England vs. Australia 3rd ODI – Open Thread

As England prepare to face Australia for the third of five ODIs, they stand on the cusp of a series victory. Not only that, but it would apparently be the first time since 1977 that England have won two consecutive ODI series against Australia. The gloss on that achievement is tainted somewhat by the fact that the two series have been less than 6 months apart, and Australia’s ODI form is particularly dire. They have lost 13 out of their last 15 ODIs, and are currently missing several stars due to injury and suspension.

England fans might be concerned about the fitness of several players, with Jonny Bairstow’s knee and Ben Stokes’ torn hamstring both under the spotlight. It would seem bizarre for the England team to risk two three-format world-class cricketers in a largely meaningless ODI series, but bitter experience also tells us it is almost certain to happen.

Elsewhere, English football fans were cursing VAR (football’s version of DRS) for almost costing them a win over Tunisia whilst Aussie football fans were largely cursing their government due to the World Cup mostly not being on free-to-air TV, nor on the streaming service which had the rights but which was apparently unable to handle the strain. It is somewhat unusual for the UK to have sport freely available on television when it isn’t in Australia, so I must admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude.

As always, feel free to comment on the game (or anything else) below.

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Mansplaining Cricket

Women are pretty stupid, it seems. They can’t count to six. They can’t fathom how to use a velcro fastening. They can’t even understand the most basic laws of cricket.

These are not my personal views, I hasten to add, nor the views of any of the other writers here at Being Outside Cricket (as far as I’m aware). They do however appear to quite accurately describe how the ECB sees women.

There are a few clear examples of this thinking in recent weeks. The first was the launch of the 100-ball format in April. When Andrew Strauss was talking about the rationale for the new competition on BBC Radio 5 Live, this is how he described it:

Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.

This was a bad statement in a number of ways. Firstly, it concedes the rather ridiculous point that cricket is complicated and hard to understand. For an attention-seeking idiot like Stan Collymore to say it is one thing, for a sport’s own national board to state it as a fact is quite another. Secondly, it insults non-cricket fans by suggesting that the only reason they don’t like the game is because they’re too stupid to understand it. I don’t like football, but I feel confident that I understand it. Since people who aren’t already cricket fans are apparently the target market for the ECB’s competition, it might be wise not to insult them all. Because Strauss prefaces it by saying that the new competition was targeting mothers, the ones who bore the brunt of this insult were women.

But some clumsy wording in a live interview isn’t really enough to warrant sitting down and writing a full post about. For that, you’d need something more premeditated. Something that dozens of people at the ECB will have worked on and not seen a problem.

Something like this:

Soft Ball Cricket

The first thing to note is that it is a sponsored tweet from @EnglandCricket, or in other words a targeted advert. So let’s look at the target, @LydiaJane13: She’s a woman, she lives in England, and she’s a pretty big fan of cricket. In other words, exactly the kind of person that the ECB should be trying to attract to their local cricket clubs (assuming she doesn’t already play). Certainly, it would seem pointless trying to attract non-cricket fans to attend a cricket festival.

So having correctly found their audience, how should the ECB entice them to their events? Evidently, their answer to this question was to call them all morons. Cricket fans, regardless of gender, rarely find the laws of cricket “baffling”. Nor are cricket pads particularly difficult to put on for an adult. They might be expensive, cumbersome, and in the case of old ones belonging to a club probably not in great shape, but they aren’t “fiddly”. Certainly, as several people have remarked on Twitter, cricket pads aren’t more fiddly than bras, necklaces, and other items women routinely wear.

The most annoying thing about the ECB’s missteps in this advert is that, as is often the case, there is actually a decent idea behind their inept execution. As a middle-aged man who left my local cricket club around the age of 13, I’ve never been particularly tempted to go back. It was around that point where the focus of training shifted from ‘having fun’ to ‘winning games’, and I simply wasn’t good enough to compete. If I did want to return, I can’t say the idea of facing a hard ball or paying hundreds of pounds on a bat and pads really enthuses me. So, whilst I wouldn’t seriously consider playing ‘proper’ cricket, I might play a soft ball version if my friends or workplace formed a team. It’s a good format to promote to adult cricket fans, male or female. In fact, I genuinely think that it could become cricket’s equivalent to five-a-side football with enough promotion and support. Or, if not support and promotion, at least choosing not to insult your target demographic.

Something that perhaps makes the ECB’s oblivious sexism seem even worse is the ascent of England’s women cricketers in recent years. They won last year’s World Cup (a feat the men’s team have failed in emulate in 11 attempts), comprised three of Wisden’s five 2018 Cricketers Of The Year, and drew their most recent Ashes series in Australia rather than losing it 4-0. They are, as the kids might say, crushing it.

