Test Match Sanctimony

Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 year old whipper snapper, I ended up getting a job at a garden centre during my university summer holidays. Naturally the pay back then was quite frankly pitiful and I normally responded by turning up half cut after a big night out the night before, especially at the weekends. It was a pretty uneventful and dull job, which tidied me over and gave me some money to throw at cheap booze during the next semester. The one and only perk (so to be speak) was that often on a Thursday and a Monday, I was often tasked with helping out the main delivery driver with his delivery runs throughout the whole of Sussex. This was ideal for me, I could basically sit in the van all day, occasionally getting out to deliver some garden furniture at some remote place in rural Sussex, whilst discovering every road side café within the boundaries of the A27 (my delivery man was not a small gentleman). The best thing for me however, was that the main man was a massive cricket fan himself and so whilst I got to discover some new quaint and wonderful places in Sussex from the comfort of my passenger seat, I was also able to enjoy a summer of listening to Test Match Special on the radio. The travel to rural locations alongside conversations about cricket with the dulcet tones of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Vic Marks, Simon Mann and Blowers made what was a pretty crappy job into a summer I actually look back with fondness on. I bet there are a number of us with similar stories, who remember traveling by road or listening on holiday to the TMS team cover the often travails of the English cricket team in good humoured fashion. This was long before the ECB turned into a despicable, money grabbing, old boys club; sure they were an old boys club back then, but back then they were far more interested in what Port was being served at lunch, rather than trying to squeeze every penny out of their dwindling fan base.

Test Match Special has it’s place as an institution of English cricket, something that has been cherished by the English cricketing public for a number of years and what the BBC would probably like to term ‘Auntie’s favourite’ in the fact it was highly inoffensive but much admired due to some of the quirky conversations between a number of the commentators. This so called institution though is beginning to fade and quickly, with the advent of Sky (for those that can afford it) as well as streaming sites and the advent of social media, which negates having to listen to long swathes of cricket should that not be your wish and can inform in a moment when a wicket has fallen or when England have collapsed in a heap again. There is also competition now, with TalkSport winning the rights to the winter tours for the next few years. Now I must admit that I haven’t actually listened to any commentary from TalkSport, but from the feedback from those who have, many have said it is a competent operation and compares favourably to TMS. One also has to look at the make up of Test Match special, especially around those who commentate for the show, and it soon becomes clear that ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Boycott is a casual hypocrite who has been banging on about the same stuff for years, Graeme Swann is a legend only in his lunch hour and makes Jay from the InBetweeners look modest, whilst Vaughan is too busy shamelessly promoting his own clients and jumping on any bandwagon that the ECB care to peddle out. It seems like an old boys club, with the emphasis on ‘In Jokes” and ‘banter’ rather than any serious attempt to describe what is going on with the game and so this leads us straight to the door of the ‘so-called face of the TMS’ Jonathan Agnew.

Agnew likes to paint himself as a whiter than white and a real patriarch of the game, but someone who is also approachable and jovial. He is a favourite of the ‘blue rinse brigade’ who can’t get enough of that lovable Mr. Agnew and the BBC paints a picture that TMS under Agnew’s watch harks back to a simpler and purer time. This is a lovely picture in an ideal world, but one that forgets that Agnew is a thin-skinned, foul-mouthed media luvvie, who is likely to snap the moment anyone dares to question his expertise or the way he goes about his business as ‘Chief Correspondent of the BBC’. The lovable Mr. Agnew that he likes to paint a picture around is actually an insecure, paranoid individual who is likely to lose his temper the moment the adoration stops and funnily enough, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. Agnew has kept being told during his time at the BBC that he is doing a great job, that the public love him, that he is right about all things cricket by the army of cricket fans who follow his social media feeds (well not Kicca) and anyone who dares criticize him will face the wrath of the pearl clutching brigade who will jump on anyone at the merest hint of insubordination. This clearly has inflated his ego somewhat, so much so that he saw it fit to criticize Gary Lineker on social media for expressing his political views:

So when a fellow journalist, a TV presenter or one of us ‘little bloggers’ dares to stick our head over the parapet and disagree with Agnew, the man himself is almost disbelieving that anyone on this planet could have the audacity to disagree with him. If was just Agnew’s thin skinned approach or pinch nosed approach to the public, then it really wouldn’t be a big deal as many in the media view the general public as the ‘great unwashed who are there to be preached at’; unfortunately for Agnew this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It has always been fairly easy to be sceptical about Agnew, especially after the Pietersen affair, where he like many others in the media seemed to turn into ECB mouthpieces overnight. I remember the interview the Full Toss blog did with him not long after the infamous sacking of a certain individual from the ‘aplomb one’ and Agnew came across as incredibly dismissive of what were pretty fair questions (I’m sure Maxie can add some insight into this). It also became clear that the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC had struck up a friendship with Alastair Cook, much like he has a friendship with Stuart Broad, whose father was a regular in a pub that Agnew used to visit regularly. Now I don’t have any problem whatsoever with commentators and media hacks having members of the England that they both admire and sometimes are friendly with, but there has to a be line somewhere when admiration has to be put aside in order to produce fair and concise judgements on any turn of events. This hasn’t seemed to bother Agnew one bit, who not only stoutly defended Cook at every turn, but also demanded an apology from the ‘hoi polloi’ on the back of an interview with guess who, Alastair Cook, who was hardly likely to take a ‘mea culpa’ approach to the situation

This is bad enough, but Agnew always seemed to ‘raise his game’ whenever Cook did well in a game and who revelled in the fact that Cook had ended his England career by scoring a century in his final Test. He subsequently used it as an opportunity to take pot-shots at those who might not have quite shared his delight:

Now I really am no Piers Morgan fan, but on this occasion Morgan had been gracious about the end of Cook’s international career, and yet Agnew decided to show everybody who would listen how he was right and how wrong Morgan had been. Except this wasn’t just a pot-shot at Morgan, it was far more than that; it was a pot-shot at any of us who had dared not to buy into the cult of Alastair Cook. It was an us vs. the rest moment, either your inside cricket and rightly bow down to the greatest player who has ever worn the England shirt or you are ‘outside cricket’, someone to be mocked and sneered at by those ‘who really know cricket’. It was all rather typical Jonathan Agnew really, a triumphalist ‘stuff you’ aimed at those who dared criticize him or dared to question ‘his wonderful friend’. This is not what we should expect from anyone who purports to report on the game, let alone from someone with a ‘Chief Correspondent’ job title as this is skewed journalism at best and a downright hagiography at its worst. The fact that Agnew either doesn’t realise how this looks or even worse, doesn’t really care, shows his complete lack of respect to the English cricketing public and that impartiality is something he is quite simply unable to deliver on. It is people like Agnew, Mike Selvey and Paul Newman, who were so quick to peddle the ECB line as Cook being the saviour of English cricket in the hope of garnering favour, which may have actually contributed to the intense dislike some English fans have for Cook himself. Writing or commentating about the game with a neutral outlook seems to be something this is a ‘nice to have’ for the 3 gentlemen above, but not one that necessarily pays in the long term, for that you have plug whatever propaganda the ECB is purporting at the time and Agnew through his loyal friendship with Cook was more than happy to do so.

This wouldn’t be the first time either, as who can ever forget the infamous picture of Agnew cosily dining with Giles Clarke (and surprise Mike Selvey). Now Agnew gets very hot and bothered when this is posted and strongly maintains that he had just given Clarke both barrels (though I doubt he called him a c*nt), but in reality does anyone really believe this? It is far more likely that Agnew was making sure that he got a slice of whatever pie was on offer (figuratively not the literally obviously), by leaving whatever morals he had at the door in favour of personal gain. Naturally this wouldn’t fit with the jovial, whiter than white image that Agnew has tried to cultivate for himself, so Agnew has done whatever he can to both distance and disavow himself from that situation.

