The 2017 Dmitris – Number 1 is Ben Stokes in 2017

It’s December and time for the Dmitris. This is my eclectic mix of stuff that I give an intangible award to and write a long-winded load of nonsense to back it up. There’s one for the best and worst in journalism, a couple of player ones, and some other things. Last year we had Tim Wigmore, 6 6 6 6, Eoin Morgan’s 2016, Virat Kohli and others (I never did get around to writing out the Paul Newman one for worst journo).

Before I start on the citation for the first of this year’s Dmitri Awards, let me explain to the uninitiated, or those who don’t recall, what they try to achieve. It’s more a question of what they are not, than what they are.

Most importantly they are not, necessarily, a merit award, although some will be.

They are not necessarily a worst in class award, although some will be.

It’s not about a greatest ever, or a worst ever.

They ARE about the issues, people, events and anything else that have shaped 2017 for me. For example, last year, one of the awards was 6 6 6 6 to reflect the Carlos Brathwaite salvo that won the World T20. Brathwaite did pretty much the square root of eff all for the rest of the year, but the repercussions of that over flowed out like ripples in the water – for the media, the ECB, the players, the blogging world etc.

I’ve not determined a number, have just a couple of definite winners in mind as I start, but here we go with number 1. Ben Stokes in 2017.

Ben Stokes Spotted In Ashes Action

Ben Stokes hangs over the Ashes like a spectre. The Sunday night shenanigans outside a Bristol night club have loomed around the England team like a Feroz Shah Kotla fog, not allowing England to field their best team, without arguably their best player, but with the tantalising prospect that he might be allowed to play at some point.

This piece is not to discuss the merits or wherefores of the incident. The law of the land takes its course, and it should not be done any more quickly or more slowly because our cricket fortunes require it. What it has done, like a number of incidents before, has been to cause a massive ripple effect across the England team, and to a degree, social media.

I’ve not really discussed this much on the blog or on Twitter. Firstly, funnily, because I don’t feel strongly enough about it. Among England cricket fans, not the first time, this make me odd. Some on here are passionately against him playing in this series, and some on Twitter are passionately against him ever playing for England again. A number believe he should be playing because it is innocent until proven guilty. Many believe the Sun video invalidates that premise. In the midst of this, we have an ECB stooge in the Comma being put in a very difficult position, and his choice, the one I wouldn’t want, is hindering our Ashes campaign. Good luck Comma!

The reason this is such a big deal is Stokes had had a pretty decent 2017. His test hundred at The Oval has been given some of the highest plaudits by social media people I think know the game pretty well. Good enough for me, because highlights never truly reveal the greatness. There is no doubting he is a more than useful bowling asset, and has a key attribute in being a “presence” in the field. People may not like that he is, that he can be too provocative, but in reality Australia is no place for the boy scouts when it comes to the Ashes. Root needs him out there, and it’s not easy to replace a character like him, let alone his performance.

Stokes is not as divisive a character as Kevin Pietersen, but there is the same form of dramatis personae in them both. They walk the walk better than any England players I’ve seen. Stokes was not destroyed by 6 6 6 6 , but took it on the chin, dusted himself down, recovered and took his place.

Ben Stokes is England’s main man, the bloke who gets people out of the bars as they used to say, but in one stupid, filmed, moment, he became its curse. It will certainly damn Comma in even more eyes, whatever he decides. It will be used as an excuse for England if/when, they fail, with the irony being the larger the defeat, the less impact one man could have had on proceedings. Stokes will be invoked on every occasion this series is discussed – yes, but would it have been different with Stokes in the team? – will be the oft quoted question. Then, when he returns, will it really be with “open arms” or will teammates think he’d absented himself from a tough test through a moment of lack of self-control.

As a blogger, how did Stokes impact? He isn’t one of my favourite players, it has to be said, so there’s no emotional response, like there is with a Kevin Pietersen or a Graham Thorpe. He isn’t a figure of hate, or even a figure of media protection, so we don’t really have a Cook problem either ( media protection applying with this example, please). If I don’t have an emotional driver, then opining on a medium that seems to thrive off it is tough. Stokes isn’t seen, I believe, as a sympathetic figure on this blog, even before the Bristol Bash Up. It makes writing about it hard. It is, believe it or not, that I don’t care enough. There are two sides to the argument. There may be context to the brawl. Was I horrified? No. I wasn’t. Maybe where I’m from and some of my life experiences did that. And I’m not a fan of moralising. The most massive story of the year and I couldn’t really be bothered. Greavsie might have said “It’s a funny old game” and he could have been talking about me and blogging.

