Second, Don’t Be Idiots

No Public Enemy intros this time, no song lyric post titles. The past few weeks have been a blur, in terms of work, where I’ve been over the pond and back; personal life, where I’ve just heaved the hugest sigh of relief, and cricket has, as it has to these days, taken a back seat.

(A warning, I’ve been at some play, taken my camera, and there are pictures. Starting with our captain and a man who believes in the Hundred. Or at least he’s paid to believe….)

England Captain / Believer in the Hundred

You can only take so much thorough utter nonsense though. You can only listen to one stupidity after another and sit back and take this drivel for so long. The cricketing authorities in this country are in one fell swoop pissing off their own current customer base; showing such a lack of faith in its own product(s) that they think that changing it to something else isn’t a damning indictment on the paucity of ability in the corridors of power; and “appealing” to a part of the potential customer base that it doesn’t even know will come to watch. Then there’s the laughable Harrison being directly contradicted by professional Yorkshireman Graves, while Strauss, Morgan, Broad and Root are employed as useful stooges to sing the praises of something “not set in stone” but not subject to change. You might ask what the hell is going on? FIIK.

Last Friday, on a cool and cloudy evening, after a tough old week in work, I met Sean at the Oval to watch the evening session of the first day of Surrey v Yorkshire. In a studio somewhere or other, Idiot Vaughan, a Shiny Toy so tarnished he’ll be done for fly-tipping soon, stated that only one England U19 player was playing in the county championship at that time, but that the IPL was teaming with their youngsters. Of course, their youngsters were world champions while ours finished well down the pack, but never mind. The one player was Harry Brook of Yorkshire. Well, that’s nice. Now if dear Michael was at all interested in getting to know domestic cricket, which he clearly doesn’t give a flying one for, he’d have had his silly head knocked back when he saw the architects of Surrey’s victory. 19 year old Sam Curran, who made his debut at 17, and played for England Lions took 10 wickets. 19 year old Amar Virdi, who played for England U19 last year, and is 19 years old still bowled the England captain through the gate to add to his impressive list of scalps this season. And then there was Ollie Pope – 20 years old, so Michael Moron has a legal defence – made a masterful 158 not out that had even the Yorkies in front of us nodding with appreciation.

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Also, what it showed is that the cricket is of decent standard – there were plenty there to watch on a pretty dull day, and that if a modicum of faith is ever shown in it, it will flourish. I took more joy out of watching Ollie dismantle Tim Bresnan and Rikki Clarke bashing anything bowled at him with the old ball, than any manufactured T20 spectacle. It’s great entertainment. Now I know I’m in a minority here, but it’s just really nice to watch and I’m checking dates now to see when I can go to another. It might be a 50 over game but I want to see more at this level at a decent price and with no fear of nonsense. There’s also some exciting talent out there. Brook had made an excellent century a week or so ago, Pope is great to watch, Virdi, who I missed, is an exciting talent, and Sam Curran is just Sam Curran and we love him for it down the Oval. There’s a lot of good stuff coming through from elsewhere.

But our authorities, aided and abetted by ex-pros who really should know better, don’t have that faith. I’ve never seen a board talk down its game, and even more importantly, its existing customers quite like this lot. New people are attending T20 cricket, via the Blast, and yet our Chairman says that T20 is too long for the ADHD generation (which is damn insulting to this generation as well, if you think about it). Surrey have said that a large proportion of ticket purchasers for this year’s Blast are new customers. Around 40%+ I believe. What is this if not proof that an existing product, one I’m not mad keen on but know others are, is growing the game?

No, we know what Graves, and Harrison, are about. This is power. This is the authority to make decisions. It is leadership in the way they think leaders act. In their eyes leadership is my way or the highway. They are too insecure to have their views challenged. They are too scared to adapt, because to take notice of someone else outside their loop would be to admit fallibility, and we can’t have that. Graves shouldn’t be proud of 41-0, he should be ashamed. No-one, but no-one, is universally popular. This smacks of a dictatorship and his comments on Surrey, and their recent observations in return is evidence. He turned the laughing stock created by its release into a personal attack on Graves’ intelligence and decision-making. No. It’s an attack on the organisation he purports to lead, but instead, when he’s let out of Downton’s cupboard, he’s making the aforementioned look like the ultimate diplomat.

The amusement I got today was the responses of Newman and Selvey. Newman just went off on one. What was it about there is more joy in heaven at a sinner repenting? Not at BOC there isn’t. Newman missed the signs when they sacked Pietersen. Hell, lots out there missed the signs, letting their personal animosity to a great player over-ride their judgement and reason. Unless they actually like Giles Clarke that is, and if so there’s no saving some of them! The heavy-handed, contemptuous, disgusting attitude with which they treated anyone who dared to question them over that decision was like putting up the Blackpool Lights at Lord’s as a warning sign. When push comes to shove, you may pay the bills, you may buy the tickets, the merchandise, the over-priced food and drink, the programmes, the Sky subscriptions, the overseas tours, but you, you the fan, are worthless in terms of your opinion. That was what the KP affair was about. You (we) put the questions, and frankly, excuse my French, were told to fuck off. Newman played his part in that. Don’t come crying to me now that your glorious authority has upset you. They backed your boy Cook, and you didn’t give a shit about those who wanted to know why one man was made a scapegoat; we were told to mind our own business and move on. You weren’t sticking up for us then when we pointed out that appointing your mate with no qualification to the MD of the game was a joke, and when he turned out to be one, you blamed us for making it tough for the poor little mite.

Then there is Selvey, a man who got beat by Ed Smith. He tweeted this today:

Seems harmless? But really, look at it. “Which really does need to be shorter”. That quote speaks absolute volumes. Do a google search and see how many people six weeks ago were even contemplating T20 being too long. The ECB’s articles of association, issued on 28 December 2017, certainly weren’t indicating a new competition, or shortening anything:

ECB Articles

Now Selvey is treating this as something that anyone with a modicum of common sense, namely him, thinks is utterly inevitable. They could do with getting their lies straight. Selvey says it’s because of the BBC, Graves because kids get bored. Christ, a drop of rain is going to really freak them out! As I said on a tweet, that a TV company that reputedly paid a pittance to get the deal, if anything at all, has such a say in a competition, even subliminally, is amazing.  If so, they’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and the ECB is then admitting (though of course they won’t in public) that they’ve effed the game up for a generation. Selvey is too busy having a pop at those who believe hiding the entirety of a national sport behind a paywall, without counting the highlights on a comedy channel, has been a disaster.  That they are wrong to wake up and smell the coffee. His beloved authority have been caught being an utter farce, and even Sir Walter Selvey can’t lay down a big enough coat.

The rest of the media seem to have lost their minds over the latest Graves debacle. As if this is some sort of shock that a man this inept has shown himself to be, well, inept. When he’s not getting some upstart law firm to send nice little letters to journos, or misleading players into giving up IPL contracts, or still not appearing to understand that the fans out there, and on here, are just about doing their pieces, and the press only now seem to realise there’s a problem. As I’m prone to say, “My giddy aunt”.

I’ve not even gone into the Glamorgan payment stuff. What is there to say? It seems the done thing is to brazen stuff out and rely on some Ba’ath party melodrama as a justification for the uncontested popularity of our great leader. I’m almost pining for Giles Clarke. One thing I never thought about Clarke was that he’s stupid. Quite the contrary. But to think you are universally loved as leader by people not wishing to put their head above the parapet yet? Go on mate.

So before I burst a blood vessel, let’s have some nice stuff. Good luck to Bess, if he gets the chance, at Lord’s. Jos Buttler is the poster child for the Analytics generation (you really have to giggle), but I also have to say I watched his knock on Sunday and it was entertaining stuff. I’ve seen little of the Ireland v Pakistan match, but Chris has been doing a sterling job on the Twitter feed keeping all of us who can’t watch (which means most Sky customers at the weekend) in the loop throughout the game. It looked like a cracking game. I’ve not even got time to go deep into the selection of the England team, which is mysterious and dull at the same time, nor Sky’s attitude to that test match. There’s a lot more going on, and 1700 words is enough.

Last time I saw Jos in person…..

So have a couple more pictures to “enjoy”. I love taking them, I love going to these days of cricket, and no imbecile calling me names and insulting my intelligence or support is going to change that.

Good evening.

 

 

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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.

Clock of the Heart

The last three or four weeks have been something else. So much so that this is the first time in a while I’ve thought I should allocate some time to writing a piece that is a little bit more than a shortish match report, a snipe at a Newman piece of nonsense, or setting up a poll for you to consider.

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I’ve worked for my employer for a very long time, and now the workloads are such that we are all pushed harder than ever. It’s not a complaint, it’s a realistic setting out of the position we find us in right now. I get home later, I get home more mentally shattered, and cricket needs to compete for my time even more than ever. My job waxes and wanes. It’s waxing so much at the moment that we might call in Madame Tussauds.

Which means times is scarce, and free time needs to be appreciated. At this time of year, especially with the start of the NFL and the postseason in baseball (where my favourite team made it, but flamed out quickly) cricket is going to lose. If that happens, writing about it becomes less easy. Cricket blogging skews the attention space I give, but it isn’t going to conquer all.

With that in mind, I thought”what I should write” now I’ve got a few minutes. Throughout my time on this blog, and its predecessor, I’ve complained about how I don’t feel like actively supporting England as I think they (as Team ECB – I can’t divorce the two), and their supposed “loyal” fan base abandoned me ages ago, and they didn’t care very much about it.I’ve done that to death. It’s a recurring theme, and it still remains.