Giles-Clarke-and-Jonathan-001

Up until this point though, Agnew in the main had managed to keep his public persona as “Auntie’s face of English cricket’ in tact with some success, this was until last week when the mask slipped and boy did it slip big time. It seems that Agnew and Jonathan Liew have been engaged in a war of words for sometime, but things have been at least civil in the public eye. Agnew was first angered by an article by Liew around Jofra Archer and his perceived integration into the English cricket team, which Agnew believes was accusing him of racism.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cricket-world-cup-squad-jofra-archer-a8887246.html

Now I have read this article a few times, which is highly nuanced (other than that it’s a mightily good article) and I don’t believe Liew is accusing Agnew of racism in this piece as he is also critical of Michael Vaughan, though others are welcome to disagree. Then Liew wrote another piece Wisden, which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, which says of Agnew:

‘Besides, he’s under the wing of Aggers now, who barely bothers to conceal his disdain for the great unwashed of the written press, like a French aristo pinching his nostrils as he strolls through a peasant market, lest he get an unwanted whiff of rotting chicken giblets.’

Now having never been invited into in any commentary box or media briefing, I have no idea whether this is true or not; however the response from Agnew was first one of outrage and then one of pure unabridged anger:

Boom, I certainly didn’t expect that top pop up on my timeline last Saturday, and what of the pearl clutching ‘Agnew luvvies,’ I bet one or two of them nearly went into cardiac arrest when they saw this. Now I understand that Agnew feels wronged and that alcohol consumption may have played a part, but this is completely out of order and can easily be classed as bullying, with Agnew throwing both his weight about and the toys out of his pram too. This ‘colourful language’ is the type I’d expect on a Friday night out in Croydon, not from the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC, a 59 old year man who has made his living from being the squeaky clean face of the BBC’s cricket coverage.

Now I’m not saying that Liew is faultless here, not at all. Liew is a very marmite character and writer, with a number of this parish disagreeing about some of the content of his articles and he is known in certain circles as a ‘wind up merchant’. Liew for me is capable of writing some superb pieces, but also some total dross, where he decides to show everyone how clever he is, with an air of smugness to boot; a bit like Barney Ronay (who coincidentally was also called a ‘wanker’ by Jonathan Agnew). Liew knew very well what he was doing in both those articles and it is clear that there has been some kind of vendetta gathering pace under the carpet between the two of them, which feels rather undignified considering one is the Chief Sports Writer for the Independent and the other the Chief Cricket Reporter of the BBC. It all feels a bit like two 7 year olds fighting for the last bit of cake; however both clearly have enormous egos and are morally sure they are in the right. The main mistake Agnew made was by not being too bright and picking a slanging match against Liew, who is incredibly bright and cocksure and doesn’t mind burning a few bridges in the process. Once those direct messages were out in the open, there was always only going to be one winner, if indeed you would class that there is a winner out of this whole charade.

Agnew on the other hand, is quite lucky that the BBC took a fairly lenient approach despite the ‘bollocking’ that he may have received on the back of this. Memories often fade quickly when someone in the limelight who on the whole is incredibly popular with this English cricketing public and I’m sure Agnew will quickly be forgiven for his indiscretions here (though I’m very sure Liew won’t benefit from the same level of forgiveness). The interesting thing for me is whether Agnew actually learns anything from this event and decides to be a little more humble and to get off the high horse that he has perched himself on. Often it goes either way, so it will be interesting to see what happens when Agnew comes back online.

Either way it seems that irony had developed a sense of humour last weekend and a similar indiscretion from the now chastened Agnew, may result in a far harsher sentence. As one former newspaper Chief Cricket Correspondent once wrote ‘his card has been marked’. It now falls at the feet of Agnew to lay down the cronyism and to actually be a neutral, incisive correspondent for the BBC, which he once was. Whether he is still capable of that though, is most certainly a moot point.

 

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England v Pakistan – 2019 ODI Series, a (late) preview of sorts

We were unable to write a preview of the series before the first game on the Wednesday, due to our various workloads etc, but in the end it didn’t matter too much as the rain gods intervened before the match could seriously get going. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t been active, Danny’s dissection of The Hundred here if you haven’t managed to read it, is a work of art and has got some great traction on various social media outlets. It’s a long post, but a very insightful one and it has upset Simon Hughes a hell of a lot, which is always the sign of a great article…

So we now approach a slightly shorter warm up series comprised of 4 games against a streaky Pakistan team with the series seemingly of interest only to those players who are on the fringes of each team. I personally don’t blame the schedulers wanting to get some ODI practice in before the World Cup, especially with places up to grab, but I must admit that it really hasn’t struck any particular interest with me, it’s all a little bit before the Lord Mayor Show.

The main talking point before the series was the cover up and then subsequent dropping of Alex Hales for drug related offence. Of course, the ECB being the ECB handled the affair with all the care and aplomb of an elephant trying to walk on stilts. It still amuses me that they thought that somehow they would be able to cover the whole thing up as ‘personal problems’, which for those cricketers (and those in general) who genuinely have had personal issues in the past, must feel like a slap in the face that the ECB decides to constitute drug problems as such. Yet as soon as Ali Martin revealed the reason why Hales had been dropped by Nottinghamshire, the ECB think tank went into overdrive and promptly kicked Hales out of the World Cup squad. Suddenly words such as ‘loss of trust’, ‘welfare of the team ethos’ and ‘letting down teammates’ started to appear with at an alarming rate. Ashley Giles and Eoin Morgan were wheeled out in front of the media to be the ECB’s Chief Executioner (well Morgan did owe the ECB big time for the skipping of the Bangladesh tour and the ECB cashed in that cheque big time’), never mind that this whole mess could have been avoided should the ECB have approached this with a modicum of good sense at the time they found out, but then that’s not what the ECB does.

Now I am not a big fan of Alex Hales, the bloke is a bit of a burke who clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson from his first failed drugs test nor from the fallout from Bristol and I don’t particularly have a strong opinion about him being suspended from the World Cup especially as he was likely a reserve player at best; However for the ECB to go holier than holy on this whole subject is hypocrisy of the highest order. I certainly wouldn’t trust the ECB to boil an egg unsupervised let alone run an international cricket board and as for the whole letting down teammates, the ECB having been letting down the fans and players for years, especially with the advent of the 100, a white elephant that nobody bar the ECB actually wants. Naturally the empty headed sycophant that is Michael Vaughan, leapt to the ECB’s defence to such an extent, one might surmise that garnering favour with the international board could benefit him directly:

“Eoin Morgan spoke brilliantly, very mature, great leadership, everything he said was to the point,” said Vaughan. 

“It is a message to Alex Hales that this England side isn’t going to mess around anymore. Bristol was a line in the sand moment, they all realise they have to be better role models. 

“Alex Hales was on a 12-month suspended sentence from his actions in Bristol. I don’t know how he comes back from this, he has lost the trust of the team.

“It’s not a great look for the game but I think the England team have dealt with it in the best way they can. The conversation with Hales would have been hard but easy in a way because he has let them down.

“If you’re a professional sports person not thinking clearly you are not in a position to represent your country in a World Cup.

So Hales is now on the naughty step for the foreseeable future and of course, Shiny Toy gets to benefit with one of his clients called up in Hales’ place. Who says blind and blatant obsequiousness doesn’t reap results in this world??

As for the series itself, it appears that most of the places area locked down now, especially on the batting front and the only real question is whether Jofra Archer can show the selectors that he merits a place. Personally I think England are a better team with Archer in it, despite protestations from those who appear most at risk, about team spirit etc. Archer has something that we are lacking in the pace department, which is both pace and control and added to his ability to ‘hit a long ball’ with the bat, then personally I think it’s a bit of a no brainer. Of course, someone is going to be unlucky to be left out with Curran or Wood being the prime candidates in my opinion (though I would laugh if it was Chris Woakes), but that is international cricket at it’s highest level and there’s always going to be someone that has to miss out. The only question mark with Archer is whether he can adapt his bowling to the longer 50 ball game where batsmen get a longer look at you compared to the 4 over stint in 20/20; however I would be quite surprised if Archer isn’t the most penetrating and hard to face bowler in this tournament. That being said, the ECB selectors are a funny bunch, so don’t be too surprised if they brains trust decided to pick Jake Ball in the end!

As ever, any comments on the game or wider thoughts are always welcome….