Ben Stokes made four international centuries in the English summer. He was the middle man in the batting and the bowling. He is a tremendous fielder. He had a magnificent IPL. He had the world at his feet and one massive incident and the world looks a lot stranger now. His impact on the cricket media, agenda, and Ashes fall out is going to be ongoing, immense and very interesting. There’s more to this, and we might even comment on it ourselves. But undeniably, meeting the criteria that you have to have an impact on the blogging world/social media / media, Eoin Morgan’s tumultuous 2016 has been followed by the 2017 of England’s “New Zealand born” all-rounder. Dmitri Number 1 is Ben Stokes’s 2017.

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The Tangled Web

Guess what everyone?  Today is the fifth and final ODI, and the last international cricket of the summer.  Yes, it’s still summer – did you not get the memo?  You may think it’s nearly October, but there’s still money to be made, and if that means January is henceforth to be considered balmy high summer, then you’ll just have to lump it.

Of course, the usual lack of interest in a non-descript dead rubber of an ODI (apart from those with tickets, obviously – but they don’t count for anything these days) is compounded by (note capitalisation now required) The Ben Stokes Affair.  As Sean wrote so eloquently yesterday  the ECB’s track record when players go rogue is anything but a consistent one, and the importance of Stokes to the team (but not Hales remember) means they are now in a tricky spot with regards to the upcoming Ashes.  Doubtless, they’d rather like the whole thing to go away, but it has to be said that this is rather more serious than the usual transgressions and the suspension of both Stokes and Hales was probably the minimum they could get away with doing.

There’s been a whole heap of discussion around the rights and wrongs of those events, but there are a couple of considerations for a blog like this:  first of all, none of us are lawyers and the term “sub judice” tends to strike a degree of fear into the team.  Worth noting that for the comments too by the way, so please be circumspect. Reporting what has been said is fair game, but there are plenty of places that’s discussed and rote repetition of what’s elsewhere seems a bit pointless.  We do from time to time get information about various subjects and have refused to post them (you might say we skip them) because there’s no evidence and none of us want to land in court.   We’re not so obscure we can say what we like.

The cricketing fall out is a bit different, which is why so many of the comment pieces in the press have focused on that.  Stokes’ status as the talismanic all rounder makes this something of a nightmare for the ECB to negotiate, as they balance the needs of the team with their public role as the face of cricket (stop sniggering at the back).  Were Stokes not so integral, it seems hard to believe that they would do anything but drop him from the Ashes squad, highlighting both the double/triple standards involved, and the line of least resistance so often taken.  What that means is that they are now in a real bind – they can weaken the side substantially by not taking him, or if they do then they will be accused of placing results above all other considerations – something of an irony given their predilection for placing revenue above cricket most of the time.

That the two of them were out so late has been a topic of some debate, but sportsmen have often partied as hard as they play, and often go out late and yes, spend that time drinking.  As much as some would like them to be monastic in their behaviour, it’s simply not going to happen with everyone – or more specifically, it’s not going to happen all the time.  How often they do that is a slightly different question, but it’s certainly true that players in the youth England sides are kept on an extremely tight leash, possibly excessively so.  It’s also true that many of the very best in all sports do look after themselves to an extent that the average person would find very hard to live with.  What that ultimately means is that going out to clubs is not in itself evidence of too much, it is a matter of degree, and on that subject we do not know how prevalent that is with him, or with anyone else in the squad.  And actually, nor should we – it’s a matter for management to, well, manage.  Some nasty minds have asked the question as to whether if Stokes is convicted he would then be eligible for Australia or not.

Since the Pietersen fall out, there has been the question about how they would manage Stokes.  In reality, something as serious as this wasn’t part of the discussion, since it’s actually possible to feel a degree of sympathy with the ECB’s dilemma here.  But it’s likely to be the case that Stokes is most of all reliant on being an essential player, because the moment he isn’t, or suffers a drop in form, he is vulnerable to being properly briefed against as disruptive.  This stuff almost writes itself these days, given the duplicitousness that is commonplace at the highest echelons of the English administration.  Whatever the outcome of the current difficulty, the likelihood of a drip feed of negative stories about him in the future is one to watch out for in future – which is a separate question to how currently the media are posting stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day to cast him in a negative light.  Already examples of poor taste comments on social media are being used against him – though when it comes to matters of conscience, the morality of someone who screenshots a private conversation with the intent of selling it to the tabloid press rarely gets mentioned.

Of one thing there’s no doubt at all – England without Stokes are a much weaker side than they are with him.  The truly Machiavellian approach would be to consider this the perfect excuse for defeat, and the entire responsibility should it transpire can then be safely loaded onto one person with no awkward questions being asked about anything else.  An “escape goat”, as it were.  But of course, that degree of Humphrey Appleby scheming is well beyond any of those who like to sit comfortably in their jobs at Lords…

Oh yeah, fifth ODI.  Will Billings play? Will it be Jake Ball or David Willey?  If a cricket ball falls and no one sees it, did it really happen?  Comments on the game below if you really want to – on anything else because you do really want to.

