Today was an exceptional day of cricket. An amazing batting performance from Zak Crawley left England very much in the ascendancy after the end of the first day. Rather frustratingly, I missed a large portion of it because I was busy transcribing Colin Graves’ interview on Sky, a long and boring process which took me over two hours to complete.
The day had a mixed start for England, with Rory Burns being squared up by Shaheen Shah Afridi and edging to the slips. This has not been a good series so far for the England opener, who currently has a series average of 5.00. In particular, the left-arm pace of Afridi has taken his wicket three times. That said, I wouldn’t be overly concerned by his form at this moment in time. His average against the West Indies just a few weeks ago was 46.80, and few teams have a high-quality left-handed pace bowler if that is a weakness of his.
Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley saw off the very good Pakistani pace attack with the new ball, which brought in legspinner Yasir Shah. It had been noted after the first Test against Pakistan that Dom Sibley had the low strike rate against spin bowling of 36.61. What was not mentioned was that his average against spinners in Test cricket was 40.00. His scoring rate was raised during the game in commentary, and afterwards during interviews. During a press conference after that game, Sibley vowed to be “a bit more proactive” against spin. In the two games since that interview, his strike rate against spin has soared to 62.07, whilst his average against spin in those two games is 18.00. Today he was dismissed after being judged LBW after skipping down the pitch to try and hit Yasir Shah out of the ground.
There are two aspects of this that infuriate me. Firstly, since when does run rate matter in Tests? Whilst obviously it might be considered better to score more quickly than not, as it reduces the chances of a draw, I’d much rather have a slow batsmen averaging 40 than a quick one averaging 30. It seems notable that a large portion of those espousing its importance in Tests are those who seem to prefer T20 cricket.
My second, more important issue with this pressure on Sibley to score more quickly is that it seems a wholly predictable result that it will get in his head and lower his average. We saw it with Trott, and Compton, and Ballance. People take their scoring for granted, tell them to accelerate once they’re ‘in’, and it completely screws them up. I want Sibley to be opening for England in five years’ time with a Test average over 40. I think the best way to do that is to leave alone to score at his own pace. England have plenty of batsmen who can score quickly, so they can afford for one or two to take their time. Sibley genuinely seems to me like the real deal, and I don’t want him crashing out of the side prematurely.
Joe Root fell soon after Lunch, edging an unplayable delivery from Naseem Shah which moved sharply off the pitch before catching the edge. With one innings to go, Joe Root has a batting average this summer of 37.33. He hasn’t averaged over 40 in a home summer since 2017. Whilst he is entirely blameless for today’s dismissal, I do think that he could have possibly kept it out in his prime. The same frustrating way that Steve Smith or Virat Kohli just manage to keep an absolute jaffa from dismissing them. I think the time of considering Root one of the ‘Fab Four’ world batsmen, or of worrying that his conversion of fifties was too low, has long since passed.
Pope was clean bowled by Yasir Shah, which left England on 127/4 with Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler at the crease. These are two batsmen who I genuinely don’t rate particularly highly, and so I feared the worst. Zak Crawley’s first-class average is a mere 30.82, whilst Jos Buttler has an average of 32.31 after 46 Test matches with just the solitary century. To my pleasant surprise, they both delivered tremendous performances which took the game completely away from Pakistan and both remain not out overnight.
Crawley’s innings was truly remarkable. Rarely flustered or giving chances, he was scoring at almost 4 runs per over against what is an impressive Pakistani bowling attack. He finished the day on 171 not out, which is also his highest first-class score. He missed two Tests this summer in order to make room for the injured Ben Stokes playing as a specialist batsman. After today, I wouldn’t think that he will be considered England’s most expendable batsman.
There were two notable interviews broadcast today on Sky. Before play, ICC match umpire, Stuart’s dad and former Rebel tourist Chris Broad had a rare interview. Most of it was devoted to the changes in playing conditions for this Test regarding bad light. Essentially, umpires now have the option to start the day half an hour earlier rather than adding the time on at 6.30pm when light is likely to be at its worst. But, after that topic was well covered, the talk drifted to over rates:
Nasser Hussain: In the last five years in England, the over rate has dropped to 13.4 overs. In the last year, it is 12.1 overs when they should be bowling at 15. And yet only two captains have been fined in England by the ICC. Are the over rates at the moment acceptable?
Chris Broad: You talk about this country, you look at the number of crowds, the number of people who come and want to watch Test cricket. If they start falling away, then something needs to be looked at. I feel that there has been some exciting cricket in this series. If there were crowds in here, they would appreciate the fact that there has been some exciting cricket. There have been results in almost every Test match, and I think they’ve had value for money. It’s something that, if you look at stats, they can actually tell a different story. Tell perhaps an unreal story, and the entertainment value of the game of cricket. I think this series, as far as entertainment has been concerned, has been fantastic.
I think one of the most basic things I believe is that you don’t get to choose which laws you follow, or enforce. Unless you’re rich, obviously [/satire]. It is what infuriates me most about slow over rates. I would find it immensely entertaining for Jofra Archer to bowl from 4 yards in front of the bowling crease, if I wasn’t batting, but if he goes a millimetre beyond the bowling crease it’s called a no ball. I think many people just want to watch certain batsmen bat, Stuart Broad for example. But the ICC umpires won’t let him reset the stumps after being bowled while telling the bowler, “They came to see me bat, not you bowl.” Not even his dad.
I also disagree with the contention that enforcing over rates would make the cricket less entertaining. I can’t say for sure that it wouldn’t though, because I can’t recall at any point where it has been enforced. Teams are generally willing to accept the small fines or points penalties that are given and, as Nasser rightly points out, even these minor punishments are rarely used.
The second, more extensive interview of the day came during the Lunch break, with Ian “Wardy” Ward and Nasser Hussain ‘grilled’ outgoing ECB chairman Colin Graves. For your enjoyment, here is the whole goddamn thing:
Wardy: How’s the five years been?
Graves: It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it to be honest Ian. And when you look at all those highlights, we’ve come a long way in five years both on and off the field. From a board perspective, we’ve now got an independent board which I think is one of the best things English cricket has ever done. It’s been enjoyable.
Wardy really set the tone for the questions here. It couldn’t be a softer delivery if it was a 79-over old Kookaburra being bowled by Jack Shantry.
Wardy: What’s been your biggest challenge?
Graves: I think the biggest challenge certainly was getting The Hundred off the ground. We had all the pushback initially on that. I think people are starting to see the advantages of it now. So that was really challenging, but I still think it is the right thing to be doing and it will be a valuable asset to the ECB going forward. Both from a profit perspective and from a playing point of view as well.
Obviously many of us are dubious about the possible profit The Hundred might generate. I am curious what Graves meant by a “playing point of view” though. Does he believe that a new format will helps English players in the T20 and 50-over games? The English 40-over competition was removed in 2013 to bring it into line with the international 50-over standard, because it was felt that the slightly shorter length didn’t help develop international cricketers. Has something changed since then?
Wardy: Why so much pushback, do you think?
Graves: I think people, certainly in cricket, don’t like change. I think we’ve been set with a number of competitions over the years that everybody seemed happy with and they looked at another competition: “Do we need another competition?” I don’t think they realise we’re trying to attract this new audience, women, children and families, which we’ve never really had coming to cricket. So that was a big message to get across. When we took it to the vote, to the counties, that went through 38-3 so it was fairly unanimous when it came down to it. And it’s just a change, to be honest with you.
Somewhere, there is a PR person from the ECB facepalming so hard they might have broken their nose. Since the disastrous launch by Andrew Strauss two years ago, in which he essentially said that existing cricket fans don’t matter because The Hundred was for ‘mums and kids’, the ECB have toned down that message with every subsequent appearance. At this point, they are saying to people who attend T20 Blast games that is basically the same, except with better players. This is good marketing. You can’t persuade people who don’t know about cricket to attend cricket games. It is impossible. Whilst those now-legendary ‘mums and kids’ or ‘non-cricket fans’ might see The Hundred on the BBC and decide to attend in future years, the only possible live audience in the first season is the exact same people who already attend T20 Blast games.
If Colin Graves is going to keep turning up on TV and radio telling those existing fans that The Hundred isn’t for them but for families instead, they might not buy tickets and turn up. And the ECB might have to deal with empty seats dominating televised cricket for the second season in a row.
As for English cricket fans not liking change, that’s fair enough. They don’t. But I would say that this is mainly because there is so much of it. Here are just some of the changes to county cricket in the past 20-ish years.
2000: The first Championship divided into two divisions, with a reduction of one game per season.
2003: The 50-over Benson & Hedges Cup is replaced by the T20 Cup
2006: The Sunday League went from 45 to 40 overs per innings.
2010: The 50-over Friends Provident Trophy and Natwest Pro40 are replaced by the 40-over Clydesdale Bank 40.
2014: Points for a draw in the County Championship increased to 5. The 50-over One Day Cup replaces the 40-over Yorkshire Bank 40.
2017: Championship Division One reduced to 8 teams, with both divisions reduced to 14 games per season.
2020: County Championship to change to 10 teams in Division 1, , T20 Blast moved to May, the One Day Cup played during The Hundred, and a new 100-ball competition with new drafted teams.
In other words, every three or four years there is a major change in English domestic cricket. I’ve almost certainly missed out a lot of things from this list. At some point the ECB has to just leave county cricket alone for a period, a decade or so, to really see what is and isn’t working in the long term.
