Less Is Not Always More

As happens after every England Test series loss, an increasingly common occurrence these days, people have started proposing cutting the number of counties in English cricket to improve the development of Test cricketers.

Proponents of having fewer first-class teams are happy to concede that the County Championship used to be a much stronger competition, which would appear to contradict their argument from the outset as the number of teams hasn’t changed. Likewise, having eighteen teams hasn’t hurt the production of talented English white ball cricketers. In fact, it could be argued that England boasts the greatest depth in terms of T20 players of any country. This would suggest that the number of teams is not a key issue, although this does obviously not prevent people from suggesting it.

The first thing which must be acknowledged is that cutting the number of first-class teams would certainly improve the average quality of domestic red ball cricket in this country. In the short term. This is because it is a statistical trick. Imagine a school expelled the bottom half of its students. Even though the quality of teaching and the intelligence of the remaining children both remain the same, they could argue that their ‘average grade’ had risen sharply. The intrinsic flaw in this approach is that when a new batch of kids comes in, they are back where they started because they haven’t actually changed anything. Indeed, if the school had reduced their permanent capacity by half then there would presumably be half as many students with top grades once the original ones had left.

There are two obvious areas which could improve the number of high-quality county cricketers: Recruiting more junior players with high potential and improving the development of those players in order to meet that potential. At first glance, reducing the number of teams helps neither.

The greatest flaw with trying to adapt the Sheffield Shield format to England is the population density of the two countries. 16 million people, over 60% of Australia’s total population, live in the six cities which have first-class teams there. The number of people who live in the seventeen cities and towns which host county grounds is just 15.7 million, or 26.9% of England and Wales’s population.

In terms of developing Test players, the major effect is the number of children within each team’s catchment area. Looking at the three world-class Test players England currently has: Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson both grew up roughly 30 miles away from their respective county grounds, whilst Ben Stokes had to travel 90 miles each way to the Riverside Ground. This is one factor which restricts working-class kids from playing professional cricket, because they often need a stay-at-home parent with a car and the willingness to spend several hours a week just to attend county age group practice sessions and games.

If the number of teams was halved, that would mean many would have farther to travel and even more potential Test players would be excluded from the professional game. In that it disproportionately affects working-class children, reducing the number of teams might also be considered a diversity issue. Given the focus on that topic at the moment, both within the ECB and from Parliament, it would be a brave move for English cricket to take now.

Once they make their way through the junior teams, the issue then becomes whether these young players would get any opportunities to make the first XI if there were fewer places available. It seems unlikely that promising young cricketers such as Zak Crawley or Ollie Pope would have played as many Championship matches if there were significantly greater competition for places. Increasing the minimum standard of player comes at the expense of allowing youngsters to make their debuts early and gain valuable experience as a result.

The lack of chances to break through into a team was often cited by South African-born players as a reason why they came to England to play cricket, a situation admittedly exacerbated by racial quotas in the country. It is notable that Cricket South Africa have recently reverted from a six-team first-class competition (which ran from 2004 to 2020) to one featuring fifteen provincial teams. It would be interesting to see how those proposing a reduction in county teams explain why it apparently failed to work in South Africa.

So to summarise: Reducing the number of first-class teams in England and Wales doesn’t appear to solve any of the issues regarding developing Test cricketers, and will likely worsen some of them. It is a fundamentally self-destructive and pointless act which will be yet another step towards the end of Test cricket in this country.

The ECB are almost certain to do it then.

As always, please leave your comments below.

Christmas Repeats

As I was watching the Morecambe and Wise 1971 Christmas Special for the umpteenth time, I was struck by how familiar the television schedules seem over the holidays. Even death has failed to keep Eric and Ernie off our screens for any Christmas in over 50 years. There’s The Snowman on Channel 4, as always. The Queen’s Speech, of course. People love the traditions of watching the same thing over and over again.

The same could be said about the England Test team. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a repeat last night, as England yet again collapsed with bat and failed to impress with the ball. With only a minor changes in the cast, it followed broadly the same plot as the previous two Tests, and the recent series against India and New Zealand, and the previous series in Australia.

But where people welcome the traditions of watching the same things every Christmas, at least most of them have uplifting endings. Even EastEnders isn’t unrelentingly grim in their Christmas episode. England Test cricket fans haven’t been so lucky, as the last month has been a constant succession of misguided hope and failure.

So here I am, begging the England team to change the script. Not by winning, that is clearly unrealistic at this point. Rather, just playing somewhere near their potential. Not gifting their wickets to the opposition, or allowing the Australian batters to get their eye in with a barrage of short and wide deliveries. I can take them losing to a better team, as Australia undoubtedly is. What I can’t take is them capitulating without even the smallest measure of resistance or intelligence.

I have seen that show too many times before.

Ashes Preview

There is a palpable sense of apathy about the Ashes series. Generally, on Twitter and in the general public, but most certainly amongst the writers at Being Outside Cricket. Of the four of us, I might actually be the only one who intends to watch a game or two. Even then, that is in large part because I have a massive amount of annual leave built up and I have only a few months to use it. I have the holidays, I subscribe to BT Sport, so it would be a waste not to.

There’s a number of factors which have contributed to this malaise. The effects of COVID-19, both direct and indirect, really put the importance of sport into perspective. Likewise, the revelations regarding the extent of racism in English cricket have reduced people’s enthusiasm for the game.

Perhaps the most significant reason is that almost no one thinks England will manage to win a single match in the series. They have neither the batting ability to outscore Australia, nor the bowling ability to taken the host’s wickets cheaply. Their catching is also diabolically bad. This is by no means an overpowering Australian lineup, they lost their most recent home series against an injury-ravaged Indian side, but they are still better than England in every phase of play.

England haven’t managed to win a Test match in Australia since 2011, and their team was significantly stronger than now in both 2013 and 2017. The only things that can stop Australia winning 5-0 are rain (the forecast for the first Test isn’t exactly great), a ridiculously flat pitch (ie Melbourne 2017), or state border closures. Cricket Australia probably shouldn’t even bother making a massive print of an English hand with one finger raised.

All of which is to say that you shouldn’t expect full coverage of the Ashes from us at Being Outside Cricket this winter. There will be posts, when we’re in the mood or have something to say, but there almost certainly won’t be daily reports on the day’s play. We’ll still be on Twitter, and still read and respond to comments on the blog. Everything else, we’ll see how it goes.

In terms of a preview, it looks grim for England on paper. Australia’s team (announced three days in advance) has four players with Test batting averages over 39.00 (Smith, Labuschagne, Warner and Head). England’s whole 15-man squad has one (Root). England’s batsmen have two main weaknesses: Fast bowling and spin. Those are Australia’s two bowling strengths. England lack X-factor bowlers who might stand a good chance of bowling out a set Smith or Labuschagne, particularly if they favour allrounders like Woakes or Overton to bolster their fragile batting order. England’s catching in recent times, or lack thereof, has meant that the bowlers typically need to make an two or three extra chances per innings, which is always a tough ask in Australian conditions.

