODI, but then shoved Aussie piss-taking down their throats by beating Australia 5-0. Despite its dead rubber status, despite it being an ODI, Jos Buttler’s brilliant century in the final game was up there for my innings of the year. Oh yes, and England set a world record ODI score at Trent Bridge too. We should be excited, but we all know we’ll faceplant in the semi in 2019, so no point getting too excited.

The test series against India saw many suspend their cognitive functions and claim to see no way we could bowl this superstar line-up twice. Well, we did in four of the five test match contests, and ended up winning 4-1. The first test was exciting, with Sam making a massive contribution to pulling us out of the mire, and then India’s batting, Kohli excepted, looking like Anderson’s plaything. A Lord’s test played in gloom, was one-sided, and the game won in large part by a partnership between Bairstow and Woakes. England lost the third at Trent Bridge, in a performance lacking gumption and skill, and handily proving that if anyone puts up a half-decent score first up, England are bang in trouble (see Lord’s – Pakistan). The fourth test was quite similar to the first, with England always just about in charge, and when it threatened not to be, they took key wickets. Pujara performed well but it wasn’t enough. The fifth test will always be Cook’s retirement test. You either loved every second of the Cook Festival, or you recoiled at its sanctimony and peer pressure. If he gets knighted, as reported, it puts everything into the proper context, again depending on the side of the fence you sit. I’ll say it once more – KP wasn’t the player who divided opinion most passionately in my experience. It was Cook.

Anyway, England won that, Anderson took the vital statistical wicket to end the game, everyone went home happy, and England had beaten the world’s number one team 4-1. Even Joe Root made a hundred. It was that lovely.

In Sri Lanka, without Cook, who merited barely a backward glance or a sentimental mention during the tour, England whitewashed the home side in the test matches playing a style of cricket that may, or may not, catch on. This was to go hard during the batting, and trusting the long batting line-up to make enough to defend. With a team a little weaker than before, this might work. I’m not sure it will in India, or the Emirates, but hey, if you win a series 3-0, don’t knock it. Ben Foakes came in and made a century on debut, which was nice. Jonny Bairstow made a super hundred in the third, which pre-empted a volley of the “media hates me” which in turn had the media going “why on earth why would he say then” when there’s been a whispering campaign for ages. They are both in the wrong. In the second, Joe Root’s brilliant century gained a lot of plaudits on here, and rightly so. It is definitely Root’s team now.

Oh, I nearly forgot, England won the one day series 4-1 (the one, a special kind of defeat) and some T20 contest which passed me by. So England’s ODI team is the envy of the world, and the test team ended up winning 8 out of its last 9 tests. It’s certainly reason to be cheerful. Indeed, I liked the fact that in Sri Lanka there was none of the Cook BS. His passing from the team is like a weight lifted off those of us who weren’t fans of what came with it. If you want to know what I mean, check out Jonathan Agnew’s retweets of Sports Personality of the Year commenters, angered at the snub of Cook. Has KP been feted properly, yet?

But for me 2018 is one tinged with sadness and with melancholy. It started with my oldest uncle dying in the first week, it saw me lose a good friend in August, and then, as many of you know, the death of my beloved border collie, Jake, in October. While not struggling with the rigours of life, I felt that my attitude to blogging, and to the social media circus, has changed. It would be true to say that work is taking its toll – a job transfer in March to a much more prominent role did that – and so getting home and writing is less of an option. And it is also true that there is not so much to write about that would garner interest. If I’m not interested in writing about it, then you will see through it.

