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..

England vs. Australia, 5th Test – The Dead Rubber(ish) Preview

The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result; yet this is precisely what the genius commonly known as Ed Smith has decided to run with in the final Ashes Test at the Oval. Now Ed Smith might believe he is considerably more intelligent than you and I, even if he got caught plagiarising from the Economist, but picking exactly the same squad when we have been comprehensively outplayed by our Australian foes, really does smack of complacency and idiocy. With the Ashes already retained by Australia, surely this was the perfect opportunity to blood some new players who are performing in the county game? An opportunity to put their hands up for the upcoming winter series? But no, not so clever Eddie has decided the best course of action is to stick with those batsmen who have time and time again shown they are either simply not good enough for Test Cricket or who have serious technical faults within their game at the moment.

I certainly remember when Andrew Strauss announced to much excitement from the media, a new scouting set up dedicated to bringing young talent through the pipeline (that’s worked well so far). Indeed Strauss declared at the time:

“[It will mean] many eyes, more time, more sight of players, more often, getting different perspectives to make judgements and assessments on these players to give us a better body of information that stays with us forever,”

Now whether Ed Smith has simply ignored these scouts or whether Mo Bobat has more power than many of us initially thought – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/02/15/meet-mo-bobat-man-behind-english-crickets-scouting-revolution/. The fact is that the best ideas the England selectors could come up with was a white ball specialist who has never batted for 2 sessions in a game and 34 year old decent county pro, who doesn’t have the skills for Test cricket, is a damning indictment in itself.

Naturally the English management and press are building up this game as a way for England to salvage some pride and to stop the Australians from winning the Ashes, rather than retaining them, which in my opinion makes no difference as the urn will be travelling down under after the series. However, the last few days has shown this to be nothing but a smokescreen as various members of the England management team try to absolve themselves of the blame. It always amuses me how ‘good journalism’ suddenly appears in the national newspapers when various ECB individuals have their jobs on the line or a player to brief against. Naturally the ECB never leaks, it just happens to be a weird coincidence that you can bet on when this ‘good journalism’ will appear time and time again! Therefore it is not surprise that there are mummering’s that poor old Ed Smith is being supposedly being undermined by the England coaches and captain:

Of course, like the sun sets in the sky, our favourite Former Chief Correspondent of the Guardian appears on Twitter to back up these claims:

Mr Selvey, of course, knows who pays the bills at the ECB and it was certainly never going to be Trevor Bayliss. The thing with Bayliss is that he has given the likes of Mike Selvey the opportunity to criticise him by not watching county cricket and not showing that much interest in squad announcements. He has also appeared in this series to be counting down the days until his contract ends. Now I’m not saying he’s on the proverbial plane, but there are rumours his duty free is being delivered to the Oval tomorrow.

That being said, you could argue that he has achieved what he was asked to do by winning the World Cup as part of England’s blueprint set out 4 years ago; England’s Test performances may well have got progressively worse under his watch, but then that also comes with the decision to prioritise white ball cricket over Test cricket and by having a Chief of Selectors who is more interested in sampling the local hospitality than doing his job. It will be interesting to see how history judges Bayliss, a man so relaxed it looked like he might fall off his chair at times; He is certainly no Duncan Fletcher but equally is no Peter Moores either. I suspect he knows that he will cop most of the blame for this Ashes series result, after all it comes with the territory, even if Strauss, Morgan and Harrison tried to unfairly hog all of the platitudes after winning the World Cup, which Bayliss was a key part of. The criticism of Bayliss has been that he is too hands off at times, which makes it hard to believe that he is the type of person who would bang his fists on the table demanding a batsmen who can score at four runs an over. It would be fair to say that the narrative of Ed Smith via various media sources shows that he is desperately trying to wash his hands of this debacle. However he will need to do a hell of a lot more to convince the sceptical English fans that the finger of blame shouldn’t be pointed in his direction. A genius is about the furthest thing away from how he has looked this summer.

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As for the game itself, to me and many others, this smacks of a dead rubber. England may well be motivated to win the game and tie the series and Australia might well be going all guns blazing to win the series, but for the average cricket fan, it is a much of a muchness. The Ashes are gone no matter how much people try to build it up. For England, Ben Stokes looks like he might not be able to bowl, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Sam Curran comes in as a bowling allrounder to replace one of the underperforming batsmen, whilst England might be tempted to replace Craig Overton with Chris Woakes. As for Australia, they might be tempted to give Pat Cummins a rest bearing in mind his workload in this series and his previous injury history. I’m not sure it matters too much, especially if England can’t work out how to get Steve Smith out before he reaches another double century. The weather is set fair and you would imagine that batting conditions should be good for the first 3 days, although you can never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it first!

As ever, feel free to leave your comments below:

UPDATE: England have dropped Roy and Overton for Curran and Woakes, whilst Australia have bought in Mitchell Marsh for Travis Head.

England vs. Australia, 4th Test, Day 2 open thread

Well unfortunately none of us we were able to watch the first day’s play yesterday, hence the lack of a post, in the hope that maybe one of us had seen the highlights. Alas, to say it wasn’t a great day of cricket is an understatement. The weather conditions meant that the teams were on, then off more than an opinion from Michael Vaughan.

England lost the toss and were made to bowl first on a pitch that seemed to give little assistance to the bowling team. They did though make early inroads with Broad first taking the wicket of David Warner, who has become his walking wicket during this series and then picking up Harris on reviews. After that, the pitch seemed to flatten out and not for the first time in this series Smith and Labuchagne made England’s bowlers toil in unhelpful conditions for a surprisingly tame England attack.

