England vs. Australia, 4th Test Preview and Live Blog

 

First of all, I want to echo the thoughts of Dmitri & TLG and take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world. Thank you once again to those that have read, contributed and commented on the blog in 2017, your support has once again been invaluable.

So, onto the cricket ahead of us and if you hadn’t watched any of the series so far, but had just listened to the thoughts of Empty Suit, then you’d have thought that England had just won the Ashes covincingly this year:

“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.

“It’s a shame this series hasn’t gone our way but there’s more to play for over the course of the winter. It’s also important to remember that in every one of the three games England have been in a position where things could have worked out differently.”

I think we can safely translate this as the ECB has plenty of money through our new TV deals and T20 competition, so stuff the fans and stuff the Ashes, as long as the mugs still turn up for the Lords Test next Summer. The lack of accountability and self-awareness, whilst not surprising is still absolutely breathtaking. Jobs for the boys and all that…

As for the next Test itself, there won’t be too many people betting on an England victory, not only as we’ve been consistently outplayed in the first 3 Tests, but also because England’s record in dead-rubber games is pretty appalling. It has been confirmed that Tom Curran will replace Craig Overton for England and Jackson Bird will replace Mitchell Starc for the Australians. Now, from the little I’ve seen of both Curran brothers, I do believe that they have something about them, but again if the MCG is a flat, quick pitch then I’m not sure that Tom Curran will have any more success than England’s other quick bowlers have had in the series so far. There has been some talk of Mason Crane playing, but surely that will only happen if Moeen, despite having a poor series, is injured. Certainly I think throwing Crane into one of the last 2 Tests, will be a form of hari-kari, as the Aussies smashed Yasir Shah to all parts of Australia last winter and Shah is a far better bowler than Crane.

We are going to try and live blog some of this Test and Dmitri will be in place to cover some of the first session, so if a whole day with the in-laws and eating far too much Turkey isn’t enough masochism for one day, then please do join us this evening to see if England can muster some fight in this Test and avoid the dreaded whitewash.

Thoughts and comments below as always…

LIVE BLOG TIME….

OK, Live blog time. Dmitri here for as long as I last. Yet again the media are setting the agenda and Joe Root is now defending himself as captain more than his predecessor had to on the incredible collapsing tour last time out in Australia.

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I went to the MCG back in 2006. Victoria v Queensland in a one day cup match. A huge soulless bowl in my opinion. Of course, with a thousand or so in the ground it was always going to be so, but Brisbane gets stick where the “G” doesn’t.

22:58 Hello my hit person from Kyoto. Glad to see BT Sport have Michael Hussey in to replace Ricky Ponting. Hussey speaks far too fast but absolutely loves the game and he could be quite a decent replacement.

23:00 Australia bat first. Steve Smith wins the toss. At least I don’t have an England collapse to report on this evening. Just the one change – Curran in for Overton – and the point made by Shiny Toy in the preview isn’t quite the stupid one it appears. Again, we reward the failures to put it right. That said, we dropped Prior and Root at the tail end of 2013/14 so that worked!

23:08 Damien Fleming seems to think Joe Root won the toss?

23:14 The Voice being murdered again in the background. Absolutely slaughtered.

23:16 That Shiny Toy clip is in this tweet:

23:20 If I may be allowed to let my standards down, but this absolute prick repeatedly gets away with this bollocks. Usman Khawaja is in the Australian team.

He’s been brought up in England, educated in England, hasn’t been to his native country I would imagine for any length of time. It’s not a funny dig, it’s idiotic nativism. I think it’s great that Usman Khawaja, born of Pakistani parents in Islamabad is playing for Australia.

23:22 All good aboriginal stuff. She’s making the most of her two minutes of publicity. The anthems as dreadful as ever. Get on with it.

23:26 Michael Slater. Good luck everyone.

23:27 From James at TFT:

We’d have taken that today!

23:30 Loads of comments that Warner is going to get a ton today. We’ll see. Jimmy Anderson gets us underway with a wide one easily left by Bancroft. A rank ball second up is prodded through the covers for 3 second ball by Bancroft. Warner is a little fortunate off his second ball with a floaty one through gully for another three. 6/0 off the first over.

23:36 Broad gets booed before he bowls. Ah, remember those pious Aussies over Ponting? Never mind. Single for Warner off the third ball (as BT have a funky moment). 7/0 after 2 overs.

23:41 Took a comfort break for most of that over. 3 runs off it. Anderson looking up an down. 10 for no loss. Could be a long one peeps.

23:45 First boundary of the day as Warner punches one down the ground from a full Broad ball. It looks to me as if Broad is floating it up there. He’s made a couple of twos on either side of the boundary. A single off the last straight to mid off (he’s too deep if he’s taking a single to you) makes it 19 for no loss off 4 overs.

23:48 Interesting Tweet on Warner’s flat track bully status:

No matter. Warner punches another four through the covers. Then drops it and a single is taken. The lessons we can learn from this sort of batting go beyond the T20 label. Push it. Run. End of the 5th over and it is 26 for 0.

23:52 First play and miss. Warner beaten by Broad. Call the press. Warner has gone from looking nervous to firm body language in 20 minutes. The commentators are charlatans dealing in cliche. Broad bowls the best over by a mile, calming Warner down with a maiden.

23:55 Anderson hurries Bancroft with an 83 mph short ball. Odd. Second consecutive maiden, remaining 26 for 0.

00:02 Broad fields well to ensure another maiden. 26/0 off 8. Not particularly threatening, but stemmed some of the early bleeding.

00:05 Bancroft again uncomfortable against a shorter ball. Hussey on comms reckons we’ve been a bit short, but when we are full we appear to be a bit “floaty” in my opinion. Fourth maiden on the trot. 26/0 after 9 overs.

00:08 A ball on leg stump ends the 28 balls without a run, as Warner moves on to 22. The only run off the over as Bancroft continues to look edgy. 27/0 after 10.

00:14 Anderson bowls a jollop ball and lets the shackles off Warner.  Broad has been really disciplined this morning, but the genius has been off kilter. 31 for 0 after 11.

00:17 Good grief. Genuine nick, first morning, newish ball, doesn’t carry half way. Let’s hear none of best test wickets in the world from the Australians, eh? Broad bowled well, so far. Bancroft flaps at another short one. I’ve wanted a short leg from the first time that happened, but that’s me. Oh, and now we put one there! Broad goes full off the last ball and Bancroft gets a couple to get his score moving. 33 for no loss after 12 overs. Time for Anderson to have a rest? Looked pretty up and down this morning.

00:22 Woakes replaces Anderson. Sure, it’s a flat deck, but Anderson looked toothless. Broad has bowled and sat in well. Woakes bowls a wide on second up and Warner flaps it for two. Four runs in total from an innocuous opening over from Woakes.

00:27 At the moment I’m staying up only to watch Tom Curran. This is turgid stuff because England are bowling resourcefully with no reward. Broad continues a probing spell. 37 for 0 at the drinks break. Broad completes 7 overs for 13 runs. Sure, no wickets, but this is a flat deck and he kept the batsmen, including Warner when he started his flurry, honest. Outbowled Anderson. But it doesn’t matter when you don’t take wickets.

00:34 Woakes bowls a crap first ball after drinks which Warner wallops for a couple. An appeal off the 4th ball of the over, but too high. Bancroft looks horrific on strike. But he’s still there. 40 for 0.

00:39 Moeen Ali comes on. Tom Curran has to be feeling terrific already. Single off the third ball to Warner. Single milked by Bancroft off the fourth. Last ball is short filth and smashed for four through midwicket by Warner. 46 for 0.

00:42 Woakes bowling. BT sport miss the 4th ball of the over with a range shot (2nd ball they’ve missed today). 3 off the 5th ball as the 2 runs are added after the ball hits the stumps. 50 brought up as Woakes redefines unthreatening.

00:47 Warner pushes another couple through the offside off Moeen. 53 for 0, with Warner on 42. Get Curran on, Root, so I can go to bed.

00:51 Warner creams the second ball off Woakes for a boundary. Woakes going downhill quicker than Frank Klammer. Warner brings up a half-century with a disdainful smash through mid wicket to a ball just outside off stump but a little short. Woakes now gone for 21 in his first three (?) overs. 50 up off 64 balls.

00:55 Good luck Tom. 63 for 0. Flat deck. Warner in. Nice chance to perform. Bancroft a bit streaky off the third ball as he hits over the slips. Curran lucky to be bowling to Bancroft as he’s bowled a wide one, a half volley and got one nicked. With that, folks, I’m winding up the live blog for the evening and going to bed.

It’s a dreadfully flat wicket, England have been woeful on surfaces like this, and Australia are going to make a ton here. See you on the other side!

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Mr Telephone Man, There’s Something Wrong With My Line

The clock is winding down towards Christmas, and the Boxing Day Test at the now decided Ashes. While there are remarkable similarities in the way both this and the last series has progressed, there is, of course, for UK viewers one very key change – the broadcaster is now BT Sport and not, as it has been since 1990, Sky Sports for an overseas test tour.

As someone who has Virgin Media (because trees prevent a satellite dish) this has meant I can watch the play (albeit about 5 seconds behind on HD) fine and dandy and with no worries about the service being interrupted through snowstorms and high winds. I am also the kind of sad person who records most of the cricket put out there, mainly in highlight form, but for some reason decided to emulate 2010/11 and 2013 by recording the Ashes in its entirety. This means I get to see the whole of BT Sport’s production at varying times.

My first impression is on technical skills, following the play, not missing a ball because you are late back from adverts (a cardinal sin that one), BT have not done a bad job. They haven’t sought to introduce stupid innovations or jazz coverage up to the max. They have concentrated on putting out a decent product that does what it needs to do. As a viewer youngish at heart but oldish of hue, I don’t mind that one bit.

BT also sought not to be too innovative in their commentary team either. All of those selected to present cricket to you have been in the broadcasting game for a while, either on TMS, Channel Ten’s coverage of BBL, or BT Sport before. It is a little bit of  a shame that a newbie wasn’t given a shout, but that’s a minor quibble. Three regular Australians – and I’m not sure who replaces them in Melbourne as I think they might all be off to the Big Bash – might be one too many but when two of them are the brilliant Ricky Ponting, and the “he’d be brilliant but he has to compare to Ponting” Adam Gilchrist that is nothing to moan about. As I’ve said, if I’m starting a TV station, and I have the pick of all world cricket commentators to choose from, I’d pay Punter what he wants and the rest can do it for free.

Much was made last year of the recruitment of Radio 1’s Greg James as the host of BT Sport cricket. He was about as vanilla as they come except for those awful checked shirts. He didn’t pull up any trees, but then again he didn’t exactly convince me. James then pulled out of doing the anchor role for the Ashes and it was handed to Matt Smith. I always quite liked Matt Smith, but it has to be said that it was a bit of a journeyman choice, having been one of those guys who seemed to turn his hand to anything.

The presentation is fine. The highlights are slightly longer than Sky’s and they don’t feel the need to bother with a version of The Verdict, which was only really the Colvile and Willis Show when boiled down to its constituent parts. I’m all in favour of that, there’s too much “analysis” which in the end is really only a load of ex-cricketers riding their favourite hobby horse. Sky’s cricket highlights were around 48 minutes long after adverts are removed, BT’s are around 1 hour, up to 1 hour 10. I think BT actually do this better.

The one thing that has struck me, and judging by the comments attached to the “Leave Out All The Rest” post it has some of you, is the incessant tide over after over of betting adverts. Now I’m not a gambler, and never will be. It gets a bit much after a while. Kwiff, Paddy Power, Bet 365, Betfair, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill, and I’m sure there are more. It hits you that the only thing sport seems to exist for is to allow us to lose our money in many varied ways. BT are not the only ones to do this, I know, but it just seems more egregious. The first 20-25 minutes are ad free, and then they come at you. Wave after wave. More free bets and boosted odds. More ways to tie gullible people in.

The presentation before the start of play is relatively standard, loads of people standing around a table talking a lot, and me not remembering a lot of what they said. This happens at the end, but I delete it before watching it most days. Which leads me on to the assessment, and grades, of the various presenters.

RICKY PONTING – A+. The best in the business because he is there for two reasons – he is a great ex-player, certainly the best on the TV rotation I would contend, and I’m pretty sure he’s not a regular journalist. He informs you without patronising, is enthusiastic without it coming out as being forced, and is engaging in his delivery and his knowledge. He can be humorous without labouring jokes, he can be deadly serious when he needs to be. He clearly absolutely adores the game, making this sound like a calling, not a job. I do not enthuse about many media folk, but I do Ponting. Which is funny, because I hated him as a player. In my view he knocks Atherton for six, and does the Nasser job a darn sight better than Hussain does.

ALISON MITCHELL – A- – Now let me confess my sins. I thought this move was one to tick boxes but in many ways I was so wrong. Mitchell is a professional broadcaster and it shows. She is brilliant at her job. I do not want to enter the debate that poisoned the water here, but when you put experienced, professional, engaging, capable individuals in a position when they can shine, it is all power to the female commentator elbow. The best tribute you can pay to Alison is that when she comes on to her spell you go “oh good, she’s going to describe to me what is happening, and she is good at it”. Has great rapport with nearly all the commentators – keep Lovejoy away from her – and if you’ve got Geoffrey’s respect, you’ve earned it. A terrific, pleasant surprise from someone who doesn’t listen to TMS a lot to know how good she really is.

ADAM GILCHRIST – B+ – Gilchrist again has that knowledge but tries a little too hard for me. It does sound a little forced. He should not, for example, be allowed to talk about Premier League football at all, just as a cross-promotion. But what Gilchrist does well is much more important than what he does badly. As time went on I found he seemed to flow off the Ponting approach. He might try to over-reach a bit, which is why he’s not up there in Punter’s stratosphere. He’ll say something a little too pants on fire enthusiasm, or make a bit more of a hyperbolic statement. But he’s been an outstanding choice as Australian commentator for BT Sport, and I for one, would love to hear more of him. When you are the legend he is, and you clearly love the sport like he does, then more power to you, and you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt in my eyes.

GEOFF BOYCOTT – B – You would think Sir Geoffrey would be like marmite, you either loathe him or hate him, but I’m actually quite ambivalent towards him. There’s a ton of good with Geoffrey. He clearly, again, absolutely loves the game still and cares for it to his core. This is conveyed in every stint on the mic. He also speaks his mind, and in some ways doesn’t care who he upsets. Sometimes I suspected he did this for effect, but whereas I thought he did that in the past, I’ve not got that here. He’s shown his soft side over Malan, for instance, who you can hear him urging on. He dovetails well with most commentators (not all), and while his manner does upset some, he has been absolutely worth it for me.

DAMIEN FLEMING – B- – Mr Fleming has a little bit of a problem. He does not carry the legend status of the two other Aussies on the team so he has to show out a bit more. This leads to some of his Aussie nomenclature coming over to a BT audience that could not give a stuff if he’s the Bowlologist or not. When commentating on the game he is absolutely fine. He’s not pulling up trees, but he’s not making me scratch my eyes out. No team is going to be perfect, but again, he clearly sees this as more than a job, and conveys that. I know this view is not shared by all my fellow writers!

MICHAEL VAUGHAN – D- – Do you notice what I’ve said about the five commentators / pundits above? They clearly love the game, they see it as more than a job. What strikes me between the eyes with Vaughan is this is his job. I’m not convinced he loves doing this at all. The whole aim of this Ashes tour appears to have been the self-promotion of one MP Vaughan. He’s on BT Sport, he’s on ESPN Cricinfo, he’s on any media outlet that will have him. And what we get is reactive talking points. He’s not explaining anything, he’s concentrating on which reaction will get the most play. For a former captain of some repute, he seems very reticent in bringing his experience in the role to bear in his commentary. You’d thought he’d be dying to. He’s not all bad, but his first commentary stint in Brisbane was very nervous – he would not shut up. He has improved on that score, but there’s too much baggage, too much exposure, too much working out how he’s going to insert himself into the story and not let the story speak for itself.

GRAEME SWANN – Z- – I have no words. Really. But let me say this. If this man could just talk about cricket, and not try to be funny, witty, the smartest guy in the room, the court jester, the ra-ra we can do it type we might have something to work with. No. I’m not giving him credit for the times he talks about spin bowling. There should be more to commentating than besmirching your one specialist topic with a tide of self-loving. Just truly dreadful. I’d seriously reconsider, BT.

So, what do you think, if you care? Have I been too harsh, too generous. I actually have quite enjoyed something different, even if it means swallowing some pretty awful medicine here or there. It’s not as polished as Sky, but in many ways, it’s not as jaded or cynical. Replace a Swann with a Nasser, who I still like despite everything, a Vaughan with an Atherton, and Matt Smith, who did well, with Ian Ward, who can do it better, and you’ll be very well served.

We may have other posts before Christmas, but they may not be mine! We’ll see. If not, let me wish all of you a happy Christmas and see you on Christmas Night for a live blog of Melbourne if any of you can be bothered (for the first session at least).

Blame, Babies, Bathwater

The lesser spotted Escape Goat, believed discovered by the Warner family, is only fleetingly seen.  Examples of this rare beast abound, hidden away in museums as examples for the public to view.  New sightings have been rumoured in Australia, where it seems they have their home.  It is a strange animal, whose only evolutionary purpose has been to serve as a diversion for other creatures, generally to be found in St Johns Wood, London.  Usually secretive and ignored by the wider world, they pop up whenever anyone starts asking awkward questions about disasters in Australia in particular.

The shambles of four years ago had an obvious culprit.  Everyone knew it, everyone could write about it.  All other incidentals could be safely ignored, all other factors dismissed.  Just one person could be held responsible for everything, and if only that person was removed, all would be wonderful.  If nothing else, that would buy four years for everyone else to forget, and by the time another trip to Australia came round, everyone could get behind “the boys”, and cheer them to victory, putting the damned colonials back in their place.

That it wasn’t going to happen that way should have been obvious to everyone, yet collective fingers went in collective ears, and a refusal to listen was more than a metaphor, it was literal.  It’s not that a potential whitewash this time around was a racing certainty, for Australia are good but not exceptional, and England modest but not awful, but the distinct likelihood that it will now happen is not overly surprising either.  The ECB deserve credit for one thing, they have managed to make those who have become indifferent rather angry.  This must not be permitted.

Still, the players are always the ones who get the focus, not least because wider issues can be safely ignored.  It’s so predictable.  In the run up to the series it was correctly stated that for England to compete, their experienced players would need to perform exceptionally, and it’s true they haven’t done so.  But it was equally stated that the new players would prove the weak link, and generally speaking they’ve done better than their peers.  That England had managed to get themselves in a position like that was, naturally enough, ignored – the discarding of players who didn’t fit the character parameters is a particular joy of the ECB structure, but let’s not talk about those, after all no one in the media ever does.  And of course the way first class cricket in England has been marginalised in the pursuit of T20 cash must never ever be mentioned, except by those few extremists who have been banging on about it and boring everyone by actually caring about the game itself.

No, those responsible cannot possibly be any of the administrators, who have created the environment in which English cricket exists, and cannot be the selectors who happily built a merry-go-round where cricketing ability is only one factor to be considered.  Unfortunately, this time it can’t be Kevin Pietersen either, that useful idiot who was single handedly responsible for everything bad from the dawn of time, and the only reason for any 5-0 defeat.

Ben Stokes has to be one of course.  Forgive me – that should be “New Zealand-born Ben Stokes”.  His absence is undoubtedly a cricketing blow, and one that can be maximised and extended to be blamed for the poor shots or poor line and length of his colleagues.  Those absent tend to perform incredibly compared to those who are present, and in that, nothing changes.  Had Stokes been there, England would be romping to victory by now.  It’s been a limited line of attack so far, but expect more as time goes on, especially if it gets worse on the field.

Who else can be targeted?  Ah yes, the senior players.  How perfect.  Cook, Root, Anderson, Broad, Moeen – they will do.  Now, it’s clear that of those only Anderson has done well enough to be generally excluded from the firing line, even though any kind of detailed analysis might raise questions over the detail of his performances.  But since the figures look decent enough, probably best not to mention him, that would take proper analysis.

Cook is by far the most interesting name to come up as being culpable.  It’s not that he has played poorly, for that is very obvious. It’s not even that he look technically adrift, for that looked to be the case from the first ball of the series.  It is instead that the editorial line has gone from Greatest Ever to Time To Go with nothing intervening.   Just three Tests.  This blog has highlighted the declining returns from Cook over the last few years repeatedly, to the point it’s accused of being anti-Cook.  Yet it was the reality, and the frustration wasn’t so much with him, it was with the way this was repeatedly denied by those who would write hagiographies at every opportunity and deny what they were so keen to say of others going through the same process in their careers.  Hypocrisy is rarely admitted.

Now, apparently, it is time for him to go.  Yet the point about Cook is the same one that should be about every player.  Is he the best we have in his position?  If so, then pick him.  It really shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp, yet apparently is.  Unless England can do better than him, then the calls for him to go are nothing other than jumping on a bandwagon and, somewhat deliciously given the history, meting out the same treatment to him that was given to others.

Then we come to the way Stoneman and Vince have apparently done reasonably well, but Root hasn’t.  To some extent it’s a matter of expectation, but scoring a half century and getting out is not confined solely to Root, yet it is Root that all the focus is upon.  It’s something of which he is acutely aware of course, but once more, differing judgements on the same outcome are as absurd as they always has been.  Root’s conversion rate is similar to that of Cook over the last few years, something never mentioned then, and only mentioned in passing now as an excuse to give Cook an extra kicking.  This is either a problem for everyone or no one – pretending otherwise is preposterous.  Dawid Malan has done well this tour so far, and Jonny Bairstow has done reasonably.  No one else has.

As for Moeen, his batting has been the issue.  Without question.  But his bowling is pretty much what should have been expected in Australia.  English finger spinners don’t do well in Australia – even the exceptional Graeme Swann averaged over 40 there, and Moeen is no Swann.  It’s not been great, and a finger injury hasn’t helped, but the apparent surprise at this is laughable.  England even have a couple of leg spinners, but the one who is there wasn’t picked even when Moeen was supposedly injured, and the one who isn’t – who can even bat as well – has long been thrown on the scrapheap, less for his cricketing skills and more, it seems, because he isn’t the right character.

And finally Stuart Broad.  A bowler who has been exceptional for England over a number of years, one known to be carrying injuries, one who even amongst the wreckage four years ago could hold his head up high.  He had a quietish summer, certainly, and hasn’t been great on this tour.  But now, at 31, he’s done.  Past it.  Finished.  Broad is a spiky character, and not one who has generated much love among supporters, but this is his first genuinely poor trot in a while, and now the knives are out. No mention of playing him injured, no mention of his workload, no mention that there might be reasons of any kind, it’s time to move on, while of course keeping his bowling partner four years his senior.

Questions can be asked and questions should be asked.  But we’re here in the same place again.  Only a few should carry the can, and others can be excused.  And above all else, it stops those difficult, awkward objections to the way cricket has been run in England.  The likes of Graves, Harrison, Strauss and the entirely invisible Whitaker cannot, must be questioned.  Ever.  Nothing changes, not on the field, nor off.  If Trevor Bayliss is to be in the firing line, who appointed him?  Who appointed his predecessor?  Who created the English cricket structure?  Is it possible that those people could be responsible, in the smallest, tiniest way?

Gins all round chaps.  It’s only Test cricket after all.

 

3rd Ashes Test, Day 5

The day began with England 127 runs behind, with 6 wickets remaining. Perhaps more importantly for their chances of saving the game, the day started with rain. Lots of rain. It fell overnight and for most of the first two hours, and some of it had managed to make it through the WACA’s rudimentary rain covers, leaving wet patches on several points of the pitch.

This led to scenes of the Aussie groundsmen firing six leaf-blowers at the affected areas of the pitch prior to play beginning, and the England camp were clearly unimpressed with the state of the pitch. An early Lunch was taken, and play eventually resumed for the day at 5am, 3 hours after the scheduled start of play, with England needing to survive 70 overs in the day.

Things didn’t start well for the tourists when Bairstow fell in the second over of the day. He was bowled by a Hazlewood delivery which appeared to stay low off the pitch, a fact that certainly annoyed Jonny and left several England fans reminding their Australian counterparts of the “pitch doctoring” allegations two years ago. Certainly it never seemed like the Australian bowlers needed any help in this series, but they gratefully welcomed the surface they faced today.

In the same over, the new batsman Moeen Ali edged one towards Steve Smith at second slip which the umpires judged not to have carried. The umpires sent the decision upstairs, where the footage wasn’t able to conclusively overturn the ruling on the field. Smith was not pleased.

The next few overs were full of incident and excitement. LBW appeals, bouncers, swinging deliveries and run out opportunities. Malan and Moeen appeared to have weathered the storm of the first hour when Ali played outside the line to a straight ball from Lyon and was given out LBW.

Chris Woakes and Dawid Malan steadied the ship for a few overs, until Malan gloved a ball from wide outside leg to the Aussie wicketkeeper. This wicket effectively ended England’s chances of eking out a draw, barring a surprise rain shower. Overton was peppered with short balls aimed at his injured ribs before he hit a leading edge to Khawaja at gully. In the next over, Broad gloved a short ball from Cummins right into Paine’s gloves.

The next delivery from Cummins struck Jimmy Anderson on the side of the helmet, but fortunately the England bowler was just shaken up by the impact. Chris Woakes did his best to shield Anderson from the strike but the allrounder eventually top-edged a short ball from Cummins, ending the game and the series.

There’s no doubt going to be several posts over the following days and weeks about England’s performances over this series. The simple fact is that they have been outclassed in every facet of the game. Batting, bowling, fielding, and even off the field, Australia are indisputably the better team. England won all three tosses, the weather has been relatively cool, the pitches slower than expected. England have had almost every advantage possible in this series, and not come remotely close to winning or even drawing a game.

With the series beyond reach, several people seem to be suggesting that England try new players in the remaining two games. Certainly on their current form in this series, there’s a case for Cook and Broad to be ‘rested’. It seems bizarre to me the amount of flak Joe Root is receiving from the English media whilst Cook seems to get a free pass. Root literally has more than twice the batting average of England’s all-time top scorer in this series. Despite being England’s most effective bowler this series (which has to be damning with faint praise), I’d also rest Anderson for the last two games. He’s 35 years old, and forcing him to play two dead rubbers on what are likely to be batting-friendly pitches doesn’t do him or England any good.

In Stokes’ absence, neither of England’s allrounders has really stepped up and performed well so far in this series. Moeen Ali averages 19.33 with the bat and 105.33 with the ball, whilst Woakes averages 14.66 with the bat and 51.77 with the ball. Because both of them are not really justifying their places as a batsman or bowler, there has to be a case for replacing them.

All of which really only leaves Bairstow, Root and the newcomers to the side. I genuinely did not rate any of them going into the series but Stoneman, Vince, Malan and Overton have all exceeded my expectations and deserve an opportunity to secure their places long-term. Of course the level of my expectations for these new players were so low that in some ways the worst the players could do is meet them, but fair play to them taking their chances.

Or maybe they won’t change anything at all. After all, it’s not the fault of the coaches, or players, or selectors. As our 100% scientific poll suggests, this series loss is all KP’s fault.

As always, feel free to comment below. Or rant. I’m sure there will be a lot of ranting.

What Will You Do When Your Systems Fail? – Day 3 at Perth

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There comes a time in a person’s life when you really have to make the decision about a series like this. Is it actually worth sacrificing anything to invest your heart in it? I had a Christmas do yesterday, and came home well oiled, without having hit anyone or poured a drink over someone (although I did have a beer with an MP, so maybe that’s as bad a sin). I wasn’t feeling very festive during the middle of the night, so sleep was always going to win the day, but there were days when I might have stayed up to watch.

As I also sleep quite lightly I wake up and look at the phone. For most of the day the figure on the right was 4. The number 4. All night long.

All morning long.

Until the end of play long.

I made the correct choice.

On our WhatsApp group this morning there was a strong desire for me to do a “Dmitri” on it. What’s the bloody point? What’s the point of investing any more of my heart and soul into a team that looks to be absolutely cooked? We’ve been rubbish in the past, beaten by an all-time great team on many occasions at Perth, but there’s been a spark of a fight in the field. This was the test match you could watch with your breakfast and listen to on the way to work. I’ve not switched on the TV or bothered to listen on the way in. Malan may have given us some enthusiasm, the joy of the first hundred, but since then we’ve had very little to cheer.

The day ended with Australia 549 for 4. The suspicion now is if England make 400, it is a 650 wicket. The suspicion is if England don’t have any movement off the pitch or in the air, they are absolutely stuffed. The suspicion is that they are told this so much they believe it. While Steve Smith is always capable of a double hundred, and so we should expect this on flat wickets where it is brutally hard to get top players out, but Mitchell Marsh is sitting there with 181 not out. 181.

I thought Chennai was bad. I thought letting a jobbing pro like Karun Nair make a test triple hundred was embarrassing. But that series was dead. It was 3-0 and we were about to fly home. Anderson missed the match. The captain was in the dying embers of his career. You could almost understand why the team was bereft. Today the series was still, in theory, alive. We could still win this test with a really good session or two, and although not likely, we might stay in the series going in to Melbourne. But no, Mitchell Marsh is sitting on the brink of a double, Smith could well make a triple here, and Chuckles comes out with the rubbish he does at the end? Mark Waugh played 128 test matches and never made more than 153. Steve Waugh played 168 tests, 89 of them at home, and his highest score in his home country was 170. The standard of play is dropping, you can see it before your eyes. We don’t live in a vintage time for test cricket and jobbing pros are making historic scores against England. It’s all the more frustrating that we’ve kept Warner in check just to let a couple of Marshes take us to the cleaners.

I’m obsessed by that Karun Nair triple century. It’s chastening watching your team cough up 700 plus, and they might be looking at that again. It’s even more chastening watching average players do it to you. It gives off distress signals. It intimates that you are intimidated. You have sub-consciously given up. That the end is nigh. I’ve heard the words “body language” too much today. Body language doesn’t take wickets. Ability and a bit of luck does.

As I type this I have Smith getting to 200 on the highlights. He’s an assassin. He will not only put his foot on your throat, he’ll stamp on you. He’s ruthless. We get a player like that and we apologise for it? Alastair Cook, sadly, is the poster child. You ever see him give it like Smith did when he got to 200? You know how we apologise for the 3-0 win in 2013 as if benefiting from the weather in a couple of games, and winning the close ones was something we should be ashamed of?

We’re forced to listen to commentators who hyped up the series, even tongue in cheek saying will Aussie be able to give us a game when they had a wobble against South Africa last year, now telling me this is inevitable. How Mark Wood might have been the answer here so why didn’t we give him a go? How the fielders weren’t into it. Jesus. What have you been doing to help the situation Shiny Toy? Bottling an application to put your money where your mouth is? You might get a chance if Andrew Strauss is held accountable (and given the news about his wife, which I’d wish on absolutely no-one, it’s not time to go into that aspect) and a vacancy arises. Will you stand up or is it too cosy being the annoying voice of venality on BT Sport and every other media outlet that gives you the oxygen of publicity?

We suspected Cook is past it. Nothing to change our minds. No-one was saying that pre-series. We were worried about the middle order fragility, and that’s not exactly been assuaged just because Malan made a good pitch hundred. We all gasped at Vince, but were told he had the game for Australia. One nice 80 and the rest is the same old same old. We pointed out that Anderson and Broad might not have the legs for this series, and one purple spell when the game was more or less dead in favourable conditions doesn’t change that. We worried about Ali taking wickets. We worried that this fragile team doesn’t make enough runs. And all I hear is “we don’t have extreme pace or mystery spin”. It’s like Southeastern trains blaming broken down trains for the delays – it’s your problem, fix it.

There will be a lot more, a lot more to come on this. But let’s see this test match out. England will have to bat for 4 and a bit sessions if Australia score another couple of hundred runs to try to not have to bat again. Then we’ll be in the realms of batting out time which we’ve shown plenty of aptitude for in recent times. On roads we collapse under pressure. We are the most mentally fragile team I have seen wear England colours for many years. We are up against a decent foe, but not all time great by any manner of means. There is no excuse for not putting up a decent fist of the second innings.

Which brings me back to the start of the piece. We need something to make us invest our heart and soul in this team. Maxie may well not be able to forgive and forget, but part of me wants to. It’s not bandwagon hopping for a winning team. It’s for someone to do something that makes me think this is worth it. That blogging about this lot is something I should invest my time in at a point in my life when time is something I am short of. I might have got past anger, which at least meant I cared, to resignation that we pay a lot of money to watch this absolute shambles and no-one seems to want to do anything about it. I love Ramps, but how can you justify extending his contract when the test batting is laughable? Those sort of decisions put my back up, but it’s typical ECB so why be angry?

Day 4 is an important day for England. Do they have it in them to put up a fight or is our bowling attack now really like the Zimbabwe and Bangladesh of yore, there for average players to make distinctly un-average scores? And do they have the fight in them to bat time on a flat deck? If you have faith, I’d take you back to last Christmas. And Karun Nair.

I’ll leave you with Danny’s take on the day…

​If I wrote it, it would be a very short post:
Woke up at 4am. Saw Smith was still in. Decided to go back to sleep.
Woke up at 5am. Saw Smith was still in. Decided to go back to sleep.
Woke up at 7.30am. Saw Smith was still in. Decided to go back to sleep.
Woke up at 9am. Saw Smith was still in. Decided to catch up with my Twitter feed.
Got out of bed after 10am. Saw last 2 overs. Felt pretty good about getting a full night’s sleep rather than watching this crap.

Maybe this would have been a better post.

Someone might be back to preview this. I will mostly be listening to the 4th day’s play on my way to Heathrow to pick up the Missus. She’s missed all this. Lucky her.

Australia vs. England, 3rd Test, Day 2. Maxie’s take..

I’m a London bus: I waited two years to write a blog post, and then two come along at once. In their wisdom the BOC board have entrusted me with today’s end-of-play report. I’m a little rusty, though, so bear with me.

I can’t claim to have seen every ball, although today I was in the unusual position of starting work very early – 5.30am – but not being very busy. So I kept an eye on proceedings and watched what I could on my phone via the BT Sport app. Which wasn’t perfect, but better than nothing.

England can still win this match, and even though personally I want Australia to win the series – for reasons I explained the other day I agree with a point NonOxCol made. An England victory here would benefit both the series and the Ashes in general. With the exception of 2010/11, every Ashes since 2002/3 has been won by the home side, and the visitors need to up the jeopardy levels lest the whole thing descends further into the mire of predictability.

But if England are to win – and apologies for stating the bleeding obvious – they’ll need at least three wickets in tomorrow’s morning session. From what I saw of their bowling today I’m can’t really see where those wickets will come from, save Australian mistakes (and Smith looks impenetrable). Broad was his most blandly innocuous, Anderson not much better, and a bowler of Woakes’s style will always have a mountain to climb in these conditions. The pitch – admittedly viewed only from my iPhone – is a belter.

Overton was the pick, I suppose, although his dismissal of Warner – who must be gutted at the lost opportunity – came out of nowhere. Is Overton good enough for the test team? I’ll have to reserve judgement there. His whole setup – approach to the wicket, delivery style – screams rustic ungainliness. His run-up is more of a wander-up. That kind of thing can deceive test opponents, as it did Smith at Adelaide, but rarely for long.

The obvious big talking point – apart from the dropped catches – was England’s collapse from 368-4 to 403 all out, in nine overs and forty eight minutes. Yes, it was a total you’d have happily accepted at 131-4 but by this morning you felt they needed 475 to secure control of the game. If England lose further momentum tomorrow morning, and squander the prospect of a meaningful lead, they’ll be left incredibly vulnerable to a third-innings meltdown. As has already been pointed out here, the last time England made 400 in the first innings in Australia was – appropriately enough for this blog – Adelaide 2006.

How to explain the collapse? I’m always a bit sceptical of shoehorning in a simplistic narrative – the kind that attributes the fall of several wickets to the same vague cause. There were poor shots, sure, but sometimes it just happens that three or four batsmen all independently make mistakes in close succession. Then again, England’s tail is increasingly resembling an unusually horrific road accident. In five innings the last five wickets collectively average 71.8.

A school of thought arose that Dawid Malan was to blame by triggering it all with his own dismissal. This is absurd, as NonOxCol pointed out, and I really must pay him royalties for constantly nicking his material. But that’s what we tend to do in England: we say it was all the fault of the top scorer, not of those who failed.

I know it was only second ball, but if anyone should take the rap, it’s Moeen. His stroke was the kind which is hardest to excuse as it was such a nothing shot – neither attack nor defence. I know he has many admirers here, but try as I might I can’t convince myself Moeen is a test-class cricketer, either as batsman (average 34) or bowler (38). Yes, I know there’s some very decent stuff on his CV but it’s just…I think it’s his lack of presence, combined with the air of haziness he gives off early in an innings. Every long-term player has a bad test series but for Moeen this is getting pretty rough now, with scores are 38, 40, 25, 2 and 0, plus only two wickets.

In my earlier piece I wrote:

Now and again I get the odd England twinge, the occasional conflicted moment, when I I forget myself briefly, and feel a brief pang of connection or empathy with the England players and what they’re trying to achieve. For a beat or two I feel English again. It’s usually to do with players. I’m fond of Jonny Bairstow and when he’s batting there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him do well. Dawid Malan, too.

Lo and behold, both Malan and Bairstow then both score sparkling centuries and rack up a record-breaking partnership of 237 (England’s highest against Australia since the Gabba in 2010). The cricketing gods clearly read this blog. Either that or it’s my magic touch.

Whatever my animosity towards England as a whole, I was genuinely really pleased for Bairstow. Watching the replay of his century-celebrations made me imagine, as it often does, what that specific moment must actually be like. The fulfilment of a childhood fantasy: scoring a century against Australia, in Australia. Malan aside, the only other player in the team who’s done that is Cook, but I doubt he can remember now what it’s like to score an Ashes hundred.

Bairstow played really, really well – and it’s the best test innings I’ve seen him make. He was composed, authoritative, and gritty but also struck the ball very sweetly. I’ve always had a soft spot for him. I like his energy and his attitude. Does his success in this test mean six is the right berth for him? Or should he be higher still in the batting order?

I was glad Bairstow head-butted his helmet, because at the moment everyone recognised what’s blinding obvious, and thanks for Pontiac for making me think about this. England supporters simply don’t care about the drinking incidents. The players know we don’t care, and we know that they know. Nevertheless we all have to endure this priggish pantomime of faux contrition and pompous moralising.

I once interviewed Peter Hayter about Ian Botham, whose boorish roistering wasn’t to everyone’s tastes but most of the people around him seemed to enjoy themselves. Asked to describe him in a nutshell, Hayter called him “the man who lived other men’s dreams”, and he was right. Much of the appeal of cricket is escapism and when you imagine life as an international player, that also includes the off-field fun and games. Youngsters do not grow up dreaming of bleep tests and early bedtimes. No one is deterred from cricket by talk of trays of sambuccas. The messy side of tour life is part of the romance of cricket. Would you rather hear about the team nutritionist or about Keith Miller going straight to Lord’s from the casino?

Finally I’d like to thank you all for the response to my piece ‘Paradise Lost. I’m glad it got a discussion going. And it’s nice to pop in here at BOC, although I doubt I can find the time very often. In the process I’ve got chatting to Sean and remarkably it turns out we went to the same school. It just goes to show that in cricket you can never get very far away from the old boys’ network.

Together, We Will Work And Strive – Day 2 at Perth Intro….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving spent a thousand or so words on a day’s report having not watched a ball, I am now introducing the second day’s play in the likely knowledge I won’t see a ball of that either! At the moment I have Rohit Sharma’s double hundred playing on the DVR (not VHS Jomesy), and will watch the test afterwards. So maybe there might be some insight later. But not likely.

With England just over 300 and four wickets down it is vital that we get as near to 500 as possible. That sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but the team need a platform to put pressure on the home team. We made these middling 350-450 scores against India last winter and succumbed when the likes of Karun Nair, I mean Karun effing Nair, made triple hundreds to send us to defeat. The Aussies could very well go big, but they could also trip up. Sometime on Day 2 we are likely to see David Warner give it a red hot crack, and that is going to test our mettle. He has a record of going off at Perth. There is also a recent record of big double tons at the WACA. This isn’t the rocket pitch of days of yore. (Wait a minute, Rohit scored 80 runs in the last 8 overs, on his own?)

England’s highest individual score at the WACA is 162 by Chris Broad in 1986. In many ways that innings was as big a surprise as Malan’s yesterday. Day 2 then saw Gower and Richards put a demoralised Australia to the sword. What we wouldn’t give for a repeat.

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I am not going to put too much more into the preview for tonight’s play. Sean has said he’ll take care of tomorrow’s report, but in the meantime the nightshift of Q, P and Sr can comment away, and us early risers can join in when we wake up. Let’s hope optimism pays off.

Me? 350 all out and them 250 for 1. It’s the hope that kills you.

Comment below.

I’ll also add a couple of pictures from 2006 as well. Because I can. So there!

All from Day 2 in 2006.

And a little bit of Malan….

I Can See It In Your Walk, Tell ’em When You Talk – 3rd Test Day 1

There’s an issue when you run a blog and the action is taking place either overnight or during work hours – how do you write a day’s report? I think we’ve done this a few times before, but with four of us you’d think we’d have it covered.

The bigger problem is when thee play merges across sleep and work! All four of us are unable to really follow the action in any way other than via score updates on cricinfo. This leads to us providing you with a match report based on, well, our own imagination, and interpretation of the numbers and social media reactions. To put it mildly, this is not the most reliable of reporting sources. That said, we never pretended we were/are reporters.

So what that leads to is a discussion on the bald facts of the day. England have finished it on 305 for 4, which represents a fantastic recovery from 131 for 4, and also a magic moment for Dawid Malan. That England are in a very solid position is very nice. We might lose from here, but we really shouldn’t. The descriptions of the wicket are that it is very flat, has nice, but not electric, pace and is good for batting with a lightning outfield to give values for shots. There have been double the amount of boundaries today compared to the other first days at the Ashes tests this year.

What I have always loved about test cricket is a player’s first test ton. Is it a harbinger of success, of a career to be fulfilled and blossom, or the one cry of defiance in a pool of mediocrity. The hit and miss of our selections have seen several people make tons and disappear – Robson and Lyth come to mind, Compton made two, Ballance four – while Moeen, Stokes and YJB since the last Ashes have gone on to make their second hundred and stay the course. By all accounts it was a proper test match hundred. Watchful determination combined with good shot making. Malan is 30, so not a young pup, and his window is obviously narrow (Cook is only just coming up to 33 and people are saying he’s finished), but today he made the place his own at least until the end of the winter. There was a rule of thumb when I played Fantasy Cricket that if you made runs for Western Australia, I’d stick you in my team for the English season (yes, Michael Hussey!) and there’s a very limited number of players to have made three figures for England at the WACA recently. It bodes well.

But what Malan also needs to be aware of, and I’m pretty sure he is, is that 110 is not enough. Yes, he’s done his bit, but we need him to turn that into 150+ for this to be the telling innings. Yes, a lot of store, perhaps wrongly, is put on three figures, but the innings we remember, certainly in first innings, are the big ones. Dawid is key to our fortunes.

So is Jonny Bairstow, and his promotion up the order to alternate the left and right handers appears, on this small sample size, to have worked. He is 25 runs away from a maiden Ashes ton and again, by all accounts looked in good touch. Bairstow is a little bit of an enigma, and while he tantalises us with the bat there will always be talk of how good he could be if he were played as a pure batsman. Also there are mumblings about a batsman as good as him batting at 7. I remember Adam Gilchrist copping the same flak (no I didn’t). Again, Bairstow adding another 50 will be very handy.

I’m a bit of an oddball, in that I keep a lot of old cricket recorded off the TV, and for some reason I’ve decided to tape this series in its entirety. I think today’s recording will be really pleasant viewing. Will Australia start feeling the pressure? Well, it depends on how many England make, and if they get off to a Warner-assisted flyer. England should make 400+ and then we get to see how Aussie react to a reasonable score. That should be fun.

And so to Alastair Cook. You knew I’d have to mention him. I’m not going to comment on a dismissal I’ve not seen, but if every time Cook was out LBW to a opening bowler was cause to question his eyes, then I’m staggered. When Nasser put that only a fool would right Cook off, he’s using his heart over his head. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It’s sport. You have those you pull for and those you don’t. I’m not a Cook fan, but I actually think the way the media and some of the social media I see have turned on him is ridiculous. Yes, you read that right. He has not made an Ashes hundred since Sydney in January 2011. That is 34 innings of not getting to three figures. At the other opening end, off the top of my head, there’s been 1. The RootMaths hundred at Lord’s that spawned a meme so tiresome, it was boring by tea time. Alastair Cook’s “demise” is not a sudden one, as these people give the impression of it being, but one over time. I see mentions that we should now move on from Cook, which again, I think is a little premature. The main question to be asked is “Is Alastair Cook one of our best two openers?” If the answer, in the view of the selectors, is yes, then he should play. If Cook himself doesn’t want to, then that’s for him. But if you are awaiting a century from him, then the fact he hasn’t managed one against the Old Enemy or South Africa in around 50 tries now might give you a clue. Who knows, he might be due?

Anyone who has seen today, please feel free to carry on the comments below. Hopefully we’ll put up a lead in piece for tonight too. If not, you know what to do.

Paradise Lost – By Maxie Allen

Would you like to know my dirty little secret?

It might shock you. It could well annoy you. It may make you think less of me.

The thing is, I’m English, we’re in the middle of the Ashes, and I have an inconvenient cricketing truth, gnawing away at me.

Shall I just go ahead and spit it out? Well…here goes. I couldn’t care less whether England win or lose the Ashes. In fact, given a choice, and hand on heart, I’d rather Australia won.

Perhaps I’m not being completely honest with you. I want Australia to win.

So now you know.

I am a heretic. An apostate. A traitor.

I used to support England. Oh yes, I followed England with great passion and loyalty. And I did so for more than three decades, dating back to 1983, when I was eight years old.

For all those years, I hung on England’s every move. Every run, every wicket, every result. I cared. I mean, I really cared. If England were hurting, I was hurting. If England triumphed, so did I.  I was a part of the England team, and the team was a part of me. We were indivisible.

In the days before Sky and the internet, I’d watch entire sessions via Ceefax. I flew to Australia to watch the 2002/3 Ashes. I attended test matches as often as I could. And when this happened, I hugged a series of total strangers. But I also supported England unquestioningly and uncomplainingly through all the bad times, and there were plenty of those in the 1980s and 1990s. No one could have accused me of being a fairweather-fan or a Johnny-Come-Lately. I was the real deal.

So what changed? Some of you may already know, or can guess, as you might remember me from another blog, which I used to jointly run, or indeed saw this piece which I wrote in early 2016. In essence, it boils down to a series of events between February 2014 and May 2015 which left me alienated from, and disgusted by, English cricket.

Now, don’t worry – I’m not going to rehash all of that again. I won’t exhume the details.  The point is, nearly four years later, I’m still unable to move on.

But why? Am I being completely ridiculous? Aren’t I taking nose-cutting to spite-facing to an absurd level of masochism? Haven’t I taken these old events so monstrously out of proportion that I now regard one player and one press release as more important than my country winning the Ashes? I fistpump when Cook gets out: am I mad/twisted/deliberately obtuse? Or just too stubborn to let bygones be bygones? Have I thrown out a huge baby with a drop of bathwater?

The answer to all of these questions is – maybe. Perhaps. Arguably. But I can’t help it. It’s just the way I feel.

I’ve been thinking recently about how this looks to my friends. Or to any third party, especially casual cricket followers. They would see my position thus: I have abandoned my national team, the one I passionately followed, as man and boy, and now want their oldest enemy to beat them, and beat them in the Ashes, of all things. And the reason? A few backstage shenanigans which the majority of cricketer followers were barely aware of and have now entirely forgotten. By any rational analysis, my position is absurd. To any England supporter, it must seem insane. But as I say – I can’t help it. And to me at least, it makes sense.

It all began with the very first Test England played after February 2014. As the match reached a dramatic denouement, I found myself – despite being at work – in front of a TV showing the coverage on Sky.

With the first ball of the final over, Stuart Broad took Sri Lanka’s ninth wicket, and a strange thing happened: instead of punching the air in delight and excitement, my heart sank.”Oh God, England are going to bloody win”, I found myself thinking. With the fifth ball, Nuwan Pradeep was given out LBW, and as Broad and Cook celebrated wildly, I felt forlorn and bitter, as if ‘we’ had lost, not won. There was a twist in the tale, however, because Pradeep then called for a DRS review which revealed a inside edge. Reprieved, he narrowly survived the final ball and Sri Lanka saved the game. I was delighted.

This was my epiphany: the moment I realised my cricketing life was transformed. Unconsciously, and instinctively, I now wanted England to lose, not win. A total reversal of the position I’d held so ardently for the previous three decades. And as the months passed and Test matches came and went, my feelings only hardened in that direction. I supported the opposition, because my enemy’s enemy was now my friend.

It wasn’t that I’d calmly formulated my new position by deductive reasoning on grounds of principle. I hadn’t sat down with a pen and paper and sketched it out. I didn’t say to myself “well, as I think x and y about such-and-such, this regrettably but logically means I must oppose England”. No, it was an instinctive emotional response. But the more I reflected on it, the more it made sense, and the more I saw that it was underpinned by a solid rationale.

In a nutshell – and I’m trying desperately not to reheat old material – my view was the people who ran English cricket had made something very clear: the England team belonged to them, and to them only. The team existed purely as a cricketing representation of their corporate entity. Added to that was my sense of betrayal, and also of outrage at a great injustice. This all combined to corrode and nullify any pleasure I could draw from the actual cricket on the field of play. By extension several of the key individuals became opponents. In sport, opponents become enemies, and you want your enemies to lose. Boy, did I want my enemies to lose.

This might not seem very rational to you. Chiefly, my position appears obtuse because of my apparent sense of priorities. I’ve taken a one-off personnel issue, and a few comments by officials, and made them more important than the team itself – and more important even than England beating Australia in, all of things, the Ashes, with all its history and significance. I’ve abandoned thirty years of passionate support to start cheering on the opposition.

That sounds irrational, to put it mildly, but in sport all support or opposition is fundamentally irrational. Is it rational for Arsenal and Spurs to hate each other? Is is rational to cheer on Mo Farah at the Olympics? Is it rational to want to beat Australia at cricket?

The thing is, I didn’t want any of this to happen in the first place. None of what happened was my doing. I mainly feel sad and regretful about it. I wish things were different. And I had hoped for resolution, as I wrote in April 2015 when it looked like the tide might turn, only for those hopes to be dashed.

It would have helped enormously if England had been hammered in the 2015 Ashes, which I know is an odd thing to say. I longed for the defeat of the Cook/Strauss regime, and what it stood for, but despite Australia’s emphatic victories in the second and fifth tests, it wasn’t to be. Australia’s collapse at Trent Bridge cost me dear, because an England defeat would have lanced the boil and cleared the way for a new start.

I now find myself in very strange and lonely place. I am probably the only person in the world who holds my position, and I certainly don’t know anyone else in everyday life who thinks as I do. My friends don’t understand it, and they definitely don’t like it. They think I’m mad, or being a self-martyr, or being deliberately provocative. But I just can’t help feeling the way I do.

When I talk along these lines on Twitter or Facebook I might come across as a troll, trying to wind people up. I’m not really, I’m just saying what I think. And face-to-face, especially when I meet new people, I’m rather coy about not supporting England – embarrassed to admit it. I’ll be talking to a new acquaintance and the subject of the Ashes comes up, and they assume I’m gutted that England are two-nil down. What do I say? How can I explain where I’m coming from, in the space of a normal conversation? How do I make sense of this to someone with a casual, patriotic attachment to the England cricket team, someone who watches just for fun, who has little idea what I’m talking about, who’s never heard of Giles Clarke, and who believes, quite understandably, that England beating Australia is more fun than obsessing about a four-year-old press release?

Speaking of fun…I don’t find cricket much fun any more, and I derive little enjoyment from watching it save the hollow satisfaction of an England setback. I sorely miss what I used to have – not just a team to support, but a community, a family, of fellow supporters. I miss that camaraderie and fellowship, the sharing of mutual experience. I used to be a part of those conversations, but now I inhabit an alien land.

Nor do I even get much enjoyment from memories of supporting England pre-2014. I can’t dig out the 2005 DVDs and relive that series with joy and pride, because I know what happened later, and that has tarnished everything. With the exception of my village team, my whole life in cricket has been a waste. Every England success I rejoiced in now means nothing.

Now, to you this must sound incredibly self-important and self-pitying. You’ll feel that I am whinging about wounds which are entirely self-inflicted. I don’t believe that’s the case, but I’ll understand why you might think that. People tell me to snap out of it. I can’t. People tell me to move on. I can’t. How can you move on when nothing has changed, and nothing been resolved?

One argument in particular is often put to me. Most sports have bad administrators, and most clubs have bad owners. But everyone else puts that aside and supports the players – and so should I. Regrettably, that analysis doesn’t hold true when it comes to English cricket. The ECB aren’t like the Glazers – they’re not outsiders who barge their way in but eventually sell up and move on. It’s the other way around.

Why? Because the only permanent and irreducible thing about the England team is the ECB. Players come and go but the board and its ethos remain, and the ECB configure the team as a representation of its values and philosophy. The England team is a show they’re putting on. Supporting England means supporting the ECB, and I don’t think you can separate them. I’m open to persuasion, but I’ll need a lot of convincing.

What’s interesting, though, is I now watch cricket in a very different way from how I did in the past. England are a much better team when you’re not supporting them. Seriously. Before, if England were batting, I’d fear a wicket every ball. The batsmen looked like sitting ducks. Now I don’t want them do well, England’s batsmen look composed and authoritative, hard to remove. I used to think Australia’s bowlers were unplayable and their batsmen invincible. Now, to my eye, they often look flawed and unconvincing. From my unusual perspective, beating England looks much more difficult than it used to do.

Will I ever have a change of heart? One of my best friends said to me: “when we’re in our seventies, and we go to the cricket together, will you still be supporting the opposition because of something which happened thirty years ago?”. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not quite sure what could realistically happen which would change the way I feel. Nor do I know what approach to take should my daughter, currently aged two, develop an interest in international cricket. Pretend to support England, for her sake? Is that actually a beneficial thing to do anyway?

Now and again I get the odd England twinge, the occasional conflicted moment, when I forget myself briefly, and feel a brief pang of connection or empathy with the England players and what they’re trying to achieve. For a beat or two I feel English again. It’s usually to do with players. I’m fond of Jonny Bairstow and when he’s batting there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him do well. Dawid Malan, too.

Every now and again I slip and refer to England as ‘we’, but by using the word ‘slip’ I don’t mean to say there’s a pretence, or that I’m deliberately trying to subvert my instincts through stubborness. It’s just the old rhythms and cadences of my past life breaking through.

These little ‘twinges’, though – they pass quite quickly and leave me back where I started. What do I do? Do I try to force myself to support England again? Or do I convince myself that I’m just being pointlessly bloody-minded and that if I could only eat humble pie, move on, and support England again, life would be much more rewarding? Again, I don’t know.

I can imagine my hostility fading with the passing of time. But not opposing something isn’t the same as supporting it. Can I ever feel excited about England again? What would it take for my heart to leap with joy, as for so many years it did, at the sight of an England bowler taking a wicket? What might inspire me to cheer when Alastair Cook reaches a century?

I’ll finish by making an important point. Whatever my own position. I’m not trying to convert others. I’m not telling you or anyone else what to do. I’m not scolding England supporters for their adherence to the regime. If you support England, good luck to you, and I hope you enjoy the team’s successes. A part of me wishes I could join you. But for now, at least, I cannot.

Maxie Allen co-founded The Full Toss and has written on cricket ever since, family permitting.

How To Make A Crisis In Four Easy Steps

In the past few weeks, all of the cricket media in England and Australia have been talking about England’s behaviour off the field. Two incredibly minor events, coincidentally in the same Perth nightclub, have overshadowed coverage of the actual Ashes.

I would argue that this whole situation has been caused by the ECB’s chronic failures in PR and management. Time and time again, they act in a way which actively hurts the team’s perception with fans and the media. It’s incredibly predictable, unfortunately, and here’s how they do it:

Step 1: Wait until the reporting hits fever pitch before releasing the full story

This allows the journalists to build up speculation through the day, ideally whilst England are playing cricket. Some people might suggest that this would distract the English players from performing at their best, but the management still want to perform a thorough investigation of any incident before they release it to the press.

So if we look at how the Bairstow incident was revealed, the Aussies were sledging England over the incident through the game and after hearing about it through the stump mics the Aussie media published the story on their back pages on Sunday. Speculation continued running through Monday, the fifth day of the Test, with a vague statement from Strauss confusing matters even more. Apparently it was “playfulness, no malice, blown out of all proportion.”

It wasn’t until after the game had finished that the full story came out, and then only because the Australian opener Cameron Bancroft explained it in great and amusing detail whilst Steve Smith was laughing his ass off beside him.

With Ben Duckett, the news came just before the toss in England’s two-day warmup game in Perth that he had been replaced by Joe Clarke. There was nothing else released, which led the assembled journalists to investigate the matter and about halfway through the day’s play the ECB finally released a statement. Even then, it only described the situation as an “alcohol related incident” with no details included. It was only through “good journalism” that the full facts of the matter came out later.

Step 2: After “investigating” the matter, declare the players involved as both simultaneously innocent and guilty

As we know on this blog, the ECB are not unfamiliar with the concept of confusing statements. The name “Being Outside Cricket” comes from a joint ECB/PCA press release (still available on the PCA’s website) surrounding KP’s expulsion from the England team in 2014, where they appeared to suggest that no one outside of the ECB had any right to question their decisions.

So in Brisbane, Trevor Bayliss described the Bairstow ‘headbutt’ as “blown out of all proportion” but also said that the players have “got to be smarter” away from the pitch. The Director Comma England Cricket also came out of hiding to talk about it, declaring that “It’s a minor issue but it highlights the fact that minor issues can become major issues.” I think that certainly is the case when the ECB are in charge.

Trevor Bayliss’s statement on Ben Duckett is a thing of beauty, if you find contradiction and incompetence beautiful that is.

“To be quite honest it’s fairly trivial but in the current climate it’s not acceptable. Everyone’s been warned about [how] even small things can be blown out of all proportion. The ECB has also been quite strict to the boys with their message, and it’s quite simply unacceptable.”

So let’s break that down. Duckett’s actions were simultaneously both “trivial” and “not acceptable”, to the point where his possible England future is being written off. Again, this seems fairly familiar to fans of the blog, with its regular references to staring out of windows and whistling being sacking offences. How would this affect a team’s morale, when they know that their team’s management will actively attack them over incredibly minor issues.

Step 3: Severely punish the innocent players

What would be the absolute worst thing to do after a team’s management categorically denied their players had issues related to drinking after the Brisbane Test? How could they utterly undermine themselves and put all of the team under huge pressure? If there was one surefire way to suggest that England are a team of violent drunken thugs who can’t be trusted, it was forcing a curfew and other restrictions on the players. So that’s what their management did.

Certainly I enjoyed the irony when Bayliss said that “even small things can be blown out of all proportion” about Ben Duckett, since the whole media circus was created by the ECB overreacting to a “trivial” incident and dropping the batsmen for the tour match and possibly the rest of the Lions series. As far as I’m aware no journalists had heard about Jimmy Anderson’s unscheduled shower before the warmup game, and so there’s no reason to suspect that it would have come out. Even if it did, without the ECB promising a full investigation from Andy Flower it would be a fairly minor and amusing story rather than another alcohol-fuelled crisis.

Step 4: Repeat

If there’s one thing you might admire about the ECB, they certainly have the courage of their convictions. Despite screwing up in the same ways over and over again, they never change. They never admit they were wrong. They never apologise. So it keeps happening, as regular as an England batting collapse and just as much fun for the fans.

No doubt this won’t be the last of this sorry saga. At this point, anything could become a full-blown international incident and many England players should contemplate not leaving their hotel rooms for the rest of the tour lest they risk their careers in some way. There are already reports that Bayliss wants to get rid of the people he considers troublemakers from the squad to face New Zealand, which certainly offers some interesting parallels to Andy Flower’s actions four years ago.

And… that’s it. Hopefully England can make it through to Wednesday night without another self-inflicted wound, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As always, feel free to share your views below.