Hussain: You said there “Fully behind it. People are starting to see the advantages of it.” What do you mean by that?
Graves: I think they’re starting to see that the reasons why we’re putting it together is because of this new audience. I think they’re starting to see the excitement of a new competition. I think they’re starting to see as well we’re attracting a new broadcaster to it as well as yourselves. You’ve covered cricket brilliantly over the last years, it’s tremendous what you’ve done. And I think they’re starting to see all that thing coming together. Children really getting excited in The Hundred. And I know even some of the countries abroad, India in particular, are looking at The Hundred. They’ve been talking to me about it for the last year on a regular basis. So around the world it’s created a lot of excitement. I’m just waiting to see what happens.
Who are these people that are seeing the advantages of it?
Besides that, I find the idea that the BCCI would pay the ECB to in order to play The Hundred as pretty laughable. They could enforce over rates in the IPL to bring the game running times under control, or choose a different standard like T10. I suspect what has happened is that the chairmen of other boards have found that a very easy way of buttering up Graves before asking him for a favour is to praise and declare an interest in The Hundred.
Wardy: The new broadcast deal is worth £1.2bn. How much of that, can you explain to people, is down to fact that The Hundred is included in that broadcast deal?
Graves: The £1.2bn was the whole broadcasting deal that we got for five years. That brought a fairly large amount of money for that new competition. And that was somewhere approaching £170m for the first five years from the broadcasters. But it wasn’t only that. It brought another broadcaster to the table who have never been interested in it before. And certainly to get back on terrestrial television, at that level, is certainly going to help. And it’s going to help expose cricket even more, which is what we want.
For those of you who have difficulty with maths, that means that over a billion pounds, over £200m per year, is dedicated to the pre-existing international and county games. Being from the horse’s mouth, this should hopefully put to bed the idea that The Hundred was responsible for the massive increase in the TV rights revenue starting this year.
Wardy: Such a shame that, obviously we can’t do it with Covid, that it hasn’t got off the ground yet.
Graves: Well that was a big disappointment to me. My last year as chairman, and I was going to see it take off, hopefully, and it’s not happened. But that was the right decision. There was no point doing it this year, so to postpone it for a year was absolutely spot on.
I disagree. I think it should have gone ahead. Partly because it would have allowed the ECB to keep more of this year’s TV deal rather than paying Sky back, at a time when English cricket needs every penny. More importantly, playing The Hundred could have allowed 18 extra live games of cricket on the BBC at a time when more people than ever will be stuck in front of the TV rather than meeting at the pub or going on holiday. It was as close to a captive audience as the ECB could have hoped for.
Wardy: Fully independent executive board. When you took over the chairmanship, was that one thing that was a must for you to change?
Graves: It needed changing. One thing which I didn’t expect is we would change it so quick and we got that through in two years. When I took over the ECB board, it had fourteen people on the board. It had four county members, two recreational members and the MCC. So 50% of the board were stakeholders, which was never easy to manage, and you had a conflict of interest and everything that went with it. Now we’ve got an independent board, it’s an entirely different ball game.
I don’t think a board, particularly one for a sports governing body like the ECB, should be easy for its chairman to manage. The ECB is responsible for so many different aspects of the game. Men’s professional cricket, women’s cricket, recreational cricket and so on. Every aspect of that should be represented on the board, so that none is forgotten.
I am particularly uneasy about the way that Colin Graves was also responsible for choosing those new board members as chairman of the ECB’s nomination committee until December 2019. At the very least, it raises questions about the independence of those ‘independent’ board members
Wardy: If you have a list of things you wanted to get through when you first started, you sat down at your desk and wrote A, B, C, and D, and if you had four or five points, how many have you ticked off?
Graves: I did have a list, and I think there’s only a couple left and to be honest I’m amazed how much we’ve done in five years. One of the biggest reasons is because we changed the executive in the first year when I took over as chairman. We’ve now got a fantastic executive led by Tom Harrison. But all the way through the organisation now, we’ve brought young people in, professional people in, people from outside the game. So we’ve brought people in from big companies like Heineken with a strong commercial background. And that new executive has helped to drive the game. Andrew Strauss was brilliant. When we brought Strauss in to be head of cricket, and Straussy fit into that team really well. And that whole team have helped change very quickly.
Well, I would certainly agree that Andrew Strauss fit into the ECB very well. I do not mean that as a compliment though.
Wardy: The advancement of the women’s game. How pleased are you with that? We had that wonderful day at Lord’s when they won the World Cup. That was the pinnacle, obviously, but in general how do you think that’s gone?
Graves: When you look at five years. I remember the first board meeting that I chaired Clare Connor came and presented to the board about a new competition that she wanted to put together for the women’s game, and we ticked that box that day. And when you look at where women’s cricket has come in the the past five years, it’s phenomenal. It’s moved very quickly. It’s moved very fast professionally. And it needed to. And I think there’s still a long way to go. The ECB need to keep investing in that, women’s and girls’, because it’s a big part of growth in cricket.
Here, I have to give some credit to Graves and the ECB. In terms of investing in women’s cricket, they are probably the second best in the world. It is a long way below the commitment of Cricket Australia, and I don’t think the current structure (with 8 semi-professional development teams) is sustainable or desirable, but it’s still better than virtually everyone else.
Wardy: Any regrets? Some of the things you’ve said?
Graves: Yeah. I’ve said one of two things that afterwards I’ve kicked myself and said “Why did I say that?” People always say about me, “Mediocre West Indies team”, and all the rest of it. And the mediocre Blast. Those words were taken slightly out of context, but it was meant on the basis of what I thought at the time. But I’ll put my hand up and say it’s fine. I could have said it better.
So it was both out of context and what he thought at the time.
Hussain: At the highest level it’s been a successful tenure. Men’s, women’s, everything about the main England team. What about lower down? What about grass roots? What about participation? What about the structure, the liaising with the counties? How do you feel you’ve done further down?
Graves: When I look back at the whole game, as I call it. When I took over the board, I can tell you, the recreational game was never really talked about. It was a little bit on the agenda that took five-ten minutes and that was it. Coming from the recreational background, which is what I did. I was a recreational player, I was chairman of a recreational club. I’m passionate about recreational cricket because that is to me the grass roots of the future. So I made sure that we invested in recreational cricket properly, supported it with a pathway, and all the other things that we’ve done. And to me, it’s essential. And the one thing the game I believe, if I leave a message when I go, is “Make sure the investment in the game is right across the game.” That’s grass roots, girls’, women’s, boys’, schools’, everything. That is what we need to grow the game.
I would first dispute the premise of the question. Whilst the 2017 Women’s World Cup win was fantastic, and iconic, since then their star is shining a little less brightly. They lost the Ashes series at home last year, whilst they failed to reach the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup after losing a crucial group game to South Africa. On the men’s side, only the ODI side is dominant. The Test side is ranked 4th in the ICC rankings, below India, Australia and New Zealand. That is an improvement from when Graves was first appointed, to be fair.
As for recreational cricket, what investment has it seen from the ECB? Genuinely. I am stumped on that one. I guess All Stars cricket could be making a loss for the ECB, despite the them taking 87.5% of the fees for each child. The websites, scoring apps, etc. available for clubs seem a total mess from my admittedly outside perspective. If there is money coming from the ECB, where has it ended up?
Wardy: That is going to be the biggest challenge for Ian Watmore, who takes over on the first of September. You want to fund all these things and, in these Covid times, money is not great.
Graves: The big challenge that Ian and the board have got. Fortunately we have the new broadcasting deal, which this year is the first year of it so we’ve got four years left of the broadcasting deal. So yes, they’re going to have to cut back, but they’ll need to cut back right across, not just parts of it, because they still need to invest in all those other parts. I think by prudently looking at it, selectively looking at areas, they can still do the investment right across the game.
Wardy: 20% decrease in budgets, I’ve been reading around the place. In a bizarre sort of way, is it a good time to reset and reflect at some of the expenditure and where you could look at reducing that?
Graves: My last call with the county chairmen was last week, and the last message I gave to all the county chairmen was “What you need to do now with the ECB is to sit down and collectively talk and discuss about how you can remodel what we’ve got. Because it’s a time to do that. I think, if they do that properly, I think the game can grow even faster than what we’ve done.
I’m sure the 6 counties who were thinking about getting rid of first-class cricket to save money had some words for the outgoing chairman. I think the more important question Colin Graves’ answer begs is: Has the game grown? Are more people watching cricket now than five years ago? Are more people playing cricket than five years ago? Because (call me cynical) I think if either of those things were true, the ECB would be putting that out in press releases, tweets and interviews at every possible opportunity.
Wardy: How impressed have you been with the way the ECB have managed to get these games up in these strange times, and how thankful are you to the boards of West Indies, Pakistan, Irish cricket and indeed Australia, who arrive on Sunday?