Quite simply, England are screwed.

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Despite England making a semi final appearance in the T20 World Cup, the English media (cricket and otherwise) has been focussed on the sordid goings on at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. This is tragic because this situation was eminently avoidable. It’s difficult to comprehend just how many things must have gone wrong for things to reach this point.

Yorkshire CCC are, deservedly, getting a kicking. If you sent eight men to sabotage an organisation from within, they would struggle to do so more effectively than the Yorkshire CCC board in the past year. Their ignorance was seemingly only matched by their arrogance. As each revelation came out, they just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper. They were clearly incapable of running a cricket club.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has watched from the sidelines whilst this slow motion trainwreck has taken place and done sweet fuck all. He has defended his inactions with the following statement:

“What we were asked to do was join the Yorkshire panel to be part of the investigation, which clearly we cannot do. We are the regulator, we either run the investigation in its entirety ourselves or we let our stakeholders run an investigation in the entirety itself.”

Let us take one single aspect of Azeem Rafiq’s experience: In August 2018, he made several complaints to Yorkshire CCC officials at a meeting attended by a PCA representative. This was reported in the Guardian (and quite possibly elsewhere), two years later in September 2020. That is also when the Yorkshire CCC investigation into Rafiq’s allegations began. The ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code states that it is a breach of the code for an organisation to “fail to provide an effective, timely and proportionate response.” Yorkshire CCC literally did nothing for two whole years. There could not be a clearer breach of the ECB’s code. Nor, frankly, of basic human decency.

It is a very simple charge to prove, with independent witnesses. There is no reason why this specific matter could not have been dealt with by the ECB immediately after it was first reported, rather than waiting over a year. The ECB instead chose to wait until after the ‘independent’ report was completed. When that started, it was due to be finished within about two months. Instead, the final report wasn’t delivered to Yorkshire CCC for just under a year. Even when that happened, the ECB granted Yorkshire CCC a full two months to hand over the report.

No aspect of this has been conducted in an effective, timely, or proportionate manner. Not by Yorkshire CCC and, crucially, not by the ECB. If the “regulator” is not minded to follow its own code of conduct, why would any of the clubs it is purporting to regulate?

Speaking of the ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code, it is very interesting to compare it to their Anti-Corruption Code. In matters of matchfixing and gambling, it is considered a serious and explicit offence to refuse to cooperate with an investigation or fail to report an approach which you have witnessed. Now consider how many players, coaches and administrators refused to help the Yorkshire racism investigation. If they had acted in this way in a matchfixing inquiry, they could face up to a five year ban. It is clear, from both the text of the rules and the application of the rules, that the ECB place almost no importance of the issue of racism within the sport compared to the threat of intentionally losing a match.

This is not to say that the ECB have done nothing to combat racism. They required that the England team wore t-shirts with the motto “We stand together against racism”. They tweeted a lot about the ACE Programme. They promoted Black and Asian players disproportionately often before and during The Hundred. Such PR can be important. The idea that you ‘fake it until you make it’ with regards to equality isn’t entirely ridiculous. There will have been Black and Asian parents and children who will have gone to their local cricket clubs after the various promotions, press articles and social media posts that the ECB have offered in recent years. Marketing is fine, but it also has to be backed up by real action to be worth a damn. All of those campaigns, including the most recent #BlackHistoryMonth posts, have now been overwhelmed by reporting on Yorkshire CCC.

Let us not forget that the ECB have had their own issues regarding racism being discussed in the media. Ismail Dawood, John Holder and Devon Malcolm have highlighted that the ECB has not added a single Black or Asian to the first-class umpire and match umpire lists since it was formed in 1997. Their handling of past cases of racist abuse has also been in the spotlight. Although England bowler Craig Overton and Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale were punished for on-field racist abuse, both were found guilty of a lesser offence. The ECB has never publicly explained why both players didn’t face the more serious Level 2 charge of racially abusing an opponent, with the greater penalties that would apply. In fact, Ollie Robinson might be the only person ever to be punished by the ECB where racism was considered an aggravating factor in his punishment.

Given Tom Harrison’s assertion that the ECB either runs investigations itself or lets the counties do so, one might wonder whether any action took place regarding allegations of racism within county dressing rooms made by Michael Carberry and Ebony Rainford-Brent, amongst others. Outside of matters relating to Azeem Rafiq and Yorkshire CCC, there hadn’t been any mention of investigations by other counties or the ECB in the press until after politicians started intervening.

Which brings us to the title of the post: Who watches the watchmen? The ECB has been at best passive when faced with evidence of racism within English cricket, and have arguably been complicit in suppressing and minimising the reports that have made it into public view. Given that they are (or consider themselves) the regulator of English cricket, who regulates them?

The answer, it appears, is the counties. The ECB is overseen by its 41 members, with representatives from the 18 First Class Counties, the 21 Cricket Boards of the non-First-Class Counties, the National Counties Cricket Association and the MCC. This would appear at first glance to be a colossal conflict of interest for a body which is supposed to act as regulator for the counties. If the Yorkshire CCC board’s reluctance to see the experiences of Rafiq as racist abuse is respresentative of other counties, and there’s little reason to suppose this is not the case, it isn’t surprising that the ECB apparently considers dealing with such issues as a very low priority.

The circular structure of English cricket, with the ECB both governing and being governed by the counties, means that the counties are essentially self-regulated. They have the power to set the rules, decide what the punishments will be, and who will be allowed to judge them. There is also no one who people can escalate their complaint to if the ECB fails to thoroughly investigate allegations made to or about them.

I believe that this inherent flaw within the ECB cannot be remedied without changing its entire structure. Fundamentally, the ECB is supposed to be run for the good of cricket at all levels within England and Wales but there is no one ensuring that they do this. They make decisions with no consistency, and they also have the ability to suppress or selectively release information in order to support whichever argument they are making. At this moment in time, only Parliament and the DCMS committee seemingly have the ability to hold them to account.

In order to address this, I would form a board of trustees to challenge the ECB. It would contain representatives from all aspects of the sport that the ECB governs, from fans to players (through organisations such as the Cricket Supporters Association and the Professional Cricketers Association), from amateur to professional, from men’s to women’s cricket. They could have monthly meetings with the ECB board, so that the board can justify their actions (or inaction). If they are not satisfied with what they hear, or receive a complaint regarding the ECB, they could have the power to investigate and, if necessary, punish wrongdoing.

