World Cup Final 2019 – England vs. New Zealand – A Preview and Much More

Well here we are, one day away from England’s first World Cup appearance for 28 years, at the Home of Cricket against a talented and clever New Zealand side. Firstly though, if you have read Dmitri’s heartfelt, ‘on the money’ piece from yesterday, please do so here – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2019/07/12/things-are-much-better-now-and-just-the-nagging-doubts-remain/, it has helped me to focus down on some of the areas that I want to cover whilst reminding me why I joined BOC as a fellow writer a few years ago.

The biggest irony about tomorrow’s game is not that India didn’t make it through the rain at Old Trafford, nor is it that England didn’t lose their nerve against Australia, a team who normally prevails in tight semi-final contests. Nope, not even close. It’s the fact that England are playing a World Cup Final at home, one which the media and those at the ECB have maintained has been their consistent focus for the last 4 years and one which will symbolise the last truly professional 50 over match for a format that those wise bods at the ECB have determined is now not fit for purpose. It sort of feels like spending 5 years rebuilding Big Ben, only to decide at the last minute to replace it with a Mickey Mouse alarm clock. If you were a new supporter of English cricket, though those are harder to find than ever, you would imagine that someone was playing a joke on you if you were told that the 50 over game was no longer to be played at the professional level in England (except for bi-lateral international series); Unfortunately those who have followed English cricket for a long time are only able to let out a small sigh of despair at an administration that much prefers cold hard cash in their coffers and to be seen to be ‘doing something’ rather than focusing on re-building the bridges to the ordinary fan, who has been left behind since 2005.

As Dmitri mentioned in his above piece, many people who like to deem themselves as “Inside Cricket” have regularly sneered at those fans who complain that their game is being run into the ground or at blogs like ours, that are seen as more of an annoyance than anything else. Every so often one of the big or not so big behemoths comes along to dismiss us in the comments as ‘bilious inadequates’ or ‘social media zealots’; I mean the fact is we are just 4 blokes who do this in their own time for the love of the game, who have followed and played cricket for most of our lives, who have spent large amounts of money watching England, going on tours to see them play, and who dare to criticise the work of those ‘who know best’. It was this, especially after the KP incident in 2014 that made me turn to cricket blogs and eventually led me to be a writer of one, as one by one, those in the establishment or in the press, told me ‘it was not by business’ and to quietly jog on and listen to those in the know. That’s why I find it amusing in one sense and deeply worrying in another that many in the media have finally woken up and smelt the coffee and don’t agree with the route English cricket is being led down. But they are not being listened to by the ECB either. Of course, those who are deemed both worthy enough or seen as subservient enough are granted an interview with Tom Harrison, on the grounds that they don’t ask any difficult questions and there will always be a few who are either determined to secure a seat inside the ECB’s offices (yes I’m looking at you Dean Wilson), but even those who BOC have both agreed with (Dobell, Hoult etc) and have vehemently disagreed with over the years (i.e. Newman) are now on the outside looking in. It seems fate has a sense of irony after all. Anyway I digress….

This World Cup has been a strange affair, with a bloated format consisting of the big 3, some other teams and plucky Afghanistan who the ICC probably reluctantly decided to include in the tournament. Though there hasn’t been that many dead rubbers, it has felt since week 1 that it would be 4 out of 5 who would have a chance to actually qualify, which has made watching some of the matches rather tedious. I must admit I’m still furious that the ICC (with the help of the BCCI, ECB, ACB) for deciding that a 10-team tournament was the way forward. In every other sport, the governing body seems to be committed to growing the game across the world, but here we have cricket’s premier tournament only open to the old boys. The associates, who have genuinely given the tournament some great entertainment over the years and many a shock too, have been forced to watch from the outside looking in as world cricket deliberately shafts them in as many ways as they can. This is simply unforgivable, but the sad thing is that the ICC, now a subsidiary of the money-making machines of the BCCI, CA and ECB, either don’t care to or most probably won’t dare to do anything that prevents those boards from making the most money out of the damn thing. The only glitch being that no-one told New Zealand that they weren’t allowed to beat India to reach the final, so expect some weird IPL playoff style knockout in 2023, to ensure that those that teams who qualify for the tournament will have a chance to play India in the final. I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry!