Graves: When the whole Covid thing started, I must admit, we all sat there at the end of telephones and discussions those days, and we all thought the world was coming to an end. But it comes back to the executive, Tom Harrison and his team, and our board. We sat down and looked at what we could do and asked if we could get behind closed doors cricket running. It was a challenge. It was a massive challenge, because nobody had ever done it before. Fortunately we had a guy like Steve Elworthy, who could pull all that together for us and he did a fantastic job. But the determination of the executive and the board. And I think it’s the relationship we’ve got with countries like West India [sic], Pakistan, Australia and Ireland, around the world, that they have come to play in these environments. And it’s been challenging for everybody, it’s been challenging for you as broadcasters but, at the end of the day, we’ve got live international cricket up and running. Which is brilliant, from everybody’s point of view. I was looking at the broadcast and viewing figures yesterday, right across the piece with The Review, the highlights and everything else. Those figures are tremendous. Absolutely tremendous. To me, it shows that cricket is in the right place that, when we do start getting crowds back in, we’re in a superb place to take it even further forward.
Yep, this has been impressive. Fair play. Steve Elworthy was in charge of the 2019 World Cup, which also went well. A possible candidate for the chief executive job if Tom Harrison moves on?
Wardy: On a broader world scale, ECB, Cricket Australia have got lucrative broadcast deals. The likes of West Indies, Pakistan do not. Would you like to see the monetary playing field somehow levelled out so you don’t really get into the situation we’re having now with the haves and the have nots? Particularly if we’re looking to proect Test cricket.
Graves: I think there’s a way to do that. I sit on the ICC board, and have done for the last four years, and I think ICC could look at the way they share the money out from their pots. Because, I’m not being unkind, the ECB, the BCCI, Cricket Australia are not reliant on the ICC pot, They’re reliant on their own pot. And I think ICC could recut that pot in a different way with all those countries to make sure they are sustainable. Because we need all the countries playing if we’re going forward. Everyone.
Wardy: Fancy the ICC job?
Graves: That’s not up to me. The way the election goes, you have to be nominated. So, if I don’t get nominated then I’ll be nowhere near it anyway. When the nominations happen, all I said to everybody, I’ll look at it and see where I am.
And there’s Colin Graves’ pitch for the top job in world cricket. You would think that sharing the ICC revenue more equitably would be very popular with nine of the twelve voting ICC members, so it seems a smart strategy. Those boards might want to examine his promises to the counties that he made in order to recieve the ECB chairmanship. They might also note how many of those counties are now in such a bad position after five years of Graves’ leadership that they are considering abandoning first-class cricket altogether.
Wardy: Have you enjoyed it?
Graves: I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ll miss it. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody, people like you and the executive, the counties, everybody. It’s been a fantastic job. And if somebody said to me twenty years ago that I’d be chairman of the ECB, I’d have said don’t talk stupid because it’ll never happen. But it did, and the rest is history.
Well at least he’s enjoyed himself.
Apologies for the late post. It’s almost 5,000 words, including the interviews, and it just took a lot longer to write than normal.
As always, please comment on the post, the game, or anything else below.
The Cricketer Magazine has decided to do another Power List, of the great and the good in the game of cricket and ranking them in order of said power. Once again we appear to have been sadly overlooked on the entirely spurious grounds of being completely irrelevant to anyone of importance. Lists matter particularly to those who think they might have a chance of being included, as they scan desperately up and down upon publication and react with feigned indifference as they realise their name is missing. The magazine has approached it differently this year, by inviting people not completely barking mad to judge it, which is extremely disappointing from our perspective, given that The Cricketer Editor putting himself at number 39 a few years ago (doesn’t time fly) provoked us into doing our own – once we’d recovered from laughing.
So here’s our own Power Cut List, comprised of those who genuinely have influence and have made a monumental balls of everything, those who just annoyed us, and those we really like and have desperately tried to find something to have a go at them about just to be contrary. If you’re on this list, sorry. If you’re not on this list, not sorry. Or maybe the other way around. It’s completely capricious, and is very much a team effort – so you won’t know who to blame except us as a collective.
There is no particular order to this list, just whoever the editors decided to have a crack at first. As before, we fully expect return fire – that is after all the point of it.
This year’s recipients:
Jonathan Agnew – Currently (but for how much longer?) the mainstay of the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage. Has skin thinner than rice paper and is known to respond to any criticism by chucking his toys so far out his pram that they reach orbit. Has an extraordinary command of basic Anglo-Saxon that has yet to reach the airwaves, placing him behind Andrew Strauss and David Gower in the Inadvertent Public Broadcast Swearing league table – though miles ahead in the Twitter DM equivalent. Still has legions of adoring followers who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that delightful Aggers may not be as charming as first appears. Best friends with Jonathan Liew.
Malcolm Conn – Australian “journalist” (stroll on, that’s stretching it) about as likely to be fair to England as the ECB are to invite us over for a cup of tea. Constantly banging on about England players born overseas while going very quiet when Australian examples are quoted back to him. Still in therapy after England won the World Cup but known for upholding his role as a fearless interrogator of Australian cricket through consoling Australian cricketers caught cheating, to the point there was genuine confusion over whether he’d been appointed as Cricket Australia’s media liaison officer / press conference bouncer in the wake of Sandpaper-gate.
Michael Vaughan – Some people are born to lead. Some people are born to follow. Michael Vaughan is one of those rare individuals who manages to achieve both, often at the same time. Frequently speaking on any topic, bravely ignoring any questions about a lack knowledge or forethought. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott – I’ll be the first to say that the honours system is archaic, random and illogical. Even so, the ennoblement of such an objectionable individual as Boycott really sticks in the craw. Rebel tourist, violent convict, and utterly without empathy for other people. An all-round terrible human being. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Phil Tufnell – He turned being a mediocre spinner (having a worse Test bowling average than Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Monty Panesar, James Tredwell to name a few) into being famous. Lacks any kind of insight in cricket commentary outside of possibly how a spin bowler should try to be economical. His bosses apparently overlook this tragic lack of talent, and he will almost certainly be a big part of the BBC’s TV plans next year due to his celebrity status. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Graeme Swann – The most annoying commentator on TMS, which is saying something. The nonstop stream of forced banter is like an ice pick being stabbed in my ears. No doubt a big part of the BBC’s big plans for their TV coverage next year, which could see Swann become the new Danny Morrison. I do not mean that as a compliment.
Jonathan Liew – One day there will be two people left in a press centre and one taxi. At that point maybe Jonathan will contemplate the bridges he burns. While he’s up there in the talent stakes when it comes to writing, he lapses into Ronay-isms, being more in love with his own work than the job he has to do – in search of THE angle. While picking fights (and yes, having them picked back) with the doyen of the blue rinse set is possibly a public duty, appearing to be a dick doesn’t help. But that’s the place he’s chosen to be, and in some ways its admirable because he does hold truth to power. I wonder, though. If you write for an online-only publication, aren’t you really a blogger in disguise?
Eoin Morgan – England’s World Cup winning captain who happens to share his disdain of red ball cricket and the County Championship as much as his paymasters at the ECB. Led the revolution in the ‘new brand of white ball’ cricket that has proved far more successful than any other previous brand in England’s history but has still remained loyal to the ECB’s ‘dressing room harmony’ mantra. Likely to become a T20 gun for sale in the near future, which is fine unless you want him to perform with the bat in any big game. Former pen-pals with Oliver Holt, who has seemed to go a little quieter now that Morgan is demonstrating his true worth by parroting the ECB’s line in support of the Hundred.
Paul Newman – Being chief cricket writer of the Daily Mail is an interesting place to be – he’s been there a while and shows no signs of moving on. Head of an establishment sport at a snarling outlet like the Mail is going to be tough for a chap who by all reports we hear is a pretty decent fellow – a consistent line we hear from his colleagues. That is until you have a pop at one of his talking points, when he can snarl and spit like, I don’t know, an irate blogger. He’s been less of pest recently, but retains his place on our list for works past. The anti-KP, pro-ECB, Cook fanboy stuff. I have no idea why that rubbed me up the wrong way. He’s on Mount Cricketmore for a reason. Then I realised he isn’t. Oh well.
David Gower – Now ex-presenter of International Cricket on Sky who is keen to blame ageism rather than the fact that he has been mailing it in for the past few years. On his day, Gower is still a joy to listen to and it was a little bit of a tear-jerker watching his final exit on Sky. Why have Sky got rid of him? Well maybe, in his own words, he “hasn’t got a fucking clue”. May be a safe pair of hands to anchor TMS if the BBC tire of Jonathan Agnew’s late night tirades, certainly unlikely to call anyone a c*nt in public. Has a penchant for fine wine, light aircraft and the odd shocking apartheid comment.
The Hundred – The behemoth which is casting a shadow across the next year in English cricket. People seem to be either of the opinion that it will solve all of the game’s endemic problems or destroy half of the professional teams in the country. The truth is probably more bland, but still damning: It’s going to be a bit shit. The level of play will be marginally above that of the better county T20 teams, the coverage will be nauseatingly bad, and the expenditure by the ECB on largely pointless things like fireworks and other gimmicks would make Croesus blush.
Elizabeth Ammon – Let’s be clear here, being a woman in such a historically male dominated world as sports reporting isn’t going to be easy, nor should she have to put up with the pretty vile abuse she receives from all too many just because she’s a woman and therefore in their tiny minds incapable of understanding or commenting on cricket. It’s idiotic, moronic and says far more about those knuckledraggers than anything else. But it does not mean there is a general immunity from any kind of criticism whatever, nor that there is much moral high ground in being utterly outraged that other people might hold different opinions to her, especially on county cricket. Has blocked us on Twitter, for something so minor we couldn’t remember what it was, but it’s her right to do that, and was met with a shrug.