From Northern Parts and Scottish Towns – Today’s T20

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Some Are Here and Some Are Missing…… I once went to a T20 international

As pointless posts go, this is up there. I’m doing an open post for a T20 international played in the middle of September at Chester-le-Street. If we have a poster game for how entirely messed up the current cricketing environment is, this is it. Context? Who gives a stuff about context? It’s a one-off game that doesn’t really count for anything other than a game on the day. This is cricket not as a sport, with results counting for something or other, rather a cricketing version of a comedy series Christmas Special. It stands out, it doesn’t need to fit in with a narrative in the series, and it’s rather bleeding unnecessary other than to make some money.

That’s modern sport. Fuck the competition. To hell with what matters. It’s entertainment. Honestly, if they thought it made more money, we’d have the game as a bloody film event. What’s the downside for the loser? International friendlies in football matter more, because if you lose them, you lose ranking points that cost you seedings when it comes to tournaments. Draws are rigged in the international cricket scene, so don’t compare apples and oranges.

Most of the headlines have been devoted to the third ranked England cricketer in the Power List being left out at his home ground to give him a rest. Number 1. Ben Stokes is the most powerful England cricketer and in my view, it isn’t even close. He’s the highest paid overseas player in the IPL. He won the MVP last year, I do believe. If Ben Stokes decides he fancies earning a million or so dollars every year rather than play an early summer series against Pakistan, then we are in dire straits. The two players above him in the list, Joe Root and Moeen Ali do not have that power because they are not in line to play in the IPL. Stokes is the key to our test team not falling on its arse. He’s been our player of the season. I can’t say I’d be starting up his fan club as I’m not overtly keen on the approach he takes on the field, but as a talent, he’s as good as we’ve had for a while. (I’ve not got a copy of the list yet, but seen Lizzie Ammon’s photo which ends at 44, and with last year’s #39 not on it so far. This year’s #39 is Ian Ward. I’m interested what power he wields!)

There’s no newbies on show for England, who have lost 4 of their last 5 games to the West Indies, so there is little curiosity in the event. Jason Roy and Alex Hales will probably open. Tom Curran is as near as we get to a new international in the line-up. West Indies, who are fast becoming the equivalent of Fiji in rugby, look a formidable team, with new talents like Evin Lewis in the ranks (not that new, he has two T20 centuries already) and captained by Carlos Brathwaite (I remembered his name, but not a lot of his performances since that night). I’m sure it will be super fun as the temperature is predicted to be around 52 degrees and possible showers. Power List #1, aka Empty Suit, is probably thrilled, making cricket an almost winter sport, but I can’t help but feel that this is a bridge too far.

Until you consider we have a FIVE game ODI series to follow.  It’s what the people want, after all. Take a thick coat, and enjoy the show.

Comments below.

UPDATE: Here is your top 50. And last year’s…

Guest Post – Man In A Barrel Gives Us The Numbers

Just before this latest test match MiaB, before his metamorphosis into Shane Warne on steroids (and not his mum’s diuretics) when it comes to declarations :-), did some interesting, unsolicited analysis of batting trends for England’s key players of the past and present. I found it interesting anyway. Please note this was written before the last test, so if there are any amendments MiAB wants to make, I’m sure he’ll let you know.

I’ll let Man in a Barrel take it from here…many thanks for the time and effort sir. It’s fascinating stuff. As always, comments welcome, and be nice. Well, as nice as you can be!

A New Way….

For a while, I have been trying to think of a better way of assessing batsmen than their career average.  It has some very real disadvantages to counteract the fact that it is widely used and understood and that it does tend to winnow out who the best performers are – no one, for example, disputes that Bradman was the greatest ever and nor can anyone dispute the fact that WG Grace was much, much better than any of his contemporaries, at least when he was in his prime.  However, it does have its problems.  For example Victor Trumper has a Test average of 39.04 and yet most commentators who watched him state that he was the best of his era – 1899-1912.  His average for that period is in fact bettered by, among others, Clem Hill, Jack Hobbs, Ranjitsinhji, George Gunn, RE Foster, and Aubrey Faulkner of South Africa.  For me, though, the real problem is that it gives undue emphasis on a big innings – if you make a score such as 364 or 294, it certainly helps to boost your average although, of course, its impact is mitigated the longer your career extends.  The career average also gives little information on your value to the team at a particular point of time.  Is it better to make a lot of 50s and the occasional daddy hundred or to make a series of 30s and a lot of small hundreds?  Those questions cannot be answered by inspecting your career average because the information simply isn’t contained in that single figure.  Nor does it contain any information about the way your career is trending – are you in decline or on a rise?  To some extent, you can gauge that by common sense and watching how the career average is moving but those are fairly blunt instruments.