As for the game itself, England will go into the final as favourites after their thumping victory against Australia, but do not count out New Zealand for one moment. I am an unashamed England supporter, despite what the ECB has put us all through over the past 15 years and believe it would be unfair on the players who are just trying to do their best and to finally win a 50 over trophy, to be anything other than that. However that doesn’t mean that I don’t empathise with those who are either torn or have given up on English cricket altogether due to the disgraceful actions of our administrators over the past few years. I watched the semi-final in a state of some sort of Stockholm syndrome, waiting for English sport to crumble again at the semi-final stage and I must admit it was only when England needed less than 10 runs to win that I started to relax – I’m sure watching English sport has prematurely aged me! When England lost to Australia in the group stage, I must admit that I thought England had thrown it away again, but they have played some of their best cricket in the last 3 games and I am very happy to be proved wrong. Now though is the final, the ultimate ‘arse nipper’ time and we’ll see how England handle themselves as overall favourites at a ground, which has not traditionally been that kind to them in the one-day format. One would expect that barring any last-minute injury hiccups both teams will be the same as in the semi-finals, though Jason Roy did his best to be suspended for the game, even if he was rightly outraged by another poor decision by the hapless Dharmasena. You would imagine that the toss will play a large factor in the outcome of the game and if there are no clouds in the sky then whoever wins will bat first and try to squeeze the opponent through scoreboard pressure; however if it is dank and overcast, then maybe one of them will take the risk to bowl first, as Lords is a ground where you look up at the sky rather than down at the pitch and both teams have strong bowling attacks to make early inroads. Mind you, England will have to bowl a damned sight better than they last did at Lords, where they continued to hammer the centre of the pitch rather than using the conditions and pitching the ball up.

I also wanted to say something about New Zealand, who despite the advantages the Big Three have in terms of cash at their disposal, have once again played above the sum of their individual parts and fully deserve their place in the final. They are wonderfully led by Kane Williamson, who in my opinion is one of the best players in the World across all 3 formats and someone who doesn’t get quite the adulation he deserves compared to others across the Big Three. This New Zealand group is a tight-knit team and one who many who have had the chance to interview have remarked what a pleasure it is to be around this team. Williamson undoubtedly holds the key to their batting, and he will need to fire again in the final in order to win it, but the English batsmen cannot overlook their superb bowling attack for one minute. If there is some movement early on, Boult, Henry and the brilliantly moustachioed Ferguson will be incredibly dangerous. As much as I would like England to win the World Cup and I will be massively disappointed if we lose, there are not many other teams out there other than New Zealand who would deserve it more.

On a final note, tomorrow sees the return of an English cricketing national side return to free to air television for the first time in 14 years. At the end of the fourth Test in the 2005 series over 8.7 million people were watching the game on Channel 4 and as someone who was in his mid-twenties during that series, I remember virtually every pub having the game on and people who had never really followed cricket cheering loudly every time an Australian wicket fell. Yet here we are in 2019, with a World Cup being held in England and there has hardly been a murmur from those who don’t follow the game, especially with it being shown behind a paywall. I am still appalled by Giles Clarke, who not only did the exclusive deal with Sky but also managed to convince the Government to relegate cricket’s status from the “A Group’ with the likes of Wimbledon, the Six Nations, the FA Cup and the World Cup, to the ‘B Group’ which meant that it now longer had to be shown on FTA TV. 2005 was exactly the right time to build on the huge interest that the Ashes had garnered, yet those at the ECB decided that they wanted the money above all else instead of reaping other rewards such as growing the game and there it has stayed for the last 14 years, behind a paywall that only a select few can watch. Now this isn’t a pop at Sky who have bought in some great innovations for those that are able to watch to it (though the quality of their commentary remains mixed) and no doubt some of that money has helped the county game survive, but much of it has remained in the domain of the administrators allowing them to pocket obscene amounts of money whilst they slowly destroy the game from the inside. The fact still is that whilst English cricket is far healthier cash wise than they have ever been before (naturally just before they punt many millions on a doomed format with no legs), there is an argument that by making a better deal with Sky that would have allowed some of the international game to remain on FTA, would have served many more millions far better than the chosen few who have made their cash. The fact that they are now desperately hunting around for ‘new and innovative ways’ to attract more fans, which the rest of us can see as a desperate final throw of the dice, is something that should have never been allowed to happen. To this day, that decision to put short term wealth ahead of long-term growth saddens me deeply.

