Why The Hundred Must Be The ECB’s Priority This Season

No one could confuse me for being an advocate for The Hundred, nor a fan of either its concept or execution by the ECB. I have written posts here about its lack of simplicity, its patronising marketing towards women, its sycophantic press coverage, the ‘research’ which allegedly led to its creation, the ECB’s own justifications for its creation, the dumb team names, and the huge gender inequality inherent in the new competition. I have even written a Dr. Seuss parody about it. Last but by no means least, I have written a post with a hundred reasons why I think it’s a bad idea (Spoiler alert: I am also 82% through writing a second post with a hundred more reasons, although many of these may have become redundant based on current events). All told, I’ve written well over 25,000 words here on the subject. None of them complimentary.

Which is why it may surprise some of you to discover that I genuinely think The Hundred must be the ECB’s first priority when (or if) domestic cricket returns this year.

I’m no more a fan of it now than I have been before. Its a bad idea, made worse by the people running it. The rationale for it is flawed, and it risks alienating cricket’s loyal customers in order to attract new people. And I don’t even like any of the crisps. But none of that matters now. In light of cricket being essentially closed at the start of the season, there are two basic reasons why I think it should be the first domestic competition to return.

The first reason is that the competition format is literally made for television, which is important because it seems possible that people won’t be able to attend games in the near future. The main reason counties want T20 Blast games is their profitability, but a large portion of that money comes from attracting fans to the grounds. If large gatherings are banned (and the average T20 Blast crowd last year was over 7,000), then I think it might quickly become expensive for the counties.

The Blast’s format is basically designed to have as many games in as short as a period as possible in order to maximise attendance, with 126 group games played over 44 days. Sky Sports Cricket can typically only show 2 matches per day, and that includes the international cricket which will be almost certainly be happening in the same window. Without serious changes, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of games coupled with an increase in the competition’s duration, it seems likely that county cricket fans would only be able to watch around a third of the competition at all.

The Hundred, on the other hand, has 32 group games scheduled over 28 days. Ideal for Sky to fit around a Test series (which most of us will hopefully be watching), as was the original plan for this year anyway. If the women’s games were all made double-headers with the men’s, as the rationale that women’s cricket wouldn’t attract large enough attendances to be sustainable seems pointless if there are literally no fans present anyway, Sky might even be able to show all of them too. And that’s before we consider the BBC, who have the rights to show 10 men’s games and 8 from the women’s competition. With no Wimbledon, Olympics or European Championships this year, The Hundred might be the most high-profilelive sports they have this summer.

It may be possible that the English cricket season starts early enough to play both the T20 Blast and The Hundred, but even in that situation I would have The Hundred go first. The later the Blast is scheduled, in my mind, the more chance there is that people will be allowed to go to the grounds.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is money. It’s been that the ECB is concerned that “Sky Sports will withhold part of this year’s £220million television contract if [The Hundred] is postponed“. If people can’t attend the games, then that is already a huge amount of money lost from English cricket in terms of gate receipts and beer snake ammunition. Other revenue, such as sponsorships, might also be affected. This is not a time when we can afford to be picky about where the money to fund English cricket is coming from, or what it is paying for.

This crisis could hardly have come at a worse time financially for English cricket. The £220m Sky TV deal meant that everyone blew through their 2019 reserves with the secure knowledge that a huge pay cheque was waiting for them this season. The ECB’s funds got to such a low point that they couldn’t even afford to pay their white ball international contracts for four months. The players received generous pay rises going in to this season, as (I would guess) did the coaches and many other staff behind the scenes at the counties and ECB. This means that English cricket is now more expensive to run than ever before, and needs as much money as possible to continue as it is now.

That £220m wasn’t a gift from Sky, but a payment for the ECB and counties providing cricket games for them to air. Specifically international cricket, the T20 Blast and The Hundred. If the ECB fails to deliver all of those competitions, then Sky would presumably be well within their rights to withold their next payment. They might even be be able cancel the contract altogether, and that could be a real disaster. With Sky Sports and BT both having lost subscribers during this sporting hiatus, it seems very unlikely that the TV rights for English cricket from 2021 would be worth anywhere near as much to them as the current deal offers.

Will The Hundred be any good? With few overseas players and likely no crowds, I wouldn’t have thought so. And, like I wrote at the start, I can think of plenty of reasons why it was going to suck even before all this happened. That said, people might be sufficiently starved of live sport by the point it starts not to care about such things.

In summary: I think the ECB should prioritise The Hundred, and it should be the first domestic competition to take place this year.

And no, this is not an April Fool.

“Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

Today, as almost ninety thousand cricket fans crammed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the Women’s T20 World Cup final, seems an excellent opportunity to look at the status of women’s cricket here in England. The perception seems to be that we are making good progress towards a professional and popular women’s game. And, relative to some countries, we are. But there have been numerous opportunities squandered, a multitude of promises unfulfilled, and far too many empty platitudes.

Personally, I’ve found it frustrating that England has seemed to lag behind Australia in developing women’s cricket recently. England awarded the first full time central contracts in 2014, followed by Australia in 2015. Other than that, Australia have really taken the lead in the women’s game. Cricket Australia started the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015, followed by the ECB’s Kia Super League in 2016. When Australia’s domestic competition went fully professional in 2017, I naturally waited for the ECB to follow suit soon after. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2019, the ECB finally seemed to come through on the next logical step for women’s cricket when the PCA announced that 100 new professional domestic cricketers would be created in 2020. It was included in the ‘Heads Of Agreement’ which detailed exactly what pay and other considerations professional players and the PCA could expect for the duration of the new £220m per year Sky TV deal. Meanwhile, people from the ECB were saying that there would be eight full time teams, based in the same cities as The Hundred, where these new professional players would play throughout the summer.

The creation of a professional domestic structure is absolutely key for the future of women’s cricket in England. It should provide a high standard of competition, which improves the ability to develop players for international cricket and also makes the  game more entertaining for potential supporters. In the best case scenario, if you build women’s cricket up like Cricket Australia have with the Women’s Big Bash League, you can even reach a point where women’s cricket is profitable rather than something subsidised by men’s cricket. Which is, frankly, more than men’s county cricket seems to manage.

Recent developments seem to suggest that we are a long way from the ECB committing to this kind of growth. First, the ECB reduced the number of new full time contracts from 100 to 40. Now, around 5 weeks before the English cricket season begins, we haven’t heard a single thing about any of these new players being signed or even the teams they’re supposed to play for. I’m starting to think that the ECB may have abandoned even these modest goals.

The reduction from 100 to 40 professional crickets is incredibly important for two main reasons. Firstly, it massively restricts the opportunities for women to make a career playing cricket. Australia’s star player, Ellyse Perry, had the option of either football or cricket as a career and chose cricket because there were more opportunities and higher wages in Australia. If she was English, it seems very likely that she would have become a footballer instead. Other prospective cricketers will have left the sport because they will have had to choose their full time job over cricket, because training and playing cricket in your free time in the hopes of gaining a rare full time contract just isn’t financially realistic for many people.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that a reduction to 40 new full time cricketers reduces The Hundred and the new 8-team domestic competitions (if they arrive) to semi-professional status. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are 21 cricketers with England central contracts, the 40 new domestic players and 24 overseas draft picks, that equals 85 total professionals.  There are 8 teams in The Hundred with a squad of 15 each, meaning that there is a total of 120 players. So at least 35 squad members in The Hundred this year will be amateurs. Club cricketers. A far cry from the rhetoric about it being an elite competition.

The reduction also acts as a reminder to all of us (not that anyone here needs reminding) that the ECB are not to be trusted, nor should their promises be believed. In another related example, England’s women cricketers were reportedly told that their pay brackets in The Hundred would range from £50,000 to £15,000. When the final figures were announced, it was actually from £15,000 to £3,000. Quite a difference.

I almost don’t blame the ECB for constantly lying and cheating though, because everyone else seems to just let them get away with it. The press don’t seem to care enough to write about it. The counties can’t even collectively act in their own interests, so the idea that they might somehow get their act together to help women’s cricket is almost laughable. The most disappointing to me is the PCA, who are supposed to represent and  protect these women cricketers from abuse and deceit by their employers. Not for the first time, the PCA’s response appears to be silence and inaction.

But most of this isn’t new. Whilst I’ve been angry about this consistent failure by the ECB to build up women’s cricket in England, the thing which really spurred me to write my first blog post in about six weeks was a couple of smug, arrogant and incredibly misleading tweets by the new “@TheHundred” Twitter account.

 

#EachForEqual is the official theme and hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day (which is today). It is meant to represent support for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, [and] more gender equality in health and wealth.” So let’s examine how the ECB are doing on these aspirations which they are publicly supporting.

Gender equal boardroom – 4 out of 12 on the ECB board. There’s just one woman acting as a representative for the 40 counties and the MCC who elect the chairman and approve the board, I believe.