I also complained how the media was a sop to the ECB, not holding them to account, but supporting them, enabling them and in the end being in hock to them. This is a mainstay of the blog – indeed, Cricket365 have instigated a weekly review of the press on their site (like the Mediawatch on Football365, but not as punchy and not as good). We had our own focus, and it was on broadsheet journos in particular. The key individuals were Pringle and Selvey, two writers who evoke a mean spirit, a propensity to sneer towards those who dare question their omnipotence, and thus on this blog were roundly castigated for their atitudes. It speaks volumes that they have both been let go by their papers for younger, and presumably cheaper, regular replacements (Hoult and Martin).

We still have the festering boil that is most of the Daily Mail’s coverage these days (LB being an exception), but given that disgraceful rag is the leading web-traffic “news” driver in this country, it speaks more to the country we live in than anything a mere blogger, talking to his echo chamber, could ever compete against. Much of Newman’s copy mirrors the attitude of its paper, and there’s a much bigger problem there than cricket. A newspaper allowed to criticise anyone and anything that it sees fit is unable to comprehend or contemplate that anyone might dare criticise it and its ways (and doesn’t give a stuff if it does). We saw it this week with Brexit and those who think economic suicide is not a “patriotic” duty being told to be “silenced”. We’ve seen that bloody tactic before, and we’ve seen more than a few enablers of it on social media. How’s your lovely cuddly ECB now, folks?

But it’s the Mail’s attitude that I want to expand upon here, and it is related to cricket, so stick with it. If I might be indulged a little on Brexit, but only tangentially because I hate politics on here, if you doubt the wisdom of the decision you are told you are part of a “sneering metropolitan elite”. Given I live and work in London, do I tick those boxes? Well, that’s all part of the charm. I was born in a now destroyed hospital in Greenwich, and raised on a council estate in Deptford. My dad was a printer, my mum worked in a pub. I was about as working class as they come.I wasn’t a metropolitan elite, but I’m a Londoner. If I was born into that family now, I wouldn’t have Sky TV, that I do know. I’m not an elite, but what I was, was someone who loved playing cricket.

When I was living in Deptford we played football, and we played cricket on the streets. Cricket was visible. It had a presence. It was pretty much the only sport on TV on a Sunday. During summer holidays it was on TV all day when we were in the house and a test match or Gillette Cup match was on. This wasn’t a matter of consuming my media differently, it was as ingrained in me as football was. Rugby League and Rugby Union might have been on over the winter, but I had no desire to play that rubbish. Football needed a ball and five people tops. Cricket the same. How could you play rugby in the streets with those numbers? I didn’t learn how to play cricket at school. I learned in the street, with mates. But I was secured as a cricket nut from Infant School because my Dad helped me get into it, it was on the TV, and other like-minded kids wanted to play it. The cool dads in the media, especially those educated at the higher establishments, who seem to think they know what the kids like these days, are concentrating on the yoof at too old an age. Get them really young. That’s why kids play football.

I moved to another estate at the outer edges when I was 10, and we carried on playing cricket in the street, knowing the adults in their houses didn’t like it, but hell, why not. We’d improvise on our playing areas. One had no legside opportunities to score runs, so you learned to drive and cut. Another had a straight area, a bit of legside in front of square and nothing offside. So you learned to hit straight, or clear legs out of the way. You also had to take every catch that came your way. I don’t see any kids playing cricket in the street now, and I still live there, I don’t see any playing football for that matter. But unlike football, kids will consume it daily because if you are a football fan it is still easy to follow the game. Why would any kid even know about cricket now?

For a while Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” was the England team song when people came out to bat. The opening lyrics in that song are prophetic…

Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?

Every man and his dog knows when that opportunity was. It was September 2005. It was after the greatest England series we will ever know. It is where an underdog England team beat the mightiest of champions, and more to the point, damn well deserved to. It had characters, it had charm, it had verve, it had steel. It wouldn’t win every game, but it had people you could follow and enjoy doing so. At that point, the authorities in this country thought this would be a jolly great time to say to the 8 million who watched the denouement of the Trent Bridge terror, and who had chosen to invest their time and emotional wellbeing in a cricket event, even if it was for a short period, that no, that was it, unless you stumped up to Mr Murdoch’s lovely force for good.

Football did not do that, despite people claiming it that did. First, when the Premier League went to Sky, the biggest match in the football calendar at that point was the FA Cup Final, which remained on terrestrial TV, and the biggest tournament was the World Cup, and no-one doubted it was the world’s premier tournament, and that was entirely on terrestrial TV (at the Finals stage). Until recently the biggest Champions League matches could be found on terrestrial TV. Weekly live football wasn’t totally ingrained, and ITV for a while, after it lost the contract, covered a ton of Championship football on its local networks. Live football, free to air, with limited other routes for consumption of TV media, was available. The sport did not shut its access down across the board. It hasn’t been faultless, and the viewing figures in the UK are rarely published, but Sky invest so much money in it that if they didn’t win the contract, they’d be dead. But football is not cricket. Football did not shut down live coverage to all.

Cricket did. It took a great product, and at that time, what looked like a great team and told those who liked watching it, you have to pay, and pay quite a bit. The sport had just received a shot in the arm, after years of a poor product, winning its flagship series, and it turned in on itself. It took a short-term profit view, to prop up their addled infrastructure, at the expense of ever having it as a mass viewed event again. Why do you think the Olympics and the World Cup, and the Euros, are in the public conscience and their every move hung on by lots and lots of people, but cricket isn’t? To keep saying this doesn’t take massive insight, but to correct it, or even try, would take such a leap of faith that it doesn’t bear thinking about. It would cause a massive problem because, frankly, the players are paid too much, and the cost of facilities don’t reflect the revenue from them in most cases. Cricket is an economic basket case at anywhere other than international level in this country. As the distance between free to air, and recognising heroes, gets more distant, so does the chances of ever becoming big again. So does the point of writing about the sport.

So I sit here, less time to consume, because that is what everyone wants you to do in media land (consume), the sport and you wonder why I should care enough to write about it. I feel this even more when I see events like this week in Chittagong. As far as I recall, their chief gobshite, Oliver Holt, a man of great sanctimony, has not written about cricket for quite a while. He might have done a Lord’s test or something, but we have more recall of Martin Samuel following that line. The Mail have Paul Newman out there as the cricket correspondent, and Nasser Hussain as some combination of management stooge / bellower in chief, yet the Mail, and no doubt Mr Holt, felt the need to drop in and bring his sanctimonious perspective. Those of us out in the real world, who actually might be faced with the need to go to Bangladesh feel Eoin Morgan’s anxiety. For me it isn’t necessarily my safety, but what I’d put my loved ones through if I went. The mental torment, whether logical or not. Logic and fear are not usually compatible bedfellows. When you are dealing with the unexpected, and not knowing what you might be facing, I blame no-one for making that decision to stay at home. Sport isn’t war. Even if I had made the decision to go, I wouldn’t have questioned it. But that’s not enough for a paper that accuses the likes of me of being a sneering metropolitan elite, but does sneering for a living and a profit. No, Holt had to go. We await his piece on Sunday with a mixture of great relish, and great despair. He’s going to be a weapons grade tit, and we all know it.

What does Holt’s appearance mean to the likes of a cricket correspondent and former player who have lived through it for longer than him? Why wasn’t Newman or Hussain capable of doing precisely what Mr Sanctimony has done? Why just three days for Saint Oliver, on the back of his usual Ryder Cup shindig and a laughable piece after a visit to the new purpose-built Vikings stadium when he compared a billionaire ripping off his city partners with a monolith built for the Olympics and using it to beat West Ham around the head? Why did the Mail think it right to send someone to that country just to prove that Holt is more “courageous” than an England captain – because this is what this dick waving exercise was? As Cricket 365 said, Bangladesh are providing England military strength security. Instead of us asking if an England captain is safe, shouldn’t we be asking, as Holt probably should, whether they SHOULD be doing this, and if so WHY it is necessary? Are the ECB paying for this in totality? In part? Or are the ICC? Maybe he’ll surprise us. Given his focus on the national bloody anthem, I’m not holding my breath. And that’s something an asthmatic should never say.

Which brings me on to the ECB. I should be sitting back here smug, self-satisfied, proved right at their terminal incompetence. But I’m not. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m disillusioned, and as time is tight, the last one is the easiest of the emotions to maintain. You can sit on Twitter and snipe at Kent doing their best to protect their own position, but that doesn’t get over the point that we judge often, don’t we, on little knowledge of the facts (it appears there is no contingency for this situation, and lawyers love a vacuum) and more on who is the “good guy” and who is the “bad guy”. After all, we’ve had two years telling us one player is Mr Nice Guy and the other is an obnoxious arse, and you pick your side. Why not with something that was never written down as a rule.

In this instance the behaviour of Rod Bransgrove is every bit more egregious than that of that other “bad guy” who seemed guilty only of not getting on with his coach, captain and injured wicket keeper. First of all, Rocket Rod decided that the way to get his membership on side was to call them, effectively, a bunch of out of touch oddballs. His words betrayed the attitude that many of those stuck to the good old values of long-form cricket could not possibly have the knowledge of a “successful businessman” and that they can moan all they like. If theyput in their views against the new City T20, he wasn’t going to pay a blind bit of notice to what these freaks had to say.

