The Tangled Web

Guess what everyone?  Today is the fifth and final ODI, and the last international cricket of the summer.  Yes, it’s still summer – did you not get the memo?  You may think it’s nearly October, but there’s still money to be made, and if that means January is henceforth to be considered balmy high summer, then you’ll just have to lump it.

Of course, the usual lack of interest in a non-descript dead rubber of an ODI (apart from those with tickets, obviously – but they don’t count for anything these days) is compounded by (note capitalisation now required) The Ben Stokes Affair.  As Sean wrote so eloquently yesterday  the ECB’s track record when players go rogue is anything but a consistent one, and the importance of Stokes to the team (but not Hales remember) means they are now in a tricky spot with regards to the upcoming Ashes.  Doubtless, they’d rather like the whole thing to go away, but it has to be said that this is rather more serious than the usual transgressions and the suspension of both Stokes and Hales was probably the minimum they could get away with doing.

There’s been a whole heap of discussion around the rights and wrongs of those events, but there are a couple of considerations for a blog like this:  first of all, none of us are lawyers and the term “sub judice” tends to strike a degree of fear into the team.  Worth noting that for the comments too by the way, so please be circumspect. Reporting what has been said is fair game, but there are plenty of places that’s discussed and rote repetition of what’s elsewhere seems a bit pointless.  We do from time to time get information about various subjects and have refused to post them (you might say we skip them) because there’s no evidence and none of us want to land in court.   We’re not so obscure we can say what we like.

The cricketing fall out is a bit different, which is why so many of the comment pieces in the press have focused on that.  Stokes’ status as the talismanic all rounder makes this something of a nightmare for the ECB to negotiate, as they balance the needs of the team with their public role as the face of cricket (stop sniggering at the back).  Were Stokes not so integral, it seems hard to believe that they would do anything but drop him from the Ashes squad, highlighting both the double/triple standards involved, and the line of least resistance so often taken.  What that means is that they are now in a real bind – they can weaken the side substantially by not taking him, or if they do then they will be accused of placing results above all other considerations – something of an irony given their predilection for placing revenue above cricket most of the time.

That the two of them were out so late has been a topic of some debate, but sportsmen have often partied as hard as they play, and often go out late and yes, spend that time drinking.  As much as some would like them to be monastic in their behaviour, it’s simply not going to happen with everyone – or more specifically, it’s not going to happen all the time.  How often they do that is a slightly different question, but it’s certainly true that players in the youth England sides are kept on an extremely tight leash, possibly excessively so.  It’s also true that many of the very best in all sports do look after themselves to an extent that the average person would find very hard to live with.  What that ultimately means is that going out to clubs is not in itself evidence of too much, it is a matter of degree, and on that subject we do not know how prevalent that is with him, or with anyone else in the squad.  And actually, nor should we – it’s a matter for management to, well, manage.  Some nasty minds have asked the question as to whether if Stokes is convicted he would then be eligible for Australia or not.

Since the Pietersen fall out, there has been the question about how they would manage Stokes.  In reality, something as serious as this wasn’t part of the discussion, since it’s actually possible to feel a degree of sympathy with the ECB’s dilemma here.  But it’s likely to be the case that Stokes is most of all reliant on being an essential player, because the moment he isn’t, or suffers a drop in form, he is vulnerable to being properly briefed against as disruptive.  This stuff almost writes itself these days, given the duplicitousness that is commonplace at the highest echelons of the English administration.  Whatever the outcome of the current difficulty, the likelihood of a drip feed of negative stories about him in the future is one to watch out for in future – which is a separate question to how currently the media are posting stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day to cast him in a negative light.  Already examples of poor taste comments on social media are being used against him – though when it comes to matters of conscience, the morality of someone who screenshots a private conversation with the intent of selling it to the tabloid press rarely gets mentioned.

Of one thing there’s no doubt at all – England without Stokes are a much weaker side than they are with him.  The truly Machiavellian approach would be to consider this the perfect excuse for defeat, and the entire responsibility should it transpire can then be safely loaded onto one person with no awkward questions being asked about anything else.  An “escape goat”, as it were.  But of course, that degree of Humphrey Appleby scheming is well beyond any of those who like to sit comfortably in their jobs at Lords…

Oh yeah, fifth ODI.  Will Billings play? Will it be Jake Ball or David Willey?  If a cricket ball falls and no one sees it, did it really happen?  Comments on the game below if you really want to – on anything else because you do really want to.

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Is It An Horrific Dream, Am I Sinking Fast – The 4th ODI

Another ODI, another piece masquerading as a preview. We’ll get to the 4th ODI later, to be played at the home of English international cricket (accept no substitutes, there can only be one first venue). We need to consider other matters before then. So first, a list.

Gary Ballance

Alastair Cook

Mark Stoneman

Rory Burns

Liam Livingstone

Ben Foakes

Ollie Pope

Tom Westley

Jason Roy

Dan Lawrence

Nick Browne

Sam Robson

Alex Davies

Jonathan Trott

Dawid Malan

Jimmy Adams

Steve Davies

Ian Westwood

Stevie Eskinazi

Ian Holland (An Australian born in America but with a British passport)

 

All of the above have, at the beginning of this set of fixtures have better averages than James Vince, who has suddenly become the consensus pick for the Ashes squad. Obviously some are already in the squad, while others are a bit on the young side, and not obviously overseas players. James Vince averages 34.82 in the CC Division 1. But there’s more. Good players play in Division 2. The standard is lower so….

Let’s give the cut-off point at least 5 runs per innings more in Division 2, so basically anyone over 39.9. Those in bold average 10 runs more than Vince.

