South Africa vs. England, Fourth Test, Day 4 – The Final Cut

rootsilverwood270101-min

The end came quickly for South Africa after their batsmen at least showed some application and fight in what was always likely to a forlorn cause chasing a World Record score to tie the series. Rassie van der Dussen led the way for the home team with a battling 98 that included some very decent stroke play and whilst England were never truly in trouble of losing the game, the odd doubt might have started to creep into the mind of more than one overly pessimistic England fan. The most disappointing thing for South Africa was that all of their batsmen made a start without being to push on and stick with van der Dussen though it must be said that Bavuma got an unplayable snorter from Broad whilst Faf after engaging in a bit of argy bargy with Buttler, got a ball that cruelly kept low. When De Kock got out trying to have a mow at Mark Wood the game had already gone by that point. South Africa were well beaten by that point and they knew it.

For England and Joe Root in particular, this has been as important series win as it has been for a while for England, despite South Africa looking particularly weak. To overcome a series of injuries alongside illness which affected the whole touring party and still win in South Africa is testament to some newly found fortitude and both Root and Silverwood should both be highly praised for instilling this. I also thought Root’s captaincy was far better than he has shown previously with him refusing to let the game drift or chasing the ball as he has done previously. England were inventive in the field with both their bowling changes and fielding positions without being funky for the sake of being funky and were often able to come up with a plan for many of the South African batsmen, with the dismissal of van der Dussen today a prime example even if it was a rotten shot from a batsman obviously distracted by the nervous 90’s. It does help when you can throw the ball to Ben Stokes when you’re desperately searching for a wicket mind.

There have been plenty of positives too for England with Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Dom Bess all being young players who have put their hands up this series. Now is certainly not the time to go over the top in their praise as they are all still raw and not without the odd technical fault, but there is promise there and it was encouraging to see them do this away from the conditions that they are most used to. All of the above will have peaks and troughs over the next couple of years, but England will be happy that there is young talent coming through from the much maligned county ranks. Naturally one of the biggest positives aside from Ben Stokes being fantastic, is the re-emergence of Mark Wood, who has bowled with fire and purpose for the last two Tests after many of us, myself included, felt that we would never see him play in an England shirt again. The fact that Wood has got himself fit again after so many horrible injuries and has lengthened his run up is very promising; however the caveat is whether England can keep him fit and certainly there is a strong case for wrapping him up in cotton wool for the next couple of years (I wouldn’t have him tour Sri Lanka). If we can manage his workload and get 7-8 Tests out of him over the next 2 years, then I’ll be incredibly happy, but again this is very much in the lap of the gods. I hope for Wood’s sake that he has seen the worst of the injuries now as he is a joy to watch and is obviously an immensely popular member of the dressing room. There are negatives of course to come of out of the series, but that is for another time, it’s hard enough to win away from home and so England should be proud for winning in South Africa, even if their team resembled nothing like the South African teams of the not so distant past.

As for South Africa, I genuinely fear for them in the short to medium term (and maybe even longer). I appreciate no proud South African fan wants sympathy from an England fan, but it’s hard not to have sympathy for the fans. The South African board has spent far too much time arguing with local journalists and overseeing a T20 tournament that nearly bankrupted them than doing their job and concentrating on matters on the pitch. It is also not South Africa’s fault that some of the richer counties can go and sign some of South Africa’s best up and coming players or players coming towards the end of their careers as kolpak’s with higher wages on offer than they can receive playing for the Test team. I can’t blame the players for wanting to ensure their financial stability as you only have a short career as a cricketer; however it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth and has bled the South African team of their better talent leaving the domestic cupboard dry. It’s also clear that things are going to get worse before they get better with Philander retiring after this game and Faf and Elgar likely to follow suit fairly quickly. This could be a really rough few years for this side and I fear that without better governance and investment in the sport, we could be seeing a repeat of what has happened to the West Indies over the past 10 years. I genuinely hope this isn’t the case as Test Cricket needs a strong South African team, but the omens aren’t looking good.

I’d also like to say a quick word on Vernon Philander, who retired from international cricket today and is going to take up a kolpak role at Somerset. This series was probably one too far for Big Vern, but he has been a great servant to South African cricket over the years. He also helped dispel the myth that you need to bowl 90mph to be successful in international cricket as it was rare that he ever reached the 80mph mark; however his control of the ball and consistent line and length ensured that you could never relax when facing him and his record with the ball (and with the bat) shows what a good cricketer he was. Sure you can’t match the excitement of a genuinely fast bowler charging in and hurling it in and 90mph, but there is still a place in every Test team for a genuinely accurate pace bowler. He will be missed.

As ever, appreciate any thoughts or opinions on the game or series below.