Craig Overton picked up Labuschagne towards the end of the day, after bowling pretty innocuously for the most part of the day. Steve Smith is still at the crease (of course he is) and if I had a pound for every time I’ve highlighted that England need to get him out early to restrict the Australian total, then I’d probably be living in a castle somewhere in Umbria at the moment.

The weather doesn’t look great for today, cue the why are we playing the Ashes at Old Trafford in Manchester debate, but fingers crossed that we might get some more play today. Equally it would also be quite refreshing if Steve Smith could trip over his stumps in the first over of the day; unlikely sure, but probably as likely as a full day’s play.

Feel free to comment on the game below.

The England Test Opener From A Different Era – An Interview With Nick Compton – Part Two

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In Part One, which can be found here if you somehow might have missed it, I discussed with Nick the key challenges that our batsmen of this generation and the next are facing when it comes to playing for England at Test level. We also discussed how the level of coaching has somewhat diminished across the board as well as the need for younger players to broaden their horizons.

In this Second part, I wanted to dive a little deeper into Nick’s own career as an England Test batsman, the challenges that came on and off the pitch as well as some reflections on his own career.


 

Sean: You had a pretty classical technique, did the guys at Loughborough try and tweak it? God only knows what they would have done to Steve Smith if they’d seen his technique as a kid?

Nick: “Not hugely. I mean they try to question you in terms of whether you get a bit better here or there, but they didn’t do too much with me. I think when I came in, I had come up the hard way through county cricket; I had scored loads of runs at county level and was an older and more established player. I had played on the England A tour and for the Under 19s too during my career, so no one really tweaked my technique too much.”

Sean: I have been a big critic of the pitches at county level, which encourages teams to play slow wicket to wicket bowlers, what are your thoughts having had a long career?

Nick: “Absolutely, I think the pitches are by and large substandard these days, with even Lord’s being one of them because it’s so dry and slow. When I was a kid you arrived at a game at Lord’s licking your lips – not just because it’s at Lord’s but also because you’re playing on prime surface – almost a work of art really. At times there are club wickets I’d genuinely rather go and bat on these days. It can appear patchy and it’s dry underneath, and all because they’ve got these underwater drainage systems beneath that suck the life out of a pitch, meaning they have to patch it up with extra grass to try and make it Test Match worthy. It’s not an excuse, but I really struggled with motivation the last two or three years I played there. I’d be fielding at backward point and the first ball of the game would drop in front of the wicketkeeper and I can remember thinking that this is going to be a very long four days.   The ball didn’t come on to the bat, and it doesn’t make for exciting cricket. My game was all about timing the ball, so I always wanted some pace in the pitch so it came on to the bat.  Slow pitches like that make it tedious and dull.

“Obviously that doesn’t affect some other players – a Ben Stokes can just hit the ball out of the ground, but it wasn’t my game and it didn’t suit me. It also leads back to the point I was making about the lack of fast bowling in our game – why bother when pitches are like that?  Now we are facing the Australians who have some real pace and our top order is struggling because they don’t face it in county cricket much. The reality is that these pitches encourage medium pacers and it doesn’t help anyone prepare to face bowling of the level and speed of Pat Cummins or Mitchell Starc. It really isn’t complicated – in county cricket you just don’t see those types of bowlers because you’re facing a trundler who bowls 73 miles an hour on a wet green dog of a pitch. In the end it affected my enthusiasm, especially in the early part of the season, because it was just so boring – medium pacer after medium pacer. I did a job as a professional and I had the extra motivation that I wanted to play for England, so I worked it out, but it’s always leave, block, leave, block when trying to get in on those pitches. Even then, no matter how hard you focus, you’ve got someone like Darren Stevens, all due respect to him, ambling in and bowling wicket to wicket.  In those conditions he can make you look silly, and that’s county cricket.  But then players go to Australia or South Africa where the ball is whistling past their ears and it’s no wonder our players struggle.  I was lucky, that’s what I grew up with.”

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Sean: If you don’t mind me asking, I was pretty shocked when you were dropped from the England set up in 2013. Do you think that’s because you weren’t an attacking opener?

Nick: “Yes, I’ll admit it’s a real sore point for me because I don’t think I should ever have been dropped. Was it my approach to batting? Perhaps, however I felt that I had forged a good partnership with Cook both statistically and in person and there really wasn’t a need to change things; however it shows how fickle and tough sport can be at the highest level.  In my final game at Headingley [against New Zealand 2013] I hurt my rib and couldn’t field on the last day which was originally diagnosed as a hairline fracture but eventually diagnosed as heavy bruising, but still meant I was unable to take the field. There was some scepticism from England’s management team at the time about the injury as they were under a lot of pressure and I knew I was under pressure from certain quarters. It was pretty tough to take as I was an opening batsman who had forged his identity through facing some of the fastest bowlers in the world and seemed to excel in some of the toughest conditions. Naturally, I wanted to contribute in the field so that we won the game and it was incredibly frustrating not to be able to do so. I know Andy wasn’t in a great space at the time and I gave the management an opportunity to look elsewhere by not playing my best at the time. Whether that contributed to being dropped from the Ashes series, I simply don’t know. I do know that I wasn’t given a chance to play again for England under him as head coach.

“Things like that are hard sure, but I have to hold my hands up, had I played really well then I wouldn’t be saying this. I also really don’t think it was the pace that I batted though, more to do with the fact that the England management team felt Cook, Trott and myself were a bit samey. But I’ll say it again, that in my experience that you need three opening batsmen with proper techniques to be successful in England at Test level. I’m of the strong opinion that in this Test series, if England had three top players who could get through the new ball, that middle order would be scoring a hell of a lot more runs than they have been recently, irrespective of what happened on Sunday. The top order need to survive the new ball, if they can last for an hour and a half then they’ve gone a long way to doing their job – and they can go on to a decent score and the middle order have half a chance of succeeding. But it’s not fashionable to approach it that way, and as a result they can’t do it, they don’t want to do it and their techniques aren’t potentially up to it.  Full stop.”