Luke Wells

Samit Patel

Joe Denly

Sam Northeast

Daryl Mitchell

Riki Wessels

Paul Collingwood

Alex Hales

Chris Dent

Chris Cooke

Darren Stevens

Joe Clarke

Cameron Steel

Steven Mullaney

Ben Duckett

Andrew Salter

Jack Taylor

Jofra Archer

Matthew Critchley

David Payne

James Weighell

Billy Godleman

 

I might need to check a couple of those to check they are England qualified. It’s a long list, and with some test reclamation projects and multi-faceted cricketers in there.

According to Nick Hoult, James Vince has earned his place because “Trevor Bayliss likes him”. James Vince is our Marcus Trescothick. James Vince is our Michael Vaughan (and no, let’s not go there, although you sometimes wonder). Our punt in the dark. Which would be great, except we’ve seen him before and it wasn’t all that. A flashy little cameo and night night outside the off stump. Vaughan showed resilience in an iffy first series, Tres hit the ground running. Vince did neither.

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Back again – but with four more test centuries and a CC1 batting average than James Vince

I’ve heard it said, by pundits and outside cricketers alike, that the Ashes is no place for rookies. Those wet behind the ears would be shark bait for the baying Aussies, the partisan crowds, the pressure that comes with it. Pity no-one told Ben Stokes that last time down under, eh? Sure, it would be lovely to have a settled team, and with pressure for places based on form and run accumulation. But we seem to be really keen on the magic beans approach to picking players. How Haseeb Hameed has been talked up when making just 513 runs at 28.50 this season, and that’s an improvement due to a couple of late season half centuries. But James Vince hasn’t even had the test career Hameed has had, where at least the young lad’s temperament and innings building had international quality. Hameed is a better punt than Vince, even if they play different roles. The selections, almost 20 years ago of Vaughan and Trescothick are always held up as examples of outside the box thinking. It’s like an inveterate gambler, always telling you about the big wins, and not the mass of losses he incurs day in, day out.

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Better CC1 average than James Vince

By the time the 4th ODI starts at The Oval, the Ashes squad will have been announced. I’m actually quite excited for it, and want 23 November to come around pronto  (that is also Thanksgiving which means I get a day off! We might do an OBO that night, for at least the first session) as I still love test cricket and I think we’ve had a nice two years without an Ashes series. The teams are interestingly matched, both with flaws, but with home advantage it is going to be tough to beat Australia. I think, weather permitting, we’ll get five results. The selection will dominate talking points while the fag end of the English season plays out with two ODIs that I’m not even sure the players care too much about.

So what is there to say about this series that Sean hasn’t already said in his third ODI preview, or I have banged on about in the past few days? This is not cricket with context, it is cricket to fulfil a contractual obligation. It is cricket to give a channel something to show, that they have paid for. It is cricket to perhaps buffer your stats, and with little consequence in failure (although Eoin Morgan might not be a secure as he thinks – the ECB don’t forget Eoin). It is cricket for cricket’s sake, and there is no bad impacts on defeat for England. You’ll have to ask the West indies about their commitment to the cause.

You have to laugh at the double standards of many of those commenting in our media etc. If an English player treated fielding and running between the wickets like Chris Gayle we’d be seeing “good journalism” all over the place, “his cards being marked” and “disinterest” in abundance, and yet he’s treated like a deity and a clown by those interviewing him and commenting on his play. Jimmy Anderson, in his commentary stint, wasn’t standing for it, and for that he gets a plus mark from me.  Aren’t the West Indies supposed to have the same standards as England? Gayle is a brilliant batsman – two test triple hundreds, remember – and while at the crease a fearsome presence, an amazing talent. But off field behaviour is nothing now. On field lack of commitment is part of the circus. I’m not going any further. You know where I’m going and I can’t have those old timers rolling their eyes and saying “not him again”.

So enjoy the 4th ODI, if you like that sort of thing, We’ll be back to take you through the Ashes squad, with a couple of guest pieces, and all sorts of other things in the run-up to the end of November. Oh, I forgot, and something for the 5th game at Bransgrove Dome. On finishing 28 hours from October. It’s progress. It’ll be a four day test in October before you know it.

(Song lyric title – honestly, the next song on the Ipod Shuffle as I was writing this).

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Better average than James Vince

And after I put this piece to bed, packed off, completed and scheduled for publication, the news broke about Ben Stokes. Instant reactions are not much of a help, but you do have to wonder what happened to the “no dickheads” rule, eh? I’ve just stuck Sky Sports News on and they’ve said he will be packed for the Ashes. Fine, and no problem with that, but I don’t want to hear any moral high ground stuff from the ECB or Team England in the future. They might do something meaningless but moral in stripping him of the vice captaincy, showing some “strength” but it’ll just be funny watching Comma squirm.

Oh – and it’s funny how that story never broke, eh?  Shows they don’t leak when they don’t want to.

Comments on the game below which gives Jason Roy a chance in place of Hales. Good luck Jason.

I Don’t Talk In Terms Of Sense – The Second ODI

Nottingham Weather Forecast:

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That’s hopeful.

With the faint hope that West Indies would need to qualify for the World Cup if they won this series 4-0, or something like that gone, now (yes I know it is a 5 game series) any relevant motivation on the context scale is gone. Attention turns to a ground where runs flow, big innings ensue and the real meaning of ODI cricket is on show. Heck, if it’s not raining it might even start on time. Will the visitors come out blazing and set a massive score if they bat first, or will they rely on just one or two gun batsmen to do the work (assuming Universe Boss can be arsed)? Thinking of putting a random quote from “Six Machine” every day until the end of the series. Opened the book and came to this…

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Obviously not a reader of the Andy Flower Cook Book. (Yet again – I got this book for 1p plus p&p from Amazon. I have not read it yet. Just by the size of the font, I don’t think it is going to take long. Tom Fordyce of the Beeb ghosted it. Interesting.)