*UPDATE: England have dropped Jofra Archer for this game 🤦🏻‍♂️

West Indies vs. England, Third Test – Day 3

If Day 2 was a very enjoyable day of Test cricket, with first of all England collapsing in a heap once again and then the West Indian team following suit mainly down to the fiery spell by Mark Wood, then Day 3 was the complete antithesis of this. The West Indian side despite taking a wicket with the first ball of the day, looked weary and disinterested especially with Keemo Paul injured and unable to bowl. This unfortunately happens often in a dead rubber game, the series winners can’t seem to find the oomph to drive the final nail in the coffin home and usually what follows is a pretty insipid performance, after all England are no strangers to this, though we would naturally take a poor English performance in this Test for a series win in hindsight.

The opening pair of the tourists were once again in the spotlight, with Rory Burns looking to trying to cement his place in the side for the summer ahead and Keaton Jennings playing in what should be his last Test for a very long while. Therefore it must have been doubly disappointing for Burns hit a loosener from Paul straight down the throat of square leg to depart first ball of the day. Burns has looked compact and in control of his game in this series much as he did in Sri Lanka but the lack of a significant score must be playing both on his mind and those of the selectors. In retrospect, he can be seen as quite fortunate that Jennings at the other end has looked like he has never picked up a cricket bat before. Jennings ironically looked better than he has for the whole series, almost if he was resigned to losing his place after this Test, but having moved to a score of 23, he then managed to miss a ball going down the leg side, which then flicked his stumps and removed the bails. It was a sorry way to go for the soon to depart England opener, but equally rather sums up his unfortunate time at the top of the order. It’s sad to say that Jennings, much like Gary Ballance before him, found his technique wanting at the highest level, but instead of working on his flaws like many used to when they were discarded from the Test team and sent back to county cricket to fix these. He has found himself back in the side without making any significant changes to his technique due to the lack of talent in the ranks. Sadly the result of this was always going to be inevitable failure.

Joe Denly came in and chanced his arm somewhat but also played some good shots on his way to making 69, even if he will be horribly upset by his dismissal which was a lose waft at a wide delivery from Gabriel, when a century was on the cards. Denly has looked far better this game than he did on his debut, though that couldn’t have been too hard and has at least given the selectors a bit of food for thought. One thing I would say is that this is not the motivated West Indian attack of the first two Tests and he still didn’t inspire a lot of confidence at the crease whilst he was batting, so continuing to pick him on one decent Test Innings should be regarded as a rather rash state of affairs (see Mark Wood also). One would think that Denly needs to score a mountain of runs in the first division this summer to keep his name in the frame, something that his average of 34 in first class cricket suggests he might not be able to do. Still England’s complete lack of options at the top of the order may save him for the First Test of the Ashes, though equally I’m sure the selectors are desperate to select James Vince again after a few pretty half centuries.

The rest of the session before tea was very much after the lord’s mayor’s show with Root who has been seriously out of touch all series trying to graft himself into some sort of form and Buttler, who quietly has been the most impressive of England’s batsmen over the past 12 months, milking a tired and under-strength West Indian attack. If watching 2 part-time spinners (though one of them still managed to skittle our batting line up in the First Test) lobbing pies as the English batsmen is your thing then you were in for the treat, most I suspect turned the channel over, another pitfall of the dead-rubber. The only slight panic was when Buttler was given out caught by Rod Tucker when the ball was nowhere close to the bat and thankfully is the sort of howler that DRS was originally bought in to try and eliminate. Root quickly reached his half-century after tea with Buttler reaching his 50 not too long after.

The snooze fest was briefly livened up with the introduction of the 2ndnew ball with Buttler bowled by a cracker of a delivery by Kemar Roach; however at 375 ahead with 6 wickets remaining a huge collapse was going to be necessary to interest even the most ardent of Test Cricket fans. Both Roach and Gabriel bowled very well with the new ball and made the ball talk, indicating once again that the effective use of the new ball is key on this pitch, but Root and Stokes survived the onslaught to put England in a commanding position. After surviving a testing new ball period, Root finally went on to make his 16th Test century which would have been a blessed relief as he has looked as ‘out of nick’ on this tour as I’ve seen him in a long time, though no doubt tinged with regret as he could only make a significant score when the series was already gone.

England now with their bowlers health in mind and wanting to give the West Indies a taste of their own medicine by keeping them out on the field and bowling on a hot and humid day, should have more than enough to win this Test from here. One would imagine that they will try and bat until lunch tomorrow and gain a lead of around 550 before re-inserting the West Indians. Not that this at all matters because we have already lost the series and this only saves a modicum of embarrassment. I’ll be interested if this is reflected in the final thoughts from the England camp at the end of the series.

Judging from the inertia from today’s play, I’m not expecting a load of comments, so those who read the blog but aren’t inclined to comment, why not take 2 minutes to introduce yourself to your fellow community?  Especially as you’re currently reading this after today’s turgid affair! How about name/nom de guerre, how you found the blog, favourite county team (if applicable) and favourite English cricket moment from the past? I’ll Start:

Name: Sean

How did I find the blog: A latecomer to HWDLIA who then transferred over to BOC once Dmitri set up the new site. A few guest posts later and suddenly I find myself writing for the blog.

Favourite County: Middlesex (cue the outrage and inevitable abuse, probably mainly from Danny)

Favourite English Cricket moment: Alastair Cook being hit in the balls…Oh and the 2005 Ashes.

Anyone else game??

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

Whilst Sky are intent on portraying the English cricket team as pariahs entering a brave new era with their white ball team, they do have advertising slots to sell for the World Cup this year after all, many of us are not feeling quite the same bonhomie with this English cricket team. Chris’ review of the 2nd Test was as great as it was cuttingly brutal, quite simply this England team is the weakest team we have had in living memory and one that is arguably not fit for the Test arena. This is not a surprise to any of us as those who have followed the Test arena for a long time and we know that the spin that is trying to be spun by the powers that be are simply empty words from a clueless board and those that are in cahoots with them; words to try and dupe the public this is a but a mere blip and those in-power do know best. After all, who can forget the insightful words from our so-called Managing Director, that winning or losing doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely about attracting a new ‘audience to the game’

The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this. “Joe Root and [one-day and Twenty20 captain] Eoin Morgan understand their responsibility to be playing exciting cricket for future generations to connect with and for fans of the game to get behind us. It’s a very deliberate strategy. It doesn’t work every time you go out on the park. But we understand that it’s more likely you’re going to be forgiven for having a bad day if you’re doing everything to try to win a game, as opposed to not trying to lose it, which is a very key difference in positioning.”

So that’s that then. The whole art of playing Test Cricket, which has been successful for over 100 years has been deemed not good enough and then redesigned by a clown in an expensive suit who is desperate to embrace the whole hit and giggle side of cricket to make some more cash for himself. Get beaten by an innings, no worries it was an entertaining collapse. Play for the draw, I’m afraid Tom has said no way. This is the new and best ever approach to this format now as prescribed by the ECB. No wonder the England coaches seem even more confused and clueless than ever before.

PHOTO-2019-02-06-22-05-05
Tom Harrison’s new outfit – copyright Danny Frankland

I must admit that I watched very little of the 2nd Test as the result seemed to be beyond doubt after Day 1 when England once again hopelessly collapsed on a pitch doing something. I did turn on to see the late rites being issued by the West Indian bowlers but I admit I was more interested in the post match response than seeing another cravenly poor display from our batsmen and bowlers. Will they try to say it was a one-off incident though they did that last week? Will they admit that they are a poor team playing poor cricket (unlikely)? Will they call out Tom Harrison for being an incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be meddling in the Test Team (hopefully but not going to happen)? Or will they do what they always do and mutter something about working harder and a determination to turn it around in the next Test (of course that’s what they did). Joe Root’s speech was naturally non-committal but the reflections from Nasser & Mike Atherton were the ones that really did get me to giggle, especially when Nasser insightfully exclaimed:

There is a real problem in county cricket, where there is no real depth of top-quality, top-order batsmen. The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke’s ball.

