After Winter, Must Come Spring

Monday night marked the end of England’s antipodean tour, a solid 5 months of overseas failure brightened only slightly by their two ODI series wins. On a personal note, it seemed reminiscent of a fictional never-ending winter like in the Chronicles Of Narnia or Game Of Thrones to me. The persistent cold weather at home during the day, then the depressing feats of mediocrity by the England Test team at night. It might have only been five months, but it somehow seemed like much longer.

In the Test team, it’s hard to think of many players who come out of this winter without a diminished reputation. Jimmy Anderson, and perhaps Craig Overton (although he had a decidedly average average of 42.28 from his three Tests), are the only standout performers. Certainly, you would expect Overton to be pleased that his 2015 ban after racially abusing another player isn’t the first thing that people think of when they hear his name.

For everyone else, it’s been a tour to forget. Joe Root’s captaincy has been questioned by many, although it’s not clear exactly what more he could do. He was England’s top scorer (always a dangerous position in a losing Ashes), and his bowlers were essentially all dire. As the point was often made during Australia’s period of dominance, it’s easy being captain when you have McGrath and Warne in your side. It’s not like a lot of balls were being edged to vacant slip positions by the Australian and New Zealander batsmen, or mis-hit in the air to where fielders should have been. England’s bowlers just didn’t seem to induce many false shots throughout the winter.

Finishing with bowling averages over 60, it’s hard to see how Jake Ball, Tom Curran, Mason Crane, Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali can expect to play for England in the near future. Jack Leach has been receiving plaudits for his performance this week, but they may be premature. Being economical when the opposing team are trying to bat out a draw might not be the greatest test for an international spinner, although I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was picked for the Pakistan series. Woakes and Moeen were also disappointing with the bat, both averaging under 20, which could herald an end to England’s policy of picking three allrounders. In fact, with Stokes’ court dates coinciding with the India Test series, it’s possible that England might play without any allrounders for parts of this summer.

That in turn could badly expose England’s fragile batting lineup. Apart from Root, no English batsman averaged over 40. The tour began with questions about virtually all of England’s specialist batsmen, and it’s ended the same way. Stoneman has averaged less than his opening partner Cook, but also outscored him in 11 of the 18 innings they’ve shared so far. Vince looks great until he plays a loose shot and gets himself out cheaply. Malan did well in Australia, averaging 42.55, but once he was in conditions conducive to swing in New Zealand he seemed to have the same flaws as he demonstrated last summer against South Africa.

All of which leads us to the question: Where do England go from here? So far, the only people to lose their jobs have been the selectors. Certainly this seems overdue. England’s Chief Selector James Whitaker’s last selectorial triumph was Gary Ballance, who was dropped almost three years ago due to a catastrophic lack of form. It’s honestly been somewhat astonishing that he wasn’t fired years ago.

Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace both seem secure in their positions until 2019, having survived this. You’d assume that this is because of England’s ODI form, because otherwise England’s immediate future looks pretty bleak. There hasn’t seemed to be much speculation on Andy Flower losing his position as the ECB’s Technical Director Of Elite Coaching, despite there not being much evidence of any elite players having developed during his tenure. In fact, the more cynical amongst us are speculating that he will move sideways into the vacant selector’s position. It would certainly seem apt, seeing as the ECB hired him for his current job following his team’s abject failure in the Ashes four years ago.

With failures apparently across the whole England team and staff, you would normally expect that the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket Andrew Strauss should be under fire. When the tragically inept Paul Downton was fired and replaced by Strauss in 2015, England were 5th in the ICC Test rankings on 97 points and even the ECB realised that things needed changing. Today, England are 5th in the ICC Test Rankings on 97 points, and apparently the Director in charge of England’s cricket team is doing a fine job?

Except no one really wants to put the boot into Strauss right now, not least because he left the Ashes tour early when it was revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. He also seems to have a lot more friends in the English cricket media than Paul Downton did. Whilst Downton was outside the English cricket establishment for several years when he was making a living as a merchant banker (decide amongst yourselves whether that’s rhyming slang or not), Strauss has never left the upper echelons of English cricket society since his ascension to Test captain in 2009. He’s well-connected and, for the most part, well liked by the people who could make trouble for him. Sacking Strauss would also be an admission of failure from ECB Chairman Colin Graves, and even making the suggestion that Graves has failed is probably enough for him to sue you.

All of which means that the England Test team is virtually in the same position it was six months ago. And a year ago. And two years ago. And three years ago. And four years ago. They have a weak and brittle batting line up, a below average bowling attack, and there are no immediate prospects of improvement.

Still, at least winter is over now…

As always, please comment below.

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NZ vs England: Second Test, Day Three – England Ascendant (Not An April Fool)

You might be forgiven for treating any news this morning with suspicion. It’s traditional for most news outlets nowadays to have at least one ‘joke’ story for April Fool’s Day. Therefore, when I awoke to see England had managed to build a lead of 231 runs with seven wickets remaining, the first thing I did was doublecheck the scorecard on another website. Especially when it suggested that Vince was the top scorer so far in England’s second innings.

The day started with 5 overs remaining until the new ball and New Zealand’s batsmen Watling and Southee took full advantage, smashing 27 runs off Wood, Stokes and Leach’s bowling. The match turned when England got the new ball, with Anderson quickly managing to swing the ball past Watling’s bat and into the wicketkeeper’s stumps. Broad followed up in the next over by taking another wicket when Ish Sodhi fenced at a ball outside off stump and edged it to Bairstow.

Tim Southee made it to 50 before Anderson bowled him, when the batsman was looking to hit him for six. Anderson was then hit out of the attack by Wagner, who managed 12 off Jimmy’s next over. This left the final wicket up for grabs, and Broad grabbed it by drawing Boult into a hook which he top-edged to Malan at fine leg.

England’s innings started with the customary early wicket, and as you might now expect the victim was Cook. It wasn’t an unplayable delivery, just a ball outside off which Cook prodded at and edged to the New Zealand keeper for 14. At this point, even people Inside Cricket are speculating that Cook might retire or be dropped this summer. He averages 33.25 this winter, which is remarkably low considering his top score of 244*. Other than his mammoth innings in Melbourne, he hasn’t managed an innings of even 40 runs whilst on tour.

