Lost in Space

It’s been a fair while since I’ve  written a piece, and it’s been like an itch that needs scratching.  The last few months have been fairly manic with work, but after next week it should be a quieter period, just in time for Christmas and then January and February, which are my easy months of the year, comparatively.

I’ve also been doing some research on a bigger post to come, and have notes scribbled all over the place.  Picking the right time to do that is perhaps the biggest question.

The approaching series is the one in South Africa, historically always one of the marquee series, and thus one where excitement is building, right?

Hmm.  Over the last week we had the nominations for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the observation that despite a truly fantastic year, Joe Root was missing from the list.  It was also pointed out that at the same time, a woman footballer was on there, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.

From a couple of cricket writers.

From the wider public there was the sound of complete indifference.

Now, the reason for me apparently picking on a female footballer there was deliberate.  You see, not only are those matches visible on terrestrial television, but it goes further than that.  Participation in female football has been growing rapidly in the last few years, and in the next 12 months or so, it will exceed the male participation in cricket in this country.  Add to that the higher viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup, and realistically, why should there be the slightest objection or even query?  By these measures, women’s football is simply more important to the English people than cricket is.

Is it really?  Probably not, yet one of the defences the ECB puts up to cricket not being on terrestrial television is that it is available on Test Match Special on the radio.  Yet here we have an Ashes winning year with one player across the calendar year proving genuinely exceptional and becoming the number one batsman in the world, and he wasn’t included.  But the fundamental point is that people do get missed off these things, that isn’t the story – the total indifference to it is.

Few would argue that the SPOTY award is more than a bit of fluff, yet it is symptomatic of the decline in interest in the sport generally that Root being left out didn’t cause a storm of outrage, instead it wasn’t even noticed.  Go to the pub, sit at the bar, raise the subject amongst those interested in sport and see what the reaction is.  There’s a slight raising of the eyebrows and a response of “oh yes.  That’s true”.  This is more dangerous to the game here than anything, when the sporting public don’t even realise until it’s pointed out.

When this debate occurs, the question of terrestrial television coverage is always rejected with the line that the drop in revenue from doing so would be a disaster for the game, and that terrestrial coverage wouldn’t suddenly change everything.  This is true, yet it is what it always has been – a complete straw man argument.  No one is arguing that it is a panacea for all ills, it’s a deep seated concern that there won’t be much of a game to support at this rate.

Ah yes, but crowds remain excellent and there is strong demand, so the story goes.  Yet this year there were day one tickets available for the Lords Ashes Test, on the day of the match.  Trying to find this kind of information out from the ECB is nigh on impossible, and so the supporting evidence for this assertion is a simple one – I looked at the Lords website and went through most of the process of buying one to see if I could.  It’s unlikely there were many, but the point is there actually were some.

Let’s just think about that; day one tickets, on the day, for the Lords Test, of an Ashes series.  And England had just gone 1-0 up.  Cost is a big part of this for certain, the exponential increase in ticket prices and the gouging of supporters by the ECB (funny how the huge rise in income for the ECB hasn’t held ticket prices down) has probably reached a point where a substantial number of those who would go simply don’t solely for this reason. Yet the alarm bells should be ringing loudly, and the biggest concern is they don’t seem to be.

It didn’t help of course that the Ashes series itself was such a dreadful one, five completely one sided matches with barely any drama or uncertainty beyond the first day and a bit.  But to counter that, the two Tests against New Zealand were truly magnificent, cricket as entertainment at its best.  It still didn’t make much difference.

With most specialist interests, there’s the matter that anyone writing or talking about it is doing so in an echo chamber, the only people who react or read it, or argue back are those who have the same interest, and thus it can be talked about at great length, entirely oblivious to the fact that no one outside of it cares.  This is where cricket now is.  The national press do cover the game, but if the Sun stopped writing about it (tucked away four pages in from the back) would anyone care?  Would anyone outside of the few even notice?  It seems unlikely.

Out of sight, out of mind is the most dangerous state for any sport to reach.  For decades the lamentation that football has taken over the national consciousness at the expense of cricket has gone up, but it’s gone way further than that now.  Rugby union is miles ahead, notwithstanding the England team gloriously completely the full set of the three “major” team sports all going out at the group stage of their respective World Cups (the football team’s failure is positively superb by comparison with the other two), in fact rugby league probably is.  Cycling, tennis, athletics – they all now have a much broader appeal than cricket does.  It’s nothing more than a minority interest, and the slump in people playing is as good an evidence of that as anything else.

