England vs India: 3rd ODI

Apologies all, work has rather got in the way this morning!

Match thread for today’s decider, and comments below welcome as always.

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England vs India: 1st ODI

Back to normal. Defeat in the World Cup doesn’t seem to have stung as much as on previous occasions, perhaps because rather than being unlucky this time, England were simply outplayed by a superior side in the end. But perhaps the striking thing was that in many ways, football did come home, as a youthful, inexperienced side managed to engage the public both on the pitch and off it. The use of social media by the players added to the sense of being “our” team, and the normal dismissal of them as millionaire, uncaring young men was placed in abeyance.

In years to come, it may be that this is the most striking element of this World Cup, and yes, its availability on free to air television to truly engage with the nation is a huge part of that.

But it’s more too, an establishment of principles, a desire to play a certain way and the willingness of the players to be a part of that, to sacrifice their personal roles for the whole. Above all else, the generation of hope for the future is what has been taken from it.

And so to cricket, where the feeling of envy for what football has achieved won’t go away. It has happened before, in 2005, but those days are long gone and more than anything, there’s no sense of any possibility that they will return. Sadness and a deep anger at that is a constant refrain.

Thus we begin the ODI series, and in an ideal world this would be the antidote to disappointment, another national side to rally around. If only. Though if even through the newspaper reports, a nation would dearly love to see an England side victorious, and grab at any bit of success there is.

The ODI series against Australia at the height of the summer felt pointless then, and feels pointless now. But it also detracted from what would otherwise have been a fairly sensible schedule against India. Three T20s, three ODIs and five Tests builds the anticipation for the main event well, and the longer white ball format perhaps gives a better indication of the merits of the sides than the shortest form (until the ECB create their latest, anyway).

So in all, this has the potential to be an interesting match up, and cricket finally has the chance to move up from footnote to byline. Progress of a sort.

Comments on the game below.

It Might be Coming Home, but the Players Stayed at Home. 3rd T20.

So here it is, the highlight of the sporting summer!

Having written frequently on the minor diversion of the World Cup, there’s not much more to say, except that it is striking to see how the football team have captured the soul of a nation, not just by their performances on the field, but through their interaction and humility in their behaviour off it. And you know, while loving every moment of this gloriously improbable run to the semi-finals, there’s a part of me feeling the pain of the irrelevance of the cricket team in public consciousness.

Sam Morshead wrote a piece the other day detailing the plans the various leagues up and down the country had for ensuring cricketers could watch the football. Some were prescriptive, refusing to make any allowances, others provided parameters in which to work, and others still (such as the Sussex League) were content for the teams to sort out their own arrangements between them.

Nevertheless, it appears a significant number of matches were scratched, as players decided that a day of cricket just wasn’t for them. There are a couple of points to be made here: firstly that a refusal to accept reality is crazy; a football World Cup is, and is always going to be, the ultimate in a shared experience. The empty seats at Wimbledon at around 3pm indicated the same, that whatever a sporting love might be, it is secondary to something truly national in its shared joy and pain.

The second point is that twelve years ago few leagues made any such arrangements. Certainly I recall for the quarter final against Portugal in 2006, and indeed the second round match against Denmark in 2002 that fixtures went ahead exactly as scheduled. In both cases, the captains of the sides were under instruction from their team-mates to win the toss and bat so we could all watch it. In both cases we lost the toss, fielded and missed the games – for one of them the groans gave away what was happening, in the other it was the cheers.

Yet the most striking thing was that this seemed entirely normal, cricket was a choice, it was unfortunate, but it wasn’t much more than an irritation. Nor was there more than a passing consideration that games should be arranged around the football – we were league cricketers, that’s what we did.

This time, it is entirely different, and while the all encompassing nature of football is one part of it, the other is the significant loss of confidence that cricket can defy another sport and go ahead as normal. My guess would be that first eleven league sides would be reasonably unaffected should they have been compelled to play as normal, but that second and third eleven schedules would be destroyed. It would be interesting to see the evidence of what happened in those league structures that refused to compromise, and whether that perception was borne out by reality.

Perhaps it is no more than the change in society, but there must be a suspicion that amateur cricket is simply in a far weaker position than it was twelve or sixteen years ago, that it can’t ignore a World Cup because when it comes to it, it will simply lose.

Credit to those leagues who saw sense, but the reduced status of cricket is once again a deeply troubling phenomenon.

Comments on the T20 below.

England vs India: Young People Don’t Watch

At least the game this evening isn’t scheduled at the same time the England football team are playing, which means that it’s at least possible some will notice it happening.  On the other hand, the television audiences for the football World Cup have been exceptional even in the games England haven’t been involved in.  The Belgium – Japan second round match saw a peak of 12.4 million tune in, a figure exceeded in 2017 only by Blue Planet, the Strictly final and the launch of I’m a Celebrity.