The former captain’s quick departure left Stoneman and Vince at the crease. Not typically a sentence which inspires confidence in England fans, but both batsmen applied themselves to the situation.Both accumulated runs steadily, with Stoneman surviving a caught behind after his DRS appeal showed that the ball had hit his shoulder rather than the bat’s. Stoneman had more luck when Ross Taylor dropped him at slip on 48, and again when he sliced the ball just beyond the slip to bring up his half-century. A few overs later, Stoneman was dropped a second time in the slips by Southee. Proving that third time’s the charm, Stoneman edged the ball again and this time Watling caught it.

Vince followed not long after, a loose drive edged to Taylor at first slip. This honestly might be his trademark shot. Root and Malan steadied the ship, and saw England through the remaining hour of play until the day ended due to bad light. The tourists have a lead of 231 runs, with seven wickets still remaining.

This game is some players’ last chance to impress the new England selectors (whoever they will be) and cement their places this summer. Both Vince and Stoneman have good reason to worry, and their performance today might just be enough to save them. Their partnership of 123 runs in this innings has given England a significant lead, and crucially allows their middle order to avoid facing Boult and Southee with a new ball.

Stoneman might feel harshly treated if he is shown the door. In the 18 innings he has played for England, Stoneman has outscored Cook in 11 of them. That said, a Test average of 30.17 from 10 games hardly suggests a promising future. Of course, Stoneman’s career stats look amazing when compared to Vince’s Test batting average of 24.90. In truth, both batsmen must hope that the new selectors look primarily at their last innings rather than their entire body of work.

This game has also thrown up an unusual stat. So far, all 23 wickets have been taken by the opening bowlers. Southee, Boult, Anderson and Broad. That it has happened to both teams might suggest that it’s difficult to take wickets with the older ball. Equally, it might be an argument that the first change bowlers for both teams don’t match the quality of their teammates. Leach and Wood haven’t been particularly good in this Test so far, although in Leach’s defense spinners typically don’t prosper on day 2 of a game.

So, that’s it. England are 231 runs ahead, and there is virtually no way for them to lose the game. I have no doubt that they will smash New Zealand out tonight and finally win a game this winter.

Just kidding. They’re obviously going to find some way to screw this up. Happy April Fool’s Day!

And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

Rubble, Muddle, Toil and Trouble

England picked a good week to be bowled out for 58.  Whatever the embarrassment of their likely defeat in Auckland, it’s going to be overshadowed by the events at Newlands. Still, at the very least, they can point to their predicament being one of ineptitude rather than nefariousness, which in the current climate is an achievement of sorts. 

The only reason England aren’t already 1-0 down is because of the weather, and it is a reflection of how disastrous their match position was that the loss of nearly two days play still has them likely to lose.  They put up a fairly decent display overall, but by this point of proceedings it requires miracle days to even up the ledger.

Henry Nicholls, batting for the fourth day in a row in this Test, made his highest first class score to take New Zealand to 427-8 at the declaration,  while for England Stuart Broad bowled pretty well, keeping things tight and picking up wickets.  It always seems strange to praise a bowler for keeping things tight, but in the circumstance of trying to keep a deficit down and limit batting time for your own side, it turns all bowlers into negative containing types rather than wicket takers.  Given the pitch was still decent for batting – and after all only two days old in reality – they could have been forgiven for cursing their own batsmen repeatedly for their profligacy as they laboured to create any chance of note. When you’ve been bowled out for 58 in a good surface is not the time to criticise the lack of penetration in the bowling attack, reasonable general point though it might be.

One sided Tests are never particularly interesting, and they only become so when it gets to the meat of the second innings, watching the usually doomed attempts to stave off defeat.  Invariably, teams bat better second time round, equally invariably they still lose.  Thus it was that England certainly made a better fist of things, while at the same time still looking like there was only one outcome.  Cook fell early again to complete a poor Test match – note that much comment once again referred to Root’ s conversion problem rather than Cook’s lack of runs over the last couple of years.  Melbourne still looks like an outlier.

Stoneman and Root set about compiling a partnership, but fell late on, the captain to the last ball of the day one delivery after taking a painful blow on the hand.  Root is clearly deeply frustrated at his habit of not going on to make big scores when well set, but England’s problems are deeper set than one batsman failing to make the most of being in.

Assuming the weather stays fair, seven wickets should be well within New Zealand’s capability, and while it’s always possible that there will be a repeat of Matt Prior’s heroics last time, England neither deserve a draw nor do they give off the impression of a team capable of it.  

Naturally enough, the post play interviews spent as much time talking about the conduct of the Australian team as the match itself.  Stuart Broad was clearly itching to give them both barrels and barely contained his amusement at the predicament in which they find themselves.  He did manage to make a few pertinent points concerning hypocrisy and his own treatment at the hands of the crowd, which is neither here nor there, but at the behest of the Australian coach, which is. He also took the opportunity to imply that it isn’t the first time Australia have altered the state of the ball, couching it in a dig about being surprised that this is supposedly the first time they’ve acted this way by saying he didn’t see why they’d changed a method that had hitherto been working.  Broad is often good value in these circumstances, given that Aussie baiting is something he is unquestionably good at, but it doesn’t mean his words should be taken as being any more objectively true than those of Darren Lehmann. Yet it is also true that footage of Bancroft putting sugar in his pockets during the Ashes emerged overnight – which is something Australia are going to have to get used to as people scour the footage for evidence of previous attempts.

The reaction to the pre-meditated ball tampering has been interesting.  Australian supporters are aghast, ashamed and in shock, which perhaps highlights self perception of the way Australia are meant to play cricket in their eyes.  Outside the country it’s rather different, a deep sense of amusement and schadenfreude at the self-appointed arbiters of cricketing morality caught out deliberately cheating.

For the crime is not the worst that could have been committed, reflected in it being a Level 2 or at most Level 3 offence in the ICC disciplinary code.  One of the peculiarities of cricket remains the mobile moral code that considers some actions to be reprehensible and others part of the game, even when all are intended to gain an illegal advantage or deceive the umpires.  Ball tampering appears to be one of those where self righteous outrage is a common response to something most teams have been guilty of at various times.  Perhaps the greatest outrage is reserved for those who are caught.