If you were to visit some of the London parks, the removal of the cricket pitches by the councils is something that has been highlighted over the last few years.  Yet a question that is never asked about that is what if the councils are right?  What if they have removed them not just because of the expense, but because no one really cares if they do?  It’s not like it was met with strong protest, more like quiet grumbles at the way things are going.

The national team is the pinnacle of any sport, and also the showcase of it.  For all the talk about the dominance of the club game in football, nothing pulls in viewers or captures the imagination like the national team doing well – younger readers may need to ask a parent – yet despite the defeat in the UAE, the England cricket team had a reasonable enough year post World Cup, and for most of the wider public, it simply passed them by.

A South Africa tour should be highly anticipated, England don’t win there often, and despite the hosts comprehensive defeat in India, it will be a stiff challenge.  But will anyone notice?  Will anyone even realise it’s happening?

The wider ramifications of the ICC power grab are yet to unwind, the complicity of much of the media in allowing that to happen with no objections or investigation as shameful as it ever was.  But the bigger issue right now is the game itself, and where it is in this country.  And for the first time I am starting to truly fear for its future, not just at the top level but throughout.  The mendacity and self-serving nature of the avaricious ECB is a subject to which we will return time and again.  The danger is that it reaches a point where even when it’s put in front of the public, they still couldn’t care less.

 

 

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School Report: Summer 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@BlueEarthMngmnt

