Dmitri’s Review Of The Year – The Year of Peaceful Antagonism

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It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……

How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.

  • The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
  • The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!

For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.

Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!

That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.

It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.

Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.

So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.

The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.

The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.

The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.

The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.

The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.

The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.

The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.

Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.

Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.

But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.

England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.

At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.

The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.

Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.

The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!

So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.

Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.

Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.

On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.

  • A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
  • Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
  • As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
  • Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
  • If you want any more advice, dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk

I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.

There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.

So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.

Happy New Year. One more piece to come.

 

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Bangladesh vs England: Series Review

England’s defeat yesterday was the most disgraceful thing ever to befall the national team.  Losing to a side who had only previously beaten a much weakened West Indies and Zimbabwe is a new nadir in the national fortunes, for which there is no excuse.

Actually, Bangladesh are an improving side and will trouble most teams at home these days.

It was the spinners’ fault – especially that batting collapse.

Gary Ballance was at fault throughout.

It’s fair to say that there’s been no universal response to the result yesterday, and an awful lot of tiptoeing around the wider issues for the England team as they move on to face India in a five match series where they are very definitely the underdogs. Some of it goes beyond legitimate criticism about particular performances and moves on to existing prejudices in some instances, and what can only be seen as blatant attempts at deflection in others.

There are some things that can be safely said – that England do deserve credit for going in the first place, for a second tour after Australia’s aborted one cancelled for security reasons (even if justified) would have crippled Bangladeshi cricket possibly beyond repair.  Amid the joy of victory, it was notable that a significant number of home supporters made a point of thanking England for coming in the first place.  That it passed off without incident doesn’t in itself justify the decision to go, but it does mean we are able to talk about the cricket itself, and able to revel in the pleasure given to a country that doesn’t exactly get its fair share of good news stories.

It can also be safely said that Bangladesh are a much improved side.  Whatever the shortcomings of England, they will give many teams a hard time in their own conditions – particularly the non-Asian sides.  Cook deserves credit for rejecting an invitation to wallow in the excuse that the surfaces were difficult by brusquely saying “Why wouldn’t you?” in response to a question about the wickets suiting the spinners.  As it turned out, rather than being low and boring in an attempt to scrape a draw, the groundsmen produced result pitches.  And well done them, we had two exceptionally entertaining matches.  Rather obviously, Bangladesh’s bowling strength is in their spin attack, and while Mehedi Hasan’s glorious start in Test cricket is no more a guide to his longevity than Bob Massie’s early matches, it showed that they have the attack to put sides under serious pressure when conditions allow.  That means little when they go away from home, for not a single fast bowler took a wicket for them in this short series, and the prospect of the hard tracks of Australia or South Africa, or the green seamers of England or New Zealand would likely mean they were overwhelmed, but all sides have to begin somewhere, and winning at home is that somewhere.

It’s not just the bowling either; Tamim Iqbal may well love batting against England in particular, but he is a very good player full stop, as is Imrul Kayes, while Shakib Al Hasan is a potent all rounder.  The lower order was too often blown away, but there is plenty to work with here.  They are improving, and all they need is the opportunity to improve further.  If there were to be one good thing to come out of this England tour, then it would be that teams play them more often – for this was their first Test series in over a year.  Too long and simply not fair.

Perhaps in advance of the series there was a degree of underestimation about where they were as a side, although given the lack of cricket, and Test cricket in particular, it’s not too surprising that most observers were short of detailed knowledge.  That they had better players than in the past was known, but it didn’t mean that there was any kind of expectation they would draw the series.  It doesn’t alter the truth that having watched them play this time, there is a recognition that they aren’t a bad side at all now, and that they thoroughly, completely deserved what they got, indeed they perhaps should have won 2-0.  Having lost the first game it would have surprised no one if they’d been badly beaten in the second, a narrow defeat is always hard to take.  That they went after England with a vengeance instead was wonderful to watch.