Back to tomorrow. England will probably be unchanged – Bairstow now has that top slot nailed down. I think the next name on the list to face a challenge might be David Willey – I really don’t think he’s international class – but that would be being picky. And late September is not a time to be overly bothered. We rarely play this late in the year, and there is nothing for it but to watch what we see, and yearn for two months time and the Ashes.

Comments below. Got things to do tomorrow on my week off, so may not be around for the whole of the game. Or I might with this forecast!

To Our Voices Nobody’s Listening

15006 people paid to watch that in person. I hope they enjoyed the meaningless delay in play. Glad to see no-one tore an ACL.

If you are expecting a match report, then good luck. No-one seems bothered by the ODIs on here. When you get games like this, I’m not surprised. Gayle got out and the West Indies innings died. England chased it with a fortnight remaining. Jonny Bairstow made his first ODI 100. Glad he’s happy.

On to Nottingham. Sky Sports Cricket needs more than Cricket Greatest and Masterclass. And a sport moves more into the realms of irrelevance.

It’s all about context.

 

Too Much Of Anything, Is Never Enough – The First ODI

Can you believe we are STARTING an international series on 19 September. I haven’t seen anything so stupid since the T20 series against West Indies in 2011. Look it up. England open up their ODI campaign against the Caribbean Select XI at Old Trafford with the four subsequent matches at Trent Bridge, Bristol, The Oval and finally BransgroveDome. The international series ending in the dark at the home of the ECB stooge who kept his team up and filled it with Kolpaks. I find that fitting.

Of course we are building towards the 2019 World Cup and not, absolutely not, trying to squeeze the fruit so hard the pips squeak. When is too much just too much? Are Sky really demanding that we have to resort to Autumn Internationals? Is this nonsense absolutely necessary. Where are the players complaining that this series comes around one month before we travel to Australia for the only series that seems to matter to anyone these days? Where we define our status in world cricket, regardless of whether India are number one, or anyone else for that matter. Win the Ashes and you erase everything else for a while. But no. Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes will be dragged around England, risking injury on cold damp evenings to satiate television’s need for any form of international cricket to prevent their newly devoted channel being just masterclass, cricket’s greatest, endless repeats of their lunchtime features and a couple of ICC tournament reviews.

I think this is disrespectful to the visitors, the paying spectator, who is just expected to keep turning up for this (and they do) and the cricket fan. The County Championship has been decided so we aren’t in the embarrassing position where a TV company that has exclusive rights to the sport in this country for another 2 years is forced to ignore the conclusion when it was most likely to happen. Talk about catch a break. But then, who really cares about country cricket except the diehard cricket fan who is now treated like some circus freak show by the powers that be and that paragon of integrity (#39 in top arslikhan form) Empty Suit.

But we have a series to comment on, and this blog tries to keep up with all that is happening. I don’t really have a feel for who is playing, and what England are up to. Will Roy reclaim his place at the top of the order after a disastrous Champions Trophy and a first baller in the T20, or will Jonny keep the slot. Can Hales maintain his run of white ball form that has him among the most dangerous players in world cricket at the moment? Whispers are circling about Eoin Morgan – certainly at T20 level – and you know he has no capital in the bank with the ECB or media – those three ODI tons this year will soon be forgotten. Will Rashid be the ODI force he is now limited to? Can the bowling keep the scores down? And possibly most importantly, will England still play with the same ethos which makes them a good team to watch which, given the world’s predilection for meaningless, context-free, here today gone tomorrow T20 should be all that matters, right? It is, after all, the “entertainment business”. Who cares about winning when it’s the entertainment that matters. That’s what TV stations pay for. That’s what YOU want. Stop dragging out dull 280s. Only 350-400 matters now.

This is just the second ODI played between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford since the Viv Richard’s tour de force in 1984. I know many of our readers are of a certain vintage and will have no trouble recalling the greatest ODI innings I have ever seen, and will be ever likely to see, but for those that aren’t, you are the unlucky ones. So instead of going into an in-depth preview of an ODI game most of you on here don’t give a flying one, let’s indulge some nostalgia and enjoy…

People who say to me that the game has moved rapidly forward have a bit of a point, but only a bit of one. Watch the shots Viv plays in this innings. These are long boundaries, these are not the bats used in the modern game, and there weren’t fielding restrictions like today. This 189 was made on the back of a horrendous West Indies collapse, where Viv not only had to keep a decent pace up, but also had to marshall the tail. When Joel Garner was 9th out, the score was only 166. With this magnificent effort they got to 272 in 55 overs. With modern bats, possibly shorter boundaries, and the inability to put the field exactly where you want, this could have been well over 200. Yes, I know he had 5 overs more than the modern game, but still. Note – a three game series, played as an appetiser for the tests, in the height of summer.

Viv was the scariest batsman I have ever seen. I remember, vaguely, his double hundreds in 1976, and yet he scored just two test hundreds after that in four subsequent tours. This 189 was a gem, but once he’d made his 100 in the first test in the Blackwash series, he never made another international century in England. It didn’t matter. He was the masterblaster, the man you absolutely positively had to get out. He made yo want Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes to stay in for fear of what he might unleash. If Lara is the best I’ve ever seen (when on top form, I’ve seen nothing like him – so can it Sachin fans) then Viv is the one I’d most like to see in this era. I’m truly frightened what he could have achieved.