But even here, amidst this almost unqualified success, there are major problems on the horizon. Whilst England have benefitted from four years of their senior squad having professional contracts, most other major international boards are now at least matching that commitment. Australia have gone several steps further by giving many domestic players professional contracts. As England’s coach Mark Robinson said earlier this year, “We have to broaden our talent pool. Australia have 92 pros, we have 18.” To put that number into context: according to StephenFH’s research, there are 338 England-qualified men in county cricket first team squads. Virtually all of them will be on full-time professional contracts.

There may also be a sense that the ECB are letting this unique opportunity to market women’s cricket in England slip away. Last summer, over 26,000 people at Lord’s and 1.1 million people at home watched England’s victorious World Cup final performance. Today, in what was the team’s first game back on home soil since beating India at Lord’s last July, not much more than a thousand people went to New Road to watch them play against South Africa. It seems unlikely that over a million English fans of women’s cricket disappeared into the ether over just 10 months, so why so little interest? I suspect that the answer lies largely in a lack of promotion by the ECB and others.

If you were looking for a reason why the interests of women cricketers and cricket fans are dismissed so easily, you only have to look at the lack of female representation at the ECB. The 41 members of the ECB consist of 39 major and minor county chairmen plus the chairmen of the MCC and Minor Counties Cricket Association, As far as I’m aware, all of them are men. Not only that, but the organisations they represent cater almost entirely to men’s cricket. It gets a bit better on the ECB’s twelve-person management board which has four women, but of those four only Lucy Pearson has any official responsibility for women’s cricket. All four are also independent directors which means, as Andy Nash’s recent experience shows, they can easily be ignored or even not informed about things the ECB is doing. Considering these problems, I am dubious that these endemic issues can be resolved quickly or easily.

So, in conclusion, all men are bastards.

Discuss.

England vs Pakistan, 1st Test Day 3

If there are two people who are happy at the result of today’s play, it’s MCC President Ian MacLaurin and England’s new head selector Ed Smith. This is because the MCC seem unlikely to have to refund any of people’s Day 4 tickets, as the play tomorrow should last more than 30 overs, and both new players selected by Smith have finished the day not out with a half century to their name.

Things didn’t look quite so good for England early in the morning. Pakistan managed to add another 13 runs for their last wicket, and then Abbas trapped Alastair Cook in England’s second over. Stoneman was bowled soon after by legspinner Shadab Khan with a delivery which spun out of the rough and kept low, which left England in the precarious position of being two wickets down and still 148 runs behind.

Joe Root and Dawid Malan steadied the ship somewhat beyond Lunch, until (quelle surprise) Malan lost his wicket to a swinging delivery by Mohammad Amir. Amir also bowled Bairstow two balls later with a vicious swinging delivery between bat and pad, which heralded the third Englandbattingcollapse of the game as Stokes and Root also fell in quick succession. Stokes hit a loose shot to midwicket, perhaps mistaking the situation for an IPL game rather than a Test match, whilst Root was trapped LBW in the crease by Abbas.

This brought the Somerset (or Lancashire/Somerset duo, if you prefer) duo of Jos Buttler and Dom Bess to the crease with England still 69 runs behind and only 4 wickets left. At this point, the most England fans were probably hoping for was a quick finish followed by the traditional blame game. Instead, Buttler and Bess batted through to the end of the day whilst scoring 125 run.

This leaves England 56 runs ahead and with the distant hope that they might set a target which at least allows for the possibility of a win. Obviously a quick collapse tomorrow morning is more likely, particularly with the new ball due for Pakistan after two overs, but it is England’s best position in the game so far.

Ed Smith’s supporters are likely to be crowing over this scenario. The two new members of the squad which he selected have both scored crucial fifties (and are still going). The head selector himself might be more circumspect for two reasons. The first would be the example of James Whitaker, who continually cited the success of Gary Ballance in interviews as justifying his approach until Ballance lost his form and became unselectable. At that point, Whitaker became something of a laughing-stock. The second, assuming that Ed Smith is mathematically minded, is that he no doubt knows the dangers of making assumptions from a small sample. Two innings is hardly enough to judge a player, especially when you consider that in recent times Westley, Dawson, Jennings and Hameed all made half centuries or better in their debut.

To follow on from thelegglance’s point yesterday, another 5 overs were lost today due to slow over rates. With 6 lost in the first day as well, it may well be beyond the point where the ICC and match umpire will forgive the bowling teams. Pakistan appear to have been slower of the two teams, and captain Sarfraz Ahmed must be in real danger of being suspended for the next Test match at Headingley. This might be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan, as Sarfraz has been in poor form recently and only averages 31.63 over the last two years.