That doesn’t necessarily let England off the hook for the result, and while it is true that England were beaten by the better side in Dhaka, it’s reasonable to ask whether Bangladesh should have been the better team, even with all their improvements.  It therefore comes down to a question of what England did wrong, how much was forced by Bangladesh, how much was their own shortcomings as players, and how much was underperformance.

What can certainly be said is that by agreeing to play 7 Tests in 8 weeks, and skipping a warm up fixture in India to boot, they brought some of their problems on themselves.  This is the ECB’s responsibility rather than the captain or the coach, for they do their masters’ bidding in terms of the itineraries.  But with no match between this second Test and the opener in India, they were certainly forced to treat this one at least to some extent as a warm up match for India.  That meant resting Broad and bringing in Finn for one of his periodical appearances on surfaces for which he couldn’t be more unsuited.  Whether that made all the difference is neither here nor there; Broad didn’t have an exceptional first Test, but he is an exceptional bowler, and dropping him did weaken the side, no matter how necessary that decision might have been, and how wise it might turn out to have been over the next month and a bit.

The other change was dropping Gareth Batty for Zafar Ansari, and it is here we get to the thorny question of the England spin bowling.  England played Moeen Ali, Batty, Ansari and Adil Rashid across the two matches.  Ansari was on debut, and allowances have to be made for that, while the others have been the recipients of exceptionally strong criticism for their performances.  This is grotesquely unfair for a number of reasons.  Their returns were not bad at all overall, Moeen averaged 22 with the ball, while Batty and Rashid were a touch under 30.  They’re not fantastic figures of course, and certainly nothing like the wicket-taking levels of Hasan or Shakib, but it has to be asked what is expected here.  Bangladesh should be expected to have better spinners than England, in the same way that England can expect to have much better fast bowlers than Bangladesh (which they do).  Likewise, when they get to India, they’ll be facing better spin bowlers than they possess themselves – this is normal and to be expected.  Complaining about it is akin to wishing for golden elephants.  The last time England toured India they had the best spinner England have had in 40 years bowling from one end, and another who in another era would have been a fixture in the team for being the best we had by a distance.  Indeed, a fit and healthy Panesar right now would be a major upgrade on all of the alternatives.  England does not often produce quality spin bowling, and while that is a criticism of the coaching and structure that can and should be made, whining about the positioning of the deckchairs on the Titanic is what it always has been – pointless.

Therefore the only option is to work with what is there.  Rashid is a leg spinner; they have always been prone to bowling a bad ball an over, it tends to be in the nature of them with the rare exception of the very best like Shane Warne.  Even one as good as Stuart MacGill was relatively expensive.  That isn’t to defend his performances, but it is to make the point that if a legspinner is going to be selected in the first place, then some understanding of how to manage that legspinner is needed, plus a decent and realistic level of expectation about what they can and can’t do.  You simply don’t pick a leg spinner if the aim is to dry up the runs, it’s not going to happen.  Cook has shown little sign of understanding how to captain Rashid, who should be considered a wicket taking weapon, who will go for some runs (rather like Finn come to that).  Betraying a complete lack of confidence by having as at one stage six players on the boundary hardly helps the bowler or the team and removes the whole point of having a leggie in the side in the first place.

This is a common attitude problem in the English game, one that goes all the way down to Sunday village cricket, where a seam bowler who gets smashed around the park comes back for another spell later – a spinner suffering the same is lucky to get another bowl three weeks afterwards.  It takes an astute and clever captain, sympathetic to his bowlers to manage it and to make the best use of their assets.  Cook, unfortunately, is not the man to do that.

Moeen overall bowled passably well – he is what he is, a batsman and part time off spinner converted into being the senior slow bowler.  He does let the odd bad ball go down, but the truth of the matter is that people need to deal with that, he’s quite probably the best England have, and is someone who is doing relatively well given where he’s come from bowling wise.  Batty’s recall was frowned upon or approved of depending on perspective, and while he didn’t bowl as well as he might have hoped, even at his best he simply isn’t going to run through an Asian side in Asian conditions.  These players are very used to facing spin – something else that hasn’t been taken into account when berating the bowlers for not being better than they are, while imagining that left at home is a miracle worker who would have repeated Laker’s feat.