Once again, it needs to be stated that the World Cup is special, and as a quadrennial event, can capture the public imagination like little else.  Equally, England still being in the competition does affect the interest in other games, as people pay attention to what else is happening in the tournament while dreaming about future opponents.  Nevertheless, the viewing figures are simply extraordinary, testament to the power of sport when made widely available.  Of course, this isn’t a new complaint concerning cricket, and while it might well be a case of not wishing to start from where we currently are, it bears endless repeating when you have the likes of Colin Graves not being held account for comments such as these he made in 2016:

“We’d like to see some live cricket on terrestrial television, but Test cricket will not be on terrestrial television.

“The younger generation do not watch terrestrial television, they use social media. We have to take that into account. It will be a mix‑and-match situation for us to come up with the right formula.”

At the time he said this, few challenged it, beyond the usual minority groups often known as cricket supporters, plus a few others irrelevancies such as broadcast professionals.  But they do not count of course, not when faced with the apologists for the cash cow that cricket has become, who parrot the same line in continuing defiance of reality.  That Graves pretty much got away with it remains a disgrace, and this World Cup has highlighted repeatedly that the refrain from the ECB that young people wouldn’t watch terrestrial television to be just so much more utter horseshit from an organisation that specialises in repeatedly showering equine excrement at every opportunity.

Tonight it’s Belgium v Brazil, and without a shadow of a doubt the audience for that will be many, many times those watching the cricket involving our own country.  Indeed, the principal rival for viewing figures will almost certainly be Wimbledon, followed by whatever else is on the terrestrial stations.  The T20 will be a long way down the list.

There is not a thing wrong with having a balance in cricket formats, nor in broadcasting arrangements.  Indeed there’s really nothing wrong with looking at all factors and deciding to just go for the cash, to say so would at least be honest about the position.  What is, and what has always been the problem is the duplicity, evasion and pretence that it’s for the common good.  The army of useful idiots who failed to hold them to account for flat out falsehoods can be added to the list of those caught out by the apparently surprising national appetite for freely available sporting drama.  The kids in the parks currently playing football and dreaming of being Harry Kane are the reward for that access.

And what of the T20 itself?  England were more or less hammered in the first one, unable to cope with spin, and unable to cope with India’s batting.  It was a good day to bury bad news, that’s for sure.  Whether tonight will be any better is an open question, but the true answer is that whatever the delights of cricket as a game we all love, right now barely anyone in this country cares.  That’s not a problem during a World Cup, for no other sport can compete with it.  It is a problem when no one cares and no one watches either.   And of all the reasons behind that, it certainly isn’t because young people don’t watch terrestrial television.  It never was.  Enough with the excuses.

England vs India: 1st T20 match thread

Let’s be honest, the entire country is going to be watching England against Colombia in the World Cup, and included in that whole country is me as well.

Nevertheless, this is the first encounter between these sides as the meat of the summer gets underway, and ironically enough, were it not for the shoehorned ODI series against Australia, this schedule would make a great deal of sense. When it comes to international cricket, the T20s as the nibbles, the ODIs as the hors d’oeuvres and the Tests as the main course is exactly the right approach, and one that really shouldn’t be varied from.

It’s true that the 2005 Ashes series is often quoted as the paradigm to follow in this regard, for the anticipation built steadily to the point that the first Test felt like the climax to a summer of cricket. But that doesn’t mean it was a complete one off – the last series but one in New Zealand scheduled three of each format, with the Tests last and the T20s first. It presented a rational, balanced approach to a tour and a structure that shouldn’t be varied from in concept.

Elsewhere, the ICC have announced a revision of the punishments that can now be expected for ball tampering. The word “draconian” seems appropriate. While poor conduct needs to be stamped out, the reaction to the actual breaches by the Australian side in South Africa has been extraordinary. The schadenfreude came from the pompous, holier than thou conduct emanating from Australia in the years before, not the actual crime. It can be said that it is welcome that the ICC enforce discipline on the teams, but it is obviously too much to ask that they do so for repeated infractions over such things as over-rates, clearly.

Comments below, mostly based on the bits between the football. Oh and one last thing: here’s a lesson in how to re-integrate with supporters. The hostility towards the England football team has largely melted away after a determined effort on their part to re-connect with the fan base. This doesn’t include treating them like total idiots, and does include a structure whereby the supporters can actually watch their team. ECB take note.

Just Rejoice at that news…Rejoice

Mixed feelings is the lot of most people for most eventualities in life – good things can happen, but with a caveat. Absolute certainty is forever dangerous, the prerogative of the zealot. Thus it is that England’s 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Meaningless Ashes series evokes several different responses and emotions.

