Trust – it’s a two way street Mr. Director

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We are in middle of an ODI series between England and the West Indies with all the fun and joy that entails (clue, it doesn’t), but if you don’t mind, I will skip over today’s proceedings as there are one or two other things that take precedence in my mind. If I may, I would like to take everyone back to the heady days of the February 2014, when a certain well known ex-captain was asked about a certain well-known soon to be ex-player about his role in the team:

“Without trust, the team environment is stillborn, It is for this reason that Kevin Pietersen’s international career had to be brought to an end. The media have been searching for a ‘smoking gun’. Everyone is looking for disciplinary problems, bust-ups and character clashes, but they are looking for the wrong thing. The smoking gun is the total absence of trust.”

“What happened in Australia from November onwards, when the heat of the furnace was fixed on the embattled side, was that old grievances came back to the surface. Past history weighed too heavily. Trust still did not exist. His relationship with English cricket has been like an illicit affair. Full of thrills and excitement, but destined to end in tears.”

To the surprise of no-one this well known ex-captain was made Director, England Cricket in May 2015, formally ending the disastrous reign of Paul Downton. As a brilliant subtext to all of this, the well-known player that Director Comma had referred to was told to score runs and lots of them to have a chance to force himself back into England contention and of course, as we know, he scored 355* of them in one innings. This was not enough to sway the new Director though, who once again took the fold to confirm that trust rather than talent was the thing that was the most important thing to him:

“He [Pietersen] been phenomenal for England over a long period of time and he should be very proud of that record. But over a period of months and years, the trust between himself and the ECB has eroded. There’s a massive trust issue between Kevin and I. Because of that, we’ve told him it’s not in the best short-term interests of the side for him to be in the team. I’ve let him know he’s not part of our plans for the future, and I can’t give him any guarantees beyond that, but he’s not banned from the side, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future.”

There have been many words and many articles about Kevin Pietersen in the last few years (many by us) and I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t been said previously without being jumped on the by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ who like to think of Alastair Cook as a god and KP as the devil with no room for any opinion in between and quite frankly I cannot be bothered to rehash an old weeping sore. For me it is the lack of heat that Director Comma has received that is of most interest to me. Those that have got to know Strauss both as a player for Middlesex & England and now with his role with the ECB (although please don’t ask me exactly what it is as I have no idea what he does – more of that a little bit later on), know that Strauss is the ultimate pragmatist, happy to spew out words about ‘trust’ & ‘team bonding’, but also happy to cozy up to the dark side when it suits him and provides him with an opportunity to further his own career. There have been a number of instances where Director Comma has not just turned the other cheek (rooming with KP in the build up to the 2010 Ashes or making lots of unfulfilled promises to Owais Shah after he picked up the Middlesex captaincy from the poisonous Ed Smith) but also happily thrown his teammates under the bus (see Strauss’ backing and then quick turn of face with KP over the Peter Moores affair). To say that Andrew Strauss is a trustworthy individual is like saying Tom Harrison has cricket’s best interests at heart, which as we know is utter jackanory, yet the media have bought this and so have the one-eyed ‘inside cricket’ fans. Strauss goooood, other people baaad (sorry, a poor Animal Farm reference) seems to have been the memo leaked by the ECB and by god, his associates have thoroughly embraced this mantra. This makes it even more laughable when Strauss portrays himself as a bastion of society, a man bound by his virtue rather than being portrayed correctly as a man bound purely by his hypocrisy.

So why bring this up now some may ask, well the Ben Stokes ‘BristolGate’ has quite rightly opened up this so called Trust debate. As we all know, Stokes whilst being a wonderful player, has had a fair few colourful incidents away from the cricket field, with the latest one surely being more serious than looking out of a window, whistling when getting out or falling out of a pedalo after more than a few sherberts. Here was a chance for Director Comma to pin his colours to the wall, that trust is more important than on the field success (no-one could argue that England were weaker without their supremely talented number 4) and that they would rigidly stick to the ‘no dickhead’ rule when it comes to England selection. To say that the Director, England Cricket fluffed his lines on this is an understatement on a massive scale – no punishment, no criticism, instead ‘Stokes needs our support during this difficult time’ and that ‘selection will be made on form and fitness grounds only’:

http://www.bbc.com/sport/cricket/41416692

Well this is certainly a change in tack from previous years isn’t it? Perhaps if KP or those others who’s face didn’t quite fit such as Compton, Carberry and Robson had been given the ECB’s support, then things might have turned out rather differently perhaps. Now I want to be perfectly clear, I do not care what Stokes gets up to in his own spare time, nor do I think he should be dropped or have the vice-captaincy stripped (it’s a nothing role in any case); however the ECB have made their bed through the treatment of other England players whose offence is arguably not as grave as Stokes, yet poor old Ben seems to have had endured nothing but a slapped wrist. This is what grinds my gears, Strauss is doing precisely what he has done throughout his career yet no-one has called him out on it, he is providing one rule for one and another rule for another. Basically if you can provide Director Comma with the opportunity to further his career then he is happy to turn his cheek, however once you have ceased being useful to him then expect to be classed as an outsider and tossed on the heap like everyone else that has outlived their use. Now I don’t know the in’s and out’s of this case nor that much detail in the other mis-demeanours that Stokes has supposedly committed; however what I do know is that apart from a few mumblings from the media about how he has been stupid and needs to learn his lessons, there hasn’t been a whiff of an over-reaction. Where is the smoking gun? Where is the often mentioned and quietly compiled ‘dossier of mis-demeanours’ that is leaked to the media? Where is the whisper campaign saying that Stokes is a bad egg and not a team player? Of course, there isn’t one, the ECB never leaks when it suits their own purposes and having Ben Stokes as an integral part of the England team is the number one priority for the ECB’s paymasters.

You see we all know that Director Comma, despite having a grandiose title and being pushed out in front of the media to spout general hyperbole about ‘trust’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘exciting’, is a figurehead and nothing more. The ECB have in essence their perfect glove puppet, someone who believes he has the power, someone who has been built up to be important in his eyes and someone who will of course tow the company line (after all the ECB has never had an issue with doing a u-turn when it might help them out of a tight spot or enhance them financially). This whole trust thing is a façade, something to keep the chuntering masses away from digging a little further down the rabbit hole, and Strauss is the perfect foil for it! A well spoken, well dressed ex England Captain, who has no issue with being ruthless and isn’t likely to make the type of media gaffes that Paul Downton was prone to making with hilarious regularity ticks every box in the ECB’s eyes. This is the perfect ruse for the real power holders at the ECB, you know the chaps who have their hands in the till and appear once or twice a year with Aggers to utter something meaningless that they have scripted beforehand which fits in with their objectives (lets face it Aggers is hardly Jeremy Paxman and isn’t going to be asking them the difficult questions that England cricket fans actually want to hear).

It is Graves and Harrison that are calling the shots behind the closed door, I can’t work out whether Graves is some kind of evil mastermind or just some bumbling old fool who has bitten off more than he chew; however Harrison is the money man, he is the one calling the shots and anyone or anything that jeopardises the TV deal or the flow of sponsors money will be eradicated. Strauss is the go-between, something that he is perfectly suited too, but Harrison is the Mafia boss, he is the one that says what will happen and what won’t happen to the England cricket team. So back to Ben Stokes, lets make no bones about it, Stokes is absolutely vital for the ECB moving forward, not just through his performances on the pitch but also through his exposure and pulling power across multiple markets, i.e. those markets that can make the ECB more money. Harrison isn’t about to kill the golden goose, so you’ll quietly see this brushed under the carpet whilst Director, England Cricket makes noises about supporting his players and the trust they’ve built up over the past few years. Welcome to the New England, same as the old England.