Now, one could admire this tosser’s honesty – but as we are frequently seeing in this sport, honesty covers a multitude of flaws barely adequately – but no, I choose not to. He’s a prick. I came to that conclusion then, and when he commented on Durham, well, I wasn’t going to be actively dissuaded by him then either. Not when he sat on a county team that had parlous financial troubles before he bailed them out, and now he’s sitting on a pile of losses too . His team was arguably worse run than Durham, but it wasn’t a going concern unless he bailed it out, which is his right.  Nah, that don’t matter to Rod. He just wants a City T20 team in his stadium in the hope he might get a little bit back of the money he’s lost. He has no more interest in developing test players as I have of setting up the Rocket Rod Rollerdisco Team.

It’s a famous quote, but one that resonates for the ECB. Bertrand Russell might have had Colin Graves in mind when he said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” I am certainly full of doubt, so I hope I qualify for the latter, but when Graves, in his interview with TMS earlier this summer said he didn’t regret a thing he’d done in his tenure so far, I thought of this quote. Lizzie Ammon’s key revelation, in a piece lacking true meat but with a juicy morsel but certainly still far more steely than most of her media fellows have put out, relating to the four horse manures of the ECB spouting off loudly on a train confirmed fears, if confirmed they needed to be. People of the world, and of England cricket in particular, listen to me. These people are not high quality. They are lacking in insight, in competence, in ability and in strategy. The main “quality” the likes of Dig Your Own, the Empty Suit, Mr Comma, Mr Cupboard Under The Stairs, Norman Collier, Selfey’s mate Clarke … et al is that they are cocksure. I’ll leave it to others whether they qualify for the first part of Russell’s quote.

GraemeC, a contributor to the Ashes Panel last year and a sadly infrequent commenter here, has prepared a bit of an explanation on Yorkshire’s finances that is (a) better than mine last time out and (b) written brilliantly. I won’t add it to this mammoth piece of prose, but look out for it soon.

It’s really hard to think where cricket goes from here. There will be a sport. We just might not like it.

So to the blog, and the content, itself….

On the contents coming up, I’m sorry to say that I’m going to have to scale back on the ambitions for a lot of nostalgia pieces, and for that I am truly sorry, and quite disappointed. I love writing them, but they take a very long time, and it’s time I’d rather spend on other matters, if truth be told. I had done a fair bit leading into KP’s 158 in 2005, and I might add that as a Part 1, with no guarantee on timing for the meaty bits of part 2. My look back on Trent Bridge 1986 is also incomplete, but I don’t want to waste Sidesplittin’s brilliant answer to the question I posed on the mysterious Evan Gray. I’ll find some way in, one day, Sidey. I also hoped to do some stuff on the 30th anniversary of Gatting’s England tour to Australia, and started a first part on that. Then matters took over.  We have a full suite of test matches coming up (or in train) and that should keep us rolling along nicely. There’s no shortage of idiotic copy around still, so we won’t be wanting for material. All we will be wanting for is time.

Time. In time it could have been so much more. The time has nothing to show because. Time won’t give me time.

Take that FICJAM.

The Wanderer Returns…

Sort of….

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I have to confess that in the last three weeks or so blogging has had to take a back seat. It’s the nature of the beast, as both Sean and Chris can attest, that we aren’t in the privileged position of being able to sit around all day watching and writing about cricket. We have jobs that require our time, and while the workload of mine has waxed and waned over the past few years, I’m in the “it’s so damn crazy it is off the charts” phase. You know I’ve been to Rio, yesterday I was in Helsinki, this week I’ve been interviewing, the previous week I was drowning while suffering from another bloody toothache. This coincided with times when Chris was away and Sean was also busy. So there has been a lack of regular content – long-standing readers know how this blog works and recognise this is what happens.

I was on a plane – or at least waiting for one at the bloody expensive Helsinki Airport – yesterday when the Bangladesh game finished. I had one thought other than wasn’t it nice to see Rashid ram the critics words right back at them, and that was “how would Newman segue in a snide reference to Eoin Morgan” into his write-up. Newman is out there for the ODI phase and is not going to let the uppity Irishman’s decision rest. And, so it was, with some trepidation, that I opened up the Mail Online and read the great man’s piece. And I didn’t have long to wait…

And the most satisfied member of the England side was surely stand-in captain Jos Buttler, who followed his impressive leadership in the first week of a tour dominated by safety concerns with a match-winning all-round display. A penny for the thoughts of Eoin Morgan?

In the absence of a telling contribution by one of his potential replacements – Vince and Bairstow didn’t perform, and Duckett’s 60 was not the compelling hundred the punditerati truly wanted – it had to turn to the leadership issue. Jos Buttler offers a few platitudes, presumably enhancing how much he might get under the new contracts, and that’s “impressive leadership”. Jesus, they are easily impressed. I’m accused, regularly, of having an agenda. I’ve nothing on these people.

Newman isn’t one to let an agenda lie, and it was how he signed his piece off that sums him up:

And it was one that provided food for thought for England’s refuseniks in Morgan and Alex Hales.

I bet it doesn’t Paul. It’s another ODI, in another country, which will be forgotten by most within a couple of weeks, save those who might face the 5 wickets in an ODI debut trivia question in a few years time. Your desperation for them to express regret speaks volumes.

England’s win, plucking one from the jaws of defeat, was a really good one. Good that Ben Stokes played a solid innings in a winning cause and posting his first ODI ton. Jos, once again, showed his incredible ability to smack balls with nothing more than an amazing power from those wrists. It’s hard to write something about wrist power without invoking the old Finbarr Saunders from Viz, but he plays shots I’ve never seen before. There has to be a way to harness this for test cricket, doesn’t there?

I’ll confess I’ve not seen the bowling performance yet. Jake Ball does look to have something, given a more than capable debut in tests, and it does remain to be seen if he is another string we have to our one day bow now that it appears to me as though Mark Wood is going to need to have his workload excessively managed if we are ever going to get him performing. Adil Rashid does what he does on occasions in ODIs – he takes wickets, doesn’t get truly collared, and has snarky comments made about him by certain sections of the media (one of them employed now by TalkShite Two). Newman lived down to this…

Yet ultimately they were indebted to the unlikely figures of Ball, who ended up with the best figures by an English one-day debutant, and Rashid, coming into this series under something of a cloud, for turning the tables.

If you ain’t in the in-crowd, then you are out. Presumably this will be reflected in less money in his central contract. You have to be a “good egg” and we’ll have lots of “good journalism” telling us what is being one of those and what isn’t.

I’m running off a load of cricket from the Tivo onto computer and have the India v New Zealand series on. When I left on Thursday I was being advised that Thakur of BCCI, a new tinpot general who thinks being good at business means he’s top dollar to run a sport, was threatening to cancel the whole series. In the World Baseball Classic there is a “mercy rule” if you are getting thumped too heavily, and with India romping this series on result wickets, and with Ashwin posting figures that pur him up with the all-time champions, then I first thought that Thakur’s sporting instincts for a contest were kicking in. Not really. But what happened since then? I genuinely don’t know other than I’ve had to set the recorder to pick up the highlights in the early hours of the morning because there’s a game on and Kohli’s made a hundred. Given I’ve slept most of the day I’ve not been able to catch up on all the toing and froing, so grateful for a steer. Did Lodhi give him a kick up the arse? Are we going to have India over for the Chumpions Trophy, or as it should be known the “win it and Comma gets a CBE Trophy”?

Sean excoriated the ECB over the Durham fiasco earlier this week and rightly so. Those anti-KP sorts who think we cried and cried purely over the ECB casting out of “our hero” are still welcome to speak now they’ve seen the true nastiness of those in charge. The county that has brought us Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Graeme Onions, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood will now be severely hamstrung in nurturing any further north-east talent because the ECB felt the need to “punish them” as some sort of ludicrous “pour encourager les autres” meme. This is less Battle of Minorca, and more the rattled of Lord’s, who know deep down that all the counties, more or less, are in a dreadful state. I had a look at Yorkshire’s finances, and it’s amazing to look at their debt structure:

yorkshire-accounts

Yorkshire’s turnover in 2015 was £8m. Its staff costs (and other cricket expenses) in 2015 was £3.1m. The cost of providing cricket in 2015 – admin, catering etc. –  was just under £2m. Other overheads were £2.6m. This means EBITDA – your operating profit in crude terms, is £500k. So if you owed nothing, you made half a million quid. Which is, at least a profit. But you can work out that not only is there £25m of debt there, that hasn’t been obtained by popping down to DFS to take advantage of interest free credit for four years. There’s interest to pay.

And that interest is £648k. Their EBITDA doesn’t even cover their interest payments. In finanical analysis terms, this is not particularly indicative of a very secure going concern. Yorkshire announced a profit overall because of an “Exceptional Item” of £781k. The thing with Exceptional Items is that they are meant to be “Exceptional”. I’ve had to study accounts where that term is stretched to breaking point to indicate that a company is healthy. This one is quite interesting.

exceptional

I’m not party to the discussions, but Yorkshire posted a profit in 2015 because they got the local HSBC to reduce the repayment, and in return the bank now has a first charge over one of their facilities. What I’m indicating here is that the cricket club that is held up as a paragon of excellence on the cricket field functions because the head of the ECB has put up his own money – yet still holds the whip hand given it owes him £20 odd million – to save his club. If he had taken the approach of the Durham creditors and said “right, no more to keep you out of the shit”, what would have happened to Yorkshire? I mean, if you really can’t see how there’s potential conflict of interest, you must have a dose of SelfeyRashiditis. Note how that loan from Graves is due to be paid out in the next two to five years. It won’t. It can’t be given Yorkshire’s turnover. Graves will just roll it over.

I’m picking on Yorkshire because, to their credit, they publish their accounts on their website. I saw Ashley Giles having a word or two about Durham’s financial ineptitude but I tried for a while, using my sources of information, and found the only way I could see Lancashire’s accounts was to stump up £12. I love you all, but I won’t do that.

