A Blatant Holding Post

It’s been one of those weeks when any one of us has been away (Dmitri, who is currently doing a deal with the Medellin cartel), busy at work (all of us) or can’t think of anything to write that might prove to be somewhat of interest (certainly me, but it may also apply to TLG and Danny). So please bear with us in this slight dip in activity.

I see that England got beaten in the first T20 game without actually having the time or urge to watch it and that South Africa were once again put to the sword by the Indian wrist spinners in another white ball series going on. I’ve never really hidden my lack of appetite for the white ball game and know many on here have exactly the same feelings. Meanwhile Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fought out an utterly compelling (not) match in Chittagong where 600 odd played 700 odd on a road of a pitch, on the type of pitch I believe is killing the game not to mention the careers of a many a fast bowler. I might try and do a piece around that sometime next week.

Indeed news has been so slow this week that ESPN Cricinfo have had to lead on a story that Ben Stokes won’t be allowed to enter and leave court through the backdoor next week, which is my opinion is a complete non-story but might get them a few clicks.

However never fear. As many of our readers on the blog might be aware, we are celebrating our 3rd birthday on the blog this week, some 900 blog posts later. Not too shabby for a few ‘bilious inadequate’ and ‘social media zealots’ I’m sure you will all agree. TLG has been tasked with writing a special piece to celebrate our 3rd birthday, so there will be that to look forward to towards the end of the week/weekend.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, writing for the blog does take up a lot of time for 4 part timers with real jobs, so we will always have peaks and troughs of activity. I’m sure we’ll be back on song once the New Zealand Tests come around or when someone from the ECB inadvertently shouts his mouth off, but in the meantime please excuse the lack of regular posts. As ever, if you have a burning desire to write something or just to start a conversation, feel free to either comment below or drop us a guest piece.

Have a good rest of the week.

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Guest Post: What Chance Have You Got Against A Tie And A Crest?

Whilst that annoying little thing called work has got in the way of writing this week, one of our resident commenters, Topshelf, has kindly written a piece around the lack of appeal and meritocracy that is so ingrained in English cricket.

As always, we are extremely grateful for people putting the time and effort in to write for us, especially on a subject the other editors don’t have personal experience of. As with all of our guest posts, please bear in mind that for many of our guest writers, publishing on the blog is a new experience for them, so please afford a bit more respect than some of our usual rants.

Over to you Topshelf…..

On the 5th of January, David Hopps commented on Twitter:

“There are 8 private schoolboys in this England XI, some from overseas, even including Yorkshire who like to feel they spread the net wide. Well, well done the private sector for backing cricket. But the net is narrow. That’s all you need to know.”

Lizzie Ammon replied :

“Don’t get me started on county age cricket. The least meritocratic system on earth.”

On the 7th of January, on the way home from the first borough training session of the year, my county age-group son said: “Dad, I reckon I’m the only state-school boy at training now.”

Given that pretty much every conversation I’d just had with other parents had begun “So where’s X going to school?” it seemed he was probably right. (One of my simple pleasures in life is enjoying the moment of blinking panic as other parents try to work out why they haven’t heard of my son’s minor public school, before I put them out of their misery – “It’s just a state school, it’s 5 minutes from my house.”)

Of course, on the 8th of January, England’s 8 private schoolboys finally succumbed 4-0 to Australia.  The predictable blame-game began, and the usual suspects took aim at the county system, bemoaning the lack of true quick bowlers, the emphasis on white-ball cricket, the scheduling of championship cricket, all of which no doubt have a detrimental effect. George Dobell aimed wider, saying:

“The talent pool on which the game relies has grown shallow and is absurdly over-reliant upon the private schools, Asian and ex-pat communities.”

As if to rub it in, we’ve just seen another 10 public schoolboys in England kit capitulate dismally against Australia and a very good leg-spinner, Lloyd Pope’s extraordinary 8-35 sending them spiralling out of the U19 World Cup.

So, putting on my best Peter Moores hat, I thought I’d have a look at the data.

Firstly, a quick comparison. The last time England won the U19 World Cup – in 1998 – only 3 squad members attended fee-paying schools, compared to the 11 Daryl Cullinans this time. England’s best Ashes team of recent times, the 2005 squad, contained just 4 “posh nobs”, while even the 2011 3-1 team only had 6 by the final test. Of course, as is the way with data-mining, things soon expanded. I’ve now looked at every Test debutant since 1990, and every currently contracted county player. I know far more than I ever expected to about the sports scholarship system, and will probably be getting ads for private schools on my laptop until the end of time.

It will surprise no-one that cricket is a sport that favours the public schoolboy. Of 141 players to make their debuts since 1990, 48 (34%) attended at least a private 6th form. For context, 18% of pupils in England do the same, so a recent Test cricketer is almost twice as likely to be privately educated. As you would expect, given the number of state playing fields sold off by successive governments since 1979, the trend is definitely upwards. The 90’s saw 14 private school debuts of 59 (24%), the 00’s 14 of 44 (32%), while this decade has seen 20 out of 38 (53%) so far.

So far, so predictable. Cricket is an expensive sport that requires open spaces to play, and a big sacrifice of parental time. It is hidden behind a paywall, and rarely played in state schools. Much like rugby union – where, amazingly, around 60% of English Premiership players are ex public schoolboys – its appeal to the “working class” is diminishing. It’s little wonder that it risks becoming a niche sport for the privileged few. That is borne out by the fact that of 313 currently contracted and English qualified county players, 138 were privately educated, which is 42%, well over twice what demographics would predict. (Worth noting also that there are another 86 players who are out of the England picture, which is nearly 22% of the total. But that’s another story.)  Many of these schools are more sporting academy than traditional educational establishment, although no doubt they would stress their academic credentials as well. The school that provides the most cricketers, Millfield (with 10), not only has great cricket facilities, it has a golf course and equestrian centre. The school claimed in 2015 to have around 50 former pupils playing international sport every year. Like many others, it has an extensive sports scholarship system in place, and is able to hoover up a great deal of promising talent.

The first thing you notice when looking at recent England test players is a truism. Batsmen go to public school. Bowlers, especially quick bowlers, don’t. It’s the modern-day equivalent of Gentlemen and Players. Of the 46 batsmen to make debuts since the 1990, 26 (57%) were educated privately. Conversely, of the 62 fast bowlers and fast-bowling all-rounders, only 13 (21%) went to private schools. This makes a sort of sense; more and more public schools are recruiting cricketers using sports scholarships, which aren’t cheap, for school or pupil. Often counties are involved in referring promising players, and it’s a lot easier to pick a batsman, whose numbers are usually pretty clear. For a start, they’re allowed to bat long enough to get big scores, while young bowlers are ham-strung by ECB guidelines restricting the overs they can bowl. Bowlers also mature later, and are prone to injury. Very few schools (and counties, who are known to contribute as well) are going to commit tens of thousands of pounds to a promising bowler who might stop growing or develop stress fractures. And I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about how counties treat the attrition rate of their young fast bowlers anyway – one county reportedly considers it a success if 1 in 6 of their late teen quicks makes it to adulthood unscathed.

It also becomes clear that going to a private school gets you a longer Test career as a batsman. Of those 46 batsmen, the private school players get on average 37.3 Tests, with half playing over 15, while the state school boys get only 27.6, with half playing under 7. At this point it would be easy to cry foul, and assume that the likes of Downton (Sevenoaks), Whitaker (Uppingham) and Strauss (Radley) favour their own. However, the truth is probably simpler. A public school batsman has very likely already been selected for his ability – for example Joe Root and his Yorkshire-arranged scholarship to Worksop College – at an early age. He will have had access to years of high-class coaching, bowling machines, and, most importantly, many many more matches than his state counterpart. It’s no surprise that they perform better overall. And having had a good look, I can’t find anything that suggests worse players get more of a go if they come from the right sort of family. Albeit a bowler, the final word on obvious bias should be Mark Wood, alumnus of Ashington High School, who is apparently still in the Test reckoning after 26 wickets in 10 tests at an average of 40.65.

At this point it would be easy to shrug – how could any state school compete? –  and hope that the holy grail of the City T20 being intermittently on free-to-air will miraculously enthuse a new generation of kids. Who’ll still have nowhere to play, and lack the money for kit and coaching. The lucky few will still get a cheap ride through a private 6th form, assuming they start, or, more importantly, keep playing in the first place. Perhaps they can consult The Cricketer’s helpful Top 100 Schools Guide – state schools up to 9 this year…

But state-school participation matters, massively, not only for the obvious social and participation reasons, but also for the future success of the England team. Put simply, if state-school cricketers don’t make it to the top, England’s Test team will be a team of batsmen only.