There are a few exceptional circumstances to this one.  Many instances of it tend to be in the heat of the moment, rather than as here a deliberate plan concocted by the “leadership group” of the Australian team, the exception being in the legal dubious but impossible to police tactic of enhancing saliva through the sucking of sweets.  In that sense the mea culpa from Smith created more questions than answers.  His refusal to name names as to who was involved is not sustainable; the match referee and ICC will want to know who is to be punished, and a no comment won’t fly.  Equally, it beggars belief that Darren Lehmann wasn’t aware of any of it, the giveaway being the speed with which he radioed the 12th man to inform Bancroft he’d been caught.  Lastly on this particular element it is astounding that apparently not one player or staff member pointed out that this was a terrible idea, either for moral reasons or the simple practicality that being caught was so likely.  David Lloyd’s assertion that Australia are “out of control” is never more strongly supported than by the total absence of anyone with either a moral compass or a well developed sense of self-preservation. Above all else, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the leadership group are severely challenged in the mental department.

Smith is finished as captain, as is Warner as vice captain.  There is absolutely no prospect of them surviving this, the reaction from Australia has been so negative, and so angry, that it is merely a matter of time before both go, the only question being whether Cricket Australia will allow them to resign rather than sacking them.  There is simply no prospect of them remaining that is remotely sustainable – every time Australia gain reverse swing they will be alleged to be cheating, every time they claim a low catch they will again be called cheats, irrespective of the truth.  The stupidity of their actions means that for the next decade this will be thrown at them at every opportunity.  It is a PR catastrophe to which there’s only one response.

James Sutherland held a press conference overnight where he issued the usual platitudes about being aghast at what had happened, but he also made the interesting comment that he’d had cause to speak to Smith before about the behaviour of the team.  In the first instance this suggests either that it was hardly a bollocking or on the other that it was ignored by the team to the extent that they felt ball tampering was a reasonable response to the concerns.  Doubling up on things is an oddly impressive response in a sense.  Either Cricket Australia didn’t care about the stench of hypocrisy emanating from Australian cricket, or the team didn’t care what he thought.  Both reinforce the out of control criticism.

Few international sides are angels, and most have behaved poorly at different times, not least England.  But no others have taken it upon themselves to define how everyone else should behave and claim the moral high ground even when it is a laughable position.  Prior to these particular events, they had complained bitterly about the treatment of the players (and players’ wives) at the hands of the South African crowds.  And fair enough too, it was unedifying – but for the complaint to come from a side whose coach had openly called for Australian crowds to send Stuart Broad home in tears, it was another example of an extraordinarily lacking in self awareness perception as being the good guys, oblivious as to how they were seen elsewhere.

There is no reason to assume that the ball tampering was a regular act – though equally the protestations that this was the first time it had ever happened were greeted with derision given this is the response every time Australia are caught out doing something wrong – but Australia’s behaviour during the Ashes left a lot to be desired, as did the pious manner in which they justified themselves.  This speaks to the heart of the difference between self image and outside observation, and explains precisely the glee with which this has been received outside Australia.  Ball tampering is a relatively minor matter, hypocrisy is not, and it is the hypocrisy that has resonated.  Furthermore, the outrage from the Australian media raises plenty of eyebrows given their unstinting support for every dig and complaint issued from the team.  They have been the propaganda arm of Australian cricket far too often to now react with outrage At the team going one step too far.

At the time of writing, news broke that Smith had been suspended from the fourth Test and fined his match fee.  This is merely the beginning for him.  For the sake of trying to gain a tactical advantage in one Test he has damned himself for the rest of his career as a cheat, and if Any sympathy is to be extended in his direction, it is that one crass decision is going to haunt his career, not because of his guilt, but because of the pre-planned, deliberate nature of the offence.  Any penalties he receives from the ICC or Cricket Australia pale into insignificance compared to the reputational damage to himself.  Some have commented that he deserves some credit for fronting up and accepting his guilt at the press conference, but he spent more time talking about being embarrassed than he did apologising, indicating he still didn’t realise quite what they had done.  Equally, Cameron Bancroft was largely thrown under a bus, making it somewhat apposite that Sutherland then did the same to Smith.

As for Bancroft himself, being a junior player is no excuse whatever.  Everyone knows the rights and wrongs of something like this, and volunteering to be the patsy suggests a complete lack of perspective and intelligence.  It comes back again to being astounding that no one appears to have objected to the plan.

Over the longer term this may well benefit Australia, serving as a correction to their recent overbearing nature.  For everyone else it doesn’t offer the slightest opportunity to jump on to the moral high ground so rapidly vacated.  All teams have been behaving poorly in one manner of another and none of them can claim to be the wronged party on a regular basis.  Equally, and taking into account that this still isn’t the worst crime to have committed on the cricket field, it provides an opportunity for the authorities to clamp down hard on some attitudes and confrontational acts that have been pissing off a lot of people all around the world.  

National teams are not a law unto themselves.  This represents an opportunity to reinforce that point 

“Rain” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 2nd Day Review

After what must be considered their worst day of the whole winter (and they have plenty to choose from), the England team probably weren’t hopeful about getting any kind of result from the game. The one thing which might help undeservedly rescue them is the weather, and that was what happened today.

The first session started on time after rain showers earlier in the day, but lasted only 10 overs before the downpour began. New Zealand made steady progress and Williamson completed his 18th Test century, but little else of note happened.

The heavy shower passed fairly quickly, and play restarted just over an hour later. This session coincided with the second new ball for England, and both Anderson and Woakes (with Broad only getting two overs before being pulled) got quite a lot of movement with it. An Anderson inswinger did for Williamson, hitting him plumb in front, and the traditional captain’s DRS review failed to save him. Whilst the swing challenged the other New Zealand batsmen, neither gave up a clear chance and after just 13 overs the rain came down again.

And thus ends what is by far the shortest and easiest match report I’ve ever had to write. The forecast for tomorrow looks even worse than today, which might leave England the faint hope that they can rescue a draw. Meanwhile, with a lead of 171 runs New Zealand must be considering a declaration sooner rather than later.

As always, comments welcome below.

Athers’ Blathers

Last week, former England captain Michael Atherton published an article entitled “Cricket: it’s where rational, joined-up thought goes to die” on the Times website. It was briefly put on the site for free before being pulled behind the newspaper’s pay wall, so now if you want to read it, you’ll need to at least register a free account with them. The great and good of the English cricket media immediately hailed it as a masterpiece by one of cricket’s greatest writers.