To overcome some of those problems, I have been investigating the use of a moving average, as widely used in the investment community to discern underlying trends in noisy data.  The question immediately arises as to how many innings should be included in the moving average.  I looked at a number of options.   An average over 30 innings seems to flatten out the data too much.  A 20 innings’ average looks about right.  Broadly it should cover 10 Test matches – essentially a year’s worth of data – and it is long enough to let a batsman move in and out of form, to show the impact of a major innings and yet not allow it to have too much effect on the new data as it arrives.  For convenience, I will call this measure the Twenty Innings Moving Average – TIMA.

To put it to the test, I put Geoff Boycott under the microscope – 8114 runs at 47.73 in 193 innings.  Obviously these are very distinguished figures especially when you consider that he played to the age of 42, in an era of uncovered pitches, no helmets for the most part and inadequate gloves – in the first part of his career he was often incapacitated by broken fingers.  If you graph it it makes for interesting viewing but I don’t think it will come out in WordPress.  So to present the results, I will use a histogram.  The moving average breaks a series of data into chunks of 20 innings, over which I calculate an average.  Each successive TIMA drops one innings from the start and adds a new innings.  This is repeated until you get to the end of Boycott’s career.  So I have calculated 174 averages.  These I have summarised into how many of these averages were between 10 and 20, 20 and 30, 30 and 40, etc.  And the results are very much as you might expect:

Boycott

10-20

0%

20-30

2%

30-40

24%

40-50

36%

50-60

18%

60-70

17%

70-80

3%

80-90

0%

I think this gives a sense of just how consistent he was.  His TIMA was below 40 for only 26% of his career.  However, if you could see the graph, you would also note that he was in decline towards the end.  His TIMA was above 40 in the Oval Test against Australia in 1981.  Then he went to India and it moved into the 30s apart from a blip up to 42 when he scored 105 in the third Test of that dismal series – does anyone remember Tavare’s 147?  The last time before this that his TIMA was below 40 was the Mumbai Test of 1980, when his figures still showed the effect of his dismal Ashes tour of 1978-79.  He ended up at 37.05, rather below his career average.

Given what I thought was a successful trial of the method, I then moved on to the current team, starting with the obvious comparison, Alastair Cook.

Boycott

Cook

10-20

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

30-40

24%

23%

40-50

36%

40%

50-60

18%

21%

60-70

17%

7%

70-80

3%

2%

80-90

0%

3%

A slightly higher percentage below 40 and more time averaging between 70 and 90 but pretty comparable to Boycott.  However, his early career was much more consistent.  After the Ashes tour of 2010-11 and his feats against India in 2011 the swings in his TIMA become very noticeable.  The last period of time his TIMA was above 60 was in the wake of his 263 at Abu Dhabi and only lasted until the Sharjah Test.  The last time it was above 50 was in the recent Mohali Test against India, after his last century to date.  It bears out the importance of LCL’s focus on the number of big scores he has made lately: there have not been many.  By the end of that tour his TIMA was at 41.68 and it has continued to go south.   TIMA also highlights the prolonged period when he averaged less than 40 between the 2nd innings of the Chester-Le-Street Test of 2013 and the 1st May 2015 match against West Indies when he got his first century since the 130 against New Zealand at Leeds in 2013.  After the recent Oval Test, he is hovering in the mid to low 30s.  It has dropped from 54.53 at the end of the first innings of the Mohali Test to 33.50 today, in the course of 11 innings.  The decline in comparison with his career average, which is still 46, is marked.

Turning to Joe Root:

Boycott

Cook

Root

10-20

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

These are impressive figures by any criterion.  The only times his TIMA was below 30 was during the 2 Ashes series of 2013.  It hit a pinnacle of 84.75 in the Lords Test against New Zealand in 2015 – after innings of 98 and 84.  More recently, since the Sharjah Test of 2015, his TIMA has bounced around between 57.39 and 43.17.  More worrying is that his overall time series shows a declining trend but that is probably because he hit such a peak so early in his career.  He is just reverting to a more “normal” level.  Another point of interest is the really low amount of time he has spent below 30.

With these 3 batsmen, the results just confirm what we know already, I suggest.  Now let’s see what we learn about the more controversial selections.  Jonny Bairstow for example:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

The sample size is smaller – only 50 data points.  But 44% is a lot of time to spend averaging under 40.  The point of concern is that since the Dhaka Test last year, his TIMA has gone into steep decline, from 71.24 down to 41.05.  I am sure that LCL will remind us that it is 25 innings since his last century.  However, it has stayed in the 40s for his last 6 innings, against his career average of 40.86, so I believe he justifies his position.  If your TIMA is above your career average, it does suggest that you are making a real contribution.

