Lost in Space

It’s been a fair while since I’ve  written a piece, and it’s been like an itch that needs scratching.  The last few months have been fairly manic with work, but after next week it should be a quieter period, just in time for Christmas and then January and February, which are my easy months of the year, comparatively.

I’ve also been doing some research on a bigger post to come, and have notes scribbled all over the place.  Picking the right time to do that is perhaps the biggest question.

The approaching series is the one in South Africa, historically always one of the marquee series, and thus one where excitement is building, right?

Hmm.  Over the last week we had the nominations for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the observation that despite a truly fantastic year, Joe Root was missing from the list.  It was also pointed out that at the same time, a woman footballer was on there, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.

From a couple of cricket writers.

From the wider public there was the sound of complete indifference.

Now, the reason for me apparently picking on a female footballer there was deliberate.  You see, not only are those matches visible on terrestrial television, but it goes further than that.  Participation in female football has been growing rapidly in the last few years, and in the next 12 months or so, it will exceed the male participation in cricket in this country.  Add to that the higher viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup, and realistically, why should there be the slightest objection or even query?  By these measures, women’s football is simply more important to the English people than cricket is.

Is it really?  Probably not, yet one of the defences the ECB puts up to cricket not being on terrestrial television is that it is available on Test Match Special on the radio.  Yet here we have an Ashes winning year with one player across the calendar year proving genuinely exceptional and becoming the number one batsman in the world, and he wasn’t included.  But the fundamental point is that people do get missed off these things, that isn’t the story – the total indifference to it is.

Few would argue that the SPOTY award is more than a bit of fluff, yet it is symptomatic of the decline in interest in the sport generally that Root being left out didn’t cause a storm of outrage, instead it wasn’t even noticed.  Go to the pub, sit at the bar, raise the subject amongst those interested in sport and see what the reaction is.  There’s a slight raising of the eyebrows and a response of “oh yes.  That’s true”.  This is more dangerous to the game here than anything, when the sporting public don’t even realise until it’s pointed out.

When this debate occurs, the question of terrestrial television coverage is always rejected with the line that the drop in revenue from doing so would be a disaster for the game, and that terrestrial coverage wouldn’t suddenly change everything.  This is true, yet it is what it always has been – a complete straw man argument.  No one is arguing that it is a panacea for all ills, it’s a deep seated concern that there won’t be much of a game to support at this rate.

Ah yes, but crowds remain excellent and there is strong demand, so the story goes.  Yet this year there were day one tickets available for the Lords Ashes Test, on the day of the match.  Trying to find this kind of information out from the ECB is nigh on impossible, and so the supporting evidence for this assertion is a simple one – I looked at the Lords website and went through most of the process of buying one to see if I could.  It’s unlikely there were many, but the point is there actually were some.

Let’s just think about that; day one tickets, on the day, for the Lords Test, of an Ashes series.  And England had just gone 1-0 up.  Cost is a big part of this for certain, the exponential increase in ticket prices and the gouging of supporters by the ECB (funny how the huge rise in income for the ECB hasn’t held ticket prices down) has probably reached a point where a substantial number of those who would go simply don’t solely for this reason. Yet the alarm bells should be ringing loudly, and the biggest concern is they don’t seem to be.

It didn’t help of course that the Ashes series itself was such a dreadful one, five completely one sided matches with barely any drama or uncertainty beyond the first day and a bit.  But to counter that, the two Tests against New Zealand were truly magnificent, cricket as entertainment at its best.  It still didn’t make much difference.

With most specialist interests, there’s the matter that anyone writing or talking about it is doing so in an echo chamber, the only people who react or read it, or argue back are those who have the same interest, and thus it can be talked about at great length, entirely oblivious to the fact that no one outside of it cares.  This is where cricket now is.  The national press do cover the game, but if the Sun stopped writing about it (tucked away four pages in from the back) would anyone care?  Would anyone outside of the few even notice?  It seems unlikely.

Out of sight, out of mind is the most dangerous state for any sport to reach.  For decades the lamentation that football has taken over the national consciousness at the expense of cricket has gone up, but it’s gone way further than that now.  Rugby union is miles ahead, notwithstanding the England team gloriously completely the full set of the three “major” team sports all going out at the group stage of their respective World Cups (the football team’s failure is positively superb by comparison with the other two), in fact rugby league probably is.  Cycling, tennis, athletics – they all now have a much broader appeal than cricket does.  It’s nothing more than a minority interest, and the slump in people playing is as good an evidence of that as anything else.

If you were to visit some of the London parks, the removal of the cricket pitches by the councils is something that has been highlighted over the last few years.  Yet a question that is never asked about that is what if the councils are right?  What if they have removed them not just because of the expense, but because no one really cares if they do?  It’s not like it was met with strong protest, more like quiet grumbles at the way things are going.

The national team is the pinnacle of any sport, and also the showcase of it.  For all the talk about the dominance of the club game in football, nothing pulls in viewers or captures the imagination like the national team doing well – younger readers may need to ask a parent – yet despite the defeat in the UAE, the England cricket team had a reasonable enough year post World Cup, and for most of the wider public, it simply passed them by.

A South Africa tour should be highly anticipated, England don’t win there often, and despite the hosts comprehensive defeat in India, it will be a stiff challenge.  But will anyone notice?  Will anyone even realise it’s happening?

The wider ramifications of the ICC power grab are yet to unwind, the complicity of much of the media in allowing that to happen with no objections or investigation as shameful as it ever was.  But the bigger issue right now is the game itself, and where it is in this country.  And for the first time I am starting to truly fear for its future, not just at the top level but throughout.  The mendacity and self-serving nature of the avaricious ECB is a subject to which we will return time and again.  The danger is that it reaches a point where even when it’s put in front of the public, they still couldn’t care less.

 

 

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School Report: Summer 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the school, may I welcome you all to our speech day.  It has been a momentous time for our establishment and at this time it falls to me as headmaster to deliver an address detailing the events of the year.

Before I begin, may I offer up my sincere thanks to the chairman of the school governors, the esteemed Mr Giles Clarke for his hard work over the year.  I know he has received much criticism over the last couple of terms, but his dedication to our wonderful place of learning is second to none.  And if for us to thrive it requires all thirty six other schools in the county to be closed down, then I for one applaud him for placing the right kind of family at the heart of his efforts.  I have no doubt that those children now unable to attend a school merely need to increase their efforts, and they too will have the opportunity to join our caring, kind community.  Mr Clarke remains the personification of our school motto, “Sutores in ceteris omnibus”.

I also need to thank our chairman of the Parent/Teacher Association, Mr Andrew Strauss.  Many of you know him well of course, as he is a former pupil and head boy of this school, and it is our privilege that he has chosen to devote his time to bringing through the next generation.  As we know, he did have a challenging start to his tenure, as that appalling child, young Kevin Pietersen, appealed against his exclusion from school grounds.  I want to make something very clear here.  Just because young Pietersen went on Dragon’s Den, won backing from those awful business types, made a fortune and offered to pay his and everyone else’s school fees doesn’t mean we have to accept that kind of person here.  This is not that type of school.  From what I understand, he’s doing very well in comprehensives around the world.

Our head boy, young Master Cook, sat behind me, has had a wonderful year.  Personally I don’t believe good grades are essential in a head boy, and he has been unfailingly polite throughout the term.  One must observe that he is an example to everyone, and I find it a tribute to his conduct and dedication that he has turned down a place at polytechnic in order to remain with us throughout his twenties.

Our pupils are what we exist for.  And I would like to pay tribute to those of them who have made our alma mater what it is today.  Master Root is a shining light in our midst, having achieved AAAAAAAAAAAAAA* grades in his exams, allowing us to escape the Ofsted Inspectors for another year.  I firmly believe he is head boy material for the future and…..are you alright Alastair?  Sorry, as I was saying head boy material for the future.  It is even more impressive when one considers that young Root arrived on a scholarship from a poor estate to the north of the school.  We shall of course endeavour to teach him to speak English over the course of his time with us, beginning with teaching him to count how many “o’s” there are in his name.