Importantly, another factor that is increasingly coming into play, is the social media aspects of this gig. To get people interested we need to be on other platforms to drive traffic. Unfortunately in blogging, we aren’t in the Field of Dreams. If we write it, they don’t always come. We’re not into branding, we’re four individuals, who agree on a lot, disagree on a lot too, but brought together under the roof of disaffected cricket fans with a love for the game, and a platform to say what ails. What we see more and more is people walking away. From us, and the game. And no-one really seems to care. The media have moved on. Social Media increasingly resembles a game as to which one of the former blogger / current writer can be the cleverest person in the room. It is now a Barney Ronay tribute band, and that is not a good thing, people. I see people cramming in “pop culture” references as if they all think they are Gideon Haigh, coming off more like Gideon Osborne. When they aren’t doing that, there’s the ludicrous bigging up of certain shots with pseudo-erotic references as if the people out there worship this bollocks. Well, maybe they do. This grumpy fucker doesn’t. I’m not looking for the classic “report the facts, and just the facts” because that would be (a) hypocritical and (b) dull. But what I want to see is comments and reports and opinions written as if the acclimation is sought from the readership at large and not from their close circle of reporter / media friends. While I may not be a huge fan of Jonathan Liew, I appreciate that he has a message, and he’s going to deliver it, whether you like it or not. He might not be to my taste, and he may be the smartest guy in the room, but I feel I recoil at the content, not the writer. That’s the difference. It’s why I like George Dobell, because he takes the piss but is writing directly to his audience, and have gone off Jarrod, because I feel he thinks he’s trying to win over his writing colleagues – his book on test cricket was borderline unreadable.

People don’t want to hear our voice as much, these days. When the height of the KP fury was in full tempest mode, we were read. People may not have liked us, but they read our message. Interesting that those that claimed that they didn’t are not employed (with one main exception) by their employers at the time. I had a journo tell me that although we didn’t agree on matters, say that when I wrote what I did on HDWLIA, people looked at the well argued prose and thought about it. That’s not me blowing my own trumpet.

The current issue is the Hundred. It is everything we said the ECB were and still are. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It’s the arrogance of knowing best. It’s the arrogance of telling current cricket fans to shut the fuck up and let the adults run the joint. It’s the attitude of money is the cure of all evils. It’s the failure to own up to its own stupidity, while saying they were stupid in the past to cut off terrestrial only through mealy-mouthed gestures. It’s the media pretty much standing by, not saying anything, but who might moan in 10 years time when test cricket dies on its arse, and we’re fed this meaningless crapfest as our cricket fix. It’s everything we’ve ever said about the ECB. I can’t keep banging my head against a brick wall without incurring permanent brain damage.

Which takes me back to the Saturday of the second test between England and Pakistan – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/06/02/england-v-pakistan-2nd-test-day-2/ – and I had compiled a very hasty end of day’s play report where I wasn’t overly enamoured about the way England had gone about it. This got a tweet from a local paper journo clearly out to impress his friends:

England well on top in this Test thanks to two days of dominance, but they’ll be gutted to learn they’ve done it wrong, all wrong.

One of a few comments on Twitter. Now yes, the one thing you lot know is I’m quite thin skinned, but of all the comments to get to me (and yes, I proclaimed that I didn’t let it, but I did) this one did because of its crass stupidity and it’s playing to the gallery. And instead of getting angry about it, which used to get me to write my best, I found out that I was more sad. Sad that I didn’t have the passion in me to really fight back. Especially at this:

Didn’t mean to cause any offence mate; genuinely assumed you were writing like that deliberately, because that’s what your “brand” is. Advice from someone not important enough to concern yourself with: If you love cricket as much as you say, try writing positively about it every once in a while. It’s harder, but it can be a lot more rewarding.

That’s me. A troll, doing it for a brand. If that is how we, I, am perceived, what’s the point? I’m just professionally angry, and if not, I need to seek to be happy because that’s so much better to write about. If you think he’s the only one, read the blogging piece in Wisden Almanack. I’m the angry man, while Chris writes the beautiful pieces. Those two may not like my work, and that’s almost fine, but they should not like it and argue back about the content. What I see is playing the man, not the ball. He thought we pretended to rage, and when the comments came back, he found out we weren’t. But he’s not alone. He might genuinely be happy that such stuff pisses me off, but then he’s by no means an outrider on that one. There’s others, long since muted on Twitter, who do the same.