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

Stokes and Moeen have quite similar records.  Stokes has 2120 runs at 34.19 from 63 innings; Moeen has 2090 runs at 34.26 from 68 innings.  But the TIMA shows a very different picture.  Stokes has been below 40 for 76% of his career and has never climbed above 50.  Moeen’s figures are, in one sense, far superior in that he has spent more time above 40 but it must also be said that he has also been in the 20s more than Stokes.  If you look at Stokes, you would expect the 258 to have a massive impact on his TIMA.  In fact it raised it from 27.15 to 35.45, so poor had his record been over the previous 20 innings.  At the time it dropped out of the TIMA computation, it dropped from 46.37 to 34, which highlights his real lack of consistency.  This happened a mere 7 innings ago and he has stayed in the mid to low 30s. In his last 20 innings, he has been in the 40s nine times, ten times in the 30s and once in the 20s, with a highpoint of 46.47 after Mumbai.  These are disappointing figures for a #6.  In comparison, Moeen’s last 20 innings have shown TIMA in the 40s and 50s, with just one blip down to 35.17 when his 155 against Sri Lanka fell out of his moving average.   But it immediately went back above 40 when he scored 146 at Chennai.   As a result of the Oval Test, his TIMA has dropped to 33.  Moeen’s TIMA has dipped below his career average and Stokes has blipped above his: perhaps the selectors have the right batting order.

And just because I am a controversialist, guess this batsman:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

?

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

44%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

37%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

5%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Yes….KP

Thanks MiaB. Any excuse for a KP shot…

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England v South Africa: 2nd ODI report

Saturdays are often the day for doing things, whether going out, doing the shopping, or spending time with family and friends.  But sometimes they are days where the sporting content on offer makes some plan to spend the day in front of the telly soaking it all in.  With cricket spread across the day, it left time to take in the rugby Premiership Cup Final, and the FA Cup final.  If there was one thing all three had in common it was that they were undeniably exciting. 

Of course this being a cricket blog, the others are peripheral, although the chances of the cricket getting too much attention in the Sunday papers probably aren’t great given events elsewhere.  But a warm up for the Champions Trophy it may be, it was still a fine game in its own right.  

England have consistently scored heavily when batting first over the last couple of years, one painful collapse against Australia aside, and they go about their business in a similar manner each time.  The batting order is unquestionably a powerful one, even if the opening pair are probably not quite functioning perfectly as a partnership.  But there’s a happy knack of someone getting in and making a decisive score – Morgan in the first match, Stokes here.  Whether Stokes should have even been playing is a matter of some controversy. He said after the game that he’s fine when batting and fielding, but gets pain when bowling.  It is something of a puzzle why he would be risked, and certainly why he would be asked to bowl at all.  As it was he managed only three overs.  With England playing up to seven bowlers including him it does seem a curious risk to take with their talisman so close to a tournament England have set their stall out to win. 

That aside, Stokes was magnificent with the bat after an extraordinarily rocky start, three edges and two dropped catches in his first three balls.  The batting support came all the way down, Buttler producing some extraordinary shots in the closing overs, and Moeen once more quietly scoring rapidly.  He may dislike life at number seven (he was talking about Tests in fairness), but he does it well.

South Africa were fairly shambolic in the first half, the fielding was abysmal, the catching worse.  Yet they showed more than enough to suggest they are capable of beating anyone, and a tournament is all about what happens on the day.  These warm ups mean little in terms of the trophy itself.  Rabada is a real handful, and his dismissal of Roy was something we see all too rarely these days – a batsman beaten for sheer pace.

330 is a decent score, if not impregnable these days, and it’s certainly true that the visitors had the best of the conditions.  The cloud of the morning dispersed and it couldn’t have been better for batting.  But South Africa still should have won.  De Kock batted beautifully, De Villiers did what he does so well, and with Miller and Morris hitting cleanly and with some distance, to lose a match where only seven runs were needed off the final over, and with five wickets in hand was remarkable.  Mark Wood unquestionably bowled superbly, and despite figures of 0-48 from his ten, had a reasonable claim on the man of the match award.  Such is the lot of the bowlers at the end, whose figures take a pounding even when they have they have done something impressive. 

And so England take the series.  They got out of gaol a bit with this one.  And it was a good game to boot.  But then so was the FA Cup Final and so was the Premiership Cup final.  At least one of those will get acres of coverage.  Pity.  The cricket was good today. 

One last thing.  Elsewhere Kumar Sangakkara turned his fifth successive first class century into a double.  Those who have seen him play know just how special a cricketer he is.  Those that havent, time is running out.  Go and watch him if you can. 

Canis Lupus On Chittagong

If you have come here looking for marks out of ten, then you have come to the wrong place. If you have come here to look for a tale of derring do, of great escapes, of wondrous times, then I suggest you log on to the Twelfth Man, or whatever the Tufty Club is that is approved by the ECB (or is that All Out Cricket?). If it is grumpiness, tetchiness and a completely egregious mention of Kevin Pietersen, then this might be for you.