If only the same could be said for some others who came from the same location.  Master Lyth arrived with such high grades from junior school, but has yet to match up to our expectations.  I must express a concern that Master Rashid keeps attempting to break into school grounds.  We have been very clear on this, pupils are only to be permitted to enter when we decide and not when they do.  His parents and family seem to believe that simply because there is a place in class for his very specific skills that warrants him joining.  This is not and never has been the case.  We do fully appreciate how he has run the tuck shop over the last year, and I know that the school pupils have become very used to seeing him peeping round the door, but he must earn his place, particularly on school trips where the tuck shop has been a credit to the school throughout.

If only all our pupils were to show the same dedication.  I regret to inform you all that Master Ballance has been suspended with immediate effect.  It is critical to understand that pupils are here to learn, and I’m afraid on one too many occasions he claimed that his homework had been consumed by the family pet.  He is of course, welcome to return when he shows that he is able to master declensions and deliver timely assignments.

I must also appeal at this point to the hall if anyone has seen Master Anderson.  His early term grades were outstanding, but he provided a note from his mother that he had a doctor’s appointment, and no one has seen him since.  He is a credit to the school and we would be grateful if we could be advised of his whereabouts.

Now, Master Stokes.  I have told you before, setting fire to the science lab is not allowed, and nor is shouting at other pupils.  I do applaud your restraint when Master Samuels teased you, but let that be a lesson to you.  This is against school rules and I am watching you closely.  If it was you who brought that girl into school last month, that too is against the rules.  You may excel in both PE and Maths but that does not give you the right to ignore regulations.  And I have replaced the lockers in the gym, and I don’t want to have to do it again.

Master Moeen has shown promise throughout the year, and I have very much appreciated the way he has brought me my mid morning tea and toast.  Indeed the way he has anticipated my requirements is most impressive.  Even when I have asked him to move desks (sometimes several times a day) he has done so with a smile.  And he has such beautiful handwriting, even if there are a few too many spelling mistakes at times.

Another boy who has performed well this year is Master Broad.  I must confess to slight surprise about this, as his father, also a pupil here, was known to behave badly at times, and once threw his satchel through a classroom window.  Yet he is an example to us all as to what can be achieved with hard work and meeting the right people, as he is now an Ofsted inspector, though thankfully we are spared his attentions due to his son’s presence.  I am told that he is not popular in some schools elsewhere in the region, but as we all know, those places merely have lots of money and not the same history as we do.

Young Stuart has been a pupil here for some time, and has progressed very nicely.  I was delighted to see he had a piece published on the website of the local newspaper, but unfortunately it seems it was missed by many as it was taken down before lunch.

Master Bell has excelled in art throughout his stay with us, but I must admit to some concern over his output this year. He appears to be paying too much attention to pupils in other schools, particularly those at Cubist College.  Quite frankly I couldn’t see what he was trying to paint at times.

Our new boy Master Wood has shown signs that he could be a credit to the school, but there was that unfortunate episode where he entirely misunderstood what was asked of him when requested to feed the school gerbil.  It was deeply regrettable, but I suppose at least that horse had a good meal.

Master Buttler didn’t seem himself at all this year.  Sitting at the back of the class and keeping quiet isn’t what we expect from him, even though he did his homework conscientiously.  I’m also concerned that he seemed to ask Master Bairstow to do it for him at times.  This is not permitted, and we have made it clear only one of them can ask questions at a time.

Master Finn has rejoined the school this year.  I want to make it absolutely clear that no teacher bears any blame or responsibility for his troubles over the last couple of years, no matter what some parents have said.  We have complete faith in our teaching and just because a boy can no longer write is not down to the school, even if he did have a book published some years ago.  He has been nothing but polite all year and we are very proud of how he can now tell the difference between the letter a and d.

I would like to conclude by thanking those visiting schools we have hosted this year.  The first of them in the spring surprised many of us, and although I don’t feel that nightly parties are quite the thing, it did seem to go down well with everyone here.  It is a concern how quickly our students copied them, but they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Our old friends from the other side of the county came to stay with us once again.  I know some of you have expressed a concern at how often they have joined us, but the annual donation from friend of the school Mr Sky is essential to our finances.  We have committed to spending at least £20 on the playing fields around the school as a result, and I’m sure no one can argue with that.

It was certainly a pleasure to have their company again, and as ever their school motto “Colonium vivimus convicto” flew proudly at the gates.  We do need to make some allowances for how differently they do things, and whilst it may have been surprising to see Master Watson’s behaviour in woodwork class, it may well be that they have taught him to hammer a nail in using his legs rather than the tools provided.  I do appreciate some teachers found it odd that he would constantly ask for their second opinion having done so, but we must respect their different ways.

We have a very busy year ahead of us, with two big school trips coming up.  I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to Mr Beatty to help fund the one to the middle east, as Mr Sky isn’t answering my phone calls.  Indeed Mr Beatty has been most helpful to us all year, but I must make it clear that young Pietersen is not to be allowed to help you out.

Thank you all for coming today, and if any of you have any questions for myself or Mr Clarke, please feel free to make an appointment and we shall lose no time in answering you.  Not you Kimber.  Not you Collins.  Who let you in anyway?  Out!

@BlueEarthMngmnt

The Ashes Panel – Picking The Bones Out Of That

Not, no more....
Not, no more….

I reconstituted the Ashes Panel for one last go around. The first set will give their immediate responses, and the second set, which I’ll send out in the next couple of days, will have had a little longer to contemplate.

Once again, thanks to everyone for the spirit they entered into this, the excellent contributions and the success of this format. I think it’s worked really well, and we’ve also encouraged a couple of the panel members to write pieces (see Chappers piece below on batting, which had me and TLG debating last night over copious Krusovices).

The panel is large, the answers are large. So for this airing we have Mr North London, Sean B; the Batting Guru, Chappers; the quickest off the draw, Dr. Melf; one of the limited number on here to have met me, KeyserChris; Our Man on The Cote D’Azur, Rooto; and the Agent Provocateur, the meltdown Man in a Barrel. We may be joined later with some poetry from The Bogfather….

This time I asked five questions, with a bonus one that was voluntary. I’d actually like all of you to comment on the last one if you can. It paints a picture.

So, fire away, with six of the best answering six of the best.

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1. First up, your reaction to the series as a whole. What do you think of the five tests played?
Dr.Melf – A truly extraordinary series, but not in a great way. It’s like the two teams agreed who would win each match in advance (possibly through paper-scissors- stone) and made little effort to make it look like a context thereafter. On the whole games were won by who played least badly, rather than most well. We got the Ashes back but there was little to drive engagement with Test cricket. There was more excitement in two tests with the Black Caps than this whole series. Poor stuff.
Chappers – This has been the hardest panel to answer.

Much like the Pointer Sisters, when it comes to an Ashes series, or any test match series, I prefer a slow hand and for it not to come and go in a heated rush.
Frankly the tourists were terrible for three tests and we were pathetic at Lord’s then suffered from dead rubber syndrome at the Oval.
We performed without an opening batsman and a keeper who looked muddled as to his role with the bat. No number 3 and Joe root digging us out of hole after hole.
Hard decisions need to be made with our batting. More on that below.
The bowling has some talent, but I worry about the lack of pace in some of the later spells from both Finn and Wood – for that I have very little answer, although I am not sure how much cricket they will get in the UAE.

Rooto – I’m very glad I didn’t pay any money especially to watch them. I can appreciate the thrill of lesser-quality, rollercoaster cricket when I’m reading, listening to or streaming it for free, but I feel a little sorry for anyone who handed over hard-earned folding stuff expecting to revel in the thrill of Test battles. It was more thud-and-blunder than blood-and-thunder. Conclusions: First, forget Sky, and stick to TMS and insightful writing where I can find it (particularly here). Second, don’t expect many 4 or 5-day pitches in future summers.