Last Monday, the British Sports Journalism Awards were held at a fancy hotel in South London, where Michael Atherton was given the Cricket Writer Of The Year award for the fourth time in a row. In congratulating him on Twitter, the Times cited his latest work as an example of why he is the greatest cricket writer in the country.

In the article, Atherton lists a series of decisions taken by cricketers, coaches and administrators which he deemed to be ‘irrational’. Now, regular readers here will know that there’s a lot to choose from here. The ECB in particular are prone to making irrational decisions most of the time. It is therefore somewhat incredible to realise that he names virtually no irrational things in the whole piece.

So I have gone through the whole thing, and explained point-by-point why he is wrong.

Alex Hales changing his mind about first-class cricket – Rational. Athers quotes a 2016 interview from Hales where he says he wants to play in all three formats. To put that into the correct context, at the time he was playing in all three formats for England. He said it just before he played in a Test series against Pakistan, in which he averaged 18.12 and was then dropped. Now it’s almost two years later and he seems unlikely to get another chance in the Test team. He did average 47.11 last year in the Championship, but that was in Division 2 and was only the 24th highest average in that competition. If his dream of playing Tests again is dead, why not concentrate on limited overs cricket?

Nottinghamshire changing their mind about offering Alex Hales a white ball contract – Rational. Again in 2016, Nottinghamshire refused to offer Hales a white ball contract. To put this into context, in 2016 he was playing all three formats for England and so would only have been available for his county in April before the international season began. If he wasn’t contracted for red ball cricket, he might not have played a game all season. Now that he isn’t in the England Test team, he will likely be available for large chunks of the county limited overs competitions.

Adil Rashid apparently changing his mind about a white ball contract between December and February – Rational. In December, Rashid gave a standard generic quote about wanting to help Yorkshire regain the Championship title but in February signed a contract which meant he wouldn’t be taking part in that competition. It could be that he changed his mind, or he didn’t think that Yorkshire would offer him a contract without him having to play 4-day cricket. Either way, it’s hardly a sign of irrationality.

Jack Leach bowling more overs than Mason Crane during the Lions tour of the West Indies – Incredibly rational. Jack Leach is a better bowler than Mason Crane. He just is. The England Lions captain Keaton Jennings correctly surmised this, and chose his bowlers accordingly. Mason Crane wasn’t even selected for the third game of the Lions tour.

Mason Crane was selected for the Australia and New Zealand Test tours – Irrational. I’ve got to give Atherton this one. It was a ridiculous selection.

The ECB are offering white ball-only contracts to players – Rational. The truth is, England’s white ball specialists have been getting screwed until recently. Test players have had much more money and job security through their central contracts whilst the ODI and T20I cricketers have largely been relying on match fees. This was a much-needed rebalancing of the scales.

The chairman of the English players’ union and the chief executive of the South African players’ union disagree about white ball-only contracts – Rational. Two people in similar jobs disagreeing about something. Who cares?

Trevor Bayliss believes that there shouldn’t be bilateral T20Is, but the ECB has scheduled more – Rational. This time, someone disagreeing with their employer. Who cares?

Jos Buttler disagrees with Bayliss’ idea – Rational. A player disagreeing with his coach. Who cares? (And seriously, who edits Atherton’s work and lets all this stuff through?)

Trevor Bayliss suggested that Paul Farbrace should replace him as England’s T20I coach immediately – Incredibly rational. Trevor Bayliss has publicly stated that he plans to leave the England job in 2019 after the Ashes series. The World T20 competition starts just 12 months later, which doesn’t give the new coach much time to shape the T20 squad beforehand. Bayliss’ T20 record is also much more shaky than what he has achieved in ODIs so far. Since his appointment, England have won 12 and lost 12 T20Is, compared to having won 36 and lost 15 in ODIs. It seems that either England or Bayliss is not that good in cricket’s shortest (international) format right now, and could use a change.

Eoin Morgan offers to play first-class cricket for Middlesex after not being drafted in the IPL – Rational. Morgan had the choice between sitting at home or being paid to play cricket, albeit not where he had hoped to be. He obviously chose the latter.

Australia played against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland, which has a field too small for T20Is – Rational.  Atherton even explains that it’s because the ground was already in use before the regulations regarding the minimum lengths of boundaries came in, and so it has a special dispensation. Increasing the boundary sizes on an existing ground would be very expensive, requiring major construction work and other costly measures, and probably isn’t possible at all in dual-use stadiums like Eden Park. Unless the ICC is prepared to pay New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new cricket ground in Auckland, it seems fair enough to bend the rules slightly.

Australia and South Africa’s schedules are very congested – Rational. It makes their boards money. The more they play, the more money they make. It’s as simple as that.

Despite major investment, Durham, Hampshire and Cardiff aren’t hosting any Tests from 2020 onwards – Rational. Again, money largely explains this. The other grounds make more of it during Tests, and so are the preferred hosts.

Somerset won’t stage any internationals despite being a well-run county, whilst other counties will – Slightly irrational. The main criteria which Somerset have failed to meet is capacity, the County Ground in Taunton only has space for 12,500 spectators whilst the ones which will host internationals can each hold crowds of at least 15,000. It’s a shame, but perhaps part of what makes Somerset such a solid and responsible county also prevents them from committing to costly expansions to their ground with uncertain financial returns.

Rashid Khan is top of the ICC bowler’s ODI rankings, but might not play in the 2019 World Cup if Afghanistan fail to qualify – Rational. Sometimes great players are on teams which don’t qualify for major competitions. I hear Gareth Bale is a great player, but Wales last qualified for the football World Cup in 1958. (Note: I don’t care about whether Bales actually is a great player or not, so please don’t try to argue this point with me.)

The ICC claim they want to expand world cricket but have contracted the ODI World Cup from 14 teams to 10 – Rational. The ICC (or to be exact, the member boards) were lying. If expansion made the existing members more money in the short term, they’d be doing it. The format of ICC competitions is decided solely on monetary terms.

And yet Michael Atherton is considered the greatest cricket journalist in England. Go figure.

There Is Power In A Union

According to the singer Billy Bragg, trade unions are powerful and virtuous entities which support the workers against the abuses of their employers. They ensure fair pay, equitable treatment and protection from abuse. For professional cricketers and England and Wales, that role is filled by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

The PCA helps support professional players in several ways. They help negotiate central contracts for England internationals, teach rookie players important lessons about what it means to be a modern sportsman, and support players after they leave the game. What they don’t do, in virtually any circumstances, is protect their members in any public way from the actions of the ECB. After several incidents in the past few years, I have been left wondering where the reaction from the player’s union was.