For example. The blog is seen as “Anti-Cook” in its sole purpose by some. It isn’t it’s sole purpose at all, but he was a focus. I wrote some of the pieces I consider my best work on him. https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2018/09/03/sink-me-in-a-river-of-tears-the-retirement-of-alastair-cook/

He’s a fascinating case study of English cricket. His mention of the KP saga before his final test was everything we said was wrong with the media in microcosm, but they never saw it. Probably never knew it. With him went a purpose, an interesting subject matter, a source of focus that I can’t replicate with objections to the Hundred just yet. England appears fairly well run at the moment as an international group. They are entertaining. Have players I like. But they don’t stir the pulse as much because the game doesn’t matter as much. When asked recently whether an England run in the World Cup would stir the nation, I said no. It wouldn’t even stir this cricket lover. There’s many reasons why.

So, on that pessimistic note, and with this likely to be my last posting before Christmas, because of social commitments and the fact we have a lovely new border collie puppy called Teddy who is far more interesting than Australian hypocrisy and sanctimony, I want to wish all who have participated, read and written on the blog a really happy Christmas, reserving the right to write something else of course. I leave you with the end of the Alastair Cook post which seems to sum up the last five years, give or take…

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.

That’s what the Hundred is forcing people to do with domestic cricket. I wish those with more fire in their bellies, who aren’t beholden to the sport for their livelihood but for their wellbeing and enjoyment, for those not consumed by money, but by sport the best of luck. You sure as hell are going to need it.

Best wishes, and see you after Christmas. Or before. Who knows?

I Know That Job You Got Leaves You So Uninspired – The 2018 BOC Poll

Come on people, one last push for 2018. It’s poll time, and we need you to participate to make this work.

First up, the most important input. We have Mount Cricketmore – four personalities that embody cricket in the country, if you are an insider – and each year I will put one up for re-election.

BOC Rushmore v2

In my editorial judgement, Giles Clarke and Mike Selvey are firmly carved into our rock, and their term of office, should we last that long, will mean Selvey up in 2021, Clarke up in 2020. With Harrison seen as the architect of the Hundred, and its debut due for 2020, having him up for re-election right before then will see his name go forward in 2019. So this year the decision is should Simon Hughes be replaced. Before we do that, we need a candidate.

Now, I’ve been racking my brains for potential replacements, and am not coming up with much outside of one. So with all due deference to perennial annoyances like Paul Newman, Alastair Cook’s fanboys and girls, Piers Morgan or whoever else takes our fancy, there seems one obvious candidate. It is a vote off between:

1, Simon Hughes stays

2. Colin Graves is carved into stone.

Now we have the key business over with, now to the other essential votes. Either do so by posting them on the comments or to me at dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk – or our collective e-mail if you know where to find it!

  1. Best Journalist of the Year
  2. Worst Journalist of the Year
  3. Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  4. Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
  5. England international cricketer of the Year
  6. World international cricketer of the Year
  7. Best innings by an England player in international cricket
  8. Best innings by an international player in international cricket
  9. The worst thing about cricket in 2018
  10. The best thing about cricket in 2018

Finally

11. Any ideas for the blog?

12. Your views on social media going forward.

13. Any good cricket books you have read that you could recommend?

I always look forward to your feedback, and hopefully we can do something with the results over the Christmas period.

Thanks in advance!

There’s A Kind Of Hush

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Sunset over New Jersey. A Metaphor, perhaps?

Hello from the USA. Where play in the recently concluded series started at 11:30 at night (Eastern Standard Time), where I still cared enough to wake up to check out the score, and am pleased that this team, without needing the help of the really old guard, did something quite special. Never underestimate a team winning in totally alien conditions, no matter what the opposition might be (and Sri Lanka were not as bad as some are painting them to be), and with the results they’ve had in the past couple of years in their own back yard against teams from outside of Asia. 3-0 is a fine result. Well done to England, and to some of the new blood that came up trumps.

This blog has been, quite rightly, very critical of England, and for people jumping on bandwagons at the merest hint of some green shoots. Now we have some, with an eclectic old line-up gelling in the most unlikely fashion at times, and people are rushing to say how crap the opposition has been. I have to smile. Yes, really. That I watched very little of the series, due to circumstances beyond my control, is of little importance. England seem to have a very fresh, yes, I’m using that word, and enthusiastic approach. Whether this is a long-term viable product, who the hell knows, but let’s enjoy this for something that it is, a substantial win in the sub-continent.