In county cricket, public school batsmen make up 53% of their total, while quicks are only 30%, the smallest proportion. Nowhere is this disparity clearest than at Middlesex, which has 5 of 7 privately educated batsmen, but only 1 bowler of 8 who’s familiar with an apple-pie bed. Nor is stacking your team with posh boys any predictor of success. Essex won the Championship with only 3 players from the private sector (none bowlers, shock, and the fewest in the division) and a core of locally educated boys. Middlesex were relegated with 13 of 24 posh boys, while Sussex languish in Division 2 with a staggering 15 of 17 privately educated English players. God only knows what Tymal Mills must make of that dressing room.

The England U19 squad’s stand-out bowler has been Dillon Pennington (Wrekin College and Worcestershire), who lets it go at about 83mph. He looks a very decent cricketer, but compared to the Indian opening pair, who both touched 90mph, is a bit pedestrian. No doubt he has been very well coached, but one wonders how much progression he has left in him. If I were a county coach I’d much rather see a raw state-school bowler who has not had his opportunities, and probably has a much greater upside. But therein lies the problem. If state-school cricket continues to decline, and counties continue to outsource the training of their top youth cricketers to the private schools, how will a promising quick bowler ever make it far enough to be spotted? And how will England’s batsmen ever face high class bowling growing up if they all head off to private school to play each other? Does it really matter to the counties if long-form bowling standards drop as long as they drop uniformly? After all, the likes of Tom Curran, with plenty of T20 “skills”, are much more useful in white-ball cricket, where he doesn’t need the raw pace he’ll never have. And we all know that T20 is where the money and the future lies. The men’s Test team clearly struggled against real pace, while the U19s seemed never to have seen high-class leg-spin before. Which, to be fair, they probably never had. I know that Mason Crane exists as a product of the private system; he is an outlier though, lucky enough to be coached at Lancing College by Rajesh Maru, a proper spinner in his day.

So is there hope? The charity Chance to Shine has shown cricket to over a million primary school kids, and Sukhjit Singh, a left-arm spinner at Warwickshire, is the first boy to have been discovered by the programme to make it to a professional contract. The ECB’s All Stars programme is trying to attract the young primary pupil. And in researching this, I discovered the existence of The MCC Foundation Hubs, another charity which aims to provide free coaching to promising state secondary children not yet in the county system. There are already 54 of them, and they have ambitious plans to roll out all over the country. Sadly, I’d never heard of them, and nor had my club, which is something of a worry. And their promotional video has a representative of Eastbourne College proudly talking about the children they have picked up from the scheme as sports scholars!

I occasionally play cricket in a local park early on a Sunday morning. When we arrive the pitch is usually being used by local Afghan families playing a break-neck version of T20 they’ve started at dawn. Everybody from 14 to 50 bowls as fast as they can, spins it as hard as they can, and hits it as far as they can. Maybe if we can get these kids into club cricket through the likes of the MCC Hubs we’ll be able to tap a fabulous resource, and we’ll get our own Rashid Khan, or at least Shapoor Zadran, one day. If we don’t make the effort soon, I really fear for the future of test bowling in this country.

As for my son, well, he’s a bowling all-rounder, with plenty of growth left in him. No private school is going to be coming for him yet. So we’ll continue with club cricket, probably playing more adult matches, hope to keep his place in the county system, and carry on saving up for 6th form…

Once again, many thanks to Topshelf for putting this piece together for what is our 900th post in just under 3 years. As always, if you fancy writing a guest post, please send it to any or all of us. Our email addresses are listed in the ‘contact us’ section.

Simon Hughes Ate My Hamster

Clickbait. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it, normally bought out at the time of year when news is slow or the journo’s are feeling particularly lazy. Normally the clickbait piece consists of the ‘5 things were learned’ or ‘Self important ex-cricketer assigns marks for the series performance’ or if you are the Daily Mail, Kevin Pietersen said something that they didn’t agree with. Clickbait  is designed to lure the reader in with the hope that they might get some juicy snippet of information or controversy whilst allowing the journo’s to tick views over when there is very little to write about.

As you may have seen this week, The Cricketer has decided to take this one step further with the ultimate display of clickbait:  “Cricketers, pot bellied, balding little Englanders who are only fit enough to stand in a field all day” in an interview with that well known and respected (haha) pundit Stan Collymore. The exact quote from the tiny bit that I bothered to scan from this was equally as ridiculous

‘I’m pointing out that cricket, in my opinion, gets more column and TV/radio coverage in the UK than its popularity, entertainment and commercial reality deserve. Cricket gets more TV coverage, more coverage on radio sports bulletins (why is Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe more relevant than Brazil v Argentina in a bulletin? The norm for decades!) and papers than the quality or support of the sport earns. Why?” He called cricketers “pot bellied, balding little Englanders who are only fit enough to stand in a field all day…”

The Cricketer then proceeds to write a long article explaining why ‘Dear Stan’ is indeed wrong, as if any of us need telling that it’s not wise to listen to the views of a thin-skinned, washed up, ex footballer. I’m amazed they didn’t just write in large letters ‘IT’S STAN COLLYMORE FFS, MOVE ALONG’. Yet I saw a number of tweets appear on my timeline from various county cricketers expressing their amazement and anger at such incendiary comments coming from Mr. Collymore, an empty headed idiot who made his fame on TalkSport by making incendiary comments at every possible moment and then generally shouting as loudly as he could. When I saw this and even in the age of social media and the advent of z-list celebrities, I genuinely didn’t understand why anyone would quite frankly give a shit about it, let alone get upset by it. However the one thing that did strike me, is why on earth The Cricketer would want to publish what Stan Collymore has to say in the first place. I know their editor is one sandwich short of a lunchbox and probably spends more time stroking his enormous ego than actually bothering to edit the magazine, but still, there wasn’t any way that this wasn’t going to reflect badly on said magazine. I personally haven’t read the Cricketer since Andrew Miller left as Editor and the current content confirms my initial thoughts that this was indeed a sensible thing on my behalf, but it still saddens me that a magazine I so used to enjoy has plummeted to the depths of a tabloid newspaper. We as fans are now left with virtually nothing to give us a quality insight into the game. Much has been written about the demise of the national newspapers, the fact that their own journalists pump their own agendas, the fact that most of their articles on cricket now are mainly filled from freelancers trying to sell their services to multiple papers (I’m looking at you Chris Stocks), the fact that County Cricket has virtually disappeared from view and the fact that the mantra that ‘Alastair Cook is god’ must be repeated time and time again. Then we get to the cricket specialists and it’s equally ugly. The Cricket Paper is where ex-journo’s go to see off their retirement and to spout the same old bitter bile that they have been spewing their whole career. As for All Out Cricket, newly renamed Wisden Cricket Monthly, though quite why Wisden would allow that shower of shite to use their name, unless they’re getting pocketfuls of cash, is beyond me. It may as well be titled ‘Alastair Cook’s Great Monthly’ such are the editors unashamed deification of the former captain. Indeed you are more likely to see a more critical piece of the North Korean regime on North Korean national state television than you would see an article on WCM criticizing the ECB.

We are of course blessed with ESPN Cricinfo, which despite it’s awful rebrand and terrible functionality coupled with the fact that they used to have FICJAM write for them, is still the best cricket news and analysis site out there covering English and World Cricket. George Dobbell (although not universally liked on here) has written some great pieces and is one of the few journalists to openly question the modus operandi of the ECB. The Cricket Monthly has also published some really good long read pieces although I must admit the output has gone down slightly in my own opinion recently. The main thing is that there are very few sites and magazines where English cricket fans can actually read good and thoughtful content.

This of course brings me back to the Cricketer. I personally can’t wait for the next tranche of stories to come out:

  • Rogert Mugabe shares his thoughts on growing the game, whilst balancing the books
  • Pol Pot discusses how to create a healthy team spirit within the camp
  • Craig Overton talks about the importance of respecting ethnic diversity on the field of play
  • Michael Vaughan discusses how to appear on every cricket news feed, every 10 minutes (wait that has already happened).