The IPL – Seen as the original evil curse in the eyes of the England management team, it has now become ‘the learning place’ for England’s white ball specialists. Somehow the answer to all of English cricket’s ills despite the fact that the tournament has mainly been designed to make MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli look amazing in the eyes of the Indian public. Expect at some point soon for another 10 teams to be added and for the tournament to last almost half a year before the Chennai Super Kings win it again. Known as a haven for some of the most cringeworthy cricket commentators around. Has a propensity to have “exciting” final over finishes on command. You wouldn’t bet on that every day, would you?
Barney Ronay – There is a trend in cricket writing, actually sports writing, where the author is actually writing to be told how dashed clever he is – if they were ice creams, not only would they lick themselves, they’d smear themselves with chocolate sauce before doing it. There are plenty in that genre, but Barney is among the best/worst exponents of this craft. If craft it is. The point of his articles, and his tweets, aren’t to inform, to report, to entertain you, to perhaps give you something to think about. It’s about “how damn good am I” and “look what angle this pseud has come up with”. It’s the over-weening self confidence and attitude that gets me – it’s snarking at those who disagree, bemoaning those who don’t worship his brilliance, and yes, annoying the hell out of a recreational writer who knows a charlatan when he sees one. Have a nice day Barney.
David Lloyd AKA Bumble: The main reason for why the mute button was invented. Bumble likes to cast himself as the man of the people and he has proved his case, if that means endlessly parroting the ECB’s agenda and refusing to answer any questions on anything that remotely matters to cricket fans. Establishment through and through, despite his protestations, and very happy to leave his morals at the door in favour of still clinging onto his Sky gig even if he somehow makes Shane Warne sound lucid in comparison. Desperately trying to appear hip with all the success of a 70 year old heading over to Ibiza in skinny jeans, a glow stick and an LP of Andy Williams. His mascot races, books and Bumble specials (see the Kings Road video if you fancy trying to rip your eyes out of their sockets) are about as funny as genital warts but far more painful.
Andy Bull – Guardian journalist/writer who popped up on our comments this year after some mild comments from one of our number, and it being helpfully pointed out to him by someone. Thanks for coming Andy. It was nice to hear from you. You spent ages on your little self-justifying tome, links and all, but impressions count, and I don’t remember you sticking it to the ECB when they needed it being stuck to. Then we might just have avoided this Hundred nonsense if you, and the rest of the press, had opened their eyes and seen it as the preview for ECB treating the hoi polloi like shit. But you live in your reality and I’ll live in mine. What MFing Side You On?
Sanjay Patel – Chief polisher of the turd that is The Hundred. Speaks like a politician, in that every statement seems to be a combination of wishful thinking, half-truths, and blatant lies. As such, probably the favourite to succeed Tom Harrison if any company would be prepared to offer the current ECB chief executive more than £700,000 per year.
Tom Harrison – I saw the other day someone who will remain nameless say Harrison deserves his £700k because it’s the going rate for snake oil salesman, lying three faced pricks, selling polished turds in Management Speak Bollox (MSB), while alienating pretty much most of the existing customer base, who just happen to be in charge of a sport. It’s especially worrying when that individual not only sticks his snout in the trough with incredible pay increases while his sport shrinks, he believes he’s been placed in this position to save us from ourselves and to save the sport. His modus operandi? 1. To blame and call names – the Obsessive County Cricket fan – they felt his misplaced ire. But if you are the architects of the dire problem…. not a bad word – Giles Clarke and the preceding shit show are not to be mentioned. 2. Think of an idea, run with it, sell it, ignore the peasants, secure patsy interviews and deny reality. Copious mentions of stakeholders, partners, pathways, culture and “the game” do not mean you. Love or loathe the incumbent at Number 10 but the PM gets paid 20% of this rate. Harrison is a liar, a dissembler, a fraud, a charlatan, a zealot, an idiot, a bully, a clown. But hey. £700k is the going rate. Downton must be sick. He would have been worth millions.
Colin Graves – AKA CostCutter Colin. He is still here as Chairman of the ECB somehow. I don’t think even Colin Graves can believe he is still here, but there he is still giving out Silver bats, awarding Ashes Test Matches to Headingley (no conflict of interest what so ever of course) and appearing on high profile presentations. Thankfully, it appears that his contract extension also contained a mute button, so he is unable to insult the counties or any other international opponent England might have to face in the near future. Will probably receive an OBE in the near future from our archaic class system as a forward thinking entrepreneur. Proud owner of a brand new cupboard under the stairs at the ECB’s HQ.
Paul Farbrace – If the sky darkens and one of the 30,000 evil characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up to take over the world (honestly, I can’t be the only person to watch these things saying “Who the hell is that, then?” every ten minutes), good old Chuckles would seek out a camera, laugh a few times and tell everyone that Iron Man just needed to execute his skills a bit better. It’s not a bad approach to life, and given some of what he’s been through probably reflects well on him to point out the inherent unimportance of sport. Even so, just once in a while a serious answer would have been nice.
Dominic Cork – A marginal inclusion, which might upset him if he gave a crap. The former all-rounder who got on everyone’s nerves, and resident of Stoke City’s car park during transfer deadline day (until Stoke got relegated), his most notable achievements this year have been getting Derbyshire to T20 Finals Day, and a Verdict (sorry Cricket Debate) in the wake of the first Ashes test defeat, with Charles ‘n’ Bob where he acted as if Tom Harrison was holding his nearest and dearest hostage. And no, I’ve not forgiven him from his anti-KP outbursts, of course I haven’t.
Mike Selvey – Highly successful ex-International Bowler (with a grand total of 3 caps to his name) and ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian before they finally saw sense and kicked him onto the street, not that he is bitter at all. Well known to have skin which is about as thick as water and a Twitter account in which he is now able to spout the same rubbish as he did when he was at the Guardian, with slightly less adulation than he feels is deserved. Currently enjoying a stellar campaign as President of Middlesex County Cricket Club, who are reversing backwards faster than a Michael Vaughan opinion. He doesn’t make decisions but acts like he does until called on them, and then says he doesn’t. Clear? A marker of cards and well versed in quoting unnamed sources, which naturally the public don’t deserve to have access to, because, well he is the Lord of the Manor and knows better than all you plebs. BOC still mourn the day he decided to abandon the construction of his blog, because it would have been bloody hilarious. Still sending love letters to David Saker when last checked.
Don Topley – Harry Gurney ideas, with a more human face. Not seen anything, ANYTHING, about the Hundred he doesn’t like. Doesn’t seem to contemplate that it will possibly be the death knell for the county he played for, and the county his son currently plays for. But we recognise the sacrifice, Don, and no doubt Tom will thank you someday. Maybe the ECB need your help. And yes, I do remember that catch at Lord’s. Those were the days.
Michael Henderson – There is, in every form of work, the example of someone who is there for reasons you can’t really understand – a totemic reminder of days past maybe? At the Cricketer Michael Henderson is still given writing gigs, still paid for his opinion, still earns from his contemptuous snobbery, and no-one seems to understand why. It is (for my good fortune) the only place I see his work these days, and its not pretty. Whether it’s barely concealed dislike of others (as the last one was), or snobbish references to the right kind of people in his eyes, or some stupid outdated cultural reference that has no bearing, no relevance, other than to act as some “upper being” spouting to the unwashed, it angers nearly every month. Yet it’s still printed. How did he get away with the September piece? If it hadn’t got mass objections, I guess it tells you a lot about the readership of the Cricketer. An anachronism in a world with pretty shitty people writing isn’t a good place to be. Go, in the name of God go, and take your poison pen with you. You can reference some opera singer as you push off out the door.
Simon Hughes – He’s always rubbed me the wrong way, from the first time I saw him on Channel 4, being referred to as ‘The Analyst’ when the insights he gave were about of the level I’d expect from club coaches. Still using the name about 14 years after he presumably last provided regular analysis on TV seems like taking the piss, quite frankly. He loves the sound of his own voice, is arrogant without much justification, and is hilariously poor (given his nom de plume) at offering even the vaguest analysis of any tripe the ECB sends him. His editorial policy is questionable to say the least, and his podcast is like being stuck in a lift with the three most boring people on the planet for an hour. Nice guy though.
Nasser Hussain – Ex-England captain and one of the most frustrating presenters in the game. There are times when he can be thoughtful or downright spiky which can really add to viewers enjoyment in watching the game, just look at his piece about Root’s technique with Ponting during the Fourth Test or his series about Cricket in Mumbai, which was fascinating. However there are other times he either feels compelled to spout the ECB’s prologue or is so banal that he makes Botham seem cutting edge. Having a Daily Mail column isn’t helping things much either. Supposedly has a big nose and is tight. Wow. The japes they have in the Sky commentary box are just wonderful.
Robert Key – In life it is all about being in the right place at the right time. As a T20 commentator, he’s tried to balance analysis and bantz. Recently the former has been pants, and the bantz has been rank. For this, it appears promotion as a junior David Lloyd for test duty beckons. I suppose someone has to, but is this really the best we can do? And yes, I am bitter that every time I saw Kent play Surrey, this man made my life a misery.