KeyserChris There’s been one “normal” Test – Cardiff, won by Root’s ton. The rest of the series has been some below-par cricket punctuated by a handful of good innings & some brilliant bowling spells. I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD…
Sean B – I think my overwhelming feeling is one that includes a little bit of antipathy, a little bit of hollowness and a lot of ‘meh’, England may have come out on top and won the Ashes, but these were two average sides each showing their clear weaknesses for all to see; indeed this was not a series that was anywhere near high on quality and will probably go down as one of the poorest “close series” in recent times. Compared to what was on offer in 2005, which I believe was the pinnacle of Ashes cricket, and to a lesser extent in 2009, where England squeaked through despite generally being outplayed in most of that series, this series rather resembled two portly men arguing over the last sausage at a BBQ. I’m still not quite sure why neither team were unable to rouse themselves when they were up against the wall or to at least launch a rear guard defence and show some fight, but what is undeniably true, is that the team who were able to exert pressure in the first innings went on to easily win the match. Naturally, I’m happy that we won the Ashes and there were sterling performances by Root and Broad, but my first feelings about this year’s Ashes are that this has been a case of complete overkill, purely designed to feed the ECB coffers, with this being the third Ashes series in the last 3 years; Indeed I think the phrase “over-familiarity can breed contempt” was made for this series. This is something that I seriously worry about in future (now that the big three have carved up international cricket between them) that test series’ will be played not for sporting endeavour or for any attempt to spread growth and equality in the game, but instead series being played purely for the financial gain of the big three. Now that is a truly depressing thought.
MiaB – It was a mediocre series.  I  normally think a series is mediocre when the bowlers on both sides dominate the batting but you tend to get some batsman who can handle things, which makes for interesting viewing.  However, there has been very little quality batting on display – some resolution from Rogers, some class from Smith, Root and Ali, some enterprise from Johnson, Broad and Starc, and in the case of Warner, someone oft-derided as a one-day player, a serious attempt to fashion a method of handling the conditions.  If the English attack had bowled against England’s batters, how would they have fared?  The only one with a reasonable return is Root.   I hate greentops because they destroyed English cricket in the 60s and 70s….any bowler can bang the ball down just short of a length and get unplayable movement.  I remember how Peter Lever, Mike Hendrick, Chris Old, Geoff Arnold and co would seem unplayable in England and then get whacked all over the place in Australia and West Indies.  I still carry the scars.  If Mohammed Asif, who got movement on Pakistani pitches, had been bowling at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, what would his analyses have been? 
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2. The clear narrative is that England have a young team that will have its shares of ups and downs. Pretty much everyone believed we’d lose this series. Should there be such worried noises?
Dr. Melf – It’s a young talented team who will make errors as they learn their craft.  With the right guidance and leadership I think they have the potential to be really exciting. Experience will temper their current bursts of over-excitement. I would really like to see our best ex-players involved in coaching and mentoring.
Chappers – We need a team of consistent hardened performers. That won’t happen overnight, but it will help of we can get some batting which is less flaky and gives our bowlers more time with their feet up. This is vital. Selection and time will help this. Choose the right players and persevere with them. Buttler, Stokes and Root are, Bell and Lyth are not, I don’t know about Bairstow. Rashid is a colossal gamble.
Rooto – I think the ECB and England Team Fans should be delighted. Enough of them have performed above expectations, or been allowed to overperform – no not overperform, justoutperform the Aussies – this series. Job done, rejoice, nothing else to see here. There is still potential for growth and for a bit of dead wood to be removed (BTW that’s not wishing any harm on Wood, in case of deliberate misunderstanding by some…). 
We, Supporters of Cricket, are the ones who should be worried, by how easily the media narrative has been infantilised, dissenting views attacked without scruple and wider issues swept under the carpet – issues which will grow to an unsightly lump under the carpet in the coming years. Short-term, the ECB can celebrate ‘the beginning of a cycle’. Long-term, they’ll go down with the rest of the ship.

KeyserChris – Yes. Opening is still a major issue. Cook had two good knocks, but yet again his partner has failed. Ali replacing Lyth is a cute solution, but only for the UAE. It doesn’t fix the issue for SA & beyond. The middle order needs to improve, but doesn’t need personnel change necessarily. Buttler needs to improve, but the fast bowling is OK. In terms of spin, we are still nowhere. Ali should only be a secondary spinner at best

Sean B – Yes there should, and although we won, it was hardly a glorious victory and this is highlighted by some of the batting and bowling averages which show we should not kid ourselves into thinking we’re a top team yet. We beat an Australian team who were not as good as they thought they are, made some terrible selection errors and couldn’t bat on swinging/seaming pitches (after all, they thrashed us both times the pitch didn’t offer any lateral movement). We can’t keep relying on Root to score runs by the truckload or for Jimmy or Broad to blow away the opposition batsmen, especially away from home where sides will look to play on our weaknesses. The truth is we can’t find an opener for love nor money, our number 3 (who used to be our number 4) may be in terminal decline and may retire and we don’t have an international class spinner (Moeen, for me, is still a batting allrounder). Add this into the fact that Bairstow hasn’t been convincing, Buttler has been in terrible nick and Captain Fantastic isn’t pulling up any trees (nor has he for the past few years), means more than a headache or two for Mr Bayliss & Co, in the face of two very challenging away tours. If I look on a more positive front, I think the seam bowling attack has good potential, Root is a world class player and I do think Buttler will come good, but I think we are at best a mid-table team in the grand scheme of things at the moment.

MiaB – The strange thing is that this young team could not handle the good conditions at Lords and the Oval.  The bowling lacked penetration and imagination – look at what Siddle achieved compared with Finn and Stokes.  The batting lacked application.  If you take Root and Ali out of the series, the England batting was terrible.  Only three times did they get more than 300 runs in an innings and Australia were  not much better.  The problems that we had at the start of the series have not been solved.  The openers are an issue – I think the reason why Cook wants to continue as captain as that is the only way he can rely on being picked.  His batting returns are not so remarkable, especially if the guy batting with you is scoring even less than you.  However, if he can be an opener averaging 37 then Bell should be allowed to continue at #3, averaging 36.  The middle order batting is an issue.  perhaps Ballance should come back in at 5, because I do not think Bairstow is the answer.  He does not look significantly more robust technically than he did when he was dropped.  It is worth sticking with Stokes.

The spinner is still an issue – neither Ali nor Cook have much idea what to do when the opposition target him other than to take him out of the attack.  He is unable to take on the holding role even when he is not targeted.  The lack of a holding seamer – the Mike Hendrick, Matthew Hoggard, Angus Fraser kind of bowler – is a real issue given that Anderson, Broad and Wood all need nursing because of age or chronic injuries.  Management of injuries is a real issue for me.  I know some deranged people think I want Wood to be injured but I am extremely concerned about his long-term health, since he is only 25 and already had at least one cortisone.  I think the current ideas are that you should only have 3 such injections in your lifetime.   I really do not want him to get to the age of 30 and be unable to walk properly because his ankle has been turned to chalk.  Obviously guys like Broad and Wood want to play all the time but, in baseball, they rotate the pitchers to ensure that they are not overworked and injured.  Unless England go down that path – a strict rotation policy – then I am very concerned that we will end up with a bunch of limping wounded who are unable to bowl properly, given the schedule that the team faces.  Wood’s effectiveness was markedly reduced by the time of the Oval – he got 9 wickets in 4 innings against New Zealand and 10 in 7 against Australia.

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3. What was your highlight of the series?
Dr.Melf – It’s a toss up between the true emergence of Joe Root as a world class player or Cooky taking one in the nuts. On balance? I go nuts.
Chappers – In reality it was Stokes’ catch at Trent Bridge and the look of astonishment on everyone’s face.

But I want special mention to go to Ali Cook learning how to captain in the field. For three years he has been dismal, Farbrace and Bayliss have said the right things to him and well done them. Doesn’t reflect well on Flower or Moores.

Rooto – Broad and Finn in the wickets. Ali outscoring most of those batting ahead of him. Listening to Blowers losing all sense of proportion, again, at Trent Bridge.Other elements that pleased me to a greater or lesser extent: Cook revealing doubts and humanity in a couple of interviews; no snotty, in-yer-face behaviour on the pitch – despite the press informing us that the Aussies weren’t capable of behaving themselves; Ed Smith eating “derrière sur une assiette”, served à la Kimber, for lunch on day 1 at Trent Bridge.

KeyserChris – Broad’s 8-15. Sensational bowling.

Sean B – There were a number of highlights worth mentioning, Root maturing into a world class player, Broad learning to pitch the ball up with the rewards that come from it, the atmosphere at Edgbaston on the final day (best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed in England) and of course laughing at Shane Watson being caught LBW (again and again); however my own personal highlight, and this is very much through my Middlesex tainted eyes, is the emergence of Steven Finn as an international test cricketer again. At the end of the last Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Ashley, the real perpetrator has thankfully left these shores since, hopefully for good. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan and there was genuine excitement that we had a bowler who could bowl at 90MPH with the height to trouble even the most adept of batsmen, so to then hear that he had been reduced to bowling throw downs at a single stump was extremely worrying. Indeed I heard through the grapevine that it had affected him so badly that he was thinking about chucking it in at that stage, so to get off the canvas and be able to not just play test match cricket 2 years later, but to contribute as he did, is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson, who has worked tirelessly with him throughout the last couple of years through the good and bad (I will give a small amount of credit to the ECB and Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up, but in the main it should go to the Middlesex team). Finn seems like a very approachable and likeable individual and I genuinely think 99% of the cricketing public had a smile on their face when he got that “five-fer” at Edgbaston, yes there are improvements that can and will be made, but I’m genuinely chuffed for him that he is back playing test cricket again.