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England have completed a 22 run victory over Bangladesh in a tight, absorbing test match, with lots of good entertainment and a tense, taut ending. What this was not was a good England performance. Just like 18 months ago in Grenada, where the Jimmy Anderson show won England a test, Chittagong was Ben Stokes saving our hides. This may, or may not, be a portent of things to come, but remember, after Grenada came Bridgetown, and defeat to a team we would probably all believe would struggle against Bangladesh if played now, and who are living down to Costcutter Charlie’s description of “Mediocre”.

Let’s focus on the good stuff first. It was a top test match to watch. How many actually did in this country will be interesting to note – I wonder how ITV4 did for viewers, for instance – but those that missed this because it was “only Bangladesh” will have missed a contest that ebbed and flowed. BBC Sport were busy this morning lauding England for an “unlikely victory”, which is a bit of nonsense because for the vast majority of this test England had their noses slightly in front. After Day 1 we thought it was a competitive score on the board; after Day 2 with the late wicket we thought it was honours even, but Bangladesh had to bat last; at the end of Day 3, after another reliable top order subsidence, England had “enough runs” and were firm favourites; and on Day 4, England had two tail order wickets to take at the end of it, looking really shaky when Rahim and Sabbir were in partnership. It’s not exactly Botham’s Ashes or Adelaide 2006.

England won because of more experience, probably – and it’s hard to dispute that when the team you are up against haven’t played a test for 14 months – and they had the most influential performer on either side, Ben Stokes. For the Durham man this was a test match he can look on with great pride. He saved England’s bacon in the second innings with a mature, composed, and very clinical 85 which should take pride of place in his collection of batting performances. I ignore the Aussie with the constantly changing moniker, and his lame attempts to belittle the output of Stokes. He was magnificent. 6 wickets in the match to add to his runs made him a slam dunk man of the match.

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Not To Be Trusted

Much has been said about how Cook only trusted his seamers (Stokes and Broad in particular) at the end of the game. Much was also said last night about the lion-hearted Broad “doing it again when it counted”. I must be watching a different game to these people. I saw tons of criticism of the spin-bowling allowing them to get that close (and not the top order batting for collapsing like wet cardboard, AGAIN). The top six in the Bangladesh batting order, the six you needed to get rid of, were all dismissed by spinners in the second innings. Yes. You wouldn’t know that from the reports, the tut-tutting online, the nonsense from Newman. The quicker bowlers knocked over the tail, the top order eked out by the spinners. I’m not saying the garden is rosy, I’m not saying we’ve found our spinning solution, and I’m not saying that this will work in India, but you’d have thought they’d all gone 1/120 the way people are going on. They weren’t Murali, or even Swann, but they were decent bowlers, maybe not quite test class, doing a job for England. In this mad rush to anoint a team as its greatest ever, you need to realise that not every generation is blessed with the tools to do so. I remember real dead losses like Richard Dawson and Ian Blackwell given a go.

Broad the Lionheart got rid of numbers 8 and 9. This wasn’t Trent Bridge, Jo’burg or even Oval 2009, but we do go overboard. That I’ve realised only too greatly since the 2013/14 epiphany. I hope we’ve learned from the past that we have a doughty, resilient side, with a long batting order, a decent, if limited bowling attack, and that there will be pains and losses along the way. We should realise that we have a flaky top order, a limited captain, and a propensity to alarming slumps when the intensity goes from their game. We are a little too reliant on super-performances to pull out matches, which isn’t the recipe for reliability. We are quite an enjoyable team to watch, but what we are not, and what this team should never be proposed as, is a great team, a team worthy of World #1. You might think that this is just the same old same old from me (and I’m reluctant to use too many personal pro-nouns), but I’ve not exactly been given a reason to hold those words back, have I? Thankfully, the response to this win has been more restrained than Grenada, for instance.

So let’s run through the team performance.

Cook – Returned with great fanfare from the attendant hordes, rejoicing in his return, and getting DDC some hits. Didn’t produce the runs we will eventually need from him, and his leadership was conservative. I think he should trust his spinners more, but that’s really easy for me to say. Now it is four test centuries in 42 test matches, if you are counting.

Duckett – A nondescript debut. Not having his technique demolished after two low scores could be an indicator that he’s in the chosen group of players who the media might give a chance to. See my comments on an earlier post about how not making 20 in your first test match is not a portent of great times unless you are Gooch or Hutton (and a couple of others).