“If anything, people are hiding away from batting in the top three. If you look at someone like Jason Roy, who some say is the next cab off the rank, he bats at five for Surrey. England have to go and see Surrey and Alec Stewart and say ‘we’re looking at him for the top of the order, can you get him up to three?’ Why would you want to move up to three in county cricket when it’s moving around? James Vince at Hampshire is slowly sliding down the order where it’s easier to bat.

I can’t have been the only one who laughed in slight disbelief that Nasser had only just grasped this now. Surely the succession of failed openers might have given it away? Or maybe the fact that most of the batsmen are averaging low 30’s with the bat? Or even the fact that England has been trying to cover their batting vulnerabilities by selecting as many all-rounders as they can possibly fit in the team? The fact that Nasser finally pointed out that there is an inherent weakness in our structure is something that most people with any knowledge of the red ball game have been banging on about for years and hardly puts his ‘insight’ in a good shade. We all know that the county cricket is something the ECB would very much like to get rid of, in fact if Test cricket didn’t make them so much money in London, they’d probably like to get rid of that too for some ridiculous bastardization of the game featuring beach balls and unicorns. What was particularly amusing about the interview is that he managed to say all of this without once suggesting that this is the fault of the ECB and Tom Harrison’s ‘let’s all have a slog, it doesn’t matter if we lose’ mentality. The reason why we struggle to find quality players in the county system these days is that access to the game is at an all time low, cricket remains hidden away from the public like some kind of deformed cousin and those that do make it to the county game are being forced to play red ball cricket out of season and are no longer given the time or coaching to hone their skills if they can’t hit the ball out of the park. So why is it again that we struggle to find quality Test batsmen Nasser? The answer is staring you in the face in the form of Tom Harrison and his rest of his not-so merry men, but then again they pay the bills of the Sky commentators, so naturally one can’t go and bite the hand that feeds you. Nasser though wasn’t quite done in making himself look like a prize turnip:

“We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies.”

Really Nasser, I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks for insight like that and in other news the world is still round and the sun continues to heat the earth. One bonus from Nasser’s groundbreaking news though was that this did facilitate one of the best come backs on Twitter ever by a certain Nick Compton, which is worth dealing with the hassle of Twitter on its’ own:

 

Yes that man who was routinely vilified by our friends in the media (and sometimes Alastair Cook when he wanted to get rid of any heat after a poor series) as some kind of weirdo who didn’t fit in with the team nor fit the ethos of the English mentality. How dare he try and bat himself in when some mothers and kids might be watching? A word to the wise Nick, lose the defence and try and slog a quick bowler over cow corner, after all this is Tom’s new vision of English Test cricket. Now I’m not saying that Compton was the answer, but it would have been nice for the media to give him a chance, especially after a match winning knock in Durban second time around, before they decided that his card was marked and that he was ‘not one of us’. Not that this is the first or will be the last time that this has happened.

Mr Harrison mind you hadn’t finished making himself a laughing stock. In his interview with Ian Ward which was aired on Sky during the First Test and I do use interview in the loosest possible sense, Harrison managed to confuse and contradict his own statements in classic fashion. Mind you, Ward’s interview technique more resembled that of a craven apology and could only have been more accommodating if he had been fellating Harrison during the whole interview. I genuinely don’t know how anyone with even a remote sense of cricketing knowledge would have been able to stand there with a straight face when Harrison said:

We have got fantastic county competitions in this country, we’ve got a thriving international game, but what the ECB and I have to do is ensure we’re keeping an eye on the future and making sure we are doing as much as we can to make the game as open, available, and accessible as it can be to wider audiences. “There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that while we have been doing very well with our county competitions, there is much more we can do to get those wider audiences in the game, which are going to be important in the future for this game to thrive throughout this country.

Sure that ‘fantastic’ county competition that you are trying your best to destroy, the one that has been pushed to the very margins of the game so that it is almost impossible for the counties to prepare players with the technique and skill set to thrive at Test Level. Ah yes, the county game that you and your associates are continue to take a knife to in the hope it finally keels over. It’s like praising an Olympic sprinter then sticking a bullet in both his knees, well he still has hands to stumble to the finish line on after all.

We also had the wonderfully timed piece by Ali Martin warning of the creation of Super Counties whilst England were thrashing away to another humiliating defeat – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/02/pca-hundred-super-counties. I genuinely am not too sure about which thing to be most worried about, firstly that Ali felt he needed to post a piece that was so stunningly obvious to most cricket and county fans or the fact that the PCA has only just woken up to this fact despite the huge red flags. Daryl Mitchell, who is the Chair of the PCA or as it’s known, the ECB’s subservient lapdog, explained:

“You run the risk of the game going towards eight super-counties and end up with a situation where it leads to player bias in terms of recruitment.”

Now what Daryl has said is completely correct, the franchises will no doubt hog their key franchise players to the detriment of other cricket going on concurrently; however my real concern is that the body who are supposed to represent the interests of all English players has only just realised that this competition will no doubt alienate those players who are not picked for the hundred and consequently make all other cricket going on at this time into a 2nd rate competition. Now I may be an old cynic, but surely this is not rocket science to anyone in or outside the current system. The rich will get rich, the poor will get poorer and those counties who are not identified as a ‘franchise’ will be left with a 2nd rate product that no-one wants to watch, all for the hope of  a promised cash windfall of £1.3 million, which will likely get reduced when the Hundred flops horrendously. Certainly, it’s not enough to sell your soul and local team down the river for. The only way that the counties had a chance to stop this unwanted juggernaut then and to a lesser extent now was to stand together and reject the ECB’s model out of hand, yet the only 2 counties who decided to vote against the ECB’s blood money were the unlikely duo of Rod Bransgrove of Hampshire and my own beloved Middlesex. I may support Middlesex but even I wouldn’t trust the Middlesex board to boil an egg let alone lead the fight against the ECB especially as they are so thin skinned that they make Mike Selvey look like he is impervious to criticism. Even now, with the wolves at the door, many of the county chairmen are still convinced that sticking their head in the sand is the best way to approach this threat. Take the Chairman of Somerset, who by all means are extremely competently run county, but equally are the exact model that the ECB would like to rid itself of and his so-called thoughts on the upcoming challenges:

“Like it or not, some counties need the £1.3m a year,” Cornish was quoted as saying by the Somerset County Gazette of the money each club will receive once The Hundred is up and running.”

“We feel working with the ECB is the best way to drive growth in cricket. It is important to remember that it will be the Chairmen of the 18 First Class Counties who take the vote on the subject of the Hundred. “What matters more than anything is the future of the game as a whole. Getting young people to participate, and then nurturing that love of the game is what is key here.”

This is stupidity of another order, like having cattle walk voluntarily into the abattoir to be killed in the hope of receiving some greener grass just beforehand. Somerset are likely to be one of the major losers in this battle and their Chairman is rolling around hoping for his belly to be tickled by his paymasters? It’s quite frankly unbelievable. Once the Hundred is implemented, these counties won’t just be phased into feeder clubs for the so called Big 8, they will simply wound down until they no longer exist anymore. The ECB cares not for the county model especially in the red ball game, which is not making them enough money and doesn’t attract the right sort of cricket fan. All in all, this format is quite frankly an annoyance to the paymasters of English cricket even if the format still remains popular with many of the olders fans. What better ruse than to gradually make them as inaccessible as possible so they eventually are made redundant, so they can change the name of those counties who have a Test Match ground to the ‘Nottingham Ninja’s” or “North London Lions”. This is the new marketing game according to Harrison and his lackeys, after all who doesn’t want to a watch a game where there might be ninjas or lions in it? Talking of Somerset and people associated with the club, I have been an interested spectator following the posts of Andy Nash, who has turned from ex ECB Director and corporate man to social media pariah. Now there is no doubt that Andy is a very intelligent man and that many of his Twitter posts are absolutely spot on, but there is the cynic in me that asks:

  • Why did you not do anything to fight this as a Director of the ECB?
  • Why did Somerset vote for the additional short ball competition if you knew it would irrevocably damage the red ball competition?