MiaB – Either the Stokes catch at Trent Bridge or Mitchell J’s bouncer to Bairstow at Edgbaston.

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4. And, also, what annoyed you the most about this Ashes series?
Dr.Melf – The complete absence of any tension. Every game was so one-sided that no drama or excitement was created. It’s great that England won and the young players know the feeling of beating the Ozzies, but it was pretty boring stuff.

Also have to mention anyone suggesting that winning back the Ashes justifies the total ‘arsehattery’ the ECB made of running English cricket for the last two years.

Chappers – Two things: 1 is Ian Bell not scoring any runs. We are used to it now. But rubbish. I wouldn’t take him to the UAE where he averages 8.5. Give him the tour off and see where we are for SA.

The second things are (!) people being patronising about Nathan Lyon who is a very fine off spin bowler and people slagging off Moeen for not being as good as Swann, give him a break. He is as good as we have and won’t ever be as good as Swann, he is also a quality batsman, which Swann was not.

Rooto – That what we heard on TV and read in the newspapers bore increasingly little resemblance to what we saw.

KeyserChris – The crap batting, Simon Hughes taking any opportunity to spruce his book on batting (the sheer chutzpah), any attempt to make hype the quality of the series up, but the award goes to Ed Smith on TMS. An unbelievably smug, sanctimonious self-proclaimed know it all who turns listeners off in droves.
Sean B –  I again could point out a number of things – the MSM lauding the team as world beaters one day and then clueless the next day (see the same for Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss without the balance of any form of negatives), the dimwits on Twitter who see this blog and any individual that refuses to swallow the ECB rhetoric as the whole truth, as an Anti-English curse that must be rid for good; however I’m going to comment on this from a purely cricketing point of view. My biggest annoyance is that in a series of 5 games, with two supposedly excellent cricket teams, that we could not produce a single match that was in anyway close or genuinely exciting (some of the cricket was exhilarating yes, but not genuinely exciting, that comes from an intense session of high quality cricket where bat vs ball is an event in itself). I don’t want to repeat what I have said in question 1 in any great depth, but this series was not a patch on the New Zealand series earlier on in the summer that displayed all of the traits of a fantastic series, with the added bonus that both teams genuinely had great respect for each other (surely the days of giving NZ a two test series at the start of the summer must be addressed ASAP, though the ECB won’t make as much money, so they probably won’t).
MiaB – Two things really.  First, it would have been great for Bell and Lyth to make a statement at the Oval on a good pitch.  They both failed in their usual ways, which makes it hard to justify their re-selection.  Second, media coverage – the bizarre gloating after Cardiff, the way Simon Mann, Botham and Hussain kept harping on about Smith’s technique (he scores runs, boys), everything written by Ed Smith or the words from him that I had the misfortune to hear on TMS, the fact that Cook was praised to the skies for scratching his nose or putting in 4 slips on a green pitch, Nasser Hussain’s belief that the series victory was Cook’s redemption.  Redemption from what?  He has not proved anything.  He scored no runs to speak of in the victories and he needed some inspired spells of bowling.  What did he do to inspire them? 
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5. What would be your test team for the first test match in the UAE?
Dr.Melf – I assume you mean with current ‘banishments’? I also think Bell will rightly call it a day, so it will be slightly changed line up.

Hales
Cook
Ali
Root
Bairstow
Stokes
Buttler
Rashid
Broad
Anderson
Finn
Chappers – I have gone for a bit of a horses for courses team – based on the likely pitches. Anderson and Broad were both fantastic in UAE last time – I worry about their longevity. I have ignored the merits of having an experienced player with SA heritage in the team with 100 + caps because he just wont get picked so it isn’t worth any further breath. He would play otherwise at 4 in my team. 

Cook
Hales – should have been playing for the last 2 years. A much better foil for Cook.
Root – man up and bat at 3.
Davies – experienced county player who has toured with England. Currently the next best batsman in our game (not just Surrey bias I promise).
Ali – not an opener and not a number 8. 5 is his best spot, regardless if “he bats well with broad” which is a BS argument – he has been poorly treated.
Stokes – going to be better than Flintoff let him play. I really hope he can play spin mind or this will be a chastening tour for him. More likely to do well in SA.
Buttler – going to be better than prior.
Ansari – best spinner in county cricket at the moment – also a foil for all the dashers in the team with the bat
Rashid – can bat and field and offer something with the ball. Not a first spinner, but in this team there is room.
Broad
Anderson/wood
Yup 3 spinners and 3 seamers – a balanced team for the UAE. Also batsmen who can play shots and batsman who can bat time. I can see the request to get Ballance back in the team, but I wouldn’t, he has said he isn’t going to change the way he plays. So he isn’t going to score runs against decent fast bowling. Yorkshire (adopted) stubbornness is rubbish sometimes.
Also batsmen who can actually play spin – Root, Davies and Ali are all excellent against spin bowling, as is Cook. Hales, if he can get in will do a decent job – so long as he is allowed to play himself in and doesn’t try to smash everything first up.
Harsh on bairstow, but he can’t play spin, but I would take him on tour as a back up keeper, other tourists are Finn (and Wood above) and another spinner, no idea who.
Rooto – My team is:
Cook, Hales, Compton, Root, Ballance, Ali, Bairstow(+), Rashid, Plunkett, Broad, Anderson. (squad members: Stokes, Wood, Taylor, Buttler, Bell, Ansari.)

Or is this a trick question, and I’m meant to say “Pakistan” ?!

KeyserChris – Cook Hales Bell Root Ali Stokes Bairstow (wk) Rashid Anderson Broad (10 men, we’ve only got 10 men – Ed.)

Sean B – Team I think they’ll pick – Cook (c), Moeen, Bell, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Woakes, Broad, Tredwell, Anderson. Team they should pick (IMHO) – Hales, Cook, Moeen, Root, Ballance, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Broad, Wood, Anderson. A caveat I would add is that this team is for the UAE only, naturally I wouldn’t have Moeen batting at 3 in South Africa, but we need to find a way of shoehorning 2 spinners into the team without running Jimmy into the ground on unresponsive pitches.
MiaB – I think Lyth has to be dropped so I would punt on moving Ali to open – hoping that he can handle the pace on a UAE track.  Cook is obviously there because of his great record in the UAE.  Rashid to come in.  Maybe Footit or Willey in place of Wood or whoever the bowler most in need of rest is.  If Bell decides to call it a day, then Taylor.  Bairstow needs to make a score in the next match or else I would bring back Ballance.
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THE BONUS QUESTION
6. If 1 is so outside cricket you want the opposition to win, and 10 is this England team and set-up are bang on, where would you put yourself on the scale, and why (voluntary answer question)?
Dr. Melf – Mmm? There is lots to like about this current team. The new crop of players have a great attitude. Cook has improved his approach. Not much (still) to like about the ECB though. Lots not to like about certain elements of media. Personally? Their attitude & approach and makes it harder to be excited about England. It’s a 6 from me.
Chappers – I get unreasonably upset when England lose. which puts me at an 8 as a supporter (not a 10 because I don’t go to every day of every test match I can) however I am knocked down a few points because I am fed up and remain fed up with the way the game is run – not helped by Aggers tweeting that because of Government Cuts the BBC may not do as much TMS (note to Aggers, BBC is funded by a licence fee which wont get cut and which we all have to pay. TMS given the size of audiences as well as the County coverage is more important than either F1 or athletics so should be a priority for the BBC sport)

Final score a 7.
Rooto – I’m more interested in what you or others think I am. How others see you is often more accurate, if they’re paying attention (and not malevolent). But that would involve reading through all my inane postings, so I’ll save you the trouble and say 3.33 recurring.Positive feelings towards the players in the team? Generally, Yes.