This post was prompted by a story posted today on the Daily Mail website. To summarise: Because of the large pay disparity between players who are and aren’t on central contracts, non-contracted players who played in 4 Tests, 10 limited overs games, or a combination of the two, would receive a £50,000 bonus. In the current England team, that would mean Stoneman, Vince, Malan, Curran and Roland-Jones are all due a large payout.

Except, of course, for the fact that the ECB are unmitigated arseholes and so have chosen to instead return to the old system of incremental contracts made solely at the discretion of the team’s director, Andrew Strauss. Of the five players who would have qualified for the bonus only Toby Roland-Jones has been offered an incremental contract, leaving the other four £50,000 out-of-pocket.

Now it may well be that the ECB were fully within their legal rights to get rid of these bonuses. I am not a lawyer, I haven’t seen the players’ contracts, I have no expertise in these areas. It certainly seems unethical to me though, withdrawing a bonus without informing the players involved. I would hope, if I were in that position and was a member of a players’ union, that they would intercede on my behalf. Instead, the PCA has remained silent on the issue.

But It All Amounts To Nothing If Together We Don’t Stand

Of course, sometimes silence is preferable to the alternative. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” In past years, the two things the PCA has most been associated with in the press have been when they have come out on entirely the wrong side of events.

In 2014, England played against India at Edgbaston in a T20I. During that game, the last of England’s summer that year, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. It was certainly against the terms and conditions for people who bought their tickets. It was quite possibly illegal (again I reiterate, I am not a lawyer). But it was also something the ECB would wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket.

To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. After a swift and decisive backlash Porter did apologise for his words, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning.

The second example of the PCA’s folly, and the one more apposite to this blog, is the infamous press release that the PCA and ECB jointly wrote about Kevin Pietersen. Of course the headline quote was about allegations “from people outside cricket”, which indirectly gave this blog its name, but there are some other gems in there as well. This paragraph, for example, has not aged well after England’s 4-0 thrashing in Australia:

“The England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that, we must invest in our captain, Alastair Cook, supporting him in creating a culture in which he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”

But the quote which really angers me regarding the PCA’s continued silence is this:

Clearly, what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be shared with people not connected with the team.”

This is so hypocritical, it is bordering on comedy. I can think of few players in the history of English cricket that have been leaked against more than KP. If anything unflattering to Pietersen occurred within the private confines of the England camp, you could be assured that it would be in the paper the next day. I can’t recall the PCA ever standing up for him (I presume he’s a member) and demanding that the leakers be punished.

But Who’ll Defend The Workers Who Cannot Organise?

It is fairly easy to pick out several England cricketers in recent years who have been the subject of repeated ‘anonymous’ leaks questioning their character, ability or fitness. Joe Root, Adil Rashid, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow, just to name the Yorkshire contingent. These largely baseless allegations from “sources inside the England camp” (or however it’s phrased) could have real negative consequences for these players’ careers. Clubs could be less likely to sign them, or lower the amount they are prepared to pay for them. I want the players’ union to stand up to the ECB and demand either the leaks stop or the leakers (and let’s face it, we know who most of them are) should be sacked.

Likewise, the ECB’s punishments are often arbitrary and unwarranted. If we just take the recent tour of Australia as an example, following the first Test and the revelations of Jonny Bairstow’s odd meeting with Cameron Bancroft there was a curfew placed on the whole England team. Because of the actions of one player, the whole team was punished.

A few weeks later, Ben Duckett dumped a drink over Jimmy Anderson and was severely punished with suspension from the Lions team. It emerged soon after that other players had done similar things during the night, but only Duckett was punished at all.

And throughout the whole tour, Ben Stokes was named in the squad but unofficially suspended. Really, anything with the word “unofficial” is going to be a bit dodgy. Now, it’s possible that visa issues would have prevented Stokes entering the country, but it seems equally likely that the ECB failed to follow any kind of due process with someone who is presumably a PCA member.

Being a fan of cricket, I have more affection for the players than anyone else in the game. I certainly like them more than the sport’s administrators, the coaches, the journalists, the commentators, and even the other fans. I want them to be well paid, well prepared for life as a professional sportsman, and also well prepared for life after cricket. The PCA appears to achieve these things, and I am grateful.

But I also want the players to be defended when attacked, or abused, or treated unfairly, and it is here that I find the PCA lacking. The players deserve better, and I hope their union faces up to that challenge.

As always, we welcome your comments below.

In Praise of the Rain Delay

The recent sad passing of Bev Congdon caused the usual moment of reflection to note the loss of a cricketer who had graced the game in years past.  As is always the case, whether a player is familiar to the cricket follower depends on their age, and in my case I am too young to have remembered him playing.  And yet his is a name that’s familiar to me, from growing up and getting into the game of cricket.  Curiously, despite him being retired before I did so, I did see him play, but only through the medium of the series highlights played when it was raining.

Of course, in those days there was no internet, no immediate and obvious means of recognising what had happened in past series, and as much as anything else, the selection of a summer of cricket places on standby in case of rain, provided an education on the game and those who played it.  They tended to be from the 1970s, although occasionally they did go earlier, which I would initially object to, as it was transparently old to the intolerantly youthful.

To my young eyes, these were new players mostly – names introduced in small chunks across a particular Test series, and having no knowledge of the outcome, it was fascinating viewing.  Some elements were endlessly surprising, such as discovering that Dennis Lillee had been around for an awfully long time, some openly puzzling – Dale Hadlee can’t be Richard’s father surely? Oh, they’ve mentioned someone called Walter – ensuring much close attention to try and work out the strands of family relationships, or those who looked terribly young on these replays, and gnarled and grizzled in the live match currently suffering from wet weather.

Equally, some entire careers could be seen in fast forward, yet still without being able to place them in full context.  Graham Roope looked an exceptional cricketer to me in these highlight reels, and youthful confusion that no one ever talked about him wrestled with disappointment when his five minute long innings of about 70 would come to an end.

Occasionally, they went further back, and instead of 25 minute highlights of a given day, it would be the story of a series, invariably narrated by John Arlott – another mysterious name mentioned on occasion, but who I’d missed entirely.  From being grumpy at seeing black and white pictures, or film rather than video, those tones would draw me in.  Oblivious that it was a particular skill of his anyway, the storytelling of cricket was utterly beguiling, and the disappointment of an England defeat in a Test series long since finished was palpable.