That’s the offence. One that every county’s cricket operations mimics – it doesn’t take a lot of sense to see county attendances will never match the wages needed to pay players – yet Durham need to be punished because their creditors took a much tougher line than Sugar Daddy Graves and his ilk. Before people throw Surrey at me, it has often been said that Surrey is a conference facility running a cricket team. So Durham need to be punished, and so it is that they have been relegated. And deducted points in all three competitions. And been stripped of their test match ground status. One wonders what they might do to a Northamptonshire should they need a bail-out. Would it require them to play Minor Counties cricket? Deduct them 100 points and thus make any game against a team with nothing to play for meaningless and thus destroying what credibility the Second Division has? Again, Sean did his piece, and his pieces at it, and I’ll return to the theme in the coming days or so. But just think through the logical consequences of the decision, of how cricket operates in this country, and what could happen in the future. The ECB have been a disgrace. Don’t worry, I’ll come to Bransgrove in the near future as well.

I have gone off a little on this, and thus not covered some of the other ground I intended to at the start of this piece. That’s fine. I can write some more later. Until then, thanks for sticking with us.

From the Cradle to the Graves

First of all, I’m annoyed, not just a little bit annoyed, but completely and totally incensed by the treatment that our so called administrators have handed out to Durham and I’m not even a Durham fan. The ignominy of being relegated to the 2nd Division on financial criteria rather than cricketing prowess was not bad enough in the eyes of the incompetent fat cats running our board, oh no, they had to give them a massive f**k you as a coup de grace. Here’s your 48 point deduction – put that in your pipe and smoke it, oh and best of all, be grateful for it too, we saved you. Oh and we’re also revoking your Test status, although actually that is probably more of a blessing in disguise.

The circumstances of Durham’s financial demise have been well documented, but let me briefly cover it again, so there can be no doubt where the blame should lie. Back in 2003, Durham were an ambitious club, one who wanted to give fans in the North East, those who had previously been starved of international cricket access to the game without having to travel hundreds of miles to actually see live coverage. This fitted in nicely with the ECB’s stated mandate to spread the national game away from the traditional Test grounds and even their edict that all newly built grounds should have the capabilities and facilities to host Test Cricket.

This was pretty much as good as it got though for our friends in the Northeast. Firstly (and I could with some help here), the choice for Durham’s new shiny international ground was not in surburban Newcastle or even in the more populated Durham, but instead was housed in Chester-Le-Street, a town with a population of 26,000 holding a ground with the capacity of 16,000, the math’s simply didn’t add even back then and now look astonishingly slapstick in the cold light of day. Then there was the small matter of the fact that we already had 6 international venues fighting for on average 5 tests a year (if you account for Lords having 2 games a year) so with the addition of Durham, Hampshire and then latterly Cardiff into the mix, we suddenly had an surfeit of counties desperately hunting Test cricket at their grounds to cover new builds, redevelopment and general running costs with not enough games to go around. Seriously it doesn’t take a genius to realise that this was not going to end well.

So what was the ECB’s solution to this? Well I can think we can all agree that most sensible administrators would’ve sought to manage risk and spread the games as evenly as possible amongst each county to ensure financial viability; however the ECB is not a sensible administrator, it’s a greedy money grabbing pit of self interest, and instead chose a far more lucrative option. The ECB bods in all their wisdom decided that a bidding system would be a far fairer way to distribute the games and the money (for themselves obviously and not the counties). So here we had it, a bunch of increasingly skint counties desperately fighting over those games that weren’t going to be held in London in the hope of getting enough punters through the door to make enough money to survive into the next year, like a group of fat men desperately fighting over the last pork scratching. Yet the ECB sat quietly by, filling their coffers with well over £75 million worth of hard cash and not having to lift a finger. None of the risk, all of the reward, I say old boy.

So to the surprise of no-one, except the ECB, though they I doubt they cared that much, this house of cards came tumbling down in a heap fairly quickly. The writing had been on the wall since the start. Cricket has been in decline for some while, and whilst there are many debates as to the reasons behind this (I could and have written a whole article on this subject alone) one can easily surmise that a lack of cricket on FTA, the general disappearance of the game from the national news and the increased focus on the T20 tournaments meant that interest in Test cricket began to wane quickly. As the counties latterly realised this, it very quickly proved to be a bun fight in who could get the most popular games, with the counties throwing exorbitant amounts of money for an Australia or India game in the hope that they could get them to last 4 days so they could make some money, with the other counties counting the cost of getting a Sri Lanka or a New Zealand Test knowing that they wouldn’t even cover their costs. Indeed a certain Ex-Yorkshire chairman, better known to most readers in his new role had this to say back in 2011:

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“The problem we have in England and Wales is we have nine Test match grounds and seven Test matches and nine into seven doesn’t go.” 

“At the end of the day you are playing with high stakes and that’s a big risk business and at this present time, we are not in that.” 

“I’m urging them to look totally at the way we structure cricket, the way it is financed and, going forward, how we are going to stage that,” he said.

“There are some big searching questions there to be answered.”

It’s of course very interesting to note that we haven’t heard a single peep out of Mr. Graves since he was made Chairman of the ECB, let alone hear the answer to these big searching questions. After all, it’s your boat now chaps, but I’m going to take the paddles with me in any case..

And so we now to get to the stage, where a county who followed the ECB’s edict to the letter (though I would conceive that they should have done more to position the stadium in a far more densely populated area) have been handed a massively draconian punishment for racking up serious debts that the ECB’s bidding system not only actively encouraged, but gave them no other option than to. Nicely played chaps, offer false promises with one hand and then crush with the other when the unpleasant reality sets in.

Except this isn’t really about Durham is it? Nor will it be about a Leicestershire or a Somerset, a Northamptonshire or a Sussex when the inevitable happens, and they teeter on the edge of administration. This is about business and that business is an 8-team city franchise, the savior of all English cricket in Colin Graves and his fellow cronies eyes. Sure they have had to go around the houses with the county chairmen, sure there have been meetings, promises counter promises, £1.5million promises but all this is a case of playing the waiting game in the expected hope that the county chairmen spend more time fighting each other and their members rather than noticing the smiling devil at their door. It is not inconceivable that by the time 2019/2020 comes around all of these clubs and many more will be on their knees and willing to accept any morsel their so called benevolent administrators are willing to toss them; oh as long as they are willing to give up some more rights to benefit those who the ECB deem worthy. The thing is that growing the game, as I and many others have said before, is simply not on the ECB’s radar not has it ever been, it knows nothing but the pursuit of financial gain and anyone who gets in the way will be simply cast aside or crushed. After all, Graves has put his neck on the line to make this City franchise competition happen and he is going to do everything in his power to make it happen, so what does it matter if the odd county goes bust along the way, that’s business for you?

I find what has happened to Durham today and will in time happen to other counties very sad, but not in the least bit surprising, after all if you stick your head in the crocodile’s mouth for long enough, one day it will bite. My guess is that it would be fair to say that the dinner of many of the county chairmen might not taste so juicy tonight as they reflect on the fact that with ‘friends like these, who needs enemies’…

 

Their Business is Our Business

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I wrote this piece at the beginning of last week, and I’m going to put it up without amending it from then. I hope it still works.

Admin Matters – Their Business Is OUR Business

It’s one of Giles Clarke’s bon mots. That “no-one should be interested in sports administration”. I know many supporters of sport feel the same way. “Can they just get out of the way and let the sport play out” they say. “It’s not worth worrying about bad administration. What is there we can do?”

This could go the way of one of my usual diatribes about how sport isn’t what it used to be, how business has corrupted the sporting ethos, how money is much more important than the sport itself. And I probably could bore you senseless as I go over all that again.

I stopped going to Millwall at the end of the 2012 season. Why? We were a lower-middle Championship side then, probably punching a little over our weight, and yet I felt I didn’t really associate myself with the team being put out there. We’d survived the drop due in no small part to a useful old player called Harry Kane. But he wasn’t our player, of course. We’d loaned him in. As we did with Ryan Mason. With Benik Afobe. We were getting more and more loan players in. They style of football was boring, all about surivival and defensive resistance. This was because a drop into League One was seen as a footballing disaster. It wasn’t like that in the recent past. We survived and thrived in that league below by bringing on youngsters, or snapping up wily old pros and lower league talent to prosper. That’s not the way now. It’s all about borrowing other team’s players.

But I’m digressing. Sport is about loving what is out there. It’s about enjoying the moments you are at a venue, or watching on television. One such moment occurred this weekend. Oklahoma City Thunder were at home to Golden State Warriors in a regular season game. The game ebbed and flowed, the Thunder not quite sealing the win, and the Warriors keeping it close. The game went into overtime, and with 20 odd seconds, the game was tied. Then this happened….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkaqIujpcbw

The Warriors are not my team. But it is watching that total class act do something truly extraordinary that defines what sport is about to me. It’s about enjoying the best being the best, and indeed, enjoying sporting contests with ebb and flow. I love watching Barcelona, but not when they are duffing up some mid-table nonsense, but when they are in a contest. A true battle against a foe they could lose against. That’s when you see how good they are, and why the Champions League is as successful at is, because for all the fact that they win it more often than others, Barcelona sometimes struggle. Tainted by money and used by the rich to get richer the Champions League maybe, and that daft nonsense about putting the rich teams automatically in defines why business should just foxtrot oscar, but even in its present form it still knows that it needs to excite.