So we will have a day 4, which means that LordCanisLupus will get to do a report (whether he wants to or not). Whichever way tomorrow’s play goes, at least we have that to look forward to…

As always, feel free to comment below.

England v Pakistan, 1st Test Day 1 Report – “A New Era”

A new season. A new selector. A new era for English cricket.

Or at least that’s what the ECB must have been hoping for after a disastrous winter. In truth, the team sheet from England’s head selector was very similar to the last one prepared by his predecessor in New Zealand.  Replacing Vince with Jos Buttler was the only unenforced change, with Buttler playing as a specialist batsman at number 7 and everyone else (bar Stokes) moving up a spot. Jack Leach was also ruled out of the team due to injury, and so was replaced by fellow Somerset spinner Dom Bess. For Pakistan, Hasan Ali was preferred over Rahat Ali. This decision was no doubt aided by Rahat Ali’s inability to take any wickets in the Test against Ireland a couple of weeks ago.

Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. What followed was very reminiscent of England’s previous era. Of their previous twenty or so ‘new eras’, if I’m being honest. It started with Stoneman being bowled through the gate by Abbas, which is never a good look from an opener. Root and Malan both edged Hasan Ali to the keeper, and England were 43/3. Cook and Bairstow regrouped and managed to survive until Lunch, but England were facing a humiliating start to the summer.

The partnership looked solid after the interval, until Bairstow played inside a delivery from Faheem Ashraf and was bowled. This brought Stokes to the crease, and a second counterattack from England. Together with Cook, he put on a 49-run stand which was ended by Amir bowling Cook. This left England at 149/5. Not a great position, but with the remaining 6 batsmen including two allrounders, a specialist batsman in Jos Buttler and a Test centurion it was hardly the worst possible position for England.

Whilst England’s tail looked very strong on paper, on a cricket pitch they looked abjectly poor. Stokes, Buttler, Bess and Broad fell in quick succession and, within 11 overs, Pakistan had bowled the England tail out. Considering that England had won the toss and chose to bat, 184 was an abysmal total.

It looked a little promising for England at the start of Pakistan’s innings, with Broad trapping Imam-ul-Haq LBW after a successful DRS review. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was almost the only bright spot for them in the evening session. Anderson and Broad seemed to be a bit fuller and straighter than normal, but the Pakistani batsmen were resolute and seemed fairly comfortable facing the English attack. The only exception was an edge by Sohail from Mark Wood’s bowling which Ben Stokes dropped at third slip. Otherwise, Sohail and Azhar Ali made steady progress to the end of play leaving Pakistan on 50/1 and just 134 runs behind England.

Cook was England’s top scorer with 70 runs. As essentially the only member of the England team who did anything close to their job, he certainly deserves praise. Instead, I would guess the press’ attention will be aimed towards Joe Root. He chose to bat first in what many would say were bowling conditions (never mind that this was presumably a team decision involving the coaches and senior players), and he got out for just 4 runs (ignoring that he averages 50.12 as captain).

Perhaps the most worrying thing for England and their supporters is that this doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Pakistan team. Mohammad Amir, who was heavily hyped in the lead up to this series, was wayward and slow. Their batting lineup seems fragile to say the least. Pakistan are currently 7th in the ICC Test rankings, and you can see why. This is a side which England should be able to absolutely dominate at home. That they can’t is damning. This series could well be the first one Pakistan have won in England since 1996.

As always, comments welcome below.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

“Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.”

These are the words of the ECB’s Director Of England Cricket, Andrew Strauss, in response to the question “A new 100-ball competition. Your reason for introducing that?” on Sportsweek. What stood out for me in this long winded (and arguably sexist) response, is that Strauss used the world “simple” three times in the first four sentences.

First, a recap of the current proposals by the ECB for this new format. Instead of the current T20 format of 20 six-ball overs per innings, each team will face a maximum of 100 balls in 16 overs. Of those 16 overs, one will have 10 balls and the rest will remain as 6 balls each. Since the initial proposal, there has been a suggestion reported in the Telegraph that the fielding team will have the option of switching bowlers during the longer over up to three times.

All of which begs the question: How is this simpler than T20? It honestly sounds like the most convoluted format of cricket I’ve ever heard of.

I, like most people who frequent this blog (or at least most of the people who comment), prefer Test cricket to the other forms of the game. With all the talk of the new tournament and now a new format, I’ve been trying to think why that is. The answer I have come up with is this: It’s a simple game.

For a start, the goals of the teams playing Test cricket are very simple. The fielding side has to take 20 wickets. If a Test team can’t manage that (see England’s performances this winter), they can’t win. Conversely, the batting team will attempt to preserve their wickets. If successful, they should never lose.