England v New Zealand: ODI series review

Just more of the same old problems really.  A static opening batsman, an over-reliance on what the data says, a determination to reach an adequate score that proved totally inadequate.  Square pegs in round holes, a complete unwillingness to try players who have been successful in the short form of the game in domestic cricket, and an approach that looks frankly terrified throughout. Hang on, that’s not what happened at all is it?  England won the series 3-2 of course, but even if they’d fallen short in the final match, it wouldn’t have mattered in terms of them demonstrating progress.  That they did mattered greatly to the players of course, and the joy and delight on their faces was apparent to all. But what it did highlight was the astonishing change in approach for this series and this series alone.  And it raised lots of questions about how England had played before, how they’d been set up to play before, and the management who were responsible for that. As recently as March, Alastair Cook was berating all and sundry for dropping him as captain for the World Cup, stating that the side needed his leadership and criticising Eoin Morgan for how he had led the side.  This is history of course, so why bring it up again?  Well the trouble is that the most striking thing about the change of approach from England is that it has plainly never occurred to the old guard to do it.  When Cook was whining about his omission, he at no time stated his dissatisfaction with the style of England’s play, merely that they didn’t play very well, and that it would all have been so different had he been there.  A penny for those thoughts seeing England play in such a manner Alastair. As for Morgan himself, there are enough indications now coming out that he was deeply unhappy as captain in the World Cup, specifically because of the strait-jacket in which the team was placed.  Whilst he probably won’t win any awards at the Funky Captaincy Annual Dinner, he is clearly a major influence on the way in which England are now approaching the format. One of the most amazing sights about this England team is that they are so obviously and plainly enjoying themselves thoroughly.  The England teams have looked utterly miserable for a long time, and the most basic pleasure of playing sport seemed to have gone completely.  For this team at least, it is well and truly back. What isn’t known is whether that will spill over into the Test side as well.  Of course, it is an entirely different game, but those players who will return do seem to prefer scowling to smiling, berating team mates to jumping on them.  There’s some sympathy to be held here, grumpy, crotchety older players are hardly especially unusual, and particularly so when there’s frustration and unhappiness.  Yet the contrast between Broad and Anderson on the one hand, and Mark Wood on the other, couldn’t be more obvious.  In the last match, Wood playfully pretended to Mankad one of the New Zealand batsman.  He laughed, the batsman smiled, and so did the umpire.  And yet….Wood had rather made the point there hadn’t he?  Don’t push it with the backing up.  All with humour.  Likewise with his sudden sneaky running in before the batsman was ready.  It kept them on their toes, and was all done with a smile, from a player who looks like a kid at Christmas.  What will be fascinating to see is if Wood’s patent enjoyment rubs off on the others.  Because there’s no doubt at all, a team having fun will play better than if they’re not. Wood’s economy rate of 5.23 across the three matches he played was bettered only by Trent Boult on either side, and in a series which was such a run fest, it proved critical to the outcome.  That Boult was injured dealt a huge blow to New Zealand, without question.  But that’s the game, and few series have gone by without injuries to key players.  Where it does become relevant as far as England are concerned is that when Wood first played in the Tests, there were concerns about whether his action made him an accident waiting to happen.  England then played him in the one day series.  This is a difficult one.  England’s bowling coaches mangled James Anderson thoroughly trying to fix a potential injury crisis before it happened, and since he returned to his natural action, he’s remained more or less constantly fit.  It’s probably best to leave Wood alone, and deal with any issues if and when they arise rather than worrying potentially unnecessarily.  But managing his workload is still sensible.  One of the overriding criticisms of England is that they are extremely poor at doing so.  Grinding Wood into the dirt won’t be easily forgiven if they do it. In terms of the selection for this series, it seems that incoming coach Trevor Bayliss requested a young side and the selectors obliged.  That in itself raises questions about how it was done previously.  On tour it’s said that although the selectors choose the squad, captain and coach select the team.  That means that Adil Rashid’s clear success in this series vindicated the selectors who chose him for the West Indies, but rather hang out to dry then coach Peter Moores and captain Alastair Cook for not picking him.  With the ODI series over and eyes turning towards the beginning of the Ashes, quite why Rashid wasn’t tried – and the justification that he’d not bowled well in the nets – looks more and more an aberration, especially given Mooen Ali’s clear and obvious lack of fitness.  Better late than never perhaps, but it doesn’t mean excusing it. A similar circumstance applies to Alex Hales, albeit concerning his absence from the World Cup until it was too late.  Hales didn’t go on to make the big score he would have craved, but he undoubtedly set the tone with his batting, and others carried it on.  That he was ignored for so long because of a supposed weakness to the ball coming in looks ever more bizarre.  And yet it’s exactly how it is with English sport all too often, a focus on what someone supposedly can’t do rather than promote what they can.  Hales was instrumental to England firing from the very top. Not everything England tried came off.  Jason Roy did ok without every looking like he was going to take the world by storm.  Steven Finn took wickets yet still didn’t look the bowler he was.  And of course the final match yesterday had England 50-5.  And yet none of the shots were especially reckless, they just found fielders through slightly awry execution for the most part.  That’s not something to worry about, it can happen and on this occasion it did happen.  It will also happen again.  The recovery led by Bairstow was outstanding, and they still played in the same manner.   On so many occasions England have said they are learning, yet right now with this side, they really are learning.  Some patience with them when they get it wrong is deserved.  It’s only when they use that as a shield to close down discussion and criticism that it’s a problem, I don’t get the feeling with this side that it is. And so New Zealand come to the close of their tour of England, with just a T20 match to come.  They have been brilliant tourists, and that people have been heard to say we should have them every year says everything about how they have played the game.  As well as playing attacking, exciting cricket as a policy, they have some genuinely fine cricketers.  Kane Williamson looks special, Ross Taylor is a terrific batsman, and the seam attack even beyond Boult and Southee looks potent.  Above all else, they have played it in a wonderful spirit, demonstrating beyond all question that playing the game hard doesn’t have to mean sledging, abusing or provoking opponents.  It’s something England could learn from, as could several teams.  Not shouting at an opponent isn’t giving them an easy ride, and never has been. England go to New Zealand in 2018 as currently scheduled.  There are again only two Tests to be played.  It is possible they will look to amend that, but not very likely.  The last tour down there was praised for being beautifully balanced, with three T20s, three ODIs and three Tests.  So of course they are not going to repeat that.  It would be too much to think that the boards could see a good thing and capitalise on it.  Although some things can change on the field, off it very little does.  And while this post has concentrated on the cricket, it doesn’t mean that the ECB are now forgotten for what they have done, not for a single second.  It might be what they hope for, but the news overnight about telling Sky which commentators they can have remains as symptomatic of their ability to make a bad situation even worse as ever. It’s just that the cricket itself sometimes reminds you why we care. @BlueEarthMngmnt

Escape For Victory

There was almost something poetic about Jonny Bairstow’s knock today. In a nutshell it summed up so much that had gone wrong in the past. That Adil Rashid was there at the end as well, was strangely appropriate. Two talents somewhat unfulfilled at the international level. Two “what ifs”. Two players seemingly relishing their chance to shine.