So while I indulge in nostalgia, it’s funny to compare the eras. The 1984 team, intent and completing world domination with a fire so strong, that no-one came close to putting it out for a number of years, compared to the current crop of traveling mercenaries run by a board so incompetent, Birmingham City are asking them for tips. Viv Richards was their icon, Chris Gayle this. Yes, Gayle has two test triple centuries, but you do have to wonder what Viv thinks about Universal God, or whatever it is he calls himself these days. Viv went off to Packer, that’s true. But his legend lives on, while Gayle’s is as a T20 gun for hire. In the interview with Sky on Saturday you did get the hint that Gayle still might regret slagging test cricket off, recognising that he might need to go back to that format. For that’s where true legends are made. Legends like Viv.

Makes the international gravy train, with its more is less culture seem rather puny to me. Enjoy the game. I’ll be online for most of it. Too much of anything is never enough. Not for the powers that be.

Comments below.

Now Everybody’s Under Somebody’s Spell, Unless They’ve Already Gone To Hell

T20. The future of the sport globally. The thing we all want to see. The most exciting format of the game. Crash, bang, wallop, ramp shots, big hits, spin on top, great fielding, intensity. What’s not to love?

I’ve been to two T20s this year – Surrey v Essex, which, was, of course, the last time KP batted for any length of time in this country. Surrey v Glamorgan, a game which came down to the last ball with Surrey possibly nicking a tie having been behind the curve for much of the match. Both games were acceptable as cricket matches. The Essex game for the skill Surrey showed in strangling the life out of the Essex innings and stopping our perennial nemeses Bopara and ten Doeschate from taking the game from us (should have brought the other pain, Napier, back for that one match). The Glamorgan game for Surrey scrapped to get near a really decent total. Instead both were marred for me by the idiots surrounding me in the stands. I’ve only ever to been to T20s at two other grounds – Lord’s and Beckenham (and that was in the first year) – and I know the Oval has a reputation for being a rowdy venue, but I find the whole thing a little unsettling. I’m no angel – you don’t follow Millwall home and away for decades without seeing a bit of naughtiness – but this was acceptable conduct. When the football fan wants a beer at his/her sport, there are myriad rules you have to abide by. When the cricket fan wants one, it is how quick can we pour the watered down piss, and see you in another quarter of an hour.

The result is that most of the people don’t seem to have a clue about the skill levels in the game. I’m not exaggerating. At the Glamorgan game there were a load of city workers out for the night, and I will not get over the lot in front having a bingo card with ludicrous cliches which I suppose someone was supposed to cross off when someone / anyone said them. Why, on a Friday evening, nice and dry, would someone say “sticky wicket” I have no idea. Maybe I needed to be in it to understand it. I saw them before the game, never saw them again. It was symptomatic of the level of “bantz” around me. Still, they paid for their tickets and they take their choice. I can shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn, but they are staying.

Last night, in the dark September evening in Chester-le-Street, the two teams that contested the World final 18 months ago met for the first time since we were told to “remember the name”. England showed how much they valued the game by resting Ben Stokes at his own home venue. The West Indies brought over their champion team – in the case of Carlos Brathwaite it was for this match only (clearly we can forget the name for ODI cricket) – and ended up winning quite comfortably. We pointed out last year that the schedule for the 2017 international summer was a sick joke. At the time Pakistan finished their test match tour here last year, West Indies would just about have arrived this. We still have two weeks to go. The last ODI is after the last County Championship game ends and if the CC had gone the distance like last year, Sky wouldn’t have been there because the ODIs take priority) which is mad. Utterly mad. When the English cricket season finishes on Friday week at BransgroveDome, we will be 28 hours from October. It’s the bloody future.

I wouldn’t have minded as much if last night’s game had provided any interest. But where’s the pain of defeat? Did it matter that much, if at all? I hope BigKev doesn’t mind, but I’ve used his tweet to sum up exactly how I feel.

And this is it. Should it matter. Should we treat T20 as a totally disposable sport, that a game doesn’t really linger. A tour de force to win a match, such as for someone of my vintage that means Viv’s 189, or Allan Lamb at MCG, is only memorable if it is a relative one off. If you keep seeing massive sixes, and 50 ball centuries, it’s great but given their relatively regular occurrences, not as long lasting on the memory. I will say now I will not remember one of the sixes from this game in a couple of weeks time. I will remember Chris Gayle’s schoolboy run out where, frankly, he couldn’t be arsed to dive. He was quite open about it during his interview and the Sky box thought it was all rather amusing. Gayle himself said he was ballwatching, while Sky seemed to care more that he had a standing ovation from the Durham crowd. You were more likely to see KP in an England shirt than any mention of “Universal God” and his past misdemeanors. When Universal God told the crew he fancied another shot at test cricket instead of saying “oh, that’s really good of you” it was like he’d given them all individual tickets to his pole dancing nights. Except Bumble. And we’ll come on to him in a minute.

The fact is that the West Indies T20 superstars are bigger, much bigger, than West Indian cricket. They are a good team, who prioritise T20 above all other formats. They are world champions for a reason. Narine bowled four overs for 15 runs, strangling the life out of England’s reply. It made for really dull cricket if you wanted the artificial stimulus of a close finish. By the later parts of the England reply I switched over and watched Millwall’s goal and near misses against Leeds. I took the dog for a walk. It was dull, in its own way. Even dull passages of test cricket, and there are many, are part of the story. You can recover from one, the game could pick up at any moment, it could be a key part of an intriguing contest. 2006, Adelaide Day 4. A dull day’s cricket, Australia accumulating, England striving, looked bad, and was not that exciting to be at. But without it, Day 5 would never have happened. Test cricket survives, can even thrive, on dull passages of play. T20 is killed by it. The West Indies won because, even with some of their players not putting it all in, they were still better than England. We had all the nonsense about how they are well drilled etc, but England came within a freak over of being world champions and many of the team that played that day were there. Not buying that.