I tongue in cheek said on Twitter that when KP was let go for cricketing reasons we promptly lost at home to Sri Lanka – who can forget six inches further carry, two balls, or more importantly, Day Fucking Four at Headingley – while once Cook has been cast aside the team won 3-0, and hell, another opener made a century! I’m not being totally serious, but let me be serious in saying that if the events had been reversed – a whitewash when KP was jettisoned, an embarrassing loss when Cook retired, the media would not have been able to have helped themselves. You think not. One word, one innings. Cook. Southampton.

Yes, there’s always those two hanging over us, but let’s, as the phrase was so readily thrown about, move on. England get a break now before their next tour to the West Indies in early 2019, before we get into the World Cup and then the Ashes. Oh, and a slipped in test vs Ireland. Prices to keep us all very happy, but lots of cricket to comment upon.

Which then brings us, or me, to the blog. 2018 has been a hell of a year. From a personal standpoint it isn’t one I’ll look back on with any great joy, certainly compared to 2017. Losing a family member, even if it is, in the eyes of some “only a dog” has been crushing. Anyone who read the piece on my other blog will know how it devastated both my wife and I. As a childless couple, he was our focus, and without it we are a couple of lost souls at the moment. Being with family in the US has been good, but it’s not really a holiday (it’s bloody freezing and we have a high wind alert for tomorrow), rather a break before we come back next week. I started 2018 fed up with the aftermath of Cook’s 244 not out, and the utter twaddle that followed it, and then endured a summer that was tiresome and wearisome. I lost some of the will to write about cricket, and am not sure I have it back. There’s a lot less to be angry about with this England team, given I like a lot of the players in the team now (though not sure they should all be there), and Surrey gave me a real boost. But my writing is driven by feeling passionate about something, and I’m just not that passionate about English cricket. I’m also phenomenally busy at work – this two week break has been a godsend to get away from that – and cricket takes up less of my time.

In a way that leads me on to the cricket calendar which has been announced for the counties today. As a Surrey fan I’m surprised we’ve given two games to Guildford – Somerset and Yorkshire in June – and while I know that is down to the World Cup, it would have been great if one of them had been at Whitgift. We have Kent at Beckenham, and also, at home, on my big birthday next year. Could be something. The Blast is an irrelevance to me, angry old git that I am, but the calendar is full of games from Monday to Thursday, and that really doesn’t sit right, does it? Add to that we’ll be messing about with the format again next season (2020) and all the joy that the It’s A Knockout imitation of cricket will bring, and it’s really a case of we’ll have to lump it in 2019 because the bad stuff is around the corner.

That’s it. A shrug of the shoulders. Hardly the firebrand passion, eh, you lot?

What else can I put in a post entitled after a bloody Carpenters song? I read Geoff Lemon’s book “Steve Smith’s Men”, and as the saying goes, it was a game of two halves. Lemon tries too damned hard to be a Haigh or Ronay (one of those is good, one, not so) and instead just becomes annoying with idiotic culture references, or stupid analogies. The part of the book dealing with the Ashes is dull, and at times, genuinely annoying. I read the book in a couple of sittings, intending to do a full review, but the annoyance meant I decided not to – and also making notes on a Kindle book is really a pain in the arse.

When the book turns to the crisis itself, the cracks show. Australia truly still does not get it, if this is to be believed. The whole “gotcha” is explained as an elaborate South African TV plot to gain an advantage. While Lemon, to his credit, explains that a similar ruse by Channel 9 against Anderson in the Ashes was a joke, here he seems to castigate the South Africans for being on their guard to catch them. Dash them setting up security cameras to ensnare the burglars! Look, here are the stupid Aussies falling into the snare. Just not cricket. What followed was media mismanagement, a witch hunt that damaged already damaged people, with Smith made to look like some autistic genius, with only one thing in his life, a cartoon character of just one dimension. Warner was imbued with several layers – an amusing anecdote that in grade cricket David Warner was ranked number 2 in the worst sledger poll, behind his brother was a good one – but there was more sympathy and complexity put on him, rather than Smith. Bancroft is seen as some willing accomplice, faithful and happy, wanting to do anything to please his masters, but in the earlier part of the book where it deals with the Bairstow headbutt, Lemon’s interpretation of Bancroft’s stand up routine is a lot more charitable than some. Let’s put it this way, if Bancroft were English, and Malcolm Conn was in charge of adjudication, the results might not have been the same.