South Africa vs. England, Fourth Test, Day 1 – Storm In A Teacup

It’s rather a shame that a pretty good day’s play of Test Cricket will more be remembered for an indiscretion off the pitch rather than the actual play on it, but then that’s what happens when such a high profile cricketer such as Ben Stokes has a less than cordial chat with one of the fans. There have been people all over the place suggesting at what might have been said to Stokes, but this is pure guesswork as only Stokes himself know what abuse was hurled at him and really the player should know better in getting himself into a situation that was a lose-lose. I imagine Mr. Stokes will be getting an invite into the match referee’s room at some point whereby he’ll be a few quid lighter and a demerit point or two heavier. Anyway enough about that nonsense, no matter how much it’s serialised by the journos.

As for the game itself, it proved to be a rather entertaining day’s play once the rain had cleared with either side in the position to claim that they won the day’s play or not. There were both positives and negatives for England with the main positive being that Joe Root called the toss right on the fourth successive occasion and the main negative being the loss of Jofra Archer to injury with the reoccurrence of his elbow injury. The bad trot of injuries that England have suffered on this tour can’t just be put down to bad luck (except that of Rory Burns) but more the fact the players are being continuously ground into the ground with this crazy schedule. I think we’ll all be happy if England return home without contracting Ebola or something similar.

On a day when there was a bit of cloud cover over the ground, Root chose the correct decision to have a bat when he may well have been sorely tempted to bowl and was handsomely rewarded by his opening pair who scored the first century partnership for England since Chennai in 2016. That it has been this long really does highlight the struggles that England have had at the opening slot for more than a while and the reason why we have so often seen England at 50 odd for 4 on more than a few occasions in the not so distant past. The pair of Crawley and Sibley complimented each other particularly well, with the former playing some majestic strokes against a wayward attack with the latter compact and able to put away the bad ball of which there were many within the first session of cricket we got. Zak Crawley indeed looks like a real talent and a gem of a find as he has got better and more confident with every innings he’s played and now looks like he is starting to believe he belongs in Test Cricket. In fact, he looked nailed on for a century before being hit by a nasty bouncer by Nortje, which in turn gave him a rather ugly egg on his forehead and certainly affected his batting after this. It would not be a surprise to see him declared with a concussion tomorrow morning as he looked particularly shaky after that nasty hit on the head. This is very much in marked contrast with Joe Denly who has admirably tried with every sinew in his body to adapt to the Test game but has never really looked like he belongs at this level. With Rory Burns hopefully returning for the Sri Lanka tour, then Denly may find himself out of the team with Crawley replacing him at 3. It will be interesting mind to see how much sway Clever Ed puts in Denly’s leg spinning filth on pitches that are likely to turn.

For South Africa, the 2 sessions couldn’t have been markedly different. In the first session they bowled too short and too loose on a pitch that was offering bounce but not much else. Indeed it seemed fitting that the only time they made the batsman make an error and play at a delivery they shouldn’t have; it was wiped out by Big Philander overstepping the mark. It was a sloppy session from a team bereft of confidence. However any thoughts that England could steamroller them were so put to bed with 2 quick wickets, firstly a horrible strangle down the legside that seems to get Sibley out too often and then a nothing play or leave shot from the brain frazzled Crawley. South Africa then bowled extremely tidily for the rest of the session with Denly who had looked all over the place the first to go, closely followed by a rare misjudgement from Stokes, who played an overly ambitious shot early in his innings which led to the frank exchange of opinions that I spoke about above.

So onto Day 2 with the match evenly poised. If Root and Pope can take the lead up to somewhere close to 300 then England will be driving seat; however a couple of quick wickets for South Africa could lead to England struggling to get up to 250. The forecast isn’t particularly clever for tomorrow, so we are likely to have another rain interrupted day.

On a final note, I did find it incredibly surprising that neither team picked a front line spinner. I understand that Bullring hasn’t been a great hunting ground for spinners over the years; however the pitch does often break up on Day 4 or Day 5 and so not to pick a frontline spinner seems negligent to me. The only time I would ever consider picking a team without spinner is if the pitch resembled the St. Lawrence Ground in early April or Sabina Park back in 1998! Time will tell if I’m right or not, but I have a suspicion both captains might be rueing their selection decisions by the end of the match.

As ever thoughts or comments are always welcome.

South Africa vs. England, 3rd Test, Day 3 – The Conditions Strike Back

With South Africa 208-6 and still needing 91 runs to avoid the follow on, England can still win this Test; however as more time is taken out of the game with tomorrow’s forecast looking less than clever alongside a dud pitch, a draw is where the smart money now lies.