I mean the possibilities are just endless. Still looking back on it, I’ve lured you into reading this blatant filler post, on the back of a click-bait headline, so I guess it afflicts us all from time to time.

On a serious note, we do have the NZ series coming up once the hit and giggle stuff ends, we might well do something special for our 900th post (this so-called post was our 899th post) and we have our 3 year anniversary coming up early in February, so I am sure there will plenty to tune into in the coming weeks.

Sleepwalking into the Slaughterhouse

If you’ve read any of the cricketing press or numerous posts on Twitter recently, you may have mistakenly believed that England are the best run and most innovative cricket side in the world. No mention of the 4-0 Test defeat, just praise of England’s white ball cricket hero’s in destroying the Australian white ball team. Everything is now rosy again. Operation sweep ‘the Test side and everything that is wrong with English cricket’ under the carpet is in full swing. I’m sure that Messer’s Graves and Harrison couldn’t be happier after all it was the white ball focus that led England to hire Bayliss as Coach and prioritize ahead of all other forms! All is going to plan for our glorious ascent to World Cup winners in 2019. Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Cricket’s coming home!

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not feeling as full of the joys of spring as some of the above people. Sure it has been a great performance by our white ball team, but it’s all ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ for me, a tepid rice pudding after a main course of old manure that we had served to us during the Test series. Now of course, I’m not aiming to denigrate the skill of our white ball team as England have finally produced a team of extremely talented players. The likes of Roy, Buttler, Stokes, Woakes and Bairstow could probably walk into any ODI team now and will likely be in line for deserved financial rewards in the IPL, which is great for them and for those that are a fan of ODI cricket. Except that I’m not. There is nothing the white ball team can do to erase the pain and embarrassment of watching England implode again away from home in Test Cricket. The ODI team could hit 400 each innings and then bowl Australia out for 10 and yet it would still only raise the smallest of smiles knowing that all it does is to provide our greedy administrators with a mandate that they know best and that cricket has never been in better health under their watch. Call me cynical, call me outdated, call me wrong, but I’m only describing how I feel about English cricket at the moment. England winning the One Day Series is like putting a plaster on a severed leg as far as I’m concerned; indeed this analogy also seems to work in terms of what our friends at the ECB are currently doing.

Oh and on another note, you may well have noticed who’s back, back again. Downton’s back, tell a friend. As much as I would enjoy writing another article based on the absolute incompetence of Paul Downton, I’m not sure I could add too much that hasn’t been said before. An individual so ingrained with the ECB’s modus operandi that he had decided the fate of a certain South African born batsmen before he had even got on the plane, failed to produce the so-called dossier of misdemeanors that said player has been sacked for and then went on to blame this individual’s book, which had been written a number of months later as the core reason that Mr. Pietersen had to be sacked. Downton then went on to lay all his eggs in the Peter Moore’s camp, a genuine man but one who was never cut out for International Cricket, but also a man who would never pick Pietersen nor question the ECB’s stance. We then had all of the gaffes, the disastrous defeat to Sri Lanka (which was some of the worst Test Cricket I’ve ever seen) and the culmination of a pathetic and embarrassing World Cup performance in 2015. Simon Hughes might defend his mate to the hills and who knows, he might be a decent man in real life, but purely looking at his CV from a cricketing point of view, then there should be no way that this guy ever runs a cricketing side again. Except no-one told this to Kent.

Equally, we can look at the hire of Rob Andrew at Sussex, a man who hardly covered himself in glory in his reign as leader of the RFU, yet finds himself in another CEO position. Andrew was the establishment’s master of survival: changing titles, moving sideways, losing influence, but still there on the sidelines grimly holding on to power. Indeed, Andrew mentioned in his book:

“The game I played in the closing decade of the amateur era was completely different from the one we watch and marvel at today,” Yet despite that, we continue to demand more of the players; more rugby at ever-higher velocity, at ever greater risk to life and limb.”

“The reason? No-one wants to cut back on the number of matches because matches mean money. Where rugby finds itself now is in the early stages of a conflict over the nature of the compromise – a scrap for viability.”

There are many individuals out there who know more than me about the game of rugby; however the mantra has always seemed to focus on delivering short term profit, irrespective of the quality of the game, nor the health of the players or focusing on a long term increase in demand. I wonder if anyone else finds this strangely familiar to the position that cricket in the UK finds itself in.

It would be fair to ask, why I have waffled on about these two in particular, but for me these 2 individuals symbolize the malaise of English cricket, the very essence of ‘jobs for the boys’. It doesn’t matter if you have failed miserably in the past, as long as you spout the right buzzwords and can tap into your friends at the ECB, then come on down and make yourself comfortable, perhaps take a six figure salary at the same time. Yet in my own opinion, counties such as Kent and Sussex (and there are plenty more out there) have simply signed their own death warrant. They’ve not noticed the wolves at the door, the wolves that are most keen in furthering their own career rather than doing what’s best for their counties or players and are very happy to cozy up to their mates at the ECB to ensure that they are rewarded. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the ECB views the counties as cannon fodder for when the red ball game goes badly, a nice diversionary scapegoat. It is also clear that the ECB and Tom Harrison in particular really doesn’t give much of a hoot about the red-ball game at all. It’s there to scrape in television money whilst it still can, whilst Harrison tries to find the next big thing – T20, T10, Franchise Cricket, Underwater Cricket or whatever else he can think of that might make a quick buck or two. So let’s guess how Harrison feels about county championship cricket without its’ so called big crowds, interest from Sky and razzmatazz? Well of course, it’s been relegated to the very margins of the English season, there to appease the traditionalists, whilst he tramples all over them by trying to shoe-horn what he feels is the savior of English Cricket – the city based T20.

Yet, what can we expect from this beast that the counties are only belatedly seeing as a real threat to their existence? Whilst Harrison might have made a pretty penny out of Sky, is this really going to be savior of English cricket? In my opinion, this is an emphatic no. We don’t just need to look at our own competition, which is heavily reliant and weighted to those who want to go and throw 10 pints of ridiculously expensive Fosters down their throat on a Friday night; we can look at other ‘franchise’ competitions that are hardly setting the world alight. 5 of the 6 teams in the PSL are struggling to make their sponsorship targets and are looking for financial bail outs, the Big Bash league attendances are down by over 150,000 year on year and the South African franchise cricket never even got off the ground, when the television companies rightly thought they were massively overvaluing it. It would also be fair to mention that the above countries haven’t hidden their cricket away on pay-per-view for the past 12 years either and yet they are still struggling, so why on earth does the ECB think that this is the goose that lays the golden egg? That this new competition is suddenly going to turn around years of disinterest from an audience who hasn’t been able to access to live cricket on TV without owning Sky? That the huge costs in implementing this and paying off the counties is actually going generate long term interest and revenue? This seems to be a huge white elephant which is growing by the day, yet Harrison and Graves are willing to bet the future of English cricket on a hunch and a whim. Even worse, the counties through a mixture of self-interest and incompetent hires such as Downton and Andrew have been complicit in their demise from Day 1.

There it is, whilst Graves, Harrison and Downton ride off into the sunset on the gravy train, the rest of English cricket will look back with regret on the day they unwittingly slumbered into the slaughterhouse. Even worse, they’ll reflect that they could and should have done something about it, but hey, that’s just not cricket is it?

See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something!

I doubt that it would have escaped many of our eagle eyed readers that the squad for the tour of New Zealand was announced on Wednesday, nor would it escape many that it was another tremendous let down. Indeed it smacked of the fact that it had been cobbled together in 5 minutes over a pint of Fosters in a dingy bar in Sydney. Toothless bowling attack – check, flimsy batting attack which is likely to collapse at any moment – check, lack of spin options – check, well that’s that then, all good to go. It almost seems that the selectors decided to totally ignore the failures of the last series and just stick with jobs for the boys, no matter how they perform. Of course there were some casualties, Gary Ballance paid the price for carrying the drinks in such a disengaged manner that he had to be dropped. Jake Ball and Tom Curran also paid the price for not being able to bowl at 90mph or for not being Jimmy and Broady. England on the other hand have decided to injure Mark Wood again and also call up Ben Stokes (yep remember him) and also Liam Livingstone, no doubt for when Stokes is ruled out of the tour on the grounds that there is still a criminal investigation going on!

