England vs. Pakistan, 1st Test – Preview

So for the many of us, who have had to put up with the never ending IPL and other white ball nonsense for the past couple of months, the blessed relief that is the start of the English Test summer has finally rolled around. Not that we are the only ones who are happy for actual cricket to get centre stage, Colin Calamitous and the Empty suit must be emitting a huge sigh of relief that, after weeks of competing between themselves in ‘who can stick their foot furthest in their mouth than the other’, that the heat might be removed off them, albeit it’s more than likely a temporary rest bite only.

So we are all set to head to Lords, for the first major networking event Test Match of the year between England & Pakistan. This is also the first time that our old Friend Ed Smith has had key input into the make up of the team as our newly appointed Chief Plagiarist, Academic, Selector, though many will just be glad that he is now off TMS for the foreseeable future. The challenge that awaits Ed and the rest of the other selectors is well publicized. This England team is not just limited but has pretty much been in free-fall all winter, bar the glorious game saving 200 from our old saviour on that spicy track in Melbourne! There still continue to be massive holes in the batting, the bowling has been pretty military medium in non-friendly conditions and Ben Stokes seemed to have left his striking form on some chap’s chin rather than on the cricket field. It has also become plainly apparent that whatever you happen to achieve on the cricket field during the county season (someone give Trevor a map and some directions) pales into complete insignificance compared to analytics and the various hunches of the selectors. I can’t decide whether Dom Bess’ elevation to the Test Squad is through a great scouting network or if the selectors didn’t manage to get past the Somerset team-sheet before deciding enough was enough for the day.

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So as for ‘not so clever’ Ed’s first squad, it unsurprisingly is pretty much more of the same with less Vince and more added Jos Butler. They have taken the bold (ok it’s not that bold) to decision to tinker with the batting order with Root at 3, Malan at 4 and Bairstow at 5, which on the face of it looks a better balance than the batting order we had over the winter, but still doesn’t account for the fact that we haven’t had a bona fide no. 3 since Trott (I prefer Root at 4) and that half the time, the middle order have been exposed to the new ball at 20-2. The big talking point which I alluded to earlier is the inclusion of Jos Buttler ahead of the likes of Joe Clarke, Nick Gubbins etc who have been scoring runs in the county championship. For the record I am a big Jos Buttler fan, as he has the special ability to tear apart an attack which he has shown on a number of times for both England and on his various T20 jaunts; however my biggest issue is that his talent for red ball cricket is not on the same level as it is for white ball cricket, both on the domestic stage and with his record internationally. It is very different facing a quick, swinging delivery in a Test Match than it is bashing some young medium paced Indian bowler into the stands on a road of pitch. I genuinely would like to see Buttler succeed and there is no doubt that some of the experts and selectors alike see him as potentially our version of Adam Gilchrist; however he needs repay the faith in the analytics boys  selectors, as at 28, with a decidedly average red ball record, there surely can’t be too many more opportunities given to him. Mind you one could also argue that with the dropping of Vince, there needed to be another representative from the Shiny Toy roster, but naturally I wouldn’t be as so churlish to raise this.

As for the bowling, you would expect it be expect it to be St. Jimmy of Burnley and the new and improved ‘Broady’ to open the bowling, with one of Mark Woods or Chris Woakes earning the final seam-bowling slot. It would not surprise me at all if they went with Woakes, who despite looking innocuous all winter, has a decent bowling record in England and it also means that we don’t have to endure the horror of seeing Stuart Broad batting at 8. I would much prefer the England team to pick Woods, but I can’t see Bayliss and Chuckles being happy with a tail that long. You would also expect Bess to be given his debut, unless Stokes is still not properly fit to bowl, as five quick’s at Lords seems rather OTT let alone leaving us without any variety. As for Bess himself, he has rather snuck in under the radar with both Leach and Mason Crane injured and Moeen completely out of touch. I haven’t managed to see Bess play at all, so I’d be very interested for views from the wider group, but no doubt playing at Cidrebad has helped his cause rather than hindered it. If he is given the nod, then I just hope that the England think tank actually help him and support him against a team famed for its’ ability to play spin, unlike certain other spinners under a previous captain, who quickly became persona non-grata. Anyway I wish him the best of luck.