Lemon has a little old go at the management in Cricket Australia – apparently Haigh goes to town on them in his book – and makes several excellent points about how the wheels turn there. Some, I’ve seen, sided with the authorities over the players in the dispute last year, but the clear inference here is that the chief shop steward for the players in that impasse was David Warner. Anyone want to hazard a guess how Warner might have been stuck out on the limb as the true bad guy might start from there. Who knows? I like a good conspiracy theory.

It’s an OK read, no more. I hated the writing style, but that’s a personal choice. Did it tell me a lot I didn’t know? Not really. Did it give some meaningful insights? Yes in patches. Did him constantly name-checking other journos get on my nerves? Oh yes.

There’s a lot to write on Australia, going through the image crisis they are at the moment, but we do have a nice looking test series coming up between them and India. I’ll hope to catch some of that in the next few weeks, knowing I have blown all my potential Christmas leave in the meantime which doesn’t give me a lot of chance. The first test in the Emirates was a classic between Pakistan and New Zealand, and the second test historic. There was a pretty decent game between Bangladesh and West Indies, Zimbabwe won a test away from home, and all three games in Sri Lanka were really decent matches. Test cricket is lovable, people get passionate about it. Think anyone would give a stuff about ball tampering in an ODI?

Okey dokey. It’s nearly 11 pm here in Cape May, New Jersey and I’ll have to be signing off as the wind rattles the window frames. We are 150 yards from the sea here, so hopefully nothing too alarming (we had three inches of rain on Monday, Crowded House wrote a song about that). Have a good one, and will be in touch soon. Possibly with an end of year poll and some awards…. You never know.

Peter (Dmitri)

The Pleasure Principle

“What I thought was happiness was only part-time bliss” – Janet Jackson – The Pleasure Principle

OK. So I said I was temporarily done with cricket blogging, and in many ways I still am. I want to have a proper break from the blog, work and to a certain degree, life. I am taking a holiday at short notice to visit my relatives in the States, and to get away from what has happened, and what is about to. It’s a chance to take a complete break from some of the matters that have ailed me, and in some ways made life harder.

Of course, as many of you will know, and those that have read my long post on my personal blog certainly will, the death of my beloved border collie has knocked me sideways. This shouldn’t happen to a bloke of my age, but it has. While it is a hell of a struggle holding it together during working hours, the constant reminders at home, the lack of his presence, the destruction of the routine, the massive empty space to the right of me as I write this, hurts. It absolutely fucking hurts. 17 days on from it, there is no real reduction in the pain. I’ve been through grief before, we all have, but for some reason this one is different, because I am very different.

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Jake and the Badger – 2011 at Tunbridge Wells

Now, I know this is not, as yet cricket related, but do stick with me. I’ve always used this blog, and How Did We Lose In Adelaide to convey my feelings. I think it was Zeph, many moons ago who said what made my blogging real was it exposed my weaknesses, my insecurities, and made this an honest read. Something like that. And it was absolutely true. It still is. My negativity and pessimism shines through. There’s a quip with my work colleagues that when someone says “you’re a glass half empty kind of bloke” I respond “what glass?” The four and a half years of railing against the selection policies, the media nonsense, and then the ECB’s running of the game have been mentally draining, but also a source of pride. I’ve been using this as an outlet to rail against the game, to shake my fists at the cloud, and I’ve found kindred spirits along the way. When people challenge me, I react poorly, but rarely do I think we lose the argument. I sometimes tried to be all things to all people, and on others righteously indignant. I’ve been scared to reveal my true identity. I’ve been labelled a few things. What was it Brian Carpenter called me in Wisden this year? Unwaveringly angry? Whatever. How about honest? No. That might come a little too close to the knuckle for those who want nothing but warm beer, village green and doff your effing cap to the establishment and its supine media.