The thing that really gets me though is the complete lack of imagination of our selectors. Anyone in their right mind can see that James Vince doesn’t have the technique for County Cricket Division One, let alone for batting at number 3 in Test cricket against a world class swing attack. Vince may have shiny toy locked in his corner, but one feels that he must also have some explicit pictures of someone at the ECB to account for his continued inclusion in the squad. Likewise Moeen Ali, who is a rotten trot of form at the moment both with the bat and with the ball. I wrote before the Ashes series that I felt Moeen had to decide whether he was going to become a batsman or a bowler and not be the jack of all trades and master of none if he was to make a success of Test Cricket. It would be fair to say that to most seasoned cricket viewers that this experiment has failed dramatically, yet here we are again, heading to another away series with a part time bowler likely to lead our spin bowling attack because he can bat a bit at 7. I also feel that Messer’s Broad and Woakes are incredibly lucky to keep their respective places. Broad has looked weary and jaded for the past year and Woakes is the epitome of a home track bully – brilliant in English conditions, but truly terrible when the ball doesn’t swing away from home. To be honest, very few of the team with exceptions around Anderson, Root, Malan and to an extent Bairstow could’ve put together a cohesive argument at their treatment should they have been dropped for the upcoming series.

So what are we actually paying the selectors for? The continued reward to failure is simply breathtaking. Do they actually watch any cricket? I agree that whilst being an England selector is not an easy job at the moment, such is the paucity of the talent waiting in the wings; however, surely English cricket deserves more than sticking with a plan that is pretty much doomed to failure. What do they say about the definition of madness again? Now I’m certainly not advocating that England blows the whole thing up and starts again, but surely there is merit in trying to invest in players with the right mental fortitude than players who look nice and then get out edging to first slip EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Dawid Malan is an example of this, as was Marcus Trescothick as was Michael Vaughan, players that didn’t have outstanding county careers but had the mentality that they deserved to be on the biggest stage. What we would give for another Trescothick or even a Vaughan (the batsman and not the man obviously). Whilst I’m in agreement that there is a general paucity of talent around, England is not totally without some talented players and I would prefer them to test that on the biggest stage than settle for a mediocre 22 or 1-150 from a Test player that has proved that they are not talented enough to play Test Cricket time and time again. Some individuals who have not been capped or been capped briefly, that I feel worthy at looking at are:

  • Dan Lawrence
  • Haseeb Hamed
  • Sam Robson
  • Nick Browne
  • Daniel Bell-Drummond
  • Sam Northeast
  • Joe Clarke
  • Ben Coad
  • George Garton
  • Jack Leach
  • Olly Stone
  • Tom Helm

Now I’m not saying that any of these are guaranteed to have success in an England Test Shirt and I’m certainly not advocating the hire and fire culture of the 90’s, but I’d certainly have been a little more excited about the NZ tour than watching Cook fiddle about on anything but a flat pitch, Vince edge another delivery after a breezy 20, Moeen going for 4 an over and Woakes looking completely toothless. After all we have just been stuffed 4-0 for the second consecutive winter, surely alarm bells should be ringing somewhere in the selectors heads?

Alas no. we’ll have more of the same please, lets give these players another 10 Tests to prove what we knew after 5 Tests, that they aren’t good enough to play Test Cricket. Where is the accountability though? Whittaker is joke no doubt who is actively stealing a living, and Messer’s Fraser and Newell hardly seem to be the dynamic duo that we need, whilst our own Head Coach who wants out after 2019, freely admits that he doesn’t have a clue about county cricket. Hardly the recipe for success is it? Still no doubt, they’ll still be here in the summer, still making the wrong decisions and still benefitting from a complete lack of accountability from a board that couldn’t care less about the results on the pitch. After all, if you stick your head in the sand for long enough, you can almost pretend to see the positives.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which was mortally wounded at the SCG on 5th January 2014 and then through the greed of its administrators, was finally killed off on the 8th January 2018. Deeply lamented by an ever-smaller circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P.

N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to The ECB’s headquarters and buried in its vault of gold”

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It may just be me, but I remember certain promises of a New England team after the humiliation of 2013/2014 Ashes. The difficult and unpopular South African batsman who had batted at number 4 was removed due to an overwhelming dossier of (soon to be published) evidence. We were promised a new start under the welcome leadership of the darling of English cricket. We were promised that there would be a review and something like that would never happen again. There was a promise of a fresh start with a new, young and exciting team that could unite the nation; plus administrators who acknowledged the pain that the English supporters felt and would take steps to ensure that our voice would be heard and that they would right past wrongs.

At least, that’s what the ECB and many of their complicit associates thought they were saying. Instead, they managed to split a cricketing nation down the middle, insult the fans by saying anyone who didn’t agree with them was from “outside cricket”; who then alienated those fans by hiking up the costs and by refusing to put the interests of the true fans ahead of their own financial lust. Every time they told us they knew what they were doing and to have faith in them, they immediately plummeted to new depths. They first marginalised and then penalised county cricket and many of the counties themselves were soon staring down the barrel of bankruptcy and at the mercy of handouts from their increasingly iron-fisted administrators. Durham were docked 48 points and relegated for having the misfortune of producing a number of young English players whilst having to build an international stadium that the local economy didn’t need or warrant. They’ve seen participation in the sport disappear to an all time low thanks to hiding it away on pay for TV and investing the princely sum of £2.5 million for grass-roots cricket. They’ve turned a significant number of loyal England fans against the team and away from cricket who in all likelihood will never return to the sport.

The ECB did all this and for what? A mediocre white ball team and a Test team that has once again been humiliated in Australia, after being humiliated in India, with a team lacking in basic talent and a future pipeline that resembles a dry well . Well done to the ECB, you’ve achieved so much in the last 4 years that many others who were deliberately trying to destabilise the sport wouldn’t be able to do in 10 years. I hope you’re proud.

So after this embarrassment of a series, those few fans that remain are waiting for what comes next, yet we all know what comes next – nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve seen many of the media say that we shouldn’t ‘sweep this under the carpet’ after this series’ calamity yet that’s exactly what will happen again. Boycott had some good questions at the end of the series but took out his frustrations out on the wrong person in the absence of any management. Instead, if lucky we may get the odd staged interview where Tom Harrison dictates to us why English cricket is in a such a good state of health. We may get the odd dissenting question from the likes of Jonathan Agnew (whose last interview was more Graham Norton than Jeremy Paxman), yet I’m sure Harrison will be allowed once again to gloss over these things and nothing will be said or done, after all it’s not particularly in the interest of the media to shoot the golden goose.

Yes there have been exceptions, George Dobell has posted some fine and cutting articles about administrators both in this series and before, but what about the rest of them? The fact that some of the ‘establishments of the media’ are talking about a need for change only now just makes me laugh. Literally where have you been for the past 4 years? It’s been staring you in the face all that time and you have only just woken up and smelled the coffee? If that’s your idea of hard hitting journalism, then perhaps you should consider a career at the Cricket Paper?

Naturally, there will those that blame the team, the coaches, the selectors and probably  the boogie and yes, all of these need to share in some of the responsibility (well perhaps not the boogie, but it has often proved to be an efficient scapegoat in the past). The best thing that could be said about the team is that they kept trying their best to the end, though the worst that could also be levelled at them is that they are a talentless bunch of egotists who can’t handle their alcohol. The coaches have hardly covered themselves in glory either, Trevor Bayliss couldn’t find most of the counties if you gave him a Sat Nav, let alone identify most of their players. Farbrace seems to appear when things are going well, has a large chuckle with the media and hides when they’re not. Ramprakash has been given a contract extension when half the team don’t seem to know which side of the bat to hold and I’m not even sure who our bowling coach is these days! As for the selectors, well let’s just say you could fill a bag with the name of every cricketer in county cricket and pick the team at random and they’d probably be more successful than most of England’s selection in the past 4 years. It’s a mess and whilst the above should all cop their side of the blame, it’s our four protagonists who deserve the most attention and the most recrimination. It’s these four in particular that have taken our once beloved sport and brought it to its knees.

I’m not going to focus on Strauss too heavily as rightly his focus has to be the health of his wife at the moment. Cancer is an awful illness and looking after her and the whole family must take priority over everything else. Another reason that I’m not focusing too much on Strauss is that he is simply the Company Man, employed by those above him to do what they say and to do it in the correct manner. There was talk before his appointment about the role being one where he would have the opportunity to make changes to the structure of the English game to ensure success in all formats and if that was indeed his mantra, then he has failed spectacularly.  My own personal view at the time was that Strauss was the hired hand: get rid of KP for good and be the face of the regime so that no-one looks too closely at what’s going on behind the scenes.  Not a lot has changed my opinion in that regard.