Of course, this didn’t stop the ECB’s empty suit and ‘Chief Bandwagon’ climber declaring that the tournament has been a massive success for growing the game in England and providing massive engagement with the English public:

The fact that we are able to watch the final on Channel 4 and More 4, gives us a rare chance to show the administrators that there is far broader interest if for once you make it open to the general public and just the select few, and I would ask that even those who have Sky watch it on FTA. It perhaps won’t make any difference in the long run, but if it least makes a couple of hundred kids pick up a cricket bat or a ball, then it will be worth it. It will also highlight how the ECB have failed both the fans and the so-called ‘new generation of fans’ in every single way possible over the last 14 years.

On that note enjoy the game, we’ll be doing our best to live blog the action during the whole of Sunday. As always, please feel free to comment below:

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World Cup 42 – Afghanistan vs. West Indies (and reaction to the England game)

So England have qualified for their first World Cup semi-final in 27 years and without doubt the most relieved people won’t necessarily be the players but more likely those who are in charge of running English cricket. After the various pronouncements after the 2015 World Cup and the change in emphasis from the red ball game to the white ball game, which many of us still fiercely disagree with, anything less than reaching the last four would have been disastrous and another sad indictment on the ECB. That they have managed to qualify for the knockout stages of their own home World Cup is a relief for all concerned or at least those who have access to Pay-TV anyway.

England went into this game knowing that the only way they could guarantee qualification was with victory and that the knives were sharpened in case they didn’t. They immediately had some fortune by winning the toss and electing to bat on what at first looked like a belter of a pitch, but one that became considerably slower and more two paced as the game went on. Roy and Bairstow once again showed their class at the top of the order by registering another century stand and scoring the bulk of the runs, with the former scoring a run a ball 60 and the latter hitting another ton before falling for 106. I can’t emphasize enough how important the return of Jason Roy has been to the team and not just the fact that he has replaced James Vince. Roy and Bairstow complement each other perfectly with the former often hitting his straps straight away to put the opposition under pressure, which then allows Bairstow to take his time at the start of the innings and then accelerate once he has got the feel for the pitch.

The rest of the side then faltered somewhat on a pitch that became more difficult to score on and all of a sudden, a forecasted score of 350+ became a bit of a slog. The finally reached 305-8 at the end of the 50 overs thanks to some inventive hitting from both Plunkett and the ever-maligned Rashid and there would have been more than one or two nervous England fans biting their fingernails during the interval. Thankfully any cause for alarm was quickly extinguished during the early part of the New Zealand chase.

New Zealand knew that to chase this score down they needed to finally have a decent opening stand rather than relying on Williamson and others to dig them out of a hole, this though, was exactly what they didn’t get with Nicholls getting a rough LBW decision, that he chose not to review, from the ever hapless S. Ravi. Guptill who also looked pretty out of touch this tournament quickly came and went, leaving Williamson and Taylor as the last vestiges of hope for the New Zealand team. Both these batsmen looked in decent touch and having weathered the early England storm, were hoping to kick on, before they were both run out in very different fashions. Williamson was incredibly unlucky to see a return drive from Taylor clip the fingernails of Mark Wood and cannon onto his stumps when he was out of his ground, whereas Taylor had a complete brain fade and took on Rashid arm for a run that wasn’t there and found himself short of his crease. From there it was a case of when rather than if, even with a battling half century from Tom Latham, and New Zealand quickly subsided to 186 all out. I doubt England were expecting as comfortable a victory as they got when they turned up to the Riverside this morning, but some good all-round performances alongside getting the best of conditions, meant they got just that.

So England officially qualify for the World Cup semi-finals and another trip to Edgbaston and unless something seriously strange happens in the Pakistan vs. Bangladesh game (and I mean ICC investigating strange), New Zealand will face the first placed side at Old Trafford. It is likely that the England will come across their favourite nemesis India once again, whilst New Zealand face their antipodean counterparts Australia, though a loss for Australia against the Proteas and a resounding victory for India vs. Sri Lanka could mean a switch at the top of the table.