Gender equal media coverage – The ECB are always at pains to say that the men’s and women’s competitions are inextricably linked, and that both will gain signficant exposure. In the real world, Sky are committed to showing all 34 men’s games and just 11 women’s games whilst the BBC seem likely to air only the final. To put this into context: Sky showed 12 Kia Super League games in 2019, which means that the total coverage of women’s cricket by Sky will actually decrease this year.

Gender equal sports coverage – In The Hundred, the men will play 34 games at 8 grounds. All televised, all in big cities. The women, on the other hand, will play 30 games at 20 grounds, mostly in small towns and mostly not on television (and quite possibly not even streamed or with radio commentary).

Equality in wealth – Even including the £300,000 team bonus for winning, which is the same in both competitions, the average wage in The Hundred for a woman is around £60,000 less than for a man.

In other words, they’re achieving none of it. I don’t think they’re even working towards it. It’s just a meaningless hashtag and phrase.

The huge new TV deal and The Hundred were supposed to usher in a new era for women’s cricket in England. Whilst the press release platitudes and slick social media marketing still proclaim that to be true, the reality is far different. No amount of flashy videos, hashtags or other nonsense should distract us all from the fact that the ECB is absolutely screwing up the women’s cricket. Somehow even worse than they’ve done to the men’s game.

And the most frustrating thing to me is that hardly anyone seems to care.

Thinking Out Loud: 4th Test, Day Three

Test cricket can be a beautiful thing. A precious thing. A wonderful mixture of talent and pressure culminating in moments which are seared into our memories for life.

But it also unfortunately has days like today as well. The day began with England leading the series and dominating the game, and finished the same way. The bits inbetween, both batting and bowling, were thoroughly unexciting.

The day began with an early wicket, Vern Philander caught off a leading edge in the first over of the day, leading to some speculation that England might consider enforcing the follow-on. That possibility was quickly crushed by the partnership which followed between de Kock and Pretororius, which almost carried South Africa through to Lunch. A quick flurry of wickets from Stokes and Wood ended this spell of resistance and left South Africa with a 217 run deficit in their first innings total.

The less written about England’s batting performance, the better. They were in a position where the score essentially didn’t matter as they were basically giving the bowlers a rest, and they batted like it. Loose shots, scrambled thinking, and poor technique. Honestly, the scoreline quite possibly flatters them in this innings. The dismissals I found most disappointing were those from batsmen who should be fighting for their batting position. Crawley, Denly and Buttler haven’t scored enough runs in this series to cement their place in the side, and this was their last chance to do so. They scored 24, 8 and 8 respectively. Crawley and Denly will likely have until Rory Burns is fit again to press their case, but this feels like it was Buttler’s last chance saloon.

Root managed to hang around though, scoring yet another unconverted fifty mainly with the tail. England managed to post a score of 248, leaving South Africa needing to chase 466 runs to win.

Somerset’s Vernon Philander looks to have finished his Test career early, with a hamstring injury of some description. He left the field in just his second over, and didn’t return all day. Given that this left South Africa with four seamers and no spinners, it’s little surprise that the day finished about 8 overs short.

South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 2 – The New Pope

At the end of Day 1, this game was in the balance. 224-4 was a solid foundation, but one we England fans have seen the team collapse from several times in recent years. Instead, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope both made impressive hundreds as England took charge of this game and potentially the series too.

The day began later than normal, after a rain shower delayed the start of play. The South Africans probably wish the rain lasted quite a bit longer though, as Stokes and Pope absolutely dominated the bowlers. The pitch seemed better to bat on than the previous day, as perhaps the rain had left the pitch a little quicker whilst still not generating any movement from the pace bowlers. Even so, it was a very impressive batting from the pair, and they made it all of the way past Lunch before Stokes eventually hit one in the air to point.

Stokes’ batting in the past year has been absolutely tremendous. Since the start of 2019, he is England’s top Test runscorer with 1060 at an average of 50.47. Not only that, he looks like a ‘proper’ Test batsman when he’s at the crease. Confident and assured, making smart decisions, and being able to play both a counter-attacking and dominating innings depending on the situation. His bowling is, at this point, basically a bonus. In this innings he passed 4000 Test runs, and you wouldn’t necessarily bet against him doubling that in his career.

If Stokes has had a great year in the Test team, the next batsman in has had an anus horribilis [sic]. Jos Buttler came in, scored one run and then chipped the ball tamely back to Maharaj for a simple caught and bowled. Since the start of 2019, Buttler has scored at an average of just 24.13, playing in 8 of those 12 Tests as a specialist batsman rather than wicketkeeper. This marks a huge drop off from his initial comeback in 2018, where he averaged 44.70 from 10 Tests. I have no idea what might have caused such a huge drop in form, but it’s increasingly difficult for him to justify his place in the side for the next series in Sri Lanka.