If that reads like an extended defence of the spinners, it’s only partially meant that way. They could certainly have bowled better, they unquestionably could have been captained better, but they are players limited by their English upbringing and learning.  The truth is that those who don’t play find their reputations enhanced by virtue of missing a defeat; whoever England select would not change things dramatically, and complaining that they aren’t Graeme Swann is as futile as the years Australia spent discarding spinner after spinner for the crime of not being Shane Warne.

More to the point, if the spinners were average but not appalling – in other words pretty much what could be expected of them, then the attempt to blame them for the match loss and the drawn series is downright peculiar.  It certainly wasn’t the cause of collapsing from 100-0 to 164 all out in little more than 20 overs.  The pundits have a real habit of demanding the heads of the bowlers for batting problems, and it’s much more realistic to point to the batting failures as being key to England not winning this series.  Not one of the top 5 averaged even 30 and they managed just four fifties between them in the series from a combined 20 attempts, with a top score of 68 from Moeen Ali as he and Bairstow attempted to rescue the team from the wreckage of the first morning of the first Test.  Only Woakes, Bairstow and Stokes managed to even score 100 runs over the four innings,while just behind those three in the averages was Adil Rashid, who with Woakes performed another recovery act from the shambles of the upper order.

Put simply, blaming the bowling is simply an attempt to project from the reality of where England went badly wrong – the top order batting.  Cook was poor, Duckett was brand new, Ballance was lucky to be in the team and was extremely poor, Root was poor.  Not many sides can handle the core of their batting malfunctioning repeatedly and go on to win.  And here is the problem for India, for it is hardly a shock to anyone to know that they have superior spinners, but for England to have a chance they need in particular for Cook and Root to step up and score runs – and lots and lots of them.  They are more than capable of course, Root is a fine player and Cook is an exceptionally good player of spin, and for an opener a phenomenal one.  But they could and should be feeling particularly uncomfortable with the way the spinners are getting the blame for not winning a series that was fundamentally about the inability of the England batting to reach 300 in any innings – and only once getting close because the middle and lower order got them there.

Furthermore, of the England players Ben Stokes is the one who can really hold his head up, his bowling was outstanding and his batting was good enough to score more runs than anyone else.  Yet the comment about him largely concerns his behaviour in getting into a spat with opponents.  Stokes is a fiery character alright, but it is peculiar to say the least that this gets attention and criticism ahead of the failures of those above him.  This blog has expressed concern on a number of occasions that a few media types are waiting for him to fail so they can properly put the boot in – nothing has happened which changes that worry, for we know all too well that it has happened before.

Bangladesh can bask in the glow of a successful short series, while England go to India with a lot of questions to answer.  It is to be hoped that some spend time on the questions that matter rather than wishing things were different than they are.  That is nothing but carping.  Whinging.  And if it’s unfair on some of the England players, it’s more than just unfair when it comes to the Bangladesh ones – it’s disrespectful.  This was an enjoyable and hard fought series, and one where a deciding Test would be just perfect.  Bangladesh would be quite strongly fancied to win it.

Defeat In Dhaka / Misery In Mirpur

I saw a fair bit of today’s game in between the usual weekend errands, visiting mum and dad’s grave to commemorate their wedding anniversary, and dozing off during the Buttler / Bairstow partnership. It’s been one of those days.

England had their foot on the home team’s throat twice, and on both occasions let them wriggle out of it / had the game wrested away. Mahmadullah played very well for his 75, but it was undoubtedly the skipper, Mashrafe Mortaza, who played the key role with a belligerent 44, turning a likely score of 200 into nearer 240 and given the way the wicket played, it looked competitive. I have to say I was quite relaxed about it because I’ve always felt if the tail had made a pitch look easy, then so should a top batting line-up, and England are purported to have one of those.