Root – A quiet test match, which means he isn’t the heartbeat of the team for this test match. A massive contribution in the next, and a quiet test from Stokes will mean the clichés will be reversed. Perception here is he may have gone off the boil a little, which is understandable given he didn’t play the ODIs, and also he’s played a ton of cricket. That balance isn’t always easy. Which leads me to…

Ballance – Ballance is in that room where no-one wants to be. The “next one the media want out” room. I love how we are accused on here of not backing our players, but within ten minutes of a dismissal the journos are tweeting “he has to be gone”. I’d like to see them work on that basis, and perform their best. Ballance has made four test hundreds, and is derided for his technique. Cook can go months (and yes, him again) and all that the media care about is falling over themselves to say “he’s back to his best” after some flaky runs. Lord knows what they’d say about Tres, for example, now. Ballance had a poor game. Only he is on the hot seat.

Ali – Very useful runs in the first innings, part of the problem in the second. Five wickets in the match, but because he didn’t run through them, and bowled his usual assortment, he’s part of the problem. That five of them were top order batsmen (and left handers) is his fault. Seemed a pretty usual Mooen match to me, does things well in parts, does things not so well. Having made 7 or 8 his home, and effectively so, he’s back up the order.

Stokes – A terrific performance, with his second innings 85 a really top notch performance. With the ball he was our main weapon, snagging six wickets, and getting the vital blow of Rahim late on Day 2 to perhaps turn the match (given the tail subsided the following day). Interesting point raised by Nick Knight (yes, stick with me), that it seems as though Cook leans on Stokes for advice (said on Day 4) and that his views are quite widely respected in the team. He’s the heartbeat (or at least until Joe Root makes runs) of the team. Clearly man of the match.

Bairstow – Jonny is now a team fixture, and the debate as to whether he or Buttler should be the keeper is pretty much closed in my eyes (and I’m a Buttler fan). Again he came to our rescue, with 99 runs across two innings, both in key alliances to dig England out of a hole. It is a role he is becoming used to, but I feel we rely on too much. He dropped a big chance last night, that to this untrained keeper’s eye looked like a horrible one to take (Chris might opine), and copped a Hollywood strop for his troubles. Dunno, but I reached right for KP – the Autobiography at that point. Otherwise, on a difficult surface his improvement was there to see.

Woakes – A nothing game really with the ball, yet another 50+ runs with the bat at number 8. They are vital runs, coming in at 194/6 in the first and sticking around for another 60 or so and in at 189/6 in the 2nd and being there at the end for another 50 runs. 0/15 and 0/10 in two seven over efforts with the ball, keeping it tight, but not getting wickets.

Rashid – I can say that I didn’t see a lot of his bowling in this match, but I tend not to listen to what I’m being told by people who have made up their mind about him long before he reached the test team. He’s going to be a “when it clicks” it bowler. A sort of spin equivalent to Devon Malcolm. Is this a long-term recipe for a team that aspires to greatness? Probably not, because we are all about containment rather than attack. He didn’t have a great game. He knows that. Should we jack him in? Well, you’ve either made up your mind and wild horses wouldn’t make you do it, or you think, perhaps he is that weapon we might, one day, need.

Broad – He’s going to be called Hollywood from now on. (Interesting only to me, I call Neil Warnock “Hollywood” in football). Hollywood is the man to win you the game. He can bowl unplayable spells, He can also average 143 in India. Broad nicked out two late wickets last night to put England in control, but in context, it was “just” the numbers 8 or 9. No-one else was going to get the Hollywood glare if they’d done it (perhaps Stokes). Two double figure scores should not be overlooked, scratching out vital runs, and yet having us pine for the man capable of 169 v Pakistan.

Batty – Again, didn’t see a lot, but the one spell I did saw him bowl well, look dangerous, and having the batsmen taking risks to score. But then it’s really fashionable in cricket circles to slag off Batty. True, he’s 39. Newman uses him as a reason to bemoan England spin bowling (I’ll bet if Cook is still playing with England in his late 30s we won’t be seeing the same). But Batty took a few wickets, including the key breakthrough of Rahim to end the menacing 6th wicket partnership, and still the people moan. Again, what it is it about us not backing our players? I’ve read the slamming verdicts on him, and note that, yet again, we are the ones with the agenda.

To the other question / debate that has been posed. How should Bangladesh treat this performance and how should England fans approach it? First of all this wasn’t Bangladesh’s first chance to push a top team to the limit. Last year in Chittagong they took a decent first innings lead on South Africa before the rains came to ruin the match. This should, if Bangladesh are approaching this the right way, a pleasure in being a plucky loser to a world power, but a real case of “we probably should have won this”. To have chased down 280-odd would have been magnificent. I’m not having the “moral winner” stuff, because England made it hard work (and because Bangladesh made them work hard), but I probably would like to judge this off the back of the second test back in Dhaka later this week. England, after all, looked like world-beaters in the 1997 first Ashes test, but subsided. Bangladesh need to maintain the intensity.