Fortunately for England, the tail weren’t as loose as Buttler with their batting. Helped by the tired bowling and older ball, not to mention Pope’s batting, Curran and Wood both added quickfire 40s which really crushed the hopes of a South African win. Wood’s innings in particular was a joy, with him being given out caught before being reprieved by Rabada being shown to have overstepped the bowling crease in the delivery.

What made this even more delightful for English fans and neutral observers is that Root declared on the fall of the wicket, before rescinding his declaration when the dismissal was reversed. As some have pointed out, this technically would be against the laws of the games which clearly state that: “A captain shall notify the opposing captain and the umpires of any decision to declare or to forfeit an innings.  Once notified, the decision cannot be changed.” Not for the first time in the past year, England have been fortunate with umpiring going in their favour.

Pope and Wood added another 31 runs before South Africa finally managed to dismiss Wood. On a day of milestones, perhaps the most important will end up being Ollie Pope’s 135*. His first Test century, this innings also pushes his career Test average to 51.85. This makes him the only English batsman with a Test average of over fifty since Ken Barrington’s last game in 1968. (Joe Root’s average fell below fifty in the West Indies last year, and sadly doesn’t look in danger of regaining that milestone on recent form) It’s obviously ridiculously early for such comparisons, but this innings by Pope was impressive for someone so young.

England’s spell in the field field did not start well. Stuart Broad and Sam Curran both failed to make any chances with the new ball, and it wasn’t until Dom Bess and Mark Wood came in that the South African batsmen seemed in any peril. Wood’s quick bowling caused real issues for the South African batsmen, causing edges and blows to the body, but Bess took the wickets. First a caught and bowled by Malan, followed by a bat and pad to short leg by Hamza.

The day ended a little early due to another shower, with South Africa still 439 runs behind on 60/2. It’s been a hugely impressive performance by the English batsmen, and now England have to hope that the rain stays away long enough to take the 18 remaining wickets they need.

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

South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 1 – Flat

Pancakes. Flounders. Spare tyres. None of these things are as flat and soft as the pitch this Test is being played on in Port Elizabeth.

The bounce has been slow, restricting both scoring and wicket-taking opportunities, and there’s been virtually no sideways movement to trouble the batsmen. All of which made Joe Root’s decision to bat after winning the toss this morning a very simple one. You do have to feel sorry for du Plessis though, because this marks the sixth consecutive toss he has lost for South Africa. With the ability to bat first often being crucial in Test cricket, it’s no surprise that South Africa are on such a poor streak of form.

The first two sessions were a pretty turgid affair, like the pitch. South Africa were mainly ‘bowling dry’ *shudder* whilst England were slowly accumulating runs. Sibley and Crawley both eventually fell to mistimed clips which were caught by leg slip/gully, but losing just two wickets before Tea is still a welcome sign of progress for this England Test team. They are normally well into their tail by then.

Things livened up just after Tea, with Denly and Root falling in relatively quick succession. Root’s wicket in particular will interest England’s bowlers, because he was bowled by a ball which appeared to stay noticeably lower compared to other deliveries on a similar length. Stokes weathered a spell of strong bowling from Rabada and Maharaj, including several unsuccessful appeals, before settling down with Pope to see out the day with England finishing on 224-4.

One thing which has been enormously fun to see on Twitter is the suggestion (by idiots and trolls, mostly) that England’s top order have been scoring too slowly. This is very much a luxury problem, because English batsmen in recent times typically haven’t been at the crease long enough for people to worry about such things. To put this in context: This winter, England have lost their fifth wicket in their first inning for over 200 runs three times in the last five Tests. That’s the same number as they managed in the previous fifteen Tests over three seasons. This England top order, since the dropping of Roy and Bairstow, has been consistently scoring runs.

The key word here is ‘consistently’. Whilst it has been frustrating to see so many English batsmen fail to reach fifty, there have been far fewer collapses this winter than we England fans have become accustomed to. This has been especially important since England’s tail, particularly their non-Stokes allrounders, haven’t been scoring heavily with the bat recently. In 2019, England’s batsmen from 7-11 collectively averaged 13.96. That’s the first year since 2013 in which they’ve averaged less than 20, and their lowest average since 2006. England can no longer rely on their bowlers bailing them out with the bat, and so I think that this new-found cautious approach from the specialist batsmen is both warranted and welcome.