Sean: That must have a terrible blow, was that your biggest regret in the international arena?

Nick: “Yes, I would swap everything to have been able to play in the Ashes against the 2015 Australians because if there was ever a time that I could have excelled, that was it.  It wasn’t against Sri Lanka and similar teams like that, it was against the fastest bowlers. I truly think that’s where I could have offered a point of difference. I wasn’t the kind of player who would have stood out from the crowd against medium pacers but against for example, Mitchell Johnson, I believe my technique and experience against facing the quickest bowlers in the world in similar conditions would have meant that I had a better chance of succeeding than most; however I never got the chance to prove it and that’s a big regret as I do feel I was a better player than my Test average reflects.”

Sean: I remember Ricky Ponting at the time being shocked that you had been left out of the Ashes team after your performance at Worcester against the touring side.

Nick: “Yes, I played well in that game and they were all running in at 90 miles an hour too.  I couldn’t have felt more at ease with my batting than I was against them, it’s when I felt at my most confident and I just wanted that chance at the top level as I’m a different player against the fastest and best. I came alive against Dale Steyn in the game at Durban and felt completely comfortable because that’s what I grew up with and that was my main talent. But the problem was that I felt my card had been marked the first time around as someone who was too intense and didn’t bat with enough aggression. I remember a game at Uxbridge in 2014 for Somerset against Middlesex and I got 98 and 88 not out and played out of my skin saving a game against a strong Middlesex team featuring Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones who were all bowling really well. And I remember John Inverarity, who was the chairman of Australian selectors at the time and a fabulous cricketing individual telling my mentor that although I’d played very well, I still wouldn’t be selected, because the England selectors just didn’t want players who played like me.”

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Nick Compton looks at a picture of his Grandfather in the Long Room at Lords. Photo by Phil Brown

Sean: Did you feel that you were treated somewhat unfairly by the media?

Nick: “Yes at times I did. I felt I had to fight harder and harder as my career went on, because I didn’t feel there was a wave of backing for the way I played and the qualities I had – it wasn’t sexy enough for them. Of course there were some good players coming through as well, one by the name of Joe Root, who didn’t turn out all that bad! Given what was written in the press, I felt I had to bang my own drum to get any recognition at all but it also gave me a greater source of hunger for much of my career to prove them wrong.  At the time I started to wonder if I was losing it, but looking back now, and given what’s going on with the England batting currently, I realise I wasn’t losing it at all, it’s just my style of batting supposedly didn’t fit with what England wanted retrospectively.  I am still deeply disappointed how the likes of Michael Vaughan and those others in the media who would pontificate about how Compton was batting too slowly, portrayed me back then. Joe Root scored 12 off 80 balls the other day but nothing negative was said about him – just the opposite.  Now they bemoan the inability of the top order to occupy the crease, but it’s not what they were saying at the time when they were more interested in who could clear the boundary rope.  So why was that? They are supposed to know the game after all; Yes, it would have been easier for me if my batting average had been higher so I could have put those murmurings to bed, but I still felt that I was being singled out a bit at times when as a player all you want to be left to do what you’ve done before and will do again. The difference of course is that in international cricket it’s about time and there isn’t a lot of it due to the unique pressures you face in the international arena.  I’ve read that it was maybe how I came across in interviews, but personally I don’t think that was the case, I just felt I was focused and professional and that I gave it my all every time I went to the crease.  Perhaps it was the Compton name that made me a target, but whatever it was, I could just never understand why I was always in the firing line.”

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Nick Compton who is never far from his beloved camera. Jonny Bairstow in the background with a fantastic handle-bar moustache

Sean: Perhaps people saw you as a bit of an easy target? There was the whole Nick Compton doesn’t fit in, which baffled me.

Nick: “I know, and that hurt me because I’m pretty sure I’m a decent bloke and got on well with the players in the dressing room. Sure I was a defensive batsman but then so was Jonathan Trott and so was Alastair Cook. I felt it was unfair and to be honest I didn’t really understand where it came from. I know that they didn’t like the fact that Kevin Pietersen was a big mate of mine, but I also made sure that I didn’t take sides in the fall out [Pietersen being dropped from the England side] and that was entirely deliberate.  I think all of the boys saw I gave 100% percent whether out on the field or in the nets, during the game or in practice. If I had to answer back to the media, it was perhaps that I’m my own person, an individual, and maybe a little more outward looking than some of the rest of the guys in the team. I have a huge passion for photography, I absolutely loved exploring new places when we were on tour and I’d go and do things that perhaps the other members of the team weren’t as interested in, visiting art galleries in New Zealand for example. Most of the guys preferred to stay in the hotel and play on the PlayStation, which is fine, but that wasn’t me – I didn’t want to stay in the hotel playing on a games console when there are other things to do and new experiences to have.  Does that mean I didn’t fit in? No, It was a ridiculous agenda, with no foundation to it. It’s not like they mentioned that I was really good mates with Alastair Cook, that was ignored. So, yes, it really upset me because it was my one shot and my career they were playing with.”

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Sean: Did you get any support from any of the former pros in the commentary box?

