Hey There, You, With The Sad Face – Australia and Me (Part 2 of a few)

“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo

In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?

Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.

This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.

After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….

Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.

Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.

On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.

When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?

The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.

Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.

But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).

I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.

And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.

1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.

England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!

The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.

So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.

Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.

Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.

There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html

I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.

It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.

In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell),  Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.

The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.

The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.

1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.

The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.

Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.

But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.

 

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You Walk Alone With The Ghost Of Time – Australia and Me (Part 1 of a Few)

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!” Charles Dickens

So, Australia. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and remember back to when I did a series on the Blackwash series of 85-6, which people seemed to like, and I enjoyed writing. This isn’t a history of the Ashes, I leave that to wallet chasers like the Analyst and so forth. It’s what Australia means to me. From the early memories, through 81, the 86-7 series, losing the World Cup Final, the juggernaut Aussies of the 90s and early 2000s, to seeing them in the flesh, to the 2010-11 series, the humiliation of 2013-14 to today, and their current plight. It’s going to take a while. If I have the inclination, I can spare the time, as the Pet Shop Boys nearly said. This is a post of Opportunities, after all.

There is, certainly within, me to lurch back to what Ian Botham thought was the curse of Ray Illingworth. “It was so much better in my day”. As India have closed a test series in Australia with a 2-1 advantage and taken home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, there is time to consider how big an achievement that is for the nation that has most grown the game in the past 30 years or so. But it also makes me look back on the great players of the past that never won a series there for India. While this era may be the time of hyperbole and sell, sell, sell, yesteryear comes with rose-tinted glasses, an in-built editor for the unmemorable, and a forgetfulness for the sub-standard. There was crap authoritarian bullshit in huge supply from the governing bodies. There were players who divided the press, the populace and the players themselves. There were blowhards, know-it-alls, rent-a-quotes and mob rule just as there is today. Today, the players get paid more, and so do the administrators, and even taking for inflation, the people paying this are you and I – directly through ticket prices and subscriptions, or passed on advertising costs for the corporate backers.

So what’s my point, you ask, not for the first time. Well, I’m about to get a bit nostalgic and go back in time a little. The kernel of the idea for this post was planted by Fred’s response to my comment on the current Australian schmozzle over the ball tampering nonsense. I’ve been clear from the start. I think the ban was ludicrous, the reaction over the top, the penance a joke, and the authorities, some of who needed to be taken from the building kicking and screaming, playing the role of sanctimonious, pious hypocrites that I won’t reel back from. These were aided and abetted by a media who have one main role in life – generate heat, to get those clicks and peepers on the TV, to flog advertising. This was a story. The heat generated far outweighed the crime. That it carries on to this day, and Australia submitted meekly this winter to India as a consequence, is bizarre. An act of self-flagellation that will satisfy no-one. A crisis borne of its own self-regard, its own view of the world of cricket. England are not immune from this stupidity. We actually ban players for f*** all, and are told to shut up moaning about it by the authorities, acting with aplomb, the media, acting like ventriloquist’s dummies and the useful idiots in the social media world who clapped the result while not exactly considering what happens next time.

There can be a view taken, and some do, that I hate Australia, and that comment is the basis for what I want to write here. Australia has been the most important cricket influence on me alongside the West Indies of the 70s and 80s. I would watch them at every opportunity. They were an amazing team during the 90s and into the early part of the century. They are the most important series we play in the mind of most.

So with nostalgia firmly in place, for good or ill, let me take you back to my first cricketing memory and move forward. This piece is going to be what Australian cricket means to me, as an England cricket follower, and may take more than one post. Because it’s complicated.

It actually goes back, funnily enough, to a One Day International, probably a Prudential Trophy match, played at The Oval. All I remember about it is that they carried on playing in the pouring rain. I know I remember it because every time this person sat down in front of the TV to watch cricket and it was raining, I would say “well they played out in it in that game at The Oval, why not now?” It appears as though the game may have been this one in 1977 (http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/17145/scorecard/64960/england-vs-australia-3rd-odi-australia-tour-of-england-1977) but my faded memory could have sworn it pre-dated Viv’s 1976 destruction of England – thank god for real facts and not alternative ones. But let’s go from there. Chappell (G) was the danger man. He played the winning innings. Dickie Bird was the umpire in the pouring rain. I have no earthly idea who was playing for England in that game.

1977 was the first Ashes series I remembered, and to be frank, it was no big deal. To me, as a growing enthusiast for the game, my memories, my love for the game, and my fear for England derived from the West Indies team. Not Australia. 1976 was the hot summer, the summer of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding. Immense innings augmented by pace. The game at a different level. I knew not of Bradman. I knew nothing of Bodyline. I had a book that told me we won the Ashes after donkey’s years in 1953 when Compton swept the ball to the Gas Holder. But that was it. In fact, looking back, that book had Randall’s cartwheel on the cover, so I would not have known even that.

1977’s series, won by England, had several memories for me. The Aussie to fear was Greg Chappell. I wasn’t really familiar with many of the others. England gave a debut that series to Ian Botham, and yet his test commencement, great as it was, was overshadowed by a run out. Geoff Boycott, who everyone knew (play a defensive shot out in the street, it would be “who do you think you are, Boycott?) had returned after exile, and came into the team for the third test. A memory of the time is that the series was being played under the shadow of Packer – at the time I never had a clue what that meant (Imagine BOC being around during that!) – and Tony Greig, a favourite of mine, had been sacked as captain but stayed in the team, and some grey-haired posh-speaker had taken his place as captain. The first test (might remember a catch or two, but nothing else) was drawn at Lord’s, the second won by England at Old Trafford. Boycott returned for the third test at Nottingham, and then promptly ran out the prodigal son of Nottingham, Rags Randall himself, and got booed. Mercilessly. I can still picture the head in his hands at what he had done. You can loathe Boycott all you want, but the bloke had some mental resilience. Australia had made 243 in the first innings, and Boycott’s faux pas contributed to England subsiding to 82 for 5. Then came Alan Knott. I remember looking at a TV in some shop window in SE London and Knott and Boycott still being there. They went on, and on, putting on over 200. Boycott made a redemptive hundred. Knott made a match-winning one. Australia set England 180, Brearley made one of his highest test scores to get us on the way to the ticklish total, and Boycott was there at the end for 80 not out. So was Randall. Lovely.

The fourth test of that series was played at Headingley, and this then gets into the realms of how life used to be. I was lucky to be able to go on a summer holiday with my parents every summer, and in 1977 this meant Kalathas in NW Crete. Nothing really happened while we were there. I met my first real-life Americans (they said “hey you guys” a lot and came from the big naval base on the west of the island). My mum had the most momentous strop on the whole family (the only one I ever saw), and as she’s no longer with us, I’m sort of safe to say it. Elvis Presley died. I got stung by a jellyfish – that sort of pain is very memorable. I got wound up by my little brother, turned round to give him a whack, and belted a local kid by mistake (I was 8) – his dad wasn’t pleased.

But the main thing you had to do, before I got a long-wave radio, was to find the shop that sold the British Newspapers. Yes, even at that age I was agog at newspaper writing. I was brought up reading the sports pages of newspapers by my parents. But on holiday finding out football scores and cricket scores was a different, and in some ways much nicer, ball game. If something happened on Thursday, it would be in the Friday paper, which you might get on Saturday, if you were lucky. That weekend, we found one. Boycott had made another hundred. That special one, the hundredth one. Then, every day we tried to find a paper to continue the story. That’s how we found out Elvis died. I’ll never forget where we were – Hania Market. Meanwhile, while Elvis was preparing to leave this mortal coil, England won the match by an innings, regained the Ashes with a 3-0 series lead, and Derek Randall did a cartwheel and ended up on Brian Johnston’s Book of Cricket the following year (a really important book in my cricket life – I still have the remants of it). I saw none of the test, though. Now there’s a problem that still exists today when I go the States. Then you couldn’t watch it. Now you won’t watch it (legally). A game, authorities will never learn.

It never really resonated, the importance of the series, until the next one in 1978-9. By then Australia were decimated by Packer, and the team was a shadow of what could have been put out. It was also the first series I remember where action from far away fields was shown on TV via mid-evening highlight packages. The BBC opened up the geography of Australia to this boy who loved maps. I still wonder to this day when we were going to go to Darwin as we’d visited everywhere else for a test (sorry Tasmania, you were an odd drop at the bottom of the country). We also won, a lot. 5-1. I missed one of those tests on a school trip. Might have been the one we lost. But this was brilliant. England winning easily against Australia. It seemed we reserved our worst performances for Melbourne, but still, mustn’t grumble at 5-1. Of course this was the series of Rodney Hogg. I sort of remember him being really quick. It’s that “sort of memory” we all have of certain sporting events. You think you remember, but you probably don’t. Subsequently, on the recommendation of one of the blog commenters, I got the Graham Yallop book on the series – the fall guy Aussie captain – and it’s superbly bitter. If you can pick it up, get it.

England visited Australia again the following year in a curious winter where we played three tests but the Ashes were not at stake. We lost the lot, I remember nothing. Not even the aluminium bat nonsense. I remember us getting into the haughtily named World Series Cricket final and not looking like getting Haynes and Greenidge out in one of the Finals, listened to no TMS when I could get the chance. Given I lived 8 miles from my primary school, the morning run was listening to this day-night oddity on the trek up to Deptford. This was the Australians being flash for flash sake in my eyes. Even then, as a 10 year old, I was quite resistant to the new world order. I loved test matches. ODIs? Not for me.

After I drafted the main part of the post, I realised I had left two main test events out. The Centenary Test played in Melbourne, where the first formal test match was played, and Lord’s for the English version, where the first formal test match in England wasn’t. Summed it up. The first game I never knew was going on, and it passed this young Deptford lad by. Of course, it was famous for Derek Randall’s solo super effort, and the result being the same as the first ever test. The second event was more famous for the Lord’s members kicking off and getting mad about the weather and the reluctant umpires. Oh yes, and Kim Hughes belting the ball into the pavilion. Boycott may even have made a hundred on the final day, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression on me.

I suppose, like most, the mysticism and aura of the Ashes, and beating Australia, derived from the events of 1981. Cricket, it has to be said, was massive in England then. In 1979 we had lost the World Cup Final, and then appointed Ian Botham the captain for the start of the 1980 season. A 1-0 loss to the West Indies was not a bad result, although the weather played a huge part. Botham’s baptism as captain was not helped by the West Indies being on the agenda that winter, and a 2-0 loss barely covered the tour’s story. Thrown out of Guyana, the death of Ken Barrington and an opposition growing into its pomp, coupled with Botham’s loss of form ramped up the media pressure. Without being melodramatic, if Alastair Cook thought that the media were against him in the aftermath of the 2013-14 tour, he’d walked about 2 feet compared to the mile walked in Botham’s shoes at that time. The media were vicious. This was not just the cricket writers, but the front of the paper mob too. Cricketers, and Botham in particular, were that famous.

The first test was played at Trent Bridge. It was a dull, drab, low scoring affair, played under miserable grey clouds. Australia had a little wobble chasing a small total, but got there and took a 1-0 lead. They had an innocuous looking dibbly dobbler bowler (compared to what we’d seen the year before) who kept taking wickets. Botham was out of sorts with bat and ball. England saw the pressure ramping up day-by-day. Botham was a match-to-match captain as Alec Bedser, faced by the froth and fury of a tabloid world, and an establishment mob who saw Botham as an oik, trying to walk a plank that was going to snap.

The concept that Beefy was constantly on trial was not helped when, immediately after the defeat, Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, announced that Botham was appointed as England captain for the first Test match only. “We have to decide whether the captaincy affects Botham’s play,” said Bedser, with Botham himself trying his best to remain positive over the affair: “It’s better than not being appointed at all.”

Both England and Botham would need a good performance at Trent Bridge to keep the doubters at bay. The Mirror’s “Both on a tightrope” headline summed up the player’s perilous position. – The Guardian – 9 July 2013

After a pair at Lord’s which I missed due to the minor inconvenience of being at school, the legend grew about the stony silence that greeted Botham’s return to the pavilion. As always, it seemed, with Lord’s, this was a bore draw, but England had a big issue. Botham resigned “a minute before he was sacked” (Matthew Engel – Cricinfo). England listened to his sage advice in the now oft-played interview. They picked Brearley as captain. Then came Headingley.

As a 12 year-old I recall the start of Botham’s innings to turn around our fortunes coinciding with attending my little brother’s sponsored walk at Deptford Park. It was a Monday. The first day I knew nothing of the score. The second day coincided with last day of term, so no interest there either. Saturday was sitting in front of the TV, or going out to play football. I saw some of Botham’s 50 in between the horse racing. Then Sunday was a rest day (although we started experimenting with Sunday play in subsequent games – something I welcomed because Sundays were boring), and Monday we were all resigned to defeat. I do remember the Saturday morning being one of the most boring spells of test cricket in my memory. England became shotless. It wasn’t the only time.

So when I got home, England were on life-support, but somehow, someway, Graham Dilley was batting well. Botham was chancing his arm. Now this is what gets a kid truly inspired by the game. Alderman suddenly looked human. Lillee, dominant throughout, not looking too great now. Lawson, tyro Aussie, losing his rag. Ray Bright being ordinary. The deficit decreased. There was still no hope, but this was, at least, exciting to watch. I’d missed many of Botham’s batting tour de forces until then, but now I could watch. Anyone who underestimates the power of visibility in sporting figures needs to take heed of moments like this. You could sense, as the stories of the comeback were being told, more and more people switching over to BBC 2. More and more people willing him, Dilley and then Chris Old on. You sensed it meant so much. The legendary confectionary stall six. The thrashes over the slips, the belt to deep backward point for the hundred, Botham running the first, big sweater on, raising his bat and fist. I sometimes didn’t warm to him as a kid, but you didn’t half love him then. The gesture from Brearley on the boundary to stay there in between the applause for the hundred. All there. Seared in my brain, with or without the endless replays of the game. If this was an epoch in English cricket, mis-appropriated, repeated more times than Dad’s Army, clutched to by England fans during the dark days, then so be it. For it is what sport is about. Victory from the jaws of defeat, attacking and reckless, thrilling and without pressure, it seemed. If you sneer at Headingley 1981, then you are wrong. It made heroes. It gripped people. It is what sport is absolutely all about.

But even me, who did have some grains of optimism, thought 130 to win wasn’t enough. But I was going to watch it all, to the last. My dad was a printer, and he was on the real late shift, so he wasn’t up and about. Mum worked weekdays. My brother didn’t care. So it was me, on my own, in the living room, glued to it. The dodgy first wicket of Wood, who probably didn’t nick Botham’s wide half-volley. Then peace until just before lunch, Australia on 56 for 1. The wickets off lethal short balls to get first Trevor Chappell, and then straight away, the dangerous Kim Hughes, and we were in business. In my head it was now all about one man. Stuff Dyson and his dull first innings hundred. Who could see as dull a batsman as that win the game. It had to be someone getting Allan Border out. Already he had that aura with me. The player to dismiss along with Hughes.

Yallop lasted five minutes, getting another brute from Willis. But with Border there, it was still in their hands. When Old got one through his defences, it was 65 for 5. I thought we had a chance. Willis got Dyson, and then the dangerous Rodney Marsh, who probably brought forth Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ most famous TV commentary “Dilley underneath it….AND HE’S CAUGHT IT”. Lillee gave me heart palpitations before I knew what they were, but when Gatting took the catch at mid-on we could breathe. Willis cleaning up Ray Bright (after two drops in the slips) and then wheeling away in delight had me waking up Dad. I think he was pleased to be woken up with the news.

You can’t put a price on experiences like that. But what did it tell me of Australia? Well, at this time all that had happened was they bothered to put a full team out only at home. They were riven by Packer. They had decent bowling. But they hadn’t embedded themselves in my cricketing soul. The West Indies had. It was important to beat them, but you did not feel like you were beating the best.

I’ll pick up Part 2 from Edgbaston 1981, and take it up as far as I can, probably to the inflection point on the relationship. The 1987 World Cup Final and then the 1989 Ashes. I’d love to hear any memories you have from the late 70s, Headingley etc. All I can say is that I never had a favourite Aussie player, I never particularly cared about playing them, I never measured England on the Australia axis. They were beaten in England, and we could beat them there (I didn’t know any better).

Obviously since those days I’ve bought and read a lot on the above matches. The pictures above are from some of the books I’ve snaffled on Amazon SecondHand Books, or at cricket book stalls. The rivalry is such that now reading about your childhood memories reinforces the views of the day, basked in the hindsight of what was to come a few years later and the Aussie total domination. It’s what makes the game special. It’s why it should be treasured. I look forward to writing Part 2. I genuinely enjoy stuff like this.

Swim The Ocean In A Hurricane

Hello All. I’ve missed the birthday, the Outside Cricket Day and KP sacking day while cavorting across South America. Hope you all celebrated accordingly. Paul Downton should be our media’s greatest embarrassment. I’ll never tire of reminding them…. Good luck Kent.

A lot of water has flowed since the Alastair Cook 244 not out that made me throw my hands up in despair at both the press and the twitterati and think that the efforts we (I) make to bring some sort of discourse to cricket talk is like throwing shit at the wall. The fact is that the Ashes brought some form of motivation to write that had been missing for quite a while. We threw ourselves into the series, with live blogging, reports and comment. When the series was gone, and the Ashes a dream, that some thought it more important that an individual shove it back down the throats of critics than stop to properly analyse the stuff we’ve been banging on about since the 2013/14 tour shouldn’t really have surprised me.

I have grown progressively tired of cricket. There is something to be said that throwing yourself into something so completely, as I have for the past four years, is bound to leave you in a state of exhaustion or despondency. They call it burn out. Chris’s excellent piece this week about the rain delay, and how cricketing educations were formed in either watching old highlights or listening to excellent discussions on the TMS radio feed, just remind me what we’ve lost. In fact, I keep saying “we” as if I’m talking for a lot of us, when I really mean “I”. I’ve lost the innocent love for the game, the need to watch the sport to enjoy it, and maybe it is being a blogger that does it. That I feel I have a position to justify rather than just to write and comment on what I see. I’ve devoted so much time to this place that sometimes my evenings at home revolved around watching the comments come in and react to them, or to monitor what happens on Twitter. It became a madness, an obsession. You might even call it an addiction.

What drives me is complacency. What drives me is stupidity. What drives me is injustice. What drives me is that I enjoy (ed) writing. What didn’t drive me is any sort of fame. Any sort of recognition from the cognoscenti. Any sort of patting on the back from a respected source. I still think my old stuff is my better stuff. I still think that the pieces like the ones Chris wrote this week deserve the attention because they come from the heart from a bloke who shares the same values as me – writing from the heart, the soul, rather than from some cynical need to be recognised or wanting the glory. But I will be associated with being pro-KP until the end is nigh, and anti-ECB to the extent that I have to employ a cleaner to scrape the bile off the screen.

As these days pass, and I’ve been away for 11 days in Colombia and Peru with work, so about as far away from cricket as you can get (although an England captain was born in Lima), it is worth reminding yourself why cricket, a sport that is doing its best to alienate the people who kept it going for the last 20 years, is something worth saving. Moments picked from the cluttered memories of yore. How I played a Kent Cup Semi-Final, dropped the bloke who scored 80 and won the tie for the oppo, and then being picked up by Dad to tell me Gordon Greenidge had made a double hundred and chased down 340 to win the Lord’s Test in 1984. Or sleeping on a grass bank at Croydon and missing most of the first innings that I would ever see Kevin Pietersen play. Of being there when Ramps made his first class triple century, scratching through the 290s like a man who had never wielded a bat before. Of that walk down Vulture Street in 2002. There was watching the end of Botham’s 149, but loving the 118 at Old Trafford much more, and recalling Jim Laker’s mis-commentary still when he gets to that hundred. There are memories across all formats – how I stayed outside not to jinx the run chase in the War at Edgbaston ODI against Pakistan – or how me and my new student mates stayed up all night to watch the 1987 World Cup Final on my portable colour TV.

As I sit here now, I look across my living room to the bookcase full with cricket books. I’m reading Ben Stokes tome at the moment – it isn’t as bad as I feared and has an interesting take on how teams perform when they’ve clinched series that contrasts somewhat to the insulting bollocks the media and their acolytes put forward to us mere idiots – but there are tons of secondhand books that I’ve ordered off Amazon. I want to know more, I always want to know more. I look at the DVR recorder, which has the ODI series between India and South Africa to watch knowing I can programme it from a Lima hotel, or a Barranquilla airport, to record the cricket just as long as Sky sticks to its schedule. I look at Sky Cricket Channel and think of the missed opportunity from my selfish eye. I’d be replaying the entirety of test matches like Edgbaston 2005, Bridgetown 1999, and more besides, but they prefer pre-made packages of greatest evers and masterclasses. Who prefers practice to playing the game? I’m not a freak of nature like AB, so what can I learn? That might just be me.

As we move forward on the blog, I want to relive a golden memory of cricket. It wasn’t perfect, of course it wasn’t, but there’s now a shroud of defeatism wherever I look, and that includes myself. I have to admit, I couldn’t give a stuff about T20, I have a whopping cold, inherited from some dodgy aircon in Lima, and it’s taking some shifting. I’m hardly likely to be up with the lark to watch something like that Auckland farce the other day. But I’m told that’s what I want to see more of. The tests don’t start until the end of March, and I might be slightly more committed by then. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that the readership here are not too interested in the T20 stuff either. I’ve tried to work up enthusiasm but I just can’t. A World T20 maybe, but only if it isn’t being used to silence critics of the ECB policy. Does the near 500 runs of the other night compare to Lara’s 153 to win v Australia, to Sachin’s might and majesty, to the obduracy and sheer all round genius of Jacques Kallis, of sitting in the sun watching Colly and KP put 300 on against Australia and we still lose. Not even close.

But what keeps me alive, what will make me post again, what will raise my ire and make me do this to myself is the sheer fucking complacency, and I apologise for the swearing but the blood boils, of people like Simon Hughes. This man is a copper-bottomed disgrace to the people he purports to represent – the readership of the Cricketer and the fans of the game who listen to his punditry. Earlier on I mentioned complacency.

If this had been written by Tom Harrison, we’d be raising hell. It’s risible to call the organisation that insulated itself by throwing its lot in with the Big Three “fearless”. People who stick up for the current county system are “domestic sport’s unruly skirmish” – what as opposed to the perfect order and beauty of the ECB in the wake of the 2013-14 Ashes when the unruly “outside cricket” mob had the damn cheek to criticise the bloody idiots, and when Hughes was one of those in the vanguard protecting the morons. But the tin hat on this particularly stupid introduction has to be “this is the new regime’s diligently researched and meticulously constructed attempt to eradicate [county debt]”. They’ve set up this T20 competition to save the counties. You have to be having a laugh. Let’s leave aside the diligent research and meticulous construction that haven’t really been shared with the “obsessives” that this is meant to save. Hughes has laid down his cloth for the ECB, and whether they care or not, and I suspect they think he’s as laughable as we do, they’ll use it. One of the main organs reporting on the game has spoken. Even in his introduction he’s been sold a pup by the ECB. We don’t know the team names yet, and I’ll bet we’d all have guessed where the 8 teams would be located (maybe a toss up between Bristol and Cardiff).

You know, we’ve been in Wisden, we’ve been contacted by a couple of journos, we are aware a number know about us, we get good traffic, we have a presence online. Did anyone think to talk to us, or to get the views of people on here. I think we’d have dealt with it properly and given all the information due consideration and respect. After all, what unites us all is a love of the game. We want the best for it. We have ideas. We have been told on many occasions to be more constructive. That we have a voice to use but we spoil it by not being obsequious and respectful enough. That’s what those at the top want. People to tell them how great they are. One day they might actually ask one of the most frequented cricket blogs out there what our views might be. Hell, they might even get some constructive responses. There’s as much chance of that as there is of me being editor of the Cricketer. Shame on this stupidity.

I’m not the answer. Never pretended to be. I have a voice, a view, and so do you. I’ve lost the desire to raise it, and instead of wondering why people like me, and others, feel the way we do, by asking what ails us, what makes us shrug our shoulders and why we turn off when we should turn on, the powers that be and the majority of the media pay us lip service and tell us what we should like. Sport where results don’t matter, but bodies watching and paying do. Sport where history doesn’t matter, but manufacturing events do. Sport where complexity and ebb and flow are anathema, and don’t matter, but where momentary wizardry, flash pyrotechnics and noise mean we will enjoy ourselves. I don’t call that fear. I call that recklessness.

Ah well. 1700 words on a semi-return. When I said I’d had enough that late December morning, I had. I still have. People who should know better said it was Cook, my hatred for him and my inability to give him due praise was the answer. I know who they are. It wasn’t. It was people who should know better who have let the ECB off a 4-0 drubbing to an ordinary Australia team and put Cook’s excellent innings on a pedestal to do so. I never thought I’d never post again. I just thought that I needed a break. Six weeks or so of not really writing hasn’t refreshed me one bit. It’s just been a gap in my rage. I liked the ODI side, I loved their spirit, their energy, their flaws. Then I remember the Ashes and the anger resurfaces. Maybe it doesn’t matter any more. Maybe it is time to call it quits. Right now, I think we are on a precipice.

All the best.

Peter

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia vs. England, 5th Test, Day 4 – Meltdown

The day began as the last one ended, with the Marsh brothers punishing some ordinary bowling from England’s spinners Moeen Ali and Mason Crane. Fortunately, English viewers only had to endure 3 overs before the third new ball was taken. In a surprising turn of events, Root kept Crane bowling with the fresh Kookaburra rather than going with Broad. Anderson at the other end managed to get Shaun Marsh to edge the ball, but it flew between 1st and 2nd slip to the boundary, and then having two LBW shouts in his next over.

The reasons for the odd bowling choices became clear when Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad replaced Crane and Anderson after just a few overs each. The heat in Sydney was exceeding 40°C, and England’s bowlers in particular were feeling the strain. Both Marshes managed to get their hundreds, a galling moment considering the derision the two brothers are considered with by English fans and journalists. England have been so bad at bowling that even the Marshes have prospered. There was a brief bright spot for the tourists as Tom Curran managed to bowl Mitch Marsh with an offcutter in just his second ball of the day. After the wicket fell, England set the field back to restrict Australia’s scoring although a preponderance of loose balls meant Australia were still progressing steadily towards a declaration at Lunch.

After Lunch, the Aussies upped their run rate and with it started to take risks. Shaun Marsh paid the price for reacting slowly to Tim Paine calling for a quick single, and Stoneman managed a direct hit which dismissed Australia’s number five for a mere 156. Mitchell Starc came out swinging, looking to score quickly for a declaration, but after hitting Moeen for six he skied the very next ball to Vince at mid-off. Amusingly, this wicket in an almost completely pointless phase of the game meant that Moeen Ali technically had the best bowling figures of England’s bowlers because he was the only one to have 2 wickets. Cummins came in to partner with Paine, and together they managed to score 36 runs in just 26 deliveries which took Australia’s lead to 303 runs. Steve Smith called the batsmen in from the dressing room, which left England with 46 overs to survive in the day. More importantly, they had to quickly recover after spending the first half of the day in 40°C and having fielded for 193 consecutive overs.

Having spent half of the day fielding in the sweltering Sydney heat and the having to bat with just a few minutes rest, it was perhaps unsurprising that England’s openers did not stay in for long. Stoneman left in the third to a plumb LBW from Mitchell Starc, wasting a DRS review in the process. Amusingly Cook agreed with his decision to ask the third umpire, perhaps reminding himself of the two times he has effectively lost his partner’s wickets by persuading them not to use a review.

Fortunately for England, we all know that Alastair Cook is made of ice-cold steel. He laughs at sweltering heat, he doesn’t sweat, he always delivers in pressure situations, he…

…was bowled by Nathan Lyon for 10 in the 6th over. Cook played on the back foot to a delivery pitching on middle and spinning out to hit the off stump. Cook played an exceptional innings in Melbourne, but it has proven to be an exception to his form in this series. His match totals this winter have been 49, 244*, 21, 53 and 9. This is hardly the form of the greatest opener of all time, and his lack of consistency has put pressure on England’s already shaky middle order. To put this in context, Stoneman outscored Cook in each of the first three games. The three live rubbers, you might say. Not that I’m suggesting that Cook should be dropped, but neither is he playing the kind of cricket which deserves the volume of praise likely to be heaped on him at the end of the tour. He has had simultaneously a great game in Melbourne and a poor series, but due to one massive score he averages 47.00 and that’s all anyone will talk about.

James Vince looked in good form, until… Well you know what happened. The only surprise was when the umpire gave him out for edging a delivery from Nathan Lyon to the wicketkeeper and Vince successfully reviewed it. Even the umpires have been conditioned to assume that if he plays loosely outside off stump then he’s probably nicked it. In the very next over after his reprieve, Pat Cummins managed to get Vince to edge it twice, and the second one went straight into Steve Smith’s hands at slip.

Of England’s batsmen, James Vince is probably the least likely to make the tour to New Zealand. Although he has outscored Stoneman, the repetitive nature of his dismissals makes Vince seem particularly vulnerable. In his 9 innings in Australia, he has edged the ball to the wicketkeeper or slips 6 times. Every team he is likely to face in the future will know to just hang the ball outside off stump and just wait for him to get himself out.

This brought in Dawid Malan, the surprising success of the series. Well, it was a surprise for me. Sean, being a Middlesex fan, probably expected it. Together with Joe Root, the pair attempted to block out the remaining 25 overs of the day but Malan was given out LBW after being hit in front by a straight ball from Nathan Lyon. Not a great dismissal, being stuck deep in the crease playing on the back foot, but he has been England’s highest run scorer so far in the series. Of course, being England’s top scorer in an Ashes defeat isn’t always a guarantee that you won’t be dropped.

Which left Root and Bairstow at the crease. Considering Moeen Ali’s form in Australia this winter, it’s probably fair to say that this is England’s last partnership before the tail begins. The pair of Yorkshiremen safely navigated the following 12 overs to see England through to the close of play. At stumps, England were 93/4 and still 210 runs behind Australia.

It seems fair to say that it would take a miracle of epic proportions for England to even make Australia bat again. More realistically, by the time most of us wake up tomorrow England will almost certainly have lost the series 4-0. Australia have outplayed them with both bat and ball throughout the series, and only a great innings from Cook and a truly abysmal pitch at Melbourne saved England from back-to-back whitewashes.

Talk has already begun on who might lose their job in the aftermath. Perhaps Worcestershire know something we don’t, because they’re apparently chasing Paul Farbrace to be their new head coach. On the field, it would be surprising if Vince, Ball or Curran made the Test squad for New Zealand in a couple of months. Beyond that, I’m not sure much will change in the England camp. All of the public statements from the coaches and Tom Harrison have been to support the current players and staff, attempting to reassure people that everything is fine. If nothing is wrong, then surely no one can be to blame?

As always, please comment on the game (or anything else that comes to mind) below!

If a Wicket Falls and Everyone is Asleep, Did it Really Happen?

So there we go, the pitch ultimately won, as always seemed likely, and Australia batted out the day comfortably in the end.  The only point at which it livened up was when David Warner played what must count as one of the worst shots of his entire career, and Shaun Marsh was unlucky enough to get a genuinely good ball.  At effectively 16-4, Australia were in some trouble.  But that was as rocky as it got, and while the play was as turgid as the pitch, it was also a masterclass in saving a Test match.

Probably the area where England do deserve some credit is how well they bowled on the second day, for Australia’s first innings total was ultimately some way below par.  England’s response was excellent, and of course Cook’s innings extremely fine, but the degree of comfort with which Australia batted out the day placed all before it in context.  Losing half a day to poor weather was unfortunate, but there were few indications that it made that much difference given England bowled 124 overs for just four wickets second time around.

On the plus side, England arrested a run of seven consecutive away defeats, although it’s still only their second draw in ten, and likewise a run of eight consecutive away defeats in Australia.  These are pretty small crumbs of comfort and the backdrop of that is hardly cause for much celebration.  Moeen Ali has been fundamentally poor this whole series, and while it’s not so surprising that he’s struggled with the ball, he’s also had problems with the bat.  He must be vulnerable for the final Test, and how responsible his finger injury may be is open to question.  It would hardly be the first time England have picked a player who is unfit and then been surprised they haven’t done well.  England’s batting problems have been presumably the reason for reluctance to pick Mason Crane, but the same old question arises – what is the point of him being on the tour if the primary spinner is struggling so badly that Root and Malan are the ones turned to on the final day.  To put it another way, had either Adil Rashid or Samit Patel been available – and never forget they were both discarded summarily, and it seems not for cricketing reasons – it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been brought in, if only because both can bat.

Other than that, Stuart Broad was much improved this time around, and while he remains as divisive a character as ever, he was admirably frank about his own shortcomings this series, only to see his words deliberately misinterpreted and used against him in yet another tiresome jab from the Australians.  George Dobell called out the “bullshit” in an unusually annoyed article that rightly mentioned all the times England have been equally guilty of it.

Melbourne usually provides a good Test, and a result.  Here they clearly got the surface preparation wrong, and it ended up the kind of wicket certain to kill any interest in the game and drive viewers to the Big Bash with batsmen unable to score freely and bowlers unable to take wickets.  They’ve had plenty of criticism for that, but c’est la vie, it’s not a normal state of affairs, and in truth England should be grateful for it, as on the showing so far, that was the only way they were going to avoid another pasting. 

Maybe that’s harsh, but with Starc back for Sydney, and a more responsive pitch, it is surely not unlikely normal service will resume.  How Cook performs will be intriguing, not in that it should be expected he repeats a double century, but if he looks as good at the crease as he did in Melbourne.  He’s a funny player in so many ways, when he’s technically off he looks truly dire, and it’s unusual to see a player so visibly battle his technique on such a regular basis.  The SCG will have more pace (not hard) and it may answer a few questions about how much he’s changed his game.  Here he appeared so much more upright in head position and balance.  Irrespective of series position of preposterous media response, that’s as good as he’s looked technically in three years.

After the game there were the usual platitudes from both sides, and the usual statements of regret at not winning, but above all else it was just dull, viewers drifting off to sleep in Australia, let alone England.  

Grateful as they may be for it, 3-0 down with one to play is no position of joy.  The torture tour is not over yet.

4th Ashes Test, Day 3 Review

I’ve missed virtually all of the cricket up until now in this game, having been staying with family over Christmas, so it’s been with great surprise that I’ve been following England’s progress every morning. Keeping Australia contained to 327 runs on a batting track and then posting 192/2 on the second day with Root and Cook still in, this game seemed to be fulfilling the Christmas wishes of quite a few England fans.

The day began how the last one ended, with Cook and Root making slow but steady progress against the Australian bowlers. That partnership ended just before the drinks break, with Pat Cummins making the breakthrough. To quote Dmitri from the live blog (I hadn’t woken up yet), “A pretty ordinary shot. Skies a pull shot and doesn’t convert again. Not really sure what you can say about that. Lyon takes a comfortable catch well in from the boundary.”

This brought in Dawid Malan, who should have been in confident form after his 194 runs in Perth. As it was, both Malan and Cook played somewhat nervously against Lyon and Mitchell Marsh. Why was Marsh bowling, I hear you ask. Because the new ball was due in a few over, and in only his second ball with the shiny Kookaburra Hazlewood dismissed Malan LBW.

Except, and this is almost unbelievable, he edged the ball onto his pad and yet failed to review it. If the replays and Hotspot are to believed, it was a huge edge. Colossal. Basically off the middle of the bat. For the second time in a single innings, England had failed to review a clearly false LBW call. If we were the kind of Cook-hating blog we are sometimes characterized as, I might take this moment to also point out that Cook was at the bowler’s end for both dismissals and could have told both batsmen to review it. Malan might even have been hit outside the line of off-stump. I’m not saying that both wickets were Cook’s fault, but…

Bairstow looked to play aggressively, with both boundaries and missed shots in equal measure. Eventually he top-edged a delivery from Nathan Lyon to the Australian wicketkeeper, and he had to go. Remarkably, this was only the third time Lyon has dismissed a right-hander in the whole series, having taken 17 wickets in total.

The loss of the fifth wicket has typically heralded the beginning of an EnglandTestCollapse, and Moeen Ali didn’t disappoint in that regard. Perhaps taking the view that his T20 batting form was better than his Test batting form, Moeen took the attack to the Australian bowlers. He scored 20 runs off his first three overs, but drove on the up from Nathan Lyon and Shaun Marsh caught it at short cover.

And from there, the promised collapse failed to appear. Chris Woakes mainly blocked the ball whenever possible whilst Cook progressed at his usual pace. Cook had a lifeline just before the midway point of the day, as he pulled a short ball from Cummins to the right of Steve Smith at square leg. The Aussie skipper got his hand to it but couldn’t keep it in his grasp, and for the second time in the innings he had dropped England’s opener. A few overs later England passed Australia’s score of 327, and the partnership progressed fairly smoothly though to Tea. Woakes was probably a little lucky to still be in though, after edging a ball between keeper and slip.

Cummins managed to get Woakes out shortly after the break, with the England allrounder gloving a bouncer from Pat Cummins to Tim Paine. This brought debutant Tom Curran to the pitch, but not for long as he got a fine edge. It was given not out by the umpire, but the Aussies reviewed and Hotspot showed a clear mark and he had to go. On a sidenote, Hotspot in this game has been much better than in the past few games. I seem to remember several instances where the thermal images showed nothing and the umpires had to rely on Snicko instead. Maybe they messed up the calibrations or something up until now?

This brought Broad to the crease, where he received his traditional welcome of bouncers. Lots of them. He looked nervous, wearing one on his shoulder and edging a few over the slips. He somehow survived though, and Cook’s steady accumulation carried on as he passed the double century with a drive down the ground for four. Broad was clearly waiting for his partner to pass the milestone, as he suddenly started swing at everything with at least some success including hitting Lyon for a six.