England started the day looking for quick wickets and indeed got them with Dom Bess taking 3 wickets to add to his 2 yesterday evening to leave South Africa 109-5 and in a bit of strife; however that’s when the weather gods intervened wiping out the whole of the afternoon session and reducing the momentum that England had created in the first session. South Africa then batted resolutely aided and abetted by some woeful English fielding including five dropped catches to end the day looking fairly comfortable on what is a stick dog of a wicket. Naturally praise should also be given to first De Kock and then Philander, with the former the beneficiary of England’s careless fielding and the latter looking in pretty good form against England’s full time and part time spin merchants after the umpires decided it was too dark for any of England’s quicks to bowl. The most praise however should go to Anrich Nortje who batted as determinedly as any front line batsmen and kept England at bay for well over a 100 balls. I haven’t seen as good a job done as a night-watchman since well Jack Leach, but that was in a very different situation. The fact that he looked as happy as Angus Fraser chewing a wasp in doing so was even better!

As for England, Dom Bess aside, they toiled in what were less than ideal conditions for bowling. Wood bowled with fire but was naturally held back by Root bearing in mind that he could break down at any moment, Broad bowled ok and Curran was again disappointing, showing that the latter needs a lot of work if he is going to be successful in the Test arena in unhelpful conditions. Stokes came on and immediately got the wicket of the tiring Nortje leading many to question why he hadn’t be bowled earlier with the simple answer that he is not a workhorse bowler and certainly not someone we can afford to injure by bowling him too much. England were always going to leave themselves in somewhat of a conundrum by picking both Wood alongside Stokes as you wouldn’t want either of them shouldering the brunt of the bowling for fear of injuring either of them.

England’s best performer was naturally Dom Bess, who bowled some good lines and with a few different variations to ensure that the South African batsmen could never relax when facing him. There is no doubt he deserved his first five wicket haul for England and could have had a couple more if it wasn’t for the butter fingered English slip corden. England though might have a conundrum approaching with Dom Bess in the near future mind, as Bess is most definitely 2ndchoice to the spin bowler who has had unfortunately been sent home due to a horrid illness – Jack Leach, who Joe Root clearly doesn’t fancy much. With Moeen’s self-selected exile and his ‘woe betide me’ PR campaign splitting many England supporters as much as his inclusion in the team, it is quite possible that England’s first choice spinner might not have played any first team cricket by the time the first series of the summer comes around. If I were Dom Bess, I would be on the phone with my agent trying to secure a new club over the winter and for England’s sake a move to somewhere like Yorkshire could be beneficial for all concerned.

A quick word on the pitch, which I will kindly refer to as substandard. I don’t like to give groundsmen a hard time as their job is a difficult one especially in changeable conditions; however this pitch is a sticky dog of a wicket and one that is totally unacceptable for Test Cricket. There is nothing there for the quick bowlers and whilst there is spin, it is generally slow spin which gives the batsmen plenty of time to play against the turning ball. It is also not an easy pitch to score runs, hence much of the play could be classed as turgid throughout these 3 opening days. Now of course the pitch could change in Day 4 or Day 5, which is the beauty of 5 day Test Cricket, but it does seem somewhat unlikely and instead we could be in for 2 more days of attritional cricket, weather permitting.

So if England are going to win this, then we’re going to have to hope that the weather forecast for Port Elizabeth is wrong tomorrow and that the new ball can conjure something a bit different from what we have seen recently; otherwise Day 5 could be nothing more than an irrelevance.

As always thoughts and opinions on the game much appreciated.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 5 – Inevitability

It only took me around 2 overs last night to realise there was more chance of Colin Graves turning into a forward thinking and pragmatic administrator than there was in seeing some sort of positive of result in the 2nd Test. Some may rue the early missed opportunities on the morning of Day 5 with Ollie Pope putting down what would be a regulation catch for a full time wicketkeeper (which he is not and should never have been put in that position) and then Joe Denly dropping a sitter off Jofra Archer, but in all reality it wouldn’t have mattered. The pitch was the type of pudding that makes those cricket administrators that actually value the Test game have sleepless nights and of course England’s decision not to play a frontline spinner was made to look just as stupid as we all thought it would.

It’s difficult to know what England have got out of such a small Test series, other than another defeat and it drives me mad that we had 5 games of hit and giggle when a 3rd Test would have been far preferable but that’s what we get these days, a load of pointless white ball games to try and make the tours profitable. It’s a sad indictment of the health of the game. The main headline is naturally that England have failed to win a Test series in 2019 for the first time in 20 years. Again this should be a damning indictment on the ECB, as a so called member of the Big 3; however the ECB have made it plainly clear that they simply don’t care about the longer format of the game, they’d rather con fans into attending a white elephant of a competition that will make a small few richer and many more much poorer. In reality this series was simply a carbon copy of the New Zealand tour of 2018 with the hosts dominating a rather feeble touring team who have yet to work out how to take 20 wickets away from home (hint – dropping your frontline spinner isn’t the answer) and a batting unit that is both inexperienced and shorn of confidence. There may have been talk before the series about learning to bat properly in Test’s again instead of playing an aggressive brand of cricket which can be best described as reckless, but in the end the results have been the same. The best batsmen in the world know how to time their innings in Test cricket and know when to attack and when to defend, but unfortunately England don’t have very many of these, hence the need for the coaches to come up with sweeping statements in how they should approach their innings.