On our usual side note, South Africa actually managed to bowl all 90 overs in a day. With so few wickets and boundaries, and spin bowler Maharaj bowling a third of the overs, they actually managed to finish a few minutes early.

90 overs bowled, England comfortably batting out a full day. I could get used to this…

As always, comments on the game or anything else you fancy are welcome below.

South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Day 3

One of the things I’ve found when writing match reports here is that it can get pretty difficult not repeating yourself after a while. This has certainly been the main issue I’ve had, with the repetitive nature of England’s problems with the bat. All of which made it an incredibly pleasant surprise to watch a day’s play without England’s top order collapsing in a heap and leaving Stokes, Pope, or Buttler with the job of rescuing the game.

The day began with England needing two wickets to clean up the South African tail, and Anderson did so within a few overs. This efficiency is also uncharacteristic of England’s recent performance, with opposition teams scoring just over fifty runs on average against them fpr the last three wickets in the past two years. This was hugely important in the context of the game, because it allowed England a first innings lead and meant that England’s top order wasn’t stuck in the field through the morning session waiting for their chance to bat.

When England did come out to bat this morning, something truly incredible happened: A competent Test batting performance from an England batting unit. Honestly, it was simply a better version of the first innings performance. The batsmen all got starts, but Dom Sibley applied himself and got a well-deserved 85*. When Crawley and Denly did lose their wickets, an Englandbattingcollapse didn’t immediately follow. It was not the most hostile conditions for batting, and the bowling seemed quite tame at times, but England’s batting has been so chaotic in recent years that this seems like definite progress.

A particular point of improvement over England’s past batting has been their performance against South Africa’s spinner Maharaj. Whilst not hitting him out of the attack, England’s batsmen did manage to keep the scoreboard ticking over when they were facing him and have yet to gift him a wicket in this innings.

With the recent proposals by the ICC to change the default format of Tests to four days, I’ve seen the argument made that today’s play would support that idea. A day with few wickets and little drama does nothing to make Test cricket more attractive and profitable around the world, some people have suggested. There is certainly something to this point of view. We’ve all seen flat pitches leading to boring draws which sap the will to live of anyone unfortunate to be watching.

The thing I like most about Test cricket, when compared to ODIs and T20s, is the lack of artificiality. More often than not, the better team in the conditions wins a Test match. Great bowlers are allowed to bowl as many overs as they are able, and place their fielders with few restrictions. Batsmen can typically bat to the farthest limits of their abilities, both mental and physical, rather than swinging wildly at a few deliveries and calling it a day. Allrounders can demonstrate their skills in both phases of the game to the fullest extent. Everyone bats, in every game.

England have been by far the better side in this game, in particular with their bowling which has been able to extract bounce and movement from this pitch. Therefore, it seems absolutely fair to me that they should be able to put themselves in a virtually unassailable position with this innings if they are able to. If this Test were shortened to four days, then they would be not be able to fully establish a winning position due to time pressure and would either have to declare early on day 4 or risk gifting South Africa an undeserved draw. This would not seem fair to me.

On the topic of four day Tests, there were another 4 overs lost from today’s play due to the bowling teams’ lethargy. On a day where South Africa’s spinner bowled almost 30 overs. If you think international teams will be able and willing to consistently bowl 98 overs in a day, then I’ve got a Nigerian uncle who want to get in touch with you about an exciting business opportunity…

Comments on the game, four day Tests, or anything else are welcome below.

South Africa vs England: 1st Test, Day 3

Why is an England away Test performance like a Christmas cracker joke?

Because the grim inevitability of disappointment has become so deeply ingrained that it would be infinitely more surprising if they were even remotely good.

One of the hardest things about writing an England match report here is trying not to repeat what you or the other writers have written in past posts. Days like today make this task so much more difficult as England, not unlike an 80s rock band, wheeled out all of their greatest hits.

The day began with South Africa reeling on 72-4, so naturally England’s bowlers all bowled short so that there was virtually no chance of hitting the wickets. It was only when they started bowling full, just before Lunch, that England actually managed to dismiss any South African batsmen. Unfortunately for the tourists, that adjustment was too late and they were already 300 runs behind.

After Lunch, England just had to dismiss the tail in order to chase their high and still-increasing target. So, obviously, they bowled anywhere but at the stumps and let the tailenders add another 98 runs for the last three wickets. This will not be a surprise for anyone who has followed England recently, as they have the second-highest Test bowling average (behind Afghanistan) when bowling for the last three wickets this year.