As for whether England fans should cheer on Bangladesh, well you know our site’s views on that. You should be free to choose who you want to win without admonishment. I don’t necessarily cheer on the oppo, but I also don’t get as mad about England as I used to which I think allows me to take a more dispassionate view on proceedings. It certainly helps in not losing my temper at the latest move I disagree with. It also allows me to laugh when the pants on fire enthusiasts stretch their latest (il)logical leaps of faith. I might have a dispassionate view on England, but I’m not about to reduce the passion for the game. This test match was a cracker. It deserves 2000+ words on it as an Ashes test might. It had great storylines, it had great drama and importantly it had a great test match wicket. So many of us were thinking it wasn’t going to be up to five days play, but the surface played its part in this absorbing contest. Let’s hope Dhaka brings us a repeat.

Happy to hear your thoughts. I’ll have some other takes tomorrow, if I have the time.

School Report: Summer 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@BlueEarthMngmnt

England v New Zealand: 1st Test 5th Day – Open Thread

England 389 & 429/6 (Cook 153 not out, Stokes 101, Root 84) lead New Zealand 523 by 295 runs.

England have, it seemed, turned the game around. From a position of weakness two contrasting centuries have put the home team in the position to win this match, if things go our way. Alastair Cook’s epic knock, one that he played on a fairly regular basis a few years ago is the “welcome return to form” that we hoped from for our opening batsman for a while now. He looked better from the start, scored at the pace we are used to from our opener (around 120 runs in a day) and laid the foundation for the others to express themselves.

My main take from the day is that it was a joy to see Ben Stokes and Joe Root play their games and not the game. Too many times when England face difficult situations, they revert in on themselves. They seek to defend their way out of trouble. I sometimes believe it is because they are frightened to get out playing attacking shots. Somehow, in England, it is always worse getting out to a positive shot because you make a mental error, or hit it too well and it carries to outfielders, than having your technique undressed. Always worse to be the talent not “fulfilling themselves” rather than the “grafter” who isn’t good enough to score. So beware all those lauding Ben Stokes today for the way his attacking game turned the match, for many of them were lining him up and calling him all sorts last year. Stokes is going to infuriate me every bit as much as Freddie did with the bat, but you have to get over it. When he clicks, as he has twice now in this match with the bat, he’s going to change a match. He bailed us out in the first innings, and turned it in the second.

Joe Root’s role must not be underestimated either. With Ian Bell falling to the third ball (I was walking the dog at the time), he came in at a time of real danger with a wicket then being the recipe for perhaps a BlackCap win today. With Cook looking solid at the other end, Root got himself in and kept the score ticking over (Cook was actually scoring at a decent pace by his standards) and then he accelerated. He’ll be kicking himself that he never went on to three figures in both innings, but he’s our middle order rock, and while I think 5 is one spot too low for him, it looks like that’s where he will stay.

Before we get on to the main man, I thought I’d say I was disappointed with what I saw from the BlackCaps bowling today. It was a tough morning, but I wasn’t buying the narrative that it was THAT tough. Sure, it was decent enough, but maybe this attack has been a little over-rated, maybe based on ODI form rather than tests. As for the spinner, Craig, I’ve been really disappointed. He appears to have been easily dominated at times. Still, that would be nit-picking.

Now to the main matter of the day. Alastair Cook has made 153 not out. I am not going to churlish, nor am I going to be a hypocrite. I think the way he has been projected, the way he has acted, the way he has been protected and the way he has been canonised has been every bit as big a disaster in its handling and its duration as the KP saga with which he is intertwined. If it is true that he is keeping you know who out of the team for whatever personal reasons he cannot tell us, then the opprobrium I have for him, and others here, is well deserved. That said, you cannot argue with the facts. That was an excellent innings today. An excellent innings. I can sit back and say that without any fear, nor any rancour. I’ve been hard on him for his protected status and I was not wrong that his form at times last year did not mean he should be the automatic choice he was. Those who tell us to do one today are the short-termists, not me.

So, to repeat, that was an excellent knock today, it’s what we need him to do, it does not make him a great leader of men, it did not merit the widespread sychophancy eminating from the press and Sky Sports box for how much his team loves him. As I said, I’m more neutral towards this team than I would like – I can’t help it, sorry – and so I look at these things more dispassionately, and Cook’s knock was one of his best given the context of the match. But I couldn’t cheer it to the rafters. Rather appreciate it for what it was – a very good openers knock – rather than those who oppose KP, who seem to spit blood every time he did anything any good, and disparage him at every turn.

I know others here are more passionately against this team, and I can understand that. I will not condemn that. Because when you see those bastards in their box, no doubt believing this vindicates their tough choices, I get it. But today was a good day to look to the future, with the rock opening and allowing them to express themselves. We’ve shown less fear in this game. That I welcome.

Comments for Day 5 should follow below. Century Watch will follow this test match.