If this seems overly gloomy then I apologise, but I do feel as I did with the Ashes which resulted in another defeat, that the glass is half empty with this team rather than half full. Sure, there were positives that can be taken out of this series such as Joe Root finally regaining the hunger and application to make big runs in Test Cricket. Rory Burns has also cemented his spot at the top of the order and is beginning to look like a proper Test opener, even if he does seem prone to the odd brain fart at times. It was also good to see Ollie Pope make some runs in Test cricket as I do believe he has the talent to be one of our best batsmen in the future, though I would naturally prefer it if the selectors didn’t try and make it even harder for him to succeed by giving him the gloves or moving him up the order away from his natural position. C’est plus change! I can’t though buy into the captain’s statements after the Test series mind, with Root commenting after the 2nd consecutive defeat this year:

I feel like we’re a more rounded team for being out here, we got ourselves in a position in that first game where we could have gone on and put them under huge amounts of pressure, made a big first-innings score just like we did this week.

“It could have looked very different. But one thing I’m really proud of is the way we learned the lessons quickly from that.”

I personally don’t buy into being proud of a team that has just lost another series unless you were running the 1980’s West Indian team or the early 2000’s Australian team close. New Zealand are a good side with a decent bowling attack, 1 world class batsman and a couple of other international class batsmen, but certainly not a team I’d be proud to lose against. Sure, Root has got to say the right things on camera, but I’d have preferred him to look at what they didn’t do well and commit to do these better. Indeed, there were a number of weaknesses that this team displayed and areas that they can improve on. We still can’t perform with the Kookaburra ball away from home, with the England quicks (probably excluding Stuart Broad) looking less than potent; Jofra Archer has in particular had a poor tour and I do wonder whether Root’s overuse of him during the Ashes has led to the fact that his pace has been down all series. England also need to decide on a frontline spinner and to stick with him. I have no problem at all with it being Jack Leach as he is a tidy bowler with the ability to keep things tight and pick up the odd wicket. He isn’t going to run through a team at Test level, but then again, I’m not sure whether we have one of those spinners in the English setup, but we simply can’t be picking 5 seamers in future. There has to be questions around Sibley, Buttler and Denly, whilst the former should be given the rest of the winter despite his struggles in this series, Buttler definitely needs some competition as his statistics don’t smack of Test Match batsman (Ed – Pick a bloody reserve wicket keeper for South Africa for the love of god!) and whilst the latter is improving in the Test format of the game, he is 34 and needs to turn these 60’s and 70’s into a big century to fully justify his inclusion above a younger talent.

So, we head to South Africa and whilst their board are doing the best impression of the ECB, the cricket on the field isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, this winter schedule seems to have been designed to break some of our cricketers especially Ben Stokes (who was asked to do his best impression of David Saker’s bowling manual at times last night), so there is a good chance things could get worse rather than better.

Another series and another defeat is not what we wanted or hoped for to start the winter with; however, it could easily be argued that ECB have got exactly what they deserved. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling for fans of the national team mind.

Feel free to share any thoughts on the series below.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 1 review – Highway to Hell

I’m going to admit that I haven’t even watched a single ball of this Test Match so far. As soon as I saw the sorry excuse for a team that Ed Smith and his merry bunch of idiots had put together, I simply felt that there was no point and decided to watch the NFL. I’m thankful for my choice on reflection.

It’s difficult to know where to start really, although the decision not to bring a back up wicketkeeper in case of injury is probably the most calamitous. Wicketkeepers and decent wicketkeeper batsmen at that, are England’s strongest suit at the moment, hell we could probably field a half decent team of purely wicketkeepers, but you know what, Ed Smith doesn’t abide by sane decisions. He likes to look like a maverick after all. I’m still waiting for Stuart Broad to open the batting in some sort of bizarre cricketing masterstroke by Ed. It’s all good and fun except when your sole wicketkeeper gets injured and you have throw in a young, inexperienced batsman who is trying to navigate his way in Test Cricket behind the stumps. Well bloody done Ed! Also, what does it say to the various other excellent wicketkeepers in the country? Ben Foakes might have had a slight slip in standards with the bat last year, but he is still the best wicketkeeper in the country, so what he has he said or done to offend clever Ed so much? Bairstow although lacking the technique to score big runs in Test cricket right now was out in New Zealand, so why send him back home? The mind just boggles. So, as a result of this tremendous forward planning England had to completely reshuffle the batting unit resulting in players batting out of position again. Incompetence par excellence by the selectors, this was fuck up number 1.