Finally, to Sky’s coverage. Given I tried to do an over by over in the comments, I paid more attention than usual. David Lloyd had not had to pay for a ticket. David Lloyd is probably royally looked after. David Lloyd is becoming less a respected cricket commentator and more a crippling self-parody. When Ian Ward paired up with Robert Key for the second half of the West Indies innings we had enthusiasm, insight, good commentary, and most importantly it wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about “entertaining” the audience. They treated the watching public like adults. They didn’t need to evangelise, like Nasser does with T20 (he loses his mind in this format – he really is in need of the less is more mantra) but you get the impression that they liked being there and that came through. Lloyd’s bizarre wrapping himself up in a blanket and acting like a 5 year old in the second innings was embarrassing. We know it’s cold, but it’s because your channel needs content, and is prepared to pay for it, we get to see the spectacle of T20 international cricket in mid-September. You are moaning at your own company. Was anyone at Sky happy with one of their employees basically sticking their middle finger up at their own scheduling needs? I get the real hump with commentators moaning about their own conditions when they are getting paid royally to be looked after by all and sundry, while international cricket fans in the North East get a T20 match in Autumn as their only chance to see their team without a 150 mile round trip to a northern venue. They didn’t give this game to Taunton, and the Taunton one to CLS, did they? Those cricket fans turned up in droves, created some form of atmosphere, and yet a Sky commentator moans about being cold for the whole game.

The ODI series starts Tuesday. I have a week off work. We’ve got a couple of guest articles lined up, and I’m feeling a bit more in the groove. It could be fun. Well, for me at least.

UPDATE – It is Universe Boss. Not Universal God. Like it matters. I do have his book to read. Can’t wait.

From Northern Parts and Scottish Towns – Today’s T20

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Some Are Here and Some Are Missing…… I once went to a T20 international

As pointless posts go, this is up there. I’m doing an open post for a T20 international played in the middle of September at Chester-le-Street. If we have a poster game for how entirely messed up the current cricketing environment is, this is it. Context? Who gives a stuff about context? It’s a one-off game that doesn’t really count for anything other than a game on the day. This is cricket not as a sport, with results counting for something or other, rather a cricketing version of a comedy series Christmas Special. It stands out, it doesn’t need to fit in with a narrative in the series, and it’s rather bleeding unnecessary other than to make some money.

That’s modern sport. Fuck the competition. To hell with what matters. It’s entertainment. Honestly, if they thought it made more money, we’d have the game as a bloody film event. What’s the downside for the loser? International friendlies in football matter more, because if you lose them, you lose ranking points that cost you seedings when it comes to tournaments. Draws are rigged in the international cricket scene, so don’t compare apples and oranges.

Most of the headlines have been devoted to the third ranked England cricketer in the Power List being left out at his home ground to give him a rest. Number 1. Ben Stokes is the most powerful England cricketer and in my view, it isn’t even close. He’s the highest paid overseas player in the IPL. He won the MVP last year, I do believe. If Ben Stokes decides he fancies earning a million or so dollars every year rather than play an early summer series against Pakistan, then we are in dire straits. The two players above him in the list, Joe Root and Moeen Ali do not have that power because they are not in line to play in the IPL. Stokes is the key to our test team not falling on its arse. He’s been our player of the season. I can’t say I’d be starting up his fan club as I’m not overtly keen on the approach he takes on the field, but as a talent, he’s as good as we’ve had for a while. (I’ve not got a copy of the list yet, but seen Lizzie Ammon’s photo which ends at 44, and with last year’s #39 not on it so far. This year’s #39 is Ian Ward. I’m interested what power he wields!)

There’s no newbies on show for England, who have lost 4 of their last 5 games to the West Indies, so there is little curiosity in the event. Jason Roy and Alex Hales will probably open. Tom Curran is as near as we get to a new international in the line-up. West Indies, who are fast becoming the equivalent of Fiji in rugby, look a formidable team, with new talents like Evin Lewis in the ranks (not that new, he has two T20 centuries already) and captained by Carlos Brathwaite (I remembered his name, but not a lot of his performances since that night). I’m sure it will be super fun as the temperature is predicted to be around 52 degrees and possible showers. Power List #1, aka Empty Suit, is probably thrilled, making cricket an almost winter sport, but I can’t help but feel that this is a bridge too far.

Until you consider we have a FIVE game ODI series to follow.  It’s what the people want, after all. Take a thick coat, and enjoy the show.

Comments below.

UPDATE: Here is your top 50. And last year’s…

I Came Across A Cache Of Old Photos

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Please, No. Don’t let this be the whole of our future (T20 night at The Oval v Glamorgan)

OK. Time to write.

I have had a pretty tough stretch at work, and as is the way with me, when the stress levels hit high, I have to make a choice to cut something out that might cause me some more. So, after a couple of weeks just looking at the comments, reading the posts and making a couple of observations, I thought I should contribute something. Thanks to Chris, Sean and Danny who kept the show on the road.