Today’s win is one of the really good ones. It’s the one dug out of adversity, when you are, to all intents and purposes, dead in the water. You are left 45 for 5. The rocks on which we are building this revival had gone – Hales had failed at the top of the order, Root had gone at three, and then so did Morgan. With no Buttler to fall back on, it was now up to rookie Sam Billings, and fallen young star Jonny Bairstow. As I drove back from Costco in Croydon, in the middle of a rainstorm I heard the two lads put the partnership together to cement the innings and give us a shout. When Billings went, Bairstow piled on. I got back to see the end. Bairstow with cool hitting getting us home, and yes, with a bit of luck too, with the drop by Santner almost certainly costing the New Zealanders the match.

But the symbolism of a talent, abused and ignored by England for so long, bringing a new era home was not lost on me. Bairstow had become the world’s most experience drinks carrier. He was called up rarely, often without much in the way of top class cricket under his belt in the weeks building up to his appearances. He’d come into teams either shot of confidence, or knowing he wasn’t there for long. He’d been over-sold when he made a 95 at Lord’s against South Africa, or that 50 at Cardiff. But he’d be in and out more times than an Hokey Kokey convention and he withered. Today was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I’m thrilled for him, and I’ve not said that about a cricketer in ages. I thought it was reminiscent of the KP innings against Australia at Bristol in 2005 – maybe not as violent, but every bit as important because this won a series, this continued momentum, this set down a bit of a marker, and it was against pretty large odds. Good luck.

I’m not going to go into huge detail on the game. I’ll leave that to thelegglance who is going to do a series review in the next day or two. But a series win is important, but in the whole scheme of things not that important. It was the manner in which we played, it was seeing some of our talent set free. I love that more than anything. Adil Rashid was excellent with the ball today. Mark Wood looks like he loves it out there. Jos Buttler is a man with talent to burn. Eoin Morgan and Joe Root are the rocks at 3 and 4. It’s a team to get behind. It’s a team that enthuses.

On to the Ashes. And the return of those who were noticeable by their absence. ABC will return. They have a momentum they have to ride with, not destroy. We’ll be watching. Carefully.

England v New Zealand – ODI #5 – The Decider At Durham

Well, Chester-le-Street, but you get my drift.

The Greatest One Day Series in the history of mankind (containing one remotely close match in four) comes to an end today up north. There appears to be a little bit of rain about, but probably not enough to impact too much on the game – though you never know – but let’s hope the series is not ended with a DLS, or whatever it is called, schmozzle.

England look to be without Jos Buttler, who has split the webbing on his hand, and there is an emergency call-up for Jonny Bairstow. I’d have thought we’d have allowed the other keeper in the squad, Sam Billings, a chance to carry out the duties, so have England just called Jonny up for another chance to carry the drinks, for which he’s undoubtedly the Don Bradman of in terms of proficiency. With Buttler out, does it mean a place for James Taylor, and if so, will it be at 6 or will he take 5 from Stokes?

As for the bowling, it’s getting to the stage that the quicker bowlers should sling their names in a hat, and the first three are pulled out. This has been a lamentable series for all the bowlers (perhaps I’m being harsh on Wood) and there’s no indication that’s going to stop.

Anyway, I look forward to all your comments as usual. Once this is out of the way, and the T20 game on Tuesday is in the books, this blog will be dominated by the one series that truly matters to all cricket fans in this country. So while the press and ECB TV are waxing lyrical over how great this series is, and what a shame it was just the two tests, all the promos, including that bloody song, and a renamed channel are on the way and filling our screens. We may not be having the “phoney war” as one poking journo (!) called it quite rightly, but it’ll be made up for. Or maybe, just maybe, we are a teeny weeny bit fed up that this is the third Ashes series within 24 months, and that overkill is in play?

Now Alex, when you get in that position again, you know, 60-odd by 10 overs, don’t do that again. There are massive tons in your horizon….

Amour (and the preview for ODI #4)

Everyone’s happy. England are playing a really exciting brand of ODI cricket. There’s thrill a minunte stroke play, a new approach, a wonderful fresh positive attitude. It’s New England. Wow. Get it. New England….

So feel free to add your comments below as the 4th ODI takes place at Trent Bridge. I’ll be stuck in a dreary training course, licking my wounds from a horrible day, both personally and professionally, and feeling bitter that people will be enjoying the crash bang wallop of cricket.

At about 12:30 in the latest Switch Hit, George Dobell said something along the lines of “after two years of cynicism about the England team and the ECB, the public are falling back in love with English cricket again, and that’s the most important thing”.

I can’t get angry with George. I really can’t. He’s the only one who could possibly have said that and got away with it. But it got me thinking. Stand by for an even greater load of old nonsense. I’m gonna tell you a story…..