Sure I dislike Director Comma immensely especially by the way that he is able to embrace leaving his faculties at the door so that he can have a fairly cushy job of giving ‘short buzzword-loaded statements’ that the media will lap up in exchange for being part of the Establishment. In truth though, Strauss was part of the establishment long before he retired. He was from the right type of family, had the right look and was willing to adapt to situations that suited him at the time and then to dump those no longer useful. Sure, the ECB would’ve liked Strauss to have a team performing on the pitch to remove any investigation about what was going on behind the scenes but that never was a mandate. The mandate all along was keep the media happy and get the punters paying whilst saying the ‘the right thing’. It is impossible to tell whether Strauss would have copped much heat after this disastrous series if his personal circumstances were different, but I certainly have my doubts, after all why would the ECB want to remove their head boy?

It can also be rightly pointed out that all of this started way before 2014, under the stewardship of a certain Giles Clarke. Clarke is without the doubt the bogeyman of English cricket, a man who has always been so singular in his own quest for power and the riches that come with it that he isn’t worried about destroying anything in his way. I know a few of the hacks had pieces on Clarke that never made their way to print, such has been the fear of offending him and his lawyers. One can quite easily recall his reaction to Lawrence Booth after a mildly critical piece appeared in the Wisden Almanack alongside his haranguing of former ICC President Ehsan Mani at the same gala dinner. Whilst no-one in the press had the cojones to actually quote what Clarke said to either Booth or Mani (I’m guessing it wasn’t that he was a ‘‘man of great judgment’ unlike Paul Downton); however Mani acerbically commented afterwards that:

‘I’m very used to Giles being utterly irrational. He always thinks it’s just about him when there’s a far bigger picture of three countries sharing 52 per cent of income between them.’

Giles, we know – much like some of those who have followed him into power – was always about the commercials and pretty much stuff everything else. He got into bed with a soon to be convicted criminal – Alan Stanford, strengthened ties with Sky and took more pleasure in boasting that he had increased the ECB’s revenues up to £140 million than he did speaking about on the field success. Clarke created the revenue model whereby counties had to bid for Test Matches rather than the ECB distributing them as this lowered the ECB’s risk and accountability for a poor attendance or rain ruined Test. Indeed it was reported in the Telegraph some time ago:

“Giles’s agenda was all about financial imperatives, keeping the counties alive,” says one former county chief executive, who preferred not to be named. “He was very clever at making sure that he kept at least 10 of the 18 onside, and he was re-elected twice on that platform. Plus, some people became too scared to vote against him. If they did so and didn’t win, he found out, and he was a great one for punishing you.”

“Some people feared he wouldn’t give them a winter cash-flow loan [which many of the counties use to keep the creditors off their backs] or an international match.”

Ah yes, the fear factor the Clarke actively cultivated is well and clearly shown by the above. Back me or I take the money away and give it to someone else who will. It was Clarke’s obsession with money and power that laid the groundwork for the carve up of cricket and the absolutely despicable  “Big Three” revenue agreement, though it seems that Clarke had very little intention of sharing this money with the wider English Cricket community, this was the ECB’s money after all.  Clarke failed to get his hands on the most powerful job of all in world cricket, yet he’s still there, hovering around the halls of the ICC and ECB and no doubt leaning on those in the front line to carry out his mandate. I could write many more words about Clarke, but many of these have been written before and there are some new boys in town ready to take up the mantle.

Then we come on to Colin Graves, either a bumbling fool who has got in far too deep than he thought or some kind of evil genius that the world has never seen before. I’m genuinely torn between the two statements personally because he has shown both sides of this at times, sometimes even in the same press conference. We all know that Colin’s favourite word is mediocre (though surprisingly not when talking about the England Test team), West Indies cricket is mediocre, our current T20 competition is mediocre, I would probably guess that he describes lunch in the long room at Lords mediocre. Surprisingly enough, the reaction to this wasn’t what he had anticipated (i.e. pissing people off and motivating the opposition). However we have also seen a more cut-throat side from Graves, marginalising many of the counties that helped him come to power and survive through his initial appointment when Clarke still had a say on English cricket. He then went completely postal on Durham, a county that had unfortunately no rich benefactor and who were at the mercy of the ECB.  One only has to remember that this certain Colin Graves had helped Yorkshire out of a massive financial hole with a number of loans in the past as County Chairman – conflict of interest, what conflict of interest sir? This is the man, who has single handedly led the charge for a franchise based T20 when there was no support from the fans or the counties and looks to be around 5 years too late to make a major difference. This is the man who has decided to relegate red ball cricket to the very margins of the county season and then wonder why our Test team continues to fall apart when not faced with green seaming pitches. Still Graves is always good for the odd catch-all statement:

‘Everyone is very disappointed. Everyone gave their all, but we have to do things better going forward. There is no specific review.’

‘We have Andrew Strauss as MD of the England team and [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison in charge, and I trust them completely to make the right decisions. There will be no witch hunt. We have to look at it and see how we can improve, so in four years’ time we are better placed to win [in Australia] than we were this time.’

Ah yes, no witch hunt this time, after all we’ve only been thrashed 4-0 this time with only a dead dog of a pitch in Melbourne saving us from a whitewash and since there’s no Kevin Pietersen to ‘sort out,’ then we can rightly sweep it under the carpet. And Colin, whilst you’re there, I’ve got news for you: if you truly believe that Director Comma and the Empty Suit that is Harrison (more on him later) are deserving of trust to make the right decisions for English Cricket, then you are even more deluded than I even thought. Colin Graves: unfortunate idiot or world class baddie?  I guess the answer will be left to the cricket historians…

Finally this brings us on to the Empty Suit, Tom Harrison – the bean counter, the money man and the dangerous one. Let me just make this abundantly clear, Tom Harrison would organise a game of cricket on the moon, with a basketball and flippers if it made him some extra money. Tom Harrison does not care one jot about the game of cricket, the development of youngsters, grass roots cricket, how the Test team performs and what the future of English cricket will look like. As far as he is concerned, cricket and those who love it are just an unfortunate annoyance that sometimes gets in the way of him making money.  Nothing and I mean nothing else matters. NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Whereas Downton was both incompetent and stupid, Harrison is unfortunately highly competent in his singular goal of making cash and will ruthlessly destroy those who dare get in his way. I have published this a couple of times in the last week or so, but let’s just look at this statement one more time:

The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas.  We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.

“We are in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They’re making huge strides across the white-ball game, up to a place where we’re winning 70% or so of our white-ball matches – the ODI side in particular – and the T20 side is making good progress.”

In other words, yes we’re crap but look at the money, just look at it!  Look how much money I made out of Sky and everybody else! Yes, Harrison deserves some credit for selling a pretty crap product to Sky and others for £1.1 billion from 2020 to the end of 2024, but equally it would have been pretty embarrassing if he hadn’t managed to get a significant cost increase bearing in mind his background in selling TV rights.  Still even with the ECB breathing a huge sigh of belief, having postponed the inevitable financial precipice until 2024, Harrison once again let slip his key motivations:

‘You’re not thinking about the deal that you’re doing, you’re always thinking about the next deal.’

Stop me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the future of English cricket has been solely handed over to a greedy, ruthless, ex-car salesman type who has masqueraded as the answer to all of the ECB’s prayers. The snake oil salesman, who has rocked up from nowhere with supposedly all of the answers and none of the nasty drawbacks, does it remind anybody of someone else??

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And there we have it folks, we don’t matter, because once the next generation has finally discovered the note with ‘there’s no money left’ our four protagonists will be long gone with their riches and so will be what’s left of the money.  The game will be up, every single decision that the ECB has made during the last four years has ensured that English cricket in the future will be nothing but a rotting carcass, mourned by the few but largely forgotten by the majority and we have Clarke, Strauss, Graves and Harrison to thank for this.

I thought after 2014 the ECB had reached the nadir, covering up a truly despicable performance, sacking our best player, labelling anyone not employed by the ECB as outside cricket and showing almost no regard for the fans  Unfortunately I was wrong, this was just the start. The ECB have done all of this and more over the past years, and whilst we were furious four years ago, this time there is simply no-one around that cares enough anymore. And this is their most damning failure of them all.