Which is not to say that there aren’t complexities in Test cricket. LBW is cricket’s answer to football’s offside rule, incredibly difficult to explain to a newbie and probably requiring diagrams of some sort. It is a necessary complication though, because otherwise it would be possible for batsmen to essentially negate all forms of dismissal. The names for the positions in the field aren’t exactly intuitive for people unfamiliar with the game, but given the massive variety of possible places a fielder can be in there may not be an obvious solution to that. More recently, the DRS system has also added some confusion to proceedings. That was almost an enforced change, with technology showing umpires’ mistakes almost instantly on television and causing an outcry amongst aggrieved fans.

The other formats of the game are certainly shorter, but can hardly be described as more simple. Take as an example the powerplays. I’m a cricket fan, I’ve watched and listened to dozens of ODIs, I’ve even done match reports for some of them here on BOC. I literally couldn’t tell you when the ODI powerplays are or how many fielders have to be within the circle. It seems to change every few years, and at some point I decided to stop keeping track.

Even more importantly, the powerplays mean that the rules by which the teams are playing change throughout the game itself. This would be like every rugby union game starting with 10 minutes of 7-a-side to encourage more tries, or football matches having 15 minutes without goalkeepers. I honestly can’t think of any other examples in sport where the rules shift mid-match, excluding tie-breakers such as extra time and penalty shoot-outs.

The thing I really hate about limited overs cricket is the limit on how many overs any player can bowl. As a fan of the sport, I want to see the best players from both teams facing each other as much as possible. Instead, batsmen in ODIs and T20s face the majority of their deliveries from bowlers picked for their batting ability over anything else. Whilst I understand the reasons behind it, namely that it weakens the bowling and strengthens the batting and therefore ensures a high-scoring game, it still feels contrived and artificial to me.

If the ECB really wanted to produce a format which was easy for newcomers and existing fans to understand and enjoy, surely the obvious solution is to have as few rules and restrictions as possible? No bowling limits, no fielding limits, and especially no weirdly long overs. Just get 11 great players on the field and let them create the drama and excitement, like in every popular sport.

It’s really very simple.

Sympathy For The Devil

David Warner is a massively unlikable person. He’s violent. He’s aggressive and insulting. He’s a cheat. Perhaps worst of all, he’s a hypocrite. It has been pretty amusing to several outside observers, including myself, how his past words and actions in this South Africa series have come back to bite him.

And so, with all of this baggage, it’s somewhat remarkable that Cricket Australia’s actions have led me to feel at least some small measure of sympathy for him. Obviously not much, but arguably a lot more than he otherwise deserves.

Warner was neither directly responsible for the ball tampering nor the man in charge. He hasn’t received any punishment from the ICC, unlike Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft. He is, however, unpopular in the Australian dressing room and in the international cricket press. Even a large portion of the team’s own supporters have tired of his antics, stereotypically Australian thought they might have been. In other words, he is an ideal scapegoat.

Bad Timing

It seems fair to say that the harsh punishments meted out to the ‘Sandpaper 3’ has more to do with Cricket Australia’s financial position than any kind of ethical stance. Within a few days of the ball tampering incident, which itself came after a series of unflattering stories involving Warner earlier in the series, the Australian Test series sponsor pulled out of their agreement. This action potentially costs CA $20m over the next three years. Even more importantly, this winter (at least for those in the wrong hemisphere) was also meant to be the time when new TV deals for Australian cricket were meant to be struck.

Immediately after the Ashes series, Cricket Australia were reportedly expecting to receive $1bn (Aus) over five years for the rights to show Australian cricket on the TV and streaming. That’s equivalent to £550m, or £110m per year. That’s quite a large deal considering that the ECB’s current TV deal up to 2019 was only for £75m a year, in a country with almost three times the population of Australia and where (unlike Australia) no cricket is shown on free-to-air TV.

Except now, with a cricket scandal on the front and back pages of every Australian newspaper, a deal that big seems some way away. Cricket boards have swept most indiscretions and wrongdoing under the carpet or given extraordinarily light punishments. Examples include racial abuse, talking to bookies, touring Apartheid South Africa and instigating what Richie Benaud described as “one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field.” And that’s just the rap sheet for Cricket Australia’s four-man selection panel. What they won’t forgive is costing them money. Potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, in this case.

In order to bring the story under control, Cricket Australia felt they had to draw a line under it with swift and severe punishments for all involved. Which brings us to the second aspect of unfortunate timing. The incident happened at the end of the Australian cricket season. This meant that any ban shorter than eight or nine months would involve the players missing no cricket in Australia whatsoever. This would seem lenient to some, which CA couldn’t abide.