Nick: “Absolutely not. Never. Michael Vaughan has never met me in my life, Nasser Hussain has never met me in my life and I still find it strange that they made no effort to do so.  If I had their history as captain or top order player for England I’d be keen to talk to a new player and suggest a coffee and a chat about what’s involved – pass on my experiences or be there for advice if it was wanted. That would have made a huge difference to me, and I’m certain it would make a huge difference to those in that position now. These are former players we grew up watching. If having done so and then afterwards they then wrote a less than favourable article about me, then that’s fine, it’s their job, but the point is they never bothered to meet me or find out about me. They then still wrote certain things about me that were blatantly untrue. I knew the emergence of Joe Root and the calls to get him in the England side meant that I was a bit of a target, and obviously Michael Vaughan’s affiliation with Root added to that, so it felt like I was always in the firing line.”

“I’m very passionate about the way people are treated, and of course I was hurt by all the criticism I received; but I want to stand up for myself and talk about it because I believe in what I say and don’t see that as a negative thing at all. I want to help not hinder young players, especially those coming through into the England set up, so perhaps they might be able to learn from what I went through.”

The last question I was going to ask, was whether you’d take up a role on the selection panel if offered as I believe you’re uniquely qualified?

“I am actually on the selection panel. I’m only a scout at the moment and I have been tasked with scouting some young players and reporting back. Unfortunately, I don’t get any say on who is picked and who isn’t picked, that’s purely down to Ed Smith and his senior team. Perhaps one day.”

Sean: Once again, thank you for your time and your thoughts Nick; it’s been a real pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you about your thoughts on cricket in such depth.

Nick is an ex professional cricketer who played for England, Middlesex and Somerset during his career. Nick can be followed on Twitter via his account @thecompdog. Nick is also a passionate photographer and his collections can be found here: https://nickcomptonphotography.com.

As always, it would be great to hear your comments on the above article below.

The England Test Opener From A Different Era – An Interview With Nick Compton – Part One

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So there I was, watching the highlights of the Test with a glass of wine in hand and seeing the English batting unit collapse in a heap once again. Many of our parish know that this isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, in fact it is more surprising these days when the English top order actually make some runs. I have my own theories around this as do the rest of the editors on the site, but I wanted to get an understanding from someone who has been there, someone who has not just played at the highest level but also who was renowned for his batting technique throughout his time in the English game. Even more though, I wanted to hear from someone who is still passionate about the game and has some strong views about what is currently going wrong.

So I got in touch with an player who I had seen come through the Middlesex ranks as a youngster and one who I had a number of fond memories of watching when I was still a member of the county and who I felt was cast aside from the England setup far too soon, especially when he was still in his prime: England’s former top order Test batsman, Nick Compton.

I was delighted when Nick agreed to speak even though he was due in hospital on the same day, even if it was for 5 or 10 minutes. I’m lucky that there is a passion that still burns with him and 5 minutes turned into 15 and 15 into nearly half hour. It was great to pick the mind of someone who has seen it all in both the Test and county arenas and I cannot thank Nick enough for sparing the time to speak to me.

The one thing I would ask is for all to read the interview with an open mind, whether you think Nick was discarded too soon or not. He has some great opinions, some strong views and a fantastic cricket mind. With that said, let the interview begin.


 

Sean: As a former Test opener, what are the main flaws that you can see in the English top order?

Nick: “Essentially, I think there’s a lack of the application and wider batting aptitude that is vital to be a successful test cricketer. Really, it begins with patience, technique and above all, an understanding of your game.  That’s how you learn to play the angles and have the ability to survive long enough so that you can contribute with big runs later on in the game.  It’s become fashionable to focus only on scoring shots and taking it to the other team rather than playing the moment and building an innings. It works well enough when the wickets are flat but when the ball is moving around, then it’s absolutely the wrong approach.

“Test cricket has been around for 150 years and hasn’t changed that much in its fundamentals – especially when it comes to batting at the top of the order against a high quality pace attack. Ben Stokes was magnificent of course, but it doesn’t mean the wider problems aren’t there.  Overall in this series the techniques of many of the batsmen on both sides aren’t that special. Of course, it’s easy to carp on from the sidelines and highlight the flaws of others, but I’m talking about a wider issue that affects our game, not pointing fingers at individuals.  There’s a shortage of high-quality fast bowling in our domestic game, meaning those who come through it haven’t had enough exposure to the kind of level they’ll face in Test cricket. So many of the dismissals this series have been poor, both technically and in terms of application. The batsmen aren’t fighting to keep their wicket intact – Test batting in other words – they’re going after the bowling and paying the price.  The standard of Test batting has to be a concern – there are a few really high quality players around, Smith, Pujara and Kohli for example, but the drop off below that group is a bit alarming.  Joe Root is clearly a fantastic player, but I think the whole move up the order to number three has affected his game more than people are prepared to admit. The “second opener” nature of number three isn’t his natural position, he’s better when he can attack, and that’s because he’s a middle order player.

“David Warner got a few in this last Test, but he’s struggling over here because the ball is doing something both in the air and off the pitch, and he’s just not used to facing it because he’s never really had to, especially in white ball cricket. He’s just an example, but countering the moving ball requires a technique that batsmen these days don’t have and can’t instantly apply.  Everyone is trying to score quickly and hit through the line on the up, but they can’t stay in long enough against the best fast bowlers because they take too many risks in attack, their defence isn’t good enough and they struggle to judge what to play, and more importantly what not to play.

“The point is that I’ve played with and against these guys for years in county cricket, and when the ball does something, they’re as normal as the rest of us. On flat tracks like Perth or at the Adelaide Oval, they’re going to out-bat me because that’s what their technique is geared towards, but I can tell you most of the time I’ll survive longer than they will when facing the moving ball. It’s not me boasting, it’s because I spent a lifetime building the qualities needed for that into my game, but the way cricket has gone that kind of approach has become deeply unfashionable.  It’s not they can’t, it’s that they don’t.”