Let’s go down memory lane, and have a bit of catharsis along the way. A good few years ago I went out with a woman who, it is fair to say, I was batting over my average with. I hadn’t a lot of self-esteem, and this brought confidence and a verve to my life. I walked with a swagger, I felt good about myself. It was great. Then I found out I was being used. Used as an emotional crutch, and things turned. Suddenly I found that I was miserable with her, and even more miserable without. Then I was dumped.

Oh, don’t be a tart, I can hear you say, but stick with it. In cricket parlance, the early 2000s were that woman. We had a tremendous team, flawed but exciting, and it was arguably more than we deserved. We knew it couldn’t last, but effing hell, wasn’t it great? Beating South Africa away, seven test wins in a summer and then the Ashes…. the Ashes in 2005. But then things were never the same, and the following few years I followed the team, even away to Oz, but this wasn’t a new era. It was good, but it was also making me miserable as our team floundered.

Anyway, after the first dumping, we got back together. It was nice, for a while, but we knew it wouldn’t last, there were too many fractures, hey, even a lack of trust (ho ho ho).

That period is England 2010-12. Great at times, so much so that you forget the big losses like Pakistan or South Africa. But there were some good times, very good times. But again, you knew a let-down was coming, and some of the rough periods….

Then we split up, permanently. Oh, I didn’t give up, but it was not going to happen. She’d toy with my affection a bit (India 2012….) but then slammed me down with an embarrassing put down (Ashes 2013/14). Then came the waste period, as I had bitter recriminations and couldn’t, as the cricket parlance said, move on….

A few years later, when I first was going out with my lovely wife, I was at work one day when I heard that voice on the phone. “Hello Dmitri, how are you…” I now found myself in a dilemma. Should I seek out the familiar seductive voice on the phone, or move on permanently and ignore it. “I’m down the pub, near your work. Would you like to meet me?”

That, my dear friends, is the current England ODI and test team. Pulling on your heartstrings. You know they haven’t really changed, and that it’s better with the life you live, but you aren’t a silly lovesick puppy any more, in need of a relationship where the other party effects care, but actually doesn’t really need you. But, but, but…….That ex is the ECB. Writ large. Flashing their seductive voice with new eras, and flashy play. But they don’t really care about you. You are there when they want something, and nothing else.

So, George, I’m not going to stop being cynical about the ECB at all. Not at those ticket prices. Not until I hear a mea culpa from them over outside cricket that doesn’t pin it on the bloke they chose to employ. Not with their attitude to the supporters. Not even if England’s players play an exciting, wonderful brand of cricket. I’m not coming back to the fold on the back of the cricketing equivalent of one bloody phone call.

Here endeth the oddest post in Being Outside Cricket. On a day when I was told I didn’t get that promotion, after I’d been told that a client of our’s had passed away at the weekend, it’s been a day. A really bad one.

Lord knows what will happen tomorrow. I only know that it really can’t be worse than today.

Send the men in the white coats. I’m prepared to be laughed at. Because after this day, laughter’s about all I have!

Good night, good people. Keep smiling and ignore that bloody phone call….

England v New Zealand – ODI #3 – The Ageas Bowl

After the day-night nonsense on Friday, there’s a very short turnaround for game 3 of this compelling series. The teams will do battle at the Ageas Bowl and England won’t want to remember the last time we met at that venue….

http://www.espncricinfo.com/england-v-new-zealand-2013/engine/match/566924.html

This game was just before the Champions Trophy, and the score of 359 was an asbolute blockbuster for this country. Now it seems around par. What the hell is going on? I seem to recall Jonathan Trott getting a bit of stick for his century at just over a run a ball, but then again, we sort of blamed him for most things in ODIs when he was a decent performer. But with the euphoria of the last two matches, Jonathan Trott appears to be the Betamax to this team’s VHS. It’s odd how things have turned in two years.

There also was the clue for Guptill’s double ton in the World Cup writ large in that fixture. He went off in the last 10 overs. It was a great batting wicket, he got in, he cashed in. Also, it can’t be helped, but Jade Dernbach posted some mighty fine numbers in that game.

So to the game at the Ageas. England will be forced to make a minimum of two changes. Chris Jordan being ruled out was no surprise as he was shunted down the order, clearly inhibited by his injury, but Liam Plunkett’s absence falls into the “oh damn” category. While his bowling has been no worse than the others, his punchy hitting in the last two games has shown a real liveliness, and he gave England hope when there was little on Friday. Damn. Craig Overton has already been called up, and there’s speculation on the wires over the other, with many wanting Footit to have his day.