Fuck up number 2 then came when England decided they didn’t need to play a spinner. If you have the West Indian fast bowling attack of the 1980’s, then it might just be forgivable. Unfortunately, England don’t. Jack Leach hasn’t set Test cricket on fire with his bowling (his batting is another matter), but he has been tidy, hasn’t conceded too many runs and chipped in with the odd wicket, so why the hell would we drop him for another military medium pace bowler? Who decision was this? Was it the captain? Was it the coach? Was it Father Christmas? Whoever it was deserves to be made to listen to Simon Hughes podcasts every day for the rest of their life!

That leads to fuck up number 3. Without a spin bowler, England had to bowl first whether they really wanted to deep in the hearts or not. Yes, I believe there was some long grass on the wicket, but the pitches in New Zealand have generally been fairly flat for the last couple of years, certainly not green seamers with wild swing for the quick bowlers. So, having elected to play 5 quick bowlers with no spinner and to bowl first at New Zealand then they needed to have an exceptional day with the ball and to make deep inroads into the New Zealand batting line up. Narrator: ‘They did not’. I haven’t seen any of the game so I’m really not sure how well England bowled or didn’t, but the fact remains that on a day curtailed by rain, New Zealand are only 3 down with Tom Latham scoring a decent century to put the hosts right in the box seat.

So, onto today’s play, England once again will need to make early inroads if they want to make a game of this at all. If New Zealand score 450/500 then it’s quite likely that they will have batted England out of the game, especially with a number of batsmen playing in different positions than they’re used to. Oh, and Ben Stokes is injured too, so things keep getting better and better.

I might watch some of the game tonight, but then I might not. For those that do, feel free to comment or laugh at England’s ineptitude below.

New Zealand vs. England, 1st Test, Day 2 – Open Thread

It’s always frustrating when work and other bits get in the way of watching cricket, but that’s where we are currently. Due to a rather nasty sickness bug, I only managed to watch the first half hour of the match and haven’t seen the highlights yet and no doubt the other editors are in similar positions.

241-4 at the end of a full days play is a very unusual score for this England side, we’re more used to them either scoring at 4 runs an over or being blown away for under a 100, but from the sounds of it, the English batting unit used their nouse on a good, but slow pitch. Whether this is the sign of things to come I’m not too sure, but as someone who loves Test Match cricket, then I have no problems with the top order being slightly attritional and taking the shine off the ball whilst putting miles into the bowlers legs. This used to be the hallmark of Test Match batting after all.

The key question is whether they can now go on and make some big runs on Day 2 to put some real pressure on the New Zealand batting line up. Stokes looks like he has continued his rich vein of form with the bat, despite offering a couple of chances late on to a tiring Kiwi fielding unit, whilst Pope is there alongside him hoping he can make a statement about his role in the England Test side for the foreseeable future.

If England survive the first hour relatively unscathed then 450 should be a minimum, though from past experience, this can be a very big if with this England team.

As ever, please leave any thoughts and comments on the day’s play below:

New Zealand v. England, 1st Test – Preview

So after an intense summer of cricket, where England won the World Cup finally but still managed to lose the Ashes and I’m not personally sure whether I would still swap the results given a chance, we now head to the first part of a rather epic winter tour. Thankfully the white ball nonsense has now come and gone (though I’d still like to hear why we needed 5 T20 games instead of an extra Test Match, but hey that’s just me.)

So we come to the Test series, which sadly only consists of two matches and for some strange reason no Test championship points are on offer. Personally I don’t understand having a test championship if every game doesn’t contribute to the final points tally, but hey ho there’s a lot about international cricket that still baffles me.

England have rejigged their Test line up for this series with Dominic Sibley finally getting a chance to open the batting with Rory Burns. Joe Denly actually performed a decent job during the summer as a makeshift opener; however it is good to see England finally picking two proper openers to open the batting. With Denly likely to bat at three, then Joe Root will take his natural position up as a number four in the batting unit. Whilst having Root batting at number three seems like a good idea in theory, in practice it simply hasn’t worked out with his average markedly lower than when he bats in his favourite position. Personally I would much prefer England’s best batsmen to bat at the position where he feels he can score most runs rather than trying to plug gaps up the order.

It is also heartening to see that England have not been tempted to go back to Jonny Bairstow, who still has a myriad of technical issues in red ball cricket and instead have backed Ollie Pope to score the runs we know he is capable of at 6. Pope without doubt is a major talent and one who was fast tracked too quickly into the England team, in a batting position he was unfamiliar with; hence it should not be surprising that he didn’t perform to expectations first time around. Pope for me is one of the players that England that England should be building their line up around and I genuinely hope he has a good series in New Zealand. The only other question in the build-up to the first Test was whether Chris Woakes or Sam Curran should take the third seamers spot. Personally I’m happy that England have decided to go with Curran as I think his bowling skill set adds a different dimension to the England attack; however I do also understand the thinking that Woakes is the more threatening bowler despite his poor average with the ball overseas. This is something that none of the editors on the blog agree about, so it’s clear it’s a close-run thing.