It will be interesting to see how the media react to this victory and whether they are going to pronounce them a saviours already. For me, I still think they are outsiders to win the World Cup after India and Australia who have looked to be consistently stronger. This side still isn’t playing at its peak and is far too heavily reliant on Roy and Bairstow at the top of the order. There are definite concerns about Buttler’s form (though he might well make me eat my words here) as well as Rashid’s from with the ball and Morgan’s habit of going missing in the big games. I hope they remember that reaching the semi-finals was an absolute bare minimum and that England have had some luck reaching them. That being said, I won’t be surprised if I read an article from Shiny Toy or the like proclaiming them to the be the best ever One Day team, it comes with the territory especially from known idiots like Vaughan who will say anything then happily contradict himself the next day, to try and stay in the limelight. It certainly will be an interesting few days in the build-up to the semi-finals for the small majority who have access to the games at least.

As for tomorrow, we have ourselves another dead-rubber with Afghanistan playing the West Indies for nothing else than pride. Will we see another decent game like we saw on Monday or will either or both of the teams be mentally checked out and ready to head to the airport? And yes, I’m looking at you West Indies!

Feel free to comment on your thoughts about today’s game, tomorrow’s game or anything else you’d like to get off your chest, below:

World Cup Match 40 – India vs Bangladesh

The funny thing with dead rubbers is that they normally go one of two ways, either they are a complete procession with one team already mentally checked out or they prove to be a very different kettle of fish with both teams playing without any pressure of needing to win the game. The Sri Lanka vs. West Indies game looked like it was going to be the former but, in the end, it turned out to be a close game between both sides, with only decisions at key times leading to a close Sri Lankan victory.

It certainly didn’t start that way with the West Indies bowling attack showing all the urgency and intent of MS Dhoni’s innings on Sunday; indeed it would have been fitting if they’d brought their beach towels and a small BBQ to grill some shrimp on. Sri Lanka made the most of the West Indian inertia with the ball as Perera and Thirimanne helped shape the innings around a wonderful century for Avishka Fernando. I certainly hadn’t come across this young lad before today, but the poise at the crease alongside some varied stroke play means that there is some hope for the Sri Lankan fans to grasp as for their team’s success in the future. I can certainly see some flaws in his technique, and these will undoubtedly be tested in the future, but it is always heart-warming seeing a 21-year kid make some runs on the international stage.

It seemed doubtful that a checked out West Indian team would get near the 339 that they needed for victory and to no-one’s surprise they slipped to 84-4 and then 199-6, with many of the so-called big hitters in the side once again getting out cheaply. Nicholas Pooran and Fabian Allen had other ideas and they brought the West Indies close to a world record run chase and victory before both perishing in the end as the run-rate climbed higher. Pooran has been around for a while now and has been in and out of this West Indian batting line up, but he played an innings which was just as good as Fernando’s and hopefully will now be given a longer leash to prove his credentials. As for Allen, he didn’t have the best time with the ball, but showed that he could be a dangerous batsman lower down the order and deserves time in international cricket to hopefully improve some areas with his bowling. All in all, it proved to be an entertaining game for fans in the North East who have starved of international cricket by our appalling administrators.

Tomorrow’s game sees India play Bangladesh in what is a must win game for the tigers. I have been very impressed by Bangladesh all tournament (I saw their game against South Africa live at the Oval) and it is clear that they have benefitted from playing international cricket more regularly. Though this seems at odds with the current ‘modus operandi’ of the ICC who are determined to keep international cricket as an old boys’ club. It would be refreshing to see Bangladesh perform well against a strong Indian side tomorrow, but I just don’t see them winning unless MS Dhoni decides to have another ‘strange moment’. As for India, you would guess they will be fired up after some of the criticism they received after their defeat to England and a win would secure their place in the semi-finals leaving 3 teams fighting for the final 2 slots. Here’s hoping to a close game at least, but I can see India winning comfortably.