Had the incident happened in September, three or six month bans would have suited everyone. The baying Australian public would have their pound of flesh and the players would have received punishments vaguely proportional to their ‘crimes’. As it is, two players being banned for a year seems ludicrously long and punitive.

“Fronting Up”

“Full credit to Steve Smith & Cam Bancroft for fronting up and admitting what they tried to do .. I know many teams and individuals who would have gone hiding .. it still doesn’t brush it away but at least they faced the music .. – Michael Vaughan.

Immediately after the press conference at the end of play in Cape Town, where Smith and Bancroft confessed to ball tampering, Michael Vaughan posted this tweet. The responses to it weren’t flattering to him or the Australians, and so he quickly deleted it and posted a new tweet with an almost 180 degree turn in viewpoint.

Apart from demonstrating Vaughan’s propensity to latch onto anything which he thinks will be popular and dumping it just as quickly, it also shows the way in which Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft are being separated from David Warner in the press. Numerous press reports (particularly from the one-eyed Australian journalists who wind us up so much) praise Smith and Bancroft for being honest, sincere, apologetic and so on. The same writers call Warner evasive, insincere and repetitive.

Even Cricket Australia are in on it. If you look at their videos on YouTube, they have Smith and Warner’s tearful press conferences. If you look at the titles, they are “Smith breaks down during emotional press conference” and ” Warner apologises but leaves out the detail”. Clearly CA have picked their scapegoat.

The reason why this division amuses me, other than the simple pleasure of watching the mindlessly aggressive Aussies attacking a kindred spirit in Warner just because it suits their agenda, is that Smith and Bancroft are the only ones who have definitely lied during this whole saga. First they denied everything to the on-field umpires, then told the press at the end of play that it involved “players and the leadership group” and used sticky tape. Finally, they told Cricket Australia’s investigators that it was just the three players involved, and a strip of sandpaper.

Even in their latest press conferences, there are discrepancies between Smith’s and Bancroft’s stories. Compare their answers when asked if it was the only time Australia had cheated. Steve Smith stated categorically that “To my knowledge, this has never happened before. This is the first time I’ve seen this happen, and I can assure you it will never happen again.” Cameron Bancroft gives a much more specific denial, “I have never ever been involved in tampering the ball. It completely compromises my values and what I stand for as a player and as a person.

On the other hand, David Warner has apparently chosen not to lie. For example, when Warner was asked at his press conference whether anyone else was involved his response was this: “I’m here today to accept my responsibility for my part in my involvement in what happened in Cape Town.” A clear non-answer, but also not a lie.

I would argue that part of the reason Dave Warner is being hung out to dry is that he isn’t giving the Australian press the answers they, and Cricket Australia, want to hear. “It was an isolated incident.” “It has never happened before.” “It was just three people.” No one in Australia’s cricketing establishment wants the scandal to widen, and Warner isn’t helping that cause by pleading the fifth whenever these questions come up.

This leads the press the declare that he has an ulterior motive, such as a $1m tell-all TV interview. Whilst I wouldn’t begrudge him that after this incident, especially considering the fairly high chance he won’t play for Australia again, the truth is that he might be the only player in the Australian team who hasn’t implicated someone else in the investigation. He appears to want to protect the team and his former teammates, even after they cast him as their scapegoat.

So Steve Smith, being the first one to cry and telling what are almost certainly lies, is credited with being emotional and honest. 25-year-old Cameron Bancroft is the young, impressionable victim of the senior player’s evil plans. Mohammad Amir without the great hair, essentially. Both of them are already rehabilitated in many people’s eyes, and ready to come back and represent Australia. And David Warner is the villain, who led the other two astray and is now trying to profit from the situation. Except without actually profiting from the situation in any way.

All of which is to say that I feel sympathetic for Warner in this specific circumstance. I wouldn’t be shedding any tears if he had been banned for a year (or longer) because of the other stuff he’s done. The fights, the insults, the send offs, and quite possibly tampering the ball himself. But he wasn’t. If anything, he was encouraged to do all of that even more by being rewarded with the vice captaincy. If he was a bad influence on others, it’s only because Cricket Australia allowed it. Welcomed it even.

I believe that allowing the blame to fall almost entirely on Warner, as appears to be the case in the Aussie media, is unfair and unjust. “Team culture” is defined by what the people in charge allow and clamp down on. For example, in England’s dressing room any kind of dissent is stamped down on immediately. It’s not right, but it is a vivid example of the amount of control administrators exert on a team. Cricket Australia have allowed their national team to become bullies and cheats, and it’s a little late to blame it on ‘one bad apple’. They did this.

As always, feel free to comment below.