David Warner – For Australian cricket to make such a pig’s ear of the Sandpaper affair that it caused twinges of sympathy for Warner in this parish was quite exceptional. That he’s managed to make himself about as popular as an itch down below is rather beside the point. The mood lighting, arm around the shoulder (literally) poor ickle Steve and Cameron press conferences contrasted wildly with the way Warner was thrown in to a barely disguised hostile one. He then confounded expectations by refusing to dish the dirt (dammit) but instead acting contrite and providing the waterworks fully expected of Australian cricketers caught with their hands in the cookie jar. New gentle Davey didn’t last particularly long, though longer than all of his innings lasted in the recent Ashes series. Last seen trying to get out of Stuart Broad’s pocket.
Geoff Lemon – A number of things amaze me. Michael Henderson writes articles for the Cricketer. Martin Samuel thinks he can write about cricket. Today’s rap artists compared to Public Enemy. Jason Roy as a test opener. You get the picture. Geoff wrote a book. It won lots of awards. Never shy to march out of step from received wisdom, I thought it was (for large parts) utterly atrocious. A Jarrod Kimber tribute band, playing tired old metaphors and similes, attempting to be Gideon Haigh. But everyone else loved it. His excoriating takedown of Channel 9 was a career highlight – but that was a long time ago. I didn’t think Steve Smith’s Men was a highlight. I make no apologies. Perhaps Rusty might tell tales on me for saying so.
Jonny Bairstow – England stalwart who is known to throw his toys out of his pram every time anyone suggests that he isn’t quite a good enough keeper and has a gap in his defence so large that you could fly a jumbo jet through. Currently trying to do his best impression of James Vince by making 20 odd before attempting a shot that Stuart Broad would be embarrassed with. Known to be about as bright as nightfall in the Sahara Desert.
Ed Smith – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record, despite being banged to rights for plagiarism in his former role. You can tell if England are ahead in a game or not by whether Sky’s cameras can pick Ed Smith out in the crowd. In fact, it’s arguably more accurate than WinViz. His one shining success in terms of Test selection was Jos Buttler, who averaged 24.70 this summer. Generally speaking, a lot more misses than hits in his selections so far.
James Taylor – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record. On the plus side, no one seems certain about what his role actually is, apart from almost always being pictured with Ed Smith. About as interesting as watching paint dry in interviews.
Sir Andrew Strauss – Strauss appears to be the man getting all of the credit for the men’s World Cup victory. He hired Trevor Bayliss, he was in the selection meetings, he explicitly made it the priority for English cricket. That’s fine. But it also presumably means that he’s responsible for the bad things too. England’s Test team, for example. Their lacklustre T20 record. The backsliding of the women’s team from the heights of 2017. Aside from all that, it’s difficult to forgive him for his disastrous launching of The Hundred. It’s genuinely incredible how inept it was. Essentially telling existing cricket fans that it wasn’t for them because “mums and kids” were the priority. Insulting those mums and kids by saying that the only reason that they didn’t already like cricket was because they were too stupid to understand it. Truly, this belongs in a textbook teaching students how not to promote a new product.
Harry Gurney – Started out at Leicestershire and yet wants to get rid of or demote the lesser counties so that ‘top’ players like him can get more money. Not awash with self-awareness, bless him. I had to check to make sure he didn’t attend Radley College, because his approach to winning friends and influencing people is remarkably similar to that of Andrew Strauss. Has more Twitter followers than you or I, so there.
Martin Samuel – Putting Martin Samuel on cricket duty is a public affront to decency. It would be like your humble author being tasked to write about ballet (a load of skinny people dancing on their tippie-toes to some god awful tosh music). When the Ashes comes round, old Martin pulls the Oiliver (deliberate typo) Holt stunt of saying “I’m a SPORTS writer, dammit” and gets to unleash some putrid shite onto the Mail website; a forum awash with the stuff. What the proper cricket writers must think of this oaf, the cricket equivalent of the hippos in Fantasia, or any hippo actually, being let loose is anyone’s guess. I await the “Samuel on Stumps” anthology book or live tour announcement any day now. It’ll be a ripper. Cricket writing needs Samuel like a fish needs a sunbed.
John Etheridge – Chief Cricket Correspondent for the Sun. I genuinely don’t think there’s any more I need to say. After the events of this week, I wonder how he can remain. I suppose getting paid a small fortune travelling the world watching cricket is, as Chicago once sang, a hard habit to break.
Shane Warne – Aww mate, you’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to win. Warne is like one of those individuals in the pub who keeps banging on about the same opinion for as long as anyone will let him. I reckon even Warne tires of his own voice at times. Used to be known as the best leg spinner ever, but now more synonymous with plastic surgery, terrible banter and frequently bedding younger women. The bastard. Soon to become the head coach of the new Hundred franchise at Lords, which will no doubt massively upset many of the MCC members. A small win for us fans who will have to put up with this turd of a competition.
Virat Kohli – A character that divides opinion. In India they adore him, but not like they adored Sachin and still do Dhonut. Outside of India, most appear to think of him as a flash, gobby, unsporting oik. Me? I am worried about his neck. He hurt it instead of playing for Surrey. I still wonder, to this day, how Guildford would have coped. Will probably end up with 80 ODI hundreds, we’ll remember none of them, and no-one will care.
MS Dhoni – AKA Dhonut. Is to run chases as I am to work deadlines. Whereas in my younger days I had the stamina to pull rabbits out of hats, deliver work from nowhere and get the job done, now the sands of time have prevented me and I have to start the task earlier or fail. There’s a lesson MS. Unfortunately when I fail, I get a bollocking from my bosses. When Dhoni fails, his fanboys and girls threaten anyone who dare question the great god Donut with fates worse than death. Like watching Dhoni ramp the run rate up to 12 an over, and manufacture T20 games to go to the last over. I have absolutely no reasons to question anything here. Really I don’t.
Tim Paine – Has a reputation as a nice guy, but this is very much relative to his predecessors. Still allows gobby shits like Wade and Lyon to mouth off at the opponents, and still cheats if he can get away with it. The most annoying thing for me was his insistence on handshakes before games. His team gets caught cheating, everyone else piles in about all of the (objectively worse) other stuff Australia had been doing for years, so why did they think they could force the opposition teams into a PR exercise like that.
Nick Knight – In keeping with his status as the most vanilla of broadcasters, I had to go and check what I’d said about him last time. It mostly consisted of him saying “would you believe it?” repeatedly, and that’s absolutely dandy, because since Knight just repeats “would you believe it?” all the time, it seems appropriate to do the same to him. Would you believe it?
Angus Fraser – Grumpy former England and Middlesex bowler and now even grumpier special guest on the Verdict. Spends most of his time looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than on TV and responds to any questions he’s asked with the look of someone who has been asked to recite the first 200 numbers of PI with someone standing on his testicles. Currently overseeing the complete demise of Middlesex as Director of Cricket, which has proved to be a veritable banquet of mirth for 2 of our editors and yet has made another of our editors very sad indeed.
Ian “Wardy” Ward – “Great question Wardy”. If you are looking for a point where the scales tipped from my eyes, that was it. The arch-enemy, the zealot with not-a-lot, the establishment money guzzler, with so much to defend (Tom Harrison), treating his TV interviewer with contempt by using his nickname – and the interviewer smiling away. Pat Murphy, for one, would not have stood for that crap. Wardy’s post-match interview technique has turned from probing and incisive, to “why are you so great”. And now he’s reportedly moving into Gower’s seat as presenter. While good with Masterclass, the perils are there, the warning signs are flashing, the whispers of being too close to the players are louder and louder. Let the new era, or error, begin.
Steve Smith – One of our number proudly points out that as far back as 2010 he insisted to all and sundry that Smith was destined to be a Test player of repute while everyone else was laughing themselves silly at his bowling being smacked around the park and his batting was all over the place. His batting is still all over the place of course, but with the difference that no bugger can get him out any more. This startling insight and genius punditry would be more notable were it not for said writer also insisting that David Warner wouldn’t last 15 Tests. Has infuriated everyone all summer for managing to have a technique similar to a drunken crab while selfishly refusing to get out to anyone. Eventually won around the English fans to the point that he got a standing ovation as he walked off after his second innings dismissal at the Oval, which at least had the benefit of shutting up the more sanctimonious short memory Australians who treated booing as though it was the worst crime since Bodyline. Which they’re still whining about 90 years on come to that.
Joe Root – What happened to you Joe? Just a couple of years ago, you were a young cheeky chappy with a grin fixed on your face and the enviable problem of scoring too many fifties. Now you look like you’re ten years older, you’re more likely to get a duck than reach a half-century, and your captaincy is almost making us long for the halcyon days of your predecessor. What have the ECB done to you?
Trevor Bayliss – Ex-England Head Coach who had as much interest in county cricket as the rest of the editors do for Kabbadi. Played a key role in changing the mentality of our white ball approach and deserves credit for helping to win the World Cup; however Test Cricket always seemed a bit of an after-thought for him. Likely heading for a career coaching various T20 franchises across the World. Liked very much by the England players but don’t ever try and pull his shorts down as Mark Wood found out. Should be knighted for services to scented candles, whale music and yucca plants.