As for Pakistan, it will be interesting which side actually turns up, as the word mercurial has been replaced by a photo the Pakistan team in the Oxford Dictionary. For those that watched the Ireland vs. Pakistan Test Match, when Sky did eventually decide to show it and even then behind the red button (Murdoch understands the edict from the ICC), the performance encapsulated everything that that we associate with the Pakistan team in nearly grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory (which is taking nothing away from a superb performance from Ireland). The batting has talent no doubt, Azhar Ali is a stout and intelligent batsman, Asad Shafiq has a wonderful technique and is beautiful to watch and they have a solid late middle order in Sarfraz, Shadab and Ashraf that can dig them out of a hole, should the top order make a mess of things. That being said, they also have the ability to collapse in a heap at any time, much like their hosts. As for their bowling, I would perhaps suggest that they aren’t as potent as years gone by and will no doubt rely on Amir to make early inroads into England’s top order if they are going to be successful. Amir might not be the bowler he once destined to be before the cheating scandal, but he is still a very good Test Match bowler and will be a major threat provided his knee holds up. As for Abbas and Ali, both could be effective in English conditions, but I have doubts about their ability to cause the same challenges as Amir, especially when the ball gets a little older. Of course they do possess an unknown quantity of a leg spinner in Shadab, and whilst I can’t see there being too much spin on offer in the early part of the Test Match season, the warm weather and England’s less than stellar record against leg spinners in the past, must ensure that England are on their guard against him. This could easily be one of the most fascinating battles of the upcoming Test Series.

So whilst we put aside thoughts of 10 ball overs, no LBW’s and soft balls for the ladies  (nice of the ECB to try and alienate another tranche of supporters) for a while, feel free to add your thoughts below. If you do happen to be going to Lords, feel free to have a £12 burger and an £8 Pimms for me (not on me obviously)….

UPDATE: since this was written Andrew Strauss has temporarily stepped down as Director, England Cricket. Whilst many of us have been critical of his tenure, I’m sure everybody can join me in wishing his wife and rest of the Strauss family the best of luck with her fight against cancer.

Andy Flower has temporarily assumed Strauss’ position, which is another matter entirely..

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Third, Don’t Hack Off Your Customer Base

First of all I’d like to apologise for the length of time since I last posted anything, as in the main this has been due to the sheer volume of work that I have had on for the last couple of months; however this is not the only reason. I must admit that I’ve fallen out of love with the game and rather than trying to cobble something half-hearted together, which would not represent the sheer brilliance of the pieces from the other writers, I decided also to take a break from writing. I also admit that I was very tempted to walk away all together. Being a writer on a blog does seem to take over your life at times, and due to the nature of the things that we write, it also makes oneself a bit of a marked man on social media. I’ve gotten fed up of being called ‘an Alastair Cook hater’, a ‘one-eyed writer’, ‘KP fanboy’ etc. as it does get tiresome after a short while, though thankfully the ‘mute’ button on Twitter has proved to be quite an effective tool. There was also a part of me that felt, and has done for a little while, that we are ‘simply pissing in the wind’ against an organization who has no regard for the game, its’ players and certainly not its’ fan, so what is the point in trying to hold them to account?