After Winter, Must Come Spring

Monday night marked the end of England’s antipodean tour, a solid 5 months of overseas failure brightened only slightly by their two ODI series wins. On a personal note, it seemed reminiscent of a fictional never-ending winter like in the Chronicles Of Narnia or Game Of Thrones to me. The persistent cold weather at home during the day, then the depressing feats of mediocrity by the England Test team at night. It might have only been five months, but it somehow seemed like much longer.

In the Test team, it’s hard to think of many players who come out of this winter without a diminished reputation. Jimmy Anderson, and perhaps Craig Overton (although he had a decidedly average average of 42.28 from his three Tests), are the only standout performers. Certainly, you would expect Overton to be pleased that his 2015 ban after racially abusing another player isn’t the first thing that people think of when they hear his name.

For everyone else, it’s been a tour to forget. Joe Root’s captaincy has been questioned by many, although it’s not clear exactly what more he could do. He was England’s top scorer (always a dangerous position in a losing Ashes), and his bowlers were essentially all dire. As the point was often made during Australia’s period of dominance, it’s easy being captain when you have McGrath and Warne in your side. It’s not like a lot of balls were being edged to vacant slip positions by the Australian and New Zealander batsmen, or mis-hit in the air to where fielders should have been. England’s bowlers just didn’t seem to induce many false shots throughout the winter.

Finishing with bowling averages over 60, it’s hard to see how Jake Ball, Tom Curran, Mason Crane, Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali can expect to play for England in the near future. Jack Leach has been receiving plaudits for his performance this week, but they may be premature. Being economical when the opposing team are trying to bat out a draw might not be the greatest test for an international spinner, although I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was picked for the Pakistan series. Woakes and Moeen were also disappointing with the bat, both averaging under 20, which could herald an end to England’s policy of picking three allrounders. In fact, with Stokes’ court dates coinciding with the India Test series, it’s possible that England might play without any allrounders for parts of this summer.

That in turn could badly expose England’s fragile batting lineup. Apart from Root, no English batsman averaged over 40. The tour began with questions about virtually all of England’s specialist batsmen, and it’s ended the same way. Stoneman has averaged less than his opening partner Cook, but also outscored him in 11 of the 18 innings they’ve shared so far. Vince looks great until he plays a loose shot and gets himself out cheaply. Malan did well in Australia, averaging 42.55, but once he was in conditions conducive to swing in New Zealand he seemed to have the same flaws as he demonstrated last summer against South Africa.

All of which leads us to the question: Where do England go from here? So far, the only people to lose their jobs have been the selectors. Certainly this seems overdue. England’s Chief Selector James Whitaker’s last selectorial triumph was Gary Ballance, who was dropped almost three years ago due to a catastrophic lack of form. It’s honestly been somewhat astonishing that he wasn’t fired years ago.

Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace both seem secure in their positions until 2019, having survived this. You’d assume that this is because of England’s ODI form, because otherwise England’s immediate future looks pretty bleak. There hasn’t seemed to be much speculation on Andy Flower losing his position as the ECB’s Technical Director Of Elite Coaching, despite there not being much evidence of any elite players having developed during his tenure. In fact, the more cynical amongst us are speculating that he will move sideways into the vacant selector’s position. It would certainly seem apt, seeing as the ECB hired him for his current job following his team’s abject failure in the Ashes four years ago.

With failures apparently across the whole England team and staff, you would normally expect that the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket Andrew Strauss should be under fire. When the tragically inept Paul Downton was fired and replaced by Strauss in 2015, England were 5th in the ICC Test rankings on 97 points and even the ECB realised that things needed changing. Today, England are 5th in the ICC Test Rankings on 97 points, and apparently the Director in charge of England’s cricket team is doing a fine job?

Except no one really wants to put the boot into Strauss right now, not least because he left the Ashes tour early when it was revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. He also seems to have a lot more friends in the English cricket media than Paul Downton did. Whilst Downton was outside the English cricket establishment for several years when he was making a living as a merchant banker (decide amongst yourselves whether that’s rhyming slang or not), Strauss has never left the upper echelons of English cricket society since his ascension to Test captain in 2009. He’s well-connected and, for the most part, well liked by the people who could make trouble for him. Sacking Strauss would also be an admission of failure from ECB Chairman Colin Graves, and even making the suggestion that Graves has failed is probably enough for him to sue you.

All of which means that the England Test team is virtually in the same position it was six months ago. And a year ago. And two years ago. And three years ago. And four years ago. They have a weak and brittle batting line up, a below average bowling attack, and there are no immediate prospects of improvement.

Still, at least winter is over now…

As always, please comment below.