Kevin Pietersen – Officially branded a “genius” by Sky TV, five years after said “genius” was sacked so we could pick Gary Ballance, and keep a crap captain in power. I haven’t been as offended by a replacement since Technotronic turned up at a PA, and neither of the two main protagonists showed up. Anyway, said genius still has all the media etiquette skills of the animal he is trying to save and sometimes he should can it, but hey, he’s interesting, annoying and you’d still watch his greatest innings over any other English player not named (possibly) Bell or Gower. And I annoy my wife no end with the “Because they’re my mates” impression from that Sky documentary, which amuses only me. Rumours are Tom Harrison wants to appoint him as PR head to convince sceptical county fans that the Hundred is great. If Carlsberg did piss-takes…..
Stuart Broad – Fantastic Test bowler and even better comedian on the pitch, Test cricket would be a lot poorer without his various celebrappeals and complete lack of understanding of how DRS works. At one point, he was considered England’s next all-round great, but was in decline before getting hit in the face by Varun Aaron and since then his batting has looked like it has been based around the Devon Malcolm school of batting (he has a higher test best than Mark Waugh!). Has finally learnt how to pitch the ball up after 10 years of trying and now has his own rental space in David Warner’s head.
Jimmy Anderson – Legendary England swing and seam bowler who has transformed himself from wild tearaway to metronomic grumpy wicket taker par excellence. Has an end named after him at Old Trafford which probably represents the greatest achievement any male could wish to obtain, though I may have slightly misunderstood what that’s about. Has reached the point where his cricketing prowess allows the great and the good to defend him even when he’s not behaved particularly well on the field, a privilege reserved to a very few. Subject of complaints that he hasn’t had a knighthood when batsmen are queueing up for them. Made an observation in the documentary The Edge that had one of our number falling off his chair at the known for certain brazen hypocrisy of it.
Glamorgan – One of just three counties not to develop a single men’s England Test cricketer in the past 10 years, but the only one which hosts international games and a men’s team in The Hundred. It would benefit English cricket immeasurably if they split off to become the Welsh national team. It probably wouldn’t damage the development of Welsh cricketers either, to be honest.
Sir Alastair Cook – It has been a contention of mine that the single most divisive figure in English cricket in the past decade hasn’t been that batsman who was sacked, but rather a batsman that was extraordinarily backed. In being forced to be the face of a regime who treated the supporters as the bien peasants, Cook took up the cudgels and milked it, and in turn got the love of an entire media gang. The Cook era is a key one for English Cricket. It’s not about his stats, it’s about what he stood for, either intentionally or not. Backing Alastair Cook became a matter of faith, a matter of your applicability to be a real CRICKET fan. You had to love him. Or else. I can’t be humorous, or wise crack about this. This was a cult, with the dullest leader imaginable. As long as Outside Cricket has breath, Cook will be here. The handsome prince of English cricket. The cult leader of the insipid. The face of the ECB. Jonathan Agnew’s BFF. Records be damned.
The T20 Blast – So called mediocre tournament that the ECB is desperately trying to get rid of despite growing crowds and fan affiliation. Supposedly can only attract mediocre white ball players such as AB de Villiers, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, Michael Klinger, Mohammed Amir and Faf du Plessis to the tournament. Likely to eventually be phased out for something the ECB management team designed on an empty packet of fags between lunches, because they know better than the fans after all. Still not enough women and children for the ECB’s liking.
Somerset – Lesser county somewhere near Wales that was last in the national headlines for King Alfred burning some cakes. Worth pointing out that he went to Somerset to hide from an entire army looking for him. And succeeded. In more recent times the 14 residents of this backwater have not only discovered Twitter, but have launched a takeover, leading some to the mistaken impression that they’re important. Currently playing Minor Counties, probably.
Cricket Highlights on 5: I reckon a highlights programme with commentary from Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann and Mark Nicholas would probably make kids have nightmares about the sport and certainly not want to pick up a bat unless they were able to use it to hit said commentators. Certainly not one for the casual fan as it’s the first and last programme I will probably ever watch on that channel.
New Zealand cricket team – On this list primarily because they’re so damn likeable, even in the cruelest of defeats. Imagine the howling from the England camp and press if we’d have lost in such a manner.
Russell Jackson – For one day only, this man made himself look an idiot. But he didn’t keep it to himself.
Dean Wilson – Poor old Dean, he so desperately wants to leave his position as Chief Correspondent of the Mirror to become the next ECB head of communications. So much so that he is happy to trot out any old rubbish the ECB gives him. Was referred to as a journalist during lunch in a gathering at the 5th Test, which is probably the first time that has ever happened. It is well known that being the Chief Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is more akin to be deputy train manager of the Island line in the Isle of Wight. Likes a free lunch or five.
Piers Morgan – Unaccountably left out of the last Outside Cricket list due entirely to the ineptitude of the writers. Chief cheerleader for Kevin Pietersen, which is about as useful as having Katie Hopkins appear as a character witness. Acknowledged in the KP documentary that this may not have been entirely helpful, which is probably the only occasion he’s ever come close to an apology. The blog will be forever grateful to him for infuriating those Inside Cricket sufficiently that they responded by giving us our name, and then leading one idiot to publicly say that we were his online agents. One of our number has played cricket against him on a couple of occasions, where he increased the sense of outrage by coming across as a fairly pleasant bloke. Totally unacceptable.
Gordon Hollins – Ex-Chief Operating Officer of the ECB and now Managing Director of County Cricket (haha), Hollins is still there owing to the fact that he now resides in a small basket next to Tom Harrison’s bed and has stopped soiling the carpet. Over qualified for the role as an ex-Commercial Director at Durham CCC, which naturally didn’t stop him from taking a steaming dump on his former employer. Wheeled out when either Tom Harrison or Sanjay Patel have more important things to do like meet a sponsor or count their money.
Sam Morshead – Erstwhile digital editor of the Cricketer, who has shown exceptionally poor judgement by failing to include himself in the Cricketer’s own list, breaking all convention and tradition, and thus showing himself to be far less of a man than Simon Hughes. Has feet of a type last seen in the Lord of the Rings, and looks a bit like Frodo too, come to that.
Jim Maxwell – Legendary Australian radio commentator who is a welcome visitor to these shores every four years – or more frequently as the ECB and Cricket Australia determine for financial cricketing reasons. Has rarely put a foot wrong on air and is a pleasure to listen to. Makes this list by virtue of the fact that he quite plainly cares vastly more for the health of English cricket than most of his English colleagues, and is not shy of saying so, and he liked and commented on one of our tweets (we’re so shallow). Good on him, but while it says a lot about him, it says far more about those others that this is the case, and that’s pretty scandalous in itself.
Middlesex – Every single Middlesex player and member seems to be a champagne-quaffing, tweed-wearing, Waitrose-shopping stereotype who looks down on Jacob Rees-Mogg for being too common. Despite their ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, including their own official diamond merchants and Porsche dealerships, they still can’t afford their own ground and have to rent one from someone else. This is fair enough, considering London prices, but you would think that they would be able to find one which was at least level. I would certainly complain to my landlord if I was living in a property with a lopsided floor. That a professional (and international) cricket ground has this issue is, quite frankly, embarrassing. More worringly, ex-Middlesex players seem predisposed to finding other jobs in cricket once their playing careers end. They tend to be jobs which they lack the experience and talent required to do it fully, which means that people (including us) notice them: Administrators, selectors, coaches and journalists. No sector of English cricket is untainted by Middlesex. Of the forty-ish ex-cricketers in this list, at least ten played for them. One of our editors is slightly less than impressed with this entry.
Mark Robinson – He deserves enormous plaudits for taking the England women’s team to the heights of success, culminating in a thrilling World Cup win in 2017 at a packed Lord’s. Thereafter the team went into reverse faster than an Italian tank, and by 2019 Australia weren’t just beating England, in England, but were handing out a a thrashing game after game. Another lauded when successful by Lord, but excused when the wheels fell off (the players fault, natch). Resigned his position as a result, thus demonstrating a degree of integrity scarcely ever seen in ECB circles and certainly not from those who slashed the investment in the women’s game and sacrificed the successful and growing Kia Super League on the altar of the Hundred.
Mark Ramprakash – Former England Test Player and England batting coach, who managed to make a huge mess of both jobs. His main achievement as coach was to bring down the England batting unit’s average to around his career Test average and whose mess is now being tended to by Graham Thorpe. Firm believer in accountability, as long as it is not his accountability being questioned. Likely to end up in ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ this year.
Jason Roy – I understand that professional sportsmen have a lot of self-confidence. That it may even be part of the job. Would any great, unlikely, unbelievable sporting moment if the people involved weren’t absolutely convinced that they were 100% certain to triumph? Even if the chain of events to get there was so improbable that their belief was verging on delusion. But, even acknowledging this, how on Earth did Jason Roy think he could be England’s Test opener?
Pavel Florin – Romanian superstar cricketer who managed to move from figure of fun to cricketing icon faster than a Jofra Archer bouncer. His enthusiasm for the game is boundless, the faint whiff of condescension from those approving of his efforts mere moments after laughing at them unmistakable. Undoubtedly a welcome voice in terms of spreading the word of cricket beyond its traditional boundaries, which is one reason the ICC wouldn’t dream of making use of him. Cannot be forgiven by any club cricketer anywhere around the world for having a Cricinfo profile when we do not.