The third stage of the archetypal England performance, after a feeble batting collapse and a toothless bowling display, is the hope. Against all experience and reason, we still think England can pull off a miraculous rearguard and somehow win the game. Burns and Sibley played well, and put together the highest England opening partnership since Cook and Jennings in 2016. Sibley gave his wicket away with some gentle catching practice to Maharaj, but that was the only wicket the visiting team lost all day. From an impossible target of 376, England now need ‘just’ 255 runs with nine wickets remaining.

It really is the hope that kills you.

Comments welcome below.

The Graves Who Stole Cricket

Graves1

Every fan down in Taunton liked cricket a lot.
But Graves, who lived in the cave above Taunton, did not!

Now Graves hated cricket! The whole cricket season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his ties were too tight.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

Or that he couldn’t fathom something you couldn’t buy in a store.
That cricket, perhaps, meant just a little bit more.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his ties,
The fans of cricket were who he did truly despise.

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Gravesy frown
At the warm lighted windows below in their town,

For he knew every fan down in Taunton below
Had a cricket game coming to which they planned to go.

“And they’re happy and joyful,” he snarled with a sneer.
“Tomorrow is cricket! It’s practically here!”

Then he growled, with his Graves fingers nervously drumming,
“I must find some way to keep cricket from coming!

For, tomorrow, I know, the fans all around,
Will wake bright and early. They’ll rush to their ground!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

They’ll sit close together, in tens and in twelves.
They’ll sit in the stands, enjoying themselves!”

And the more the Graves thought of this cricket fan crowd,
The more the Graves thought, “This can’t be allowed!

Why, for seventy-one years I’ve put up with it now!
I must stop cricket from coming! But how?”

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
The Graves got a wonderful, awful idea!

“I know just what to do!” The Graves said with a hoot.
“I’ll just make a quick ECB tie and a suit.”

So he went to the ground, suitably dressed,
And the foolish cricket bigwigs were very impressed.

Graves said , “There are people who aren’t yet cricket fans,
And to convince them, I have some very cunning plans.

The problem, you see, is that cricket’s too long.
You’ve been playing for centuries, but doing it wrong!

The people think that too much cricket is played.
So the less you play cricket, the more you’ll be paid!”

So Graves sold his idea. Lesscricket, he called it.
And he explained to the bigwigs how they all could afford it.

“There’s less balls, less games, less teams and less players!
But more money!”, Graves added, to answer their prayers.

For the cricket bigwigs all had the same small, slight flaw.
Whatever they had, they still wanted more.

They wanted their hands on all they could get,
Including the bank’s money, so they were all in huge debt.

Graves promised them riches, he promised them cash,
And so the bigwigs did something quite rash.

They gave Graves their key to the players’ room,
Not knowing that Graves meant to cause them their doom.

Graves snuck in to the ground later that night,
With his Gravesy bag and his Gravesy light.

He saw all the Taunton players, all in a row.
“These players,” he gravesed, “are the first things to go!”

Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room, and he took everyone present!

It was quarter of dawn. All the fans still a-dream,
All the fans still a-snooze, when he packed up their team.

He went everywhere that night, to Hove and to Kent,
Taking all of the players from wherever he went.

Graves stroked his chin, he was lost deep in thought.
“Where can I hide all of these players I’ve caught?

Perhaps where there are no fans of cricket?
That would be the perfect place to stick it.

No cricket fans to make their horrible noise,
No happy children, no girls and no boys.”

So Graves took them all to Cardiff in Wales,
And he told all the players some incredible tales.

Graves told them, “Ignore the empty stands,
You’ll all make more money without those pesky fans!”

Graves laughed as he returned to the scene of his crime,
As the fans down in Taunton reached waking-up time.

“Pooh-pooh to the fans!” he was gravesily humming.
“They’re finding out now that no cricket is coming!

They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Then the fans down in Taunton will all cry boo-hoo!

That’s a noise,” grinned the Graves, “that I simply must hear!”
He paused, and the Graves put a hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the hills.
It started in low, but was giving him chills.

But this sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded mad!

Every fan down in Taunton, the tall and the small,
Still somehow liked cricket without players at all!

They were angry, and upset, and looking to blame,
The person responsible for taking their game!

He hadn’t stopped cricket from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

The fans all gathered, in their clubs and their porches,
Then went looking for Graves with pitchforks and torches.

Graves, being clever, turned tail and ran,
And he hid in his cave, as only Graves can.

This really wasn’t going the way that he’d plotted.
Graves was really quite sad until something he spotted.

The children in Taunton weren’t playing cricket at all.
They looked puzzled if you gave them a bat and a ball.