NZ vs England: Second Test, Day Three – England Ascendant (Not An April Fool)

You might be forgiven for treating any news this morning with suspicion. It’s traditional for most news outlets nowadays to have at least one ‘joke’ story for April Fool’s Day. Therefore, when I awoke to see England had managed to build a lead of 231 runs with seven wickets remaining, the first thing I did was doublecheck the scorecard on another website. Especially when it suggested that Vince was the top scorer so far in England’s second innings.

The day started with 5 overs remaining until the new ball and New Zealand’s batsmen Watling and Southee took full advantage, smashing 27 runs off Wood, Stokes and Leach’s bowling. The match turned when England got the new ball, with Anderson quickly managing to swing the ball past Watling’s bat and into the wicketkeeper’s stumps. Broad followed up in the next over by taking another wicket when Ish Sodhi fenced at a ball outside off stump and edged it to Bairstow.

Tim Southee made it to 50 before Anderson bowled him, when the batsman was looking to hit him for six. Anderson was then hit out of the attack by Wagner, who managed 12 off Jimmy’s next over. This left the final wicket up for grabs, and Broad grabbed it by drawing Boult into a hook which he top-edged to Malan at fine leg.

England’s innings started with the customary early wicket, and as you might now expect the victim was Cook. It wasn’t an unplayable delivery, just a ball outside off which Cook prodded at and edged to the New Zealand keeper for 14. At this point, even people Inside Cricket are speculating that Cook might retire or be dropped this summer. He averages 33.25 this winter, which is remarkably low considering his top score of 244*. Other than his mammoth innings in Melbourne, he hasn’t managed an innings of even 40 runs whilst on tour.

The former captain’s quick departure left Stoneman and Vince at the crease. Not typically a sentence which inspires confidence in England fans, but both batsmen applied themselves to the situation.Both accumulated runs steadily, with Stoneman surviving a caught behind after his DRS appeal showed that the ball had hit his shoulder rather than the bat’s. Stoneman had more luck when Ross Taylor dropped him at slip on 48, and again when he sliced the ball just beyond the slip to bring up his half-century. A few overs later, Stoneman was dropped a second time in the slips by Southee. Proving that third time’s the charm, Stoneman edged the ball again and this time Watling caught it.

Vince followed not long after, a loose drive edged to Taylor at first slip. This honestly might be his trademark shot. Root and Malan steadied the ship, and saw England through the remaining hour of play until the day ended due to bad light. The tourists have a lead of 231 runs, with seven wickets still remaining.

This game is some players’ last chance to impress the new England selectors (whoever they will be) and cement their places this summer. Both Vince and Stoneman have good reason to worry, and their performance today might just be enough to save them. Their partnership of 123 runs in this innings has given England a significant lead, and crucially allows their middle order to avoid facing Boult and Southee with a new ball.

Stoneman might feel harshly treated if he is shown the door. In the 18 innings he has played for England, Stoneman has outscored Cook in 11 of them. That said, a Test average of 30.17 from 10 games hardly suggests a promising future. Of course, Stoneman’s career stats look amazing when compared to Vince’s Test batting average of 24.90. In truth, both batsmen must hope that the new selectors look primarily at their last innings rather than their entire body of work.

This game has also thrown up an unusual stat. So far, all 23 wickets have been taken by the opening bowlers. Southee, Boult, Anderson and Broad. That it has happened to both teams might suggest that it’s difficult to take wickets with the older ball. Equally, it might be an argument that the first change bowlers for both teams don’t match the quality of their teammates. Leach and Wood haven’t been particularly good in this Test so far, although in Leach’s defense spinners typically don’t prosper on day 2 of a game.

So, that’s it. England are 231 runs ahead, and there is virtually no way for them to lose the game. I have no doubt that they will smash New Zealand out tonight and finally win a game this winter.

Just kidding. They’re obviously going to find some way to screw this up. Happy April Fool’s Day!

“Rain” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 2nd Day Review

After what must be considered their worst day of the whole winter (and they have plenty to choose from), the England team probably weren’t hopeful about getting any kind of result from the game. The one thing which might help undeservedly rescue them is the weather, and that was what happened today.

The first session started on time after rain showers earlier in the day, but lasted only 10 overs before the downpour began. New Zealand made steady progress and Williamson completed his 18th Test century, but little else of note happened.

The heavy shower passed fairly quickly, and play restarted just over an hour later. This session coincided with the second new ball for England, and both Anderson and Woakes (with Broad only getting two overs before being pulled) got quite a lot of movement with it. An Anderson inswinger did for Williamson, hitting him plumb in front, and the traditional captain’s DRS review failed to save him. Whilst the swing challenged the other New Zealand batsmen, neither gave up a clear chance and after just 13 overs the rain came down again.