I’ve been investing the hard-earned on some new furniture, most notably bookcases. I have also been investing in lots of cheaper books to fill them up. I’ve acquired a number of B&H/C&G Yearbooks as they become available cheap on the Amazon secondhand market. I also cleared out some of the old cupboards, and it was there I came across the contents of the title. A load of pictures from the Ashes tour of 2002/3. Most notably the Brisbane pics I’ve not seen for a while (and also from my visit to the Nou Camp, or Camp Nou, that year too). Back then, pre-parents death and with a bit more disposable income, the dreams of seeing great sporting venues filled my head. I wasn’t a little old 20 year old, but a 33 year old cynic! The excitement was immense, even though we knew we’d get stuffed. The photos are a terrific memory. I’ve now located the video Sir Peter made of the whole adventure and laughing at it again. I’m currently ranting about Day 1 as I write.

Mark , in his comments on the piece below this, sort of strikes the current mood. 2002 was pre-T20 and so much an innocent world where no-one seriously questioned the primacy of test match cricket. Now, 15 years on, no series really seems to matter to the English cricketing psyche like the Ashes, as everything that happened this summer seemed to only matter in that context. The T20 world encroaches on the test scene more and more, where a great West Indies test win is buried under the Caribbean Premier League. The people want it. The cricket fan that sustained the game through the last three decades is cast aside.

This has, from my perspective, been a dull summer of test cricket. South Africa were meant to pose a huge threat to the inconsistent England team under a new captain, but instead capitulated poorly in three of the four games (but absolutely slaughtered us in the other). They seemed a team confused with themselves – a bowling line up that worked a charm when it fired, but a batting line-up as fragile, if not more so, than England’s. All this was played to a backdrop of AB de Villiers egging his team on from home, while sitting out the series to rest for some other appointment at some other time in the future. there seemed something symbolic about the state of test cricket. England, a team in flux, with key weaknesses at 2,3 and 5 were easily beating a team that had a great away record, but who had seen their best batsman sit it out because he needs to make money and T20 will do it for him. I might react to his tweets because it seemed like he was having his cake and eat it, but I don’t blame him for making the choice.

Joe Root got his captaincy off to the best possible start with a win and a big hundred. This was augmented by Moeen Ali taking ten wickets in the game, as the Lord’s surface took spin and South Africa’s batting took leave of its senses. The second test was an almost bizarre role reversal, as South Africa took a big first innings lead after one of the most skittish test innings I’ve seen from an England team – as if we were on a time limit. The third test at the Oval saw one of those great knocks from Ben Stokes that we are going to need more and more of, while South Africa fell away (despite a terrific century by Elgar on the last day) and Moeen took a hat-trick to finish the match. The fourth test at Old Trafford went much the same way. South Africa couldn’t nail England down with the bat, but were brought to their knees by good bowling.

The West Indies series was supposed to be 3-0. Good sides, in fact some not so good, would have hammered the visitors 3-0, but England infuriated us again by mailing in a test match at Headingley, and being done by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite. As someone rightly said, I’m not on the Shai Hope bandwagon just yet. It takes more than taking a couple of centuries off England to convince me he’s the real deal. He looks well organised, he looks to have the temperament, but he also looked at an 18 batting average pre this tour in 11 tests, I believe. Hope, Blackwood and Holder have made all their test centuries against England.

The first test was an embarrassment to test cricket. England piled on a ton of runs against a Division 2 county attack at best. The batting crumpled in a heap. It was over inside three days. That Headingley was a remarkable turnaround, and we could actually watch much of the play over a Bank Holiday weekend (it will never catch on), had some of us reaching for our memories and hoping for the best. But like those old photographs, they are just that. Nice memories. The amazement that the West Indies could chase down 300 in a day at Leeds of all places was a chimera. It was nice to have a pop at idiots who want 4 day test matches, two divisions et al, but those voices are listened to, and ours are not. We go to Lord’s, we get a test lasting 2 an 3/4 days, where a larrup stand between Broad and Roland-Jones made the lead meaningful enough after the Ben Stokes show, and the same old problems manifest themselves.

This is an era missing a great team. This is an era where if you have some level of talent you can accumulate some decent statistics. Jimmy Anderson, who has done superbly to reach 500 wickets, just to last that long to play all those games, was, at the beginning of the year a player who looked in terminal decline. He had pretty much fallen apart on the unforgiving surfaces of the sub-continent, but back home, probably a bit fitter, he made hay. But he wasn’t exactly up against the South Africa of Smith, Kallis and DeVilliers (and I would say an Amla not in terminal decline), nor the West Indies of a Chanderpaul being a constant pain. Jimmy does not need weak batting to feast – he used to have a lovely knack of getting out Sachin – but averaging 14 (?) this summer does seem to indicate the quality he was facing. A great bowler, and he is, feasting on the scraps.

England’s oddly organised team, comprising a brittle top and middle order anchored by the current and ex-captain, need to be rescued by a ton of all-rounders and a lower order that can cause some havoc. In the absence of top order batsmen, it is a plan that has to work. There’s not a lot else we can do. We really are putting our hopes in magic beans, that we can pluck a batsman out of our domestic game who may actually be better at test cricket than he is at the county level. It’s a bit like the alchemy sketch in Blackadder II, or Rodney suggesting to Del that they try to make money out of nothing. As SimonH has pointed out in the comments on the end of the test, there’s not a lot to go on, inspector. I look at the Surrey team, and I hear people say Jason Roy. A man dropped from the ODI team for technical problems. He’s not pulled up any trees in his return to Surrey.