Away from the World Cup, Ali Martin retweeted a piece that I totally missed last summer (and apologies if this has been covered elsewhere on the blog, my memory isn’t quite what it once was) about the possibility of showing one Test a summer live on FTA:

Now it’s a lovely idea and one that every cricket fan would surely embrace, but there is just one major issue, Sky would never allow it to happen. Sky’s model is all around paying their sporting content and only showing it on their platform (hence why they chose not to bid for Champions League rights), so why on earth would they suddenly become so charitable when they really don’t need to be? Sky have also paid an enormous amount of money to secure cricket rights up until 2024, which is the very same cash that is currently lining Tom Harrison’s pockets each year, whilst being squeezed by other providers who are chipping away at Sky’s stranglehold on the sports market such as the rights for Spanish Football and coverage of the Australian cricket summer amongst others, have been snapped up by rival Pay-Tv firms. So for them to offer to show one of the premium Tests for free on FTA TV would be totally unviable for them from a commercial stand-point. It’s a nice idea, but in the real world, I’m afraid it will never happen, and cricket will once again remain behind the paywall.

Feel free to comment with any thoughts on the above or on tomorrow’s game below:

World Cup Match 35 – Sri Lanka vs. South Africa (and the odd other thought)

Yesterday saw India’s inexorable march towards the semi-finals continue as their bowling attack took apart the West Indies batting unit, all but securing their slot in the knockout rounds.

India’s batting was again good, but not great, with first Kohli and then latterly MS Dhoni allowing India to post 269 from their 50 overs. This seemed at best a par score at half time until India’s bowlers made early inroads into a weakened West Indian batting line up and provided them with the chance to easily close the game out with the West Indian team folding to 143 all out, which is certainly a crushing win on paper at least. From what I have seen of the Indian team so far is that they are heavily reliant on Rohit or Kohli to score big runs, which allows the like of Dhoni and Pandya to come in and hit it to all parts at the end of the innings. This hasn’t happened regularly enough yet, although Kohli does look in sublime touch; however if you can get rid of both Rohit and Kohli early enough, then this batting line does look like it could fold for not many. That being said, the Indian bowling attack has been superb this tournament. Bumrah has to be one of the best one-day bowlers in the world at the moment and has been ably assisted Shami and Panday in the pace department. Their spinners however, look even better with both Chahal and Kuldeep not only able to keep the runs down but also get wickets at vital stages. If the pitches in the knockout rounds closely resemble those that we have encountered this week, then India have to be strong favourites to win the World Cup.

As for the West Indies, this has been a hugely disappointing tournament for them with only Brathwaite, Cottrell and Hettmyer contributing regularly. The West Indies have all the tools to be successful in the one-day format, but actually have the application to display those tools regularly has once again proven a step too far.

In other news, it was a certain South African born, ex-English batsman’s birthday yesterday and to coincide with this, Barney Ronay wrote a very good piece in the Cricketer about it (it was never going to be Simon Hughes, who probably thinks Paul Downton should still be in charge of English cricket):

https://www.thecricketer.com/Topics/premiumfeatures/the_backstop_english_cricket_needs_kp_zing.html

Ronay is a funny journalist, a bit like Jonathan Liew in a way, in that he is very capable of writing some superbly insightful pieces but equally he can also try and a be far too clever for his own good, in that if he was an ice-cream then he’d lick himself. This was definitely one of his better pieces. As this piece might be behind a paywall now, some of the more interesting exerts were:

First, he was right about pretty much everything that got him chucked out of the England team. Yes, everyone plays at the IPL now. Yes, you should just bat like that. And it’s OK to whistle. 

And secondly the ECB is making another mistake in failing to use KP in any role as it tries to build the future, to hurl a grappling hook back to that great lost moment and conjure out of the air the kind of crossover glitz KP understood more instinctively as a punkish 24-year-old than anyone else involved in English cricket.

Ah yes, the whole dressing room culture piece rears its’ ugly head again, you can’t play for England if you’re not from the right family or you’re a threat to dressing room harmony. Talent doesn’t matter, just a willingness to nod when whichever mindless bureaucrat asks you to. After all, why on earth would you be still be playing James Vince if he wasn’t great in the dressing room (which is where he should remain from now until eternity). Non conformists need not apply.

We want skunk-haired glam now, more of it, as much as you have. And Pietersen, the last real star English cricket produced, isn’t involved in running anything at a time when English cricket wants above all to produce stars.