As for New Zealand, they should come into the test series as favourites. Kane Williamson continues to be both an amazing batsmen and an amazing captain and will no doubt be the prize wicket that England need to take early to be successful on this tour. However in my opinion it will be how England deal with the New Zealand fast bowlers that will decide whether this Test series is won or lost. The combination of Southee and Boult, with Neil Wagner backing them up ably has proved to be the bedrock of the New Zealand’s success in home conditions and without doubt they will look at the England batting unit as an inexperienced one who can be rattled in slightly foreign condition. If England somehow manage to repel the new ball with wickets intact then they may be able to set the platform to score the runs needed to put pressure on the Kiwis; however if Boult or Southee reduce England to 3 or 4 down with the new ball, then once again it will be difficult for the middle and lower orders to dig England out of another hole.

From the first view of the pitch a couple of days ago, it certainly looks like it’s going to suit the seamers with more than a green tinge to it and I’ll personally be extremely interested to see if England adopt a less gung ho approach to batting as both Root and Giles have suggested or if once again they repeat the failings of summer and try to impose their will on the opposition bowlers. Equally if England bowl first then it will be just as interesting to see if the likes of Broad and Archer take the same approach as they did against Australia and keep the ball pitched up rather than banging it down halfway in the hope of intimidating the opposition batsmen.

I personally hope that it’s an even series with some good cricket played on both sides especially as I’m such a sucker for New Zealand Test venues. The time difference and the fact that we’re all the flat-out with work will mean it’s a bit of a challenge for us to cover the series in as much depth as we like, but we’ll certainly try to cover as much of it as we can.

As ever, any thoughts or comments are welcome below:

The Ministry of Public Enlightenment

I came across a peculiar article this week, one that wasn’t in the mainstream media and one which as far as I could see hadn’t been published on Twitter or any of the other main social media sites. It was an article on LinkedIn by Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, that someone had liked (hence why it came to my attention). It’s mainly word soup as you would come to expect from a senior executive of the ECB, but some of the claims are rather interesting to say the least:

It’s been a busy few weeks for The Hundred. We’ve been introduced to the teams, the brands and the kits. And following Sunday’s fascinating The Hundred Draft, we have the final piece in the jigsaw – the players. Fans of the eight new men’s teams have been poring over the selections, while media experts have worked out who are the favourites and the outsiders. It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

Because there is one big question that needs to be asked at the end of the astonishing summer of 2019: What’s next? How do you follow England’s impossibly thrilling World Cup win? Ben Stokes’s innings of a lifetime at Headingley? The excitement of T20 finals day and the conclusion of the County Championship? No sport can afford to stand still, and there is a tremendous opportunity to raise even further cricket’s profile, which has been boosted so encouragingly this year.

More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts. So the appetite and opportunity are there. In 2020 the ECB launches its five-year Inspiring Generations strategy. As the name suggests, the vision is to attract and excite the next generation of cricket fans as part of a push to grow the game for men, women, boys and girls in our schools and clubs.

The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales. The new tournament is a central part of that drive to get more and more people watching and playing the game in the next five years. The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport. It will be fast, furious and fantastic – and feature most of the best home-grown and overseas players in the world, including members of England’s men’s and women’s World Cup-winning sides. The Hundred also sees live cricket return to free-to-air TV for the first time in 15 years as the BBC screens matches from both the men’s and women’s competitions, alongside prolific support from Sky.

Cricket has always been a sport of innovation. In recent decades we have seen the emergence and acceptance of one-day internationals, coloured uniforms, day-night matches, the white ball game and new formats such as T20. Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before.  

Cricket’s doors are well and truly open and we’re looking forward to welcoming in a new generation of people who love the game. 

I haven’t got the time or energy to go into the full article in depth, plus I’m nowhere near as good as Dmitri in fisking a particular piece of fiction, which this is; however it did naturally leave me with a few questions as to what this article was trying to achieve apart from a back slap from a fellow corporate crowd:

  • It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

I will give this to Sanjay as there has been increased focus on the sport, mainly through people wondering why a sport is trying to perform it’s own version of hari-kari after regaining a morsel of interest from the wider UK public. We are the current World Cup holders yet a 50 over competition won’t be played by those who are most likely to be the next cab up for the national side. They will of course be playing for the teams of the Hundred. So there is a massive chance that players who are called up to represent England in the 50 over competition in the future may well have never played a game of 50 over cricket in their professional lives. Hardly a firm basis for creating a successful inter white ball team, if that’s what the aim is. Whatever the result of the Rugby World Cup Final this weekend, I very much doubt they will abandon the 15-a-side game to play 10-a-side game over 55 minutes with a beach ball. They at least have a sane administration.