We then of course come to the England team, a ‘mediocre’ (right word Colin, just aimed at the wrong people) bunch of egotistical prima donnas who seem to stop performing as soon as they leave the comfort of the favorable (doctored) pitches that they are regularly served up in England. I must admit also that for the first time in my life, I actually didn’t want England to take the wickets they needed to win the 2nd Test in New Zealand, I didn’t want the uncomfortable truth that England’s record away from home over the past 2 years is: Played: 12, Won: 0, Lost: 9, Drawn: 3. I also didn’t want the normal England cricket hagiographers trying to spin a positive picture, when our batting is beyond brittle, our bowling is decidedly average and that we are normally reliant on one of three players to help carry the rest of the team (clue – it’s not Alastair Cook). More worryingly though is that I’ve stopped identifying with and even stopped caring about this team. We might have been a bit rubbish in the 90’s but there were some world class teams in play then and at least they seemed to try their hardest! You look at this team now when things are going wrong and it seems that most of them don’t really care that much as they have a photo shoot in the morning or a pub to promote. Now I might by 1000% wrong on this, but this is just how I feel about our Test team at the moment. Please don’t think that this is going to be a ‘oh woe me’ piece, but I did feel that I needed to provide an explanation for my absence from writing for so long.

Although I’m hardly enamoured by the England team, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been enjoying watching other cricket, as this game can still give me the same buzz as it always has. I’ve been to 3 days at different county games this year (including heading to the H’Oval with Dmitri last Friday). There are of course, some people on the blog that love county cricket and many more who don’t and whilst there will always be conversations around the ‘quality of the product’, the enthusiasm and determination of the players cannot be faulted. The same can also be said of the few thousand fans that turn up to the games. These guys are the lifeblood of the sport, they are the ones who are passionate about their team and their sport and there isn’t a prima donna in sight! I was sitting in the stands with a paper, a couple of beers and some sun which made me fully appreciate what we have got with regards to live cricket. There were a couple thousand there like me too.

Yet these are the very group that the ECB have deemed not suitable for the game, not their type of fan so to speak. They have already marginalized county cricket to the very outskirts of the season, so that the games are either played too early or too late in the season, when the weather isn’t conducive to producing ‘good and fair pitches’. They have also shuffled the majority of these games to a Monday or Tuesday start, which means that the majority who work are now unable to see them (I believe the last round of county games are the last ones that will be started on a Thursday for the rest of the season, with the odd game starting on the Wednesday for those that work). All for what? So we can shunt in a format of the game (and I broadly use the word ‘game’) that has been designed on the back of a fag packet and a format that anyone who actually loves the game of cricket reviles? As we keep being told, this format is not for fans of cricket, it’s for mothers and children, who obviously struggle with a game that contains 120 balls each, but are going to flock to a game that has 100 balls and some whacky gimmicks (on the subject, we may as well replace Root and Stokes as the marketing pin ups with Peppa Pig and One Direction).

This week the lunatics who the run the asylum have gone even further by actively contradicting themselves whether this format is set in stone, with Harrison saying to the counties it wasn’t and Graves telling the media that it was. Of course the players and the fans were the last to know. We even had the quite comical quote from Graves below:

If anyone thinks that it is a laughing stock then I totally disagree,” Graves told Telegraph Sport. “This has gone through our Twenty20 board, the ECB board, we talked to the hierarchy of the PCA. We could not go further with the players at that time but now we have launched the concept we will talk to everybody.

“It is exciting and I think it is fantastic opportunity to launch a new form of cricket. It is not at the expense of the others. We all want county cricket, Test cricket and T20 but it is something to attract a new audience and expand the reach of what we do.

“We chose eight venues that we thought were right for the new competition. We offered them (Surrey) the opportunity to be one of those venues. If they don’t want to be that venue then all they have to do is tell us. I have got three venues who are desperate to have it. We are not forcing anybody to have it. If they don’t want it, fine. But if they do want it, they have to be 100 percent committed. People who make those sort of comments need to make sure they are totally on board. If they are not on board then fine we will go somewhere else. 

All good bluster, but unfortunately he got the main part of the quote wrong, it is a laughing stock and I’m sure that cricket boards all over the world are chuckling into their beer, watching the ECB continually shoot itself in the foot and taking some of the heat off themselves (hello Australia!).

At the heart of his comments, was this ‘magical new audience’ that the ECB suits have been told to repeat on nearly a daily basis. Naturally we haven’t been told how they plan to attract this new audience, who it is and the research behind this that means that people who have no interest in cricket are suddenly going to be won round by a 100 ball tournament with a 10 ball final over and some glitzy marketing fare. Come on Colin spill the beans, show us the proof that there is an appetite from non-cricket fans because the rest of us feel jolly pissed off that you are actively ruining the game we love! All this from a so-called ‘business man’.