Now there might be a very straight forward answer to this, but without knowing the background it seems more than a little hypocritical to take it upon yourself to act as the ‘mouthpiece for change’ even if what you are saying is correct, a bit like an armed robber lecturing a kid who has been caught stealing penny sweets. I have asked this question of Andy more than once on social media without response, so perhaps we can all gather together to ask him this the next time he tweets about the subject. Naturally Andy is very welcome to come onto this platform to share his views and experiences, but I won’t be holding my breath on this.

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely with this post. The English cricket team may resemble the worst team we have had in Test Cricket in living memory, the future for the majority of our domestic game and for the production of Test Players looks darker than it ever has been before and that the fans of the game have been relegated to nothing more than an occasional annoyance and not the right sort of consumer for their product, but all is good and healthy in the English camp. After all, a few pithy marketing campaigns and demanding that the players go out and have a slog (sorry play an aggressive brand of cricket) to keep little Gregory entertained is what our game really needs in the minds of the ECB.

Cricket is staring down the precipice, the only question is will those who have the power to drag it back from the edge, finally wake up before it’s all too late. I’m unfortunately not very hopeful.

 

West Indies vs. England, 1st Test, Day 2 – Calypso Collapso.

There is an old adage to never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it and Day 2 of this Test showed that these words still ring true after all these years. In fact it’s a close run thing whether it took me longer to write this post than England managed to survive against the West Indian bowling attack.

If Day 1 was one of those days that momentum shifted back and forward between both teams, then Day 2 offered the exact opposite, this was a procession for the West Indies bowlers and another humiliating and inept batting display by the England batting unit. There was much talk at the end of play around whether England picked the right team for the Test or whether they might have got away with one yesterday; however the answers to both of the above question were soon answered as an emphatic No as the West Indies blew our batting away within 30 overs through a good performance from their seam attack. In normal circumstances, bowling the West Indies out for 289 after they had opted to bat first would seem to be a decent result; however the way that England’s bowling attack looked so toothless up until Tea and then coupled with the fact that Jimmy and Stokes got the ball to seriously talk after tea all seemed to add up to the fact that the selectors and/or Root had blown another big call. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I am a huge Sam Curran fan but he is not (and I doubt will ever be) an opening bowler at Test Level certainly compared to a senior England bowler with the height to trouble the batsmen on a slightly uneven pitch and over 430 wickets in the locker.

The fact that the West Indies had gone into this Test with only a part-time spinner should have also raised alarm, as I would generally back the home team to understand their own conditions than the touring team. It very quickly soon became clear that 2 spinners was an unwanted luxury on this pitch, coupled with the fact that the one spin bowler they didn’t pick was the one I’d have picked myself as having a spinner in the side that concedes on average 4.5 an over and regularly lets the batsmen rotate the strike is less than ideal. It’s not rocket science to observe that the West Indians first innings score of 289 is by no means a massive score and in many way shouldn’t have been close to match winning one.  However when you factor in England’s ability to collapse in a total heap in the first game of many an away series alongside the fact that the selectors felt they had to pick a number of all-rounders to make up for the frailty of the specialist batsmen, alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear at the end of Day 1. Day 2 only managed to confirm our worst fears.

England did what they needed to do in wrapping up the tail with minimum fuss this morning, with Stokes bagging his fourth and Jimmy bagging his first 5fer of the winter. So in the absence of any annoying tail-end stands, it was down to England’s openers to bat sensibly and get England off to a good start. There naturally has been a strong focus on the opening slots with the retirement of the ‘chosen one’ and the revolving door that has been at the other end with discarded opener after discarded opener. With both Jennings and Burns having a solid Test Series in Sri Lanka, this was now the chance to further their cause on a pitch away from the sub-continent against a lively new ball attack and to reward the selectors with their selections. Sadly, maybe even predictably, this was not the case. Jennings got a start before lazily wafting at a wide ball from Holder and Burns didn’t seem to be switched on straight after lunch, when he played at an innocuous Roach delivery with an angled bat which then rolled back to hit the stumps. Naturally this was not the start that neither the opening batsmen nor the England team wanted and it did very little to suggest that these players might not be best suited to opening in Test Cricket. Sure this is very early in the series, but neither batsmen should be happy or proud in the way they got out and there will need to be a marked improvement if England aren’t going to be heading into a home Ashes series with either one or two major question marks around our opening batsmen.

If there was a major disappointment in how both openers fared, then this disappointment soon turned to outright alarm with both Bairstow and Root following both openers back into the changing room in quick time. Bairstow might count himself a little unlucky after being bowled after being struck on his elbow, though this doesn’t take away from the fact that Bairstow is hearing the death rattle of stumps being struck far too often for a top order batsman, whilst Root never looked settled and was undone LBW by a great delivery from Holder that originally looked like it may have done too much but would have ended up canoning into leg stump. England’s soft underbelly was being exposed again by a good, but no means top class bowling unit and the lower middle order once again had a massive job to do to rescue England’s ailing top order. This time though the lower order could bail out England’s underachieving batsmen, with Stokes, Buttler & Foakes all falling cheaply and Moeen trying his best to win the ‘worst shot of the day’ competition with the sort of shot that genuinely gives club players the shivers. By this time outright alarm had turned to blind panic with none of England’s batsmen able to hold up an end, rein in their shot making and play for time until the ball got softer, after all, this is the aggressive model that the captain wants his team to play with, which is admirable unless you’re 61 – 8 and staring down the barrel. The West Indies eventually took the final 2 wickets to reduce England to 77 all out, another humiliating collapse to add to the record books. It’s only a shame that they didn’t put England back in to follow on as we might have all got the day off tomorrow, though naturally my one crumb of comfort is that Danny will now have to write a review of tomorrow’s play.

Naturally praise has to go to the West Indies pace attack who bowled quickly and put the ball in good areas, but this is no West Indies bowling attack of the 80’s. Kemar Roach is hardly Malcolm Marshall nor is Holder the reincarnation of Courtney Walsh and the pitch certainly isn’t Sabina Park 1998. Yes the West Indies bowled well and credit must go to them for that, but the English batsmen looked unsure about which way up to hold the bat let alone look like actually score some runs. I’m sure the players and management will be quick with the excuses that they hadn’t had enough time in the middle (well make time then by touring longer) or that the West Indies had the best conditions to bat in, but again this is no excuse. This happens time and time again at the start of England’s away tours, one only has to look back a year ago, when we were bundled out for 58 in New Zealand. Sure they’ll be talk about ‘accountability’ and ‘putting right a wrong’ but it’s the same empty rhetoric that is employed after every dreadful batting performance. Nothing ever changes except maybe the standard response bowler being dropped for the next game. Personally I’m just thankful that I have little attachment to this team. In the past I’d have been incredibly annoyed perhaps even raging at this performance, now I find it almost amusing although I would emphasize the word ‘almost’.

At the close of play, West Indies extended their lead to 350, mainly down to the fact that their board wants to protect their Day 3 revenue rather than put England’s inept team to the sword and risk a 2-day defeat. Mind you, perhaps this wasn’t completely communicated to the West Indies batsmen who batted like they had a hot potato in one hand and an important round of golf to attend tomorrow afternoon in the back of their minds. This strange approach from the West Indies batting unit allowed Moeen to add a few junk wickets to his tally and to boost his average with the ball to once again enhance the pretence that he is a Test class bowler or even an international class all-rounder (as a FYI, he is averaging a tad over 11 with the bat this winter). Sadly, once again this was way after the horse had bolted.

England may have a statistical chance of chasing down a score under 400 in the fourth innings, if England can skittle the West Indies tomorrow morning. In reality though, this game is over after 2 days and what a soul-crushing defeat it will be. It just comes down to when the West Indies fancy putting England and their long-suffering fans out of their misery once again.

This might be a little more a ramble than I thought it was going to be, so please feel free to add a few more insightful comments below:

 

West Indies vs. England – A preview of sorts..