  • More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts.

This is a very bold statement, though if broken down it is fairly easy to see where the figures have been massaged. The Cricket World Cup which was heavily attended by Indian, Australian and Pakistani supporters alongside English cricket fans, so they will be included in these figures. The 900,000 is probably the overall number of tickets sold than people actually attending; however it is the statements that 1.2million children engaged in cricket and 500,000 played the game in schools that I’m most sceptical about. I’m not an expert on this (and perhaps Danny might be able to chime in) but how do you measure an engagement with cricket? Did someone accidentally flick over to the cricket channel by mistake? Did they look out of the window and see some cricket being played (a sackable offence of course)? Did they eat some KP snacks and thus must be completely engaged with the sport forever now? The mind does boggle somewhat as to how the ECB have come up with this engagement figure.

The 500,000 children supposedly playing in schools however is the statistic that seems particularly odd. Cricket has been phased out of state schools for years with many having no cricket facilities whatsover, so how many of these children are simply private schools who continue to have the means and wealth to play the sport? How many of these children got given a plastic bat or ball once as part of ‘chance to shine’ or the ‘World Cup’ and have never had the urge or opportunity to play again? This seems to be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics, which is something the ECB likes to try and hide behind (unless you ask them about the fall in participation after cricket was put solely as a pay to view sport

  • The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales.

SHOW ME THIS RESEARCH, I KNOW NOBODY WHO HAS BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT THESE CHANGES

  • The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport:

I reckon over 95% of existing fans of the sport have already shown their disgust at the format, which alienates most fans of the came (International and County) and seems to be a stealth approach to reducing the number of counties in the systems. Also how do they know that by bastardising the fairly simple rules of cricket that it is going to appeal to the next generation of fans? Most mothers and children of a certain age can quite easily count to both 6 and also to twenty, so why will they want to pay £25 for 20 less deliveries and a pointless farrago of a pretend ‘cricket game’ where the only new marketing messaging has been ‘look at the shiny kits’? I’m not sure anyone likes to be taken for an idiot.

  • Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before:

Yes they will be played together and the whole budget for the women’s hundred teams is under the annual salary of the Managing Director. Equality, I think not. Still box ticked and all that.

  • Cricket’s doors are well and truly open

Well they’re not though are they. If you’re not in the chosen demographic they’re not. If you’re a fan of the County Championship they’re not. If you’re a fan of Test Cricket, especially with having a competitive Test Side they’re not. If you are a fan of the T20 blast they’re not. If you have allegiances to a county especially those who are deemed surplus to requirements then they’re not. If you want to see a competitive 50 over side try and retain the World Cup they’re not.

This doesn’t leave us with many people who are able to enter these particular doors! Perhaps Sanjay wasn’t referring to the fans but instead those Execs, TV Presenters and other administrators who are due to cash in profitably from this tournament. The doors are naturally open to mothers and children, but most are too sensible to enter this bear trap despite the ECB’s deliberate dumbing down of this demographic.


This is just corporate drivel par excellence. They just needed to add some extra buzz phrases such as ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘connecting all sides of the circle’ to have made this a true PR masterpiece. Though it looks like they have already done this to the team descriptions already!

My main question though Sanjay is if you are so proud of these ‘so-called achievements’ then why hide away this article on a business networking site? why not open it up to the fans so they can join in with your adulation about cricket’s future? why not go on TV and be interviewed by ‘Wardy’, so you can comment on what a great question that was?

The answer is simple. Even those that stand to make the most out of this know it’s a giant white elephant designed to make them richer and they know the fans of the game can see right through their lies. This will irrevocably damage English cricket in the future and quite simply they don’t want to have justify their naked greed and ambition to the people that will lose the most – the fans. Expect the next press release from the ECB to come out in hieroglyphics or Minoan or something like that. Nothing surprises me with these charlatans anymore.

Your Dream Could Be My Nightmare

Whilst there would have been some in the minority who woke up on Monday morning genuinely happy with the outcome of the Hundred draft the previous evening, there would have been far more who woke up in a far more somber mood as the enormity of what this huge white elephant will do to the landscape of county cricket finally hit home. If you were one of the few lucky English players who was picked in the draft ahead of the multiple Kolpaks and overseas ‘white ball specialists’ then you were probably feeling quite pleased for yourself, a minimum of £30k for 5 weeks worth of cricket and for some, much much more. The same goes for those commentators and presenters who are likely to emerge financially better off from this new competition with the pain and anger of the average fan a mere annoyance to be dismissed forthwith.