It is that excitement, passion, emotional investment, the need for good competition and entertainment that drives sport. The fact is, these are traits that are an advertisers or businessman’s dream. This is a demand that is super-loyal, and takes a lot to break. It is a clientele that when they fall for something, will become irrationally devoted to it. Association with your team, or your sport, is seen as a reinforcement, even sub-consciously, of what you believe in. But still they want more. The best playing the best more often, completely ignoring the short-term “gains” with the long term contempt those contests engender if they happen too often. It’s their relative rarity that makes them special. The World Cup is special because it takes place every four years. So are the Olympics. Sports administration just wants to make money, by and large. In F1, how can you have a grand prix in Sochi, but not in Germany like last year? How can Monza be under threat, but there be a race in Baku?

But it’s pernicious. I heard someone say that what else was all this football from all round Europe on TV for now? What is football on TV channels now other than a vehicle for in-play betting? Check out how many betting adverts there are on all football broadcasts. Betfair, Skybet, BetFred, Bet365, Betway, whatever that one Swann did, BetVictor, William Hill, The effing Ladbrokes Life, Paddy Power…. and that’s off the top of my head. I know a gambling addict, and I know that watching a football broadcast now is akin to mild torture. Football is the betting industry’s cash cow, and as some say, it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as it is televised. That has been levelled at cricket, with the reputation that affixes itself to any ODI that has a collapse, or a T20 where scoring rates slow surprisingly. I’m sorry, I find that objectionable. I want to watch sport, not intervals between middle class, mainly white blokes, celebrating whatever wins they have, or flogging me free bets.

But it’s money, and that’s what matters, and keeping our players in the huge pay to which they’ve become accustomed (I read today that Nathan Loftus Cheek is on £65k a week) and the next TV contract (£11m a match – just let that sink in) is just going to make it worse. But people can’t get enough of it. The English Premier League is a worldwide “brand”, is successfully run if you just look at the bottom line, and as far as we all know, not corrupt. I said, as far as we know. Again, despite some rumours floating around, we are given to believe that English cricket is largely without sin, but how do we know?

Colin Graves
The “Paul Downton Locked Cupboard Under The Stairs”. Currently occupied by Colin Graves

Contrasting the organisation of our behemoth “best league in the world (c)” and guardian football authorities with the ECB is interesting. The President of the ECB was awarded the post because it would have been too bloody to get rid of him altogether. So they created a post for him (the head of the FA is being pretty much forced out by the “blazers”. There’s much rejoicing that he will have to face the DCMS Select Committee, but it’s a Pyrrhic Victory getting him there now – although it might be jolly good fun. We have Colin Graves, who will obviously need a very long sheet of paper to detail what he’s been up to this past year, because, frankly, other than the KP thing, who the hell knows? Tom Harrison is lauded in some parts, but comes across as a slightly aloof, extremely dismissive, sharp suited chap we’re totally used to and who most of us would cross the road to avoid. The press office have changed little, we have a North Korean-like Twitter feed (it’s been ten years since Cook’s debut, which they commemorated twice this week), which is so resolutely upbeat it should be prescribed downers forthwith. The counties control the agenda, and change seems to be wrung out of them like a fiver out of my wallet when the charity collection comes round. I’d wager all the bosses of these counties, in their business lives, are great proponents of “change” but in this world, they seem rather reticent.

The award at the SJA last week for Death of a Gentleman has opened the window a bit, and the light is slightly seeping in. The MPs had a screening on Monday, and more and more clubs and institutions are showing it (I went to one at an unlikely venue, it has to be said). The word is getting out, and yet we still feel all so powerless. Our fears for the game fall on the deaf ears of administrators who want the power, and its measurable unit, money. We are to be monetised, as Gideon Haigh says in the film. We have no say. I understand people feeling that one voice doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I’ve just finished “The Ugly Game” about the bid to win the 2022 World Cup. It is a book that has made me incredibly angry. Do NOT confuse this with “surprise”. I remember talking with people many years ago who said Joao Havelange was a crook, and Sepp Blatter was learning at his side. Blatter is the archetypal head of a crime syndicate. He’s not getting his hands dirty, but he’s certainly making sure that anyone becoming his henchman is going to get their’s very mucky. As Michel Platini is finding out, as Bin Hammam did before, if you take on Blatter, you are assured of your own destruction. The book actually made me feel sorry for Bin Hammam, would you believe. A billionaire businessman, bribing a way for Qatar to win the bid, and then disowned afterwards by both FIFA and his own royal family, as a result of getting too big for his boots and challenging Blatter. The list of corrupt practices in the FIFA “family” is relentless, yet the organisation is run as some sort of private slush fund for its corrupt members. The motto being “don’t get caught” but even if you do, we’ll bring in some judge on our dime to bury the evidence. Even today, Charles Sale repeats this line about the Qatar bid….

It emerged after the FIFA Congress in Zurich that the still-to-be-published Garcia report into the bidding process for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 has no smoking gun in its details.

The report will only the see light of day when an investigation into the conduct of Thailand’s Worawi Makudi is complete. But even if Garcia has uncovered one or two instances of bribes playing a part in those murky votes from 2010, it would not be enough for either country to lose the World Cup.

One or two? Jesus wept. Sale’s being a muppet here, because the Sunday Times ran this story to saturation before the World Cup in 2014, and there’s evidence that a key man bought votes. He did deals, it seems, with Spain to secure the Latin vote. He broke rule after rule, and yet he gets sent into purgatory and the paymasters, the people who get to reap the spoils have plausible deniability. And there is precisely fuck all we can do about it. Except speak out.

Sports administration, be it in football or cricket, needs vision and it needs to be open and transparent. It should run the sport, not be the sport. It should keep itself to matters organisational, and should not be intervening in the playing side (and if it does, it should be open and transparent as to why – and you know who I am getting at here). Sport has always been a business, and yet, now, it is more corporate than ever. That corporate nature is built upon those people who love moments like the Curry long-range shot, the Messi genius, the thrill of Grant Elliott’s semi-final six (which I committed to DVD last night) and such like. Moments of drama and excitement. They are up for sale, and you’ll pay the price. They are up for monetising you and your love, knowing it is an inelastic demand that takes a hell of a sacrifice to break. It preys on a form of addiction, and you, the punter, feel like can’t do anything about it. It’s wrong. Sports administration matters all right. You just choose not to admit it. This is OUR game they are flogging. Not their’s.

But it doesn’t matter, does it. Because they are ruining what you love. It’s always the same. When they are gone, with their damage, we will still be here. Paying the next lot the cash.

Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 2

Come hither, Al, and look at my soul....
Come hither, Al, and look at my soul….

Having started the review of the Summer with the supposed closure of the KP issue, the conclusion of my piece was that it really wasn’t about KP any more. He’ll forever be the Keyser Soze of English cricket. Lack trust and you’ll be treated like KP. Step out of line with the big cheeses and you see what the consequences are. No-one I know thinks KP is a saint. We think he’s just a damn fine batsman dropped as part of a vendetta, and no exposition of “good environments” “team culture” and “playing for the shirt” will persuade me otherwise.

So the interesting part is the source of the vendetta, and what it could mean for other parts of the cricketing world. As we will recall, Colin Graves came in to take over from Giles Clarke as Chairman of the ECB. There was silent rejoicing as many (NOT ME) thought this would see exit stage left for the true pariah of English cricket. No chance. These people don’t go quietly, and while the ICC role was very much spun as “ceremonial” it has been anything but. So, after this reasonably lengthy introduction, let’s get the ball rolling with Part 2 of my Off The Deep End/Long Run series…

2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman

I’ll say it up front. Giles Clarke is still, very much, the main man in the ECB. Others may pretend otherwise, but they have not been allowed their own free hand, and it has showed. Colin Graves was never the shy sort when he held the reins at Yorkshire, but suddenly, one incident under his belt, and he’s become mute. People might be looking for him in the legendary cupboard Paul Downton was bundled in to last Summer.

Clarke’s anger was then compounded by the speech given at the Wisden dinner at Lord’s on Wednesday night by Ehsan Mani, a former president of the International Cricket Council, who made no direct reference to the Big Three but rather pleaded the case of the other seven Test-playing countries. “Giles became more and more agitated,” according to one eyewitness.

Scyld Berry – 9 April 2015

Harrison and Graves sacked the unfairly derided Paul Downton but at least Strauss’s predecessor had been straight, at least he told Pietersen where he stood and attempted to explain it before lawyers stopped him.

Paul Newman – 12 May 2015

The above two quotes seem to capture the moods and swings of the ECB hierarchy. Giles Clarke still knocking about, still arrogance personfied, even with his reign apparantly coming to an end; Harrison somewhere between the two extremes.

I’ve had a ton of people, a ton of them, tell me that cricket administration is dull and it’s only the team that matters. Therefore, because we won the Ashes in a huge surprise, can’t we just be happy? I’d be doing the blog a huge disservice if I pretended that my heart was filled with joy, but I do, honestly, get those that feel that way. In 2005 I didn’t give a toss who ran the sport, and how they ran it. I knew India held the power, because they held the money, and was sort of resigned to the future. But the cricket team took our eyes away from this because it was a joy to watch, and, importantly from the outside, the ECB didn’t seek to make the team it’s personal window on the world. Importantly, for me, at that time the England team were playing for the public. Now, a good deal of me feels it is playing for the ECB. It is a massively important distinction.