To me, though, the test summer of 2017 will be the season I fell totally out of love with the social media side of the game. By that, I mean Twitter. It’s a very strange medium at the best of times, but this summer it has been rank. Utter garbage. People seem to want to take shots at each other, to be the smartest smart-arse in the room. Some have fully moved on to the journo side when they were fellow travellers not so long ago, and in some instances, forgotten where they’ve come from. Others just wind me up all day long with their need to be clever. I’ve muted more accounts this summer than in the past few years combined. People get irate when I say 5 out of 97 or 6 out of 103, when it’s a fact. People raved more about a 80-odd by Cook, as genuinely good as it was, than the 99 by Bairstow that played every bit as much of a role in a series clinching win. Cook has made one ton this summer. It was a mighty one, a long one, the first player in my memory to make four double hundreds for England. But we need a lot more from him as an all-time great.

There will be more on Alastair later in the piece, as we have an Ashes series coming up, but he is symptomatic of the schism that still, really, exists. It’s moved on now to those who seem to live in a world where 2013/14 never happened, or at least the ECB and its nonsense needs to be forgotten, and those who can’t, or won’t forgive. The former seem to have gone back to being calm, observers of the game, only rising up when one of their own (a fellow England fan) has the gall to question. Blind obedience, or at least a recognition that you need to be in with the in crowd, is more important than critical evaluation. You have a point, and I will listen to it, and discuss. I won’t if you say my blog, and that of the team, has been put together solely to have a go at Alastair Cook. I don’t do blind obedience. I don’t do the “in crowd”. IMVHO, it’s a bit silly.

Instead what do those on the other side of this schism do? We fade away. We post less. We certainly care less about England. We worry about test cricket. We worry that T20 hasn’t come close to maximising its destruction of the long-form of the game. We see no-one giving a crap about what we say. In many ways we, and our ilk had more a voice post-2014 Ashes that got heard. Now we don’t matter, if we mattered at all. Other than a place where we can lick our wounds, remember the better times, and hope for a saviour or two who place the test match at the heart of the sport we love.

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This place has always had something going for it. Never Being Boring. The cache of old photos still bring a smile to my face, as do my rants on Sir Peter’s video (the one about the bloke behind me and the Michael Bevan Asia XI v Whatever XI knock). The sport has given us joy. It still can do so. But it’s tough to love at the moment.

Always leave ’em laughing.

“Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for”

England v West Indies: Third Test, Day Two

Given the forecast, a shade over half a day’s play probably amounted to more than most of those who had paid for their exorbitantly priced tickets could have hoped for.  Naturally, the regulations don’t offer any kind of refund once 30 overs have been bowled, but since it seemed distinctly possible barely any play would happen, it’s unlikely that too many on this occasion are that upset – what play there was proved enthralling.  This game is moving forward at a considerable lick – a day and a half in to the match in real terms and we’re well into the third innings.

The overhead conditions are of course playing a major part in this, the ball is swinging and seaming all over the place; batting is proving immensely difficult and the bowlers are having fun.  Low scoring matches are quite enjoyable to watch; the game can be turned in a session in many Tests, but when runs are hard to come by it becomes even more the case.  A bad session tends to be terminal when there may only be seven or eight of them anyway.  There have been too many shortened Tests recently in England to be able to fully appreciate the drama for what it is, and that is a pity, because this one is rather good.

This is the latest in the season Lords has ever hosted a Test match, and those with longer memories will well remember the adage of the September one day domestic finals in the 1980s and 90s where winning the toss generally meant winning the match as batting proved nigh on impossible early on.  Times and pitches change, so it may be nothing more than coincidence and the cloud cover that has made this such a challenge for the batsmen.  Either way, tricky conditions don’t justify any attempts to resurrect the idea of four day Tests, even if some will try and suggest it if, as seems distinctly possible, this one is done and dusted by tomorrow.

It’s not quite evenly poised, a delightfully agricultural innings from Stuart Broad, so far away these days from the cultured near-genuine allrounder that he was some years ago,  nevertheless probably did more to turn it England’s way than anything else.  Full of hacks, slashes, backing away and hoicks over the slips, it frustrated the West Indies attack and turned parity into a lead of 71.  That England were as good as level in the first place was mostly down to Ben Stokes, a player who appears to be developing into a serious cricketer with the bat, and more than useful with the ball.  He has an uncomplicated batting technique, but plays straight.  The power might be what garners attention, but his driving is almost textbook, foot to the ball, head over it and the weight in the direction of travel.  Technique can be overplayed at this level – Graeme Smith was no one’s idea of the MCC manual – but Stokes does appear to have the raw ability to be far better than his admittedly rising average would currently suggest.  Time will tell.

The West Indies of the first Test would have folded faced with such a deficit, but if they surprised everyone with their performance in the second, this was more of the same.  Finishing the day 93-3 represented an exceptional effort in the circumstances, and a lead at close of play of 22 with seven wickets remaining, fragile a position as it may be, was still a fine performance.  Maybe, just maybe, they are finding their feet at this level to an extent few thought possible.  If so, then they are in the process of proving many people wrong, and that in itself has to be a good thing.

Kieran Powell hasn’t had a great series by any stretch of the imagination, but he can play, and here showed as much.  He batted with tenacity and skill, and it ultimately took quite the delivery from Anderson to remove him.  Ah yes, Anderson – the relief on his face at finally taking his 500th Test wicket was obvious.  Landmarks are funny things – players may deny that they matter until they’re blue in the face, but few believe them, and nor should they.  A cricketer’s motivation has to be personal as much as for the team, particularly when they’ve played for any length of time.  Cricket is a strange game, it may nominally be a team one, but it’s highly individual.  Batsmen don’t celebrate a hundred because the extra run from 99 matters to the team, but because the century matters to them personally.  There’s nothing wrong with that, personal pride in performance translates to a contribution for the team, that’s really rather the point in measuring individual records and averages.  Anderson’s achievement is one he celebrated, and he’s damn right to do so.