England have just won a very decent victory in Sri Lanka at Galle. While Sri Lanka may not be the force they were, this is still a terrific win. There were great signs. England got centuries from Foakes and Jennings. They played three spinners, what a joy. They dropped Stuart Broad because, on that surface, it was giving England the best chance to win. Sam Curran’s development in playing in a test on surfaces like this must outweigh Stuart Broad flogging himself to death on a wicket that doesn’t do him any good, does it? Still there were whispers, still there was intrigue, mainly stoked by Vaughan, but we’ve come to expect that. Then there was Rory Burns, who didn’t look massively technically exposed, but already has Simon Hughes spouting off that he shouldn’t play here, Bairstow should open, and that he might be better saved for the West Indies (where pitches are low, slow turners also, bright spark) or England next year (where, presumably, he’ll sit twiddling his thumbs from May to when the Ashes starts). It’s when you listen to attention-seeking, clickbait, controversy generation that you don’t feel bad about having an outlet to express your feelings – at times we make a lot more bloody sense than these professional foghorns. England have won a really good, solid win, with some new exciting players, without someone we can’t do without, and there’s a lot of negativity. Contrast the reaction of some who bemoan the quality of the opposition with the victory in, say, Grenada a few years ago, greeted by rapture. It’s bloody revealing in my eyes.

But despite a good win, with an England team I identify more with, and in a style I quite enjoyed watching, there’s still a hollowness. Still this feeling I’m presiding over a decline. The test game is being abused to a level I can’t believe we’ve seen before. There’s great cricket out there, like Australia’s amazing draw in the first test in the UAE, as tense and exciting as tests can be at the end, but slagged off relentlessly for the first couple of days as a total bore. India played a dull one sided test series against the West Indies. Australia meet India in the next few weeks, with the ACA trying to get their ex-captain back (he really should be, but hey, let’s not stop Australian cricket tearing itself apart in moral hubris), but with every chance that they might find the visitors too tough. But then, we thought that back in early August and England managed to win 4-1. Sky Sports Cricket Channel has not shown either the UAE series or the Indian one, which does make you wonder why they have a dedicated channel. I am rambling on a ton of subjects within one, because there is no one reason for the hollowness. It’s an accumulation.

When Jake died I naturally benchmarked it with other grieving episodes. My mum died in 2005 of cancer, just like Jake, and it was a pretty short time to get used to the diagnosis and then death. Within a couple of weeks of her passing I had been invited to a reception which saw visits from Michael Kasprowicz, Simon Katich and John Buchanan in the build up to the Ashes. I then got to see day 1 and day 3 at Lord’s. KP’s debut. The game was on Channel 4. The public were into cricket in a big way. The whole game acted as a release. A way to get immersed into something that meant a lot. When Dad passed away 9 months later, I got to go to Sri Lanka at home, and some of the Pakistan series. Cricket was an intrinsic part of the healing process. It was an exciting distraction. Now, in 2018, I couldn’t give a damn.

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time when miserable.”  Dante Alighieri

During Jake’s final days one of my great sporting loves, the Boston Red Sox, were beating the Yankees, beating the current champion Astros, and then the Dodgers to win their 4th World Series in 14 years. I cared a lot. I would watch the games, I would get up in the middle of night to watch some of them, or follow them on my phone. So I still love sport. I still love the thrill of the top matches, the excitement at the pinnacle of the game. Baseball has a crisis of confidence, much like test cricket. The game is too long. The kids don’t watch it. Viewing figures are down. The game needs to innovate. As if TV audiences is the be all and fucking end all of what sport is about. Yes, TV money is crucial to administrators, but why? Because it is about keeping up the lifestyles and wages of players, managers and administrators. Football is having one of its occasional crises of confidence over the financial fair play hogwash, but it is still on the decided path of maximising revenue, and fuck the fans. As we’ve said on this blogs, fans should pay up and shut up. When subscriptions go up, TV bids go up, entrance fee and tickets go up, and “more popular” versions of the game are shunted into our lives, it is to recompense money laundering owners, avaricious administrators, players who want to be paid massive amounts, and their retinue of hangers on, agents and personal trainers. It’s the free market innit, and sport and it don’t mix.