Jake Ball bowled pretty well again, and that’s nice to see. Rashid was a little more ropey than Friday, but still got both of the key partnership makers with a variety of balls, including a filthy long-hop spanked straight down Moeen’s throat for Mossadek’s dismissal. Rashid will have days like these. As Rufus quoted on the comments, lifting a Geoff (not Keith) Lemon saying “leg-spinners never bowl a bad ball on Youtube”. Woakes is now taken for granted, and he took wickets up front. David Willey bowled tightly up front, but got a little stick later on. It just felt that England had let the hosts off the hook. 239.

I pause this piece to see how Newman managed to shoe-horn Eoin Morgan into his article…

Yet it was still wrong of an England captain to lose his temper in this way and the incident will provide a lesson for Buttler as he gets to grips with captaining the team in the controversial absence of Morgan.

And a snipe at Rashid…

Mahmudullah hit 75 before he was trapped by Adil Rashid, who has recovered well here in the first two one-day internationals from the bad feeling that surrounded his withdrawal from Yorkshire’s championship decider.

As I said, we’re the ones with an agenda. Remember that.

In his post-match interview Jos was disappointed that England hadn’t backed themselves to go at the target, and instead played timidly at the start. That might have had something to do with the way Jason Roy faced the threat of Shakib in the first over, when he looked like he read the bowling with all the success that I had of understanding Finnish on Friday. It was Vince who went first, to another windy drive (checked Michael Vaughan’s twitter feed), and then Duckett, to the obvious disappointment of the media who desperately want one of the newer players to really come off to allow them to knife Morgan more, drove airily and was bowled through the gate. Roy tried to play a positive shot off Mortaza and was nailed plumb in front, and Stokes followed suit. 26 for 4 and dire straits.

Bairstow, who the press are anointing as Morgan’s replacement followed up his run out for a duck with some mature rebuilding while Buttler played assuredly. Things looked to be sound and solid until YJB nicked off after a 79 run partnership. Mooen Ali played an awful shot to get out, but he’s Moeen, so the world will let him off. Then Buttler went – going across his stumps, being given not out, but on the supposed instructions of the dressing room, the decision was reviewed and Buttler went. The immediate aftermath will no doubt be poured over, but it appeared as though there might have been some over-zealous celebrations by the home team (someone on Twitter said he was sent on his way by a Bangla Haka) and Buttler lost it. This is becoming a bit of a trend from England, in that we do seem to become a little upset a little too easily, but Jos’s comment of “grown men acting like that” in the post-match nonsense with Nick Knight gave clear vent to what he thought about it.

England threatened a little thanks to mature batting by Adil Rashid (again) and Jake Ball’s belligerence, but it was always unlikely to win the match and so it proved. England lost by 34 runs and the series is 1-1. Then came the handshakes…

This may prove to be a little tastier a tour than imagined before the start. Bangladesh appear to be no-one’s fools on their own patch. It’s taken nearly 20 years, but these guys relish a fight.

On to game three in Chittagong on Wednesday.

We really are not being well served by the appearance of Dominic Cork on commentary. He’s truly woeful, and is there, I presume, to make Nick Knight look statesmanlike. What Nasser (who spouted some woeful old claptrap about captains having passion in the post-match interview) and Rob Key have done to deserve Cork’s company is beyond me. Athar Ali Khan is more than decent as a home commentator, while I really had to look up Jon Kent, to find out he has two more ODI caps than Mark Butcher but contributed the same amount of runs and wickets as Mark in those appearances. He’s OK, he’s not offended me yet. But Dominic Cork? Really?

Elsewhere India have stuck a massive score on New Zealand, with Kohli making another double-hundred and Rahane 188, putting the hosts in total control and New Zealand needing to play for a draw from a long way out. Australia were comfortably beaten on what looked like a snooze of an ODI in Port Elizabeth, on what looked another deadly dull PE pitch. It’s 4-0 to the home team, and the world shrugs its shoulders.

The Wanderer Returns…

Sort of….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.