With no team to love, no players even near,
Those kids would be fans of something else this year.

Perhaps tennis, or rugby, or hockey, or netball,
But cricket won’t enter their young minds at all.

“Eventually there will be no new fans of cricket,” Graves foresaw,
“The few fans left, I can easily ignore!”

The Graves was so happy. He had cheated and lied,
And now got to watch as cricket slowly died.

His grin was enormous, and some people say,
That his heart grew three sizes that day.

For cricket’s demise filled Graves with great joy,
As he started to think what was next to destroy.

The moral, dear children, is to guard what you hold dear,
And don’t believe all the promises you hear.

Because every single person in an ECB suit and tie,
If their lips are moving, is telling a lie.

 

Merry Christmas from Dmitri, Chris, Sean and myself!

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 2

It’s an odd experience, writing a match report for a game I’ve barely seen, hurrying to get it finished before I go to work in the morning.

The story of the New Zealand innings seems to have been one of slow, attritional batting against England’s seamers bowling dry. Probably not a bad one to sleep through, now I come to think of it.

Broad did most of the damage, getting rid of the dangerous BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell (not that one). Archer, Curran and Woakes combined to take the last few wickets, dismissing New Zealand for 375.

One thing which truly angers me is that Ben Stokes bowled 11 overs today. Stokes is, after Anderson’s injury and Root’s dramatic loss if form, probably the first name in the team sheet for the Test team. Or at least would be, if England didn’t have such a maverick selector. Therefore, and I know this may sound crazy and nonsensical to Joe Root or anyone in England’s medical team, they should STOP TRYING TO FUCKING INJURE HIM. He has what seems to me to be a large amount of strapping on his leg, and frankly I don’t think I would even risk him fielding. He is the only Test-quality batsman England have right now, and losing that to an avoidable injury would be an absolute disaster.

Of course, the normal thing to do when a bowler is injured would be to lean more on your spinners. Leach’s exclusion from the team always made this unlikely though, and in the end Root and Denly only bowled 6 overs between them. It is a consistent thread through Root’s captaincy, and Cook and Strauss before him, that there’s almost never any inkling of long term considerations in their decisions on the field. They will drive a player into dust in order to increase their chances of winning the game in hand, when that player could make a greater impact through the whole season if they were handled with more care. The most obvious example would be the end of Flower’s tenure as coach, when the whole team virtually imploded, but England and the ECB don’t seem to have learned any lessons in the years since.

England had 18 overs to face at the end of the day, and battled through to the end without conceding…

Just kidding. Obviously, England lost two cheap wickets and will have to bat really well tomorrow to have any chance tomorrow of drawing this series. Sibley fell cheaply again, and (admittedly after only 3 innings) he isn’t impressing so far as a potential England opener. Denly, who seems likely to open in South Africa, didn’t do any better. Oddly, Zak Crawley didn’t come out to bat today. The batsman, who was apparently in contention to open the batting for England in this series, is down at 6 in the batting order. I just can’t understand that decision.

As will surprise no one after seeing only 6 overs if spin were bowled, the day ended 4 overs short. Nothing will happen, of course, but we do like to keep mentioning it.

On a positive note, at least we aren’t Pakistan fans, as they are watching Australia absolutely cream them. Smith and Warner have apparently both beaten some of Don Bradman’s records, and it’s looking like a really one-sided bloodbath over there.

If you have anything to add, especially if you actually watched the game last night and can offer some real insight, feel free to comment below.

Game Over – NZ v England, 1st Test, Day 4

Denly, Root, Stokes. Those three batsmen are basically all that stands between England and a crushing defeat characterised by poor batting on a pitch which is frankly every bit as dead as Melbourne in 2017. There is absolutely no reason that this Test should not have been a bore draw, except for England’s ineptitude in the middle.

The New Zealand innings, which lasted for just over two sessions last night, was pretty much a repeat of day 3. Watling and Santner batted through most of the day, with England’s bowlers causing few if any problems. The scoring accelerated after Lunch, with the two batsmen pushing New Zealand’s first innings lead beyond 250 until the hosts declared just after Tea. England’s bowling was flat, but so was the pitch and it doesn’t really seem fair to ascribe any blame to them when virtually every wicket which has fallen has been to a collossal mistake by the batsmen.

Which brings us to England’s innings. They needed to bat out 118 overs in order to save the game. Historically, that is seen as a very tough task. On a dead pitch where New Zealand’s numbers six and eight have just shared a partnership lasting 83.2 overs however, a solid batting lineup should at the very least fancy their chances. Burns and Sibley saw out the first hour from Boult and Southee, and then left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner came on.