Andy Nash – Most akin to a reformed smoker lecturing all around him on how appalling it is that other people are partaking. Former Somerset Chairman and ECB board member whose trenchant opposition to the Hundred would be slightly less confusing had he not been part of the group that passed the idea in the first place. It may well be that this is an entirely unfair reading of events, since the opacity of all ECB decision making is such that voting records don’t necessarily mean agreement. Nash is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines about how terrible it’s going to be while absolutely no one Inside Cricket engages him. He is (of course) correct, but he is now experiencing the kind of cold shoulder to his views experienced over many years by that tiny, unimportant group of people called cricket fans.
AB De Villiers – Like the guy who turns up at your annual Christmas Party unannounced after having left the company 8 months ago, AB did exactly the same at the World Cup as there weren’t any 20/20 leagues going on at the same time. Well known for bouts of extreme tiredness that can suddenly be cured by a large wedge of cash being waved in his face. Expect the same thing to happen at the next World Cup unless the Albanian Professional T20 league are offering big money.
Mr Maximooo – AKA Vinny Sandhu, the hugely excitable commentator of the inaugural European Cricket League. Took to shouting “Maximooo!” extremely loudly when a six was hit, which was highly amusing at first, but started to grate somewhat in a tournament that turned into a real life version of Stick Cricket, with virtually every ball disappearing out of the park. To his credit, he acknowledged that point afterwards, and his clear love of what was going on endeared him to a small but increasingly dedicated audience watching cricket being played purely because the players loved the sport, and so did the commentators. A Celebrity Death Match with Danny Morrison beckons.
DAB Radio – Needs a particular entry in here simply because for years we’ve been told that digital radio is the future, that we all need to chuck our analogue receivers out, and that having DAB in the car is far better than some crackly old signal on 198 LW. But here’s the problem: It’s shit. It’s monumentally, utterly shit. Any journey undertaken that involves travelling more than 50 yards beyond Broadcasting House involves more drop outs than the first year of a media studies course. On one occasion, I managed to miss two England wickets in the period while it was searching madly for a signal while driving on the motorway, which says a hell of a lot about England’s batting, but even more about the utter pup we’ve been sold as a viable means of listening. I don’t know who was responsible for this complete shambles, but I’m going to find out and write a strongly worded letter – mostly because if I say it on digital radio they’ll only hear the first two words before it cuts out again.
World Cup Super Overs – Anything that is designed to be finite and then fails to be so, thus making the decision of the winner on the number of boundaries scored is always going to get on our goat. Interestingly enough those who whinge about it most aren’t our Kiwi friends but legions of Indian and Australian fans, who didn’t actually make the final. Ca’ Plus Change.
Lawrence Booth – Glory-hunting Manchester City and Northants fan (possibly a unique combination) who occasionally writes nasty things about the ECB in his sideline as Wisden Almanack editor. Has a fairly routine Daily Mail column that still looks like Shakespeare next to Martin Samuel’s cricket forays, but disappears between January and April on a long holiday.
Kumar Dharmasena – ICC World Umpire of the Year 2018, which is about the most damning statistic about the health of umpiring in our international game. More known now for giving shocking decisions and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of cricket. Somehow makes us pine for the days of S.Ravi, who he has miraculously made to look like a competent umpire.
Ricky Ponting – Sometimes in life, you get to meet your heroes. And all too often they show that they have feet of clay. Disappointment is often the result, a bad memory to taint the good ones you have. Imagine then the even more acute disappointment to be found when Ricky Ponting decided to go entirely the other way. He had been a monumental pain in the arse as batsman and captain of Australia, partly because he was so bloody good, and partly because he was combative, fantastically bad tempered and insistent that he defined where the line was while the rest of the world rolled their eyes. His appearance in the commentary box this summer was therefore a massive disappointment – not because he was bad, far from it. Instead he was engaging, witty, brilliantly incisive and came across as a thoroughly all round good egg. This. Is. Not. Good. Enough. We want our Australian enemies to be the bastards we always expected them to be, not to turn out to be delightful. That Mitchell Johnson had rocked up and been equally engaging merely made it worse.
Derek Pringle – Why me? Why do I have to write about this person? What have I done? Other than the wikipedia article, which we talked about last time, and the fact he’s written a book that I’ll wait until it gets to £0.01 on Amazon secondhand to buy, and that he’s some bon viveur now used for those talking head pieces on Sky, and that he’s the Chief Cricket Writer at the Metro, what else is there to say? I’m warming to him? That I shouldn’t have been mean about him? Hell No. HELL NO.
Ellyse Perry – You could say that she was the female equivalent of Steve Smith in terms of her complete dominance over the England team this summer, but it’s not quite true. She is better at bowling than Smith. Has done absolutely nothing wrong and is a powerful standard bearer for women’s cricket. Unfortunately, she’s both a bloody good player and Australian, which in itself is grounds for excommunication.
Sheldon Cottrell – Ok. We get why he does the salute and, as reasons go, it’s not a bad one. The only problem is that it’s been done before (and in an infinitely funnier manner) when Marlon Samuels did it to Ben Stokes and got away without having the bat wrapped around his head. There’s merit in it as long as you’re first, and he wasn’t.
Kumar Sangakkara – A batting career similar to Steve Smith but with attractive shots already marked him out as a cricketing great, but in retirement he’s managed to improve his standing even further. Firstly by doing Sky masterclasses that are so impressive Sky daren’t repeat them 30 times a day, and second by quite pointedly doing commentary that ignores David Lloyd’s banter and talks about the game itself. Has a delightful habit of pausing for a few seconds after a fellow commentator has talked about wicket-keeping to make it abundantly clear he thinks they’re talking bollocks. Sangakkara then goes on with all the skills of a diplomat to explain why. At this stage the suspicion is growing that this is all too good to be true, and at some point he’s going to rip his face off and reveal he’s the leader of an alien invasion.
Innocent Bystander – Bestriding Twitter like a gambling colossus. Friend of the blog (we think) and all round top contributor to social media. If there’s an irrelevant, gobshite T20 league in the world, and it’s playing, he’ll be on it, making the readies – watch out for the Kazakhstan regional T20 any day now, and IB will be on the Almaty Matters, while his bete noire will be favouring the Astana Stammers. Very convinced of Australia’s position as self-appointed arbiter of world cricketing etiquette, he doesn’t, at all, go on about it.
Michael Clarke – One of the list of Australian cricketers who highlight the difference in approach between Cricket Australia and the ECB when dealing with the “shit bloke” problem. In the wake of tragedy he conducted himself with a dignity and sense of leadership that caused many cricket followers of all nationalities to assert with awe that they’d happily follow him to the gates of hell, and has since then steadily eroded the goodwill by the simple medium of absolutely refusing to shut the fuck up in the commentary box. In decades past Richie Benaud used words sparingly and when he felt there was something worthwhile to say. Clarke observed and learned from the example of Benaud, but unfortunately by misunderstanding the brief and assuming that every single one of the silences needed to be filled. It is deeply impressive to be so much the anti-Benaud that grown men have been known to weep, or worse still, turn over to TMS to listen to the witterings of Graeme Swann instead.
Ben Stokes – England’s best player across all 3 formats who has basically piggy backed the rest of the England team this summer in the Ashes and in the World Cup. Victim of a horrendous piece of gutter journalism from the Scum, which he handled both intelligently and maturely. Still barred from enjoying the bright lights of Bristol’s glorious nightlife due to a small misunderstanding.
Mo Bobat – The ‘behind the scenes’ driving force of Ed Smith’s currently highly successful selection policy. After all, it is mandatory to have such a resource to rely on to pick a successful white ball opener who has never batted for over 2 sessions in a red ball game and a plucky, if not quite talented enough 33 year old county specialist for the Test team; That’s why he is paid the big bucks after all. Well known to do a “chuckles’ in that he suddenly appears in the papers when all is going well, yet suddenly goes missing in action when they’re not. Last seen in Teesside building a wooden canoe for reasons not currently known.
Ian Smith – There was a period fairly early on in the World Cup final when Smith was on commentary with Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. There followed half an hour or so of cricketing nirvana, as the three of them talked with intelligence, humour that didn’t veer into slapstick, and deep insight into the game of cricket that was an unadulterated pleasure to listen to. His calling of the super over was commentary brilliance, and made everyone regret his departure at the tournament’s conclusion. So what is he doing on this list? Well he still can’t pronounce fish and chips properly and I’m sorry, but that’s enough reason for anyone.
Simon Kuper – Have you read that Ed Smith interview? Have you? Any pretence of remaining a hard hitting journalist evaporated in the opening stanza. “Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.” But it gets better when he asks the startling naive: “Today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia?” The correct answer is “Because they were about to lose the Ashes, and he didn’t want the cameras on him,” you pillock. The easiest answer is usually the best one, Simon. Call your next book Cricket Against The Plagiarists. Instead of worshiping one.
Peter Lalor – The fact that everyone knows about Lalor for the fact that he got wrongly charged an exorbitant amount for a beer at the Malmaison in Manchester rather than for anything he has ever written about says a lot about his journalism. I mean who has $99,000 AUS in their account? My card would have spontaneously combusted at 1/10th of that cost.
Matt Prior – Cycling guru who used to be fairly handy with the willow and gloves for England. Has kept a fairly low cricketing profile since retiring from the game, low enough to avoid making an appearance on the KP documentary because he found it too difficult, though The Edge was apparently worthy of his input. Resurfaced recently to quite gloriously provoke Shane Warne into a fantastically Australian response that reasserted their national obsession with telling everyone else where the line is and (even better) managed to get Chris Adams caught in the crossfire.