2014, and the early part of this year, cannot just be swept under the carpet as a mistake – and we aren’t even getting on to the international issues in full here, because that’s for another long ramble. I’m not the forgiving type when it seems to me that what we have here is no real change of insight, just of personnel. There was great rejoicing in the parish when it appeared that Clarke had been forced to exit the stage, and Costcutter Champion Colin would move into the ascendant. Great suspicions were raised at Chez Dmitri because Giles Clarke never seemed the sort to be pushed upstairs into irrelevance. Whichever position he held, he seemed the type to want to control it. Sure enough he has taken on his new Presidency role with delicious abandon. He’s left the knotty problems of the Shires to Twinkling Tom H, and kept his dead hand firmly on the international tiller. Any doubts about this were surely sunk during the Colin Graves attempted rapprochement to KP phase.

It is important to state, from the outset, that in the words of a certain reporter, I’m about to indulge in a bit of guesswork. In the absence of anyone telling me otherwise, and I am perfectly willing to correct these assumptions when someone tells me what really happened, let me make some educated hypotheses.

I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn't give us the key.
I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn’t give us the key.

The man who vetoed Kevin Pietersen’s potential re-admittance into the England team was Giles Clarke. In my view that is because he has a visceral hatred of him, that is no doubt reciprocated. KP said that three people needed to go before he had a chance to come back. One of those named was Giles Clarke. People then read into the fact that Graves had gone all in with the rapprochement, to say that Clarke was the final piece of the jigsaw gone and now the move could be made. I never believed it for a minute. There were too many press stories to indicate that as soon as Graves said what he said saying “nothing has changed at the ECB”. Far far too many. The policy hadn’t changed and some people were very keen to say it pre- and post- Downton.

Now, as a happy coincidence, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new Comma, England Cricket, and he’d have no trouble in pulling the trigger on KP. Suspicion was that he was the only one of the potential candidates who would be perfectly content to adhere to the ECB pre-conditions. Others pulled out of the race, or weren’t seriously considered. Strauss fit the bill in many ways, and he did what all top execs seem to want to do when they come in – make big decisions, make big statements. I’m sure Giles was well pleased. Not only was Strauss pursuing the Clarke line, it also, undoubtedly, put Colin Graves in his place. Instead of under the old regime, where the head of the ECB was very public (Clarke) and his CEO took a back seat (Collier), now we have a still public President (Clarke) an emasculated, silent head (Graves) and a prominent, Downtonian CEO (Harrison). It’s progress, but not as we know it.

But does this matter outside of my own narrow KP prism? Probably not, to most, but it was interesting to see the control the ECB has over the sport. Paul Downton is now a laughable footnote in sports administration, and yes, some of what I said was probably a bit cruel, and lessons have been learned to a degree. The most important thing, over and above true ability, was the need for the ECB not to be a figure of fun this year, but instead a more disciplined, unified entity. In some regards it worked. Although I’m not a fan of the old rebranding and such forth, the slick ECB Twitter feed for the England team worked for many. It was hard for this cynical old sod to look past the pure corporatism of the feed, but it did show an intention to engage a bit more – if only it didn’t seem to take it’s modus operandi from Pravda. There’s also no doubt that the efforts the players made, no doubt at the behest of the authorities, to spend more time with the fans instead of being totally aloof also worked. It is frequently said that this isn’t a bad bunch of guys at all. That’s good that that is happening. It works.

But behind this, you just get the nagging feeling that nothing has changed in the corridors of power. It may be that Clarke’s powers are over-estimated by me, but the reaction to Mike Brearley’s comments on the Olympics, again, it seemed, echoing the thoughts of Graves and Harrison, by Clarke seemed to indicate that our old Chairman was still wielding the might. Brearley was made to climb-down, humiliatingly, and the MCC were also later seen to not offer a screening of Death of a Gentleman to its members in something that was no doubt a total coincidence.

Colin Graves is known by me only for a rant he had at Yorkshire over poor performances a few years back. It put his “professional Yorkshireman” persona in full view. In his accession to the throne at the top of the ECB tree (supposedly) he did nothing to dispel his “professional Yorkshireman” persona. There was always the nagging thought that Graves was a party to all the decisions made prior to his appointment as Chairman, so would there be much change? Leaks seem to have been less plentiful since he arrived (so do we draw conclusions from that), but also we’ve seen less of him, and heard virtually nothing. Instead the void appears to have been filled, in part, by Tom Harrison.

This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.
This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Now, you lot knew what I thought of Paul Downton. Downton was a lightweight, and on that Thursday night when I stupidly downloaded his interview with Aggers and then listened to it after a great leaving do while “lagered up” it was the casual manner in which he outline how he was recruited that got me. It was as if it was an old boys club and it was his turn to have a tap on the shoulder. The manner of his appointment should have been the source of investigation. Head hunters, do you fancy it, cosy little internal interview, and before you know it he’s wandering off to Australia, sacking one of our best players, hiding from view, giving early off the record briefings, and being called impressive, and showing “aplomb” while many of us sat aghast that he appeared massively out of his depth. What stuck in my craw, as in the episode outlined in the initial picture, was that such a terrible error of judgement wasn’t put on those who made the absolutely nonsensical decisions. No top heads rolled. None.

What insight has there been from those connected to the sport through their media links into this nightmare? Downton was appalling. Utterly useless. But it’s as if “awwww shucks, anyone can make a mistake” is OK with a governing body that actually never owns up to one. That’s the culture up there, and in my view it comes right from Clarke – every interview he conducts is dripping with a superiority complex, looking down on the proles.

Pipe Down....
Pipe Down….

However, where his dripping condescenion transcends boundaries, is when he is challenged, and certainly by people he deems as not worthy (we’ll deal with some of this in the next piece). An example comes from some reading I’ve been enjoying of old Wisden Cricketer magazines and originates before Clarke ascended to power. At the time David Morgan was Chairman of the ECB and Clarke was a loyal footsoldier in charge of negotiating TV rights, and doing his best to make people know he was doing it. Clarke was clearly jostling for position, and we know the outcome. Morgan was up for re-election and there were two groups sticking their oar in about county cricket. One, headed by Atherton and Bob Willis couldn’t be attacked, without looking a bit daft yourself. Clarke was OK ignoring thise because, with few exceptions, these guys know that former players (and certainly ones with Sky/newspapers for a fair time, aren’t going to take the short cut to governing, so the ECB can play a straight bat. But for outsiders like Jonathan Marland. and let us leave his motives out of it at this time, well Giles can turn on the charm:

It’s the same sort of attitude we saw in Death of a Gentleman (and, as I said earlier, more of that later). At the time the counties thought Clarke was their guy. By the end, by all repute, he wasn’t. Giles isn’t going to be constrained by anything so small as county cricket. He has ambitions to be head of the ICC. Only in England.

An empty suit, by pure coincidence
An empty suit, by pure coincidence

Giles was still on watch when our latest newbie appointment was made. Tom Harrison was made CEO and the reputation was based more on his ability to negotiate TV contracts and deal with high-rollers while at IMG than a lack lustre country cricket career. While David Collier had been firmly placed in the cupboard under the stairs (and off the record the man blamed for Stanford) Tom would probably only visit that cupboard to leave his vampire cape. For in my view, there is something of the night in Mr Harrison. But never fear for today Bunkers has said….

Both Harrison and Strauss were impressive that day. Preposterously young men by the normal standards of cricket administration, they spoke with conviction and passion.

Harrison apologised for the woeful fashion in which the dismissal of Peter Moores, an estimable coach and a dignified man who happened to be in the wrong job, had been handled. Strauss explained authoritatively why there was no place for Kevin Pietersen in the England team. Their performances disguised the shambles rather than eradicated it.

I’d run a mile the minute Bunkers puts me in his Impressive Gang. You see, while people like Bunkers and the media gang fall for a sharp line, a snappy suit, a borderline impressive CV and making decisions they agree with, those of us who don”t see a media automoton, an empty suit, a CV lacking in nous and decisions that they made handled appallingly!!!!!

What’s been seriously lacking has been the media sorts who care more for the disguising of shambles than actually nailing them for their mistakes, or heaven forfend, telling us at the appropriate time how they happened! Instead, all we got was initial reinforcement, as if actually having to prove you have ability is an additional extra. When things go right, as it did with the Ashes this year, Andrew Strauss is labelled as some sort of genius, when you have to actually ask “what did he do?” The approach does seem to be to congratulate the weatherman for a spell of sunny weather.

No, the media liked Strauss for keeping the troublesome one clearly on the outside, thought it took guts (no, it really didn’t – the gusty call would have been to recall him, because we can all imagine THAT press coverage. I think we’d be picking Newman’s exploded head up now!), when the clear line to take from the ECB was no. No you shouldn’t pick HIM. There wasn’t a lot of support, if truth be told for the outside one. So no, Strauss behaved as expected….

Meanwhile, though, if you even think of ordering the people who select the teams to do so on merit, you know, the old fashioned way, then you can expect this… Newman’s head stayed safely unexploded, and he had a new figure of fun. He was never really that gutsy about old Giles, was he?

Frustration was clear in the voices of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as they fended off repeated enquiries about Kevin Pietersen’s future more than a year after he had seemingly been banished from international cricket for good.

Well, there is only one person to blame — and that is Colin Graves. The incoming ECB chairman has been responsible for the mixed messages that leave the England team in as big a state of turmoil and internal rebellion as ever.

Graves has forged an excellent reputation in English cricket as chairman of Yorkshire for the way he bankrolled and transformed the club, but his initial forays into the international game have been little short of an embarrassment.