There is no doubt that the ECB (and many counties) will be dealing quickly and firmly with allegations of racism in the near term, with even minor accusations becoming national news. However, the attention of the media will largely stray elsewhere and I see few reasons to think that they won’t revert back to their previous pattern of minimising and hiding complaints. If fundamental change is going to occur, it must happen now. Otherwise, in a few years, English cricket will likely go through this ordeal all over again.

Once is enough.

Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears A Crown

The ECB chair, Ian Watmore, resigned today. It was something of a shock, as it was just over a year since he was hired in 2020. He came into the role at one of the worst times imaginable, with the ECB in an unimaginably poor financial position, The Hundred launch, and the continued spectre of COVID. This should have been the time when these pressures were easing on Watmore, but instead things seemed to unravel in quick succession. The shambolic cancellation of England’s tours to Pakistan, a disastrous meeting with county chiefs, and the lethargic response to Yorkshire’s racism report have meant that he had seemingly lost friends and allies in every sector of English cricket. Ultimately, as Michael Atherton puts it, he lost the dressing room and had to go.

Who takes over the position of ECB chair, and how they choose to approach the role, will have a significant effect on English cricket in the next few years and beyond. There are some huge challenges ahead, and here are some thoughts on a few of them:

The Ashes

The ECB are due to announce their decision tomorrow, but it seems increasingly likely that England’s tour of Australia will broadly go ahead as planned. This was expected, if only because of a cynical appraisal of how important Cricket Australia is to the ECB relative to the Pakistan Cricket Board. It’s certainly difficult to understand the logic behind a declaration that a four-day tour of Pakistan would be onerous on the players and staff whilst a three-month tour of Australia (including over a week just in quarantine) is fine.

But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, and the past year or so should teach us not to take anything for granted. A spike in Australian infections before or during the tour could put the spotlight back on the England team’s continued involvement. I personally have little sympathy with Cricket Australia, who have only played ODIs and T20Is away from home in the last eighteen months and can’t really understand the toll taken on England’s Test cricketers over that time.

I also think that the England team will have a lot less patience with Australia’s typical tactic of ‘mental disintegration’, both on the field and in the media, which is part of almost every antipodean Ashes. Joe Root is no doubt mindful of the huge financial pressure Cricket Australia are under, with up to $200m riding on the series going ahead, and might well consider taking his team home rather than copping a ton of abuse from people he is doing a huge favour for.

All of which is to say that the incoming chair will have an important and difficult task to handle, straight out of the gate (assuming they are appointed this year). Ensuring the series goes ahead as planned, holding Cricket Australia to their promises, and backing the players if they pull the plug on the whole thing. Whoever gets the job will have to hit the ground running, so to speak.

Pakistan/West Indies

One of the things which precipitated Watmore’s resignation appears to be the fallout from the cancellation of England’s tours of Pakistan. It would therefore be a good move from his successor to repair relations between the two countries as quickly as possible. Announcing a new tour, or an extension of the already-scheduled tour in 2022, would be a good way to go about this. The 2022 tour to the West Indies was expanded by three games as a similar show of gratitude for CWI touring England in 2020, and the chair should reiterate the ECB’s commitment to fulfilling their promises at the earliest opportunity.

On a broader level, it would be nice if the ECB spent more time touring the less financially or politically powerful cricketing nations. England last played an away Test against Bangladesh in 2016, Zimbabwe in 1996, and have never done so against Ireland. We love Test cricket in this country, but its continued survival depends on it being financially viable around the world. If we could find a way to visit these countries, even with weakened and rotated teams, it would go a long way to rebuilding relationships with cricketing nations outside the ‘Big 3’.

The Hundred

It seemed like it cast a vast, dark shadow over English cricket in the months and years leading up to its launch, but the end result felt decidedly unimpressive. Neither a triumphant success nor an unmitigated disaster. Just ‘meh’. Which might be considered a victory for its proponents, if not for the colossal price tag. All told, it’s likely that the true cost of that first season (including the development, design, and other costs in the years before) amounts to well over £100m. If I were to ever spend that kind of money on something, I’d expect nothing less than perfection.

The new ECB chair will undoubtedly want to make some changes for The Hundred’s sophomore season. Cutting the costs might be a good place to start. If the ECB could slice £13m from its £63m annual spend on the competition, it would at least break even. Cut a little more and it could actually start making the profit that Tom Harrison and others have already claimed. There’s certainly a lot of extraneous things which could be removed with little obvious impact to ticket sales, such as the musical guests at every game.

There will be those of you who would love to see The Hundred disappear altogether, but I can’t see that happening before 2025 (the beginning of the next TV deal). It’s in the Sky and BBC contracts, and there’s no backing out of that now. Aside from anything else, I really don’t like people or organisations who renege on their agreements. Polishing the turd is likely the order of the day, before it can be flushed away altogether in the next round of broadcast rights.

Sky TV Deal

Speaking of broadcast rights, the preparation for the next auction will likely be beginning soon. For all their faults, Colin Graves and Tom Harrison did oversee the first English cricket being shown on free-to-air TV since 2005 (even if it was just T20Is and The Hundred). The new ECB chair will have the opportunity to surpass that by some margin, if they choose to prioritise the growth of the game over the accumulation of money. In other words: Put live Test cricket back on Channel 4.

It might sound like a great idea to us fans, but it’s worth remembering that the ECB chair is elected by the counties who all rely on the cash they receive from the central TV contracts. A debt-ridden club, of which there are a few, might well prioritise getting an extra £2m every year over the exposure that Freeview provides. If the chair can’t persuade the counties to accept a bit less money, their tenure in the job could be as short as Ian Watmore’s.

The decision may not be as clear cut as this. BT has seemingly losing interest in their sports division whilst streaming giants like Amazon have launched their own coverage for events like the US Open in tennis. It’s a different world, which could lead to the value of English cricket’s coverage climbing or plummeting. Given this uncertainty, the ECB chair’s responsibility of ensuring maximum exposure for the game whilst keeping it solvent is not one I envy.

Yorkshire

It’s been three years since Azeem Rafiq first made his complaints known to several people at Yorkshire CCC, thirteen months since the county finally launched an investigation into the matter, and almost two months since they received the finished report. In all that time, the ECB have done nothing. It stinks, especially when you compare it to the high-profile and instant reaction to Ollie Robinson’s old tweets earlier this year. It would be nice to think that the new ECB chair could finally get things moving, although the cynical side of me has its doubts.

To become chair of the ECB, you have to be voted in by a majority of forty county representatives (both the major and minor counties). That includes Yorkshire, as well as any other counties who have their own skeletons in the closet. Quite simply: It would be difficult to see someone getting the job if they were committed to investigating and punishing racism at the counties. This is a short-sighted approach, as allowing the issue to continue unabated will only cause more problems for the clubs later on, but none of the county chairs seem particularly inclined to see it from this viewpoint.

County Cricket

The meeting which reportedly brought Ian Watmore’s tenure as ECB chair to an end was in large part about the future shape of English domestic cricket. There is also considerable tension between the counties which host The Hundred teams and those who don’t. With four domestic competitions and a packed international calendar, it will be no easy feat for his successor to keep everyone happy. In fact, it may well be impossible.

Given that the counties elect the ECB chair, whoever gets the job will have to be persuasive in getting everyone to compromise. It’s something of a tightrope, balancing the interests of all 18 counties, and I don’t have much hope for the outcome being particularly welcomed by county cricket fans.

Women’s Cricket

If the Hundred had one almost undeniable success, it was in the performance and popularity of the women’s competition. It had attendance and viewing figures not far removed from that of the men’s games, which begs the question: What next?

One obvious issue which could be quickly addressed is that of pay: The women were paid less than a sixth of what the men received on average. There is certainly a case for that imbalance to be at least partly remedied. The new chair might also see an opportunity to increase the value to the ECB of these likeable and talented cricketers by encouraging Sky to broadcast women’s domestic games outside of The Hundred.

On a personal note, I would also love to see women’s Test cricket on a regular basis. It baffles me that the women’s team play almost no matches in the format which is by far the most popular and profitable for their male counterparts. If the ECB could see their way to persuading every touring team to play at least one Test, I think it would go a long way towards ‘traditional’ (ie old) cricket fans fully embracing women’s cricket.

Participation

As people often seem to forget, the ECB is responsible for amateur cricket in England and Wales as well as the professional game. Cricket clubs seem to get very little support from their governing body, and are rarely listened to. Volunteers are taken for granted, monolithic schemes such as All Stars or Dynamos are thrust upon clubs, and hours of bureaucratic admin and tech support are inflicted on club secretaries through ClubSpark and PlayCricket.

It would be incredible if the new ECB chair could do something about this. There are two key themes which I think need to be addressed: Simplicity and flexibility. The first is easy: Running a local cricket club should not have to be a full-time (unpaid) job. It should not require expertise in computers, social media and finances as well as (you would hope) some knowledge of cricket. It shouldn’t take months to adapt to the software you use for scoring. These are all long-standing issues which the ECB never seem inclined to tackle.

The second fundamental change I would love to see from the ECB is to recognise the enormous diversity of clubs in English cricket. Some have hundreds of members, some barely have eleven. Some have pavillions, and some don’t. Some are in affluent areas, and some aren’t. Some teams are focused on winning at all costs, some are more social clubs. Whenever a new scheme is released by the ECB, it always seems like it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Thats fine if your club fits (like, I would guess, most ECB Premier League teams), but it leaves a lot more on the outside looking in. A more flexible, attentive attitude towards club cricket could really help boost participation (or at least slow its decline) across the country.

Restructuring

As I have said several times now through this post, the ECB chair is elected essentially by the counties. This means that the counties’ needs (mostly money) are prioritised over the interests of every other ‘stakeholder’ in English cricket; The players, proponents of the women’s game, people involved in local clubs, and of course the fans. This is just the fundamental structure of the ECB.

In order to break the cycle of counties pressuring the ECB to maximise revenues to prop up their own mismanaged clubs at the expense of every other aspect of the sport, the long term solution is to introduce representatives of everyone the ECB holds sway over as members and decisionmakers of equal importance to the counties. Organisations such as the Professional Cricketers Association, the Cricket Supporters’ Association and the assorted club cricket organisations absolutely deserve to have some say over who makes decisions on their behalf.

It would undoubtedly be a hard sell to persuade the counties to cede some of their power, but it’s difficult to see the ECB becoming a functioning governing body whilst the people running it are beholden to just one interest group.

Conclusion

The more I wrote of this post, the more I felt sorry for Ian Watmore. It’s clear that it’s a virtually impossible job, which explains why no one seems to have particularly fond memories of any ECB (or TCCB) chairman in the history of the sport.

There is, of course, one outstanding candidate: George Dobell. Well liked by many involved in running county cricket, a founder of the Cricket Supporters’ Association and a known proponent for reforming the game. He’s also currently between jobs and presumably available to take over at short notice. If there is one person who can address all of the points in this post, and basically save English cricket, it’s George Dobell.

Otherwise, we’re screwed.

If you want to comment on this post, or any of the dozens of things happening in cricket right now, please write your comments below.

England vs India – 4th Test, Day 5 – No Surprises

This morning, fans of Test cricket around the world were effusively praising this game, with all three (or four) results being possible. As an England fan, I had to wonder if these people had been in a cave for the last eight years. England scoring 291 runs on the fifth day, even with all ten wickets in hand and a remarkably benign pitch? Virtually impossible.

To let you in on the workings behind Being Outside Cricket, all four of us have jobs and so there are times when none of us have the chance to see the day’s play. Today is one of those times. But the thing is, I’ve seen this so many times before that I can practically write the match report blind. There were a couple of brief periods where England looked comfortable, but wickets falling in clusters meant that the few good performances were for nothing. A couple of batters were dismissed through what can only be described as a Vaughan-esque display of stupidity. Some absolute tit ran onto the pitch when he had no business being there (Could be Jarvo, could be any of the England batters bar Joe Root).

The idea that England were in any way capable of scoring almost three hundred runs today was laughable, but you have to think that this was their plan this morning since there is almost no other reason why Dawid Malan could have been run out (I say almost no reason, because there is also matchfixing). This kind of delusion seems utterly bizarre. England haven’t had a batting unit capable of managing that even fifty percent of the time since 2013. The decline has been almost constant. No one has managed to replace Strauss, or Trott, or Prior, or Bell, or Cook when they retired. All of them averaged over forty with the bat, but Joe Root is the only one in the current team to have reached that relatively basic benchmark.

And yet, in spite of their obviously limited ability and the overwhelming odds, I do understand why they might have chosen to attempt the win. For a start, if they played defensively throughout and comfortably made the draw then they would have been attacked by their fans and the media for not playing entertaining cricket or lacking a killer instinct. There is also a lot of positive thinking which is seemingly enforced throughout professional sports. Every time England have been crushed by better opposition, we’ve been told that they are taking the positives and learning the lessons. If you think you can’t achieve something, you almost definitely won’t. Or so the theory goes. That might be fine in a game like tennis, where the results are binary and you must either win or lose. In sports with draws, depriving your opponent of a win can (depending on the situation) be almost as good as winning yourself.

In fairness, it wasn’t the batting that lost this game for England. The bowling and catching in portions of this game have been diabolically bad. Anderson, Robinson, Woakes and Overton are all very good when the ball swings, but when it didn’t swing during India’s second innings they seemingly had no answers. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on the bowlers, but on the selections of Chris Silverwood and the utter ineptitude of England’s medical staff. There are sometimes points in a Test match where you need a bowler who can bowl unplayable deliveries, even if they are less consistent and more expensive. A spinner who can turn the ball both ways, or a pace bowler who can go above 90mph. England had neither, and India punished them for this oversight.

As for who to blame for England’s catching, the obvious culprit would be fielding coach Carl Hopkinson. His own first-class record certainly doesn’t mark him out as a skilled catcher, with only 39 catches in his career. To put that into context, Moeen Ali has 40 Test catches in just a few more innings. Imagine making Moeen Ali your fielding coach. Hopkinson has also had the job since 2018, in which period England have been quite possibly the worst Test team in terms of not taking their chances in the field. It is the stated policy of England’s Test selection that they prefer to give players one game too many than too few. Does this also apply to the specialist coaches?

There are undoubtedly other factors. The revolving door of batting selections has meant that players don’t get used to fielding in one position for a run of games. The slip cordon has changed seemingly every week. I also suspect that England’s white ball cricketers don’t spend a lot of time on close catching practice or other red ball-centric exercises during large parts of the year. Whatever the causes, the ECB seemingly has no answer for what has been a very consistent shortcoming in the test team.

Speaking of history repeating itself, and no one with any sense being surprised: Yesterday marked the anniversary of Yorkshire CCC launching their independent investigation into racism at the club, and absolutely nothing happened. Yorkshire aren’t doing anything, and the ECB and the PCA (the player’s union) aren’t forcing them to do anything. I’ve written about the PCA’s limitations in this regard, so you can read about that HERE if you want. The ECB have a long record of sticking their head in the sand and ignoring any issue until it goes away. It quite often works. That was why I was incredulous when, three months ago, the ECB came down like a ton of bricks on Ollie Robinson for a series of tweets in very poor taste from 2012. There were furious statements from chief executive Tom Harrison, an immediate suspension, and a quick investigation by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee.

Robinson was very unlucky in some respects, because the ECB has never done anything remotely close to this before, or since. On the other hand, the harshness of the punishment and his apparent sense of remorse has seemingly helped rehabilitate him in the eyes of the public. You might compare him to Craig Overton, who is still facing questions on his own racist incident from 2015 and perhaps a greater level of suspicion about his current attitude than Robinson. In that regard, the ECB and Yorkshire might want to consider the merits of publicly admitting their mistakes and showing genuine regret rather than letting the issue rumble on for another year.

If you have any comments on England’s continuing ineptitude, or anything else, feel free to comment below.

England vs India – 4th Test, Day 1 – Root Was Right

Sport is dominated by an almost slavish devotion to ‘conventional wisdom’. The reason seems fairly clear: No one ever got fired as a coach or captain for making the same choices as the majority of fans and your predecessors did. Any decisions which goes against the status quo, of how things are done, are always seen as a risk where you alone bear responsibility for the consequences. The overwhelming consensus was that everyone bats first at the Oval, given the choice, but Joe Root instead opted to field first. And, if you look at how today went, he was right to do so.

Which isn’t to say the day went wholly England’s way. The first half hour was very quiet, with India’s openers seemingly handling Anderson and Robinson with ease. At that point, several people were already starting to question Root’s decision to bat first. It wasn’t until Woakes replaced Anderson that the ball really started swinging (not something you often say about Anderson) and the Indian batters started struggling. India’s top three fell in just a few overs leading India to take the unusual position of promoting their typical number seven, Ravindra Jadeja, to five. There was speculation from the commentators that this was to disrupt England’s bowling with a left-right batting partnership, whilst people online joked that he was acting as a nightwatchman whose job was to protect Kohli and Rahane from the swinging ball. Of the two theories, I think I might favour the latter. He certainly seemed to be farming the strike away from Virat Kohli, which is another thing I wasn’t expecting to write at the start of the day.

The afternoon session began with Joe Root dropping a sharp chance at first slip, which was something of a theme for the day. England dropped the ball four times in the innings, adding perhaps another fifty runs onto India’s total. It doesn’t seem like much in that context, just over ten runs per drop, but this match has all the hallmarks of a low-scoring contest where every run counts. Gifting runs, and more time in the middle for Virat Kohli to rediscover his form, is not something which should be tolerated by England. Kohli and Rahane batted out most of the session, before a burst of wickets blew through the Indian middle order and exposed their long and fragile tail. And Shardul Thakur.

Sometimes in cricket, one batter just seems to be playing a different game altogether from his teammates. Joe Root has been one obvious example for most of this year. Shadul Thakur is a less obvious example, but his innings was certainly immense fun to watch. The bowler scored 57 runs from just 36 deliveries, which would be impressively quick score for a number eight in a T20. He just absolutely smashed it/edged it everywhere. I mean, I’m an England supporter but I can’t imagine many people didn’t enjoy watching it. Apart from England’s bowlers, I guess. Chris Woakes eventually managed to trap Thakur lbw, and England uncharacteristically managed to quickly dismiss the rest of the tailenders which left the tourists on a score of 191 all out.

Chris Woakes was one of two changes in this England side, replacing Sam Curran. With all due respect, this has made England’s bowling unit significantly better. Woakes outbowled Jimmy Anderson today. That’s just impressive. Curran didn’t perform well in this series with either bat or ball, and seemingly got picked based on his form in 2018 and the absence of any pace-bowling allrounders to replace him.

If Thakur’s cameo was a surprise, England’s response was anything but. Burns and Hameed scored just 6 runs between them before both being dismissed, exposing the middle order to the new ball yet again. This is the fifth time this year that Joe Root has come out with less than ten runs on the board. England lost three of those matches to India, and went on to win the game against Sri Lanka after Root scored 186. Unfortunately for England, that isn’t going to happen this time. Umesh Yadav bowled Root through the gate just before the close of play, with the hosts finishing the day on 53-3.

The match seems finely balanced, with two strong bowling attacks facing up against two brittle batting lineups. With Root already gone, it’s difficult to see this England team putting up a score above 300 and dominating. It’s good news for neutrals, keeping both sides in the game throughout. Less so for anyone who bought tickets for Day 4. Sorry Sean.

The teams were nine overs short today. You would think that would mostly be the fault of England, since they spent most of the day in the field and didn’t bowl a single over of spin. It seems clear that teams still aren’t taking over rates seriously, and the threat of losing World Test Championship points isn’t working even after Australia lost out on a chance to be in this year’s final due to such a deduction. Something has to change, but there seemingly isn’t any will within the ICC to do anything about it.

If you have any thoughts on the day’s play, or anything else that sparks your interest, post them below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And The Hundred

The Hundred has overshadowed essentially the whole of the English summer so far. It was, at least according to a lot of people, either the best or worst thing to happen in the entire history of cricket. I personally found it fairly underwhelming, but I can’t say I regularly watch T20 games anyway. The standard didn’t seem noticeably higher than the T20 Blast. The coverage was standard global T20 fare, with both the BBC and Sky dragging the standards down with a few dreadful choices in the commentary box. The ‘innovations’ (The TV graphics, five-ball overs, bowlers in consecutive overs, etc) seemed gimmicky and unnecessary. It was all a bit ‘meh’.

It is said that history is written by the victors, but sometimes the victors of a conflict can be decided by who writes the history. To that end, the ECB has posted a list of statistics which attempted to ‘prove’ the success of their new competition.

  • A total of 16.1m people watched some of the action on TV alone
  • 57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021
  • The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4m for the women’s game and 2.4m for the men’s game
  • 510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total
  • 55% of ticket buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before
  • 19% of tickets sold were for children
  • 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old
  • 21% of ticket buyers were women
  • The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event
  • There were 34.3m videos views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app
  • More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear
  • More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL
  • A revenue of roughly £50m, which gives a profit of £10m to re-invest in cricket
  • A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19
  • 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019
  • Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer
  • A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time compared to previous years, thanks to the introduction of Dynamos
  • All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball
  • 10,000 kids have had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship
  • 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB

This is obviously a lot to go through, so I will split it up into three groups: TV viewers, attendances, and participation.

TV Viewers

A total of 16.1 million people watched some part of the action on TV alone. This seems impressive at first, but lacks a lot of context. First, what does “watched some part of the action” mean? The number of people watching a TV programme can be quantified in many different ways, the most common being ‘average’, ‘peak’ and ‘reach’. A company such as BARB uses a sample group of representative TV viewers (or real-time data from set-top boxes and online viewing) to estimate the number of people watching every TV programme in five-minute segments. The ‘average’ number of viewers is the mean of every segment for that programme and the ‘peak’ is the highest number of viewers for any segment in the programme. ‘Reach’ is the broadest measurement of the three, and essentially includes every single viewer who watched even just one five-minute segment of a TV programme (or, in this case, a series of thirty four TV programmes).

So how does this compare to other recent televised cricket? Well this year’s Test series between India and England on Channel 4 had a total ‘reach’ of over 9 million viewers, despite being between 4am and noon rather than UK prime time television. In 2019, 15.4 million people in the UK watched some part of the Men’s World Cup final. That was just one game, with almost no promotion by Channel 4 due to the last-minute nature of the agreement to let them air it.

57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021. The key words here are “watched”, “live”, and “ECB”. “Watched” excludes people who listen to Test Match Special, “live” excludes people who watched the highlights on the BBC, and “ECB” excludes people who saw the Test series against India on Channel 4 (which the BCCI was responsible for). This statistic is presented in such a way as to imply that more than half of the TV viewers for The Hundred were new to the sport, or at least disconnected from it, but in fact does nothing of the sort.

The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4 million for the women’s game and 2.4 million for the men’s game. To add context for these figures: The opening games in the competition had peaks of 2.5 million viewers for the men’s game and 1.95 million viewers for the women’s. This suggests that audiences may have declined over the competition. Also bear in mind that these opening games were held on a Wednesday and Thursday night, whilst the finals were on the weekend when you might expect the number of TV viewers to be higher. If you were to compare these figures to the 2019 Men’s World Cup final, that had 8.92 million viewers at the start of the super over.

There were 34.3 million video views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app. Is this a lot? The ICC said that they had 4.6 billion video views during the 2019 Men’s World Cup, for example. I would guess that the number of views would increase with the number of videos you post, and with the number of platforms you posted them on. The number of views for the most popular video they posted would be interesting information, at least for me.

Attendances

510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total. The first part of this that jumps out at everyone is “and issued”. Something like 30-40,000 were given away by the ECB to NHS staff, cricket volunteers and children. I believe that Surrey were the only host county to include free entrance to The Hundred in their membership packages, but neither Surrey nor the ECB have said how many members took up this offer. The broader context of this figure is that the tickets were typically a lot cheaper than they would have been at the same grounds in the T20 Blast and, other than the Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s, no other first team cricket for cricket fans to watch at the grounds for the length of the competition.

55% of ticket-buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before. 19% of tickets sold were for children. 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old. 21% of ticket-buyers were women. This is a huge dump of information regarding the demographics of people buying tickets for The Hundred, which appears impressive at first glance. Without knowing what the comparable figures were for the T20 Blast, you could look at these and assume that The Hundred was a huge step towards increasing the diversity of cricket crowds in England. In fact, Surrey have released their T20 Blast sales figures which appear to be very similar to those from The Hundred: 50% of their ticket-buyers were new to them in 2019, 20% of their tickets were for families, 60% of their ticket-buyers were under 45 years old, and 18% of their ticket-buyers were women. Whilst obviously the numbers for The Hundred are across eight grounds rather than just one, there seems to be very little improvement (if any) from the T20 Blast.

The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event. You know what? I’m just going to give them this. If you were nitpicking, you could say that these figures (taken at the halfway point of the women’s games) includes some fans who only turned up early for the men’s games so they could get absolutely plastered. But even if that accounted for 30-40% of the official attendance, it would still be a world record.

More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear. This doesn’t even sound that impressive. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Surrey and Middlesex each sold more than 7,000 of their own kits to fans per year, whilst ‘items of merchandise’ could mean everything from a £1 bumper sticker to a £10 baseball cap.

More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL. This one doesn’t really fit in any of the categories, so it might as well go here. The comparison with the IPL and WBBL seems a little odd. My entirely untested view on this is that Indian and Australian grounds typically seem larger than English ones on TV, which therefore makes it easier to hit sixes and have a higher scoring rate in England. Near the halfway point of The Hundred, statistician Ric Finlay said that the scoring rate in the men’s Hundred was 143.21 as opposed to 141.64 in the 2021 T20 Blast. It’s hardly a huge step forwards, at least in this country.

A revenue of roughly £50 million, which gives a profit of £10 million to re-invest in cricket. These figures have been questioned by a lot of people, as they don’t include the costs of the £1.3 million annual payments to each of the eighteen first-class counties (a total of £23.4 million per year). If this were included, The Hundred couldn’t be expected to make an annual profit until at least the next TV deal in 2025. One might also be forgiven for being cynical about the ECB’s intention to direct this ‘surplus’ towards grassroots cricket when (for example) the bonuses for ECB executives (£2.1 million) is almost the same as their annual donation for Chance To Shine (£2.5 million).

Participation

A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19. 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019. A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time. This has been a weird year. In terms of club cricket, the majority of games are typically held before August because that is when most children, and their parents, are away on holiday and therefore unavailable for games or training sessions. This year, there were a lot of restrictions related to COVID-19 until July 19th and a lot of people won’t be going away on holiday this summer.

It is also worthwhile to consider what the ECB’s source of information for these fixture figures is. It seems likely that it is via PlayCricket, the ECB’s website/app for cricket club administration and scoring. It has been mentioned that some club leagues have insisted clubs use PlayCricket more this year than in the past, which may have the effect of clubs posting games on the ECB website (friendlies, intra-squad matches, etc) which they would not have done before. Whether these figures reflect an actual increase in matches or just greater use of PlayCricket is yet to be seen.

Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer. 10,000 kids had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship. 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB. The headline figure of 101,000 seems great, until you consider the statistics which follow it. The ECB has launched Dynamos, which targets slightly older kids at clubs which already hold All Stars sessions, as well as the new hubs and breakfast clubs which all presumably are counted as “ECB-run National Programmes”. It seems probable that the only like-for-like comparison, the number of children in All Stars cricket, has actually fallen quite sharply. This is unsurprising and unavoidable in a pandemic-affected year, but the figures given seem quite misleading.

All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball. Is this better than previous years, or non-branded junior club cricket sessions? Because the ECB has never consistently released data of participation, and when it does it is cherry-picked to support their decision like the ones above, I have absolutely no idea whether it is good or bad.

? Perhaps the most important figure is the one that the ECB hasn’t included: Total participation. The number of senior and/or junior players in England and Wales has fallen in every season from about 2010 onwards. To be clear: I’m not getting this from official figures, because the ECB doesn’t release them (unlike, for example, Cricket Australia). However, I do know that if the number of club cricketers had increased in that period then the ECB would have spared no effort or expense in letting everyone know about it, and how they were responsible. There would be press releases, TV interviews, open-top bus parades around St. John’s Wood, and so on. Their continued silence just reaffirms that, in spite of everything they’ve said, club cricket is in decline overall.

That’s A Bonus

Part of the ECB’s eagerness to extoll the positive effects of The Hundred might be explained by the fact that their executives are apparently due to share a massive £2.1m in “performance-related” bonuses, based on reaching goals from their “Inspiring Generations” strategy document. This has been greeted with almost universal disbelief. Several defences and rationales for why the ECB executives should still receive this money have been offered, but none have been more complete than that by former ECB chairman Colin Graves. In an interview with the Guardian, he said:

“[The executives] have won the men’s World Cup [in 2019], the women’s World Cup [in 2017], secured the best broadcast deal in the history of the sport [worth £1.1bn], got the Hundred up and running and managed to stage a full summer of international cricket behind closed doors in 2020, despite a global pandemic. English cricket would have gone bust and they saved it.”

I must have missed Tom Harrison bowling England to victory in the 2017 women’s World Cup, or Sanjay Patel completing the run out at the very end of the 2019 men’s World Cup. Whilst such victories are undoubtedly group efforts, requiring the support of a multitude of people behind the scenes, few people outside of a former executive would place the importance of the top brass over that of the players on the field.

If these executives did “save English cricket”, it was also them who endangered its life by spending all of the ECB’s £70 million reserves (in 2016) on The Hundred (either directly, or using it to bribe counties into supporting a new competition). That £70 million would have been incredibly helpful for an unexpected event like (for example) a one-a-century global pandemic threatened all professional and amateur sport around the world.

If there is one group of people who did save (professional) cricket in England, it’s the West Indies and Pakistan teams who toured here in 2020. They came at an uncertain time, into a country with a high rate of infections, and spent almost all of their time here locked in their cricket grounds/hotels. I am sure it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, for which they received little reward. Had they not come, it seems likely that the ECB would have lost most if not all of the Sky TV deal which it required to keep themselves and the counties afloat financially during the pandemic. If saving English cricket is the criteria for these bonuses, give it to them instead of the executives.

Graves also suggested that the bonus payments are a contractual matter in which no one (including the ECB, its chairman or the executives themselves) have any say over. That is simply not a credible argument after the last eighteen months. The England men’s players agreed a substantial cut in their own bonuses last year. Men’s county cricketers agreed to several pay cuts, including to their minimum salary. Men’s players in The Hundred agreed a 20% pay cut. These were all based on signed contracts, where the players and the PCA would have been entirely within their rights to demand the full amounts due. But they didn’t because they were persuaded, quite possibly by the ECB executives, that the game had a much greater need for that money elsewhere and that they could afford to take a financial hit in exchange for safeguarding the game that has given them so much.

The players at least had a choice. The ECB executives sacked 62 members of staff last year to cut costs, and many more at the counties will have lost their jobs too. For them, and the ECB staff members left behind with pay freezes and more work to handle with fewer colleagues, these news reports are about as welcome as a cup of cold vomit. That £2.1 million might well have saved a lot of their jobs, if nothing else. The fact that word of the bonuses was apparently leaked to the press might serve as a warning to Tom Harrison and the other executives, as you would imagine that there are a lot of skeletons in their closets (as well as their email folders and expense accounts) which their underpaid, overworked, and probably very angry underlings could email to friendly journalists.

The idea which Graves raised that the ECB’s executives are irreplaceable due to their genius-like intelligence is undercut by one simple fact: They did not see this backlash coming at all. Once it did come, they have not appeared to do anything about it. They have managed to upset the players, their staff (basically everyone in the whole organisation not getting the bonus), and the fans (always the least important group for them). That’s not being smart. It’s being greedy, and arrogant, and uncaring.

On a personal note, the idea of executive bonuses tied to targets has always baffled me somewhat. I am an employee who has always been very near the lower end of any organisational chart, and the idea of being paid extra for doing your job well has always been a distant dream to me. If I meet the targets set for me, I get to keep my job. If I don’t, I would be fired. The idea that I could achieve essentially none of my goals and still receive 80% of my wages sounds like a very nice employment contract to have.

As has been said by many people, the genuinely irreplaceable people in English cricket are the volunteers who run our clubs. The people who give vast amounts of their time and money to make it possible for virtually anyone in the country to play cricket every weekend through the summer. The chairs, coaches, players, groundskeepers, umpires, cooks, bar staff, and everyone else who sacrifices a lot and may well have had a very hard time of it in the past year. They get very little support from the ECB, and almost none personally from Tom Harrison and the other executives. Although £2.1 million might not be much when shared between the thousands of clubs across the country, this would have been a far better use of the money than having an extra wing built on Château Costume Vide.

At this point, I don’t expect much to change. The ECB’s playbook in such cases is normally to wait out the initial wave of fury and then do what they want anyway. You could see that in The Hundred, and the accusations of racism at Yorkshire, and in multiple other examples. If they cared about what people thought, they wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

If you have anything to say about the unmitigated gall of the ECB’s executives, the Test series, or anything else, post your comments below.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day Two – Normal Test Cricket

I joined Being Outside Cricket in 2017. This may well be the first time that I’ve been asked to write the match report for a day where England have batted through the whole day, with just one collapse in the evening session. I am genuinely stumped on what to write.

The day began in a similar vein to the day before, with conditions favouring the bowling team. The ball started swinging and seaming again, and India’s attack thoroughly testing England’s newest opening partnership. Burns and Hameed did well to survive as long as they did, Hameed taking a blow to the head after ducking into a not-quite bouncer, before both fell in the morning session. Malan impressed at three, scoring at a decent rate (unlike, arguably, his T20I performances) and putting India on the back foot.

Joe Root came in and did what he’s done all year: Make Test batting look ridiculously easy. This was his sixth century from eleven Tests in 2021. Where Hameed and Burns struggled and got tied down by Bumrah and Shami, Root seemed like he was facing a bunch of club cricketers. He scored singles at will and hit the bad balls for boundaries. It was only in the last hour, when he looked physically and mentally shattered, that India were able to dismiss him. It’s difficult to think of an English batter who has been in such dominant form over this period of time. At the same time, the constant attention he needs on his back during these long innings makes me only too aware of how fragile and fleeting this might be. Particularly considering the usual level of competence that England’s medical team usually displays.

Bairstow added a useful 29 runs, but his dismissal led to a flurry of wickets. Buttler, Ali and Root all fell within the space of a few overs. In their defence, they may have been disoriented by coming to the crease with a healthy first innings lead and facing tired, dispirited bowlers. It will have been a long time since they faced such a situation.

This innings from England’s top order has been historically good. It began with the first England opening partnership to last 50 overs since 2016, coincidentally when Haseeb Hameed was last in the team. Each of England’s top four went on to score at least fifty, which last occurred in 2013. This is by far the most complete batting performance England have managed in recent years. That said, it is important to avoid hyperbole and remain at least somewhat balanced. The pattern in recent years has been for promising batters to come into the side, impress at first before being ‘found out’ and unable to adapt to bowling attacks targeting their weaknesses. There have been too many false dawns for England’s batting, and the past few years have beaten all but the merest sliver of hope out of me.

With a first innings lead of 345, it’s hard to see any other result than an England win in this game. Given that the morning sessions have been the best times to bowl in this game so far, an early declaration might give Anderson the best chance to run through the Indian top order for a second time.

Off the field, I am surprised by how little attention the Yorkshire CCC report (or the lack of a report) has been getting. There seemed to be a groundswell of pressure building up to this game, but it has largely been ignored during the game itself. I am conflicted on this, since I definitely prefer watching cricket to hearing about bad stuff happening behind the scenes. I fear that the chances of there being a real positive change in English cricket decreases the longer Yorkshire are able to delay facing their own issues. The ECB and PCA’s silence on the matter has been deafening, but also unsurprising. I don’t think any progress is likely to be made until pressure from outside, whether fans, the press, or politicians force Yorkshire and the ECB into action, and that isn’t happening right now.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about the game, or anything else, leave them below.

England v India: 2nd Test, Day Four – Slow Down

At the beginning of play today, the match was finely poised with all three results possible. By stumps, the odds of either team winning seemed virtually unchanged. And yet, in spite of this, it was a great day of Test cricket with tension and drama throughout. I complain a lot about various aspects of the sport, but games like this remind me why I love it.

The day began with all eyes on Anderson, England fans hoping that he could break through India’s top order in the morning. Instead, it was Mark Wood who knocked out both Indian openers. Virat Kohli followed soon after, reaching far outside off the edge a wide delivery from Sam Curran to England’s keeper. Kohli has struggled overseas in recent years, averaging just 21.36 outside India in the six Tests he’s played since 2020. India have a wealth of batting depth, and I don’t get the sense that he is quite as well loved in India as Tendulkar was near the end of his Test career, perhaps Dhoni as well. Whilst he’ll certainly see out this tour, I could see him be encouraged to ‘retire’ from Test cricket if his form doesn’t improve in the next year or so. Joe Root had a dip in form himself before a resurgent 2021, but England don’t have any young batters seriously pressuring him for a place in the side like India.

England were rampant at this point, looking to take a few more cheap wickets and finish off the match today. Instead, an obdurate batting display from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane kept the hosts at bay as the two Indian batters were in for almost half the day and dragged the game back to something approaching parity.

Something which genuinely annoys me is when people, and this includes a large portion of the media, insist that batting strike rate is of any real importance in Test cricket. Aside from a few, fairly rare situations (a challenging run chase on day five, for example), it really doesn’t matter how quickly you score your runs. Every Test team in the world would prefer a batter with a batting average of 60 and a strike rate of 30 to one with an average of 30 and a strike rate of 60. And yet, despite this, there is a constant narrative that slow-scoring batters are putting pressure on their teammates. I think Rohit Sharma trying to hook a bouncer for six but instead toe-ending it to Moeen Ali or Virat Kohli reaching two feet outside off stump and edging the ball to Buttler probably put more significantly pressure on India than Cheteshwar Pujara playing cautiously.

I like aggressive batting as much as the next person, but I often appreciate innings like those from Pujara and Rahane today even more. Partly I enjoy the growing frustration of the fielding team as they throw everything into trying to finagle a wicket, but also because this is something which is unique to Test cricket. A match in The Hundred has 200 deliveries, Pujara and Rahane’s partnership lasted 297. There was tension and drama throughout, unlike most white ball matches where I usually only bother to watch the end of the second innings. Those looking to replace Test cricket with a three-hour music concert interspersed with some cricket are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

As the day reached its conclusion, England finally managed to take a few more wickets. In particular, Moeen Ali drew two edges from Rahane and Jadeja. Whilst I’m happy both for England taking wickets generally and Moeen doing well in particular, the English batters might not particularly look forward to the prospect of facing Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch which seems conducive to spin and has had the odd ball stay low. Any target over 200 could be very tricky indeed.

One thing which potentially makes England’s route to victory even more difficult are the overs lost in the game so far. After managing 90 overs on the day one, neither team has achieved this rather fundamental aspect of cricket in the following three days. Today finished 8 overs short, although England might have managed five or six more had bad light not intervened. The fielding teams on Friday and Saturday had no such excuse, when 13 overs went unbowled. Altogether, we have seen 21 overs less overs than we should have done with the only day which actually delivered the allotted deliveries being the one where it rained several times! Apart from cheating paying customers out of extra cricket, those 21 overs might make a huge difference in terms of whether either team can force a result tomorrow.

India’s captain made something of a spectacle of himself in the last few overs, seemingly gesticulating to the umpires that the game should be halted due to bad light whilst England were bowling their spinners. Trying to shorten the day’s play is rarely going to endear you to the paying public such as ourselves, and is at best gamesmanship. Kohli might be said to have a very Australian approach to fair play in cricket: That something can only be wrong if the opposition are doing it.

Thanks for reading my post. If you have any comments, please leave them below.