Denis – Cricket “writer”, shit stirrer and now a government spokesman for Pakistan. The world of cricket writing takes you to curious places, curious situations and curiouser outcomes. Does he still write a blog? I have absolutely no idea. We might spell his name wrongly one day, too.
Bob Willis – It remains the case that England having a bad day or (better still) a catastrophic day gives cause to wishing to tune into the Sky Cricket review just to see how Uncle Bob will respond to it. He rarely disappoints, providing significant entertainment with a generally epic rant that causes no end of amusement. Tends to be less comfortable when Charles Colville asks him a difficult question or (worse still) reminds him of something he’d said previously that contradicted it entirely. Given the ruthless culling of Gower and Botham, his time in the chair may be somewhat limited but he remains worth having just for the baleful sneer usually aimed at England batsmen who fully deserve it.
Scyld Berry – There is a place in cricket and in journalism for the gloriously bonkers hack who switches between acute insight and the most unadultered bullshit, seemingly at will. His player ratings are the stuff of legend, particularly during the Cook era where the sainted one managing to put his shoes on the right way around was generally worthy of an 8. Hasn’t quite got the hang of Twitter where people have been known to answer back to his tweets.
Gary Ballance – It’s ironic for Gary to be blessed with such a surname when balance and poise are the two things he severely lacks at the crease. If you believe Twitter, you’d have thought that England had left out the new Brian Lara rather than a chubby Zimbabwean whose foot movement looks like he has 2 bricks attached to each boot. Dropped twice owing to the fact that his pads are an even bigger target than Shane Watson’s.
Chris Silverwood – Has somehow managed to persuade Stuart Broad and the rest of the English bowlers to pitch it up in useful conditions, which is something that many have tried and failed before. Naturally this is totally unacceptable behaviour and will harm his chances of becoming England’s Head Coach massively despite leading an un-fancied Essex team to the County Championship. Will probably be let go in the next England revolution for a bowling coach who wants to put the wind up the opposing batsmen.
Wisden Cricket Monthly – Here’s a funny thing. During the World Cup, the bulk of the writing staff for this prestigious magazine appeared to have been seconded to the ICC’s own official World Cup site. Let’s just say that their reporting on the ICC’s machinations in future will be treated with considerable caution.
Mexican Waves – Probably one of my biggest bugbears. Just watch the bloody game that you’ve bought overpriced tickets for and drunk ridiculously expensive pissy beer. Anyone who is found starting one of these should have the choice of facing Jofra Archer in the nets for an hour without a helmet or becoming Simon Hughes’ full time secretary. That should cut them out in next to no time.
Twitter Pseuds – You know how this works. A player strokes a cover drive off a reasonably decent bowler, in a televised match, and it’s not enough, by heaven it isn’t, to say “cracking shot”, it’s “I want to take that cover drive for dinner, wine it, dine it, and take it to a luxury spa for a three week getaway in a tropical paradise”. That sort of shit. That sort of nonsense. There are many culprits, BR isn’t just the former initials of our national railway and VE isn’t just the day the world celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yeah. At least our Twitter feed is funny!
Guardian Below The Line – BTL. A haven for the unaware, over praised, self assured, convinced of their own brilliance, and masters of fawning over Lord, Victor and any other writer who gets their well-heeled juices flowing. While some of this parish still venture into this land of one-eyed, where the blind is king, it has been avoided for many a day by those keen to maintain sanity. Blogs are for ruffians they say. Scoundrels. Bilious Inadequates. Non-county cricket fans. There are no think tanks in Southern Ireland, ECB fanboys can speak and thrill themselves, and the beat goes on.
Sky Cricket Channel Subscribers – Not all, but you know the kind. The one who pays THEIR subscription, and when a world-scale event gets to a Final, and is put on free-to-air for long-term benefit, complains that they have paid their subs, so “Why should those who don’t pay when I do, get to experience what I have paid MY MONEY for”. They proliferated on the Guardian which, as self-awareness goes, is either miles ahead of your time or you are a weapons grade idiot. They think the bigger picture is their Sky bill, and THEIR sacrifice for English Cricket. After all, “it’s only a cup of coffee a day to subscribe”. Really. I have two espressos a day, and they cost 60p. Where the hell are you buying your brew, you gullible twits? And that’s not a day pass on Sky, I can assure you. I don’t hear the moans about Sky not picking up all available overseas cricket, endless repeats of Masterclass and their own series, and Legends of Cricket. No. Don’t let the hoi polloi in, whatever you do. I PAID for this.
Sky Subscribers who don’t have access to BT Sport: The last away Ashes highlighted a particular breed, the smug tossers who have a Sky account, but who don’t have a BT one. All of a sudden they started complaining and whining about having to pay for cricket, even though it was, to use their above justification, just a coffee or two a day. It wasn’t just ordinary people on Twitter either (you can always find someone to complain about something). It was journalists and even the ECB piling in to object to a broadcaster other than Sky daring to show England play cricket, and finding that they might have to spend a bit of their own money to do so. The lack of self-awareness was astounding, as though the aristocracy had been denied their particular wine supplier because Laithwaites (oh my, shudder) had hoovered up the contracts. Some might say that being that wedded to thinking Sky were the good guys was somewhat instructive about where their loyalties lie, but we couldn’t possibly comment. Oh, ok we will – it was frankly embarrassing.
Paul Downton – We simply couldn’t have an ‘outside cricket list’ without the man who helped give us our ‘nomme de guerre’. Sorely missed for his press conferences, interviews and any other time he was on TV as he made the rest of us look like Professors of Classics from Cambridge University.
Marnus Labuschagne – Labooscayne, Labuskakne, Laboochange, Laboochanya….oh sod it.
Isa Guha – Erstwhile commentator who has managed to break up the laddish banter on Sky. Announced that she will be the lead presenter on the BBC’s Hundred coverage – Why Isa? Why?
Ali Martin – Chief Cricket correspondent for the Guardian who has restored the their cricket coverage to something resembling normality after his predecessor got moved on. Still won’t meet us for a beer mind and definitely needs to do something about that beard.
Matthew Wade – Australian gob-shite whose mouth is far more talented than his ability on the cricket field. England allowed him to score 2 centuries in the Ashes to cement his place in the Aussie squad. You’re welcome Australia.
Giles Clarke – The original cockroach who has finally been turfed out of the ECB. Responsible for many of the ills befalling English Cricket.
Jofra Archer’s Twitter account – It’s all getting a bit tedious now isn’t it.
Michael Holding – Often seems more interested in what is going on in the horse racing than on the cricket field; however he brilliantly put the execs at Sunset & Vine in their place during the World Cup. One of our number met him at Lords this year and can confirm he is a top guy.
Peter Moores – Former two time England Head Coach with a penchant for nicking the best players from smaller counties. Hasn’t stopped him from being relegated twice mind. So much for the English coach of his generation. Likes data.
Ashley Giles – New Director, England Cricket. Given the benefit of the doubt as he is still new in post. Nailed on to make the list should we ever do another one.
Andrew Miller – Only to remark that one of our editorial board thinks the sun shines out of his rear end and that he should write more. Have we forgotten someone?
This list is arbitrary, unfair and the result of the four of us having to wait a few years before we could have our views expressed on certain individuals (outside of our tremendous Glossary, of course).
If you’re on the list and are offended, then good, our work is done here. If you aren’t, you are either too good, too dull or now too irrelevant for us to write about.
Come on people, one last push for 2018. It’s poll time, and we need you to participate to make this work.
First up, the most important input. We have Mount Cricketmore – four personalities that embody cricket in the country, if you are an insider – and each year I will put one up for re-election.
In my editorial judgement, Giles Clarke and Mike Selvey are firmly carved into our rock, and their term of office, should we last that long, will mean Selvey up in 2021, Clarke up in 2020. With Harrison seen as the architect of the Hundred, and its debut due for 2020, having him up for re-election right before then will see his name go forward in 2019. So this year the decision is should Simon Hughes be replaced. Before we do that, we need a candidate.
Now, I’ve been racking my brains for potential replacements, and am not coming up with much outside of one. So with all due deference to perennial annoyances like Paul Newman, Alastair Cook’s fanboys and girls, Piers Morgan or whoever else takes our fancy, there seems one obvious candidate. It is a vote off between:
1, Simon Hughes stays
2. Colin Graves is carved into stone.
Now we have the key business over with, now to the other essential votes. Either do so by posting them on the comments or to me at email@example.com – or our collective e-mail if you know where to find it!
Best Journalist of the Year
Worst Journalist of the Year
Best TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
Worst TV / Radio Commentator of the Year
England international cricketer of the Year
World international cricketer of the Year
Best innings by an England player in international cricket
Best innings by an international player in international cricket
The worst thing about cricket in 2018
The best thing about cricket in 2018
11. Any ideas for the blog?
12. Your views on social media going forward.
13. Any good cricket books you have read that you could recommend?
I always look forward to your feedback, and hopefully we can do something with the results over the Christmas period.
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….)
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.
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:
Serious question. Would the new competition, which really does need to be shorter, be more acceptable as 20 x 5 ball overs ?
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:
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.
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.
“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”
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??
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.
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.
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…
If you had
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.
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’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.
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.
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:
“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’…
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….
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…