Australia vs. England, 5th Test, Day 3 – Shambles

Pathetic, Embarrassing, Shambolic, Amateur. These are all words that can be used to describe England’s performance in this Test and for most of the Ashes series. This is a decent Australian team in home conditions, but this Australian team is absolutely not a world beater and not even on the same page as previous Australian teams, yet England have time and time again been made to look like a clueless bunch of county pros. I feared the worst when the squad was announced and the performances of England during this series has simply confirmed what we all feared. This has been an absolute hammering, no ifs and no buts and no polishing the so called ‘turd’, this has been a one-sided embarrassment of a series.

There were times in the past when I would have been angry, extremely angry at such a performance, this was when the fire burned brightly from within, but not any more. I simply do not care enough about this team nor about a board who couldn’t give any less of a monkey’s whether the team performs well or not. We have a national performance centre, national bowling and batting coaching leads, enough money to make many other cricket playing countries green with envy, yet we took the field in Sydney with a number 3 who is not cut out for Test Cricket, a spin bowling, batting all-rounder who can do neither task particularly well, a slow and ageing new ball attack, a bog-standard county medium pacer and a 20 year leg spinner with a first class average of over 46. Did anyone really expect anything different from what we have seen in this Test??

The crux of the matter is that none of this will count in 3 months or so. There will be no report, no investigation, just a large ‘sweep it under the rug’ job from the likes of Harrison and Strauss. There may be the odd superficial change such as the selectors getting the bullet or Bayliss being moved sideways, but in essence nothing will change, it will just be referred as another ‘difficult winter’. If you don’t believe me, then take it from the horse’s mouth instead:

“The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas,” Harrison said. “We’ve had record-breaking attendances in domestic and international cricket, changed our governance structure, hosted two global events, won the women’s World Cup and launched a participation initiative for kids. We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.”

“We are in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They’re making huge strides across the white-ball game, up to a place where we’re winning 70% or so of our white-ball matches – the ODI side in particular – and the T20 side is making good progress.”

Ah yes, when in doubt mention how secure English cricket is and how the white ball game and in particular T20 is going so well. After all, we have a new T20 competition to sell. Stuff the traditional game, that is only useful when Tests are being played at Lords (anyone else find it hilariously funny that every England commentator praises the Barmy Army to the hilt, yet these individuals wouldn’t be allowed within a 5 mile radius of a Lords Test Match). I have always had a particular dislike of the way that the Premier League has been run, trying to rip every single pound possible out of every fan and in the past I would look at cricket and was thankful for the way it was run. Yes, the ECB have always been incompetent and an old boys club, but their various terrible decisions always smacked of sheer incompetence rather than anything more sinister. Of course, this is no more. It started in 2014, when they decided to fire a rather good, South African born batsman because he was a bit difficult and because they supposedly had a dossier of bad behaviour against him (though naturally this never saw the light of day). That was just the beginning though, nowhere near the coup d’état that are currently witnessing. These last 4 years have seen the rise and rise of naked greed from our administrators, indeed it seems that the ECB are no longer even bothered to cover up their true intentions anymore. It’s not my game, your game or our game anymore; it’s their game and if you don’t like it then tough, you’re obviously not from the right type of family. It doesn’t matter to them that the Test side continues to fall from grace, with the same issues that we have had for the past 4 years. It doesn’t matter to them that most of the counties are dying a slow death, nor does it matter that many don’t want a new T20 competition. Sky have said that they quite fancy it and are willing to pay for it, so therefore it is gospel according to Tom Harrison. Always remember it’s the money stupid.

And what hope do we have? Almost none. We at the blog are some of the few dissenting voices out there and we are just 4 cricket junkies who do this in our spare time. The rest are either having their palms greased by the ECB or are so desperate to be ‘inside cricket’ that they are happy to leave their morals at the door. This is the new world, not for you and I, nor for the fans of our once beautiful game, but for those who are happy to line the pockets of our administrators. This in particular, breaks my heart. I’ve followed England for over 20 years and many of our readers have done so for much longer through the good and the bad. I’ve personally been to at least one home Test match every year for the past 17 years, I’ve also paid from my own pocket to watch England in Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka and in the UAE, yet I am deemed not a true fan because I dare to ask why our beautiful game is heading down the toilet.

Quite simply, I’m done with this series, I’m done with this team and nearly done with English cricket altogether. The moment that I was no longer classed as a fan but a consumer was the point of no return. I’m sure there are plenty of others out there with deeper pockets than mine that can take my place, but the moment that you turn true fans away from the sport is the moment that no amount of spin or bluff can prevent the death spiral that English cricket will soon find itself in. If this is the future of cricket in this country, then you can count me out for good.

For those who are more committed than myself, then comments on Day 4 below. I won’t be watching mind, 8 hours of sleep seems a far better idea than watching this non-contest….

England vs. Australia, 4th Test Preview and Live Blog

 

First of all, I want to echo the thoughts of Dmitri & TLG and take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world. Thank you once again to those that have read, contributed and commented on the blog in 2017, your support has once again been invaluable.

So, onto the cricket ahead of us and if you hadn’t watched any of the series so far, but had just listened to the thoughts of Empty Suit, then you’d have thought that England had just won the Ashes covincingly this year:

“The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas,” Harrison said. “We’ve had record-breaking attendances in domestic and international cricket, changed our governance structure, hosted two global events, won the women’s World Cup and launched a participation initiative for kids. We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.

“It’s a shame this series hasn’t gone our way but there’s more to play for over the course of the winter. It’s also important to remember that in every one of the three games England have been in a position where things could have worked out differently.”

I think we can safely translate this as the ECB has plenty of money through our new TV deals and T20 competition, so stuff the fans and stuff the Ashes, as long as the mugs still turn up for the Lords Test next Summer. The lack of accountability and self-awareness, whilst not surprising is still absolutely breathtaking. Jobs for the boys and all that…

As for the next Test itself, there won’t be too many people betting on an England victory, not only as we’ve been consistently outplayed in the first 3 Tests, but also because England’s record in dead-rubber games is pretty appalling. It has been confirmed that Tom Curran will replace Craig Overton for England and Jackson Bird will replace Mitchell Starc for the Australians. Now, from the little I’ve seen of both Curran brothers, I do believe that they have something about them, but again if the MCG is a flat, quick pitch then I’m not sure that Tom Curran will have any more success than England’s other quick bowlers have had in the series so far. There has been some talk of Mason Crane playing, but surely that will only happen if Moeen, despite having a poor series, is injured. Certainly I think throwing Crane into one of the last 2 Tests, will be a form of hari-kari, as the Aussies smashed Yasir Shah to all parts of Australia last winter and Shah is a far better bowler than Crane.

We are going to try and live blog some of this Test and Dmitri will be in place to cover some of the first session, so if a whole day with the in-laws and eating far too much Turkey isn’t enough masochism for one day, then please do join us this evening to see if England can muster some fight in this Test and avoid the dreaded whitewash.

Thoughts and comments below as always…

LIVE BLOG TIME….

OK, Live blog time. Dmitri here for as long as I last. Yet again the media are setting the agenda and Joe Root is now defending himself as captain more than his predecessor had to on the incredible collapsing tour last time out in Australia.

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I went to the MCG back in 2006. Victoria v Queensland in a one day cup match. A huge soulless bowl in my opinion. Of course, with a thousand or so in the ground it was always going to be so, but Brisbane gets stick where the “G” doesn’t.

22:58 Hello my hit person from Kyoto. Glad to see BT Sport have Michael Hussey in to replace Ricky Ponting. Hussey speaks far too fast but absolutely loves the game and he could be quite a decent replacement.

23:00 Australia bat first. Steve Smith wins the toss. At least I don’t have an England collapse to report on this evening. Just the one change – Curran in for Overton – and the point made by Shiny Toy in the preview isn’t quite the stupid one it appears. Again, we reward the failures to put it right. That said, we dropped Prior and Root at the tail end of 2013/14 so that worked!

23:08 Damien Fleming seems to think Joe Root won the toss?

23:14 The Voice being murdered again in the background. Absolutely slaughtered.

23:16 That Shiny Toy clip is in this tweet:

23:20 If I may be allowed to let my standards down, but this absolute prick repeatedly gets away with this bollocks. Usman Khawaja is in the Australian team.

He’s been brought up in England, educated in England, hasn’t been to his native country I would imagine for any length of time. It’s not a funny dig, it’s idiotic nativism. I think it’s great that Usman Khawaja, born of Pakistani parents in Islamabad is playing for Australia.