To begin with, the pain of realisation that we are barely a third of the way through the white ball international schedule can be tempered with enjoying the clear irritation displayed by Malcolm Conn, as his beloved Cricket Australia Australian cricket team were demolished by the side he gleefully reminded had been beaten by Scotland. Whether fans or press pack, looking forward to the latest surly, childish tweet from him was always a delight.

Equally, England’s batting line up repeatedly fired, and while Jos Buttler deservedly got many of the plaudits (especially for the extraordinary knock in the final match), he was anything but alone. Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales were all at different times utterly devastating, while Eoin Morgan, without quite getting the volume of runs of his team mates, destroyed Australia’s bowling when he got going. An England batting line up where Joe Root appears to be something of the weak link has something seriously going for it.

Of course, for various reasons this wasn’t Australia’s best side, but the absence of players through suspension cannot be used as any kind of excuse, any more than it could in the winter when a player was missing from the England side for legal reasons. Injuries perhaps, for Australia lacked their primary pace bowling attack, but even there, justifying heavy defeat by complaining about absence is as pointless as it ever was, while belittling English success on the basis of the standard of opposition remains a curious national obsession.

Nevertheless, it can be said that it wasn’t Australia’s best team, certainly, albeit England too were missing a couple of players in the shape of Stokes and Woakes. The best teams available to both were largely selected, and to that extent it was representative. Of more importance is the relevance of the series itself, shoehorned into the heart of the summer, nominally as part of the preparation for next summer’s World Cup, but since that could have been equally done by extending Pakistan’s stay (and they did win the Champions Trophy last year) the reality that it was down to financial considerations is abundantly obvious. The crowds were largely decent, so the ECB will consider it mission accomplished.

Australia explicitly stated in 2011 that they were prioritising Test cricket, and the decline in their ODI performances since then intriguingly correlate with that, particularly given their Test performances have remained strong – the South Africa debacle notwithstanding. Yet, and here is where the excuses about missing players ring hollow – they have lost 14 of their last 16 ODIs. Pretending that the return of those players will make all well for next year flies in the face of poor performance even when all are present and accounted for, but above all else it makes interesting reading and Daniel Brettig goes into more detail here. When considering England’s alternate strategy of focusing on the white ball form of the game, whatever their protestations to the contrary, it is striking that there appears a connection, though India may raise a hand at this juncture. The marginalisation of red ball county cricket, reduction in Test volumes across the summer and creation of wheezes like The Hundred could be argued to have been highly successful in terms of creating the conditions for generating a strong England ODI and T20 side. To that end, the ECB could claim vindication for their strategy, yet they are unlikely to do so precisely because it’s a strategy that finds little favour with England cricket fans. It is, unquestionably, an irony to see the ECB succeed in their aims yet be unable to truly take credit because of the corollary impact and what it would say about them.

If the stated aim is to win the World Cup, then England are in good shape, with a couple of provisos. No team will be confident of setting England a score for the simple reason that no total seems safe from the destructive capabilities of the batting line up. The world record set two years ago was extraordinary, the pulverising of it in this series simply astounding. That 500 became a realistic prospect is something that seems scarcely credible, as was the rather odd feeling of disappointment when they didn’t get there. It must be said that pitches so flat that bowlers become cannon fodder for batsmen is fundamentally unhealthy, and by far the most exciting game in the series came in the final match, where bowlers had the upper hand, and the century from Buttler had real value because of the circumstances.

The belief of most cricket fans tends to be that these make the best matches, a proper balance between bat and ball and the excruciating excitement of a team limping over the line as true batting peril and hunting packs of bowlers come to the fore. Yet the likelihood is that those cricket fans are wrong. Casual observers probably watch to see the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground, caring little for the skill of the bowler, but enjoying the resounding thwack of willow on leather. This may be something of a depressing thought, yet the sidelining of Test cricket where that balance really does apply suggests there is truth in it, no matter what we might wish to believe. Put it this way, it’s more likely to receive a text to turn the television on because Chris Gayle is going berserk than because Liam Plunkett is rattling through the top order.

The final match also highlighted the potential flaw in England’s side, particularly when the ICC get hold of pitch preparation next summer – that England have a tendency to fall in a heap quite spectacularly from time to time. Some context is needed for that, for no one day side, no matter how strong, wins every game. England are defeated rarely, and if the semi-final last summer can be perhaps put in the category of a one off, it doesn’t mean that some caution about their prospects isn’t in order.