As it is, tomorrow might see two of the squad members play, with Mark Wood and David Willey surely in line to play (otherwise, why are they in the squad?) There then remains the question over whether Sam Billings keeps his place. It would appear slightly strange to drop him as his replacement would need to be James Taylor and he’s not a number 7. Or he shouldn’t be. We don’t want Buttler coming in at 7, nor Stokes, so there is a logjam there. I’ll let them call that one.

After a hammering in Game 1, the New Zealanders showed their batting class, and had the real difference maker on the day, Trent Boult, in their line-up. McCullum might be due a big one if he can just cut out the 100% give it a lash approach, but that’s the joy with this team; they can hurt you in so many ways.

Here’s hoping for another belter. Comments below.

It was good to see the people coming out of the ether to discuss thelegglance’s piece with us today. It was an excellent discussion and gave us some food for thought. There’s a key point not to treat the print media as a homogenous unit, but the old guard are certainly in the firing line. One read of Pringle’s article in this month’s Cricketer which speaks again of KP’s propaganda machine and of Strauss calling him a c–t being quite endearing, is just embarrassing. I’ve been advised by more than one source to stop letting this sort of thing wind me up. Well, if I didn’t, you lot wouldn’t be here………

Set your alarm clocks. Bunkers at 8:30 am.

All the best.

@DmitriOld @collythorpe @outsidecricket

The Rapid Reaction – ODI #2

2nd ODI – New Zealand 398/5 (Taylor 119*, Williamson 93, Guptill 50) beat England 365-9 (Morgan 88, Hales 54) by 13 runs on DL Method.

Dmitri on duty tonight as thelegglance is having a break from the match reviews for the evening.

I did not get to see the first innings of the match. I missed Ross Taylor’s century, the hitting, the accumulation, the posting of the second highest score in ODI history in England. 398 for 5. I will leave it to others to describe the bowling, which judging by the commenters on here, wasn’t up to much, with the inability to take wickets still a major concern. The Oval clearly put up a road for the day’s entertainment judging by what I’m watching as I start the match report.

Now England’s chase is something we’ve wanted to see. They’ve gone for it. You know that it hasn’t been reckless, but it’s been focussed, it’s been a study in hitting and technique, and it is an even better example of the change of mentality that this ODI team seems to have in these early days of full reconstruction. They set the highest score that England have ever made in the second innings of an ODI. They did it with decent contributions down the order.

I can only really comment on what I’ve watched. The best sign was the innings of Eoin Morgan. He’s taken a hell of a lot of stick over the winter, even though he made an ODI hundred in Australia which his predecessor as captain hadn’t looked like doing for years. Sure, he wasn’t in top form, we knew that, but his 88 today was brilliant. It looked almost “risk-free” but if he’d continued he’d have beaten Buttler’s record. It’s back-to-back 50s for him, the first being mightily undetected in the last match which was crucial in the rebuilding of the innings.

The openers showed great promise, although Jason Roy’s dismissal annoyed me a touch. Fact is, that I’ll have to get over it with the way this team looks like it is setting up to play. Alex Hales made a decent half-century, but left you wanting more. One day I see that bloke clicking, being the sort you cannot bowl to, and beating Robin Smith’s record. Good grief, that needs to go, even remembering how much I liked Judge. Joe Root was a bit daft. I’m saying this early, I know, but all but one of his ODI tons came batting first, and while the other was a winning effort, it was in a chase of 240-odd. He’s our Kane Williamson. But you don’t come off every time.

Jos, even when he’s not in miracle mode, played well until nicking off. There’s the itch you can’t scratch that maybe he’s one or two places too low? Obviously not everyone can bat in the top 4 slots. If he did, he’d threathen that record too. Ben Stokes will also come off.

Then came Rashid and Plunkett. Then the rain. Then cricket being cricket.

There can be just two reasons for the equation of 13 balls to score 34 balls. Rigidity of rules so that the game finishes at a specified time, which is nonsense if all you are giving yourself is half an hour. London Transport, when it works, does run past 21:20. If it’s the Resident’s Association of Kennington, the sort that moaned when Surrey planned to build a hotel where the old relic Laker and Lock stands are, but seem to look out of their windows a lot when play is on, then stuff them. Their property values aren’t going down for 20 minutes play. Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of rules is rules muppets out there, but get over yourselves.