In the not too distant past, an upcoming tour to the West Indies would have garnered a lot of noise and a lot of media attention in the build up to the series. Fortunately or Unfortunately, I was not old enough to witness the almost unbeatable West Indies sides of the late 70’s and 80’s, though they had a pretty handy side during the 90’s though probably not quite on the level as their predecessors and hence there would naturally be a lot of excitement about such a tour coupled with a lot of trepidation from the fans (and probably the players) about facing such a strong side in what used to be a trial of pace on quick, bouncy wickets. I have not so fond memories of Messer’s Ambrose & Walsh destroying the English batting line, with the 46 all out in Trinidad during the 3rd Test in 1994 being the nadir. I remember Lara destroying the English bowling unit time after time and stroking the ball to all and every part of the ground, and it was not just Lara, but also the likes of Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams, Richie Richardson and a certain young chap called Chanderpaul who regularly put England to the sword. I clearly remember the grubber that Hooper bowled Hussain with, the unplayable pitch at Sabina Park in 98, which even with my medium paced dobbers, I’d have fancied taking a few wickets on and then in 2004 the famous Harmison 7-12 bowling spell back at Sabina Park in 2004.

When I was growing up in the late 80’s and early-mid 90’s, the West Indies were most people’s favourite cricket team aside from England and certainly each series was seen on a similar footing to the Ashes with similar expectations that we were likely to get a hammering in the series. It didn’t matter though, because the West Indies bought their own culture, their own flair and of course a fair share of world class talent to each series and even now I wish that I had managed to find a way to afford a West Indies tour in the late 90’s/early 200’s. There are still those out their that claim the standard of Test cricket hasn’t gone down and that averages of those bowlers and batsmen have improved due to better skill, better train and more longevity in the game. This tends to be the fall back answer from most Sir A. Cook apologists though I would personally have loved to see how he fared against Holding, Garner, Ambrose, Walsh or Marshall – not very well I would guess. I could also say the same for Jimmy and not having to bowl to the likes of Sir Viv, Haynes, Greenidge, Richie Richardson, Lara etc. which would probably merit similar results. The West Indies teams of the 70’s, 80’s and mid 90’s are the type of team we’ll never get to see again in our lifetimes, which is reflects terribly badly on the WICB, ICC and the whole of International cricket and something us true cricket fans continue to mourn.

This brings me back to the upcoming Test series, which unless you were really studying social media or sky, might have passed you by as starting tomorrow. Sure there are no Lara’s or Ambrose’s of the world still playing for the West Indies, but the lack of coverage of what used to be a marquis series up until a few years ago is truly astounding. Then again, perhaps it really isn’t astounding at all. The WICB are skint and incompetent and have struggled to find any sort of world class talent in their ranks for a number of years and generally those that they do find who are international class are normally hounded out by the board or prefer to take the money that the various domestic T20 tournaments can offer. As for England, we have an administration that is so focused on getting a white elephant form of the game through (so much so, that I can barely call it cricket) to supposedly attract new fans to the game, when all of the international and county fixtures are behind a paywall and lost to the masses coupled with the depth of newspaper and magazine journalism is at it’s weakest in living memory. Sure I can hardly call the likes of Mike Selvey, Derek Pringle and Stephen Brenkley investigative journalists as they generally wrote around whatever suited their agenda or in particular the agenda of the ECB, but at least they were writing to a national audience about the sport. Nowadays aside from the likes of Nick Hoult, George Dobell, Ali Martin and Lawrence Booth in his Wisden role there are no other cricket dedicated, serious journalists left in the national eye (anyone who claims Paul Newman, Dean Wilson & John Etheridge are serious journo’s needs their head examined, I mean would readers of the 2 papers said latter people write for really notice if they weren’t there?). Anyway I digress. The main point here is that cricket is becoming such a niche sport that in a few years time will anyone be on hand to write to about it? This is not meant as a slight on the individuals that play for the England team. I think many are talented just not at a world class level, and naturally they still train as hard as ever to keep their places in the side and there certainly don’t seem to be as many ‘dickheads’ floating around as previous tours gone by (Stuart Broad naturally excepted), but I do really find it difficult to both identify with and even like. Maybe it’s just me, but their disappearance from the national eye coupled with the malicious incompetence of our own governing board leaves me very ‘meh’ these days, which is probably another reason why our output on the blog has gone down over the last 6 months or so.

west-indies-test-1980

England go into the first Test as strong favourites for the series and thankfully Colin Graves has been locked away in his cupboard to prevent giving the opposition so more motivation to perform, though Geoffrey Boycott seems to have weighed in on his behalf, let’s just hope the West Indies don’t read the Telegraph! Though England are favourites for the series, I don’t see it being all one way whatsoever as recent past tours to the Caribbean can attest to, as the West Indies can still perform above their level on their day. Shai Hope is a talent and I personally think Royston Chase will have a good series, meanwhile with the ball the West Indies have a couple of quick but very inconsistent fast bowlers as well Jason Holder, who is one on those players who has sucked every ounce of his talent out to be successful in Test cricket and someone I hold in high stead given the way he has handled the basket case that is the WICB.

As for England, they would have hoped that with the modified duke ball, they would have been able to go with their preferred balance of four quicks and a single seamer for the majority of the series with the view that they should be able to do more with the Duke ball than they would with the kookaburra. Having said that the England team having seen the state of the pitch in Barbados, which looks like it had animals grazing on it only a couple of days ago, might well be favoured to go with 2 spinners. One would imagine that the top 7 from the final Test in Sri Lanka will probably be in place for the whole series barring injury or a complete loss of form and one would imagine that Jimmy, Broad and Stokes will be the mainstay of the fast bowling attack with Moeen favoured over Leach should England go with one spinner. The final call I would imagine would be the inclusion of Sam Curran, who has already shown his maturity and aptitude for Test cricket and would be terribly unlucky to miss out or Leach if they think the pitch will take turn later on in the game. Naturally I would very much like to see Sam Curran included in the final XI, but not if it harms England’s ability to put their best side out with regards to how the pitch will play.

Naturally, we will try to cover each day’s play throughout the series, but that might mean that some reviews are posted the next morning (or not at all if we’re all tucked up) owing to the late finishes. Please feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the game or anything I have commented on above…

Nostradamus And The Ghosts Of Cricket’s Past

With the Indians triumphant in Australia, South Africa dominating against Pakistan and New Zealand comfortably beating Sri Lanka in the end, it’s that time of year when cricket news is in short supply and the various media outlets (or those that are left) look for something (anything) to fill their pages with until the new English season begins.

Unless the ECB does something monumentally stupid again, which is by no means out of the question, the media looks to pad their pages with the ‘player rankings of the last series’ or the ‘10 best innings by our saviour Sir Alastair Cook’. We at BOC are not entirely immune to this, so we have come up with a few things that we’d like to see in the year ahead, that are unlikely to happen. This is meant as a humorous take and something not to be taken seriously, unless any of the below does happen, then of course we will claim credit through our fantastic cricket insight:

  1. In an effort to garner more favour with the London masses and to get with the times, Lords declares that every Saturday at the Test will be a ‘no toff’ day. Ticket prices are reduced for the day, the champagne tents are all shut and anyone wearing the egg and bacon colours, a blazer or red trousers is automatically refused admission. Though fancy dress remains banned (some things will never change), the Saturday at Lords is something all players begin to look forward to due to the more lively atmosphere and the lack of ‘Hooray Henrys’ sleeping off their long lunch in the member pavilion.
  2. During one of the T100 ball trials, Tom Harrison is hit square on the head from a Jos Buttler six and sadly suffers a permanent brain injury. After a long search through a top headhunter, the ECB finally secure their wish of finding someone with Harrison’s knowledge and foresight and hire Barney the Dinosaur. Though there is initial scepticism from the public about Barney’s credentials for the role, however he soon wins the public round by cancelling the T100 forthwith commenting ‘any stupid animal’ can see this a total dog of an idea.
  3. Adil Rashid has a stunning World Cup in England and finishes as the top wicket taker with 24 wickets at 11. To make things even more special for Rashid, he hits the winning runs in the final against India and reveals a T-shirt with the slogan ‘talk nah Mike’. Mike Selvey works himself into such a furore that he spontaneously explodes.
  4. There are suspicions of foul play in the Ashes, when a recently returned David Warner is seen wheeling in an industrial sander into Lords. This is further exacerbated by two individuals with a striking resemblance to the Marsh brothers dressed up as groundsmen taking a rake to the pitch. The Australian mens team is found guilty and sent home in disgrace and is replaced by the Australian Women’s cricket team. Thankfully the women’s team is far more competitive than their male counterparts finally losing a tight series 2-1.
  5. Colin Graves decides to branch out from cricket and try his hand as a current affairs commentator. Sadly this goes predictably awry when he calls the royal family ‘completely average’ in an interview and that they ‘should be slimmed down and modernised’ to reach out to a new audience, mainly the mothers and children in society. Graves is locked back in his cupboard for the rest of the year.
  6. In a surprise move, both the BBC and Sky Cricket agree on a ‘no dickhead’ rule in the commentary box. In one fell swoop, Messer’s Vaughan, Boycott, Swann, Hughes, Bumble, Botham and Warne are immediately removed from our airwaves. The nation rejoices as they are replaced with sensible cricket focused commentators such as Rob Key, Ian Ward, Alison Mitchell, Isa Guha, Marcus Trescothick and Jeremy Coney. In other news, Michael Vaughan is deported to Australia on a permanent basis so he can join in on the Channel 7 ‘bantz’ and Shane Warne has his passport revoked permanently.
  7. Simon Hughes decides that being the ‘Editor’ of the Cricketer is not enough for his enormous ego. After ranking himself as the most important person in cricket in his magazine, Hughes decides to spread his wings and publish a book re-writing the history of Catholicism, undeterred by having no understanding of the subject nor being a Catholic. Things get particularly strange when Hughes turns up to work every day in full priest attire and declares himself available for the position of the next pope. The Catholic Church outraged by such slander decides to nail Hughes to the cross above the mound stand at Lords. Everyone in the world nods sagely with approval.
  8. Sir Alastair Cook, now no longer eulogized over by the national media after his retirement, even though Sky decides to show his last English century in every rain break, decided to get  back into the national limelight by signing up to ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. Unfortunately Cook, completely overwhelmed by his surroundings and unable to suppress his hunting instincts, shoots up the whole set killing a number of endangered species in the jungle. Despite all this, Cook finishes an honorable second in the tournament owing to the fact that people keep forgetting he’s there. Jonathan Agnew goes berserk on Twitter.

harrison&graves

The above is meant to be a lighter take on some of the issues affecting cricket in 2019, I mean there is no way that Lords bans the upper classes and lets the ‘Hoi Polloi’ in especially as business people need to be entertained through expensive hospitality packages. The other predictions, well you never know…

Joking aside, there is a serious angle to this article as cricket faces up to one of the biggest challenges that it has faced in a very long time. For me personally, the main thing that I would like to see in 2019 is a return to the game I and many others on the blog first fell in love with many moons ago, no matter how remote that chance may be. Cricket has got lost in the vortex of various power struggles, administrator incompetence, obscene greed and the constant need of the authorities to keep changing the game. The main result of these being that the fans that have followed the game for many years and have ‘put their money in the administrators pot’ are now walking away at an alarming rate. In what other sport, would you get other administrators making whole sale changes to their core game? You don’t see golf reducing the majors to a two-day event, nor would you see tennis being played by 6 people on court or snooker being played over the best of 3 frames, yet cricket can’t help itself, all in the name ‘finding these elusive new fans’ whilst alienating those that have followed the game for 20 years plus.

We are also seeing cricket fatigue on a major basis, with the Big Bash a great example of administrators trying to cram as much in, irrespective of quality, to feed the golden goose. The Hundred, if it ever gets off the ground, will be exactly the same. A behemoth crammed into the county season, without any support of fans or the counties, purely designed to try to make the ECB as much money as possible whilst they can still can, badged under the name of ‘growing the supporter base’. Some people are big white ball cricket fans and whilst it doesn’t appeal to me, I can understand the game has an element of skill that is different to the Test arena. What I can’t understand is how anyone bar the gamblers, would want to see the same players play the Big Bash, IPL, T20 Blast, BBL, Emirates T10, CPL, PSL, Hundred, Mzanzi Super League etc week in, week out. That’s without the questionable undercurrent that underlies more than a few of these tournaments.

Of course, the huge influx of white ball cricket has been massively detrimental to the red ball game, as this gets pushed further and further into the extreme margins of many a domestic season. Even if I wasn’t suffering from cricket fatigue especially with regards to the National team, my ability to watch any of the county championship has been massively reduced, with most games now starting on a Monday, no doubt to fit in some more time for the white ball game. Most counties have the opportunity to play on a Saturday once or twice during the season and whilst in the past people would have said that this was down to not clashing with club cricket, the fact that people playing the sport is at an all time low with many clubs unable to field a full side, make this argument completely redundant. This of course, has directly contributed to the reduced quality currently seen within the Test arena, with many players who come into the various Test sides, lacking the quality or patience to become successful at the longer format of the game. T20, T10 or Hundred ball rubbish has completely changed the outlook of many a young cricket player, with many now more satisfied to make money in the shorter format of the game than to hone their skills to be successful at the longer format. This is why we are seeing so many mismatches in the Test arena, with away series wins very much the rarity (well done India btw) as batsmen and bowlers are unable to adapt their game to foreign conditions having been bought up on seaming or turning pitches exclusively. The Test arena is a mess at the moment and I don’t see it improving any time soon. Australia can’t cobble together a decent batting attack, England have had the same problems at opener, number 3 and in the spin department for what seems like an eternity, India’s win away from home is very much a rarity and that was against a poor Aussie side, the South African’s are talented but flawed with the same being said for New Zealand and Pakistan and the rest aren’t really worth writing home about.

As for English cricket and especially the ECB, when they are not actively shooting themselves in the foot, they are busy trying to sting the remaining fans for what they can. £100+ for a day at the Ashes with two poor teams, I’d rather not thank you. The forced hundred ball format, which will probably push the English game further to bankruptcy rather than attracting the new fans the ECB cravenly desires it to. This interestingly enough has led to a number of high-profile, unlikely pariahs campaigning against it on Twitter, not that I would ever suggest that this is rather hypocritical as a number of them could have voted against it in the first place (the ‘this isn’t what they promised line’ holds no sway with me, I wouldn’t trust the ECB to make a mustard sandwich let alone organise a new cricket tournament). The constant pandering to Sky to protect their ‘oh so special’ TV deal, whilst the tacit refusal to acknowledge that taking the game away from ‘free to air’ is a major reason why cricket has become such a peripheral sport is truly gobsmacking. The constant leaking of ‘ECB propaganda’ to friendly journalists (used in the loosest possible terms) to feed to the masses is again shameful – just remember “Alastair Cook good, Kevin Pietersen bad” and another reason why the fan base is both shrinking in size and those that do still follow are completely divided in their views. I could go on, but I think everyone knows that anything else I write will not be a singing endorsement of our administrators, nor do I have a platform that is long enough.

For me personally, this is a particularly sad state of affairs and a big reason why I am not as active as I was on the blog. I used to be a massive cricket fan and more pertinently a fan of the England cricket team. I would get upset when England lost in the Test arena (I became immune to losing in the white ball game some time before) and often it could ruin my weekend, I went on 3 foreign tours and before last year had been to at least one Test day in England for the previous 16 years (and often more than one day). I’ve lost my passion however, as a bit like Dmitri, I write best when I have a bit of fire in my belly and an unjust cause to rile against. However, I’ve got fed up at shouting at the stars for a team I have little in common with against a board that holds its’ fans in complete contempt. Sure I still enjoy watching Test cricket, but these days I prefer watching series that don’t involve England and/or are competitive, which as I mentioned above is more of a rarity than ever these days. I no longer rush back from work to watch the highlights any more, nor do I get up 2 hours before I need to, so that I can watch a session before I head out to work, I’m fatigued and more than a little fed up and the reason for this sits at the very doorstep of both our national and international administrators.

I hope that I’m wrong and equally hopeful that I can regain the passion I had for the game I had a number of years ago and when I started writing for BOC, but I’m not holding my breath. The ECB continues to alienate me from the game I have followed for 25 years and barring a dramatic change in their modus operandi, it won’t just be me walking away from the game but many of those who have supported English cricket for a lot longer. The ECB might not mourn their loss now, but irony does tends to have a wicked sense of humour in the long run.