Support for the body they represent and promote? No.

Belief in their methods and leaders? No. I fist-pumped Cook’s wicket, but not the others.

Empathy with those around you? No comment. Depends who I’m talking to, so I’ll call it 1 out of 3.

KeyserChris – Probably about 4.

Sean BFive out of Ten – I would never willingly wish an England team to lose despite the clowns running English cricket; however I have genuine anger at the way the ECB has run cricket over the past few years and trampled over those individuals who are genuine fans of the game of cricket whatever their views on the game (KP gate, Outside Cricket comments, the increasing cost of being able to support my country and deciding to plough ahead with the most selfish, egotistical and genuinely harmful reform of the game in known history with the carve up of international cricket between the big three to name just a few). These are all topics that have been discussed to death both here and on Twitter, and they are still as divisive as they were 2 years ago and hence I’m not going to repeat many of the views that have been elicited; however this has definitely contributed to my current slightly hollow and disenfranchised attitude towards the current England team. Dave Tickner managed to express my exact thoughts on this subject on Twitter, when responding to a BBC poll on cricket myths, and naturally in a far more eloquent way than I ever could – “England winning the Ashes justifies any or all of the assorted ECB clusterfucks in the last two years. #cricketmyths“. Perfect.

MiaB – About 4.  The main reason is Cook and the media/ECB narrative around him.  He is doing a job which he is not particularly good at and he doesn’t enjoy but he stubbornly persists in doing it.  The runs he is capable of scoring would be a lot more valuable than his captaincy – I cannot think of any close games where his captaincy has been vital to the result and he does not seem able to coax performances out of bowlers who are struggling.  He just purses his lips and puts on Joe Root.  I can see that so why do Sky and TMS insist on trying to proclaim him as a world-beater and insist that he is a really nice chap?  
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My thanks to all who contributed to this panel. It’s full of really interesting, and sometimes contrasting views. Feel free to comment below, and as usual, keep it polite. These folk give up their time, and quite a bit of it.
The final, final panel will be up within the week, so keep ’em peeled.

The Ashes: A Review

This Ashes series was crap.  Bloody awful, one of the worst seen in this country in many years.

There, I’ve said it.  It runs completely counter to the narrative that so much of the media have gone with, whereby for some it was comparable in its wonder to 2005, but sorry it was rubbish.  Not because England won, not for a moment, but because there were five Tests, none of which offered up a contest.

With hindsight, Cardiff was the best of them, and had anyone said after that game that it would prove to be the case, there would have been wringing of hands across the cricketing spectrum.  Yet England’s win by the margin of 169 runs proved to be the closest the sides would be, with every subsequent result being even wider.  Aside from arguably Edgbaston, where the feeling was very much after day one that England had it in the bag, even if the final scorecard didn’t quite reflect that, it’s the only one where the game was in any kind of balance after the first innings were completed.

That England won the series was a welcome surprise, but winning doesn’t mean it was a good series in itself.  The greatest Ashes series of them all is routinely named as 2005, and Australians are as quick to agree about that as the English, even though Australia lost.  Because that series was a slugfest between two teams who fought themselves to a standstill and didn’t give an inch.  This was a series where as soon as one side got on top, the other waved the white flag of surrender and looked to the next match – the lack of fight, the lack of discipline and the lack of gumption was shocking from both teams.  This isn’t good Test cricket, it’s a slaughter.  What made this series a bizarre curiosity was that the slaughter went in both directions, meaning that at the start of every Test the unknown was which team would be wielding the cleaver, and which would be the tethered goat.

Test cricket can be one of the most captivating sports there is, because the timescale involved in each match allows for ebbs and flows, for sides to recover and fight back.  Magnified over a full five match series, it can rise to the heights of the majestic.  Not every five Test series can begin to reach such exalted standards as the very best, and when one side outclasses the other then it can be something of a long haul, even for the victorious supporters, who tend to feel a slight dissatisfaction about the lack of uncertainty about the outcome, but given even a modicum of competition, it is fascinating.

And therein lies the problem.  3-2 looks like it was a good series at first glance, but sport is only ever compelling where there is competition, and in each match there was barely any.  Indeed only one of them had that air of competition beyond the first day.

All of which makes analysing the series somewhat problematic.  Did England win it or Australia lose it?  Given both sides showed quite exceptional levels of incompetence mixed in with occasional brilliance, drawing conclusions from a little over or under half a series means that a caveat must apply in each instance.

For England, only Root so much as managed a century (two of them) in the whole series.  His batting was so far ahead of the rest of the team that when he failed, so did the team as a whole.  To put it another way, only he could look back on it as a batsman with unalloyed pleasure.  His next test will be to see whether he can replicate this kind of run scoring away from home.  There’s no reason to assume he won’t, but at present he is a player in a rich run of form.  If he carries on in the two difficult tours ahead, then he might really begin to be considered the real deal.

Cook had a real mixed bag with the bat.  Two fifties only in itself is a pretty poor return in a normal series, though in this one only Bell and Root passed fifty more often than him.  Yet both fifties were in defeat, and the second of them rather irrelevant given the match situation.  It’s somewhat ironic that in advance of the series this writer was anything but alone in feeling that for England to win, Cook would have to have a fantastic series.  In reality, his contribution with the bat to victory was absolutely nil.  His captaincy in contrast was fine.  Not outstanding, but decent enough.  The problem with Cook is not with Cook himself, it is how the media respond to him.  Competent captaincy is most welcome, he acknowledged himself that he had learned and changed his approach, good on him.  But it is now at the point where such competence is lauded as being worthy of Brearley, and it’s total nonsense.  Cook had a slightly disappointing series with the bat but captained perfectly well.  It isn’t disloyal or anti-England to state reality and not join in the hagiography.  Cook seems immune from any kind of criticism from sections of the press, and it doesn’t do him any favours.

The one thing which is certainly in his favour batting wise is that although he didn’t get the runs, he looks technically much more sound than he did during his miserable run in 2013/14.  At that time his head was far too far across to the offside, which dragged his feet across to the offside, making him vulnerable to both the straight ball and the edge behind.  That particular failing has been corrected, and he appears much more secure in his technique.  To that extent, his quiet series can be put down to one of those things, but given the poor time he had of it previously, he does need to start scoring heavily again fairly soon.

His batting partner Lyth has probably seen his Test career come and go, and the pain etched on his face with his second innings dismissal tugged at the heartstrings.  England have developed a habit of losing openers not called Cook in the last few years, and both Compton and Carberry must feel considerable irritation that they weren’t persevered with, in the latter case in the face of far better bowling than any of the other hopefuls have had to cope with.

Ballance has responded well to being dropped mid series, and time in county cricket getting his game back in order might be just what he needs.  He has plenty of ability, and he’s hardly the first to suffer a difficult sophomore season.

The middle orders of both sides have performed poorly.  Bell seemed to either have a relative feast or total famine, but in the context of the others, those three fifties represent a reasonable return.  There is a real question mark now over his future.  With the exception of the pleasure that was evident from his contribution at his home ground, he has cut an unhappy, if not a detached figure for a little while.  Some with a poor grasp of grammar might have described it as “disinterested” even.  If that is to be Bell’s last appearance in an England shirt, as seems possible from his comment about deciding his future in a couple of weeks, then it’s a loss to England, and one that smacks of carelessness.  He still has much to offer, and he’s only 33.

Bairstow and Stokes both did OK on occasion, and in the first instance deserves persevering with.  In the second, Stokes tended to show the difficulty faced by so many all rounders over the years of trying to get both disciplines functioning at the same time.  He is a player of immense promise, and at the stage of his career he is at, his ability to bowl wonderful spells as well as play match changing innings is as much as should be expected of him.

The same could be said for Buttler, who after coming into the side as someone who had batting talent but whose keeping needed a lot of work, proceeded to turn that on its head by keeping extremely well throughout (the legside catches standing back were good, the one standing up was outstanding) and being barely able to score a run.  His final innings of the series did appear to show a degree of learning from experience, and in itself that’s a promising sign.  The improvement in his wicketkeeping too implies a player willing to learn.