So lets just revisit this whole trust piece once again shall we? When I first got into cricket I trusted the England board (no matter how archaic it was back then) to at least do the right thing. To ensure that we had a team that was picked on merit, to ensure that we were a fair and proper contributor to the game via the ICC, ensuring that we could grow this game that we all love, to ensure fair and proper access to the sport and too invest it’s money back into the game to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. Instead what have we got, a board that despises its own fans, a board some obsessed with making money that they will happily destroy the Test arena to make a quick buck through some more T20’s, a board that has massively reduced the access that the every day fan has to the sport by charging huge prices for entry to the ground and has all it’s live coverage behind a paywall. Finally a board, where talent doesn’t count anymore as long as you come from the right family, can prove to be a good marketing asset or have some high profile ex-captain who just happens to run a sporting agency, start calling the shots (more on that in a later post). Trust and loyalty aren’t in the vocabulary of Graves, Harrison and Strauss, so surely there must be others apart from us that are willing to call them out before they bury the game for good? Sadly I feel that we are in the minority and will be until it’s too late.

So the next time an ECB Director tells you its all about trust, let’s take it, tell them where to stick it and run a mile, as after all trust is earned both ways and the ECB have shown time and time again that what they say and what they do are two completely different things altogether. Incompetence I can live with, down right lies, I cannot. The ECB has somehow in its infinite wisdom managed to become a master of both.

As a side note, England have won the 4th ODI through the Duckworth Lewis Stern calculations and go into an unassailable lead in the series. Not that anyone apart from the ECB bigwigs remotely cares.
UPDATE: I wrote this before the Stokes video appeared online – https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/cricket/4563431/ben-stokes-england-axe-shocking-video-street-punch. From first view, it looks like the first guy launches at Stokes with a bottle; however the 2nd incident really doesn’t look great at all. The be all and end all is that Stokes really shouldn’t be putting himself in this sort of situation in the first place.

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The ‘is this damn series still going on’ preview

For those of you expecting a long and detailed preview of the next ODI between England and the West Indies, then as the title may suggest, you’d probably be better off searching elsewhere. I fully admit that I haven’t seen a single ball of the white ball series as I have been manic at work, having to travel to glamorous places like Frankfurt for dull financial conferences alongside the fact that I really couldn’t care less who wins. Dmitri has done a fine job of manning the fort whilst TLG gambles all his money away in Macau and whilst I have also been unavailable and hence I don’t want to cover the same points that he has made; however this is proving quite difficult as all I can think is ‘why hold a sodding one day series in late September?’. The fans don’t care, the players probably don’t care, all they want is to try and preserve their health ahead of a manic winter schedule (more on that a little later) yet the ECB mandate remains that you MUST enjoy the wonderful battle between two heavyweights that they have put on. As we know, they’re kidding nobody.

The fact that I haven’t seen a single ball of the series so far along with my complete and utter lack of interest makes writing a preview of the game a slightly difficult affair. I believe Jonny Bairstow scored a great century in the first ODI meaning Jason Roy will have to wait his turn this time, Chris Gayle is more than likely out of the series through injury, the West Indies can no longer automatically qualify for the World Cup, oh and it rained a lot last week (who would’ve thought that would happen in late September in England??.) I’m not aware of the current England squad for this series but one would hope that the England management team might have one iota of intelligence and rest Root, Stokes & Ali for the engagements in the upcoming winter; however this is the England management team, so no doubt they’ll all play and one of them will get a serious injury ruling them out of the Ashes. It’s a familiar tale that has a habit of repeating itself time and time again.

Speaking of injuries and our ‘world class’ medical team, I was particularly sad to see that Toby Roland Jones has suffered a season ending injury which will likely rule him out of the Ashes. I fully admit that I’m a diehard Middlesex fan and hence my views may well be somewhat biased, but I think it’s a massive blow not just to TRJ but also for England. I have seen people elsewhere question on how useful TRJ might have been on hard Australian wickets and he was far from a shoo-in for the final XI; however people tend to forget that you don’t always have to bowl at 90+ MPH to be effective in Test Cricket. Glenn McGrath bowled around the early 80’s for most of his career and no-one doubted his success in these conditions, so does Vernan Philander, who is probably a bit slower than McGrath but also has a good record in Australia. Now I’m not saying that TRJ is in the same league as these two, but I did find it rather puzzling that certain parts of the media were questioning his potential effectiveness on these wickets. I guess what we need a 4 tall fast bowlers who can bowl at 85+ MPH as that tactic served us so well on the last tour over there. So with TRJ probably ruled out and Mark Wood also struggling with injury, then England look like turning back to one of their ex’s that they know they should move on from but can’t properly say goodbye to. I would love to be able to write a piece on how Finn has regained his potency, but I just don’t think he will ever find that again at Test Level. No matter how well Finn bowls in the County Championship, and he has bowled very well over the past month, I always believe that he lacks the mental fortitude to be successful at Test Level; sure he can still be very good on his day, but as soon as he loses a bit of confidence, then his head drops, his pace goes down and he looks like a pretty average county bowler. Finn should have been the find of the century and should have more than 300 Test wickets under his belt by now, the fact that he hasn’t still rests at the shoes of the god-awful David Saker, a man so tactically inept that Donald Trump is thinking about hiring him.

On another point, the County Championship winds up this week and whilst not everyone on here is a massive fan, it looks like it’s going to be a dogfight to see who stays up in Division 1. I’m just glad we have a dedicated cricket channel that can cover this as it goes to the wire. Oh wait, hang on, our dedicated cricket channel is instead showing another AB De Villiers master class and how the World T20 was won instead of showing any live cricket. The thinking behind this is absolutely mind boggling, I mean imagine if Sky showed the 1995 Premier League years instead of the North London derby for instance, there would be an absolute uproar; yet for cricket, the county game is viewed as a mere annoyance, something that can be quickly glossed over for another meaningless ODI series. The fact that Sky has also lost the Ashes this winter means their so-called Cricket channel is becoming more of a white elephant by the day.

For those of you who to choose to watch the ODI tomorrow, then please feel free to comment below, I’m off to watch the NFL at Wembley instead….

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test, The finale

At around 4pm today, England’s Test Summer finished in a rather anticlimactic yet wholly predictable way. The West Indies, unable to repeat their astonishing batting performance at Headingley, were simply blown away by England’s bowlers on what was a pretty good deck, once the overhead gloom gave way to bright sunshine. This of course, is not to take anything away from England’s bowlers who bowled fantastically in both innings, with Stokes in the first innings and Jimmy in the 2nd innings, producing wonderful spells of old fashioned swing bowling. If the English bowlers had one wish, they would probably like to take those overhead conditions, wrap them up and take them on tour with them to Australia!

Much will be made of Jimmy Anderson’s achievements, and rightly so, he has been a brilliant servant for English cricket over the last 14 years or so and to take 500 wickets is an absolutely phenomenal achievement (I remember attending his Test debut at Lords in 2003 and watched him destroy a fairly ordinary Zimbabwe side, yet even back then, you tell he was a proper talent). There will always be a heated discussion around how world class Jimmy actually is, with some in the pro camp pointing towards the number of wickets that he has taken and the fact that he has led the England attack for 10 years plus; however there are also plenty more (mainly Australian is has to be said) that point to his record away from England and feel that he is simply overrated. I’m not going to get into this discussion myself, but what I do know that in English conditions with a duke ball in his hand, he is one of the best English bowlers I have seen in my lifetime. England’s bowling attack will look much less potent when Jimmy finally decides to hang his boots up.