23:22 All good aboriginal stuff. She’s making the most of her two minutes of publicity. The anthems as dreadful as ever. Get on with it.

23:26 Michael Slater. Good luck everyone.

23:27 From James at TFT:

We’d have taken that today!

23:30 Loads of comments that Warner is going to get a ton today. We’ll see. Jimmy Anderson gets us underway with a wide one easily left by Bancroft. A rank ball second up is prodded through the covers for 3 second ball by Bancroft. Warner is a little fortunate off his second ball with a floaty one through gully for another three. 6/0 off the first over.

23:36 Broad gets booed before he bowls. Ah, remember those pious Aussies over Ponting? Never mind. Single for Warner off the third ball (as BT have a funky moment). 7/0 after 2 overs.

23:41 Took a comfort break for most of that over. 3 runs off it. Anderson looking up an down. 10 for no loss. Could be a long one peeps.

23:45 First boundary of the day as Warner punches one down the ground from a full Broad ball. It looks to me as if Broad is floating it up there. He’s made a couple of twos on either side of the boundary. A single off the last straight to mid off (he’s too deep if he’s taking a single to you) makes it 19 for no loss off 4 overs.

23:48 Interesting Tweet on Warner’s flat track bully status:

No matter. Warner punches another four through the covers. Then drops it and a single is taken. The lessons we can learn from this sort of batting go beyond the T20 label. Push it. Run. End of the 5th over and it is 26 for 0.

23:52 First play and miss. Warner beaten by Broad. Call the press. Warner has gone from looking nervous to firm body language in 20 minutes. The commentators are charlatans dealing in cliche. Broad bowls the best over by a mile, calming Warner down with a maiden.

23:55 Anderson hurries Bancroft with an 83 mph short ball. Odd. Second consecutive maiden, remaining 26 for 0.

00:02 Broad fields well to ensure another maiden. 26/0 off 8. Not particularly threatening, but stemmed some of the early bleeding.

00:05 Bancroft again uncomfortable against a shorter ball. Hussey on comms reckons we’ve been a bit short, but when we are full we appear to be a bit “floaty” in my opinion. Fourth maiden on the trot. 26/0 after 9 overs.

00:08 A ball on leg stump ends the 28 balls without a run, as Warner moves on to 22. The only run off the over as Bancroft continues to look edgy. 27/0 after 10.

00:14 Anderson bowls a jollop ball and lets the shackles off Warner.  Broad has been really disciplined this morning, but the genius has been off kilter. 31 for 0 after 11.

00:17 Good grief. Genuine nick, first morning, newish ball, doesn’t carry half way. Let’s hear none of best test wickets in the world from the Australians, eh? Broad bowled well, so far. Bancroft flaps at another short one. I’ve wanted a short leg from the first time that happened, but that’s me. Oh, and now we put one there! Broad goes full off the last ball and Bancroft gets a couple to get his score moving. 33 for no loss after 12 overs. Time for Anderson to have a rest? Looked pretty up and down this morning.

00:22 Woakes replaces Anderson. Sure, it’s a flat deck, but Anderson looked toothless. Broad has bowled and sat in well. Woakes bowls a wide on second up and Warner flaps it for two. Four runs in total from an innocuous opening over from Woakes.

00:27 At the moment I’m staying up only to watch Tom Curran. This is turgid stuff because England are bowling resourcefully with no reward. Broad continues a probing spell. 37 for 0 at the drinks break. Broad completes 7 overs for 13 runs. Sure, no wickets, but this is a flat deck and he kept the batsmen, including Warner when he started his flurry, honest. Outbowled Anderson. But it doesn’t matter when you don’t take wickets.

00:34 Woakes bowls a crap first ball after drinks which Warner wallops for a couple. An appeal off the 4th ball of the over, but too high. Bancroft looks horrific on strike. But he’s still there. 40 for 0.

00:39 Moeen Ali comes on. Tom Curran has to be feeling terrific already. Single off the third ball to Warner. Single milked by Bancroft off the fourth. Last ball is short filth and smashed for four through midwicket by Warner. 46 for 0.

00:42 Woakes bowling. BT sport miss the 4th ball of the over with a range shot (2nd ball they’ve missed today). 3 off the 5th ball as the 2 runs are added after the ball hits the stumps. 50 brought up as Woakes redefines unthreatening.

00:47 Warner pushes another couple through the offside off Moeen. 53 for 0, with Warner on 42. Get Curran on, Root, so I can go to bed.

00:51 Warner creams the second ball off Woakes for a boundary. Woakes going downhill quicker than Frank Klammer. Warner brings up a half-century with a disdainful smash through mid wicket to a ball just outside off stump but a little short. Woakes now gone for 21 in his first three (?) overs. 50 up off 64 balls.

00:55 Good luck Tom. 63 for 0. Flat deck. Warner in. Nice chance to perform. Bancroft a bit streaky off the third ball as he hits over the slips. Curran lucky to be bowling to Bancroft as he’s bowled a wide one, a half volley and got one nicked. With that, folks, I’m winding up the live blog for the evening and going to bed.

It’s a dreadfully flat wicket, England have been woeful on surfaces like this, and Australia are going to make a ton here. See you on the other side!

We need to talk about Alastair…

This really wasn’t the way it was supposed to go was it, that is if you were one of the pie-eyed masses who believed the highly skewed rhetoric coming from our administrators and from our chums in the media in the wake of 4 years ago. This was meant to be the redemption tour, even more so, the Cook redemption tour where our glorious past leader threw off the shackles of captaincy and put the Aussies to the sword as England romped home victorious. Except miracles don’t happen like that, there may be those that chose to believe this rhetoric more through blind hope than realism, totally immune to the fact that Cook has struggled for the past few years; however the rest of us (or the Anti-Cook brigade as many of us have been listed) were scolded for daring to question the darling of the media and applying a more leveled view of the former Captain’s situation. I hate to say I told you so, but…well you can work out the rest.

I deliberately haven’t gone all guns blazing on Cook in the past (even though it’s a chime that is often leveled against me) as although I still believe he was complicit in the forced removal of England’s former South African born batsman, it was more the administrator and media cover up that made me particularly angry rather than Cook’s antics. All the talk of Cook being the best batsman the world has ever seen, the endless hagiography’s, the whispering campaigns and Cook’s own stubborn refusal to believe that he should have been dropped for the 2015 World Cup seriously got my goat; however my own personal view is that Cook is just a little bit thick, a little bit dull and way in over his head more than he ever believed. He was a terrible captain, unable to either raise the troops or with enough acumen to make a serious difference in the field, hence why the term ‘let it drift’ will be synonymous with a picture of dear Cookie in years to come.

This however, is not about my personal opinions on Cook the person or Cook the captain, this is purely about Cook the batsman. I was casually searching for a few stats on Cook the other day and some of the stats surprised even me (though they might not surprise some of the more avid followers on the site):

  • Cook’s last match winning century: 243 vs. West Indies at Edgbaston, August 2017
  • Cook’s last match winning century against either SA, Australia or India: 190 vs. India at Eden Gardens, December 2012
  • Cook’s last century against Australia: 189 vs Australia, at SCG, December 2011
  • 7 Century’s in the last 107 innings
  • Current average in this Ashes series: 13.85

No doubt I will be accused by some of ‘Cook Maths’ and yes, I have cherry picked certain stats, but the case remains that Cook hasn’t scored a match winning century against one of the big 3 (SA included) for over 5 years. England’s so called best player and rock, who has seen off more opening partners than I’ve had hot dinners, is nothing but a flat track bully. He reminds me of why the Aussies used to call John Crawley ‘2nd innings Charlie’, always there to score slightly meaningless runs but disappears off the radar once tough runs need to be scored. This is where 2013 was so important. Cook by and large, apart from the very odd drop off in form, was England’s premier player, scorer of centuries and obstinate rock at the top of the order before 2013. It could be argued back then that he was a world class player. 2013 changed this though, as the Australian attack blunted Cook firstly in the Ashes series over in England and then blew him apart in the return leg some 4 months later. It was Mitchell Johnson, who got many of the plaudits for that series, but it was Ryan Harris that provided the blueprint for every single bowler in International cricket to follow and in the end it was a pretty simple plan to follow. Keep the ball pitched up on and around off stump with the odd variation outwards for it to swing and inwards to catch him LBW. Short balls are occasionally permitted, but they need to be quick and straight and provide him with no opportunity to free his arms. Leg side half volleys were definitely off the agenda.