Well yes many of the fans do (and I might conjecture that some individuals would rather set fire to their house instead) but doing what the fans want  and what is good for the game is always a distant last on the ECB’s wish-list, hence why we have this farce of a tournament on our doorsteps putting the very health of the sport in grave danger. Anyway I digress….

As for today’s game, we have a Sri Lankan team who still harbour some hopes in reaching the last four, especially after their recent defeat of England, against a South African team playing for nothing but pride now. Sri Lanka will once again be reliant on one of their openers to get a decent score as well as hoping that Angelo Matthews has batted himself into some form alongside the canny Lasith Malinga making early inroads into the South African attack. As for South Africa, it very much depends if they really want to make a game of this or whether they are mentally packed up and ready for the trip home.

As ever, feel free to leave any comments/thoughts on the below:

 

World Cup Match 32 – England vs. Australia.

Today saw another pretty one-sided, turgid affair with Bangladesh comfortably beating Afghanistan on a pitch that was well suited to their spinners. The pitch at the Aegeas Bowl has become consistently slow and low as the tournament has gone on leading to some fairly dull cricket for those watching. At least today’s game is the last one to be scheduled at the Bramsgrove Bowl as England certainly wouldn’t fancy batting on that pitch, which was similar to the one at Headingley and it is quite possible England would have collapsed in a heap for 150 all out playing silly shots and aiming for 330 when 260 is a par score on such pitch. It doesn’t look like this will be the case tomorrow after seeing George Dobell’s earlier tweet:

If England’s game plan is to have a pitch that does something for the quicks and if they do plan to leave some of the grass on this, then their plan is not without huge risks as the Aussie bowling attack of Starc, Cummins and company will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to a weakened England batting order with some help from the pitch. Even if they do take some of the grass off the pitch, then it would be a huge surprise if there is much turn for either of the side’s spinners, as England no doubt don’t want to be undone the way they were undone at Headingley. Is this particularly fair to both sides, probably not, but in a way, it piles more pressure on this English team to perform tomorrow in the hunt for a semi-final slot.

We now know that Jason Roy has once again been ruled out of this English side, so we get to have the pleasure of seeing James Vince open the innings, play a couple of pleasing cover drives and then get out at slip chasing a wide one for a pretty but ineffective 15. It was Shane Warne who said that Monty Panesar “rather than having played 33 Tests, had merely played his first one 33 times.” The same argument can be made about James Vince who it seems hasn’t learnt a single lesson in his time in an England shirt and is in the team not on merit, but because he has ‘the right values’. Either that or he has some serious dirt on Ed Smith, naturally the latter would be funnier to see. This absolutely has to be last chance saloon for Vince, another failure would surely make his place in the team untenable and anything less than a serious, match influencing knock should not be tolerated. The so-called ‘put up or shut up’ time has come for Mr Vince.

As for the rest of the side, if there is unlikely to be much turn or some grass is left on the wicket, then you would expect England to rest one of their spinners in favour of playing Liam Plunkett, who has the uncanny knack of taking wickets in the middle of the innings. One would suggest that Moeen is at greatest risk, especially after his performance with the bat in Leeds, where it was suggested rather kindly that he has dumplings for brains at times. Rashid is also bowling well, but as is often the case, England have a history of dropping a bowler every time the batsmen fall in a heap, so Moeen’s perceived superiority with the bat might elicit favour. The England selectors normally have a habit of making the wrong decisions, so expect Moeen to open and Root to be dropped!!

As for Australia, they are likely to stick with the same side that comprehensively beat Bangladesh with their hopes that either Warner or more likely Finch can get them off to a flier whilst the rest of the batsmen bat around Steve Smith who will hope to anchor the innings. I still think Australia’s bowling attack is a little weak, especially if you can see off Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins with the new ball, so ideally, they’ll want the pitch to be doing something or to bat first and put runs on the board to create scoreboard pressure for England.

Make no mistake, this is a massive game for England with a loss meaning that they are likely to need to beat India and New Zealand to progress to the Semi Finals. If England collapse in a heap once again, when the pressure is on, they’ll be a whole lot of red faces at the ECB’s headquarters and some pretty difficult questions coming their way. Not that Geoffrey Boycott seems worried with the upcoming game, after all we won 2 World Wars! What a complete and utter plumb!