As for the game itself, Broad’s little cameo with the bat on Day 2 probably was the main difference between the two sides. In what was a low scoring game, a lead of 70 was always going to priceless, especially given the overhead conditions last night and England’s potency with the new ball. It was somewhat disappointing to see the West Indies cave in this morning, as the pitch looked pretty flat when the sun came out; however sometimes you also must give credit to the bowlers, with Anderson in particular bowling some absolute jaffas (who knows, after the shenanigans and arguments with Marais Erasmus last night, Anderson might have found the end better suited to his bowling at Lords after all these years.) With the West Indies skittled for a pretty sub par total, all that remained was for England to knock off the 107 runs required without any scares if possible. Despite losing Cook to a decent ball from Bishoo, Stoneman and Westley knocked off the remaining runs in super quick time without any further scares. Whether this was enough for either player to secure his seat on the plane to Australia remains to be seen; my hunch is that Stoneman will go and Westley will not, but that is just my personal opinion, though quite who is out there to replace him is a very moot point.

So with England victorious in both series this summer, there should be a feel good factor for the winter ahead, yet I genuinely don’t see this from anyone but the most ardent one-eyed English fan. The same questions that have haunted England for the past few years have all raised their head this summer. Where can we find a decent opener, number 3 and number 5 from? Will Moeen be able to produce good spells of spin bowling consistently rather than being great one day and atrocious the next? Will there be a series when England don’t get complacent for a game and then get their asses handed to them, normally after a big victory? It certainly feels like we’re in some sort of Groundhog Day movie, as these things have consistently been a thorn in our side for the past 3 years. The selectors have tried round pegs, square pegs even triangular pegs, yet the same issues still remain and looking forward to a winter away with half a batting line up doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. As for the West Indies, there are a few chinks of light amongst the doom and gloom. Shai Hope looks like a proper Test Match player, Brathwaite looks like an obstinate figure at the top of the order and a fast bowling attack of Holder, Gabriel and a fit again Kemar Roach will cause difficulty for most international batting line ups. Yes the West Indies are still miles away from climbing up to the Summit that they once proudly owned during the 70’s & 80’s, but equally they aren’t in the death. Spiral that many of us thought coming into the series. Every cricket fan around the world yearns for a strong West Indian team, perhaps in the years to come, we might finally get to see it.

So with the Test Summer done and the Ashes on the horizon, we naturally move on to a meaningless 5 ODI and 1 T20 series stretching to the end of September. I’m not sure about anyone else, but this doesn’t enthuse me in the slightest. I more than got my fill of the white ball stuff with the champions trophy earlier in the Summer, yet the ECB have coffers to fill and players to break, so we have to pretend that this is anything but worthless. I’m waiting with baited breath for Director comma to revive the Super Series on account of it’s success last time! For those on here that do enjoy the white ball stuff, then I hope the series is what you were looking for, as for me and some of the other editors, then i’m not sure how much we’re going to cover of it, as site views tend to shoot through the floor once the main event is over and none of us are massive white ball fans.

As ever, any comments on this Test or the English summer are welcome below..

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test – Preview

After the Test match at Edgbaston, the last thing that I thought I would be writing about would be around a series decider at Lords; however this is exactly what we have got in store for us, thanks to a mixture of a gutsy and skillful fourth innings batting performance from the West Indies and a pretty woeful performance with the ball from England throughout the last Test. It would have been extremely churlish to undermine the West Indian performance at Headlingley, especially after all the criticism that they have faced over the past couple of years and I thought TLG amongst others were rightful in their focus on congratulating the West Indian team rather than focus on England’s shortcomings in the immediate aftermath of the last Test. That being said, I have been quite surprised that there hasn’t been some sort of backlash against an England team that consistently takes 1 step forward and then 1 step back against both good quality opposition and those that they should really steamroll (especially when you take into account the pure cricketing resources that the English team has access to).

Now I must admit that I watched very little of the last Test (life and family got in the way of that) and as a result my thoughts must be tempered on that proviso, however it feels I could be writing a review of any series that England have been involved with over the past few years, obviously apart from the last Indian series when we were quite simply blown away. It’s true that England on their day have a decent batting line up – Cook is a good international cricketer with a ton of runs behind him, Root is obviously world class and we have a number of high quality all-rounders such as Stokes, Moeen, Bairstow and Woakes. In terms of the bowling, we have 2 vastly experienced fast bowlers with over 800 wickets and 200 appearances between them and a spinner that bowls wicket taking deliveries; yet after every series that I end up reviewing, we seem to have the same gaps and weaknesses as before and a complete inability to put our ‘A game’ together on a regular basis. We still don’t have a settled opener, a number 3, a number 5 and a consistent spin bowler that will challenge the best teams and comfortably beat the poorer teams, which the West Indies are, in all fairness. I didn’t watch the last day at Headingley, but I understand that Moeen was toothless, Woakes looked half fit and Anderson & Broad decided that pitching the ball up was a luxury option, this combined with what was a pretty headless first innings performance from our batsmen (Ben Stokes aside) meant that we got we deserved. Another defeat. And guess what if we do the same at Lords, we could well lose again.

So much for the mediocre side coming across to get a hammering from a superior side in both batting and bowling departments! England have shown that they can look just as mediocre and clueless as any other side when they don’t decide to turn up or conditions aren’t in their favour. Now Australia are hardly pulling up trees at the moment, but in their home conditions and with an English batting line up that is at best inconsistent and at worst is decidedly average, then I must admit I have some well entrenched fears when it comes to the Ashes tour this winter.

Naturally though, there is still one game to go in this series and England better have their mind on the West Indies rather than the upcoming winter, as otherwise an embarrassing blip could turn into a pretty horrific series loss with plenty of finger pointing and ramifications as a result. It wouldn’t surprise me if England kept with the same XI despite the fact that Woakes looked very short of match practice, as a change of heart and a tip towards Roland-Jones would surely confirm that they made a mistake in their selection for Headingley (which they did). There are also a number of English batsmen either drinking in the last chance saloon (Westley) or desperately trying to secure their plane ticket for the winter escapades (Stoneman, Malan). Now a big score doesn’t guarantee that these players will score big runs in Australia; however another failure against what is nothing more than a pop gun attack by international standards could be terminal for certain individuals’ international ambitions.

As for the West Indies, it’s almost like tossing a coin as to which team will turn up, the one that fought so excellently at Headingley or the one that so meekly collapsed at Edgbaston. There may be a skills gap between the two sides, but it was heartening to see a young man in Shai Hope harnessing his raw talents and producing the two innings of his career so far to guide the West Indians to victory. There were also key contributions from Brathwaite, Holder and Gabriel alongside Shai Hope in this Test victory which shows that on any given day, The West Indies can rally and that it might not be all doom and gloom in the future for our Caribbean friends. As TLG wrote in his last piece, the romance of the underdog winning in Test Cricket might be in short supply these days but it is great when it does happen, even at the expense of England. Now it may be too much for the West Indies to replicate this level of performance at Lords, but if they do and England are slightly off the boil, then there is absolutely an opportunity for them to really upset the apple cart. From Colin Grave’s point of view, that ‘mediocre’ comment that he made a couple of years must be seriously wrangling with him now and still could yet come back and bite him on the arse! See there is a silver lining in every cloud.

Oh and a final thought, I have noticed that Starsports have ‘won’ the right to pay over $2.5 billion dollars to host the TV rights to the whiter than white IPL for the next 5 years, with the equivalent of every ball during the event costing around £22,500 pounds per televised delivery. Obviously from this we can see why India were so desperate to screw over the associates and other smaller international nations for an extra $100 million slice of the international revenue rights. I’m waiting for the ‘BCCI crowdfunder’ campaign to kick off in earnest so we can all help those poor little mites at the BCCI survive on a day to day basis. As ever, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the fans are the ones who end up paying for it out of their own pocket. Plus ca change.