If the highlights were memorable, so too were the studio discussions.  For the young nowadays, a David Gower or Ian Botham will be every much a part of the distant past to them as Jim Laker or Tom Graveney was to me – the longevity of Richie Benaud always placed him in a slightly different category – and the premature death of Laker in particular upset my young self significantly.  Those discussions around cricket, followed by a tape of some long forgotten Test match, meant that rain was only a mild irritation, certainly compared to the annoyance of my sister who was aghast at my fascination with watching someone called Edrich score runs from a decade earlier.

There is always the temptation to assign particularly fond childhood memories like this to nostalgia, but cricket does lend itself it to endless discussion more than some other sports; the long form of the game has its own cadences and rhythms that make even arcane enforced conversation feel a part of the process, rather than an interruption to the event.  And while the shift to pay TV has meant that satellite broadcasters either have no desire or no budget to buy in long gone highlights from 40 years ago, perhaps for this generation’s child watching the 2005 Ashes for the first time, the same emotions are stirred.

Certainly it isn’t purely a nostalgic thing anyway.  A few years ago in a series I can’t remember, between New Zealand and someone else, the morning rain inadvertently produced truly riveting late night television for the cricketing tragic.  If a line up in the studio of Charles Colville, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher perhaps doesn’t press every button for many, then this would prove to be a joyful surprise.  Colville in particular is vastly better as a presenter than a commentator, with the rare and underappreciated skill of knowing when to shut up and let his guests talk.  And that’s what Cork and Butcher did – a wide ranging, sometimes serious and sometimes not debate on the game, memories and friends and colleagues.  As it went deep into the night, the viewing audience must have been miniscule, for Sky barely even bothered to go to an advertising break.  But for those who were watching and listening, it was a rare treat – two people chatting in depth about the game, with a skilled interviewer occasionally interjecting to ask a relevant question.  Want to know how wonderful that was?  The following night I tuned in, and was disappointed to learn the weather in New Zealand was sunny.

Equally, Sky now have a decent library of their Masterclass series, and it rarely gets dull to watch a special player demonstrate their skills – the skills of their minds as much as anything else; while listeners to TMS often actively look forward to hearing the rain fall given that radio is unsurpassed when it comes to the beauty of the unscheduled random conversation.

There can be few if any other sports where bad weather can prevent play, yet where aficionados are only mildly put out, taking the opportunity to drink in the game past and present.  It might even be said to be a formative experience, for it can sometimes most closely echo the experience of many a young cricketer sat listening to the old players in his (and now her) local club, absorbing everything that is said, and hoping they don’t notice him sat listening to every word.  They do of course, and they remember doing the same.

I can think of no other way I could have become so steeped in cricket history so quickly.  And the next generation have the same experience for those who to me were familiar.  It is a priceless introduction, and why above all else, cricket is a sport where sometimes it really doesn’t matter if the weather is bad.

Let it rain.

New Zealand vs. England: First T20I Preview

In our latest post celebrating the blog’s third birthday, metatone suggested in the comments that we could put up an “Open Thread” post for England’s T20I and ODI games. Whilst all of the regular writers (and many of our audience) don’t pay as much attention to the shorter formats as Tests, it would allow those sad souls who find T20s “fun” to comment on the site in a thread just for them. As our Dear Leader said just over three years ago, “Let’s see how this one goes.”

England’s tour of Australia has finally come to an end, and it has been a mixed bag. They were dominant in the ODIs, and yet verging on the pathetic in both the Tests and T20Is. The inadequacies in the Test team are laid bare for everyone to see; the bowlers were incapable of taking wickets in challenging conditions and the batsmen were unable to survive the barrage of quality fast bowling and off spin.

The T20I team’s struggles are more puzzling to me. On paper, the squad is a good one. The majority of the players were in the team which took England to the final of the World T20 less than 2 years ago, as well as dominating Australia in the ODIs through January. England are 4-7 in T20Is since the 2016 tournament, compared to 28-7 in ODIs over the same period.

Of course, one thing which these figures demonstrate is that England plays a lot more ODIs than T20Is and perhaps that’s part of the problem. It’s a small sample size, and so maybe it would be wrong to read anything into these results. The T20 format is also more volatile in nature, meaning that a poor team might have more chance of winning than if a similar quality team was playing an 50 over game or Test.

But these issues aside, England’s T20I team does seem to be struggling. The ECB hired Bayliss as a limited overs genius and he has delivered (to an extent) in ODIs. With just over a year to go until the next World Cup, it seems like England are undeniably favourites to win that competition. For the World T20 in 2020 however, I wouldn’t bet on them even reaching the knockouts right now.

So what needs to change? Well there could be a case for a few players being dropped. Since the 2016 World T20, no player in the world has scored more runs than Joe Root at a lower strike rate. Likewise, Eoin Morgan and (surprisingly) Jos Buttler have scored their runs at a relatively sedate strike rate of 120. These scoring rates might be fine if you’re targeting an average score of 150, but I fear that’s not enough in today’s game.

Or perhaps a change in coaching would be enough. The majority of players in England’s current ODI team also played in the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. The greatest difference between then and now is the mentality and aggression of the team. They don’t settle for a target of 270, instead trying to put the game out of reach of the opposition. The T20I team appear to be unable to muster the same levels of ruthlessness.

All of which is to say that I’m not hopeful about England’s prospects against New Zealand tomorrow morning. England need to win both remaining games against the co-host to make the final, and nothing they’ve shown in the last two games would suggest they’re capable of that.

As always, comments are welcome below.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which was mortally wounded at the SCG on 5th January 2014 and then through the greed of its administrators, was finally killed off on the 8th January 2018. Deeply lamented by an ever-smaller circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P.

N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to The ECB’s headquarters and buried in its vault of gold”

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It may just be me, but I remember certain promises of a New England team after the humiliation of 2013/2014 Ashes. The difficult and unpopular South African batsman who had batted at number 4 was removed due to an overwhelming dossier of (soon to be published) evidence. We were promised a new start under the welcome leadership of the darling of English cricket. We were promised that there would be a review and something like that would never happen again. There was a promise of a fresh start with a new, young and exciting team that could unite the nation; plus administrators who acknowledged the pain that the English supporters felt and would take steps to ensure that our voice would be heard and that they would right past wrongs.