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Sean: Did you see it creep into the international game when you were playing?

Nick: “Yes I think so.  I was a bit startled to see players who have had long international careers suddenly looking out of place. Even Alastair Cook in the last couple of years seemed to have moved away from the highly successful Test approach he’d had all his career, and it wasn’t just a matter of form.  So you pause and wonder how it can be that the most successful opener we’ve had in decades is struggling in the Test arena and playing shots that he’d never have considered in previous years. It’s because the mindsets of the batsmen have changed so much, and I felt that Cook was far looser with his technique towards the end of his career.  His defence was nothing like as tight as it had been, he was far less patient, especially early on and nothing like as watchful during an innings.  I don’t know if he felt some sort of pressure to become a “modern player” and tried to transform his game into this attacking breed of cricket that we’re all supposed to be playing, but I really hope not. In my case, I found as soon as I tried it, I lost the very qualities that made me the player that I was and gained me the success I achieved.”

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The opening partnership that should have been given the time to thrive?

Sean: England’s focus at county level has shifted from red ball cricket to white ball cricket, are we now seeing the results of this?

Nick: “Fundamentally, the powers that be believe that an “aggressive brand of cricket” equals entertainment, and that’s what they want to see. If I was starting out in county cricket now, why would I want to work my backside off to survive a couple of hours for 20 runs when there’s more concern about the strike rate than anything else? As far as developing players for Test cricket is concerned, these are the innings that are the most educational and useful and imbue batsmen with the kinds of qualities best suited for the top level. However players these days just don’t do that, and don’t place as high a value on their wicket anymore, they prefer to try and score quickly when it’s difficult because they don’t feel they’ll last too long anyway.  Patience as part of the art of batting – for the later rewards – is something that’s rather been forgotten these days, as is building an innings.  Instead there’s this desire to dominate, so after an over or two of struggle, you get this big booming drive and a wicket.”

Sean: Do you think you’re a dying breed of batsmen? I look at Trott in his prime and Pujara now for example and see very few else out there whose technique is based around defence.

Nick: “Yes but that’s the point isn’t it?  Given the direction modern cricket is going, why would you want to go to all the effort and work involved to become that kind of player?  T20 has meant that if you can hit the ball a long way and score rapidly, you can make a lot of money from all the T20 competitions around the world. To add to that direction of travel, now we’ve got the Hundred: the players are professionals and need to earn a living and win contracts so how can anyone blame them for developing their game in the way that benefits that? I certainly wouldn’t, I just went left-field a bit and it was a deliberate choice.

“I came to a crossroads in my career when I was 25 or 26, and I remember sitting down with my mentor for a talk about where I was going.  T20 had been going for several years, and a lot of the younger players coming through and some older professionals had either decided that Test cricket wasn’t really their passion anymore or had been found out by the longer form of the game. They saw the money that was on offer in the short form of the game and their heads were turned, so they decided to place all their focus on the T20 competitions. Me though, I did it the other way, I looked at my career and felt that there was a dearth of individuals who could bat for a day around the county game, and even fewer who could potentially bat all day for England. Trott and Cook were the main guys and I decided that I wanted to be the third one, renowned for being able to bat and bat and bat.

“At that time in my career Cook and Trott looked impregnable, and England were making huge totals on the back of them laying the groundwork. I felt I could be a part of that and spent months working on building a world class defence. People say I was slow, but I wasn’t that slow a batsman at all, I just weighed up the situation and played normal cricket. I had all the shots, but a lot of the time what was required for me in all the teams I played in was to take the shine off the new ball and let others bat around me. When I was at Somerset I can clearly remember my coach Brian Rose saying to me “Nick, I’ve got you down here for one reason and that’s to bat; bat all day and every time you think about doing something else, think again and just bat”. He wanted me to do that in all forms of the game and every morning the look in his eye would remind me what my role was. His attitude was that he had Trescothick, Hildreth and Kieswetter to play all the shots, he needed someone who could hold the batting line up order together. That was so helpful to me, if that’s how he wanted me to bat, then that was what I going to do. That kind of backing makes all the difference – I knew what my role in the side was and I was determined to go out and do just that.  And because I had some talent, I would be supremely confident knowing I had that support for the way I was playing. I’d be on automatic pilot much of the time, which is a great position to be in when batting; if there was a short ball, I’d just either duck or put it away, I’d been doing it for 20 years by then anyway.  I didn’t need to practice hitting a ball off my legs or pushing a half volley through the covers because they were my go-to shots anyway and my key strengths, so I wouldn’t have to think about playing them and didn’t need to practice those in the nets – it had just become second nature and low risk. In one day cricket, you’re going after the 50/50 balls because you have to be scoring all the time, and as the format gets shorter, it moves to 40/60 balls or 30/70 balls. This is absolutely fine in those formats of the game, but in the longer one you should be looking to leave those alone or defend them, and they don’t.”

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England’s Nick Compton bats during a practice session at the Basin Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Sean: I remember being coached particularly poorly at club level; do you feel that players are no longer receiving the right sort of coaching to play at Test level?

Nick: “Unfortunately, the standard of coaching is fairly poor across the board at the moment.  A lot of people are spending time throwing balls down at batsmen, so it looks like they’re putting in the hours, but that’s not coaching. You could pay a 16 year old lad on his summer holidays to come and do that, but that wouldn’t be coaching either, it would be practice.  Coaching should be about improving players and helping them get the most out of themselves.  At the end of the season young players need to know where they are and have a full review of their game and what to work on; Instead they’re either told well done or told nothing depending on how the season went. That means they disappear for the winter to do what they want until the start of pre-season when they turn up and do some running around and receive throw downs. How is anything going to have changed in that time?  The off season is such a good opportunity to go away and work on specific things, but there’s no structure around the period when more than at any other time they can make material changes.  What has he worked on? Who has he done that work with? This is the kind of specialist intervention that sets a good coach apart from the rest, but it doesn’t happen anything like as much as it should.  There absolutely are some coaches who do it, but nothing like enough and that’s extremely damaging.