Before the rain Rashid and Plunkett rode their luck but hit some superb shots. They kept a dead game alive. They are the reason we can get back to liking this team, those of us who need more than just Chef platitudes and to be told that the test team is now back in the fold. Rashid appears a totem for the past regime. A higher risk pick in a low risk management structure. Plunkett’s 44, completed in the farcical 13 ball period, was a brilliant sight. He’s a lost talent, through injury and other things, but we remember his batting being not bad stuff first time around. Rashid then fell to wonderful fielding. This game could have had such a great finale.

In defeat this England team won more admirers. That speaks volumes. We’ll forgive, always, those that give it a go, a reall good go. Not reckless abandon, but positive intent. Not fear of failure, but being positive, attacking, aggressive with the bat. This is something I can get behind. I don’t usually do “heroic failure” but we can all see progress here.

Lastly, I thought I’d address some of the stuff I had this morning. Frankly, if you read my Meantime London Lager fuelled riposte to the Pringle “irrelevant” jibe, and the main point you took out of it was that I resented business travel, then there’s not a lot I can do. I thought the piece was framed, even in my alcohol-induced blind rage, to say we pay our way, we feel the pain not only personally, but financially, and it isn’t our job to follow the team, but our passion. Now, I am not saying the hacks are not equally as passionate, but they are the envy of many by getting paid to travel the world to watch the game. Therefore, when those in that fortunate, privileged position decide that those who pay their wages are irrelevant, is the point that all but a few seemed to grasp. Thelegglance has a think piece on this which we’ll release over the weekend.

Oh, it’s not about me being criticised. I dish it out, so I have to take it. But it doesn’t mean I won’t defend myself.

England v New Zealand – 2nd ODI

OK, got that Pringle stuff off my chest. Now on to the cricket.

We were all gobsmacked at that batting performance on Tuesday, and now the importance of this game is paramount. Can we follow that style up? What if we need to chase a big total? How will that go? Can the relative rookies take a grip of the game and show their talent?

Again, sadly, I’m in the office so won’t get to see a lot of the match. I also know Vian isn’t going to be in contact with the game but we’ll do our best to cover the action and bring you our reactions.

Irrelevant as they may be.

Comments below, as usual.

England v New Zealand – 2nd Test Day 3 Report / 4 Preview – General Moan

Counter-Punchers
Counter-Punchers

This has been every bit a rollercoaster of a test match as the last. First you think England are taking control, then the BlackCaps have fought back, and may even have edged in front. Then,when things seem to be going New Zealand’s way, they lose a wicket or allow the 9th and 10th wickets to score some runs.

The approach after England had battled to parity was typical of the New Zealanders on this tour. They thought that aggression would overcome some of the patent difficulties that they are having in keeping out the England bowlers for any length of time (save the second day at Lord’s). So after the early losses of Latham and Williamson to really good new ball bowling by Stuart Broad, they counter-attacked. I always feel this England side hate a team doing that more than most. Others see it as a sign of desperation and just wait it out knowing in all likelihood the chance will come, while we seem to start following the ball. That positive attitude is becoming a bit of a cliche already in this series, almost as if we are somewhat talking down to the visitors. But McCullum showed early on that he can play the other way, and stick around when the ball isn’t there to hit. The Guptill/Taylor partnership was particularly important in giving the visitors a platform.

Early on England’s batting subsided. We went from 177 for no loss to 250 for 8, when we are told this middle order is rock solid and with no vacancies. I can’t start calling for heads because George Dobell might get upset (boy, am I going to remember that impolite response on Polite Enquiries) but if a middle order batsman has made scores of 11,1,0,0,1, 29 (out in first over of a new day), 12 (out early on a new day) in the run-up to the Ashes, you aren’t entitled to be a tiny bit concerned. No-one is calling for the days of dropping a player at the hint of a bad trot, but nor should this be a cosy club either. Also, it’s not as if we’re the only ones here a bit concerned with the way Gary Ballance is getting out. It was the case with Sam Robson last year, and Trott in the West Indies, in that the manner of dismissals seemed to alarm the journos.  Last night’s dismissal of Ballance alarmed me. I fear for what Johnson and Starc might do, as well as Harris, to that hanging back technique. That cockiness was cited by many as a useful line to take to keep the KP fans at bay  – “just tell him there’s no vacancy” – and Strauss might have known this wasn’t plausible as a long-term strategy. The form of our middle order is irrelevant (pretty much) in the KP debate. It’s not the location of battle chosen for us.