At least, that’s what the ECB and many of their complicit associates thought they were saying. Instead, they managed to split a cricketing nation down the middle, insult the fans by saying anyone who didn’t agree with them was from “outside cricket”; who then alienated those fans by hiking up the costs and by refusing to put the interests of the true fans ahead of their own financial lust. Every time they told us they knew what they were doing and to have faith in them, they immediately plummeted to new depths. They first marginalised and then penalised county cricket and many of the counties themselves were soon staring down the barrel of bankruptcy and at the mercy of handouts from their increasingly iron-fisted administrators. Durham were docked 48 points and relegated for having the misfortune of producing a number of young English players whilst having to build an international stadium that the local economy didn’t need or warrant. They’ve seen participation in the sport disappear to an all time low thanks to hiding it away on pay for TV and investing the princely sum of £2.5 million for grass-roots cricket. They’ve turned a significant number of loyal England fans against the team and away from cricket who in all likelihood will never return to the sport.

The ECB did all this and for what? A mediocre white ball team and a Test team that has once again been humiliated in Australia, after being humiliated in India, with a team lacking in basic talent and a future pipeline that resembles a dry well . Well done to the ECB, you’ve achieved so much in the last 4 years that many others who were deliberately trying to destabilise the sport wouldn’t be able to do in 10 years. I hope you’re proud.

So after this embarrassment of a series, those few fans that remain are waiting for what comes next, yet we all know what comes next – nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve seen many of the media say that we shouldn’t ‘sweep this under the carpet’ after this series’ calamity yet that’s exactly what will happen again. Boycott had some good questions at the end of the series but took out his frustrations out on the wrong person in the absence of any management. Instead, if lucky we may get the odd staged interview where Tom Harrison dictates to us why English cricket is in a such a good state of health. We may get the odd dissenting question from the likes of Jonathan Agnew (whose last interview was more Graham Norton than Jeremy Paxman), yet I’m sure Harrison will be allowed once again to gloss over these things and nothing will be said or done, after all it’s not particularly in the interest of the media to shoot the golden goose.

Yes there have been exceptions, George Dobell has posted some fine and cutting articles about administrators both in this series and before, but what about the rest of them? The fact that some of the ‘establishments of the media’ are talking about a need for change only now just makes me laugh. Literally where have you been for the past 4 years? It’s been staring you in the face all that time and you have only just woken up and smelled the coffee? If that’s your idea of hard hitting journalism, then perhaps you should consider a career at the Cricket Paper?

Naturally, there will those that blame the team, the coaches, the selectors and probably  the boogie and yes, all of these need to share in some of the responsibility (well perhaps not the boogie, but it has often proved to be an efficient scapegoat in the past). The best thing that could be said about the team is that they kept trying their best to the end, though the worst that could also be levelled at them is that they are a talentless bunch of egotists who can’t handle their alcohol. The coaches have hardly covered themselves in glory either, Trevor Bayliss couldn’t find most of the counties if you gave him a Sat Nav, let alone identify most of their players. Farbrace seems to appear when things are going well, has a large chuckle with the media and hides when they’re not. Ramprakash has been given a contract extension when half the team don’t seem to know which side of the bat to hold and I’m not even sure who our bowling coach is these days! As for the selectors, well let’s just say you could fill a bag with the name of every cricketer in county cricket and pick the team at random and they’d probably be more successful than most of England’s selection in the past 4 years. It’s a mess and whilst the above should all cop their side of the blame, it’s our four protagonists who deserve the most attention and the most recrimination. It’s these four in particular that have taken our once beloved sport and brought it to its knees.

I’m not going to focus on Strauss too heavily as rightly his focus has to be the health of his wife at the moment. Cancer is an awful illness and looking after her and the whole family must take priority over everything else. Another reason that I’m not focusing too much on Strauss is that he is simply the Company Man, employed by those above him to do what they say and to do it in the correct manner. There was talk before his appointment about the role being one where he would have the opportunity to make changes to the structure of the English game to ensure success in all formats and if that was indeed his mantra, then he has failed spectacularly.  My own personal view at the time was that Strauss was the hired hand: get rid of KP for good and be the face of the regime so that no-one looks too closely at what’s going on behind the scenes.  Not a lot has changed my opinion in that regard.

Sure I dislike Director Comma immensely especially by the way that he is able to embrace leaving his faculties at the door so that he can have a fairly cushy job of giving ‘short buzzword-loaded statements’ that the media will lap up in exchange for being part of the Establishment. In truth though, Strauss was part of the establishment long before he retired. He was from the right type of family, had the right look and was willing to adapt to situations that suited him at the time and then to dump those no longer useful. Sure, the ECB would’ve liked Strauss to have a team performing on the pitch to remove any investigation about what was going on behind the scenes but that never was a mandate. The mandate all along was keep the media happy and get the punters paying whilst saying the ‘the right thing’. It is impossible to tell whether Strauss would have copped much heat after this disastrous series if his personal circumstances were different, but I certainly have my doubts, after all why would the ECB want to remove their head boy?

It can also be rightly pointed out that all of this started way before 2014, under the stewardship of a certain Giles Clarke. Clarke is without the doubt the bogeyman of English cricket, a man who has always been so singular in his own quest for power and the riches that come with it that he isn’t worried about destroying anything in his way. I know a few of the hacks had pieces on Clarke that never made their way to print, such has been the fear of offending him and his lawyers. One can quite easily recall his reaction to Lawrence Booth after a mildly critical piece appeared in the Wisden Almanack alongside his haranguing of former ICC President Ehsan Mani at the same gala dinner. Whilst no-one in the press had the cojones to actually quote what Clarke said to either Booth or Mani (I’m guessing it wasn’t that he was a ‘‘man of great judgment’ unlike Paul Downton); however Mani acerbically commented afterwards that:

‘I’m very used to Giles being utterly irrational. He always thinks it’s just about him when there’s a far bigger picture of three countries sharing 52 per cent of income between them.’