“All players need help and support throughout their careers – even the very best in the world can get into bad habits, but when they do, they go back to their trusted coaches to work out the kinks in their game, and unfortunately much of the time that doesn’t happen for everyone else, even though it should.”

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Nick Compton during day four of the First Test match between New Zealand and England at University Oval on March 9, 2013 in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Sean: Why do you think this is? We’ve supposedly got all the brains in world cricket at Loughborough, why isn’t this cascading down to the county level?

Nick: “It’s a question of accountability and job security. It’s much easier to simply follow the instructions of the county and tick the required boxes so they stay in post rather than take on the responsibility of trying to make a major difference to a particular player. Numbers are also important here, because they’ve got large squads to handle, little time and the kind of one on one coaching of a young player that’s needed requires a huge amount of work and a lot of investment both in time and money. I also believe that there is a fear that if they do coach properly on an individual basis, they’ll get the blame if a young player keeps getting out and decides to blame them for it.  Coaches too want to have a job next year.

“Instead the approach is to deflect it back on to the player; instead of working with them they ask them questions – “how do you think you should be playing, what do you think you’d do in this situation?”. It’s a way of avoiding responsibility – a player who has a concern about their game doesn’t seek out a coach to be asked questions, they go to learn where they’re going wrong and how they can improve their play.  A player is often the least able to understand the mistakes they’re making, and that’s why a coach is so valuable.

“If I listen to what the coach is saying, understand and implement it and still don’t score a run, that’s my fault, not his. It could be that he’s not a great coach, but I still chose to listen, or it could be that I didn’t implement what I was told properly. Either way, that’s still ultimately my responsibility – I choose who to listen to and what to do, but I’d still prefer a coach who gave me bad advice but put his heart and soul into me to make me better than a coach who just stands there and asks questions. If nothing else, my mental state is going to be far better from one who has worked with me in detail and bought into me and what I want to achieve.  If it ends up not working, never mind, we both tried extremely hard and put in huge amounts of work in good faith to make me a better player. It just didn’t work out.

“That’s also where the player responsibility comes in, and partly why coaches are the way they are as it’s definitely also down to the player to play a role and work to make themselves better.   I look around the counties and I see guys who think that they are so much better than they really are. They don’t put the work in, they don’t look outside of county cricket, they do their training session and go home and play on the Xbox thinking that they’re doing their job to the best of their ability. But you aren’t going to become a better player just by playing for your county, any more than a club player will get better just by playing for their club. You’ve got to go and travel, mentally and physically – you’ve got to go to other countries and work on things. You’ve got to get other advice because no coach is perfect, and ultimately it’s about finding what works for you.”


In Part Two, I will be speaking to Nick about his own experience as an England Test Opener and the rigours and challenges that come with it both on and off the pitch.

Nick is an ex professional cricketer who played for England, Middlesex and Somerset during his career. Nick can be followed on Twitter via his account @thecompdog. Nick is also a passionate photographer and his collections can be found here: https://nickcomptonphotography.com.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.

England vs. Australia, 3rd Test, Alive and Kicking?

Approximately 24 hours ago, the majority of people I know either personally or through social media were sat enthralled by the action on the 4th day at Headingley. There is no other sport that I know that can have four or five days of action which can then all come down to one session of enthralling action. I was sat on the edge of my seat watching despair turn to hope, then back to resignation finally ending up at disbelief at what I’d seen. I can’t picture the emotions that those in the crowd and even more pertinent, that those in the throes of the action must have felt. The unbelievable batting by Ben Stokes, the resolute defence from Leach, the missed stumping from Lyon and the DRS decision that never was, and this was only the culmination of an amazing Test Match. There is simply no sport that can ever match that type of drama in my opinion and I had tingles down my spine to the rest of the evening trying to recall what I’d seen.

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From some of the twitter reports, Sky Sports recorded over 2.1 million viewers who watched the cricket yesterday afternoon and Test Match Special also recorded over 1.25 million listeners at the same time which is not bad for a so-called second-tier sport. However just imagine how many viewers yesterday’s action would have got on free to air; now this is not meant to have a pop at Sky who have enhanced the viewing spectacle dramatically, more it’s a pop at the ECB who sold cricket to the government as a second-tier sport and thus not worthy of free to air access. That is one thing I will never forgive the ECB for and something that still makes me incredibly angry 14 years on. Who knows, we might have had 8 million viewers had the game been on free to air yesterday?

The headlines have rightly going to Ben Stokes, who whilst looking in great touch all summer, played an innings that probably won’t be bettered by him in his lifetime. Naturally the media have caught the ‘best everitis’ or ‘momentum’ as seems to be fashionable these days with the phrases being thrown around like a politician promises new policies. I’m not personally going to get into the debate about whether this was the best innings ever by an English batsmen but what I can agree is that it was one of the finest innings I’ve seen. Stokes though should not just be praised for his amazing batting performance but also a fine bowling spell on the afternoon of Day two and morning of Day three where he wrestled some initiative back to England, even if then a victory seemed more in hope than in reality. Root and Denly also deserve praise for finally laying a platform at the top of the order which allowed Stokes to play in the outrageous manner he did. Indeed I had a quick chat with a former England International batsman before the Test who bemoaned that the like of Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler were not getting a fair crack of the whip because they were always coming and facing a batting crisis.