The final member of the middle order, albeit one who batted as low as nine when a nightwatchman was employed was Moeen Ali.  Like with Bell over the years, there is a predisposition to be both frustrated by him and to make excuses for him.  He is simply unutterably gorgeous to watch; his strokeplay is entirely reminiscent of Gower, and when his batting is flowing, there are few players in world cricket more enjoyable to witness.  His position in the batting order often meant he had to go for his shots at the end of an innings, and that’s probably the best way for him to bat, as his technique isn’t a tight one.  Of course, in his case there is a problem, which is that his primary role in this team is as a bowler – something that may be considered unfair on him.  He didn’t do badly in the series overall, looking back at previous posts in advance of the series, his final average of 45 with the ball was even a prediction for being considered adequate.  There are two issues here though, firstly that he was comprehensively outbowled by Nathan Lyon, and secondly England’s refusal to pick Adil Rashid, seemingly under any circumstances.

It’s doubtful there is a much better finger spinner in English cricket, and having gone with Moeen, he should receive sufficient faith for him to continue working on his game.  He will get better.  However, it is becoming ever more difficult to see a justification for Rashid’s continuing exclusion, and even harder to see why so many of the press are so dead set against him.  Moeen was tried out as being far from the finished product, and given time to develop.  Rashid seems to be expected to be a hundred Test veteran on debut.  Surely he will get his chance in the UAE, and long overdue.

Of all the bowlers, Broad was the clear stand out.  Given his record over the last few years, he’s in serious danger of being consistently underrated.  Barely a series goes by without demands for him to be dropped, yet he’s one of England’s most consistent performers with the ball, even without the stunning spell of 8-15 at Trent Bridge which was truly wonderful.  He even did well in the horror tour of Australia last time.  When he’s not bowling through injury, he’s a serious threat to any side in world cricket.  As long as he’s told to pitch the bloody thing up.

Anderson will most of all benefit from the break enforced by injury.  That he was even considered for the fifth Test is concerning.  He’s an exceptionally fit athlete, and could go on for several more years yet, if properly looked after.

The return of Steven Finn has to be the most welcome sight in the England team.  He’s still not back at the pace he was, no matter how much he tries to deny it.  Perhaps the confidence gained from being an integral part of the attack will allow him to up that pace, because a bowler of that height consistently bowling high eighties is going to be a difficult proposition anywhere.  What happened to him in the past is a matter of deep frustration, but looking forward he is still young, still taking wickets at a truly remarkable strike rate and needs to be allowed to just bowl.  If England have changed one thing in regard to their approach to him, then let it be to focus on his wicket taking ability, not how many runs an over he goes for.

Mark Wood is something of a conundrum.  He clearly has a lot of talent, but his injury record isn’t a good one, and there have to be concerns about managing him properly.  Australia did point the way there with Ryan Harris, who they wrapped in cotton wool and as a result got at least two more years out of him than anyone could have hoped for, including him.  Seam bowlers are almost always carrying some kind of injury, so it isn’t a matter of plucking him out of the team at the first sign of trouble, but it is one of ensuring he doesn’t suffer a major injury.

For Australia, this is the end of an era for many of the squad.  Harris finally succumbed to his troublesome body before it even began, and perhaps more than anything that proved to be the ultimate difference between the sides.  He has been an outstandingly good bowler who had an Indian summer to his career.  When he broke down in the 2010/11 series, the sadness was the feeling that would be it, a career over before it had even begun.  He may not have played 80 Tests, but he played a lot more than he had any right to, given his physical problems.

Australia’s top three all had decent enough series, with the proviso that like everyone else, when they were bad, they were very, very bad.  Chris Rogers was outstanding throughout, and probably wishes he could have played his whole Test career against England.  Oh hang, on he more or less did.   Warner in contrast made lots of contributions without ever going on to get a big score.  It means that his figures are decent enough, but lack a match changing or match winning innings.

Smith had a similar series to Bell in some ways, the difference being that when he did get in, he went on to a very big score indeed.  His idiosyncratic technique makes this quite likely, and with him it’s a matter of accepting that, and knowing that when he does get in, he is going to seriously hurt the opposition.  His batting went a fair way to winning two Tests, focusing on his troubles in the other three is somewhat harsh.

Clarke’s retirement at the end of the series broke the last link with the great Australian side of the first decade of this century.  He had a poor series, without question, but very few players call it a day in a blaze of glory, not least because of the need for team mates to do their bit to provide the correct result.  McGrath, Warne et al managed it when they whitewashed England, but that truly great side is an exception.  Few decide to retire because they’ve been playing so well, and Nasser Hussain’s beautifully timed retirement winning a Test match and series with a superb century simply shows he had a sense of timing with his career that wasn’t always present with his batting.

England gave Clarke a guard of honour, and predictably enough (and more than welcome) the English crowd gave him a standing ovation on his approach to the crease.  Sometimes English crowds make you feel quite proud of them.  Clarke deserves it.  He’s been a terrific player, a terrific captain, and for those of us lucky enough not to be Australian, he was our leader in cricket too in the most tragic of circumstances.  His honesty in the face of defeat, and refusal to hide behind platitudes also marked him out.  It has been nothing short of a privilege to watch him play, and to leave the game of cricket having made a positive contribution is as good a cricketing epitaph as there can be.  To lose him in the same week as the peerless Kumar Sangakkara is undoubtedly a blow to the game, and the ICC could do worse than listen to what they say about the future of cricket.  And pigs might fly.

Just like England’s, Australia’s middle order had a woeful time of it.  Ironically enough that failing was just as prevalent in the 5-0 last time, but they were bailed out repeatedly by the lower order.  Not this time, though Johnson and Starc had their moments with the bat.  The jettisoning of Watson was possibly premature, his trials with the lbw law are hardly new, and at Cardiff he was the recipient of a couple of decisions that were fairly questionable, particularly the first innings one.  His replacements didn’t do any better, although his career is now probably at an end, distinguished by being one of the great unfulfilled talents.

Voges made a late bid to extend his Test career, Mitchell Marsh shows a lot of promise as a true all rounder given that bowling was thought to be his weaker discipline (he didn’t bat well), Shaun Marsh showed again – and probably for the final time – that he simply isn’t quite good enough at the very highest level and Brad Haddin also reached the end of the road.  The manner of the conclusion to his Test career seemed to cause some discord in the Australian camp amongst the senior players.  It’s a difficult one.  His batting and keeping had both deteriorated to the point his place should have been in jeopardy even if it wasn’t.  Perhaps it should just be put down to being one of those terribly unfortunate instances where they were faced with two wrong choices, and went for the better cricketing one.

Peter Nevill looks a decent enough replacement anyway, although he didn’t contribute with the bat too much more than the rest of that middle order.  His first class batting record is a very good one though, and he looks a perfectly competent gloveman.

Of the bowlers, given the loss of Harris, Siddle did seem the obvious replacement.  With hindsight.  It is all too easy to look at his performance in the final Test and say he should have been there all along, but there weren’t many calls for him to be in the side at the expense of anyone else, and in advance it was felt that Johnson and Starc’s pace would be more than good enough for England anyway.  Both were intermittently major threats, and the rest of the time expensive.   Ironically enough, it was Josh Hazlewood who made way for Siddle, despite having a better record than either of them, and for reasons hard to fathom bore the brunt of the criticism of the seam bowling selection that saw Siddle called up.

Nathan Lyon too had a good series, and showed what he is – a very fine orthodox finger spinner.  He’s every bit the equal of Graeme Swann, and perhaps at long last Australia will be content with their lot in the spinning department rather than harking back to the days of Warne.

Given how the series unfolded, in this one perhaps more than any other, it can be said that 3-2 was a fair result.  Three times England hammered Australia, twice Australia hammered England.  If there was a sixth Test, it could have gone either way, probably with a hammering.

The England players will rightly look back on the achievement with great pleasure, for they were the underdogs in the eyes of everyone.  The win is there to be enjoyed, but these are two teams who are very much at the crossroads.  Australia will largely need a new one, and will have to spend quite some time rebuilding and finding the right combinations.  England are at least playing a much more positive style of cricket, but they look a deeply flawed side at this stage.  There are plenty of players in that side in the early stages of their careers, and there will be ups and downs in their own performances.  What is more worrying is the collective implosions they seem so prone to.  They have two very difficult tours ahead, and as a young side may well rise to the challenge.  But they are going to have to, because otherwise they are in trouble.