Perhaps for that reason the victory at Old Trafford was particularly impressive, for despite the collapse England still found a way to win. Or more specifically, Jos Buttler did. He is in an extraordinary run of form, whether at the IPL, in this series, or indeed in Test cricket. Whether this is just a purple patch, or whether he has found his feet in the wider game of cricket is a moot point, for this can be said of any player suddenly thrust to the fore through sheer performance. It is enough for the present to enjoy his extraordinary run and to hope that it continues.

The arrival of India will perhaps answer some of the questions underlying England’s level of performance, but it seems beyond question that they are among the favourites for next year. Buttler’s supreme displays have overshadowed players who in any other circumstances would be in receipt of unqualified praise – Roy and Bairstow actually scored more runs this series for a start.

This series was also played out in the backdrop of a football World Cup, which has deliciously highlighted both the appetite for watching event sport, and the invisibility of cricket to the wider public. The two England football matches have attracted extraordinary viewing figures – over 20 million for the game against Tunisia, and while the totals were lower for the beating handed out to Panama, the 83% of total television audience (when the cricket was on, note) is one of the highest on record.

Cricket isn’t football of course, and a World Cup is a seminal collective experience, but there are some observations that can be made from that. Firstly that a likeable team whom the public believe are deserving of support receive it, and secondly that the claims of the ECB over the years amount to so much nonsense. The near 10 million who watched the climax of the Ashes in 2005 were specifically discounted as a future factor when justifying the move to pay TV on the grounds that the digital age meant that such community viewing was no longer possible. Young people in particular apparently no longer consumed sport in such a manner, too distracted by social media to sit and watch a game.

The huge audiences for the football demonstrated that this was so much drivel. All ages watched the England football team, all ages cheered the goals. The cricket team could never hope to match those raw numbers, but it is beyond question that were they to move to the latter stages of next year’s World Cup, both the interest, and the audience would climb dramatically if it were widely available, not least because it would be promoted across all media, social or otherwise. Instead, even if England were to win the thing, it will remain a niche occasion. It is this in particular that remains unforgivable, that the ECB blew the opportunity offered to a sport that had captured the public imagination as on few occasions previously. Cricket is not football, but the shared national experience when our team does well is something beyond price, and really does inspire a generation.

The football team may not have beaten anyone of note yet, but kids across the country were kicking footballs afterwards, just as in 2005 they were taking a bat and a ball to the park. For all the protestations about the viability of the professional game without Sky’s money (how on earth did they survive before 2006?), this fundamental importance has been ignored. The argument these days appears to be an almost apologetic one, that ok yes, perhaps they have destroyed the game in national consciousness, but it’s too late now and they can’t survive by changing tack. It is weak, defeatist nonsense driven by self-interest.

Buttler should be a household name. Roy should be a household name, Hales should be a household name, the captain Eoin Morgan should be a household name. Children should be trying to emulate Adil Rashid and make their friends look foolish with one that grips and turns. But they aren’t, and after a series where whatever the caveats, England were both exceptional and thrilling, this is the most disappointing part. Forget for one moment the debate about red ball and white ball cricket, when England really do have a team that can inspire a nation, hardly anyone saw it.

It is that, above all else, that can never be forgiven.

England v Australia: 5th ODI – open thread

4-0 up, one to go. England have been utterly dominant this series, and more so as it’s gone along, so the interest in this one is whether Australia can gain a consolation win or whether England will whitewash them.

For all England’s problems in red ball cricket, the ODI team really are quite something, especially in the batting division. And given the focus and priority of the ECB over the last few years, it’s entirely deliberate too. There are obvious pluses and minuses in that.

At 1pm any focus on the cricket will switch to the England football team and their World Cup match against Panama, as TV audiences will soar on free to air television as the national team perform. Cricket isn’t football, but the striking difference is always highlighted when there’s an event considered nationally important.

I’ll do a proper review of this series later, but for now, comment away, and here’s some little light reading about the Australian ball tampering affair to be going on with:

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/what-turned-steve-smith-into-a-cheat-20180618-p4zm57.html

Comments on the game below as ever.

England vs Australia: 4th ODI Open Thread

After the demolition of the Australian bowling that was either magnificent or an illustration of the continuing descent of bowlers into batsman fodder, depending on perspective, it’s off to Chester-le-Street for the fourth match of a series England have already won.

As so often with cricket, as much interest can be found in what is happening off the field, and the release of the Future Tours Programme for 2018-23 (having left it a mite late) is something to which we’ll return.  Much of the content has been trailed heavily – the creation of a World Test Championship and an ODI League for example, but perhaps the most striking thing is how for England, Australia and India, playing each other will take up around half of their entire Test playing programmes.  It appears familiarity and boredom with the same opponents is not a factor to be considered.

Comments on today’s ODI and whatever else takes your fancy below.

Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.