Now comes the reality though and most who read this blog regularly absolutely know it was likely to come. England were incredibly fortunate to win this Test Match and still have a chance of winning The Ashes. The type of innings that Ben Stokes played yesterday is perhaps something you may see 10 times in your life if you are lucky; certainly it’s not something that England can rely on for the rest of the series. Let’s face it England, the ECB and Ed Smith lucked out big time, we let Australia get 60 runs too many through poor bowling on day one and the batting performance from England throughout this series has been nothing short of disastrous, if you remove the events of yesterday. England might be one all in the Ashes, but it could have easily been a dead series as we headed to Old Trafford and nothing but a damp squib to end the summer after a historic World Cup win. Therefore, it would be so stupidly foolhardy for England to rest on their laurels, in a series where they have been comprehensively outplayed by this Australian team. In reality, Australia should have the Ashes in the bag and would have done so, if it wasn’t for one player’s quite breath-taking batting performance.

Fundamentally Jason Roy looks nothing like a Test player let alone an opening batsman, Jos Buttler is still being picked on promise rather than results (he has one Test Match century in 34 Test games now), Chris Woakes looks out of touch with both the ball and bat and Johnny Bairstow’s wicket-keeping simply isn’t good enough for a Test wicketkeeper. If England really are going to retain the Ashes, then Ed Smith has got to leave his ego by the door and pick a team more suited to Test cricket. If we stay with the same team going into Old Trafford, then I very much doubt we’ll be lucky enough to find another saviour to save us from the abyss this time. I will leave the selection debate to another time and I’m sure many of the readers and commenters on this blog have their own views on who needs to be dropped and who needs to be selected; however doing nothing is simply not an option in my view.

As for Australia, no doubt they’ll be devastated by the result and will have woken up with the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach; however the return of Steve Smith combined with the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne should give them cause for optimism heading into the Fourth Test. There may be talk of momentum shift by the English press and the England captain; however in my view, Australia are still favourites to win the series and take the ashes back down to the southern hemisphere.

On one last note, there was a wonderfully magnanimous piece written by Greg Baum written in response to yesterday’s play. I often criticise the media on both sides as being slightly ‘one-eyed’ when it comes to their team; however this piece was a true celebration of what the author had seen, irrespective of the result.

https://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/we-can-all-die-happy-now-cricket-doesn-t-get-any-better-than-this-20190826-p52knk.html

As ever, feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.

England vs. Australia, Third Test, Preview

So we head to Headingley, with the fallout of the Second Test still ringing in our ears. I must admit that I was not expecting the game at Lords to have been so close with the amount of rain and time lost on the test, but to the credit of each team, they fought to the bitter end. Day Five proved to be a day full of drama with Australia batting out for a draw but the main fallout from the game was naturally that of the Steve Smith concussion and the so-called reaction of Jofra Archer to the ball that fell Steve Smith.

I must admit it did leave a sour taste in the mouth with unfounded accusations and ugly behaviour from both sets of fans. The fact that Smith was booed after he had been hit was utterly disgusting but equally the individual that called Joe Root ‘a cheating wanker’ for claiming the catch of Marnus Labuschange was not exactly an upstanding individual of the game (I’m not even going to bother with the Andy Bichel comments). I’m also keen for us not to sully ourselves with those who question the nationality of certain players on both sides, which for me is a complete nonentity, but sadly common in the modern game now.

It has been a strange series so far, in that the game on the pitch has been played in a hard but fair manner, however the behaviour off the pitch from the opposing sets of fans has been anything but that. I get the tribalism from each set of supporters as the rivalry between England and Australia has gone back since the dawn of time, but at this point it does look like a race to the bottom between each sets of fans with each declaring that the other are more disgusting. I didn’t see the ball from Archer that hit Smith in real time, but I’d have been very surprised if Archer was laughing at the plight of his injured opponent. TLG mentioned in his piece about having a delayed reaction when he unwittingly hurt a player from his own side, with bewilderment turning to shock then then turn into horror. Indeed Mitchell Johnson, a scourge of many a former England Test Batsman wrote this piece in the ‘I’ paper yesterday:

One thing that may have opened his eyes is the dispute around his reaction to his blow to Smith’s head. For me, I just don’t think he knew how to react at that moment. To judge him without knowing the facts and on limited evidence is pretty poor.

Bowling with pace and hostility doesn’t happen without the intent to do so. You need the desire to do it in order to go through all the pain that comes with bowling at extreme speeds. I can say with absolute honesty that I used to run in wanting to take the batsman’s head off when I was trying to bowl a bouncer.

That’s not me saying that I ever wanted to hurt anyone. It was simply a way to trick my mind and get up for the battle.

I didn’t think that I would like Mitchell Johnson, as he took on the role of heavily moustachioed destroyer of England’s batsman in the past, but it has been a nice surprise to listen to his well-informed and erudite commentary, especially as he has past experiences of bowling with pace and venom and hitting one or two players in the process. It’s a shame we haven’t heard more from him as opposed to some other of his compatriots who are far less insightful.

It has now been confirmed that Steve Smith out of the Third Test, which is a great pity for those that want to see the best players playing in the Ashes, even if they are for the opposition. I’m not a doctor and hence can’t provide an informed view of the Smith concussion, but although he did look shaky when he returned to the crease, I am more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Australian medical team and the concussion checks that they no doubt carried out; whether there should be an independent medical team for each Test Match is an argument that is potentially worth having in the future, but for now it’s a moot point and personally I seriously doubt the Australian medics would purposely endanger their own player. It is naturally a huge blow to Australia in losing their best player; however I don’t agree with those who now make England favourites for this match, it’s more the case that both teams are more equally matched now. In my opinion. I can’t see Australia making many changes to their side apart from the enforced change, with Marnus Labuschange likely to come in for Smith, though there could be a possible change in the bowling line up with either Starc or Pattinson potentially coming in for Siddle, who was not at his best at Lords.