And thus ends what is by far the shortest and easiest match report I’ve ever had to write. The forecast for tomorrow looks even worse than today, which might leave England the faint hope that they can rescue a draw. Meanwhile, with a lead of 171 runs New Zealand must be considering a declaration sooner rather than later.

As always, comments welcome below.

Integrity In English Cricket, And Other Myths

Yesterday, former Somerset chairman Andy Nash resigned his role on the ECB management board as a non-executive director representing the interests of the counties. In his resignation letter, Nash said that:

“The standards of Corporate Governance at the ECB are falling well short of acceptable and in all conscience I can’t allow myself to be associated with it.

Those are pretty damning words about the ECB, which should make him something of a hero here at Being Outside Cricket. Certainly, his core argument that the ECB is full of biases and that it is poorly run is one that most of us would agree with. The question I have regarding Nash is whether someone who has been on the ECB’s management board for almost five years, and a county chairman before that for another nine years, has any right to distance themselves from the decisions that the ECB has made in that time.

Certainly I question whether the specific issue which appears to have triggered his resignation is worth such a gesture. In the letter he sent to Colin Graves, Nash wrote:

The current fiasco over the actual / alleged / planned payments to TMGs [Test Match Grounds] is an exemplar. Whether intentional or not it clearly signals to many a move to promote 8 counties as the first among equals. As an ardent supporter of the 18 FCCs [first-class counties] this is not a direction I can live with.

To put this into context, it leaked this week (quelle surprise) that the ECB planned to give counties with Test match grounds an extra £500,000 in every year which they didn’t host a Test match. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that there is absolutely nothing dodgy about this arrangement. It could well have been a backroom deal to reward the larger counties for supporting the ECB’s new T20 competition, when a similar payment actually tied to hosting one of the new teams would have almost certainly been blocked by the other ten counties.

But equally, I believe that these payments are a necessary evil. The ECB’s policy of forcing counties to ‘bid’ in order to host England games since 2007, guaranteeing to pay the ECB a minimum amount even if the revenue the county receives from the game isn’t enough to cover the payment, has meant that being a Test match ground has been a financial struggle for many counties. The ECB have also considered factors like the capacity of grounds and the quality of the facilities when assigning games, which has meant that grounds have had to invest (at great expense) in updating and enlarging their stands simply in order to maintain their allocation of international games.

Last year, the ECB decided to reduce the number of home Test matches per year from seven to six. With Lord’s hosting two games annually, this means that at least three of the eight counties with Test grounds will miss out on Tests every year. This could cause significant financial problems and end up with more counties getting the same treatment as Durham, which no one wants. Well except perhaps for Durham fans, who might be glad to know that they weren’t singled out for punishment before the ECB decided to address the underlying problems in their own systems.

However, even though I might agree with the principle of ensuring that England’s international grounds have a guaranteed income, there have to be questions about how the policy has been arranged. It appears to be the case that the ECB’s management board did not approve of the decision for the ECB to hand out £1.5m annually, nor were they even informed. This suggests a worrying (and yet entirely unsurprising) lack of oversight for the people in charge, and perhaps a worthy justification for a person of principle to resign as a member of the ECB’s board.

Which brings us to Andy Nash’s principles. In an interview with BBC Somerset today, he said:

“It suggests we’re moving towards favouring an elite band of eight teams rather than treating 18 fairly, and that is not something I could reconcile my conscience to.”

Which of course is wonderful. Most readers here seem to support there being eighteen teams in English cricket. Bravo to such a man of conscience, willing to resign rather than even considering any move towards a future where English cricket is divided between the haves and have-nots. A future where eight counties stand alone above the rest.

Except, of course, that this is a relatively new position for him. As Somerset’s chairman, Nash voted in favour of the ECB’s new T20 competition which only has eight teams. Why? Apparently he was in possession of a signed letter from the ECB’s chairman, Colin Graves, stating that Somerset were well placed to host one of the new sides. He was also on the ECB management board at the time, representing (in theory) all 18 major counties, where he voted for the ECB’s proposition.

I would argue that Andy Nash was perfectly willing to live with a two-tier county system when he thought that Somerset might be in the top tier. Now that this is clearly not going to happen, it seems a little late to cast himself as an ardent defender of the smaller county teams.

So, to summarise: I agree with the ECB’s payments to Test grounds, but not the way it’s been managed. I agree with Andy Nash’s purported sentiments about maintaining 18 teams in English cricket and his assertion that the ECB’s level of governance is extremely poor, but consider him wholly complicit in the ECB’s actions during his time in significant positions of influence.

But I certainly agree with this quote from Nash’s interview on BBC Somerset:

“If, as directors, you’re learning about such things through the media then there’s something very wrong.”

As always, comments are welcomed below.