Longevity in a seam bowler is just a little more special than it is for a batsman or a spinner, the hard yards in training, the stress on the body and the physical decline after the age of 30 all make it just that bit different.  At various times in his career he’s been mangled by well meaning coaches, spent entire tours bowling at cones while not coming close to selection, and been dismissed as a talent who would bowl one four ball an over.  It wasn’t until a decade into his England Test career that he got his average below 30, and it has continued to drop ever since.  There has always been discussion about Anderson’s place in the list of great bowlers; often with him being dismissed as ordinary by those who really should know better.  There is certainly a significant difference between his performances home and away, but he’s not the first to have that problem, not even towards the very top of the list of all time wicket takers.  At home, in English conditions, where he does play half his matches, he has been exceptional, and he still is.  He may go on for a few years yet, and there are few signs of waning powers, more the up and down form that afflicts any player.  There have been better bowlers than Anderson, but there are very, very few who are as clever and skilful.  When he finally goes, the art of bowling will be poorer for his absence.

Anderson wasn’t the only bowler today who had cause to be proud of his efforts.  Kemar Roach has had a career that has been somewhat up and down, but he bowled beautifully throughout the England innings, his five wicket haul being entirely deserved.  At the end of play, his warm words for Anderson himself on his achievement reflected as well upon him as a person as his efforts on the field did as a bowler.

The forecast for tomorrow is rather better, and offers the West Indies an opportunity to put England under real pressure, should they bat deep into the day.  The odds may be on England to bowl them out and chase a small target, but having been part of those (i.e. more or less everyone) who got it wrong repeatedly during the reviews of each day of the second Test, claiming to know where this one’s going is a mug’s game.  Shai Hope is still there, Roston Chase is still there, and Jermaine Blackwood could do anything from the crass to the brilliant.

This West Indies tour has been the highlight of the cricketing summer.  Quite astonishing.

 

 

England vs. West Indies, 3rd Test Day 1

In the lead up to this game, the momentum (if you believe in such things) had clearly swung decisively towards the West Indies. The Caribbean team were resurgent, inevitably heading towards a series win in England for the first time in 29 years. England were broken and reeling, both mediocre and at a low ebb. Most of the talk seemed to be about Anderson needing 3 wickets to reach 500 in his Test career. The day before, England captain Joe Root announced that Toby Roland Jones would replace an unfit Chris Woakes whilst the West Indies unsurprisingly named an unchanged side.

The morning began with the West Indies claiming the initial advantage by winning the toss. This summer, the team which won the toss has also gone on to win the game in 5 out of 6 opportunities. The only exception was the previous game, where good batting conditions and a sub-par first innings England batting performance conspired to allow the West Indies back into the game.

If it was meant to be a massive advantage to the West Indies, it certainly didn’t seem like one. The constant threat of rain and swinging conditions left the batsmen struggling to survive through most of the day. Cook dropped a slip chance early on, which might be the start of a worrying pattern for England if you consider his two drops at Headingley. Brathwaite and Kyle Hope both edged deliveries from Jimmy Anderson to the wicketkeeper either side of a rain break in the morning session, taking Anderson to the tantalising career total of 499 wickets.

After Lunch, the West Indies regrouped somewhat with Kieran Powell and Shai Hope sharing a partnership of 56 runs, until Shai Hope edged one from Toby Roland-Jones. What followed this dismissal was a remarkable display of bowling from Ben Stokes, or quite possibly a terrible display of batting from the remaining West Indies batsmen. From 78-3, they lost 7 wickets for a total of 45 runs. Stokes meanwhile claimed his best ever figures of 6-22.

Stokes’ first of the day was a sharp return catch from Kieran Powell, which removed the set batsmen from the middle. He also managed to bowl Chase with a beautiful delivery and induced an edge from Dowrich before Tea gave the visiting batsmen a brief respite. But unfortunately for the tourists, Stokes picked up where he left off after the break. Holder and Gabriel were both bowled by deliveries which hooped in from wide outside their off stumps, whilst Roach edged a good ball to Anderson. The innings ended with the West Indies standing on 123 all out, and England rampant.

Whilst in some ways the pressure was off England with such a small total to overcome, the conditions still favoured the bowlers and at least three batsmen were playing for their place. Stoneman didn’t do his case any good, edging a short and wide delivery from Kemar Roach after only scoring 1 run. Roach managed to get Cook the same way a few overs later, albeit from a much better delivery that Stoneman’s. Westley missed a straight ball from Holder and ended up being given out LBW, although Hawkeye suggested is was barely going to clip the stumps.

Root followed soon after with a dismissal bearing some similarity to Stoneman’s, edging a short and wide ball to the wicketkeeper. It was an unnecessary shot in the situation, his departure leaving England on the precipice at 24/4. Stokes and Malan managed to bat out the next five overs, at which point the umpires called it a day due to bad light.

So the day ends with the game still very much in the balance. What seemed like a catastrophic decision to bat first by the West Indies might turn out to be a tactical masterstroke. Stokes’ 6-22 lowered his career Test bowling average significantly, where he’s getting closer to the point of justifying his selection as a bowler alone. Stoneman and Westley both hurt their chances of playing in the Ashes this winter, but Malan has a great opportunity on his home ground to impress the selectors. Given both team’s fragility and moments of brilliance in this series, it would be a brave man to predict what will happen tomorrow.

As always, please comment below.