As the England it looks like it will be an unchanged side despite the clear deficiencies of the batsmen. As Danny pointed out his last post, the fact that we only have a three day gap between this Test and the last Test and with the other English batsmen in the county set up not having played red ball cricket for a long while, it means that England are stuck with the batsmen they have. They may decide to tinker with the batting order, with Root maybe going down to his preferred position at number 4 with Denly replacing him at number 3, but it’s like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic anyway! One would expect that another failure for Roy or Denly will likely mean changes for the fourth test; however this is Ed Smith and I’m not sure if he has ever admitted that he has been wrong. The one major positive for England has been the performance of Ben Stokes, who looked a top-class batsman in the last Test and is hopefully now beginning to realise the major talent that he has in abundance. Stokes has been the backbone of the English batting line throughout the World Cup and has looked in fine fettle this series and boy do England need him to carry on with his form throughout the rest of the series if they are going to have any chance in re-claiming the urn.

The weather looks set fair for Headingley, which is no doubt a relief for both sets of batsmen as the ball can swing round trees with sufficient overhead conditions. Here’s hoping for another edge of the seat game at Yorkshire, perhaps without the controversy and mudslinging that we saw at Lords. Oh and one more thing, can someone please ask Joe Root to try and not ruin our new fast bowling hope? If i see Archer being given any more 12 over spells, then I might just combust.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the game or anything else below.

 

 

 

 

England vs. Australia, 2nd Test, 3rd Day (sort of)

It was a sad yet highly predictable ending to Day 3 at Lords, which after a slightly curtailed morning session in which England took 3 wickets, the weather once again set in and the rest of the day was a soggy disappointment for those fans who had a spare £150 to purchase a ticket. Though I have no sympathy for any of the members or anyone who turned up at Lords today with a bottle of champagne and then proceeded to pop the cork onto the outfield, there’s a special place in hell for the latter group!

The one session of cricket that we had was a somewhat strange affair in that despite England getting 3 crucial wickets (although not the most crucial wicket of them all), they bowled pretty poorly in my view. The first hour in particular was a lesson in how not to bowl at the opposition with helpful overhead conditions, although our learned friend always likes to disagree:

I’m genuinely not sure I could cope without Mr Selvey’s nuggets of wisdom, especially as from first view the England bowlers spent most of the first hour bowling back of length and wide of the stumps to the Australians, but I guess now it must have been some terrific act of subterfuge! Having seen a number of games like this with similar conditions at Lords, the absolute must at this venue is to be bowling a nagging line on 4thstump from a good length, this is why Tim Murtagh has been so successful at Lords over the past several years. Sure I get that you don’t want every delivery to be on a good length so the batsman can plonk his front leg down the pitch, but the law of averages dictates that you’re not going to get much change on this pitch or most other pitches in England, if you don’t make the batsman play. Sure Lord Selvey can point to his experience in bowling at Lords, but I also call what I saw for the first hour at Lords this morning and it was total dross.

When England did eventually get their plans and lines right, they suddenly looked like a different unit. Archer set up Bancroft perfectly with a couple of short balls and then swung one into his pads, Woakes after looking like he’d had 10 pints last night in his first couple of overs finally got Khawaja to nick one that should have been left alone and Broad got Travis Head LBW with one that had to be reviewed despite the fact that it was cannoning into middle stump. Perhaps Aleem Dar had been out on the sauce with Chris Woakes last night? So after a very poor start, England were back in the game before the heavens opened, though not before half of England’s fans nearly wet themselves with a 93MPH delivery to Steve Smith that was left well alone. I do get the excitement of having a bowler who can bowl really fast, but the main difference is that the Australian quicks (and they are sharp) have focused on hitting a line against each batsman, something that Archer will need to learn with time. It’s all good having someone who can chuck the ball down at 90MPH+, but that bowler also needs to make the batsman play or at least fend off, which is something Archer didn’t do nearly enough this morning; Otherwise you may as well pick Mark Footitt in the future. Now this isn’t a criticism of Archer at all, as I think the lad has a terrific future ahead of him in all formats of the game and no doubt it will have taken him time to adjust to the Lord’s slope, but it was just frustrating that one of the senior bowlers or captain didn’t have a quiet word with him about adjusting his lengths with such favourable overhead conditions.

As for Australia, their limpet like ex-Captain is still at the crease and doesn’t look like he plans to go anywhere anytime soon, which is most annoying for those who love watching the art of batting in its purest form and for those who would quite like an England win. There may be small opening should England get Smith out, but we’ve been saying that all summer and he still hasn’t taken the hint! As for the rest of Australia, there must be some real frustration with Usman Khawaja, who looks a class apart when he’s at the crease, but all too often has a brain fade and gives his wicket away. This was never more apparent than this morning, when after playing some wonderful shots square of the wicket, he nicked a ball from Woakes that he should have left alone. It’s almost like he is the James Vince of Australian cricket. Almost.

So we go onto day 4, with the draw looking like the most likely result, which is something that England probably would have grabbed with both hands before the start of this Test especially as their record at Lords against the Australians in dismal. That being said, there is a certain ability to collapse in a big heap by both batting teams, so perhaps we shouldn’t write off a result just yet.

Anyway, I’m off to campaign my local MP to see if I can get Steve Smith deported on the grounds of compassion, so I will leave this here as it made me laugh during a soggy and interrupted day’s play.

As ever, feel free to comment with any thoughts on the game or anything else cricket related….