Anyway, as ever comments on the game below and let’s hope the rain stays away from Lords over the next few days (unless it involves the flooding of the members pavilion):

England vs. West Indies, 2nd Test Preview (and a bit of rant)

After Dmitri’s short but brutally accurate report of the last Test, I’m not too sure about what more can be said that hasn’t been already. Let’s make this clear, this is a colossal mismatch between one team who are the have’s and another team who are without doubt the have not’s. It’s like signing up to watch Anthony Joshua fight Big Mick from the local pub, people aren’t necessary going for the entertainment more for the morbid spectacle that they know that this will become. It is of course, very easy to blame the West Indies for the mess they are in. The WICB is so corrupt and incompetent it makes the ECB look like the model of sobriety, as not even the ECB has managed to alienate every single decent player in their domestic scene;  as we know the ECB just alienate those that whistle when they get out and aren’t from the right type of family. It is of course, easy to blame the WICB for the calamitous position that the West Indies finds itself in and of course a decent proportion of the blame must be attributed to them; however I think it would be fair to say that outside factors have also played a major part in the West Indie’s sad demise.

If you haven’t read Tim Wigmore’s excellent piece in the Independent then I would strongly suggest that you do – http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cant-ignore-the-role-english-authorities-played-in-killing-test-crickets-competitiveness-a7905706.html. Now the West Indies might be a special case here; after all, they haven’t won a Test away in England since circa 2000 and have won precious few elsewhere away from home (the last major away game they won was against SA in 2007 – thanks D’arthez). However if we delve a little further into the poison pit that is International cricket, then it’s not just the West Indies who are desperately clinging to a sinking raft. If I were to ask you which team have either got better or stayed particularly competitive since 2014, what would your answer be? India, Australia, England – anyone else?? Oh and why do I ask this question, well as we know 2014 was the year that the Big 3 decided to carve up cricket’s finances between themselves to ensure their survival at the expense of every other cricket nation, so I think you might know where I’m going with this. If we place England, India & Australia in Tier 1 (as at least they haven’t got appreciatively worse, though it would be fair to argue that none of these three has made massive strides), then if we look at Tier 2 (those who aren’t yet in perpetual demise) and Tier 3 (those that have fallen off the lifeboat into the choppy ocean), then I think that this gives us a more rounded view of where International Cricket actually is:

Tier 2

  • South Africa – Still competitive, but under threat as their fast bowling unit is getting old and they have lost too many players to Bransgrove’s Kolpakshire amongst other predatory counties
  • New Zealand – Still punching above their weight, but losing McCullum as captain was a massive blow. Still able to surprise the big 3 from time to time, despite big quality gaps in their batting order.
  • Pakistan – Can still put together brilliant performances on their day, but I fear for their batting having lost Younus & Misbah.
  • Bangladesh – Best side they’ve had since they became full members, but no-one wants to play them, which is a real shame.

Tier 3

  • West Indies – See above. Their best batsman is 43 and playing for Lancashire. This team would struggle in Division 2 of the County Championship
  • Sri Lanka – Currently being smashed around by India, they also recently lost to Zimbabwe. The days of watching Sangakkara & Mahela bat as well as Murali bowl, must seem like a lifetime ago now.
  • Zimbabwe – Hardly ever play, still as corrupt as ever.

As you can see this is far from a pretty site, yet the ICC still continues to re-arrange the deckchairs whilst the Titanic is sinking. Who cares about 4 day Test matches or pink balls when in a few years time the only ones playing it will be England, Australia and India as Test Cricket will have died everywhere else. Apologies that this is a little gloomy, but this is the reality and it’s clear that the ICC can’t even manage this decline effectively! Still there’s always the 50 or so T20 leagues that you can watch if you really want to see the same hit and not too many giggles cricket.

Ok slight rant aside, as for the next Test itself, England will naturally go into this as massive favourites. In a slightly strange and I do feel a very harsh move, they have dropped TRJ for Chris Woakes. Now I’m absolutely not advocating that Woakes doesn’t deserve a spot in the line up as he has been extremely consistent over the past year and is highly talented with the bat and the ball; however with a packed winter ahead and facing a weak opposition, surely it would have made more sense to give one of Broad, Anderson or Stokes a blow. Now of course, these players might throw a little tantrum about being dropped when there are easy runs/wickets on offer, but surely we learn nothing by having these bowlers face a paper thin batting line up; however such is the England way, they let the fear of a backlash from certain untouchable individuals within the team cloud their judgement on what is the right decision with the squad for the Ashes in mind.As for the West Indies, they must surely hope that the Headingley pitch is some kind of minefield to bring the two teams closer together, because if it plays like it did at Edgbaston, then I can’t see anything other than another 3 day Test.

Oh and one last thing, as Colombo might say, I had an extremely interesting exchange with a certain individual who was clearly a fan of the ex-England captain, on Twitter last Thursday. Now I’m not going to give this individual any further publicity, as I’ve regularly seen some fairly sane individuals turn into rage’oholics who froth at the mouth the moment anything remotely critical of Cook is written by anyone. I’ll leave these here for your enjoyment:

‘I’m astonished that some whose blogging career is devoted to skewing Cook’s stats is calling a plain stat skewed’ (For the record, it was highly skewed stat based on a certain batsman over circa 10 games, 3 years ago)

‘Go back to trying to prove Alastair Cook’s useless whilst he sleeps on a big pile of runs’

    ‘Imaging devoting an entire blog to hating Alastair Cook.’

    ‘I’m planning a big BOC subtweet when Cook reaches his double ton’ (he didn’t, I guess he didn’t find any to back up his position)

      So now we’ve progressed from being a bunch of KP fanboys to being accused of spewing hateful bile about Alastair Cook, I wonder what will be thrown against us next. It’s BOC’s fault that Test Cricket is dying? It’s our fault that global warming is ruining our world? It’s our fault that Brexit happened? The possibilities are just endless. Perhaps if the media did their job and took an objective view of Cook i.e. putting his achievements into some sort of perspective and instead stopped writing meaningless hagiographies, then we wouldn’t have to be the lone voice of sanity in a world where this is rarely so.

      So as I read it, those of us that have the temerity to question Cook’s place amongst the International elite are now classed as Cook haters, with nothing else to do but spew angry bile about him! Does this also apply when I question or criticize other England cricketers? I have written critical stuff about Root, Moeen, Broad, Anderson & Woakes amongst others in the past, but I don’t generally get people screaming at me on Twitter when I do. Of course, there are those that point out that we write about Cook more than others and yes it’s true, because people are interested in reading about him (much like a certain individual a few years ago), after all if I spent most of my time writing about Chris Woakes, it’d be a pretty dull blog (I don’t care if I upset Chris Woakes as he has already blocked me on Twitter for some unknown reason). The sad thing is that the schism that Dmitri wrote about in early 2016 is still very much prevalent in 2017, but of course we are the ones with an ‘agenda’. For the record, I posted this on Alastair Cook a while back and nothing has happened to change my personal opinion since then – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/29/guest-post-dont-blame-it-on-the-sunshine-blame-it-on-the-ecb/. I’m not sure it screams incandescent hatred, but I’ll leave you to decide on this….

      Anyway, I’m bored about writing and going over the same things about Alastair Cook, so I’m simply going to refer ‘people’ back to the above article when the next brain dead moron suggests that our whole editorial policy is based around our hatred of Cook.

      And with that nonsense out of the way, feel free to comment on the game below:

      England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Day 3

      Today was the sort of day that many of us Test enthusiasts love, a day where bowlers had the sort of conditions that actually gave them the upper hand and where the batsmen had to fight for every single run. Yes today was a bit of a grind and I must admit that the Old Trafford surface hasn’t been great, but I would rather see a proper fight between bat and ball than 600 play 650 on a flat, bowlers graveyard of a pitch. The day ebbed and flowed, with South Africa battling to stay in the match and England trying to eek out enough runs to feel comfortable in defending on a deteriorating pitch. By the end of the day, England managed to emerge on top; however it was tough going, which Test cricket is absolutely meant to be.