A few overs before the end of play, Broad got a top edge on a wild slash outside stump which just about reached Usman Khawaja running in from third man. The umpires gave it out, despite the Australian fielder indicating that he had bobbled it and that it should be reviewed. The soft signal appeared crucial, as the replays suggested that the ball had probably hit the ground at some point but there was no conclusive shot of it doing so. As with most reviews, the decision favoured the umpires’ original decision and Broad had to go.

Cook and Anderson both held on until close of play, with England’s opener hitting another milestone in the last over for a second day in a row. This time he overtook Brian Lara on the all-time Test runs leaderboard, taking him to 6th overall. England finished on 491/9, a first innings lead of 164 over the Aussies.

This is, remarkably, Cook’s second double century this year. It’s dragged his series average up to 54.50 (although that may fall if he loses his wicket tomorrow) and he’s now England’s top scorer. Looking at England’s batting statistics over the past year, you can see a marked difference between Root and Cook. In his 19 innings, Root has reached 50 ten times including 2 centuries, making a contribution in virtually every game he plays in. Conversely, Cook has only managed to pass 50 four times but on two of those occasions he went on to pass 200. The debate is like the one comparing Anderson and Broad. Anderson is reliably good in most games, whilst Broad is great in a few games but often innocuous.

On a personal note, whilst great for the England team and of course as fans we’re happy, Cook’s innings has meant that both Sean and I have lost our bets with cricket trader James Fenn. I bet that no England player would pass 160 in an innings, whilst Sean bet that Cook would average less than 25 in the series. Let this be a lesson to you all, never bet with a cricket trader!

As always, feel free to comment on the game or almost anything else below.

3rd Ashes Test, Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Make A Crisis In Four Easy Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Severely punish the innocent players

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

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

Step 4: Repeat

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

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

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

Ashes 2nd Test: Day 5 Review

“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

Not my words, but those of Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption. Day 4 ended in perhaps the cruelest manner possible for English fans, with some ‘expert’ analysts estimating that England had a 20% chance of winning the game. Not anywhere near high enough to expect a win, but more than enough to raise the hopes of any but the most hard-bitten cynic.

It may not surprise you to learn that the writers at Being Outside Cricket are all very much in the cynical camp. We’ve seen England through the past four years, and indeed through the 90s, and it takes a lot more than someone saying England have a 1-in-5 chance for us to start believing. If anything, we were too harsh on the tourists. Dmitri said 220. Sean said 225. England proved them both wrong and amassed a grand total of 233 runs, just 120 short of their target.

The collapse began on just the second ball of the day. Chris Woakes played inside the line to a ball from Hazlewood and was given out caught behind. Woakes reviewed the decision and there was a tiny noise shown on the snickometer, which was all the evidence the TV umpire needed to show the English allrounder the door.

And there begun the familiar procession. Root followed 2 overs later with another edge from Hazlewood’s bowling to the Aussie keeper. That was surely the end of any optimism the England fans had when they woke up at 3.30am hoping to watch or listen to a potential sporting miracle.

Moeen Ali was next to go, 6 overs later to an LBW decision when facing Nathan Lyon. He reviewed it and it was shown to be umpire’s call for both pitching in line and hitting the wickets. Moeen could consider himself unlucky, and England fans left to wonder whether the fact Australia had no reviews remaining might have led the umpire into giving a marginal decision in the host’s favour.

Bairstow and Overton both soldiered on another 10 overs, but when Australia took the new ball it was all over for England. Starc struck on the very first ball with the new Kookaburra, pinning Overton in front of the wickets with a fast, swinging delivery. Starc also dismissed Broad and then Bairstow in his next two overs, and the game was over.

This loss leaves England 2-0 down with three to play. It would be a monumental feat for them to turn the series around and actually win or even just retain the Ashes with a draw. The more realistic members of England’s fanbase are now talking about avoiding a second consecutive whitewash in Australia. The most pessimistic supporters are looking beyond what they consider the inevitable humiliation of not winning a single game and trying to consider how the team and management will respond. As I said before, we at Being Outside Cricket are very much in the latter group. Already the writers are planning their post-whitewash posts.

Adelaide was considered by many to be England’s best opportunity to win a game down under. A pink ball which might be more inclined to swing, more grass left on the pitch and twilight being an equalising factor which could come to favour England. This loss will hurt the team and their fans, perhaps even more than the 10-wicket drubbing in Brisbane. It’s hard to see how England can change their fortunes for the next Test in Perth, with no real alternatives sitting on the bench. Ballance, being left-handed, is likely too vulnerable to Nathan Lyon’s off spin for England to risk. Tom Curran and Mason Crane seem like they have been taken to assess in the dressing room rather than as realistic picks. Wood and Stokes (if made available) are short of match fitness and practice, which makes either having an immediate impact at best a huge gamble.

And speaking of gambling, Sean and I have each placed a bet on this series with a cricket trader via Twitter. Sean’s bet is that Cook will average below 25 in the Ashes and, with the former golden boy of English cricket residing on an average of 15.50 after two games, it’s looking good for us at BOC receiving a round of drinks from the lucky chap with his winnings.  Whilst Sean wagered with the rather more impressive stake of money you can fold, I took the more cautious approach and bet 10p that no England player would manage a score of 160 in the whole series. This was in reference to Bayliss saying after an England warmup game that they needed to score 160s and not just 60s. My money is also looking pretty safe right now, with 40% of the series gone and James Vince is the closest so far with his high score of 83 in Brisbane. It’s fair to say I’m not worried that I might lose this one.

As always, feel free to comment below!