Sibley was the first wicket to fall, edging a forward defensive prod to a ball which was about a yard wide of the stumps and spinning away. Four overs later, with England just three overs away from the end of the day, Burns top-edged a slog sweep which went almost straight up in the air before being caught at square leg by de Grandhomme. The only blameless wicket was right at the end, when nightwatchman Jack Leach was wrongly given out caught behind. A specialist batsman would almost certainly have immediately reviewed the decision, even if they thought there was a possibility they had in fact hit it. Leach, probably aware that the outcry for wasting a review in the England camp would almost certainly outweigh the potential congratulations if it was successful, chose instead to walk off.

Mitchell Santner has never taken more than three wickets in an innings, but seems poised to exceed that by at least a couple more tonight. I think it is remarkable how many mediocre (as Colin Graves might say) spinners excel when playing against England. Of the 24 spin bowlers (a number which includes quite a few part-timers) to have played against them in the last two years, seven made their career Test best bowling figures. New Zealand’s Santner and Astle; Chase in the West Indies; Sandakan, Pushpakumara and Dananjaya in Sri Lanka; Vihari in India. None of these are world-class bowlers who other teams seem to have trouble facing, and yet they run through England like a vindaloo through an incontinent grandpa. This is a consistent, clearly identifiable flaw in England’s Test batting which needs addressing.

There was an interesting conversation on Sky during the Lunch break, following an interview between Wardy and Ashley Giles about the changes the ECB has made recently in coaching and developing England players. In just two minutes, Key absolutely destroys the ECB’s National Cricket Performance Centre as a worthwhile endeavour.

Nick Knight: What about Loughborough? What about the Lions pathway? Ashley [Giles] spoke a little about it there. You’ve been through both those pathways. Have they worked over a period of time? The ECB have invested a lot of money and time in those pathways. Are players now more developed, having come through that pathway than they were before it existed?

Rob Key: There’s two different things there. Loughborough, I’ve always seen as a bit of a waste of money because I see Loughborough as a bit of a glorified indoor school. Where it’s the hub in the middle of Loughborough University. There’s an indoor net facility, a few other things, gyms, all of that type of stuff that I’ve spent many an hour in. Generally, Loughborough itself hasn’t really done anything to help cricketers. But what has, as Ashley Giles spoke there, which is a big difference, which I’m all for, is if someone wants to practice against spin. You’re not going to learn to play spin at Loughborough, but you will do if you get shipped out to Mumbai and you go and practice playing spin out there for three or four weeks. And then you want to play fast ones, they help people go to Australia. So then you can just send the players all around, it’s like a finishing school or it’s meant to be a finishing school, the Lions programme. Like he said, Ben Foulkes going out and playing in Sri Lanka. The Lions tours that they go on are absolutely vital, and they’re really good. The academy trip or the Lions trip I went on, we spent six months in Australia facing Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Chris Tremlett, Alex Tudor. Forget about coaches, you can’t not improve in that sort of environment. But that wouldn’t have been any good just being at Loughborough, in the middle of winter in an  indoor school.

So I have no idea how much money gets ploughed into Loughborough, there’s nothing against the coaches there or anything else. I just don’t see the point in having an expensive facility that pretty much every county has. Probably not as nice, put it that way, but every county has its own indoor school. But the Lions programme I think is actually very good. It gives the opportunity to players that you don’t get in counties, especially in the winter. So they have a whole pathway system where they have Daniel Vettori doing a bit with the spinners out in the UAE and places like that. So that I think is really vital. Loughborough itself… It was a pain having to go up there. Bowlers don’t want to bowl in an indoor school. So you’re going up there, you’re not doing any cricket. You just do fitness testing. That seems like an expensive thing to have for that.

Ashley Giles clearly thinks the problems at Loughborough lie with the staff, as major personnel chances have occurred since he took charge. I agree with Key on this. The core issue is in the concept itself, not its execution. No indoor net, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate the experience of playing overseas. Nor can it simulate an innings which spans more than a few overs. Fitness, whilst obviously important, in no way requires or justifies a multi-million pound annual investment in a specialist facility. County cricketers are, as far as I can tell, as fit as any international players. The main problems with England’s Test team in recent years have been lack of concentration and focus by the batsmen, and frequent spells of ineffectiveness from the bowling attack when overseas. Loughborough can’t and won’t do anything to clear either of these hurdles.

If you want to comment on the game, or anything else, feel free to do so below. Because, unlike Chris/thelegglance, I will never block comments on my posts.