When you have this mix of my tired cynicism, diminishing love, grief, context of matches and a blog I’ve been constantly flogging my brain for for 50+ months, there comes a time to take a proper rest. But then, you know I won’t. Because one thing is clear, and it is why I’m the mug punter sport relies upon. What the hell else is there to entertain me? What’s my outlet? Football has become an oligarchy, and the hope has evaporated. Golf has its majors and the Ryder Cup but is disappearing up its own irrelevance, so much so that it needs a revived Tiger to keep it in the eye. Big sporting events in other sports are hidden from view, badly publicised, or not in my conscience now. I missed watching the Arc de Triomphe, for example, a race that meant a huge amount when I was growing up. Any decent fight appears to need me to pay an extra 20 quid on top of what I’m paying the thieving sport channel bastards. The NBA has become a travesty as the need to have star teams outweighs competitive balance. The NFL has now become a “I don’t care as long as the Patriots lose” league, which is not particularly fulsome a pursuit. Even the plucky little Red Sox had to have the top wage bill in baseball to win it this year!

“Respect cannot be inherited, respect is the result of right actions.” 

So to cricket. If anything adequately sums up the message I’ve been trying to get across since the sacking of KP, and the puffery around Cook, it’s the Hundred. An idea put together by people who have no faith in the sport, don’t care about its existing customer base who they think will put up with anything, but think that we’ll just accept their word for it and will carry on regardless. It was the initial message in pieces like “Know Your Bloody Place” back in the day. The piece I wrote after that press release:

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

This statement applies as equally now, as it did then. That KP was the focus then, now your quaint love of the T20 Blast or the County Championship is now. You are outside cricket, you aren’t authority. You can’t attack the ECB for a decision because they know best, and heaven forfend if you even intimate they might be either conflicted and/or incompetent. Don’t you dare. Know your bloody place. The penny might have dropped this year with many of the cricket blogging and social media fraternity/sorority. But it has come too late. Maybe if many of these had put aside their loathing for an individual and seen the KP stuff for what it was – the ECB telling you that you had no say – then maybe we’d see something different. A faint hope, but better than no hope.

My next missive may be focused on some other things I want to shake my fist at, and that’s most notably social media and blogging these days, but let’s have a break. I know this has rambled a little, but I hope you get the overall message. Cricket, test cricket, is great. I love it, but not unconditionally. I don’t need to love it when it is being abused, when we are abused for loving it. I might be harking back to a nostalgia that never happened, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling sad.

As writing is my emotional valve, and that’s what it always will be, I may well write some more on my personal blog. It’s not the end for me on here either. It is a break. How long, we will see. But as cricket is a part of my life, whether I like it or not, it will provoke me. I may even need to do a day of the next test!

Thanks for the support. Thanks for being friends. Thanks for being outside cricket. See you all soon.

Sri Lanka v England ODI Series – And A Month Off!

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.

 

England v India – Day 2 – You Leave Me When I’m At My Worst

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You Can’t Go On, Thinking Nothing’s Wrong

“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.

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Sorry for laughing, there’s too much happening…..

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!

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All You Need Is Love…..

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.

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Papa Don’t Preach, Joe’s In Double Deep (the LBW)

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.

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Slow Down, You’re Going Too Fast, Got To Make The Music Last….

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.

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Hit Me With Your Batting Stick, Hit Me

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.

Comments below.

Standing In The Door Of The Pink Flamingo – The Fifth Test Preview

“It was a kind of so-so love, so I’m gonna make sure it never happens again” – Soft Cell

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The Original London Test Venue – Accept No Substitutes

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.

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Pitch preparations going well. Little bit in it for the spinners. No, this isn’t Taunton.

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.

Peter (Dmitri)

Oh! And Comments below, of course…….

Sink Me In A River Of Tears – The Retirement of Alastair Cook

Cook brings up century at Perth – December 2006 – I was there. Read on.

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.

The Announcement

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.

Southampton

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 Rest….

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.

244*

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.