      England’s batting was a tale of the downright poor and one absolutely superb innings. I think it’s safe to say that England’s top order still has more holes than a watering can, with the top 3 all getting out to woeful shots and Malan, although 2 Test’s into his England career, looking nervous and out of place in the Test arena. It would be harsh to drop Malan after only 2 games, but sometimes a player just doesn’t look international class I’m afraid. As for the Top 3, I’m afraid it looks like game, set and match for Keaton Jennings. He came out with some credit from his performance in the 2nd innings of the Oval Test, but has looked woefully short of form all summer. This is absolutely not helped by the fact that his feet look stuck to the crease, his head position is too upright on connection with the ball, which means that he doesn’t seem in control of the ball when it hits the bat and of course he genuinely doesn’t seem to know where his off stump is at the moment in the face of good, patient bowling. I think his reaction to his dismissal said a 1,000 words, he realises that its now back to Durham to try and work on his technique and to score some big runs. The opener cab rank is starting to look extremely bare.

      Westley and Cook also both got out in the same way, launching ill advised flashes outside the off stump in what were very bowler friendly conditions. Westley is still learning the international game and whilst I worry about his ability against deliveries pitching outside off stump, I’ve seen enough of him in the last couple of Tests to give him the benefit of the doubt. The same can’t be said for Cook. I’m afraid that Cook looks to be in terminal decline, unable to fathom out how to score big runs now international bowlers have truly found out his weaknesses. A number of us have pointed out that he is now 50 not out since he last scored a century against either Australia or South Africa and indeed having done a little bit of digging (Nonoxcol had the same idea) it now reads that Cook has an average below 30 against these teams going all the way back to 2012 (some 26 Test matches). These cold hard facts may be difficult to swallow for those that have chosen deify Cook, but it is a fact that Cook really has been a flat track bully over the past 5 years. I will again reiterate again that I’m not advocating that Cook should be dropped, far from it, we can’t find one opener let alone two at the moment, but the fact that Cook is still easily the best opener in England is more a terrible reflection on county cricket, than it is a reflection on how good Cook actually is at the moment. Oh and just to annoy the Cook straw men on Twitter that’s 5 in 98 now.

      With the dismissal of Malan and with England 77-4, with only a lead of around 200 ahead, there seemed to still be life in this Test, as whilst the pitch was doing a fair bit, if South Africa could limit the chase to fewer than 275, they still had a chance. Root played very well before getting a ball that kept low. One may be nitpicking and argue that he should have got forward to it; however equally you don’t generally expect the pitch to have demons in it on Day 3. Stokes and Bairstow both came and went, with the former getting a good delivery, which he nicked off to slip and the latter looking uncharacteristically out of touch. So enter the hour and enter the man. I admit that I’ve been particularly harsh on Moeen in the past winter, as I could see all the talent in the world, but couldn’t see any growth in his game. He has proved to be excellent with the ball in this series with 20 wickets and an innings to come and today he showed his class with the bat. England were still in a little bit of strife when Moeen came in, but boy did he play this innings to perfection. He was positive rather than being reckless, something that hasn’t always been the case, didn’t allow the South African bowlers to settle into their line and lengths and then launched a perfect counter attack with the bowlers tiring. Moeen’s counter hitting was truly a sight to behold, though Elgar will be kicking himself for dropping him on 15; however this cameo has firmly turned the dial in England’s favour. I would be amazed if South Africa can muster a batting performance on this pitch to win it from here. It is also worth noting that Moeen’s tally of 20 wickets and over 200 runs is the first time that this has been achieved since a certain Freddie Flintoff achieved it in a rather special Ashes series. Now I’m not going to try and compare apples and pears, but if Moeen can keep this level of play up in the next couple of series and beyond, then England have another true all rounder.

      As for the South African bowlers, they can hold their heads up high. Morkel, Rabada and even Olivier, who looked a club bowler in the 2nd Test, bowled extremely well in conditions that suited them. They consistently made England’s batsmen play and miss and on another occasion could have easily wrapped up the England innings for under 150. The only bowler who will be slightly disappointed will be Maharaj, though whilst he looked dangerous bowling into the rough, especially against the left handers, he will be disappointed that he only took 1-92 in pretty helpful conditions, although he could do little whilst he was being smashed round the park by Moeen.

      So onto Day 4 and barring a miracle or persistent rain, England should wrap up this game and the series 3-1 in the next day or so. Whether we have learnt anything more about the England line up however, is an extremely moot point.

      Thoughts and comments on Day 4 below.

      England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Preview

      So we go into the last Test at Old Trafford with all to play for and though the scoreline on paper at 2-1 looks like it has been a closely fought series, it actually feels that it has been a slightly anti-climatic series with both teams clearly looking like they are in transition. Chris alluded to this in his wrap up of the third Test, that although the series is hanging on a knife-edge, especially without Director Comma’s ‘super series’, that none of the games have been particularly close. As I thought about it a little more, it has been a long while since England have been involved in a series where both they and the opposition have played consistently good cricket in each game of the series. The Ashes in 2015 was an example of a number of wide margin victories as was the Pakistan Test series last summer, where whoever gets on top after Day 2, normally ends up dishing out a bit of thrashing. Now whether this is particularly true just of England (I don’t think it is) or whether the fact that the T20 batting style has crept into the game, resulting in the batsmen failing to put a high price on their wicket, I’m not sure; however most Test enthusiasts amongst us yearn to see another up and down series like the New Zealand Tests in 2015. Whether or not that happens in the near future, I do have my doubts.

      From an England point of view, the best thing that they can do is not to think about the dreaded word ‘momentum’. This seems to lull them into a false sense of security as the 2nd Test of the summer showed and instead concentrate on doing the basics right as they did at the Oval. Cook and Stokes played wonderfully contrasting innings in England’s first knock, which resulted in them being around 75 runs above par in tricky batting conditions and all of the bowlers (perhaps with Jimmy excepted) all bowled magnificently. From then, the game was won. It has been particularly interesting to see the reaction of the Media to Toby Roland-Jones’ performance with one or two high profile names already clamoring that he doesn’t have the pace to threaten the Australian batsmen in their home conditions. I find this particularly strange when they have quite rightly been gushing in their praise for Vernon Philander, especially as TRJ bowls around the same speed as Philander and relies on accuracy and a bit of movement to eek good batsmen out (for the record Philanders’ average in Australia is a touch under 30). Now I’m fully aware that most of the media and written press don’t sully themselves with watching county cricket, but if they had, then they might have realised that TRJ has consistently been getting wickets at an average of circa 27 on what is the flattest deck in the country, still I guess that this either doesn’t fit their rhetoric or that they are too lazy to do any research! For me, TRJ has to stay in the team for the rest of the summer at least.

      It was also interesting to see Bayliss say that England don’t need 8 batsmen, especially when the English batting line up has a regular habit of falling in heap. Now it is clear to most that Malan hardly had a stellar debut (it happens), but using this as a logic to try and shoehorn Dawson, the very essence of a bits and pieces player, back into the team is just crazy in my opinion and smacks of a certain ‘mood hoover’ having a little word in his ear. For me, England should name exactly the same team for Old Trafford unless the pitch resembles something a bit like the Wankhede! I was also surprised and a little disappointed to see Finn called up as cover for Mark Wood. Now as most on here know, I am a great Finn supporter; however his performances over the past 2 years haven’t backed the selectors faith in having him around the squad; indeed he has been pretty mediocre even in county cricket, which pains me to say. I personally think that Craig Overton or even Jake Ball would have been a better choice as cover; however unless one of England’s main fast bowlers suddenly breaks down tomorrow (I’m writing this on Wednesday evening), then I would simply be amazed if they don’t go with the same seam attack as they did at the Oval.

      As for South Africa, they do seem to have some standout players, some players who are probably not up to Test Cricket (yes Heino Kuhn I’m looking at you) and some players with talent who are absolutely frustratingly inconsistent. As for the batting attack, Dean Elgar has to be one of the best openers in the world at the moment, sure you wouldn’t pay the entrance fee just to watch him, but he is someone who has true grit and is able to get the most out of what is a somewhat limited technique. If I was the England batting coach, I’d be making Cook watch his innings at the Oval on repeat, as that was the sort of inning that Cook made his name from in the past. It would also be surprising if both Du Plessis and Amla bat as badly as they did in the 3rd Test, so it would not be a shock to see their batting line up roar back in the 4th Test, England certainly can’t approach it as if the job is done. The seam bowling line up on paper is also one of the best line-ups in the world with Philander (if you can keep him on the pitch), Rabada and Morkel all capable of running through the side. Morris for me, is the wildcard of the South African attack, capable of bowling brilliant spells followed by a spell of utter trash; he sort of reminds me of Andy Caddick, not through looks or bowling action, but that both could be a match winner when they were fully switched on, yet on other days when they simply didn’t fancy it they’re prone to send down a succession of floaty half volleys asking to be hit. South Africa will certainly hope the focused Morris turns up on Friday.

      Dmitri, Chris and myself are at the Oval on Friday night getting down with the beered up T20 massive (do say hello if you plan to be there yourselves), so Danny will be on the decks on Friday for the Day 1 report.

      As ever thoughts and comments below are always appreciated.

      The Blame Game

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      It’s been less than a week since what can only be described as a disastrous Test match for England. This coupled with the fact that England have now lost 6 of their last 8 Test Matches has seen the once compliant media turn into circling vultures around the team. Dmitri came in off his long run on Tuesday and covered many of these points with deadly precision, so naturally I don’t want to cover old ground; however once the dust has settled and people have regained their decorum, it does need to be examined why England are in a continuous cycle of mediocrity.

      As we have covered in previous posts, the condemnation came quick and fast, after all this is no longer an Alastair Cook team so it’s game on for the hacks, but the two that particularly caught my eye were the reactions of Nasser Hussain and George Dobell, with 2 thoughts on completely different sides of the spectrum.

      Hussain was quick to put the boot into county cricket, which is not too much of a surprise considering he probably rarely watches it, stating:

      The lads that are coming in aren’t doing anything for them – they won at Lord’s because of Joe Root, not Jennings, Dawson or Ballance.

      “You name some lads who have come in – [James] Vince, [Ben] Duckett, [Gareth] Batty, [Zafar] Ansari, [Alex] Hales, Ballance – there is no-one coming in and doing well. “It is a sad indictment in county cricket that they are getting runs there and not for England.” 

      Dobell took another line and was keen to understand what Bayliss was actually doing to address these problems:

      Bayliss has clearly pushed an ‘aggressive’ mindset (remember his comments about wanting two “attacking-style batters in the top three”?) but, without knowing the red-ball ability of his options – he admits he has never seen Mark Stoneman, outstanding candidate for top-order promotion, bat in the flesh – he has instead tried to turn limited-overs talents into Test players. Jos Buttler was recalled to the Test team despite having played one first-class game in a year and, as a result, being given no chance to correct the faults that led to him being dropped; Alex Hales was promoted to Test opener and Liam Dawson has been selected largely on the grounds of being a ‘good bloke’. By such criteria, Nelson Mandela would have opened the batting for South Africa for 50 years.

      Bayliss isn’t much of a technical coach, either. The players refer to him as “a man of few words” who leaves the technical work to others and is more interested in creating a positive, settled environment in which the players are able to perform to their optimum.

      That’s important, of course. But if he doesn’t have much say in selection and he doesn’t have much say in coaching, it does rather beg the question: what does he do? If he’s just creating a relaxed environment, he could be replaced by a couple of scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises.

       It’s not that I wholly disagree with either of these quotes, it’s just that I think they fail to see the long term issues that England have glaringly had and have been swept under the carpet for so long now. It is easy to have a knee jerk reaction after another England collapse, but it’s far more positive to take a step back at properly look at the underlying causes rather than throwing mud at anybody not named Alastair Cook.

      If I look at Hussain’s comments around County Cricket, I feel that he has taken the easy route of assigning blame without doing much research. We all know that County Cricket isn’t perfect, but then show me any national set up that has the quality of domestic league to keep churning out Test quality players (the Australian Shield Cricket in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was the exception rather than the rule). We are also in an era where cricket has become a marginal sport, so to try and find circa 540 professional players across the counties who all play at a high level is mission impossible. Of course it could be argued that by merging counties or introducing 3 divisions (the latter of which I’m actually in favour of) to increase the quality on offer is a nice idea, but even the counties aren’t stupid enough to vote themselves out of existence. This is verging on Mission Impossible. Hussain also argues that players coming through the counties should have had their techniques honed by playing County Cricket, and whilst it is a lovely idea, it is not exactly practical. The County coaches are under as much pressure to win as with any other professional game, so they’re not exactly going to take Ballance or Vince aside when they are plundering county attacks to work on their technique on the off chance that they may get recalled. It would be lovely if they did, but that is purely a pipe dream. It is also worth remembering that the counties often work on a shoestring budget, so they’re not exactly in a place to be able to employ the best coaches in the system and if they did so, then they would probably have to sacrifice players, robbing Peter to pay Paul in other words. Whilst we can all agree that County Cricket isn’t without fault, to lay the full blame on it’s doorstep is lazy journalism in my opinion.

      The same could be said about laying the blame fully at the door of England’s coaches; after all they can only work with those who have been selected to play for England. Whilst of course there can be a portion of blame assigned to Bayliss, who fully admits that he doesn’t have a working knowledge of County Cricket (though that doesn’t mean that he can’t watch videos of every English player) and appears to foster a culture whereby there is a lack of accountability amongst the players; it would be foolhardy to hump the blame completely onto his back. Could Bayliss be more forthright, yes certainly and could he stop using phrases such as ‘positive brand of cricket’ (up there with ‘difficult winter’) absolutely yes, but it does feel slightly that his Australian upbringing has upset one or two of the media corp. There are questions around his backroom staff, which Dmitri pointed out in his last post, such as what does Farbrace actually do and why would you employ a batting coach, who was known to freeze in the Test Cricket arena? These are valid questions, but my view is that the England coaches should only be there to tweak techniques and mindsets and not have to start from scratch with players who aren’t either ready or good enough for Test Cricket. My question would be why are we having to pick players with poor technique or subject temperament in the first place? Surely there is a failsafe within the system to guard against this? Yes is the answer; however it is failing in its very basic goal:

      According to the Lords website:

      Loughborough University has a long tradition and is world renowned for its role in the development of sporting excellence. It is a key site for the new English Institute of Sport – and the ECB’s National Academy. The MCCU allows additional support to be invested in a squad of elite young cricketers, who benefit from Loughborough’s expertise and provision for the development of sports performance.

      The Cricket-specific facilities and services are reinforced by access to Loughborough’s wider provision of high-performance sport support services, including fitness testing and development, technical analysis of skill acquisition, physiological and biomechanical analysis, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and sports medicine services.

      Loughborough has been a failure on an immense scale. It is the place where aspiring fast bowlers and batsmen go to have their technique ripped apart and changed to what the ECB coaching manual dictates and to be turned from exciting young cricketers into ECB corporate drones. After all, we know that as long as you say the right things and suck up to Mr. Flower, then a Test place is all but guaranteed (more on him a little later). The crux of the matter is that we are not producing enough players of a high enough quality to play Test Cricket; we’re not drilling into them the mindset of protecting your wicket, batting time or bowling line and length instead of promoting the so-called so-called ‘X Factor cricket’. The basics seemed to have been replaced with how fast can you bowl the ball and how far can you clear the boundary by, which is nice for hit and giggle cricket but leaves players totally ill-equipped for the longer form of the game; hence the phrase positive brand of cricket now being bandied about, which roughly translates as our batsman have no clue on how to defend against quality bowling.