Yet whilst the ECB continues to stumble around like a drunk vagrant, they have forgotten the golden rule of business (for we are no longer fans, just commodities and the ECB is a business not a board anymore), which is to consolidate and protect your current market before going head over heals for a new market set. The number of businesses that I’ve seen fail because they stopped delivering for their current customers whilst on the hunt to engage new customers is alarmingly high, yet this is exactly what the ECB are doing. When this farce of a format fails and believe me it will fail spectacularly, there is a very strong chance that fans like you and I will have lost any last vestiges of interest for the game. The people who currently attend county games, watch the live feeds and follow the international game on sky or TMS will have long gone, appalled at the fact that our governing body has not only ruined the game but have actively told them that our support is not good enough. We are certainly ‘not the right type of fans’. Sure the entitled idiots will still turn up at Lords each year to network and quaff over-priced champagne, but aside from that it is more likely you’ll see tumbleweed rather than people, if we even have a county or Test team by then. The ECB will be left with a lucrative TV deal and no more, because no matter the sport, it’s needs its’ share of passionate fans to survive, the very essence of the people that the ECB are trying to alienate.

Self Denial & Uncomfortable Truths

In amongst the litany of white ball cricket that we have been served by England over the last couple of months and away from the high profile Test Series’ that have/are going on in South Africa this winter, one might have had to look mighty hard to know that the England Lions, supposedly our next generation of Test cricketers, were playing their counterparts in the West Indies at the same time. Now we might not expect for England’s 2nd string to garner as much attention as the Test Squad, but considering that we have been once again embarrassed in Australia, I did feel that there might have been some added focus on this tour (especially as the Lions play an ever decreasing number of red ball games). However apart from the odd murmuring on Twitter, a fairly hidden scorecard on Cricinfo and a very hazy stream on the WICB website, this tour felt that it passed most by. And boy are the ECB glad it did, as England were pretty much humiliated by their West Indian counterparts on slow, spinning tracks. As a reminder this is not India B or Australia B, but the West Indies, who have seemed to lose all of their best players to the T20 world tour, who have made miniscule investment in their domestic game and who have a board that makes the ECB look like a sane and well run administrator.

It has been highlighted that winning away from home in red ball cricket is one of the tougher assignments, but this wasn’t even close, it was a complete horror show from the Lions from start to finish. The England batting line up startled by the ball turning on a non green seamer fell apart in a heap and our supposed spin bowling savior was not only completely out bowled by his teammate but hardly threatened to take a wicket. So who do we turn to for some accountability for this debacle, well yes our friend Andy Flower is now running the Lions and of course, he was quick to blame the heavy series defeat on anything and anyone but himself:

“It is right to examine whether the systems and people we have in place are right, its purpose is to bridge gap between county and international cricket. What we want to do is create tough young competitors so when they get the chance to play for England they are adding to the team’s strength. It is a very important role.”

“You have to be able to learn about the opposition and solve problems out in the middle in real time. Unfortunately our batsmen have not been able to do that,” said Flower. “We made the same type of mistakes again and again which is the most disappointing aspect of the tour.”

Well this seems vaguely familiar, an England team devoid of ideas and with only one plan, comes unstuck when the conditions aren’t to their suiting. Now I’m not going to say that Flower is a truly awful coach, because that would be incredibly unfair; Flower toughened England up after Peter Moores part 1 and took England to the top of the Test rankings, but it soon came apparent that England’s attritional, bowl dry tactics were quickly being worked out by the opposition and disliked by his own players. It is also fair to say, that Flower wasn’t the most approachable or liked England coach in England’s history, even putting aside the Kevin Pietersen debacle, with many in the press and the team feeling uneasy about criticising Flower’s tactics or overbearing personality for fear of redress. So after the disaster of the 2013/14 Ashes, whilst certain individuals were hung out to dry in public, Flower was able to slip through the backdoor with reputation intact (in the ECB’s eyes at least) and allowed to take up a role looking after England’s youth set up (then latterly the Lions) and having a large say in the running of Loughborough, the so-called bastion of England’s youth development. Naturally, there were no interviews for this position, no outside candidates, as the ECB have proved time and time again, success is optional, but being from the right type of family is mandatory for their management roles. So when Flower comes out and says that they have to examine the systems, the systems that he is actively in charge of, then surely it’s fair to question Flower’s worth and expertise after seeing the Lions humiliated. Loughborough has also been under his watch and whilst it has always been a basket case of an organisation, England’s pipeline of young talent is getting worse not better. These might be the difficult questions that people hesitate to answer as Flower seems to have some aura of invincibility in front of the press, but surely someone has to question where England’s investment in our youth is going, especially since we have been thrashed by a team who have virtually no support from their board.

Flower being Flower naturally had his ‘get out of jail card’ primed and ready:

“There is no doubt it (franchise T20 tournaments) is going to become more of an issue. The increase in number of franchise T20 tournaments and the draw of being involved in those, and earning money outside county contracts, of course that is going to compete with our programme,” he said. “We have been dealing with instances like that over the last couple of years. At the moment Strauss wants to make decisions on individual basis which is a mature and fair way to go about it. But I can only see those issues increasing over next couple of years. Without a doubt some players will be torn. There are more choices available these days and that is the reality of the world we live in now.”

Would these be the very franchise tournaments that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison have pinned as the only answer to the malaise of interest from the masses in English cricket? Seems slightly contradictory to me and more a poor excuse for what was an incredibly embarrassing performance by the team and an inept performance from the coaching staff. We have of course seen a few high profile individuals decide to become white ball specialists over the past few weeks, Rashid, who was too mentally weak for England’s Test team (supposedly) and Hales, who was too lazy for the Test team (supposedly) decided that they would rather make money elsewhere than trawl through the arduous (and poorly paid) county season knowing their card had been marked with regards to Test honours. Don’t confuse this as me taking the rise in T20 competitions lightly, there seems to be one every other week going on somewhere in the world, but this is not the raison d’etre for the lack of talent and application coming through the pipeline for English cricket. As Danny pointed out, the All Stars Cricket programme looks like a giant ‘white elephant’ and investment levels from the ECB in grass routes cricket is quite frankly pitiful. We then have the county championship, supposedly the breeding ground for the next generation of England’s Test team being pushed further to the fringes, with games in early April and then mid September (perfect timing for green seamers and rain affected matches) and wonder why our batsmen are unable to play in conditions that aren’t typical English conditions. From 2019, this is going to be even more farcical when Harrison’s T20 circus comes to town, alongside the T20 blast and various other forgettable white ball tournaments.

All in all this seems to be a pretty gloomy view for the supposed aspirations of England’s Test team and Director Comma’s proud assertion that he wanted to take England to the number one slot again, though one soon learns not to take any of Strauss’ comments at face value. Once Cook, Anderson & Broad retire, the cupboard won’t just appear bare, more like ransacked. Of course, this goes back to priorities once again, make money or strive for sustained red ball success and we certainly know which side the ECB’s bread is buttered on. So for those of you out there who enjoy England’s success in the white ball format, then times might not be too bad ahead, but if like me, you are a fan of the traditional game, then the future is looking bleak. The ECB have had their cake and eaten it, and no doubt, when Bayliss finally decides to quit the England set up, Andy Flower will be welcomed back with open arms. After all, that’s meritocracy ECB style…

Update: I’ve only just realised that we have part 4 of the ODI series against NZ starting tonight. Naturally any thoughts on the game or on the above, then please feel free to comment below:

A Blatant Holding Post

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good rest of the week.

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

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

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

Over to you Topshelf…..

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

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

Lizzie Ammon replied :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Hughes Ate My Hamster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleepwalking into the Slaughterhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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