This wasn’t an especially enjoyable series.  When third day tickets become something of a risky purchase not through it being a poor pitch, but because either of the sides are incapable of lasting that long, then there is both something wrong with them, and something extremely wrong with the series.  Some of the batting was genuinely second rate, in shot selection and execution.  It is to be hoped this is something of an aberration, because more of the same is going to pall very quickly.  Recent history around the world suggests winning away is becoming ever more rare, in which case England will face both the next 9 months and the next Ashes series with considerable trepidation.

The most damning indictment of this Ashes series is that the two Test version against New Zealand offered far more entertainment, far more sporting hazard, far more tension that anything the five subsequent games did.  England won, and to that extent it was great.  But Test cricket supporters have always had one eye on the team and one eye on the wider game.  The game itself in this series was dreadfully poor.  Pointing to the other eye and ignoring that is simply refusing to see evil.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

The Illogical Consequence

The Leg Glance will do a more complete review of the Ashes tomorrow, but in advance of his more considered thoughts, I thought I might get the ball rolling. It’s going to be less about the cricket than TLG’s, and more an overall context piece.

I had a piece written on Friday night where I put down my thoughts on the events of Thursday. I think the arrow that pierced the most was about self-pitying. I can take nonsense of muppets, although it does annoy me, but I do look into myself when it comes to criticism of the blog and of me. I’ve never been impervious to criticism, and also, believe it or not, I hate confrontation. The big fear is that an England win, however it was achieved was going to bring out the worst in all of us. Those who have been pretty much down on the team, and more importantly the management and administration, have been hit hard by the “we showed you” merchants online, and it’s not been easy. Those who have defended the England team and some of its key personnel, have not wasted any time in sticking the knife in, just as we may well appear to do after every defeat.

It has not been a pleasant fortnight. I’ll say that. Even in the good times there’s not one time a week that I say to myself “why do I do this?” This isn’t self-pitying, it’s questioning my sanity! There’s no financial gain, I’m not into the attention-seeking lark (I’ve turned down enough requests for attention) despite what the amateur psychologists diagnose, and I get to see less and less of the cricket. I think it’s still down to loving the game, and the comments from the people who read our stuff nearly every day. It does keep you going.

The Ashes were always going to be fraught. This was the big one for the pro-England and the anti-ECB sides. In many ways both sides of the schism have come out with something. The pro-England side have a 3-2 win which very few saw coming. We didn’t take much account of how much conditions would neuter the supposed advantages the Australian bowling attack, in particular. There was also the key Australia first innings at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, which determined the winner of the series, and saw the always rickety looking Aussie batting line-up in dire straits. Importantly, when England had Australia down, they held them down. There were no real key lower innings batting recoveries by Australia, the key to 2013/4, and to that lots of credit has to go to the bowling line-up. Stuart Broad, who didn’t bat too badly either, must be wondering what he has to do to win Man of the Series.

But those anti-ECB, and not anti-England in most cases, just to clear that little piece up, will feel there’s a little bit of hollowness to this. We’re sort of getting into a nuclear arms race when it comes to wickets, and while this still remains an inexact science, there’s no doubt that conditions were massively in England’s favour. Now is this wrong? It has been debated here at length, and I’m torn. I still have a hard time getting over Sydney 1998/9, when Australia played three spinners on a shithouse of a wicket when the series was 2-1 (the Ashes had gone but that team fought back hard), so excuse me if I’m playing the world’s smallest violin, but while we are in this “we’ll do it because they do it” mentality, I’m not sure we’ll get anywhere. Given the quality of the cricket on show, there are alarm bells ringing for the test game, over and above those raised in Death of a Gentleman.

There’s no easy solution. Australia are going to do their damndest to unsettle England at every step out there in 2 and a half years time, and that’s what touring Australia is all about. If it’s like the last time, we won’t see anything above club bowler standard until we get to Brisbane. We’ll be put out in that furnace under-cooked. The importance is to make a 2010/11 stand, not a 2013/4 surrender. Pitches do vary in Oz, but we don’t get much opportunity to play on them. It’s always a little stacked the other way because a number of this Australia team have played county cricket before.

I’ll let TLG go through the winners and losers in terms of the players, but as an overall summary of the series, I would say it was desperately disappointing. Watch the Usain Bolt / Justin Gatlin 100m today. One was a star, struggling with his form and style, up against a man running the times of his life. It was pure sporting theatre. It was a gladatorial contest. It had meaning – these two guys rarely run against each other – and a sub-plot of good vs evil. It was also held in a top class Olympic venue, on a belting fast track, and for all the world to see. In a four year cycle there will be three races that matter – two World Championships, and an Olympic Final. Paucity is strength. Sometimes, to keep something special, you need to air it sparingly.

The saturation of the Ashes has diminished the quality. You can’t deny it. Whether this is cause and effect, or just the nature of the relative cycles of the two teams, who knows. In these days of result pitches, furious scoring paces, and effective drainage, there are many fewer draws. So the wheels can fall off the cart, and quality will diminish. So while the first two tests of this summer, on good wickets were absolutely fantastic, as soon as the stakes went up, and winning was all that mattered, the quality got shot to pieces. Four absolute routs, and one “sliding doors” test, where if Haddin had caught Root, then who knows. England did what aspiring good teams need to do, and what Australia did. Bloody hammer them when they cock up.

I said after Trent Bridge that my reaction was supreme indifference. I am not comforted by the performance in this test, because it indicates that we can’t have a bad day and still pull our arses out of the fire. I don’t buy the “we’ve won what we had to argument” because Australia, in the past ten years have not packed it in after the 3rd test, but nailed us. The great West Indies teams did the same. Our opponents in the next couple of series wouldn’t hesitate either. Aspiring great teams should not deal in excuses. This team tells us it wants to be great. It needs to get that attitude.

There is more optimism then there was prior to this season. I’m still annoyed at the deification of Cook. It’s cobblers. I do feel that if Root is the number 1 batsman in the world (and the same for Smith) then we live in troubled batting times – and again, this isn’t a pop at Joe. I’m concerned how Buttler really didn’t step up as I’d hoped. We have holes at opener, and I’ll bet all those at the start of the season said that “there were no vacancies in the middle order” wouldn’t mind having that nonsense back, as there were huge alarms over a couple of players. Where does Bell go from here after a difficult summer? But there’s been Root, there’s been Mark Wood, the reintegration of Finn, the form of Broad, the tantilising promise of Stokes and Moeen. It’s not a bad bunch.

It has been a difficult summer. Those who criticise us, who think we are nasty, vicious, purveyors of guesswork, snide and all the other words I’ve been called should really think. This takes a lot of putting together. We have a passion for the game, we care deeply, as we know you do too. Our anger may cross the line, but it is better to care than to walk away. On the day when a true master of the game, Kumar Sangakkara, left the field for the final time, we should remember that the game is in our hands. His innings, his performances and his legacy, like all others is to be handed down, told to those who want to know of our heroes.

When we do tell the youngsters who care about the sport, we’ll be recalling this series as a low-quality, tension-lacking affair, the third in two years, overkill diminishing the “brand” that is the watchword of our administrators, no memorable contests, games decided too quickly. Off the field it has seen fans at each others throats, again, and no sign of the end of the schism. It’s the way it is. People are people. In this modern communication world, we all have an outlet. The difference this year is that much more of the opprobrium is fan to fan. I aim my fire at the ECB, and fire only at those that misrepresent me. I aim my fire at the reporting, when I disagree, but which I’ve done a lot less of this summer. I am tempted to say if you don’t like what you read debate me, properly, or don’t read it at all. It’s your choice.

I’m not sad to see the Ashes packed away for 28 months. It’s time for some different challenges. I welcome the difference. This is a test upcoming. I’m looking forward to it. Because our greatest series has lost a ton of meaning to me. The totally logical consequence of money men over sporting men.

With that some house notes. The Ashes Panel will be up and running, and the first set have been asked their views. TLG will have a piece up early this week. We’ll be doing our usual for the ODI series, which is totally after the Lord Mayor’s Show (will they ever learn that lesson from 2005?), and when the international season is over, I’ll be doing the survey where we appoint the highly presitgious worst and best journalists of the last 12 months, as well as other matters.

Have a good evening.

Dmitri

2015 Ashes – 5th Test, Day 4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Just for our special, favourite, lovely fan of this blog

We enter Day 4 and I’m taken back to another Day 4 at which I was present back in 2002. At that stage the score was 1-0, and after a decent 1st day’s play, when Vaughan scored 177, we thought we might have a contest. Sadly Australia ground us into the dirt on a sweltering Saturday and we lost key wickets in the late evening session.