      So then we dig a little deeper and shine the light on the two individuals who have the keys to the England Development Programme, Andy Flower and David Parsons. There has been very little written about David Parsons, England’s National Spin Bowling Coach, and that’s just probably the way that he likes it. Parsons has been England’s spin coach since 2006 and how many international class spinners have we produced since that time, yes you guessed it, a big fat zero (Swann was playing County Cricket long before Parsons was appointed). This is a clear example about how the ECB rewards those that are ‘inside cricket’ irrespective of the aptitude of said individual. If I had been in a job where I had one task but failed to deliver on it, then I would have been out of a job an awfully long time ago, but there Parson’s is, clinging onto his position for 11 years whilst contributing virtually nothing during this time, no doubt he’ll be knighted soon. My thoughts on Andy Flower are well known, I wrote a piece last year about his tenure with the Lions – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/11/23/englands-missing-lions/comment-page-1/ and very little has changed since then. Flower has never had a particular aptitude of bringing through young cricketers, with only Steven Finn bought into the England set up under the age of 27 (Trott and Bresnan were extremely experienced county operators by this time) and clearly values good personality rather than talent. England are still criminally under utilising the Lions in the red ball format, which is madness, considering this should be the very vehicle where England’s aspiring Test players iron out their techniques, test out their temperaments and play against high quality players. It would naturally be impossible to mimic the England set up, but surely it’s not past the administrators to organise 4/5 red ball games a year for those that have been identified as next off the cab rank?? Surely Director Comma understands that the very definition of madness is doing the same things again and expecting a different outcome? The fact that we have consistently seen white ball cricket favoured over red ball cricket constantly rankles with me but it appears that this decision has come from the top.

      We could also easily blame the selectors, whom many of us believe should have been sacked straight after the India tour and some even before that. There have been too many selections where they have tried to put round objects into square holes or have completely misjudged an individual’s readiness for the Test arena. The balance of the side has looked completely wrong for a while now and they continue to jettison those who don’t fit their mould as personified by the media luvvies (see Rashid, Carberry, Compton etc). The fact that James Whitaker still has a job is like the ECB is playing one massive practical joke on the rest of England, hell I’d rather have John Whitaker making the selections.

      It is clear that many elements could be blamed for England’s consistently poor decision making and massive inconsistency in the Test arena (though one could argue that losing 6 out of 8 Tests isn’t inconsistency and just the sign of a poor side); however there does seem to be one constant running through all of these gripes. Yes, our purported savior, the Director, England Cricket.

      Now many might say that it is unfair to put the blame squarely at Strauss’ door and some will even go further and say that I am purporting an agenda against Strauss, and whilst it’s true that I have little time for Strauss, the one common element is that all roads lead to him. Graves is being kept in a cupboard under the stairs, only allowed out to wine and dine the County chairmen, Empty Suit is too concerned with the TV deals and the Cockroach is still trying to infiltrate the ICC, so that really only leaves us with Director Comma. When appointed, Strauss’ supposed remit was:

      Strauss, will will be responsible for “the long-term strategy of the England men’s cricket team” and for developing “the right coaching and management structure to support it”.

      Strauss knew that Bayliss was more of a white ball specialist when he appointed him and that he had very little knowledge of county cricket; however it still seems that the key to Strauss’ appointment was to push the white ball game and to ensure a certain South African born player wasn’t picked. If Strauss didn’t know that Bayliss was a hands-off coach, then that is a damning indictment of his research and judgment. Strauss is also in charge of the selectors, so why has there been no accountability with bust after bust coming from Whitaker and co? Any fool could see they’re not up to the job, hell I would make Peter Moores chief selector, he might not be able to coach at International level, but he was the most successful in bringing young cricketers through to the England set up. I would certainly remove Flower from any formal or informal position on the panel, a conflict of interest there most certainly is, but whether Director Comma actually has the cohones to do it, is another matter.

      Another damning aspect of all this has been Strauss’ insistence that white ball cricket was more of a focus across all of the age groups, very much at the detriment to the red ball game. We can of course question the mindset and attitude of England’s Test batsmen, but when they and the next generation are not being given proper exposure to the red ball game early in their career against high quality players, then of course we leave ourselves open to being undercooked at this level. It is astoundingly incompetent to have the Lions playing 6 red ball games over a 3-year period, with an England Test line up crying out for new talent. Whilst it would be unfair to directly apportion blame to Strauss for Loughborough’s consistent failure, it doesn’t appear that he is too keen to do much about it, after all that’s Mr. Flowers remit and one doesn’t go about sticking his nose into Darth Mood Hoover’s ‘oeuvre d’art’.

      So what have England actually achieved in Director Comma’s tenure, we have a white ball team that is better than it was but still hasn’t won anything, a Test team with the same glaring holes and lack of talent in the system as we had in 2014, which makes it impossible to make England a constantly competitive Test Team, oh and a new domestic T20 competition that nobody wants. It wouldn’t be unfair to surmise in my opinion, that in the three years since Strauss took over as Director, England Cricket, English cricket hasn’t moved forward an iota and that for me is the most damning statistic of them all.

       

      England vs. South Africa, 2nd Test, Day 1

      After such a long wait for the Test Summer to begin and despite all the so-called pomp and glory of Lords, the first Test felt a bit of a let down to me. England were pretty good but South Africa were pretty poor and that led to a fairly one-sided Test. The indications, after the first day’s play at Trent Bridge is that this Test will be anything but one-sided. Today was the sort of day that trumps any form of hit and giggle cricket out there, the game flowed one way and then another and by the close of play both teams would have taken their respective positions at the start of play. In my opinion, it is very hard to judge who has the upper hand, a joy for us slightly long in the tooth cricket followers that Tom Harrison clearly doesn’t value.

      South Africa got their selection and tactics spot on today and whilst De Bruyn can feel slightly hard done by, the decision to pick Morris was spot on, especially with fears over Philander’s fitness and durability. One person who can’t feel aggrieved is of course JP Duminy, someone who has been making the team on past glories and so-called potential with bat and ball. As D’Arthez and Prime.Evil have mentioned constantly below the line, he is someone that infuriates all Proteas’ followers, a bit like in the way that the selection of Bopara infuriated all England supporters. Yes they both could bat and bowl a bit, but they both looked out of their depth in the international arena and on closer inspection their figures both suggest that they should both have been dropped long before they were. We might still see Duminy in a Test shirt in future, but to be a bit controversial, I would very much doubt that it would be down to his ability.

      So back to the Test and South Africa won the toss on a fairly placid pitch, but one that was aiding the seam bowlers due to the overhead conditions. Both openers did alright without scoring the runs they felt they might have deserved and then Amla and De Kock put together a tremendous partnership once the sun came out and the ball stopped swinging. It was quite amusing to listen to Botham et al panning the South African management for not promoting De Kock earlier in his career; of course forgetting that batting at four after 110 overs in the field is less than practical. Whilst Amla’s innings was slightly skittish, De Kock looked in wonderful touch and it is easy to see why he averages over 50 in Test cricket, the only slight knock being that he got out to a lazy waft straight after tea when a century was looking on the cards. Amla then soon departed even after another reprieve from Cook at slip and once Du Plessis and then Bavuma departed relatively cheaply, England looked like they had an opening to bowl out the Proteas cheaply. The fact that they weren’t able to is of great credit to Morris and Philander, who both looked like bona fide all-rounders, especially when dealing with the new ball and due to some slightly strange bowling tactics from England.