Strauss and Harrison make the call, the right call in the minds of those reporting on the game, and it’s given a nice little sheen. They are clearing up the mess created by Colin Graves. Newman’s piece at the time is a masterpiece in blaming Graves, exonerating Strauss and Harrison and digging a bit more at KP (while laughably offering sympathy). Graves was thrown under the bus, and we’ve heard nothing from Costcutter Col  since. He seems to exist only as a fall guy. Unlike Clarke, he appears to take it lying down. He’s the man who lives in Downton’s cupboard.

The KP issue may be over, but the ECB have major issues over county cricket (and more of that later too). In the meantime, Clarke is allowed to represent the ECB overseas. His most memorable appearance this year, which probably pre-dates the changeover in role, is Clarke’s cameo performance in Death of a Gentleman. It is to this film that I’ll move on to the next instalment of Off The Deep End…

A Simply Charming Man
A Simply Charming Man

3. The Death Of A Gentleman, The Temerity Of Hope

The Colo(u)r Of Money

Many of you have already picked up on the wonderful exchange between Hughes and Newman, after the Bogfather had kindly showed them the way to the Dirty Dozen.

If you haven’t, here it is….

I hope that shows Hughes’s comment above (just checked and it does).

Many of you have taken this as a complete dismissal of the words of the people on this blog, which we shouldn’t be surprised about. It’s not as if the great unwashed have been given a say so far, so why change now. But it is something that we still see coming through their writing and other appearances, and is what is now going to be known as the TTT. This stands for Tyers Twitter Tendency.

Readers for a while know exactly what I am on about, as it derives from a tweet by Alan Tyers in February 2014:

This can be summed up best by the fantastic tweets from Simon Hughes, aka the analyst, in his responses to The Bogfather:

We’ve done this tweet already, on the post “Quietly”. He just jumped on a list containing JAMES BRAYSHAW and thought I was only going on about culprits. Want strange? Read one of his “editorials” in The Cricketer.

Classic TTT. “Ooooooh, I know who the real cuplrits are, and you don’t…. because I’m an insider and you aren’t……”

So when challenged to put up…

“Can’t tell you”. Why not, big man? You subject to a confidentiality clause as well? Worried anything that disturbs Downton will mean less of your puff piece interviews in The Cricketer? No. I call bullshit. If there were culprits, as he puts it, then shame them, with evidence, not hearsay and innuendo like he does with Pietersen. Don’t hide behind this change from within stuff.

How interesting though that Newman reacted to the list. Now, as you know, Paul Newman doesn’t like my stuff. He’s never said so in print, but he has said so by blocking me on Twitter. Wonder how I can still link your stuff, sir? It’s not hard. I can understand being cheesed off being told you are a shill for the ECB decision makers (until one came along) and the most anti-KP presence on the new circuit, but blocking me for questioning why this is so? Do leave off.

He got one thing right on those tweets. I’m not important as one person. But as a blog with quite a decent hit rate, along with the Full Toss, we have a small voice that is growing, and has caught some attention. One press guy described the blog to me as the best one holding the press and decision makers to account. That was nice. But I’m not here for the ego, I’m here because I enjoy it (most of the time). And what I enjoy most is fisking articles like this.

Frustration was clear in the voices of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as they fended off repeated enquiries about Kevin Pietersen’s future more than a year after he had seemingly been banished from international cricket for good.

Getting worried, Paul? Getting worried that a person with a test hundred since your beloved captain made one might get back into the team? And hang about, weren’t you banging on about how rubbish Moores had been at the World Cup? Do you want to stay consistent on that? Oh, you’ll claim this a factual representation of what happened, but Moore especially, needs to feel the heat. Cook, well, I’ve given up with you lot ever challenging his lamentable record over the past two years in all formats. Seems he’s a protected species.

Well, there is only one person to blame — and that is Colin Graves. The incoming ECB chairman has been responsible for the mixed messages that leave the England team in as big a state of turmoil and internal rebellion as ever.

Well, I’d humbly suggest that Colin Graves wasn’t the architect of England’s brilliant World Cup campaign, and if we’d done well in that, the clamour, for what it is worth, would have been a great deal less. After all, your constant line is that the only way to shut people up is for England to keep winning. So there isn’t only one person to blame for doing, as Tickers says:

Graves has forged an excellent reputation in English cricket as chairman of Yorkshire for the way he bankrolled and transformed the club, but his initial forays into the international game have been little short of an embarrassment.

I’m not embarrased? Anyone else think he is embarrassing? Are you embarrassed not because of this, but because he may be attacking your casus belli, Mr Newman (the persecution and exclusion of Pietersen)? Really? OK, some of his and Tom whatisnames ideas are a bit off beam, but as you will say later on, you agree with one of the most controversial. All of his forays into the international game are an embarrassment, but one that could potentially bankrupt the counties isn’t? Way to pick and choose, sir.

He has become the loose cannon of English cricket — and he has yet to take up office.

He’s yet to take up office. Of course, he’s the deputy to Clarke at the moment, so he is in office, which is why us refuseniks are greeting all this with scepticism and a great deal of care. You’re worried because if KP makes a comeback, your fox (and all those that made the decision) has been shot. So while you call this man the loose cannon of English cricket, you save your powder on Paul “outside cricket” Downton and Giles “right kind of family” Clarke. We know you can’t include James “Gary Ballance” Whitaker because he’s tight as a drum when it comes to talking. He’s about as much a loose cannon as a speak your weight machine.

It all started on March 1 when he gave an interview to Garry Richardson of the BBC, who is known for his persistence and admirable success in coaxing ear-catching sound bites from interviewees.

Dacre won’t like you praising someone at the BBC. Also, note. Garry Richardson got someone to say something interesting. A lesson for you lot, maybe? See also, BBC employee Pat Murphy.

So when Graves said that Pietersen — exiled for valid reasons after the last Ashes debacle before producing a nasty autobiography that only supported the ECB’s decision — had to be playing county cricket to earn an England recall, it was put down to Yorkshire straight-talking.

A nasty autobiography. Your paper has the rights to the definition of nasty. I don’t think the book did Pietersen any favours, but on the first part, we are all still waiting on these “valid reasons” that you cling to like a piece of driftwood. It’s a clash of personalities with Andy Flower mainly, and we can’t be having someone who might make test hundreds playing because he cheesed off one of the officer class. What a load of cack. Keep rolling on with this nonsense.

Yet subsequently, most importantly in a phone conversation with Pietersen, Graves has done little to play down the 34-year-old’s chances — even if privately the chairman is said to be perplexed at the media’s ‘spin’ on his apparent opening of the England door.

The “picking the team on merit” ethos, which we want, which any country seems to want, goes out the window if it means picking someone who won’t keep his gob shut and might make 8181 runs at an average in the high 40s, who may have a couple of years left and may, just may, be BETTER than those currently playing, including a captain who can’t buy a century at the moment. But hey, you keep on keeping on. Graves may, or may not, be playing a game. We don’t know, and evidently, nor do you.

If Graves, who has apparently assured senior figures that he does not want Pietersen back, really had no intention of encouraging the maverick, then he has made a right old mess of it.

These the same senior figures who told you Surrey hated his guts and never wanted him to darken their door again. Called that one right, sunshine. Remind me, who is piling on the guesswork here, John? Me or you lot?

For he has created a soap opera that will run and run now Pietersen has rejoined Surrey and put huge pressure on a fledgling England middle order who made significant Test progress last summer.

How dare Pietersen still want to play at the highest level. How dare he be cheesed off he’s escluded. How dare the poor little darlings in the test team now have an excuse to fail. How dare there be pressure on them to perform.

Not to mention completely undermining managing director Paul Downton and national selector James Whitaker, who have repeatedly clarified England’s stance on the batsman over the last 14 months.

If I’m nailing my credibility to these two, I’m bang in trouble. Downton is a joke. Everyone on here, most on Twitter and all those who see him in action, including the vast majority, I reckon, of your press corps colleagues think he’s totally and utterly out of his depth. Also Whitaker doesn’t do press conferences, and has spoken around three times that I can recall in public (that is three occasions he has spoken to multiple outlets). You let out one of your off the record sources there, sir?

And if Graves disagreed with the original decision to axe Pietersen, then he had a duty as deputy chairman of the ECB to say so then, not wait until he had taken over from Giles Clarke.

He might have. I don’t know. But note, earlier he doesn’t take office so he shouldn’t be saying anything. But now because he has an office, he should. This is belting stuff.

That is not all. Since his Pietersen outburst, Graves has said that there will be an inquiry if England do not beat a ‘mediocre’ West Indies in the upcoming three-Test series.

Well. most of us were calling for this after the Ashes last year. And also, although I love West Indies cricket, even their own people think this is a mediocre team. Come on. So do you. So stop pretending like he’s offended the lorded classes with this comment. If they lose this series, heads should roll.

This prompted the respected Barbadian commentator Tony Cozier to liken the comments to Tony Greig’s infamous intention in 1976 to make the West Indies ‘grovel’.

Because “mediocre” has all the racial connotations of a white South African telling a black team that he intended to make them grovel. I mean, seriously. This is nonsense from Cozier and it is nonsense from Newman to repeat it. Put it more alongside the “worst Australian team ever to tour here” comments of 1989, or “can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field” from one of our own at Ashes 1986-7.

Then Graves came out with the ridiculous notion of reducing Test matches to four days. This would be achieved by introducing the unrealistic target of playing 105 overs a day — a move that would destroy the primacy of the ultimate game.

I don’t agree with it, but it’s not ridiculous, and it’s not speaking the unspeakable. The guff that came with it about corporates and families was nonsense, and the thought that we might get 105 overs in a day is unrealistic in a world where TV demands a five minute break every hour, and there’s no real disincentive not to slow the game down. But there’s something to work around.