However in Adelaide there was a weather forecast to give all England fans hope. Sunday was due to see a rain band move in and then the Monday forecast was for heavy rain all day. So if England could just make it to the rain, we’d be in with a shout of a draw.

I’ll do the rest when I do my Memories of Adelaide 2002…..

England find themselves requiring the weather forecast to be deadly accurate. There is a rain band, and as I look it is approaching the south coast, which will mean a stoppage in play. It doesn’t look a particularly wide band, so it may not cause the whole day to be lost.

@ 9:45
@ 9:45

This is where we are at. Hoping for rain. It happens. While I’m not taking the casual Oliver Holt approach to this defeat, the main task has been completed and it is understandable, given our sporting mentality (in my view) that there is a let down. We’ve never been great winners, resting on the laurels of a win for too long. This victory has been a surprise, and all this is proving to me is that they cannot slip even a miniscule amount before finding themselves in trouble. You just need to look at Bridgetown, and two recent Leeds tests to prove that.

Anyway, all comments on today’s play below. Once the Ashes are over, we’ll need to consider what we do. It’s been a busy, fractious, at times unpleasant, at times exhilirating, but rarely dull. There’s a busy winter coming up. Filling in time is going to be a challenge. Hope you stick with us.

Finally, best wishes to the TFT. I hope they get their hacking issue sorted a.s.a.p. It’s something I live in fear of with the blog, and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Good luck in sorting it chaps.

A Little Day 3 Report

Courtesy of Sir Peter from yesterday's play
Courtesy of Sir Peter from yesterday’s play

A lovely day, weather set fair, and I’m dragged out food shopping for the morning session. Oh well.

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So I came back home just after Ian Bell was out. Cook seemed immovable, Root was in with him. This was probably our last chance for that major partnership that you need to get out of a massive hole like this. In reality, when you have a hopeless situation you usually need the openers to do so. Or at least one and three. I’m thinking something like this. Or perhaps this. But these two rearguards, fuelled by obstinacy and great talent started at the fag end of Day 3, not an hour or so into it. This then takes you into Kolkata territory, and that’s a once in a lifetime event. We think.

The psychology of simplicity is upon closer examination almost philisophical in its liberalism. And keeping it simple, adhering to the sound founding narratives of test match batting, was the requisite skill set. The workman’s indentikit is ensconced in the fibre of Alastair Cook’s foundations. His venerable, multiplicity of leave, block, leave, block variations were just what the university qualified medical practioner anticipated. He alone stood there, a veritable Rock of Gibraltar, as the ships masquerading as fellow travellers departed one by one. An Emperor, ruling without strong enough yeoman. It was a most ineloquent, morale sapping visage.

The sanctimoniousness of independence is very nearly socialistic in its obfuscation. Yes. That’s me innit.

OK, back to the cricket. I saw Joe Root’s dismissal, and there’s just this little double standard that wrenches at me. When the situation merits it, I’ll mention it. This was the “if KP did that moment” for me. The social media wires would have been alive. The torrent of abuse would have been writ large. Press and TV commentators would be all over it. This was not the first time Joe has done that. Not even this year – remember Lord’s. I’ve not done the stats, and I’m afraid of Tickers’ #rootmaths, but I can’t remember many great hands when the game is there to be saved.

Before people take this out of context, I’m not having a pop at our great young player. I’m having a pop at the double standards. Is it OK for a player to do that and because he shows visually with cursing and flailing of bats his disappointment it is more meritorious than someone who walks off as if it is a normal dismissal? I don’t know. Joe’s a team man, that’s clear. I think that repeats of this dismissal are a little concerning. However, this bad test and suddenly Stuart Broad, who’s also been not so good, seems to have moved into the lead in the Player of the Series ballots if the cognoscenti in the Sky Box (ECB-TV Pravda for the Masses (well, masses of subscribers)) are anything to go by.

Bairstow stuck with Cook for a while, but he doesn’t suggest permanence to me. So while Vaughan is picking him for the UAE tour, Etheridge is adamant on Twitter that he won’t be in the team. I hope that isn’t guesswork, John. Bairstow’s return has been neither here nor there. A useful half century at Trent Bridge suggested he’d sorted himself out a little, but it may be that tests are not for him. Maybe. I hope I’m wrong, but you think he’s going to cope (albeit he was a trifle unfortunate today) with spinning tops in the UAE? I’m not confident.

Stokes, well…. that happens. He’s delivered his fourth bowler wickets in this and previous tests, and he’s played some decent knocks, but we know he can do more. Not been his finest test with the bat.

Which takes me back to Adam Lyth. The conservatism of injustice is really quite prosaic in its trendiness. The dismissals of Lyth have been greeted with the all-knowing Twitter verdict. Off with his head. The consistent part is temperament. That is being questioned. I don’t think anyone believes that Lyth is going to play for England again. He’s had an awful Ashes, played on some funny old wickets, and when on a good surface, facing a big Aussie first innings. I do ask people to remember that hundred at Headingley which was a really, really good knock. He’s not a bad player. But we’ll do more of this in the Ashes round-up after the series is finished, where we’ll also talk about Ian Bell.

England are six down, and we still sent in a night-watchman to protect Moeen Ali. Jos stuck at it tonight but looked horrendously out of nick. The drums are going to start beating for him to score more runs. He needs a successful ODI series, perhaps to get his mojo back.

As an academic once said “the isomorphism of omniscience is in reality quite independent in its hubris” and if you caught Graeme Swann on TMS I know you’d concur. This England team is still a work in progress. It’s like a shed with no roof – you might have the foundations in place, but when tomorrow afternoon’s weather hits, you’d better have a good tarpaulin. At the moment, our batting line-up is that piece of rag you’ve had for years. Full of holes, and liable to leak a lot.

Have a good evening. I’m currently preparing Dried Oatmeal and Cheese Soup with Baked Mystery Meat and Lime Juice. Sounds delicious.

EDIT – Bairstow at Trent Bridge, not Edgbaston, of course.

UPDATE – Oliver Holt – subject of a wonderful description by Mark a while back “people like him (Martin Samuel) and Oliver Holt thought if they didn’t shave on TV, and wore a leather jacket it made them like Keith Richards.” – says don’t you worry your little heads about The Oval.

OK, so England collapsed against Australia at The Kia Oval on Friday afternoon. And, sure, the fifth Test didn’t turn into quite the victory parade we were hoping for. But let’s not be too dismayed. It’s a dead rubber. We’ve already won back the Ashes. The tension has gone out of the series. Worry about it if you want, but the result of the final instalment of a compelling summer of cricket is close to irrelevant.

So, Olly. This is almost an exact replica of the Lord’s test. Explain. Also, how come Aussie put the hammer down when we are down, and we think we can put our feet up when we win? Wasn’t 5-0 the ultimate humiliation for the nation? OK, Olly….

Still, earlier in the article, which is principally about athletics, Olly rails against the “smug commentariat” who sneer against each drug revelation and “giving the impression that their state of denial knows no bounds”.

He’s obviously not been hanging with many of the cricket journos.

All FICJAM-esque cobblers in here courtesy of http://phrasegenerator.com/ – the rest is my fault.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Top 8 Scandalous Poker Tips

2015 Ashes – 5th Test Day 3

10 years ago - 5th Test - Day 3. You know who, of course....
10 years ago – 5th Test – Day 3. You know who, of course….

Hey, if I’m going to be accused of being obsessed, let me do my thing.

This has been a ridiculous series, hasn’t it? I’m not going to bother describing the nonsense of Day 2. We’re looking down the barrel, look pretty clueless, and this has loss written all over it. Is there any bad weather around?

Feel free to comment on the day’s play below.

I had a post drafted about the events of last night. But I’m holding back on it. But I will include this now:

You as commenters have a responsibility to conduct yourselves in a way you can defend yourselves. This isn’t generally a problem. Any comment on this blog is not endorsed or approved by the writers unless we specifically comment on this. This is evident common sense, but it needs restating. We don’t operate a pre-moderating policy. I am trying to for certain things, but it is not easy, so until it is perfected, it won’t be. But I do not edit. I do not censor. I don’t like political posts – calm down Boz – and will warn. But that’s all.

Have a good night. Time for….

No alcohol tonight.
No alcohol tonight.