      For England, it was a bit of a ‘what could have been’ day. They bowled far too short with the new ball, a criticism that has been leveled at them on numerous occasions and when they finally did get their lengths right after lunch, the sun came out and made batting, which had looked fairly treacherous before lunch, look far more serene in the afternoon. England’s bowlers also had a pretty mixed day, with Stokes and Broad (once he had sorted his length out) being the pick of England’s attack. Jimmy bowled ok though he didn’t look particularly threatening and Mark Wood had a day to forget with the ball mainly down to the fact that he bowled far too short and was unable to bowl one side of the wicket. Wood is a talent and despite a bad day at the office, he should be retained due to the fact that he does have the pace to challenge opposing batsmen when he gets it right. And then we come to Liam Dawson. I don’t particularly take great pleasure in signally out one player for criticism, but Dawson is simply not good enough for Test cricket. He sort of reminds me of the quiet and slightly strange guy from accounts who ventures out for the work Christmas party and then hangs around at the side of the group; Sure it’s possible to make small talk for a while, however you don’t particularly want him to be there and more importantly, he doesn’t really want to be there either. He might well be a good character, but neither Dawson’s bowling nor batting merit a place in the side. It’s almost like England have no idea as to what to do with the number 8 position without Woakes and have hedged their bets on the very definition of a ‘bits and pieces’ player. Surely after this Test, the selectors will see that Dawson isn’t up to Test cricket, then again he’s an Andy Flower favourite, so will probably end up with 50 caps!

      So after an intriguing first day, we move on to an equally intriguing second day with both teams having the ability to move themselves into the box seat. If South Africa bat well and get up to 450, then they will surely be favourites to win as Trent Bridge can turn into a minefield batting last; however if England can wrap this innings up for around 350-370, then providing they bat well, they could well be in a position to ramp the pressure up on the Proteas in the second innings. So cancel any plans to go out shopping or to go for a long walk in the countryside and sit back and watch Day 2, it could be a cracker tomorrow.

      Thoughts and comments on Day 2 below:

       

      England vs. South Africa, 1st Test, Day 1


      Well it’s certainly felt like a lifetime after all the white ball shenanigans, but today, the 6th July, the Test season finally started with the symbolic bell being rung at Lords to mark the true start of summer. Both teams came into this Test with question marks around their batting, with bowlers carrying a niggle or two and two new captains aiming to put their individual mark on their respective teams. I don’t think it would be unfair to summise that the only real highlight of the morning as far as England were concerned was that Root won the toss and quite rightly elected to bat on what appeared to be an absolute belter of a pitch; however England managed to make a complete pigs ear of the first session, which again confirmed everyone’s fears around the make up of England’s top order.

      In every single Test played in England, it is always imperative to see off the new ball in the first hour and from there batting often tends to get much easier but England completely failed to do this. Jennings might be a tad unlucky as the ball was shown to be pitching outside leg stump and to be fair, Bairstow got a good one; however there was nothing evident in Gary Ballance’s batting to show that he has made the technical tweaks to cope with international fast bowlers. I can understand why he was picked, after all weight of runs in the CC Division 1 should in theory be rewarded; however it does seem that the selectors weren’t exactly enamoured about his selection, this coupled with the fact that he was asked to bat at number 3, which is a surefire way to have your technique tested out, makes no sense at all to me. The fact that he played around a straight delivery reminded me of all the technical difficulties that were exposed by Australia a couple of seasons ago. It may just be that Ballance, like many before him, is too good for the county game but not good enough at Test level, he will certainly feel the heat the longer he is unable to post big runs. My biggest criticism of the morning however, was the shot that the ex-captain and media lovechild played to get out. It was just a lazy waft at a wide delivery that someone who has 30 Test hundreds (yes we are reminded of that every time he walks into bat) should not be playing. Yet we have seen it time and time again as Messer’s Clark and Harris can vouch for in many an Ashes series. The fact that Nasser described the shot as someone who was just in too good form was even more risible than the shot itself; I expect that to be buried in the national newspapers tomorrow.

      So at 76-4 on a flat Lord’s deck, England were in more than a spot of bother when Stokes joined the new (and improved) captain at the crease. There was a real chance of being rolled over for under 250, which would have been a complete disaster in the circumstances; however the fortunes of each side completely turned on their heads. South Africa suddenly looked like they had morphed into Pakistan on the field and England decided to play positive but not reckless cricket. The pitch that England’s top order had made to look a minefield suddenly looked anything but that. Stokes played beautifully I thought and just when I was about to praise him to the high heavens, he then got out himself playing a low percentage, high risk shot. Stokes has a beautiful technique and I have absolutely no issue in him playing with a completely positive mindset, but trying to hook a ball with the realistic result of it being a single at most, isn’t particularly smart. Once Stokes tweaks this part of his game (and he has improved dramatically over the last 18 months), then England will have a hell of a player on their hands. Moeen also came in and played a typical Moeen knock full of dreamy drives and the odd misjudgment; however he did look remarkably improved in playing the short ball than he did in the winter (and that caused me to write a large rant about it). It was the perfect counter attack against a tiring South African bowling attack on a very hot day and hopefully he can push on in the morning.

      The main praise of course has to go to Joe Root, who despite riding his luck at times played a sublime innings under pressure. There was of course speculation leading up to the game as to whether Root would be able to combine the pressures of captaincy alongside carrying the England batting, as well as the constant annoyance of us and him at his failure to convert 70’s & 80’s into match winning hundreds. We needn’t have worried. After the early let offs, Root played the type of innings that reminds us why he is one of the top four batsmen in the world. His ability to keep the score ticking over, his ability to dispatch both the good and bad deliveries to the boundary and his ability to score all over the wicket means that he must be a nightmare to bowl to, let alone set fields for. It would have been easy for Root to go into his shell and to try and grind out a score with England’s batting in disarray, but that’s not how he plays nor how he wants his team to play and at times it was special to watch. One swallow does not make a summer, but the early prognosis is promising.

      As for South Africa, it was great first session and then a sobering experience for the rest of the day. Philander bowled brilliantly in his first spell, accurately probing England’s batsmen with every delivery and fully deserved of his 3 wickets. The success of Philander in international cricket (average of 23 with the ball) should prove a lesson to England amongst others, that you don’t need to have express pace to trouble international batsmen as long as you have the skill to land it on the same spot 6 times an over. I’ve seen many a decent county bowler being dismissed from England’s thinking because they don’t bowl at 85MPH, yet Philander tends to hover around the 78MPH mark and has been highly successful. This should prove as food for thought for the selectors but somehow I don’t think it will. The rest of the day unfortunately proved to be a bit of a horror show for the Proteas, with a reeling England at 76-4 being able to finish the day at 357-5. The Proteas had their foot on England’s throat and then failed to go in for the kill, of course dropping the oppositions best player twice early on is never a strategy that is worth pursuing. This combined with the fact that they bowled two wickets off two no balls, meant that even the most battle hardened South African is likely to be crying into his Castle Lager tonight. To take one wicket off a no ball is reckless, but to take two with the latter being from a spinner is down right criminal. I’m not sure I’d fancy being in the Proteas’ dressing room tonight.

      On a couple of last side notes, I fortunately/unfortunately (depending on your point of view) missed the Empty Suit interview at Tea though I’m guessing that it contained lots of buzz words such as ‘engagement’, ‘family friendly’ and ‘new audiences’ with very little actual content. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And as a final moan, we yet again didn’t complete the full 90 overs in a day and at one point it seriously looked like we might not get many more than 80. This has been a bugbear of all the editors on the blog; however if I’m paying top dollar for 90 overs, then that is exactly what I want, 87 overs simply won’t do. End of.

      So on to Day 2, and to see if England can motor towards 500 or whether South Africa can take early wickets with the new ball. Either way, it feels like the first session tomorrow could be pivotal as to the result of the game. Thoughts and Comments below as always: