The Blame Game

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It’s been less than a week since what can only be described as a disastrous Test match for England. This coupled with the fact that England have now lost 6 of their last 8 Test Matches has seen the once compliant media turn into circling vultures around the team. Dmitri came in off his long run on Tuesday and covered many of these points with deadly precision, so naturally I don’t want to cover old ground; however once the dust has settled and people have regained their decorum, it does need to be examined why England are in a continuous cycle of mediocrity.

As we have covered in previous posts, the condemnation came quick and fast, after all this is no longer an Alastair Cook team so it’s game on for the hacks, but the two that particularly caught my eye were the reactions of Nasser Hussain and George Dobell, with 2 thoughts on completely different sides of the spectrum.

Hussain was quick to put the boot into county cricket, which is not too much of a surprise considering he probably rarely watches it, stating:

The lads that are coming in aren’t doing anything for them – they won at Lord’s because of Joe Root, not Jennings, Dawson or Ballance.

“You name some lads who have come in – [James] Vince, [Ben] Duckett, [Gareth] Batty, [Zafar] Ansari, [Alex] Hales, Ballance – there is no-one coming in and doing well. “It is a sad indictment in county cricket that they are getting runs there and not for England.” 

Dobell took another line and was keen to understand what Bayliss was actually doing to address these problems:

Bayliss has clearly pushed an ‘aggressive’ mindset (remember his comments about wanting two “attacking-style batters in the top three”?) but, without knowing the red-ball ability of his options – he admits he has never seen Mark Stoneman, outstanding candidate for top-order promotion, bat in the flesh – he has instead tried to turn limited-overs talents into Test players. Jos Buttler was recalled to the Test team despite having played one first-class game in a year and, as a result, being given no chance to correct the faults that led to him being dropped; Alex Hales was promoted to Test opener and Liam Dawson has been selected largely on the grounds of being a ‘good bloke’. By such criteria, Nelson Mandela would have opened the batting for South Africa for 50 years.

Bayliss isn’t much of a technical coach, either. The players refer to him as “a man of few words” who leaves the technical work to others and is more interested in creating a positive, settled environment in which the players are able to perform to their optimum.

That’s important, of course. But if he doesn’t have much say in selection and he doesn’t have much say in coaching, it does rather beg the question: what does he do? If he’s just creating a relaxed environment, he could be replaced by a couple of scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises.

 It’s not that I wholly disagree with either of these quotes, it’s just that I think they fail to see the long term issues that England have glaringly had and have been swept under the carpet for so long now. It is easy to have a knee jerk reaction after another England collapse, but it’s far more positive to take a step back at properly look at the underlying causes rather than throwing mud at anybody not named Alastair Cook.

If I look at Hussain’s comments around County Cricket, I feel that he has taken the easy route of assigning blame without doing much research. We all know that County Cricket isn’t perfect, but then show me any national set up that has the quality of domestic league to keep churning out Test quality players (the Australian Shield Cricket in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was the exception rather than the rule). We are also in an era where cricket has become a marginal sport, so to try and find circa 540 professional players across the counties who all play at a high level is mission impossible. Of course it could be argued that by merging counties or introducing 3 divisions (the latter of which I’m actually in favour of) to increase the quality on offer is a nice idea, but even the counties aren’t stupid enough to vote themselves out of existence. This is verging on Mission Impossible. Hussain also argues that players coming through the counties should have had their techniques honed by playing County Cricket, and whilst it is a lovely idea, it is not exactly practical. The County coaches are under as much pressure to win as with any other professional game, so they’re not exactly going to take Ballance or Vince aside when they are plundering county attacks to work on their technique on the off chance that they may get recalled. It would be lovely if they did, but that is purely a pipe dream. It is also worth remembering that the counties often work on a shoestring budget, so they’re not exactly in a place to be able to employ the best coaches in the system and if they did so, then they would probably have to sacrifice players, robbing Peter to pay Paul in other words. Whilst we can all agree that County Cricket isn’t without fault, to lay the full blame on it’s doorstep is lazy journalism in my opinion.

The same could be said about laying the blame fully at the door of England’s coaches; after all they can only work with those who have been selected to play for England. Whilst of course there can be a portion of blame assigned to Bayliss, who fully admits that he doesn’t have a working knowledge of County Cricket (though that doesn’t mean that he can’t watch videos of every English player) and appears to foster a culture whereby there is a lack of accountability amongst the players; it would be foolhardy to hump the blame completely onto his back. Could Bayliss be more forthright, yes certainly and could he stop using phrases such as ‘positive brand of cricket’ (up there with ‘difficult winter’) absolutely yes, but it does feel slightly that his Australian upbringing has upset one or two of the media corp. There are questions around his backroom staff, which Dmitri pointed out in his last post, such as what does Farbrace actually do and why would you employ a batting coach, who was known to freeze in the Test Cricket arena? These are valid questions, but my view is that the England coaches should only be there to tweak techniques and mindsets and not have to start from scratch with players who aren’t either ready or good enough for Test Cricket. My question would be why are we having to pick players with poor technique or subject temperament in the first place? Surely there is a failsafe within the system to guard against this? Yes is the answer; however it is failing in its very basic goal:

According to the Lords website:

Loughborough University has a long tradition and is world renowned for its role in the development of sporting excellence. It is a key site for the new English Institute of Sport – and the ECB’s National Academy. The MCCU allows additional support to be invested in a squad of elite young cricketers, who benefit from Loughborough’s expertise and provision for the development of sports performance.

The Cricket-specific facilities and services are reinforced by access to Loughborough’s wider provision of high-performance sport support services, including fitness testing and development, technical analysis of skill acquisition, physiological and biomechanical analysis, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and sports medicine services.

Loughborough has been a failure on an immense scale. It is the place where aspiring fast bowlers and batsmen go to have their technique ripped apart and changed to what the ECB coaching manual dictates and to be turned from exciting young cricketers into ECB corporate drones. After all, we know that as long as you say the right things and suck up to Mr. Flower, then a Test place is all but guaranteed (more on him a little later). The crux of the matter is that we are not producing enough players of a high enough quality to play Test Cricket; we’re not drilling into them the mindset of protecting your wicket, batting time or bowling line and length instead of promoting the so-called so-called ‘X Factor cricket’. The basics seemed to have been replaced with how fast can you bowl the ball and how far can you clear the boundary by, which is nice for hit and giggle cricket but leaves players totally ill-equipped for the longer form of the game; hence the phrase positive brand of cricket now being bandied about, which roughly translates as our batsman have no clue on how to defend against quality bowling.

So then we dig a little deeper and shine the light on the two individuals who have the keys to the England Development Programme, Andy Flower and David Parsons. There has been very little written about David Parsons, England’s National Spin Bowling Coach, and that’s just probably the way that he likes it. Parsons has been England’s spin coach since 2006 and how many international class spinners have we produced since that time, yes you guessed it, a big fat zero (Swann was playing County Cricket long before Parsons was appointed). This is a clear example about how the ECB rewards those that are ‘inside cricket’ irrespective of the aptitude of said individual. If I had been in a job where I had one task but failed to deliver on it, then I would have been out of a job an awfully long time ago, but there Parson’s is, clinging onto his position for 11 years whilst contributing virtually nothing during this time, no doubt he’ll be knighted soon. My thoughts on Andy Flower are well known, I wrote a piece last year about his tenure with the Lions – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/11/23/englands-missing-lions/comment-page-1/ and very little has changed since then. Flower has never had a particular aptitude of bringing through young cricketers, with only Steven Finn bought into the England set up under the age of 27 (Trott and Bresnan were extremely experienced county operators by this time) and clearly values good personality rather than talent. England are still criminally under utilising the Lions in the red ball format, which is madness, considering this should be the very vehicle where England’s aspiring Test players iron out their techniques, test out their temperaments and play against high quality players. It would naturally be impossible to mimic the England set up, but surely it’s not past the administrators to organise 4/5 red ball games a year for those that have been identified as next off the cab rank?? Surely Director Comma understands that the very definition of madness is doing the same things again and expecting a different outcome? The fact that we have consistently seen white ball cricket favoured over red ball cricket constantly rankles with me but it appears that this decision has come from the top.

We could also easily blame the selectors, whom many of us believe should have been sacked straight after the India tour and some even before that. There have been too many selections where they have tried to put round objects into square holes or have completely misjudged an individual’s readiness for the Test arena. The balance of the side has looked completely wrong for a while now and they continue to jettison those who don’t fit their mould as personified by the media luvvies (see Rashid, Carberry, Compton etc). The fact that James Whitaker still has a job is like the ECB is playing one massive practical joke on the rest of England, hell I’d rather have John Whitaker making the selections.

It is clear that many elements could be blamed for England’s consistently poor decision making and massive inconsistency in the Test arena (though one could argue that losing 6 out of 8 Tests isn’t inconsistency and just the sign of a poor side); however there does seem to be one constant running through all of these gripes. Yes, our purported savior, the Director, England Cricket.

Now many might say that it is unfair to put the blame squarely at Strauss’ door and some will even go further and say that I am purporting an agenda against Strauss, and whilst it’s true that I have little time for Strauss, the one common element is that all roads lead to him. Graves is being kept in a cupboard under the stairs, only allowed out to wine and dine the County chairmen, Empty Suit is too concerned with the TV deals and the Cockroach is still trying to infiltrate the ICC, so that really only leaves us with Director Comma. When appointed, Strauss’ supposed remit was:

Strauss, will will be responsible for “the long-term strategy of the England men’s cricket team” and for developing “the right coaching and management structure to support it”.

Strauss knew that Bayliss was more of a white ball specialist when he appointed him and that he had very little knowledge of county cricket; however it still seems that the key to Strauss’ appointment was to push the white ball game and to ensure a certain South African born player wasn’t picked. If Strauss didn’t know that Bayliss was a hands-off coach, then that is a damning indictment of his research and judgment. Strauss is also in charge of the selectors, so why has there been no accountability with bust after bust coming from Whitaker and co? Any fool could see they’re not up to the job, hell I would make Peter Moores chief selector, he might not be able to coach at International level, but he was the most successful in bringing young cricketers through to the England set up. I would certainly remove Flower from any formal or informal position on the panel, a conflict of interest there most certainly is, but whether Director Comma actually has the cohones to do it, is another matter.

Another damning aspect of all this has been Strauss’ insistence that white ball cricket was more of a focus across all of the age groups, very much at the detriment to the red ball game. We can of course question the mindset and attitude of England’s Test batsmen, but when they and the next generation are not being given proper exposure to the red ball game early in their career against high quality players, then of course we leave ourselves open to being undercooked at this level. It is astoundingly incompetent to have the Lions playing 6 red ball games over a 3-year period, with an England Test line up crying out for new talent. Whilst it would be unfair to directly apportion blame to Strauss for Loughborough’s consistent failure, it doesn’t appear that he is too keen to do much about it, after all that’s Mr. Flowers remit and one doesn’t go about sticking his nose into Darth Mood Hoover’s ‘oeuvre d’art’.

So what have England actually achieved in Director Comma’s tenure, we have a white ball team that is better than it was but still hasn’t won anything, a Test team with the same glaring holes and lack of talent in the system as we had in 2014, which makes it impossible to make England a constantly competitive Test Team, oh and a new domestic T20 competition that nobody wants. It wouldn’t be unfair to surmise in my opinion, that in the three years since Strauss took over as Director, England Cricket, English cricket hasn’t moved forward an iota and that for me is the most damning statistic of them all.

 

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Whitaker’s For The Sack – Comma

Well. Here we go again. Scapegoating by “good journalism” after a defeat. We’ve sure been here before.

Whitaker

I’ll give Paul Newman something. He sure knows how to rouse the media to a story, and he sure has the “sources” to back him up. Naturally, this prima facie case of “good journalism” throws James Whitaker, Mike Newell and Angus Fraser under the bus, keeps Trevor Bayliss on board as the driver who doesn’t quite know his way, and Alastair Cook as the conductor, shouting and barking his words, but being far enough from the action not to be culpable. Meanwhile, stretching this metaphor beyond breaking point, Strauss acts as Bus Inspector Blakey (from On the Buses for you oldies out there) spouting “I hate you Whitaker” and we have, after one defeat, when a player is left out of the team on health grounds, some unhealthy scapegoats to target. Stop me if we’ve been here before.

Oh yes, and if we weren’t perturbed enough already there’s a begging letter from “the greatest England Coach ever” to come back as some all-knowing, all-seeing eye. Funny how that came out on the day Ben Duckett made 163 in a romp for the England Lions.

The Four Journos

Today Selfey and Berry have followed suit with the comments that the current structure is archaic, and that we need a new format for selecting the team. This sort of groupthink, co-ordinated or derived, or both, is the sort we’ve seen for years. Andrew Strauss is still very much in the plus column when it comes to his achievements with Team England, and the Comma Master may well wish to spread his Mindflicking wings and take a good look at a selection process. A process which has had zero scrutiny (in public) once Strauss put it to bed in the immediate aftermath of the I don’t trust KP monologue in May 2015, but out of the blue surfaces when we lose a game quite narrowly, and one of our key players has not played because he was told not to by medical experts – a marginal call some said, but one heeded by the selectors, who were actually doing their jobs.

There’s the rub, and it stinks. Newman tweeted last week, before the test, that Anderson looked fine in the nets, so why wasn’t he in the squad? Former New Zealand bowler Iain O’Brien helpfully pointed out that bowling in the nets was not the same as 20 overs on a flat deck at Lord’s in a test match (in possibly warm weather) and was (maybe temporarily) blocked by Newman on Twitter! (Join the club Iain – but, apparently we are irrelevant and he never reads us, so why he had a fit with me, I don’t know!) My sniffer dog nose for inside tracks was going overboard – why would Newman undermine the selection committee, and medical experts, to the length he’d block a former test bowler for calling him out on it, if there wasn’t more to it? Then it hit you yesterday. This looked like an inside job all right. People running from a decision, and running from their assumptions of a comfortable series win to explain away a surprise defeat. Suddenly Whitaker is in the crosshairs. An inside job.

The same inside job that absolutely looks like has been perpetrated on Nick Compton. Sure, his form merited being dropped, but Newman cites this as another example of the selectors not being fit for purpose. He was “mystified” why Compton was given an extra chance to prove himself at the start of the Sri Lankan series, when that contest against overmatched opposition gave us the chance to blood a new player (ignoring, of course, how successful the blooding of new player James Vince has been) and is now continuing that whispering campaign against Gary Ballance. Both of these are conveniently lumped on top of the non-selection of Anderson in particular as massive errors.

These things do not appear out of the ether. The whispers around Compton was he was a bit of an oddball, a bit intense, a bit “not suited to test cricket”. He fell out with Andy Flower. Rumours were Cook didn’t like opening with him because they were both attritional. Trevor Bayliss never wanted him because he wanted two dashers and a steady one in the top three. Compton was primed to fail. The same whispers about how Ballance refused to change his technique which secured him four test centuries once dropped, which now has him classed as a failure while Hales and Vince await their first. This has all the hallmarks of the impervious inner sanctum of days of yore. You know, the one that there were never leaks from, but plenty of good journalism to go round. You have to wonder who is squawking in the camp, but I don’t think things are as tickety-boo as they were when we were winning overseas series and preparing for a 7-0 summer. For starters, Pakistan were meant to be frail, on the edge, and ready to be steamrollered. Instead, at Lord’s, we got a nasty shock.

The clear inference from Newman, and whoever it is that paints his wagon, is that Whitaker et al took the medical advice that it might be a bit early for Anderson and Stokes, and thought “it’s only Pakistan, Lord’s is a road, let’s save them for next week.” That is now going to be a stick to beat the selectors with, and all of a sudden we have a co-ordinated attack on the make-up of the selection panel. So Selfey comes up with something about camels and drinking brandy with Paul Allott. I’ve not read Scyld. Chris Stocks is on Twitter asking when England’s football team stopped picking by committee. A week ago, no-one was in any rush to condemn the way the England teams are selected. One loss, a player or two missing on medical advice (and remember, Stokes was on a limit of “short spells” this weekend, and Jimmy allowed to play for two days, so there were still doubts), some aspersions cast in James Whitaker’s direction, plenty of people saying “well they looked fine to me” and the selection process isn’t fit for purpose? Pull the effing other one.

Don’t you dare confuse this with me supporting James “GARY BALLANCE” Whitaker. I’ve not been a fan, will never be a fan, and I’m impertinent enough to say he was out of his depth from day one. But he was a useful idiot in the immediate wake of the KP debacle (the car crash interview with Tim Abraham still brings a smile to my face) and then the one later in 2014 with Pat Murphy probably went one better. But he stood there, did his master’s bidding by saying KP was never up for selection and provided a useful bulwark when times got tough. He was certainly less visible than his predecessors, and I’m given to believe he dispensed with the press conferences to announce teams. Probably because he was / would have been rubbish at them. His removal from the position, should it happen, will not be mourned by me. It’s just the way it is being mooted to be changed is classic ECB double-speak.

For Strauss now appears, IF THIS IS TRUE, to want to consolidate power in the Comma. While not quite the same as Ray Illingworth’s legendary One Man Committee, as at this moment in time there are no signs that he wants to be coach as well, the Comma man looks like he wants to become the chief selector if the co-ordinated triumvirate are to be believed. This, I presume, would mean the Comma would need to get out of Lord’s and tour the country watching players. Or, as is being intimated, he watches DVD coverage from around the grounds in the luxury of his office. The selectors do tour the country – if Stocks tries to draw parallels with the England football team, he might remember that the national side does not play at the same time as the Premier League – and get to see players in the flesh, back up what they hear, and maybe get more of a feel for the live situation in a game that sitting in an office doesn’t do. There are good reasons for employing selectors (though two county coaches is probably not the best idea) and not leaving it to a coach who knows naff all about county cricket and a captain who may not have seen all the players (and will have favourites).

We’ve seen Matt Prior’s fall from test cricket. We’ve seen Jimmy’s recent injuries. We’ve seen the mess made of Mark Wood’s recovery. We’ve seen Andy Flower take a litany of unfit or unselectable bowlers to Australia. If a group of selectors take the long view, it is not now a stick to beat them with. For it is the same selectors who picked the winning teams of the last couple of years, and you had little problem with them then. Stop Monday morning quarterbacking, ingratiating yourself with the powers that be, try to rehabilitate Flower, keep Cook’s fingerprints off the weapon, and connect the dots. Because we have here.

Disagree with me? Comment away (I know many of you have). But as someone said on Twitter this morning, there are many reasons to do away with the selection committee, but ignoring medical advice isn’t one of them.

UPDATE – Clive, if I may, I have borrowed your comment on The Guardian BTL:

The thrust of this article is exactly like that of Paul Newman’s in yesterday’s Mail and Scyld Berry’s in today’s Telegraph. I put that down to Sheer Coincidence and the tendency of great minds to think alike, rather than the press having been briefed about the imminent axing of the selection committee and told what view to take.

2015 Dmitris #6 – Andrew Strauss

The next Dmitri is awarded to someone who has, in many ways, defined the England cricket year. On his appointment to replace the incompetent Paul Downton, Andrew, Strauss took the bull by horns, sacked Peter Moores, canned KP and brought in the coach no-one thought was a serious candidate. He set in train a number of events that meant this was a memorable year for the game in England, but also showed that a number of key principles had been put in place.

Strauss Motivator

That Andrew, Strauss has had an eventful year would be a little bit of an understatement. After his retirement from the England cricket team in 2012, he walked into the Sky commentary box for the 2013 Ashes and beyond, and proved pretty much why he should have stuck to the playing side. In a box that contained lightweights like Knight and bores like Warne and Botham, he just did not carve a niche. His whole time in the commentary box was overshadowed when he called a certain someone a certain word when he thought he was off air. In a taste of things to come, the press came to his aid, like Walter Raleigh for Good Queen Bess, and the whole thing was laughed off. Sure, he apologised, but it did rather paint a picture, didn’t it?

When my main source of comedy material was booted out after the World Cup, there became a little bit of a beauty parade to see who might fill the mighty Downton’s boots. Would it be Shiny Toy Vaughan, with his snap judgments, his greatest ever addiction and his “lad” persona on Twitter? Would it be Alec Stewart, a man who carried out the job on offer at Surrey, with a continuous role in the game, gravitas and respect? No, of course not. It was always going to be Strauss. He’d have taken the job at the time Downton took over, but they thought it was too soon. It was Strauss from the moment Downton was ditched. There was no suspense…..

When he was appointed I thought immediately “KP – gone”. While they had appeared to have papered over the cracks in 2012, the bon mot on Sky said that was a lie. I’ve had an independent source confirm to me that the divide runs very deep. That’s not exactly a world exclusive. So when KP scored that 355* there was no doubt it wouldn’t change Strauss’s mind. So while many of us still have grave problems with the way the decision was made, the justification for it, and the premise it was based on (we will not pick our team on merit alone, but on personality and held grudges), it would be unfair to say that’s the only thing he’s done. And I don’t mean the shambolic sacking of Peter Moores, which gave Strauss an early peek at how things work in the ECB Media world. To be fair to them, they’ve tightened up that aspect considerably this year.

Newman Markings
Newman needed convincing on a bit, but clear on his bete noire

Strauss’s clear best move was appointing Trevor Bayliss, which, in hindsight should have been done last year instead of the Moores Mistake. Bayliss has had an immediate impact on the ODI team, so that we have an invigorating, exciting bunch playing cricket we could only dream of. Eoin Morgan’s retention as captain has also been a major plus for Strauss, because received wisdom was that Joe Root would take it on as a dress rehearsal for the big job in a year or so’s time. Under Morgan, Bayliss and Farbrace, faith has been put in Hales and Roy, who both made their maiden ODI hundreds this year, given free rein to Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in the middle order, and allowed Jos Buttler to do his thing knowing he has hitters around him. The bowling looks more tricky, but if the batting is this lethal, some sins can be covered. Strauss has made this a priority and short term rewards have ensued. It does look, though, as if some long-term strategies are now in place, with key players not too old, and a modus operandi being developed for English conditions. That future is bright.

His bonus came in the form of an Ashes win. Now we’ve had some varying opinions on here about this series and its true relevance. The diehard England fan, the sort that thinks this blog is an abomination, believes this to be one of the great triumphs of the modern era, and I’ve even seen it suggested (by one muppet who seems to have disappeared) that it was better than 2005. Those of a more sceptical lean are quick to point out that pitches outside of London were made to suit our attack, and in some cases, to an unfair degree. It is a debate that will linger. To me there should be a balance to the wickets, and that home conditions should be an advantage but not a decisive one. To that degree, although it was slagged off, Cardiff was the best pitch of the series. However, the view of many was that the condition of the wickets were dictated by the ECB and possibly Strauss. He denied it, but there was that thought that England had stacked the deck. I’m not so sure, and even if I was, I’m not so sure I care that much except that no test went five days. Some barely made it to the half-way stage. That can’t be right.

But winning the Ashes gave Strauss important breathing room, an argument to counter the pro-KP faction (there still isn’t a coherent one for not picking him for the T20 team) and the media did their thing by anointing Mr Mindflick as a genius, pouring on aplomb, genuflecting to his genius. Strauss has had a good first year in charge, of that there can be no doubt, but the success of the test team other than the Ashes, and certainly away from home remains elusive. The batting is in a mess, the bowling too dependent on two bowlers with many miles on the clock, the keeper not nailed down, no spin bowler standing up to be counted and no real bright shining lights in sight. They’ve now seen off Bell, and it remains to be seen what happens next. So while the ODI side is full of hope, the test team is a massive work in progress, and quite frankly, not as good away from home as the sum of its parts. An Ashes win, as odd as it was, will only go so far. Strauss has a lot of work to do, but there is no doubt he’s been an integral part of much of this year.

White Ball Priority

You're our only (choice) hope...
You’re our only (choice) hope…

I was researching a piece I intended to write last night, when the news from Paris started to filter in. I find, like most of you no doubt, that stories like this consume you, so the piece took a back seat. Now I’m struggling to remember what I’d heard, so if this doesn’t have some flow, forgive me. Naturally, last night’s events hit home. That’s us out there, eating and drinking, going to concerts, watching sporting events. The world is a potentially horrible place.

This piece is on Strauss and his ODI comments.

I wasn’t concentrating on cricket much towards the end of the week, which is a bit of a problem for a cricket blogger! Work and social stuff took over, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the reactions on here, and on Twitter, to a round of interviews that Andrew Strauss conducted during the 1st ODI (or just before). So last night I listened to the Agnew interview and the one with Nick Knight.

The confusion I had was I thought the line to take from these interviews was that Strauss would prioritise (and he used that word a lot) “white ball cricket” because if we didn’t we would fail again in the World Cup in 2019. Many of you on here took this to mean that players could miss tests to play in the IPL or perhaps the Big Bash to get experience of top quality, pressure-filled cricket (Mike Walters in the Mirror certainly did). This certainly wasn’t dampened down immediately, but then, yesterday Strauss made it clear that he was not suggesting that England would weaken their test team to allow this to happen.

 “I can’t foresee any circumstances in which we would weaken our Test team in order to allow a player to play in the IPL or any other franchise-based competition.” Strauss…BBC

The cynical among us, and that numbers me, might note that the two day period between the airing of these interviews, when the position wasn’t made crystal clear, and the clarification offered yesterday was deliberate, to see how the position went down when allowed to float, or Downton-esque and a cock-up. Whereas Downton was a buffoon from the outset, I’m absolutely convinced that Strauss is, if nothing else, a sharp operator. Leaving that position open (ish) was probably quite an astute move to see if some of the big beasts roared. I don’t think, for one minute, Andrew Strauss wants Joe Root and Ben Stokes to play in the IPL (the only two test certainties that will play international white ball cricket and possibly get picked). Jos Buttler might also be sought to play in the IPL but his status as a test player is in jeopardy. The test team is our money-spinner and to mess about with that, even in the early season test series, opens the door to much in the way of consternation. Remember when we rested our bowlers against the West Indies at Edgbaston a few years ago? Some people went mad!

KP’s interjection at this point, while understandable, probably wasn’t well judged. I’ll leave it there at this point and may return to it later.

The thing that concerned me was Strauss and his non-stop mentions of the word “prioritise”. What does this actually mean? Strauss claims that the model to follow appears to be the Australian one, where they can play well in both formats of the game at the same time. He takes the message that Australia prioritise the game in the right way and his takeaway is that we should seek to specialise our white ball cricket. This, clearly from where I am sitting, means two almost separate units, with very few players playing in all formats of the game.

Let’s leave T20 cricket as an outlier at this time. That’s a format of the game Australia have never succeeded in because they seem to play another different team entirely for that (and pretty much have treated it like a joke – but a productive one – see David Warner). Australia’s ODI winning team lined up as follows:

Warner (current test opener), Finch (specialist), Smith (current test batsman), Clarke (then the test captain), Watson (then the test middle order bat), Maxwell (played tests, but seen as specialist), Faulkner (played tests, in their thoughts), Haddin (then test keeper), Johnson (test bowler), Starc (test bowler), Hazlewood (test bowler).

Arguably Australia had two out and out white ball specialists, and one (Faulkner) who has made his name in that game (but I’m sure is in their thoughts for test cricket). This may change given the retirements – Wade will probably be ODI keeper instead of Nevill, Khawaja isn’t, I think, seen as an ODI batsman, and it remains to be seen if Burns can force his way into the white ball arena. Voges isn’t an ODI player for the future. But what is clear from the above is there isn’t the separation of powers that Strauss seems to think is vital.

Looking at their opponents in the final, New Zealand, the specialists were Ronchi and Elliott. Vettori was playing ODIs to end his career (having been a prolific test player) but all the others are in the test reckoning. There really aren’t that many “specialists” like a Kieron Pollard or a Quentin de Kock.

Strauss wants to bring this specialism to the fore and I think it is dangerous. One of the names he mentions is Jason Roy. At this stage he’s shown ODI promise without delivering the big innings, and it is a great credit that England are going to stick with him. I remember how we treated Ali Brown, and I still get livid about it. We wanted a pinch hitter, but when it went wrong he got slagged off. I think it is too soon to give up on Roy as a potential test player. I don’t think he’ll get there, but in red ball cricket, he has been a bloody important player for Surrey. He plays that innings in Surrey’s line-up that demoralises the opposition. He will fail, but sometimes he will succeed. Strauss appears to be pigeon-holing him as a white-ball specialist very early. The same may happen to Alex Hales. What if we have a new player who comes in as an ODI player, is whisked off to T20 competitions, and yet he could be a test player in the making? All through this I look at how we’ve treated James Taylor to the point that at this stage, we don’t really have a scooby (clue) what he is.

I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a fan of Strauss. I’m also not going to pretend that he’s another Paul Downton. There’s a lot of good thinking in what Strauss is telling us, but he’s a politician to his boot-straps, and management consultancy is in his DNA. The latter seems to make sports journalists go weak at the knees. A man only has to come in, spout out about culture and environment, talk about processes and evaluation, and set low goals, and suddenly he’s a guru to be listened to, a beacon to follow. I call it Lancastrianisation. The aim is stuffed back donkeys years, and when you get there, well……

So much has been written about the Rugby World Cup that it’s almost become a spectator sport. Look at what Lancaster and the RFU did, and do the opposite might be a better lesson to learn. They cut off the talent pool by putting in restrictions on selection, they identified a lot of players (who weren’t good enough), they took multiple second place finishes and close losses as evidence of progress, they then brought in a wild card to show they were innovative, and made last minute changes to the team, and they collapsed in a heap. The journalists in that sport, a lot who make cricket writers appear like meek and humble people, have hardly aimed fire at Lancaster. If half the vitriol that Paul Ackford aimed at Sam Burgess for example had been aimed at Lancaster, well…..we might actually be admitting where the problems lie. Meanwhile, the head honchos in the RFU remain. So while cricket gazed on admiringly at this nonsense, they perhaps need to “refocus”.

What I also found funny was Strauss saying that prioritising ODI cricket for a World Cup would be a new approach. Now it is if you do it a long way out, but in 2014-15 we played no test cricket for six months. We prioritised the ODI game and yet it didn’t work. So prioritisation isn’t new, it is now a different kind. But that’s classic management speak – the past is not to be referred to, and all things have to be new. There has to be change. Change. A word I never want to hear muttered by a manager or administrator again in my life.

Managers also make tasks sound harder than they might be. Strauss sets the bar low (we had a miserable World Cup – while forgetting we got to the Champions Trophy Final last time around) and then makes it sound like the way out is absolutely nigh on impossible. If you fail, well you tried, if you succeed, you are a genius:

“If someone is playing in the Test team or very close to the Test team, then that’s a harder decision to make. But let’s be honest – we’re not going to make massive strides in white ball cricket without making some hard decisions along the way.

“I think we have to be prepared to do that and I personally believe we can make those strides and not do it at the expense of Test cricket.”

So what did we learn. We’ll focus on specialists – so I’m assuming that’s Willey, Woakes, Roy, Billings, Hales, Topley and the skipper, Morgan. Perhaps Buttler if it’s decided that tests aren’t for him, and perhaps Bairstow if he drops out of the test team. The portents are not good – Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara are two that come to mind – but if Strauss is serious about attitudes to the game, then fine.

Nick Knight, in his interview on Sky, raised the T20 World Cup, which seems to be something hardly mentioned in the corridors of power. So the management consultant assured us we had great talent and had a real chance. But the words he spoke at the end of the piece were the ones that sparked the rage in me….

“I think we’ve pretty much identified the group of players we want to work with in the short term. It’s important we give them opportunities to develop.

“It would be wrong to be searching in very different directions right now. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a closed shop in the long term.”

The World T20 is in March. We have a T20 player scoring hundreds. He’ll have plenty of big game T20 experience. He’s absolute class. He’d walk into this team in normal circumstances. I’ll quote Peter Miller from his excellent podcast with Daniel Harris last night – England would rather lose cricket matches than pick Kevin Pietersen. For that, KP is correct when he says:

We all knew that. That’s why I have no problem in him speaking his mind.

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

Ashes 3rd Test: Preview

Perhaps to begin with, a few words about the sad death of Clive Rice.  Like so many of his generation, he didn’t get to play Test cricket due to South Africa’s banishment from the international game.  With a first class average above forty and nearly a thousand wickets at a bowling average in the low twenties, had he been able to perform at the highest level, he would have been a great addition in the era of the great all rounders that bestrode world cricket in the 1980s. Indeed, such was his ability, he could have been viewed as the best of them all.

An entire generation will remember seeing him play for Nottinghamshire over many years, and the Sunday League matches were required watching on Grandstand for a child rapidly falling in love with the game in the early eighties.  And while that shortened form of the game may not have quite shown him at his peak, he was plainly one of the main men in the sport.  Nor should it be forgotten that Rice brought an unknown 19 year old offspinner over to England, and was instrumental in Kevin Pietersen’s development.  14,000 international runs later, English cricket can be grateful for that too.

His early passing is a deep blow for the game, and it is to be hoped that a suitable tribute to a genuinely great cricketer can be arranged for the fourth Test, so those where he played and coached for so many years can pay tribute.

Turning attention to tomorrow, England have at least one change with Bairstow coming in for Ballance.  The news today is that there could also be disruption to the bowling attack, with Mark Wood’s fitness in question.  Should he not make it, then Steven Finn will be the replacement.  It was notable that in talking about that, Cook said Finn had been “bowling well in one day cricket”, an oblique reminder that the English summer now limits the first class opportunities to excel when the main Test series is on.

The pitch is of course part of the debate, and Australia have lost few opportunities to play mind games, with Mitchell Starc the latest to lob a grenade at England saying they didn’t know what they wanted or what they were doing.  There’s little doubt from the words flying from the Australian camp that they feel on top of England at the moment, it’s been a remarkable turnaround from the uncertainty afflicting them after the defeat at Cardiff.  The Lords pitch unquestionably offered up a lifeline to Australia, a team that were showing signs of fragility after the first Test defeat.  That Australia grabbed it with both hands and then demolished England entirely merely demonstrates that giving a good team a break like that is as daft as it always is.

The recent rain has hampered preparations in Birmingham to the extent that heaters have been used on both pitch and outfield to assist in drying the surface.  What that means is that even if England had wanted it (unlikely) the wicket could not have been prepared with pace in mind.  What is far more obvious is that after the Lords debacle, it will offer something to the seamers, something the Lords track unquestionably didn’t.  However, what this debate around wickets does show is that for all the noble words upon the appointment of Strauss about it being all about the future, the same short term thinking applies.  English wickets have been extremely slow for a few years now, the idea the Australians have that they are specifically slowed down for them is simply wrong.  But it is still true that they are slow, and looked at over a longer period than the last five years, that isn’t typical of English grounds.  That’s largely because of the recent desire to ensure matches go the full five days to ensure a maximisation of earnings, but it’s hardly likely to benefit England’s development in that longer term to keep doing this.

In times past, the pitches offered a much greater level of variety, one that simply isn’t there any more with a uniform turgidness about them.  That Strauss, according to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, sent an email requesting that the pitches be slower rather than faster as a general rule makes it abundantly clear it’s about the here and now.  The contradictions between what England say and what they do never seem to stop.

England will certainly have to play much better than they did at Lords to even compete, because any kind of similar performance is going to result in another hammering.  Yet there’s no reason they shouldn’t do.  Cricket teams do sometimes have matches where everything seems to go wrong for no apparent reason.  England are not as bad a side as they looked at Lords, and Australia are not as good either.  One of the recent trends in Ashes matches has been for them to be one sided, whoever wins.  Even the narrow Trent Bridge win of two years ago owed more to a freak performance narrowing a gulf between the side than anything else.

What England do have to do is come up with a method to combat the left armers, and that means showing a degree of aggression.  This is the test for England’s brave words about the way they want to play the game, because no side reacts well to being successfully attacked.  An England who try to sit in will play into Australia’s hands, as they rotate the bowlers knowing that wicket will follow.

That said, Australia have to be seen as favourites, and if they get their noses in front in the series, it is hard to see England coming back, especially after two consecutive defeats.  This Test is likely to prove pivotal in the series, how England handle the challenge this time will tell us much about where they are going as a team.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Bruised

Evening all.

Personally it has been a tough week for me. Nothing that ends the world, but the sort of week that knocks the confidence, hits the self-belief and makes you question what you think you should do. I did, at one point, think that I might give the blog up for a while, at least until the Ashes, but that was but a fleeting thought. There’s the brilliance of thelegglance to support on here, and there’s also lots more I want to say. So, while bored out of my mind on a training course this week, I jotted down some ideas for future posts and direction. thelegglance and I will get together to discuss some changes to the blog, and perhaps some of the ideas I have and he has. We will let you know what is decided.

The one thing with this blog that amazes me, still, is how from small incidents, major stuff happens, if only at the blogging level. Without the throwaway two press men reviews in the post last week, one of our number would not have tweeted the link to the top five mentioned, and then we would not have had Pringle calling me irrelevant. I’m not one to ever let a snippy comment go unblogged, so off I went, then followed by thelegglance last weekend, and now by Maxie’s opus on The Full Toss, which it goes without saying, I recommend to this house.

From little acorns do these blogging oaks grow, but what’s the relevance? I had a discussion on Twitter DM with a well-known (I think on here) figure in the reporting game who said he wished I dealt more with the actual cricket than journalists who no-one really gives a shit about. Like all constructive comment aimed my way I considered it. A lot. Then came being told I wasn’t strategic enough to build a brand identity and push a plan through cost me a promotion (how I laugh inside at that, not) and I begin to question myself. Am I aiming in the wrong place? Am I just becoming a stuck record? Have we peaked (hits are noticeable on this blog when the news is bad) and could we sustain this blog through “good times”? Is it worth sustaining? How do we do it?

I’m not satisfied. I used to be easily satisfied, but not now. This is too precious to me to give up.

I wandered around for a long time in the wilderness until I got noticed. I then set about keeping the limited audience I had in a flurry of furious posts, each one dripping with anger at the press, the ECB and yes, Alastair Cook. I’m over none of that. Not one bit. Without that anger the well runs dry. I now almost hate the game I love for the fact that nearly every facet of it brings me to rage. The lack of terrestrial coverage, the patronising of New Zealand as if awarding them just two test two years after awarding them just two tests is somehow ordered by some Cricketing authority on high rather than the ECB’s actual choice of oppenents. The victories in the ODIs, and the manner of the defeats, are laudatory, but for the love of all that’s holy, it’s 2-2 and there has been enough dumb nonsense in this series that we now seem to think it is OK to overlook because we are playing positively (and the bowling looks absolutely clueless). There is the very good point thelegglance made about how this rush to gush is now overtaking the inquest that should have taken place about how the team played in the World Cup. Instead we’ll have it all laid on Moores’s door for the failure (Farbrace was in that dressing room, so don’t give me all that) and no doubt the C–tmaster General’s door for the brave decisions. One of our scribes rightly said that we don’t look to the players for the successes, but at the coach, or someone who puts in place strategies. I’ve always said with strategies, that when they are successful they have many parents, but when they fail, they are orphans.

I’ve just read Steve James’s “The Plan”. I might do a review of it when I calm down. It has some interesting nuggets, especially in his willingness to blame anyone but his Zimbabwean colleagues, and some insider stuff that if true, casts an interesting shadow over some of the decisions taken after the book. But it was a throwaway line on Moneyball that got me.

I’m a massive baseball fan, and both the book and the movie of Moneyball omit one incredibly salient fact that is missed about those Oakland A teams. It wasn’t about value for money and all that, but it was about the fact they had a brilliant pitching rotation. They had great pitchers in their midst to start games. The Red Sox this year have, on paper, a really good hitting team. They absolutely stink this season because their starting pitching is atrocious. I go on a blog where they ask you to predict the record of the team for the season. I was the only one who didn’t have them down as having a winning season. It is, in baseball, a lot about getting bang for your buck. It is also about your scouts, your player development, your drafting ability to get good players of your own.

Peter Moores loves this book. According to Steve James, he passed a copy to Flower who also liked it. It’s a good book, tells an interesting story, and pretends that Billy Beane is some sort of out-there genius. It tells the story of running a sporting franchise where the As didn’t have the most money (far from it), didn’t have the best stadium (very far from it) and didn’t play in the best city (I can’t comment on that, but no-one really mentions Oakland in the tourist guides). So he had to look beyond the athleticism and at the numbers to see if he could get value. Beane got older players with a couple of good years left (stop laughing at the back) who may have been looking for one last hurrah. Beane got players who didn’t necessarily have the best physical condition, or who had individual styles that the trainers and physiologists would have kittens over (Samit Patel……any England fast bowler that goes to Loughborough) or develop his own players quickly and get them in the team to trade them for other pieces – which is what a club team does, but not an international one. The thing I believe Moores would probably have taken out of this is the data. The numbers. Not the traditional ones, but the things like WAR or OPS+ that the statsguru’s of baseball love. But that doesn’t really translate to cricket. Take KP, who is berated for having an average of just 47. He has precious few not outs as he’s a risk taker. In my view. How is that translated to the press? “It’s the way he plays….” “A player of great innings not a great player” or the best of all “inconsistent”. I didn’t see anyone try to get behind those numbers too hard.

Moneyball is about running a business, that is why it’s written by a prolific business writer. England are if not the wealthiest team in cricket, than they are second. And they just lost a test in May to a team without a pot to piss in. I hope the new man has nothing to do with such trite twaddle. Sadly, I think Strauss would probably melt into a warm puddle at the very mention of it.

I have rambled off, which is usual, but the point I’m trying to make is that this journalist probably thought Moneyball was some wonderful text because Flower liked it. It needed investigating. I read this stuff. I’ve read virtually every self-congratulatory tome about the Red Sox winning it all in 2004 due to these techniques (of course, buying up one of the best pitchers on the market and having the second highest payroll in the game had sweet FA to do with it). I’m a sports nut who laps this stuff up. But not with an uncritical eye. When someone tells me a book like that helped shape a couple of England coaches’ philosophies, I want to know why.

I’ll never be able to scratch that itch completely. I’ll always be searching for the right point, even if I find out it is wrong. I want to know. The pieces recently by much more precise, beautifully crafting authors like Maxie and TLG than I, hone in on their targets like laser guided missiles, and we are all the better for it. I’m far less accurate, but hope I make up for it in my desire to find out. I’m still not satisfied that I’ve found out what I want.

So it gets to the point, where, yes, I confess, I hope Alastair Cook fails as a batsman, because he’s a wretched leader of men. I get to the point, where, yes, I confess, I see England wins as something to dread for the stupidity of the reaction they garner from people who should know better. I hope Strauss falls on his arse for backing a Giles Clarke line on KP (for that is what I think it is) and he leaves that post with the ridicule his predecessor garnered. I will not forgive those who branded the likes of me as “outside cricket” for turning me off an England cricket team. Even one with players like this.

I’m not falling in love with them. Not one iota. Until that whole top edifice is cleared, Clarke has absolutely nothing to do with the ECB, that there’s an apology to those they insulted, I’ll despise them with every f–king fibre of my being.

When I was a child, I played cricket in the street. I played with 10 other kids on a council estate in Deptford. I watched Botham’s Ashes. I watched the great 1980s West Indies teams. People talked about cricket all the time. Going to my first test match was a thing I will always treasure (1997, Oval, Day 2). I have this game in my soul. I come from an era where it mattered to kids of all social classes. Now?

Yeah. I’ve no right to be angry at all. No I’ll carry on with all of them. And now I don’t have to play the good little foot soldier role in the office, I’m ready to up the ante.

Night.

Closing Ranks

It’s been quite striking the last couple of days how those who adore the establishment that is the ECB have adopted a “move on, nothing to see here” approach.  As usual, they do not answer the questions or objections that have been levelled by the hoi polloi, but instead repeat the same old lines about it being about the future, and that for undisclosed reasons, this is the right decision, and indeed the only decision.

Strauss should be trusted to do the right thing, Colin Graves is an honourable man and certainly didn’t intend to mislead, and we all know what Kevin Pietersen was guilty of (I can’t tell you though) and therefore deserves everything he got.

It’s nonsense though.

Colin Graves’ self-serving statement did nothing but use the lawyer technique of picking something no-one had accused him of, and denying it strongly.  No one ever claimed Pietersen had been guaranteed a place.  No one.  Not Pietersen himself, nor anyone else.  Claiming that private conversations had been talked about in the press deliberately ignored his own public statements which no matter how the apologists try and squirm, were absolutely clear and repeated on more than one occasion.  It was in any case more than slightly hypocritical given the BBC announced the outcome of the Pietersen/Strauss/Harrison meeting within minutes of it being over.  Since then we’ve had reports that Pietersen went out “in a blaze of glory” shouting expletives at the other two.  Since there were only three of them present, that means that if true, the information has come from either Strauss or Harrison – probably via a third party who likes to pass this on.  It’s a matter of trust you see.

Ian Bell’s press conference statements appear to have been largely glossed over.  But they are important because of who it was saying it, and what he said.  One of the constant refrains in the whole affair has been about what the players think about it all.  But the players won’t think about it overly because they will be thinking about themselves.  For the batsmen, no Pietersen means that they are just a little bit more secure in their position.  All players will first and foremost be interested in themselves and their own careers.  Bell was telling the absolute truth when he said they didn’t think about it much when they were in the West Indies and nor should they either.  Very few people in any walk of life are prepared to put their heads above the parapet for another, they prefer to keep their heads down, focus on themselves and hope it doesn’t happen to them.  That’s why the ECB got away with it initially – not because of some overwhelming support in the dressing room, which seems to amount to two or three players, but because the others would not stand up and object when it risked their own position and own careers.  It’s not malicious, it’s simply human nature.

Yet what Bell said contradicted so much of the ECB line.  He didn’t come out firing, he quietly and firmly had his say and deserves credit for doing so.  Much was made of his backing for Strauss in his new role, but again this should come as a surprise to no-one.  Players will accept the hierarchy in which they work because they can’t individually change it, and the public comments will always be in favour, no matter what their private feelings.  Yet there’s no reason to doubt that Bell absolutely meant it, because the players – especially the senior ones – will want stability.  The problem is that the behaviour of the ECB does just the opposite, and that has been the criticism all along.  Ignoring the rest of what Bell said, which runs so counter to the official line, simply reinforces the dim view taken of the way the ECB conduct themselves.

As much as the press obsess over Pietersen, they continue to miss the point about the whole matter and simply store up the resentment and indeed the story for later.  The termination of Pietersen’s chances does not provide closure on the whole affair; it might do to an extent were England to carry all before them this summer, because as much as it might fester amongst the supporters, it gives the press something different to write about, and the lack of trust amongst the supporters that has been so vocally put forward would reduced to a rumble.  That’s still damaging, especially when they don’t buy tickets, but it wouldn’t be front and centre in the media.  That is unlikely and there is the distinct possibility the summer could be a complete cricketing calamity.  If that were to transpire, every single one of these issues is going to be highly visible once again.  The fundamental point the ECB cannot address, no matter how much they try and obfuscate, is that their new policy is not one of selecting the best players on cricketing merit.  And that means should England lose Tests, the same questions will be put to them, as to whether England would be a better team if Pietersen were in it.  They’ve managed to turn the whole issue of a single player into a fundamental question of how they operate, in which Pietersen is simply the catalyst for questioning that approach.  At some point a player will step out of line.  They don’t dare drop him without inviting the same opprobrium.

The same applies to the question of who they will appoint as coach.  There have been enough indications that at best Gillespie is uncertain whether he would want to take a role where the Director, Cricket (that writing that title is in itself an instance of sarcasm demonstrates their problem) has already decided who can’t be picked and who is captain with no input or apparent authority from that coach means that there is the distinct possibility that the most able candidates will rule themselves out.  And if that happens, and we are left with another Peter Moores – presumably whoever gets it is at most the second best coach of his generation – then they have indeed sacrificed the England cricket team’s ability to succeed on the altar of their dislike of Pietersen.  This is a critical point, which has not been directly addressed in the discussion around the whole debacle.  If the unqualified removal of Pietersen from consideration results directly in being unable to engage a coach of the highest quality, that is not acting in the interests of the England team, and undermines the repeated claims to be acting in the medium to long term.

With the gift for timing that we have come to expect from the ECB, Tom Harrison chose this week of all weeks to effectively kill off the prospects of cricket appearing on free to air television:

“Sky have been a great partner for English cricket, going forward, we need to be very careful about the way in which this argument is understood. Is there a role for terrestrial television post the current deal with Sky. Terrestrial is becoming, frankly, less relevant every single year in the context of how people consume media. I don’t think we solve all our participation concerns by terrestrial television.”

Again, it’s using an argument advanced by absolutely no-one to defend the actions of the ECB.  No one has ever claimed putting cricket on free to air solves all problems, but it doesn’t mean for a second that at least some on there wouldn’t help.  All comparable sports make the effort to put some of their output on terrestrial TV, even those who took the Sky shilling long ago like rugby league.  Most sports try to ensure there is a balance – the money from Sky is undoubtedly important, but so is exposure on as wide a platform as possible.

Everyone is aware that consumption of audio visual output has changed and will continue to change over the years ahead, but failing to take into account how people discover the game is potentially crippling.  Cricket tragics will tend to eventually pay up if they can so they can watch.  The casual viewer will not, unless they are already interested in other sports and the bundling of content gives them cricket they would not specifically pay for.  Yet the ECB consistently tries to ignore the wider issue in favour of re-writing history.  Colin Graves – a man of integrity so he claims vociferously said:

“It would be nice to have some cricket on terrestrial television but the problem we have got is terrestrial television does not want cricket.  It certainly does not want Test cricket. We have to get best of all worlds, but if terrestrial broadcasters don’t want cricket, then what can you do?”

This misses the point and is completely disingenous.  It is hardly surprising terrestrial broadcasters are uninterested when it is abundantly clear that they have no prospect whatever of winning a contract to show it.  Why should they invest time and effort in thinking about where they could fit it into their schedules when they know perfectly well they have no chance and that the ECB will go with the highest bidder – which will be Sky unless BT Sport decide to jump in.  If the ECB were to state that they wanted Test cricket on terrestrial television and then no broadcaster showed an interest, then they could claim that.  Unless that happens it’s simply more mendacity from an organisation that seems to find telling the truth challenging in all circumstances.

The argument has been made that young people consume their media in  other ways than television these days.  That is true, but whether via X-Box, Playstation, iPad (other tablets are available – they really are) or anything else comparable, you still need that Sky subscription to watch it.  Unless you access illegal streams.  One would presume the ECB are not advocating that approach.

In any case, it pre-supposes an existing interest.  This does not happen by default, in order to develop an interest in a sport initially there must be some kind of exposure to it.  That may be from a parent, in which case all is well because that parent may imbue the child with the enthusiasm for the sport, but what if the parent hasn’t the finance or the interest in cricket in the first place?  The child will never casually come across cricket if the household does not have Sky Sports, and the idea that media output from the ECB will compensate for that is nonsensical – only those with an established interest will seek it out.

Cricket has become a niche sport, and the focus of the ECB’s response to criticism has been in terms of the England team.  But that is not their whole role in cricket, they are responsible for it at all levels.  The loss of cricket in schools has to some extent been offset by the clubs who have made astonishing efforts to drive interest; indeed the clubs have been instrumental in taking cricket into schools themselves.  As much as the ECB like to congratulate themselves for that, much of the funding comes from Sport England, who have expressed serious concerns about the decline in participation and warned their funding cannot be taken for granted, and most of the effort comes from people down at club and village level, who despair of where the next generation of cricketers will come from unless they do it themselves.

Cricket Australia have taken a fundamentally different approach.  The media position there is not radically different to the UK – and the point about youth televisual consumption is identical to here.  CA insist on cricket being free to air, and even take out advertisments promoting the game on Australian television.  By the ECB insisting their approach is the only one for the UK, they are directly saying that the Australian one is not the way.  There might be differences in the structure of TV between the two countries, but they are not so vast a comparison cannot be made.

Whether it be on the continuing fall out from the Pietersen omnishambles, the question of the coach, the matter of Alastair Cook being affirmed as England captain, or the subject of cricket on television, it is possible the ECB are right, and others wrong.  And in the last case, I would dearly like to be wrong.

Trouble is, I fear I’m not wrong at all.

UPDATE: Since this post was originally put up, the press have released articles concerning what Stuart Broad said about Pietersen.  Essentially it amounts to saying he’d have no objection to Pietersen playing, that the differences between them have been exaggerated, and perhaps most tellingly that he’s not spoken to anyone above him in the ECB about it.  Can anyone find anyone else in the England team apart from Cook who has a problem with him?  Because it seems to be narrowing the field by the day.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Trust – 1

What else could I call this post? While my good friend and colleague on here, Vian, aka thelegglance, held the fort so spectacularly this morning, I sat in my room, here in New Jersey, at 6 in the morning wondering what the hell was going on. I couldn’t shout or swear at the screen because didn’t want to wake the beloved or mother-in-law up. I was interested in seeing how the new dawn of Harrison and Strauss looked, and what new ideas they had going forward. I also wondered how prepared and how briefed they were for the KP onslaught.

I sort of owe Stephen Brenkley an apology. Compared to this, Paul Downton and Peter Moores handled their questioning with aplomb last year. I’ve just seen George tweet “Bring Back Downton” and I’m inclined to believe it might not be worse. Downton could have been told to wind his neck in, eat humble pie and go with a selection policy based on merit. If he didn’t like it, he knew where the door was. The ECB needed a scapegoat after the World Cup, Downton inserted mouth and put his foot in it, and eh voila, we had our token sacrifice. But by doing this early enough, one man would still have a vital say in the replacement.

Someone said today, I think it was Harrison, it may have been Strauss, that the decision to axe KP, although he’s not banned (they think they are so effing clever, don’t they) was unanimous at board level, with the names mentioned being Strauss, Harrison, Graves and Giles Clarke. There you have it. That man Clarke. There was absolutely no way he’d countenance a return to the fold for Pietersen, an uppity man who dared challenge his monstrous ego. No way would Clarke allow this. Whether he should have been mentioned is a point for debate. After all. wasn’t he being shunted overseas, out of the way, not to get involved and let Graves run the show. Or is he the ultimate back seat driver? Instead we’ve got into this position. Downton’s early termination by ECB standards may have been part of the plan. They needed a scapegoat and no-one was going to bemoan his departure. By doing so swiftly enough the current Chairman was going to get involved in the selection process. There have been whispers in the press that there was no way he would go quietly. So, how better to construct a false competition, with the illusion of rivals for the post, and then, when one dropped out and one was ignored, we arrived at Strauss. A man with well known views on Kevin Pietersen, made clear in a book (funny how that worked, eh) and on air. Hey, that’s all right, he took time away from the game to do all that. Every man and his dog knew he was biding time before getting back into cricket admin. I think I’ve spent 500 words saying I don’t believe Giles Clarke is going to let go at all. We’ll see.

So to today, and Andrew Strauss. Having woken up appallingly early, I managed to get a Sky Sports News feed, and given no-one else was using much internet at 6am, I got an unbuffered stream. My first surprise was that we weren’t shown the press conference, a la Downton, but that there would be interviews first. OK. I didn’t hold out much hope. Tim Abraham comes off as a good guy, but he’s not Pat Murphy. Now, I’ll have to trust to memory and Vian’s recall here, but the first words out were something along the lines of “we need to have an honest, open discussion about Kevin Pietersen.” I sighed. I couldn’t swear. I sighed. By implication this means you have not been honest in the past about it, and that you’ve not been open at all. You’ve had all night to prepare for this question and you come out with startingly obvious platitudes that those of us who have followed this for 16 months now will see straight through. Andrew, old bean, you threw a fit over text messages and you called him a c—. You are not some impartial, detached honest broker. Don’t hold yourself up to be one.

To his credit, this early gambit didn’t hold, and he didn’t even try. What followed was bilge. Some believe it is those dastardly lawyers, clamming everything up again. That pesky employment law, eh? But what we had was the key element of trust, and Strauss couldn’t make up his mind if the key factor was at corporate level (a unanimous view of the board) or his own (we’ve had serious trust issues and I don’t trust him). There’s the first error, a massive one. He put his own personal beef above English cricket and he never went into detail why. Not that I heard. When even Paul Newman says we needed to read between the lines, you know this was not working. Only a couple of usual pillocks – Selfey, Lovejoy Jr – went hurrah! Here’s his excerpt from the book: Driving Ambition 1So a grudge, eh? Yet again, when it comes to the crunch, Strauss never went into this with an open mind. But we knew this from what he had said before. But many came to the same conclusion – what the hell is he on about? This bloke (KP) was just completing his 355 not out – a special score – and Strauss is still going on about a beef three years ago? What was he talking about? What the hell did it matter? How many runs did “trust” score? Oh, I’ve seen those who liken sports teams to corporations say that you can’t do what he did and return. Pietersen would be the one with the problem, not them. It would be Pietersen ostracised in a dressing room, not them. If KP could go in there and take it, then so should they.

No. I came to a pretty swift thought. This is about Alastair Cook. Again. Cook doesn’t want him back, he never goes into detail why this should be the case, and Cook rules this roost. Once again, another senior management figure gives this man carte blanche. Denials do nothing to convince me otherwise.

Strauss gave it the big one over sacking Moores. Bravo. He wasn’t tactically adept enough at the international level. Well, that’s nice. I suppose all those press boys who fell over themselves last year have recanted their sins on both Moores and the man who appointed him (sound of crickets). There then came all the stuff that Andrew Miller, in his excellent Cricinfo piece, called the “white noise of corporate bullshit”. If you’ve read Driving Ambition, and I have, the bit I most recall was Strauss’ devotion to managment text books, team bonding exercises and military disciplines. People here will know how much I absolutely adore all of that. We try to escape this sort of claptrap in watching sports. I’ll bet Lionel Messi has never read a management text book in his life. I’ll bet Ronaldo doesn’t do team bonding. It’s drivel. We are playing sports, not planning a mission to invade Afghanistan, or to deliver a leveraged buy out. But here they were all trotted out, the most vacuous of them all being the “long-term strategy”.

We had the shock that he was keeping Eoin Morgan as captain of the ODI team – hey, while we’ve just sacked the coach, let’s kick him even harder by saying the World Cup was ALL his fault by keeping the captain (who just happens to be a Middlesex player, but I wouldn’t be that cheap to draw a conclusion based on that). Then there was the promotion of Joe Root to vice-captain, which, who knows, may have been based on the legendary leaked performance on some leadership exercise by Ian Bell to demote him back to the ranks. Then there was the woolly philosophy of separate ODI and Test teams, but under one coach. There would be more of a distinction but we’ll flog a head coach to death to do it. Well, good luck with that.

And that was pretty much it. A trust issue where there was no-one to blame, and I didn’t go into the semantics of the following old shite where he said KP had no future, but he absolutely wasn’t banned. Some contrition for the manner of Moores dismissal, but a dismissal of Moores himself (and how that contrasts with his book which when KP and Moores were having their spat, Strauss almost indicated that “it was nothing to do with me guv”. Driving Ambition 2He certainly worked with him there, didn’t he? (Driving Ambiton, by Andrew Strauss is available from normal sources if you wish to read the full book). Tom Harrison came on and did a speak-your-Downton regime. First of all, his credibility is shot because he looks like Tim Westwood. Secondly, when challenged on the KP front, he then did what all good charlatans do when caught on a weak issue for them, and said, I don’t want to talk about the past, it’s about the future, and then went on about excitement and long-term strategies. I lost the will. He’s dead to me. No more than a Downton in a sharp suit, but with more of an attitude.

Of course, since then, the main copy has been provided by the Pietersen sacking (for that’s what it is, don’t bullshit us) and what KP had or had not been told.

Like last night, I’ll divide the post in to two, and have a real pop in the second part. Because I want my dinner, and I’ve topped 1500 words. I’ll hand it over to thelegglance to take things up.

Also, read The Full Toss (James and Maxie), and Andrew Miller on cricinfo (which also has a link to Switch Hit).

UPDATE – Not really been at it today, even though I seem to have devoted a full day of my holiday for this nonsense. I’m likely going to take a couple of days away from the blog (don’t hold me to it) and I know Vian has something up his sleeve for tomorrow. I feel a bit of my spirit is broken, to be honest. I’ve felt this way before. I get over it, and get on with it. It wasn’t helped by listening to Tuffers and Vaughan, to be honest. If we showed one tenth of the bile for Cook or Strauss that is doled out to Pietersen, we’d be annihilated. We don’t come anywhere near close.

326 Not Out – Part 2

COOKY

Read Part 1 below – a bit of a diary of the day up to the TMS tweet. Now I’ll really get stuck into this nonsense.

Let’s take ourselves back to the end of the day’s play. The reaction to the 326 that I saw was mostly of the “wow” kind. A few churls who wouldn’t have cared if it was Marshall and Holding in their pomp at each end had a pop, but they looked rather stupid. One moron of the month, who Clive rightly called a troll said “one innings in four years” which not only questioned his recognition of how relatively rare 300s are, but also his numeric ability given KP’s knocks since 2011 – you know, the golden trio even his worst critics can’t help bu admire. I’m used to this utter nonsense now. It’s tedious, it’s dull, a bit like this blog to non-believers.

So to the TMS Tweet.

Seems pretty unequivocal. Of course it’s a leak, or whatever you want to call it, because a leak isn’t a leak if it isn’t a leak or something. Some people got rather uppity about all that over the weekend (no, not you LB), as if we were doubting their journalistic abilities. But this looked like a leak to me, this one… if it looks like a leak, smell lies a leak, it probably is one. So the reaction was one of fury.

I absolutely one hundred percent stick behind this one. I’m deadly serious. I’m not over-reacting. This blog is built on these foundations. Call it as you see it on DAY ONE. I called for Downton’s dismissal the day after he said something utterly stupid and now I call this.

I am seriously not impressed by Tom Harrison. Oh, I know, he wouldn’t give a toss if he read it, and why should he? He’s a highly paid executive and I’m just a mere bilious inadequate with a small platform and loyal support. But this was another one we were told was made of the right stuff. A former county pro, who went into media rights management and is now in charge of something or other at the ECB.

This is him.

HarrisonSo far, he’s sacked Downton, which was a fair move but bloody hell, he took his time over it as he presided over a costs and structure review – and boy does Harrison like a structure. Then he presided over the absolute clusterf*ck that was the dismissal of Moores. In the interim he employed head-hunters to come up with Andrew Strauss for a new post called Director, (and that comma says so much) England Cricket (or whatever – I cannot be bothered with this muppetry) and now, that is coming home to roost. They had it all planned. Andrew Strauss would be unveiled, they’d say a teary farewell to Peter Moores, and then new Management Structure England would move forward to the New Zealand series and the Ashes.

But, as we know, the information on Moores leaked. How it leaked we do not know, because, well we’ve done that already above. So a decent bloke (I think I’ve been consistent in that) was humiliated in public by this organisation. You’d think they’d feel a little chastened, a little wounded, maybe a touch humble. But I’m not sensing humility from Harrison. I’m sensing someone who is a little too cock-sure and seems to think he’s wielding a big stick. Just a hunch, and we’ll see how it plays out. Not been too wrong on them so far.

So, with plans completely blown out of the water, a contingent strategy took place, and the announcements were made on Saturday. Vian’s post below captures my thoughts brilliantly. My thanks for such a really good post on the matter. After this nonsense we were advised there would be a press conference today (Monday) or tomorrow (Tuesday). No-one was quite sure. There seemed to be utter confusion, while at the same time trying to exude some sort of decisive authority. This smacked of Captain Mainwaring shouting “I’m In Charge” as his bunch of old timers rambled off here and there.

Now, they knew the press conference, on Tuesday, was always going to throw up the KP question. At this stage (Sunday) it was an easy case to answer. Let him make some runs, he’s not in our plans at the moment, and it’s difficult to see him in our plans going forward. But he has to make runs. Even this has not, it appeared, satisfied our captain. I’ve been told a ton of times how nice a guy Cook is, but he doesn’t seem to act like it it. Either he’s being horribly misinterpreted here, or there’s something I’m missing, but every time someone seems to broach a rapprochement with KP, there’s a column saying Cook’s angry at someone for it, being Aggers (reportedly) over his TMS stint at the World Cup, or Graves for that message during the World Cup that got KP to sign for Surrey and play county cricket. It seems that Team England is run for the benefit of Team Cook. We’ve been down this road on this blog before. It really appears to me a him or me situation, a back me or sack me. In Downton, Cook had an implacable supporter. In Flower, behind the scenes wielding whatever power, he had someone in his camp if it means keeping KP at bay. And in Strauss, he has a man who KP fell out with, who didn’t want him to return to the team after Textgate, and who called him a c*** live on TV. I think, as they say in the legal world, these lot have “previous”.

I’ve been saying all along they’ve been leading him up the garden path. This is not an organisation steeped in an ability to admit mistakes. It refuses to believe it can ever be wrong on any matter, or admit it’s core policies are misguided or prone to scrutiny. This is a body that went into a major deal with a subsequently committed felon, and you’d gather from our governing bodies attitude to its culpability in the terms of “ooops, shucks, well, ok, never mind.” Collier, the architect supposedly of this kept his job for a mere six years after that. Clarke has had to be prised out of office with the promise of a lovely old international jolly. Hugh Morris presided over the Moore/Pietersen nonsense with all the authority of Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served, while throughout this period we had leaks/good journalism all over the shop. That an organisation is supposed to be anal about leaks lets so much information out, such as KP’s report, the dodgy dossier and the sacking of Moores II, is preposterous. They are a sick joke, with the emphasis on sick. It’s bloody ironic that the new chairman is called Graves. This is a place where common sense goes to die. Where good chaps preside over the serfs, and don’t you dare question authority.

Above all, this is an organisation that employed Paul Downton in a position of responsibility. You remember him. All aplomb and good impressions. He may have been a lovely guy, aren’t they all, but he was out of his depth from day one. He hid. When he spoke, we knew why he hid. But we are told that things will be different now. While Downton was removed from the game for a couple of decades, the new Director, England Cricket, will be more in touch. More in tune with the modern game.

The list of those who would be in for the job underwhelmed. While Michael Vaughan was an inspirational captain, he’s a twit online. Alec Stewart had experience of being a Team Director, but that didn’t count a jot, and really, were we enthused by his candidacy. Then there was Andrew Strauss. The last week has seen people falling over each other to tell us how tough he is, how single minded, how focused he was. How he’d do the best for English cricket. He is the ideal man to take us forward, a great captain, a great leader of men. The evidence? He got rid of Moores (or did he. I’ve heard from some that he was gone well before the announcement of Strauss….and I’m talking a couple of weeks). But if Strauss sacking Moores adds to the narrative, well, what’s the harm in that? Of course, we’d heard from Michael Vaughan that Moores wasn’t going to be sacked, and that he’d been told that the ECB were not going to take KP back. Then Strauss is their man, and Moores goes. It’s laughable. So Strauss has a big decision under his belt, so it seems.

And it is abundantly clear, if I’m guessing, that the plan was to talk to KP before the presser to sort that out. They know that the question is going to come up, and I said how I thought they might answer it in part 1. But it’s easy to speak to KP with a forthright view if he’s not made runs. Now he has. 326 un-ignorable runs. 326 stabs into the heart of the ECB with their high-fallutin’ principles and beliefs. 326 jabs at their pompous approach, their holier than thou, high and mighty, we are in charge balloon of infallibility. 326 reasons why they are wrong to adopt a policy of selection that excludes someone because someone inferior doesn’t get on with him. 326 reasons why this country is a bag of shite when it comes to creating and maintaining great English sporting teams. It’s too much about getting along, and not enough about getting runs.

So when faced with the utter shit-storm the initial twitter post from TMS unleashed, with people going absolutely puce with rage (me included), there was a very quick back-track via Nick Hoult in the Telegraph. Lawrence Booth has reported much the same thing. But this is them trying to be clever and the ECB-watching public out there are not going to be fooled one iota. Their policy, if not explicit, but as close as you can get to it, will be KP over their dead bodies. Even now these control freak, superiority complex muppets will be concocting something that is designed to fool the public tomorrow. You won’t. Without the simple mantra that the team will be selected on merit, as it should be, anything else is claptrap. We won’t get fooled for building for 2019, because we built for this World Cup and blew it up in a tantrum last year. Setting long-distant dates, talking about long-term strategies is management bullshit. You going to give all the punters who paid all that cash for the Ashes some money back as you ain’t giving it your all? Like hell. It’s talking down to us. Some, in their bilious hatred for KP will accept this bag of nonsense. More shame them.

So, on the off chance that Strauss will surprise us, which I doubt, I’ll hold all my fire. But here’s the Dmitri Declaration. If I hear anything other than the England cricket team will be selected on merit, and no player is excluded, and if he is playing well and is deemed to be the best available at that time, regardless of age, then that player will be selected. But as this is a team that selected Tredwell over Rashid, Trott over Lyth and is busy flogging Anderson and Broad to a standstill, it’s all a smokescreen.

To the final insult, the last in a long line. The Graves comment that KP’s not available for selection as he’s not playing county cricket and not scoring runs. There have been denials that a deal has ever been struck, that this was a mere innocent comment and nothing had changed. KP is many things, not all good, but he’s not stupid. He returned because he felt there was a genuine chance of a rapprochement. He felt Graves would take none of the previous regimes nonsense and set them straight. To that end he negotiated an exit to his IPL contract, and gave up a decent, not huge, sum of money, and does not take a salary from Surrey. If there were “no chance” of a recall, then they should have said so, there and then. They didn’t. They hoped he would fail, would not score sufficient runs. That he would wither and die, and sod off to the CPL later in the summer. KP’s not that gullible that he wouldn’t keep that in his back pocket.

Now he makes 326, now we see them close ranks. Now we see them all but shut it off in perpetuity. That’s reprehensible, and let’s see them get their way out of this. A good number of cricket lovers are enraged at this apparant duplicity. That this isn’t just getting shot of a trouble-maker but exacting a bitter, cruel revenge. I am a KP fan. This man gave me some of the greatest thrills of my cricketing life. I would have loved to have been there today. I’m desperately hoping he’ll be there at Beckenham in a fortnight’s time, but that looks unlikely. I’m not saying he’s an angel, but he’s among the best we have. But we don’t play the game that way.

From the outside this is an organisation not representing its core supporters. This is an organisation that leaks. This is an organisation that thinks it is too clever by half. This is an organisation that is rotten to the core, steeped in some misty-eyed half-baked concoction of superiority complex elitism and management philosophy claptrap, that only they can judge and only they can decide. This is an organisation that couldn’t organise a piss up in brewery, a sacking on the Apprentice, or honest broking in a room full of spivs. It is diseased, it is malevolent and it has to go. Yes. We need a new organisation running the game, free of all this rubbish, these agenda, this structure. There’s another structure for you, Tom.

Sure, I’m outside cricket. I’ve never felt more outside than I do now. Judging by the reactions of many today, so do they. It’s an incredibly sad day when our own organisation rushes to dampen down the enthusiasm felt by many when a player who gave great service to England, who played many amazing innings, who had us glued to our screens, buying our tickets, makes a thrilling riposte and does what he thought he need to do, only to be told within a matter of hours, it seems, to foxtrot oscar. Someone put cricket on the back pages today, and instead of welcoming it, our beloved guardian authority hated it. They’ve got it all right, ain’t they….

Let’s be pleasantly surprised tomorrow, eh? Anyone betting on it?

kp FO