Giles, we know – much like some of those who have followed him into power – was always about the commercials and pretty much stuff everything else. He got into bed with a soon to be convicted criminal – Alan Stanford, strengthened ties with Sky and took more pleasure in boasting that he had increased the ECB’s revenues up to £140 million than he did speaking about on the field success. Clarke created the revenue model whereby counties had to bid for Test Matches rather than the ECB distributing them as this lowered the ECB’s risk and accountability for a poor attendance or rain ruined Test. Indeed it was reported in the Telegraph some time ago:

“Giles’s agenda was all about financial imperatives, keeping the counties alive,” says one former county chief executive, who preferred not to be named. “He was very clever at making sure that he kept at least 10 of the 18 onside, and he was re-elected twice on that platform. Plus, some people became too scared to vote against him. If they did so and didn’t win, he found out, and he was a great one for punishing you.”

“Some people feared he wouldn’t give them a winter cash-flow loan [which many of the counties use to keep the creditors off their backs] or an international match.”

Ah yes, the fear factor the Clarke actively cultivated is well and clearly shown by the above. Back me or I take the money away and give it to someone else who will. It was Clarke’s obsession with money and power that laid the groundwork for the carve up of cricket and the absolutely despicable  “Big Three” revenue agreement, though it seems that Clarke had very little intention of sharing this money with the wider English Cricket community, this was the ECB’s money after all.  Clarke failed to get his hands on the most powerful job of all in world cricket, yet he’s still there, hovering around the halls of the ICC and ECB and no doubt leaning on those in the front line to carry out his mandate. I could write many more words about Clarke, but many of these have been written before and there are some new boys in town ready to take up the mantle.

Then we come on to Colin Graves, either a bumbling fool who has got in far too deep than he thought or some kind of evil genius that the world has never seen before. I’m genuinely torn between the two statements personally because he has shown both sides of this at times, sometimes even in the same press conference. We all know that Colin’s favourite word is mediocre (though surprisingly not when talking about the England Test team), West Indies cricket is mediocre, our current T20 competition is mediocre, I would probably guess that he describes lunch in the long room at Lords mediocre. Surprisingly enough, the reaction to this wasn’t what he had anticipated (i.e. pissing people off and motivating the opposition). However we have also seen a more cut-throat side from Graves, marginalising many of the counties that helped him come to power and survive through his initial appointment when Clarke still had a say on English cricket. He then went completely postal on Durham, a county that had unfortunately no rich benefactor and who were at the mercy of the ECB.  One only has to remember that this certain Colin Graves had helped Yorkshire out of a massive financial hole with a number of loans in the past as County Chairman – conflict of interest, what conflict of interest sir? This is the man, who has single handedly led the charge for a franchise based T20 when there was no support from the fans or the counties and looks to be around 5 years too late to make a major difference. This is the man who has decided to relegate red ball cricket to the very margins of the county season and then wonder why our Test team continues to fall apart when not faced with green seaming pitches. Still Graves is always good for the odd catch-all statement:

‘Everyone is very disappointed. Everyone gave their all, but we have to do things better going forward. There is no specific review.’

‘We have Andrew Strauss as MD of the England team and [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison in charge, and I trust them completely to make the right decisions. There will be no witch hunt. We have to look at it and see how we can improve, so in four years’ time we are better placed to win [in Australia] than we were this time.’

Ah yes, no witch hunt this time, after all we’ve only been thrashed 4-0 this time with only a dead dog of a pitch in Melbourne saving us from a whitewash and since there’s no Kevin Pietersen to ‘sort out,’ then we can rightly sweep it under the carpet. And Colin, whilst you’re there, I’ve got news for you: if you truly believe that Director Comma and the Empty Suit that is Harrison (more on him later) are deserving of trust to make the right decisions for English Cricket, then you are even more deluded than I even thought. Colin Graves: unfortunate idiot or world class baddie?  I guess the answer will be left to the cricket historians…

Finally this brings us on to the Empty Suit, Tom Harrison – the bean counter, the money man and the dangerous one. Let me just make this abundantly clear, Tom Harrison would organise a game of cricket on the moon, with a basketball and flippers if it made him some extra money. Tom Harrison does not care one jot about the game of cricket, the development of youngsters, grass roots cricket, how the Test team performs and what the future of English cricket will look like. As far as he is concerned, cricket and those who love it are just an unfortunate annoyance that sometimes gets in the way of him making money.  Nothing and I mean nothing else matters. NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Whereas Downton was both incompetent and stupid, Harrison is unfortunately highly competent in his singular goal of making cash and will ruthlessly destroy those who dare get in his way. I have published this a couple of times in the last week or so, but let’s just look at this statement one more time:

The health of the game is more than just Ashes series overseas.  We’ve had a successful entry into the broadcast rights market out of which we have secured the financial future of the game until 2024.

“We are in a process of delivering cricket across three formats. They’re making huge strides across the white-ball game, up to a place where we’re winning 70% or so of our white-ball matches – the ODI side in particular – and the T20 side is making good progress.”

In other words, yes we’re crap but look at the money, just look at it!  Look how much money I made out of Sky and everybody else! Yes, Harrison deserves some credit for selling a pretty crap product to Sky and others for £1.1 billion from 2020 to the end of 2024, but equally it would have been pretty embarrassing if he hadn’t managed to get a significant cost increase bearing in mind his background in selling TV rights.  Still even with the ECB breathing a huge sigh of belief, having postponed the inevitable financial precipice until 2024, Harrison once again let slip his key motivations:

‘You’re not thinking about the deal that you’re doing, you’re always thinking about the next deal.’

Stop me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the future of English cricket has been solely handed over to a greedy, ruthless, ex-car salesman type who has masqueraded as the answer to all of the ECB’s prayers. The snake oil salesman, who has rocked up from nowhere with supposedly all of the answers and none of the nasty drawbacks, does it remind anybody of someone else??

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And there we have it folks, we don’t matter, because once the next generation has finally discovered the note with ‘there’s no money left’ our four protagonists will be long gone with their riches and so will be what’s left of the money.  The game will be up, every single decision that the ECB has made during the last four years has ensured that English cricket in the future will be nothing but a rotting carcass, mourned by the few but largely forgotten by the majority and we have Clarke, Strauss, Graves and Harrison to thank for this.

I thought after 2014 the ECB had reached the nadir, covering up a truly despicable performance, sacking our best player, labelling anyone not employed by the ECB as outside cricket and showing almost no regard for the fans  Unfortunately I was wrong, this was just the start. The ECB have done all of this and more over the past years, and whilst we were furious four years ago, this time there is simply no-one around that cares enough anymore. And this is their most damning failure of them all.