What? Someone say he wasn’t talking about England’s chances at the World Cup? I must have misunderstood….

As always, please do leave your thoughts below…

World Cup Match 31 – Bangladesh vs. Afghanistan

After two hard fought and closely contested games on Saturday, which were a great advert for the game of cricket, it was all ‘after the mayor’s show’ yesterday as Pakistan outclassed a poor South African team who are now officially out of the World Cup.

Let’s be totally candid, South Africa have been playing outdated, insipid cricket for the whole tournament with their tactics more akin to those that England were rightly pilloried for after the 2015 World Cup. Once again, many of their batsmen got off to a slow steady start but none of them were able to convert their innings into something substantial, leaving the tail with the hopeless job of needing 12 runs an over plus when they came in. It’s a shame in many ways as South Africa have always been there or there abouts in major white ball tournaments, but a mixture of poor coaching, ponderous batting and strange team selections have left them massively behind the 8-ball. It would not surprise me if heads roll on their return to South Africa and we have probably seen the last of the likes of Duminy, Amla and Tahir (who has bowled pretty well TBF) in their white ball team. Even Graeme Smith was mystified at the approach his team took in trying to chase down Pakistan’s score:

As for Pakistan, this was one of their better days of the tournament. Haris Sohail came into the side and looked a class act with the bat, which has many of us scratching our heads as to why they stuck with Shoaib Malik for so long, with good contributions from the two openers and Babar Azam, who I’m a huge fan of. Their bowlers also offered a lot more control as both Wahab and Amir, the latter of whom is having a stellar tournament so far, bowled with pace and accuracy as well as their spinners bowling with control and good variations. Pakistan are not out of this tournament yet and if they continue to play like they did today, then they are a threat to any team; equally they are also able to fall flat on their face like they did against India, you just don’t know with Pakistan.

As for today’s game, we head back to the Kolpakshire Bowl for a strong Bangladesh team against an Afghan team that were so close to beating India on Saturday. Bangladesh will naturally start as favourites with their star all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan lighting up the tournament so far, but it will be interesting to see if Afghanistan can maintain the same level of intensity that they showed against the Indians or whether they will be unable to shake the disappointment of Saturday’s result.

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts below:

 

 

World Cup Match 19 – England vs. West Indies

Sadly, the rain intervened once again yesterday with the India vs NZ match called off without a ball being bowled, though that only gave us more time to read Dmitri’s passionate and pugnacious piece, which gained some great traction including a retweet from Jim Maxwell. If you haven’t read it yet, then please click here, you won’t be disappointed. Of course, the piece did ruffle a few feathers within the journalistic community who seemed to take umbrage with the content, though not from the some of the excellent journalists who there are many, but from those who do not quite meet those standards. One can argue that one doth protest a little too much with regards to a couple of those comments flying around.

It does amuse me still that many in the various journalistic circles just do not get why we are we pull no punches in our assessment at times. They don’t get how 4 individuals who do not get paid (nor would we want to) are so passionate about the subject and won’t back down even when we are told to ‘pipe down’. They don’t understand how many (and not just us) can smell an ECB puff piece a mile off and that quite frankly, those who go down such a route are compromising the many excellent journalists out there, who are willing to speak their mind and are willing to criticize the ECB when they see fit. They also don’t understand how more and more individuals who are rightly concerned about where the game is going under the ECB’s watch refuse to be patronised or even worse, sneered at by those who claim to be bastions or patrons of the game. Those who are in positions of power are not willing to talk to the fans who they regard as the great unwashed, so naturally it is even more disappointing when those that do have access to them write something more akin to an ECB press release than a serious journalistic article questioning why the ECB continues with this white elephant in the face of huge opposition from the general public.