England nipped out two early wickets, with Latham being followed to Williamson who has looked really out of sorts since he passed 100 at Lord’s. Yes, I know have some Century Watches to catch up on before you ask.  Then Taylor and Guptill counter-punched, and when they went in short succession, BJ Watling and Brendon McCullum fought hard again, with Watling confounding received wisdom by outscoring his more renowned partner and going through to a tremendous 100. Watling has been as obdurate and resourceful as his form in his home country indicates. He’s been an absolute star for this team, and he’s not the sort to sell tickets, but to score runs. I’m a big fan.

McCullum was subdued, and having escaped an LBW when he got the merest of gloves on the ball while stone dead, he then copped one of those “Umpire’s Call” decisions that gets poor old D’Arthez steaming. Absolutely steaming. It looked wrong, didn’t it? But then I was a (bad) batsman and I’m not coming at this from a neutral position. Half-way up middle is what I need.

New Zealand finished the day on 338/6 with 435 runs in the day, and Watling still unbeaten. Craig is also looking solid. Alarm bells ringing, and England will have to break their chase record to win this test and the series. Rain may bring the draw into play, but if there are no stoppages, it would take New Zealand batting until mid-afternoon to mean survival would be all that mattered. England haven’t chased down a total over 200 in my memory for quite a few years, so this doesn’t look good.

This New Zealand approach is relentless. They look to score, they take calculated risks, they will come up short, badly short, on bad days. But they are no jokers. I get the feeling some people are patronising them a little, but I’m not. This is compelling entertainment as the visitors try to emulate Australia circa 2001-2004 but on a lot less resource. It’s just fantastic. They may be trend-setters, not anomalies. They just keep scoring runs. They are a team you can fall in love with.

I’ve not read the papers or below the line much this week. I’ve not been motivated much to do this blog either, if truth be told. I’ll do more in a general piece later in the week, time permitting, but I felt no joy at Cook’s breaking of the record, got more and more pissed off with ECB TV, thought that banner shit to celebrate the record was astro-turfing of the most contrived kind (remember when Downton moaned about someone setting 10000 runs in tests as a personal ambition) and yes, I felt the record had come about because the competition had been eliminated and we’d not been told why. They can yawn all they like, but I don’t trust them any more to do their jobs. So when I should have been happy as larry at a great win, I felt more disillusioned that I was being told to forget all that went before and “fall in love with this team again”. No-one tells me how to think, and one blinding moment does not erase the disgrace that the ECB had been up until that test. The same Ben Stokes that was lambasted for his dire form last summer, and the punching of a locker, is now put on some Flintoff pedestal on the back of one, albeit glittering, performance? Cook has been almost back to his best so many time, that I’m working out which one I’m too believe (and it was probably India 2012 if truth be told, and he’s not near that yet), although, yes, I know he’s in better nick than he was last year. But let’s see this against the Aussies, when we’ll really need his runs.

I’m absolutely pig-sick with the way a great, entertaining, fantastic match has been used by those who should know better to say all in the garden is rosy. It ignores how our top and higher middle order is folding like wet cardboard on too many occasions to be comfortable. It cost us Barbados, it cost us a hole to dig out of at Lord’s and it brought the BlackCaps right back in this game. Then we saw it again with the love-in for Cook. The Dauphin has ascended to the Throne at the top of England’s run scorers, and those that are his detractors can go off and kick their cats, according to those who have the game at heart. I was always brought up to be true to my emotions and say what I think. I wouldn’t kick my cat. I don’t have one. Jake is safe too, especially after his recent leg injury! No. I’ll just turn further away from the game, and feel even more bitter about it. Hey, those who don’t agree with me may want that, keeping the game as their own private preserve. They can yawn away to their heart’s content.

OK, Day 4. Sadly I will not be in touch at all with the game tomorrow. I have a very early flight, and unless the office I’m in has wifi that I can access, I’m not going to hear a thing until I return tomorrow night (at 9ish). Don’t feel too sorry for me….New Zealand are in the ascendancy and have England where they want them. It’s a funny old game and all that, and someone might need to make a big hundred (or two or three make large contributions), but history and form indicate a New Zealand victory. England cannot let them get more than 30 more runs, in my view. Even that might be too many. Likely is already.

Also, nice to note, even after how he was treated by the ECB after the 355*, and the opprobrium he has taken, where he’d be quite entitled to tell English cricket to shove it, that KP is playing for Surrey despite having no chance of representing England again.

Hopefully thelegglance will update you tomorrow, and I’ll await his report.