Those ‘lucky few’ are indeed few and far between though. The majority of players, fans and cricket aficionados are now on the outside looking in, which is ironic as this is the place we have found ourselves for years having been castigated by the ECB for daring to question their modus operandi. For those players who haven’t been picked for the Hundred, with the significant earnings on offer now but a mere dream for many an underpaid county cricketer, it must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Instead they get to look around their dressing room knowing who of their colleagues has been paid £70k or £100k or whatever they indeed got paid to participate in a format that will hurt the county format forever and sharpen the pay divide in English cricket. They also have to face the fact that they will now be in the bottom tier of the priority of English cricket whose purpose is merely designed to make up the numbers in a developmental 50 over competition and a T20 competition that the ECB is desperate to kill off, despite both the popularity of the format and the financial success it has delivered.

Then we get to the real casualties – the counties and those members and supporters who have both grown up with and followed county cricket for years and now face a reduced programme with fewer of the players that they have grown accustomed in seeing being available to play for their county. Every single county has been hit, though those who have had the dubious pleasure of being awarded a franchise can at least console themselves that they will have money flowing in through the gates, probably more from a bung from the ECB to stop a catastrophic financial loss than actual fans attending mind; however it is again, those at the bottom of the food pile that have been hit the hardest. I may be a huge Middlesex fan, but one can only imagine the pain of supporters of the likes of Sussex, Somerset and Worcestershire, just to name three, who scanned which players they were going to lose for a period during the upcoming season and then realized that the successful team that they had put together despite their financial limitations, had been ransacked by the franchises. The 50 over competition isn’t going to be a developmental competition for them, it’s basically going to be second XI cricket and whilst I don’t doubt the strong support of the fanbases of each of these counties, it is still going to be incredibly tough to motivate yourself to watch a 2nd XI team play for over a month, especially against those who have been relatively untouched by the draft and are likely to have a far stronger squad than you. There is also the small matter of players like Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Dan Lawrence, George Garton and many others who might find that the counties who are hosting these new franchises would quite like a friendly word with them and maybe the promise of a large contract in time. Indeed they would be crazy not to. This is of course is the first stage of the slippery slope from where proud counties just become developmental squads for the bigger counties, not that anyone will admit to that though. Yet.

The message from those who are likely to benefit most from this competition has been unsurprisingly terse to those who might murmur an objection to this terrible format. Stop moaning, get with the programme, stop holding back cricket, think of the new fans and look at the shiny £1.3million hush money we’ve given you (though I would actually be amazed if the actual figure the counties receive is anywhere near that). A case in point comes from an individual who is definitely a winner from the formation of this competition:

Isa has had a meteoric rise through the commentary circles over the past years and now seems to be the face of both women’s cricket and the go to female commentator for men’s cricket. I have to say I have no problem with this as in the main, I think she is good, although nowhere near as good as Alison Mitchell but quite frankly I couldn’t care less whether the commentator is male or female as long as they speak sense. However this post is at best ill informed and at worst completely hypocritical from someone who should know much better. It is well known that Isa has been named as the lead for the BBC’s coverage of the Hundred and no doubt has received a hefty pay rise as part of this, so to therefore lecture those fans, who never wanted the format in the first place ‘to stop being so negative’ strikes of a massive self-serving agenda. It’s the sort of thing Michael Vaughan would do and you never want to go ‘full shiny toy’. It’s also an argument that you’re never to go win either. The stench that the Hundred has created by the complete and utter mismanagement by the ECB at every stage and what it means to the average county fan, who is fearful for the existence of his or her county, means that people are naturally going to be angry and upset.  Comments such as ‘it’s here now, therefore you need to get behind it’ are certainly not going to pacify a group of individuals who are seeing the game that they know and love massively transform for the worse overnight. Hell, even Tom Harrison’s favourite subservient – Gordon Hollins, has fled the ECB after a hugely successful 10 months as ‘Managing Director of county cricket’ doing important stuff such as…er, let me come back to you on this. More to the point, when the rats start fleeing the sinking ship then you know have a case to be seriously worried.

Without doubt this is the first step into carving county cricket firstly into a two tier establishment of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with the end game being a slimmed down county circuit of the ‘haves’; never mind the history and the county fans who there are many. This is the ‘digital transformation’ of cricket and if you happen to support a county team without a Test Match stadium, then sorry, you need to get with the programme, this is the new game whether you like it or not, Cricket 2020 is now upon us. Oh and if the new competition doesn’t work, then we’re all buggered anyway, well apart from those who managed to get paid big because of it.

Oh and don’t just take my word for it, feel free to read George Dobell’s submission to the DCMS committee about his take on what the Hundred will do for cricket. It is somewhat damning:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/the-future-of-english-cricket/written/106274.pdf

 

 

The Hundred Draft – Live

Sorry, only kidding, as if we’d live blog this white elephant. None of us can be bothered to watch this shower of shit, let alone write about the damn thing.

Feel free to tell us what you doing instead of watching the draft. Personally I’ll be watching NFL RedZone – #Sevenhoursofcommercialfreefootballstartshere..