The thing is that game doesn’t belong to them, nor does it belong to the ECB or the ICC, it belongs to the fans and the players. Cricket would not exist without the fans. Without the fans there would be no TV deal that allows Tom Harrison to trouser £700k a year, nor would there be any money from gate receipts from overpriced international tickets or revenue from overpriced England merchandise. The ECB can hark that they have the best interest of cricket at heart, but when you lose the fans, then you lose the one thing you need to make cricket sustainable. Yet here we still are in the middle of a World Cup which only a select few can watch, reading and listening to various members of the ECB and those that would like a piece of it, talk about how the Hundred will be a great success and pointing to their  research as some sort of validation. Yes, the same research that they refuse to publish, when 99% of cricket fans in the UK want nothing of it. It’s laudable in a sense that they want to grow the game (if they really indeed do), but forcing a competition that was designed on the back of a fag package down the fans throats and then refusing to listen to those who have lined their pockets for years through forking out for Sky or going to matches is not just arrogant, it’s reckless. We know that there are many who agree with us and there are many who don’t, but we do this as a labour of love, no more, no less. If it means that we upset a few individuals who can’t deal with criticism, then so be it, at the end of the day it’s the opinion of 4 individuals who are passionate about the game we grew up with and love.

I could go longer, but I don’t want to flog a dead horse (unlike the ECB) and think you get the point here.

As for today’s game, the good news is that the weather seems fairly settled down in Southampton so we should see some of game, even if it isn’t the full 50 overs a side and for England this is where the competition really starts. The West Indies have looked a dangerous side for the whole tournament (and did when England last toured there) with a mixture of dangerous quick bowlers and batsmen who can take a game from you in double quick time. The West Indies were unlucky that the game against South Africa was rained off when they were in a strong position and in all reality, they should have beaten Australia when they had them on the ropes at 6 down for not many. Naturally the West Indies will hope that big Andre Russell is passed fit for the match as he is the type of player that can win a game on its own and from a purely entertainment point of view, I do hope he can play.

As for England, we have our own injury worries with Mark Wood yet again pulling up lame in training. It’s such a shame for Wood that every time he looks like he is getting going within the international arena, he picks up an injury that brings him back to square one. I hope for his sake that England don’t force him out there if he is not 100% fit. The other question will be if Moeen comes back into the side in place of one of the quick bowlers. In an ideal world, having 4 seamers and 2 front line spinners makes the attack feel naturally balanced; however with Moeen continuing to fail with the bat, then if it is seamer friendly, then I hope they go with the same set up they had against Bangladesh.

Here’s hoping for a good game and naturally feel free to post any comments or thoughts below:

 

 

World Cup Match 17 – Australia vs Pakistan

Rain, Rain go away, come again another day. After 2 washouts in a row, which will no doubt have the Aussie fans whingeing that the tournament shouldn’t be held in England, the prognosis for today’s play doesn’t look a whole lot better. The weather in Taunton looks to be a mixture of cloud punctured by the odd regular shower and we don’t yet know how the drainage at the ground will cope with the sheer amount of water that has been dumped on it for the few days. The ICC have come out and said that it wouldn’t be logistically possible to have reserve days for all of the games, which I do actually agree with, it’s just a shame that a freak weather front is wreaking havoc with the schedule at the moment.

If we can fashion some sort of play today, then it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a reduced overs game, which might actually benefit Pakistan rather than Australia. Pakistan continue to be an enigma wrapped in a riddle, superb as they were against England one day and then poor as poor can be as they were against the West Indies. I suppose that just adds to the entertainment as to which Pakistan side will actually turn up but it must be a nightmare to be an ardent follower. As for Australia, the 36 run defeat against India, who must now be seen as tournament favourites, rather flatters the Aussies as to how competitive they were in that game. The bowling is still stronger than the batting, especially if David Warner decides on another ‘go slow’ approach to the innings, which often leaves Steve Smith having to rescue the innings with one or two rapid contributions from the lower middle order.

On another note, it has been reported that an average of only 550,000 people tuned into the first few England games of this World Cup, another shiny example of why short term greed does long term harm. There isn’t another sport that would purposely hide a World Cup away from Terrestrial TV (and the Channel 4 highlights at 1am in the morning are just a pathetic joke), but I suppose cricket isn’t like other sports. The ICC have made it clear with a 10 team World Cup that cricket is for the privileged few and certainly not for growing the game amongst the masses. If England do end up exiting the competition early, then i dread to think what the viewing figures will end up looking – it certainly won’t be pretty either way!

As ever, if we do get some form of a game on today or if you just fancy a rant about something else, then please do comment below.

Test Match Sanctimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giles-Clarke-and-Jonathan-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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