If Graves wants to make himself useful, then he should concentrate on his supposed main aim of introducing a 10-team English Premier League franchise Twenty20 competition. Everybody bar a few myopic counties wants that.

This isn’t ridiculous because Paul agrees with it. Tremendous. Nice to see “a few myopic counties” there as well to reinforce his view that he’s in step and everyone who disagrees is myopic or ridiculous.

He could also do something about a crippling fixture list that will see England play 17 Tests in the next 10 months — a key factor in why they have fallen so far behind in the 50-over game and just endured the worst World Cup in their history.

Some of us mentioned this around two years ago. Nice to see you join us here. However, hard to see how a future fixture list meant we cocked up the World Cup. We had a very light winter of cricket, playing just 12 days of cricket between October and January. And we were crap. Care to explain how fixture congestion caused this? Should we not play in our summer? Also, not sure it is in Graves’ gift to cancel our tours, given he’s not in office yet, Paul.

There is much for the ECB’s new regime — which includes new chief executive Tom Harrison and communications director Chris Haynes — to do, but all the new chairman has done so far is make things worse.

We share your scepticism on this front. I don’t trust Graves as he has been part of the furniture, and if England falter and KP is scoring runs, the cry will be for him to come in, and if we are told there is no place for him, the alienation will be complete. Betrayal of the worst kind is raising hopes to dash them. You seem to want to finish KP’s career and take glee in it. If Cook can’t lump it, then he’s the one with the issue and needs to get over himself, but you are never going to write that. Unless there’s blatant insubordination which we’ve not been told about. But also, I have a healthy mistrust of all authority and I don’t like people telling me someone is great before they’ve proved it. Indeed if they have to rely on that testimony, then they probably aren’t.

I am worried Tom Harrison hasn’t shown his face. He’s becoming a bit Downton-esque on this front as again, we are being told how great he was before he spoke and disproved that notion. The new press officer can hardly do worse than Colin Gibson and his entourage.

Colin Graves should think very carefully in future before he speaks.

Or Paul will block you on Twitter.

Battle

As if we are surprised, the battle lines remain drawn. Those who think that the exclusion of Kevin Pietersen is the single most important thing in the game, and those that think that those who did it have been proven catastrophically wrong.

Jim Holden’s laughable piece, brilliantly picked apart by D’Arthez on here, has received backing from Simon Hughes and Paul Newman on Twitter. Both of these have been completely out of their prams whenever Pietersen’s name is mentioned. One is a massive supporter of Alastair Cook, another played a great deal of his county cricket alongside Paul Downton. Their support for the piece has been laughed at by many, with Tickers having a good old go on Twitter.

It seems as though little has changed in 12 or so months. However, there are journalists now prepared to countenance change – Nick Hoult may or may not have changed due to the paper hiring Pietersen, but the exit stage left of Pringle shows much of their editorial approach has changed. In addition Ali Martin is being far more even-handed than a Mike Selfey might have been. These are little acorns compared to the mighty ancient jokes in the media forest who put personal animosity over the real problem. That is an organisation that treats its real lifeblood with contempt. I’m not naming names, but you know who they are.

With Graves about to enact something or other, and former Derbyshire all-rounder Tom Harrison seemingly taking control of things, there is uncertainty. Ridiculous cat calls that Graves doesn’t start his role until May are especially hilarious given what Downton was up to before he took up his post last year and for which received no similar rebuke. Graves may be all things to all men at the moment, but what he is is a threat to the current flawed, and more importantly ridiculed hierarchy of Giles, Downton, Whitaker and Moores. Propping up Cook props up this lot, even with Cook’s mildest of hissy fits.

The same old battle lines, the same old nonsense, the same old resistance to admitting backing the wrong horse in a one horse race. Those not with the change programmes are being left behind. There’s a new chief coming along and he’s not listening to you, like Downton did when he asked you lot what you thought about Pietersen. Supporting those who prop this edifice up, the Cook captaincy, laughed at by most; the Downton follies; the Moores Matrices and the Whitaker Waffles all stupefying in their incompetence, all making us a laughing stock, is not taking us forward. It is holding us back.

Have a good week, folks.

Dread

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, in Adelaide, England face the first of up to five win-or-go-home matches. It would be typical of this team to lose this one, but the odds have to be on us winning the next two and meeting India in Melbourne in a quarter-final next week. But this is England, and nothing is certain.

As usual, when we get to this sort of position, I hear and read the usual load of old shite from those who think they know best about those of us not totally enamoured with the way the game is run in this country. Let me put it this way, so it is easy to comprehend. Those of you out there who think that a Bangladesh (or Afghanistan) win is the only way we’ll get the root and branch examination of the game, its structures and its ruling body that has been overdue for nearly 14 months now, I have sympathy for you. I understand precisely where you are coming from. I am almost totally on board with that.

Those of you who slag those people off as being “unpatriotic” or some such other load of old crap, I understand why you want England to win. I do too. But I don’t feel it an either / or equation, and like most things in life, there is nuance. A win today, and it’s on to tomorrow. A win against Afghanistan, and it’s on to India. A win there and we are in the Semis. This would all have been worth it, then, in many eyes. The pain, the agony, the division, the spite, the nastiness, the despair. Semis is better than anything since 1992 (when our group defeats have been a damn sight worse).

That’s what pisses me off. If we do fluke this, somehow, those who have ruined the last 12 months will be vindicated. “So what”, say those England till I die merchants “it’s improvement”. I say it will be bad in the long run. But I want England to win, still. I just don’t care as much, which is obvious to anyone who has read my rantings over the last 13 months.

I’m in my mid-40s. I get the fanaticism of wanting your team to win regardless of the long-term. I was a fanatic of a football team. For 15 years I went home and away, saw their only ever game in a European competition abroad, saw them in their only two years in the top division, saw their glory day in the Cup Final (the biggest anti-climax ever) and saw two particularly legendary players in their developmental days (one English, one Australian). Three seasons ago, I walked away. I’ve been to one game in three years. We are going down this season. We survived by the skin of our teeth in the last two seasons. I don’t see a sport any more, I see businesses. I see the soul taken out of the game by over-coached, over-priced, under-enthused players, who don’t have an affinity with your club (how can they when you get loan players making up so much of the team) and a lack of hope. I still want them to win, I just don’t care as much. I feel the same about our national football team. I am beginning to feel this way with my cricket team.

I get devotion and fanaticism and I also see how those in charge use it to hold you over a barrel. You criticise those in the authority, those in management, and you are undermining your national team. How dare  you. You traitor. What does it matter who runs the game, it’s those out on the field that matter? Why are you bothered?

Well, as you know, I’m not one of those. Those in authority with “successful business careers” often have a lot to answer for. In my experience many of them suffer from some sort of superiority complex. Often, they have no substance. To a person, I believe they are over-rated. They over think, they project manage, they make a living out of making the bleeding obvious bleeding complicated. One is to hope that Colin Graves and Tom Harrison are not two such individuals, but it is early days and that think-piece paper does not augur well.

The other thing these people do is to latch on to success, any success, and sing it louder than an opera diva. Yes, we are guilty of talking down any achievements, but good grief, you’d never guess we’d beaten India at home, would you? The Sri Lankan defeats, in all formats, were much more a pointer to our World Cup fortunes than beating an Indian team that packed in the series after the first two days at Southampton. A quarter-final place, for all that we cleared the decks for this, will be seen as that expected during a transition phase (so how did we get to a transition phase in a World Cup year should not be asked) and these lot can carry on. Success will be measured in whether this allows the top brass to keep their jobs.

It’s comments like this, interpreted by George Dobell, that mean I don’t care as much..

While it is understood that Graves and Pietersen have spoken in recent days, it increasingly appears as if the ECB’s chairmen is regarded by others as having exceeded his authority and spoken out of turn and that his views are not those of his executive team.

They speak as if they are in a position of strength, not as abject failures in one of our key measurable objectives thus far. As if their decision making deserves no scrutiny. They’ve been abject and yet the “executive team” are getting prissy over someone having a word about a policy they decided upon. I admire their chutzpah.

Because thus far this coaching of our World Cup campaign has been wretched. People like Warner, Maxwell, Finch, McCullum, Sangakkara, Williamson, Dilshan, DeVilliers, Kohli et al are playing a different game. Meanwhile we are settling for 309 in an ODI, and it shows how we are just not on the same wave length as the others. We don’t seem to know how to maximise our potential, which is a damning indictment on our coaching staff. But still, we have the same old, same old. We’ve blown a chance to give Hales a go, we’ve gone to the old ways, we over-praise Root and Moeen, we under utilise Buttler, we mess Taylor about. It’s awful. It’s truly mind-blowing. Don’t even get me started on the bowling – hey, let’s play two blokes just over major injuries, and with little white ball form in the big tournaments and see what could possibly go wrong…

So far I’d barely five this coaching staff 1/10, and the back-room boys and officials even less. But, as is always said, we have a chance, still. Starting tonight in Adelaide.

It’s a feeling of dread all right. I dread the recriminations should it go wrong. I dread the justifications if we somehow fluke it. Dread. No wonder I’m not a fanatic any more.

#RIPDoug

Other House News:

You may be pleased to know that the old archive on the old site is up. The old blog has a new URL, which can be accessed by clicking the link on the right in the Blogroll section. Somehow the head picture disappeared. The old link DOES NOT WORK. I will be staying on this site as the host from now on.

As always, thanks for the comments on the games and other things. Not been as busy on this as I should have been (lots on, not being too chipper) but rest assured, we’ll see more activity if England goes downhill.