It was a mantra that everyone bar the weakest of international bowling attacks have managed to follow, negating Cook’s strengths against seam bowling and leaving him desperately reliant on slow, dead pitches such as the one in Abu Dhabi to post a serious score. As Chris mentioned in his last article, it seems that the press have belatedly woken up to the fact that Cook is no more than an excellent county pro and mediocre international and has been for the past 4 years. We have yet to see the whispering campaigns such as his eyes have gone or his heart has gone as Ian Bell had to endure recently, particularly from a rather bitter ex-Chief Correspondent (KP kindly leant with that angle in the build up to the last Test), but the odd one or two have delicately mentioned that this series could and probably should be his last; though naturally we have the odd dinosaur still beating the drum:

https://twitter.com/selvecricket/status/942066754855063552

The truth is that there was never going to be a Cook redemption tour. The supporting cast are simply not good enough and Cook’s form and inability to change his game against the set bowling plans that have been his downfall in the past has seen his form dip from ‘worrying’ to ‘terminal decline’. It’s true that even the very best get worked out from time to time, but the very best adapt. Cook neither has the aptitude or willingness to do such a thing. He no longer has the media hagiography’s supporting him, though he does always seem to be pretty immune from criticism (remember it was Malan’s fault for not scoring 300 in the last Test or digging out Joe Root for being an inexperienced captain), but for how long this will continue, that no-one can be sure. There is going to be fallout from this series, even more should we capitulate to a 5-0 defeat and we no longer have a useful idiot (KP) or a useless idiot (Downton) to protect Cook from some of the rightful criticism that will come his way. Will he walk away? Who knows, but surely the media can’t be as complicit as they were 4 years ago.

This tour, apart from being decidedly predictable, has confirmed what many of us had seen through our own eyes (and not through the rose-tinted spectacles many had chosen to view things as). Cook was a great international batsman, a scorer of a plethora of centuries, the rock of the 2010 Ashes victory in Australia; however that was more than 4 years ago and father time waits for no-one, certainly not one who would most certainly have been dropped if he didn’t have his past record to fall back on (let’s just say that had Stoneman had performed like Cook, he would be spending his winter elsewhere).

The SCG should be the place where Cook retires from International cricket and sails off into the sunset. There will still be a lot of soul searching after this series but at least by this point we might be able to put to bed one of the ghosts that have haunted English cricket for the past four years. How the cricket world views Cook in 5 years time could be very interesting to see.

Australia vs. England, 3rd Test, Day 2. Maxie’s take..

I’m a London bus: I waited two years to write a blog post, and then two come along at once. In their wisdom the BOC board have entrusted me with today’s end-of-play report. I’m a little rusty, though, so bear with me.

I can’t claim to have seen every ball, although today I was in the unusual position of starting work very early – 5.30am – but not being very busy. So I kept an eye on proceedings and watched what I could on my phone via the BT Sport app. Which wasn’t perfect, but better than nothing.

England can still win this match, and even though personally I want Australia to win the series – for reasons I explained the other day I agree with a point NonOxCol made. An England victory here would benefit both the series and the Ashes in general. With the exception of 2010/11, every Ashes since 2002/3 has been won by the home side, and the visitors need to up the jeopardy levels lest the whole thing descends further into the mire of predictability.

But if England are to win – and apologies for stating the bleeding obvious – they’ll need at least three wickets in tomorrow’s morning session. From what I saw of their bowling today I’m can’t really see where those wickets will come from, save Australian mistakes (and Smith looks impenetrable). Broad was his most blandly innocuous, Anderson not much better, and a bowler of Woakes’s style will always have a mountain to climb in these conditions. The pitch – admittedly viewed only from my iPhone – is a belter.

Overton was the pick, I suppose, although his dismissal of Warner – who must be gutted at the lost opportunity – came out of nowhere. Is Overton good enough for the test team? I’ll have to reserve judgement there. His whole setup – approach to the wicket, delivery style – screams rustic ungainliness. His run-up is more of a wander-up. That kind of thing can deceive test opponents, as it did Smith at Adelaide, but rarely for long.

The obvious big talking point – apart from the dropped catches – was England’s collapse from 368-4 to 403 all out, in nine overs and forty eight minutes. Yes, it was a total you’d have happily accepted at 131-4 but by this morning you felt they needed 475 to secure control of the game. If England lose further momentum tomorrow morning, and squander the prospect of a meaningful lead, they’ll be left incredibly vulnerable to a third-innings meltdown. As has already been pointed out here, the last time England made 400 in the first innings in Australia was – appropriately enough for this blog – Adelaide 2006.

How to explain the collapse? I’m always a bit sceptical of shoehorning in a simplistic narrative – the kind that attributes the fall of several wickets to the same vague cause. There were poor shots, sure, but sometimes it just happens that three or four batsmen all independently make mistakes in close succession. Then again, England’s tail is increasingly resembling an unusually horrific road accident. In five innings the last five wickets collectively average 71.8.

A school of thought arose that Dawid Malan was to blame by triggering it all with his own dismissal. This is absurd, as NonOxCol pointed out, and I really must pay him royalties for constantly nicking his material. But that’s what we tend to do in England: we say it was all the fault of the top scorer, not of those who failed.

I know it was only second ball, but if anyone should take the rap, it’s Moeen. His stroke was the kind which is hardest to excuse as it was such a nothing shot – neither attack nor defence. I know he has many admirers here, but try as I might I can’t convince myself Moeen is a test-class cricketer, either as batsman (average 34) or bowler (38). Yes, I know there’s some very decent stuff on his CV but it’s just…I think it’s his lack of presence, combined with the air of haziness he gives off early in an innings. Every long-term player has a bad test series but for Moeen this is getting pretty rough now, with scores are 38, 40, 25, 2 and 0, plus only two wickets.

In my earlier piece I wrote:

Now and again I get the odd England twinge, the occasional conflicted moment, when I I forget myself briefly, and feel a brief pang of connection or empathy with the England players and what they’re trying to achieve. For a beat or two I feel English again. It’s usually to do with players. I’m fond of Jonny Bairstow and when he’s batting there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him do well. Dawid Malan, too.

Lo and behold, both Malan and Bairstow then both score sparkling centuries and rack up a record-breaking partnership of 237 (England’s highest against Australia since the Gabba in 2010). The cricketing gods clearly read this blog. Either that or it’s my magic touch.

Whatever my animosity towards England as a whole, I was genuinely really pleased for Bairstow. Watching the replay of his century-celebrations made me imagine, as it often does, what that specific moment must actually be like. The fulfilment of a childhood fantasy: scoring a century against Australia, in Australia. Malan aside, the only other player in the team who’s done that is Cook, but I doubt he can remember now what it’s like to score an Ashes hundred.

Bairstow played really, really well – and it’s the best test innings I’ve seen him make. He was composed, authoritative, and gritty but also struck the ball very sweetly. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I like his energy and his attitude. Does his success in this test mean six is the right berth for him? Or should he be higher still in the batting order?

I was glad Bairstow head-butted his helmet, because at the moment everyone recognised what’s blinding obvious, and thanks for Pontiac for making me think about this. England supporters simply don’t care about the drinking incidents. The players know we don’t care, and we know that they know. Nevertheless we all have to endure this priggish pantomime of faux contrition and pompous moralising.

I once interviewed Peter Hayter about Ian Botham, whose boorish roistering wasn’t to everyone’s tastes but most of the people around him seemed to enjoy themselves. Asked to describe him in a nutshell, Hayter called him “the man who lived other men’s dreams”, and he was right. Much of the appeal of cricket is escapism and when you imagine life as an international player, that also includes the off-field fun and games. Youngsters do not grow up dreaming of bleep tests and early bedtimes. No one is deterred from cricket by talk of trays of sambuccas. The messy side of tour life is part of the romance of cricket. Would you rather hear about the team nutritionist or about Keith Miller going straight to Lord’s from the casino?

Finally I’d like to thank you all for the response to my piece ‘Paradise Lost. I’m glad it got a discussion going. And it’s nice to pop in here at BOC, although I doubt I can find the time very often. In the process I’ve got chatting to Sean and remarkably it turns out we went to the same school. It just goes to show that in cricket you can never get very far away from the old boys’ network.