Sri Lanka vs. England, 3rd Test – open thread

We’re all tucked up with work and other things at the moment and judging by the comments (or lack of them during the series), then it hardly seems appropriate to write a preview of a dead rubber Test Match.

Whether we decide to daily reports depends on the interest level of the Test – I.e. no interest, then I doubt we’ll make the time to do a daily report, after all we’re not professional writers just 4 guys who are/have been passionate about cricket.

For those that wish to, then please feel free to comment on the game below.

Sri Lanka vs. England, 2nd Test – Day 2, A Swing In Power?

It is always difficult to judge a game after the first day and so this has proved again today. England would have marginally been happier with the outcome of Day 1, especially after finding themselves in a bind again with their batting with only Sam Curran and Jos Buttler taking the attack to Sri Lanka and leading them to what they hoped would be an above par score. As they headed into Day 2 with a wearing pitch even after 1 day, a brittle Sri Lankan batting unit and 3 in-form spin bowlers, England would have been hoping to emerge with a vital first innings lead. That this didn’t would have been a source of great frustration for England.

England had an indifferent start to the day, with the only wicket to fall being that of the night-watchman. It did appear that England were trying to bowl a little too full or were hoping for some kind of magic ball to grip the pitch and spin prodigiously rather than look to bowl in good areas and get the Sri Lankan batsmen out through skill and patience. Indeed it took some divine intervention from Ben Stokes in the field to finally break through the resistance of the Sri Lankan batsmen with the first being a superb run out with only one stump to aim at and the 2nd through an outrageous catch at slip off the bowling of Leach. It has been debated just what Stokes is bringing to the team with his relative poor form with bat and ball and the emergence of Sam Curran; however he is still one of the few England players that can really spark something in the field. These were timely dismissals as England looked like they were a team on the verge of panicking and this was followed up by some excellent bowling from the much maligned (not here) Adil Rashid who bowled a testing spell that took both the wickets of Matthews and Mendis and gave England a shot at the lower order with a decent lead still to preserve.

So with Sri Lanka now 165-6 and staring down the barrel much as England did on Day 1, their lower order batted with some guts and not little skill to frustrate the tourists and carve away at the England lead. Sri Lanka led by Roshen Silva and ably assisted by first Dickwella and then Dhananjaya batted in very much the way I expected them to at the start of the tour. The English spinners suddenly looked less potent whilst the Sri Lankan batsmen milked them around the field and consistently put away the bad ball to first catch up and then surpass England’s lead on what is a tricky pitch and one that is only going to get more difficult. When Sri Lanka were finally bowled out (supposedly the first time since 1976 that an English seamer didn’t take a wicket) with a priceless lead of 46, the momentum had swung immensely and now Sri Lanka were in the box set moving into Day 3. The only slight tarnish on the Sri Lankan batting was when Marais Erasmus decided to penalize Silva for intentional non grounding of the bat and hence awarded 5 runs to England as way of punishment. Personally I think this was very harsh, but England won’t care a jot, in such a tight game 5 runs could be the difference between a loss and a victory. There was also the slightly bizarre sight of Jack Leach padding up and walking out to open the order as night-watchman for the final over, though he’s still probably a better Test opener than Nick Knight ever was.

After 2 days of the Test, we are now basically in a ‘one innings match’, with England hoping to erode their deficit without too much damage and then look to set Sri Lanka something over 200 on a 4th innings pitch. It will be interesting to see how England play over the next day, as one feels that a collapse is just around the corner with this England side especially on a pitch that is already taking a lot of turn. Day 3 will go some way in deciding the match, but either way it is refreshing to see a tightly fought Test match, especially after Sri Lanka were so comprehensively beaten in the First Test.

Thoughts and comments on the game below please.

Sri Lanka vs. England, 2nd Test – Preview

England comfortably enjoyed their best days in the field away from home in more than 2 years in their comprehensive victory in the First Test in Galle, something that a number of us didn’t see coming. They won the toss, recovered from their standard top order wobble in the first innings thanks to a supremely cool maiden ton from Ben Foakes, managed a decent first innings lead and then turned the screw in the second innings thanks to a rather surprising century than none other than Keaton Jennings. With a 450+ lead in the bag, it was no surprise to see England’s spin trio mop up the Sri Lankan innings and with it a fairly crushing defeat for the hosts.

Despite England’s comprehensive victory, it has been a little baffling why very little has been made of this performance or of Sri Lanka’s woeful performance, in fact one would need to look pretty hard to find any mention of this at all. It may be that England are rightly looking to play this victory down owing to the fact that there are 2 games left of the series and that we don’t yet know what type of pitches they will face in the next 2 games (unlikely), that they are mortally embarrassed at having it pointed out that this was the first victory away from home by England in more than 2 years, something that should be unacceptable to the team and board (they should be, but unlikely) or that no-one gives one jot about this series and it is more of an annoyance than anything else (most probably). Indeed, I completely forgot there was a Test Match on tomorrow, hence why I am doing this preview slightly later than I normally would. I know that cricket doesn’t grasp the imagination of many English residents these days, nor does the start time or the fact that it is stuck behind the pay wall help either, but I’ve seen more coverage of the Women’s T20 tournament than any of the Test the past week. It’s almost like everyone hoped it might get rained off and then everyone could get home and put their feet up.

So despite this lack of enthusiasm from the English press or fans, we now move onto Kandy (well I say Kandy, Pallekele is a fair way out, good luck to those trying to get to the ground without access to a car or a favourable Tuk-Tuk driver)! England have named an unchanged team for the Test, which I find mildly strange given that Kandy is up in the hills and generally a much cooler climate and hence this may have been the opportunity to go with 4 seamers. Now I haven’t seen the pitch report yet, but one would hope that this decision is based on these pitch conditions rather than those in Galle, as we have seen England pick unbalanced teams on sub-continental tours in the past based on what they think the pitch will be like rather than what it will actually play like. Talking of mildly perplexing decisions, England in all their wisdom have decided to have Ben Stokes take the number 3 position, when in all reality Root, who might not greatly enjoy batting at 3, should be the man to bat there on this tour. It again smacks of England trying to fit square pegs into round holes and although Moeen hasn’t really made any scores at number 3, I’m not sure how promoting someone who has the same technical flaws and is a cast iron number 6 at Test level, is going to help matters really. They may as well put St. Jimmy of Burnley at number 3 and be done with it! In all seriousness though, England somehow need to find a number 3 for the Summer ahead as none of the surfeit of number 6’s and number 7’s that we have seem to have acquired is going to stand a chance at batting at 3 in English conditions; indeed if the ball does indeed move about early in Pallekele, then one may guess that Root will be in early anyway. In my opinion, it just feels like another wasted opportunity to give a more promising player at that position some game time at 3 rather than having a number of bits and pieces players trying to cover up the glaring hole, not that our friends at The Spin agree, as naturally Ed Smith is the new Sir Alex Ferguson and a master of tactics and selection:

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/nov/07/ed-smith-england-cricket-selections-alex-ferguson-sport

This particular piece of delightful bollocks was by Rob Smyth, but could have been Andy Bull or any other of the strays that the Guardian picks up to write these columns. One could almost hark back to the Mike Selvey era when reading this tripe, although I did say ALMOST.

As for Sri Lanka, it was a sad sight seeing Rangana Herath retiring after such a comprehensive loss, as he has been an integral part of Sri Lanka’s success on the sub-continent and will be a massive loss to them. They will no doubt find another spinner to try and bamboozle England on this tour, but those are big shoes to fill especially with the batting looking weak even before the withdrawal of Dinesh Chandimal through injury.

Of course, this could just be another one of the Test’s where you win the toss, bat first and win the game. If so, then England must hope that Joe Root’s luck in calling the coin toss correctly continues away from home.

We are slightly light in number for this particular game with 2 of our writers unavailable for very different reasons, so please bear with us if the daily reports are shorter than normal, later than normal or in extreme cases might not happen. Due to work commitments, neither Danny or myself will be able to see any of the live cricket and might struggle to catch the highlights, but we will write as much as we can.

As ever comments on the game or anything else (not Brexit) are welcome below: