England vs Australia: 4th ODI Open Thread

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

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

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

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England vs. Australia 3rd ODI – Open Thread

As England prepare to face Australia for the third of five ODIs, they stand on the cusp of a series victory. Not only that, but it would apparently be the first time since 1977 that England have won two consecutive ODI series against Australia. The gloss on that achievement is tainted somewhat by the fact that the two series have been less than 6 months apart, and Australia’s ODI form is particularly dire. They have lost 13 out of their last 15 ODIs, and are currently missing several stars due to injury and suspension.

England fans might be concerned about the fitness of several players, with Jonny Bairstow’s knee and Ben Stokes’ torn hamstring both under the spotlight. It would seem bizarre for the England team to risk two three-format world-class cricketers in a largely meaningless ODI series, but bitter experience also tells us it is almost certain to happen.

Elsewhere, English football fans were cursing VAR (football’s version of DRS) for almost costing them a win over Tunisia whilst Aussie football fans were largely cursing their government due to the World Cup mostly not being on free-to-air TV, nor on the streaming service which had the rights but which was apparently unable to handle the strain. It is somewhat unusual for the UK to have sport freely available on television when it isn’t in Australia, so I must admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude.

As always, feel free to comment on the game (or anything else) below.

Wallcharts at the Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mansplaining Cricket

Women are pretty stupid, it seems. They can’t count to six. They can’t fathom how to use a velcro fastening. They can’t even understand the most basic laws of cricket.

These are not my personal views, I hasten to add, nor the views of any of the other writers here at Being Outside Cricket (as far as I’m aware). They do however appear to quite accurately describe how the ECB sees women.

There are a few clear examples of this thinking in recent weeks. The first was the launch of the 100-ball format in April. When Andrew Strauss was talking about the rationale for the new competition on BBC Radio 5 Live, this is how he described it:

Well very simple. I think what we’re trying to do with our new city-based tournament is really appeal to a new audience. So people that aren’t necessarily traditional cricket fans, and in particular looking at mums and kids during the summer holidays. So, what we’re trying to do is find a way of making the game as simple as possible for them to understand and, you know, if you imagine that sort of countdown from 100 balls down to 0 and the runs going up, I think that’s a pretty simple way of playing the game.

This was a bad statement in a number of ways. Firstly, it concedes the rather ridiculous point that cricket is complicated and hard to understand. For an attention-seeking idiot like Stan Collymore to say it is one thing, for a sport’s own national board to state it as a fact is quite another. Secondly, it insults non-cricket fans by suggesting that the only reason they don’t like the game is because they’re too stupid to understand it. I don’t like football, but I feel confident that I understand it. Since people who aren’t already cricket fans are apparently the target market for the ECB’s competition, it might be wise not to insult them all. Because Strauss prefaces it by saying that the new competition was targeting mothers, the ones who bore the brunt of this insult were women.

But some clumsy wording in a live interview isn’t really enough to warrant sitting down and writing a full post about. For that, you’d need something more premeditated. Something that dozens of people at the ECB will have worked on and not seen a problem.

Something like this:

Soft Ball Cricket

The first thing to note is that it is a sponsored tweet from @EnglandCricket, or in other words a targeted advert. So let’s look at the target, @LydiaJane13: She’s a woman, she lives in England, and she’s a pretty big fan of cricket. In other words, exactly the kind of person that the ECB should be trying to attract to their local cricket clubs (assuming she doesn’t already play). Certainly, it would seem pointless trying to attract non-cricket fans to attend a cricket festival.

So having correctly found their audience, how should the ECB entice them to their events? Evidently, their answer to this question was to call them all morons. Cricket fans, regardless of gender, rarely find the laws of cricket “baffling”. Nor are cricket pads particularly difficult to put on for an adult. They might be expensive, cumbersome, and in the case of old ones belonging to a club probably not in great shape, but they aren’t “fiddly”. Certainly, as several people have remarked on Twitter, cricket pads aren’t more fiddly than bras, necklaces, and other items women routinely wear.

The most annoying thing about the ECB’s missteps in this advert is that, as is often the case, there is actually a decent idea behind their inept execution. As a middle-aged man who left my local cricket club around the age of 13, I’ve never been particularly tempted to go back. It was around that point where the focus of training shifted from ‘having fun’ to ‘winning games’, and I simply wasn’t good enough to compete. If I did want to return, I can’t say the idea of facing a hard ball or paying hundreds of pounds on a bat and pads really enthuses me. So, whilst I wouldn’t seriously consider playing ‘proper’ cricket, I might play a soft ball version if my friends or workplace formed a team. It’s a good format to promote to adult cricket fans, male or female. In fact, I genuinely think that it could become cricket’s equivalent to five-a-side football with enough promotion and support. Or, if not support and promotion, at least choosing not to insult your target demographic.

Something that perhaps makes the ECB’s oblivious sexism seem even worse is the ascent of England’s women cricketers in recent years. They won last year’s World Cup (a feat the men’s team have failed in emulate in 11 attempts), comprised three of Wisden’s five 2018 Cricketers Of The Year, and drew their most recent Ashes series in Australia rather than losing it 4-0. They are, as the kids might say, crushing it.

But even here, amidst this almost unqualified success, there are major problems on the horizon. Whilst England have benefitted from four years of their senior squad having professional contracts, most other major international boards are now at least matching that commitment. Australia have gone several steps further by giving many domestic players professional contracts. As England’s coach Mark Robinson said earlier this year, “We have to broaden our talent pool. Australia have 92 pros, we have 18.” To put that number into context: according to StephenFH’s research, there are 338 England-qualified men in county cricket first team squads. Virtually all of them will be on full-time professional contracts.

There may also be a sense that the ECB are letting this unique opportunity to market women’s cricket in England slip away. Last summer, over 26,000 people at Lord’s and 1.1 million people at home watched England’s victorious World Cup final performance. Today, in what was the team’s first game back on home soil since beating India at Lord’s last July, not much more than a thousand people went to New Road to watch them play against South Africa. It seems unlikely that over a million English fans of women’s cricket disappeared into the ether over just 10 months, so why so little interest? I suspect that the answer lies largely in a lack of promotion by the ECB and others.

If you were looking for a reason why the interests of women cricketers and cricket fans are dismissed so easily, you only have to look at the lack of female representation at the ECB. The 41 members of the ECB consist of 39 major and minor county chairmen plus the chairmen of the MCC and Minor Counties Cricket Association, As far as I’m aware, all of them are men. Not only that, but the organisations they represent cater almost entirely to men’s cricket. It gets a bit better on the ECB’s twelve-person management board which has four women, but of those four only Lucy Pearson has any official responsibility for women’s cricket. All four are also independent directors which means, as Andy Nash’s recent experience shows, they can easily be ignored or even not informed about things the ECB is doing. Considering these problems, I am dubious that these endemic issues can be resolved quickly or easily.

So, in conclusion, all men are bastards.

Discuss.

Ridiculous to the Sublime

The dust has settled somewhat on England’s Test series with Pakistan, but at the end of it, few are any wiser as to where England stand. For Pakistan, their tour to Ireland and England must count as a reasonable success – victory in Malahide was expected, certainly, but the quality of the Test and the occasion itself lent a real shine to their participation. That Test match reminded all who love the game, and this form of it in particular, just why they have so much affection for it.

A 1-1 series draw with England, after fielding an inexperienced side, must also be deemed a fine result. In the discussions around how to help away sides compete, with ideas such as the abandonment of the toss (swiftly shot down by the ICC), it has perhaps been overlooked just what a good overall performance this has been. If there is fragility in this Pakistan side, it is to be expected at this stage of their development, better Pakistan teams than this edition have been equally prone to meltdown.

For England, the curate’s egg applies. Victory in the second Test spared their blushes somewhat, but shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the dire display at Lord’s, nor the previous nine months that left Headingley being celebrated as their first win in eight matches.

Jos Buttler did well, even in the first Test to some degree, and if the concept of a frontline batsman playing at seven remains a peculiar longer term strategy, he did all that could have been asked of him. It doesn’t make him a long term success at this stage, but that he has talent is not in question. How he performs later in the summer will be intriguing to watch.

Placing a frontline batsman in an allrounder’s spot is reflective of the brittleness of England’s top order, yet ironically Buttler would be a devastating player to have in the locker were there a strong batting line up before him. To that extent he is a luxury, and it is to his credit that he performed in a rescue role as well.

Cook and Root both batted well at times without either going on to a really big score, though this remains a consistent England problem throughout the team, and the endless focus on Root’s conversion rate rather overlooks the small matter that even with that issue, no one has more centuries than him over the last couple of years. Still, for England to compete, let alone win against India, these two are going to need a strong series.

On the bowling side, Broad and Anderson still led the way, and both are in a similar position to Cook, in that they may be past their best, but are also still comfortably the best available in their positions. Neither of them bowled badly at Lord’s, yet received the usual criticism bowlers seem to when failing to contain opposition batsman after a miserable England batting display. To put that into context, few criticised Pakistan’s bowlers after Headingley, and they found themselves in a similar predicament.

Broad himself has talked about working hard on his wrist position, and both bowled among the fullest spells of their careers in the second Test. The problem with the discussions around them tends to stem from the determination of some to bracket them in an all time great list. They are unquestionably the best England bowlers in many years, and when leaving it at that, or even in arguing they are modern England greats, it is so much easier to give them the credit they deserve, rather than focusing on their weaker elements.

Behind them, it is less certain. Wood played the first Test and was discarded, again, without it being clear why he was dropped, or indeed why he was called up in the first place. Woakes did what he always does, which is to look a handful in English conditions, while Sam Curran remains what he was before his selection – promising.

This determination to label every new young player as the coming thing on debut is rather strange. Haseeb Hameed went through the same process (and may come again) and should surely be illustrative of the lack of wisdom in rushing to judgement. Dom Bess too has had plenty of column inches, but his success came rather more with the bat than the ball, and England spinners have been coming and going for a fair old while since Swann’s retirement. He may be different, and let’s hope so, but he is still merely a young player who may or may not prove worthy. Patience and realism is a better approach than gushing over the latest bright new thing.

We now have a long break before the next Test in August, the core of the summer given over to an interminable series of white ball matches that, however England perform, will be instantly forgettable. Who remembers the one day results last summer? Who remembers the one day results in New Zealand for that matter?

The ECB’s continual claim to place Test cricket at the heart of what they do rings as hollow as ever, as not just county championship cricket, but also the Tests are pushed to the margins of the season. The justification this year is the World Cup next, but few imagine that this will revert to the previous normal, and the number of Tests per season is in any case being reduced to six. This would be reasonable were it the case that it was to ease the burden on the players, but let’s be clear, it will be considered a gap, and a gap that will be filled by one day matches and T20.

Of those six Tests, three will take place in London, with Lord’s guaranteed two per year. Half of English Test cricket will take place in the capital, meaning the Midlands and North are scrapping for the remainder. English cricket continues to narrow its horizons.

There has been talk of Ireland playing a Test at Lord’s next year, and naturally enough, the ECB decided this was the perfect opportunity to push the concept of a four day Test. If there is one certainty about this organisation, it is that no opportunity to use the game of cricket to push their financial agenda should be missed. What could have been a glorious welcoming of Irish cricket to this side of the water will instead be an experiment for the ECB’s preferred financial model of play. Trying things out is fair enough, pushing an agenda irrespective of cricketing need is not.

This weekend England will play Scotland in an ODI. Thus it begins. Before the First Test against India, England will play 13 white ball matches of one kind or another. They are of course lucrative, and they are entertaining enough. England are a strong side, Australia and India the key draw in international cricket in this country. But the feeling that the battle for the soul of the game has been lost does not go away. Financial health is important, but the game of cricket does not exist purely in order to create that financial return, and there seems little doubt this is now the abiding priority.

There is no doubt that Test cricket is the core interest/readership of most of the blogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is similar in the newspapers as well. Perhaps that shows the priorities of England cricket fans, or perhaps it merely shows the priorities of a sub-set of cricket fans, the obsessives, as the ECB once put it. Either way, the absence of Tests, and indeed most of the county championship, during the peak summer months smacks of the future. The white ball is now king.

Till The Rivers All Run Dry

Whenever England suffer a defeat, the response is invariably as illuminating as the match itself. It is as though each must be taken in isolation, and never, ever must it be viewed as being part of a pattern. Even more specifically, cause and effect should not be considered, for then it might require thinking about how we got to this point and whether those decisions were wise ones or not. This becomes particularly important to ignore if those doing the analysis either failed to talk about potential pitfalls at the time, or if they instead happily supported them, in which case pretending that all current woes have nothing to do with any of it is by far the best course.

There are exceptions of course, George Dobell wrote a scathing article expressing surprise at the surprise, given the sidelining of first class cricket in this country and the decline in results in recent years. Yet he also implied that not only did the ECB not particularly care, but that this is deliberate – his description of the talent pool becoming a talent puddle being spot on it its brutal assessment of the point we’ve reached. In the follow up to the article on Twitter, he stated that the truth was that the ECB cared more for white ball cricket than red ball, and in one particular reply stated:

It is increasingly hard to take the counter view. When you stop being invited to briefings etc…It’s been an interesting few weeks. I’ll say more about that one day.

For a long time there has been a strong suspicion that the ECB have a real problem with those who don’t toe the line, those who dare to criticise. The apparent legal action against him by Colin Graves received ridicule, but far more insidious and dangerous is the question of access denied, of preventing those who are deemed off message from doing their job as a journalist, which can be, and sometimes still is, a noble profession. This perhaps is at least part of the reason for the rise of blogs like this one and many others – that we have no access to begin with means there is nothing to take away from us for being difficult. We say what we like, and any dislike the ECB has for us is returned in spades. The fundamental belief that cricket is our game, not the ECB’s is simply a view they do not share, but one (irrespective of view on individual subjects) from which players, supporters and fans will not back down.

Self-censorship is by far the most dangerous state of affairs in any free press society, and while it isn’t an accusation that can be specifically levelled at anyone (precisely why it is so dangerous – it happens by omission), the treatment of those who fail to the toe the line is an issue of vital importance. To turn it around the other way, is there any evidence or belief that the ECB would treat those who dare to criticise in exactly the same way as those who slavishly support them? As they are so fond of saying, this is a question of trust, and there is none.

The fallout from the Hundred – or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week – was in many quarters focused on the format itself, rather than the rationale that created the circumstances for the kind of stupidity that thought any of it was a good idea in the first place. It is not, and never has been a matter of whether a ten ball final over is a good idea or not. It is instead entirely about the cretinous management of the English game that has created a situation where such a tournament is deemed necessary to try and undo some of the damage wrought over the last fifteen years by an organisation so malevolently incompetent it has brought the game itself to its knees. Trying to fix the stereo while the wheels have fallen off is the default position of the ECB these days, and none of the derision around losing three and a bit overs should ever forget that.

Simon Hughes, the self-styled analyst, not only thoroughly supported the concept of the Hundred, but went full Al Gore and claimed he’d invented it. It is therefore no surprise that he managed to pen an article that managed the impressive feat of being utterly bereft of analysis while incorporating a leap in logic of truly epic proportions.

It is entirely a given that England batsmen of recent vintage have poor averages, it is equally a given that of those in the side only Cook and Root have recently averaged over 40, albeit Bairstow can be placed in that category if stat mining to a certain cut off point. Yet in all the praise of Cook in that article (and however fawning the coverage of him for modest performances recently, even the lesser Cook is a God among batsmen in this mess of an England team) at no point does Hughes seem to recognise that Cook is a product of an era where the ECB focused on red ball cricket. When England hit the nadir of home defeat to New Zealand in 1999 to become semi-officially the worst team in the world, the response was swift and determined. A focus on red ball cricket, a replication as far as possible of the conditions of Test match play, a specific plan to create Test match cricketers with bat and ball and strong competition for places in a team that was a match for anyone.

The hundreds racked up by England batsmen in the 2000s were by players who benefitted from that policy, who knew how to bat to a situation and whose entire careers had been predicated on the kind of cricket required to do so. It wasn’t just the batsmen either, the bowlers, faced with improved batting standards had to raise their games as well, in the age old arms race between bat and ball.

The best players in the English game are the older ones, who learned their art in that environment, with the arguable exception of Joe Root, who may be quite simply one of those exceptional players that comes along from time to time. Anderson and Broad were part of those England teams, Alastair Cook forced his way into a powerful side through sheer batting prowess to the point he was better than any of the other options. Hughes’ highlighting of Cook’s style of play being central to his career success is quite correct, what he fails to do is recognise that the circumstances in which he learned his game were conducive to that kind of play, and those circumstances no longer apply – which is why so few Cooks are now visible on the county scene.

Instead, Hughes focuses on social media as the reason behind England’s difficulties, drawing a logical parallel between Cook’s absence from it and his cricketing mindset. Apart from the sheer ignorance of apparently being unaware that social media is quite present in other countries whose batsmen have no problems racking up large scores against England, why single that out? Cook is the only one of the England team to raise lambs, perhaps that is the main reason instead? If only Haseeb Hameed had a farm, he would doubtless now be making double centuries in the England team rather than languishing in his county second team.

If Hughes at least recognises that England have a batting problem, Michael Vaughan in contrast highlights the bowlers, calling for Broad and Anderson to be dropped because they have been part of a losing England team for so long. As ever with Vaughan, there is a kernel of insight in what he says, for it is indeed the case that the side built around their bowling leadership is now on a downward spiral. Yet if England’s bowling has been unexceptional in recent times, it hasn’t been the main failing in a side crashing to calamitous defeat with ever greater regularity. Defending scores of 184 can be done on occasion, but not repeatedly, even for the very best. Opposition teams who have England on the rack after a risible score have an entirely different mentality, and bowlers simply cannot fix the unfixable, and nor can they escape the mental fatigue of being asked to so time and again. In this last Test, England didn’t bowl especially badly, dismissing Pakistan for a reasonably par score. The near 200 run deficit was not because of poor bowling.

Why Broad and Anderson? If a losing mentality is the problem, why not Cook? Why not Bairstow? Why not Stokes? In those cases at least there would be a semblance of recognition that the batting is the primary problem, rather than slating the bowling attack for failing to repeatedly perform miracles. It requires little cricketing genius to realise that the two of them, with excellent records, are most effective when they have runs to defend. Some might even say this has been true of every bowler who has ever played the game.

Broad and Anderson are reaching the end of the road, and Cook may not be too far behind them either. The critical problem this England side faces is not that they are past their best (because they probably are) but that they are still amongst the very best England have to offer. Criticism of them is often warranted, but an England team without them doesn’t just look weaker, it looks a disaster.

The ECB tried their best to deflect reality by talking about how to make away sides more competitive in Test matches, proposing the abolition of the toss to provide tourists with an advantage. Yet again, they are fiddling around the edges to distract from what is abundantly obvious to all. England were not thrashed in India because of the toss, they were not thrashed in Australia or New Zealand because of the toss. They were hammered because they aren’t very good, and the opposition, even opposition that isn’t that strong, are better. Home series have provided a figleaf of respectability in recent years, but even here results have been anything but dominant. The West Indies are no one’s idea of a top Test team, yet England barely sneaked a series win, losing a home Test to them for the first time in 17 years. England have not been inconsistent, they have been poor, and they are getting poorer, and there is little out there to suggest improvement is coming.

If England lose the second Test this week then they will slip to seventh in the Test rankings, above only Bangladesh (against whom they sneaked a largely undeserved series draw) and Zimbabwe in the table. Such a position may be indicative of the shambolic condition of the game, but it is unquestionably exactly where they deserve to be. Berating the players for the conditions that have led to this point is continuing to flog until morale improves.

The ECB have utterly sidelined county cricket as a preparation ground for Test matches. This is not new, the county championship has been pushed ever more to the margins for several years, and with successful bowlers being those medium pacers who bowl wicket to wicket, and successful batsmen those who chance their arm before they are undone by one with their name on it, these are the kinds of players England will produce. As Dobell said, “What did they expect?”.

The lack of care, the lack of any interest, was demonstrated by a glorious late May Bank Holiday Monday where there was no county cricket played anywhere, for the first time ever. That a Test was scheduled for its fifth day is no excuse whatever, to have failed to consider scheduling matches for a public holiday is entirely symptomatic of an organisation that simply doesn’t give a shit any more.

Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the coach. Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the application of the batsmen. And do not try to tell people that this is some transitory issue that will improve. This is the ECB reaping exactly what they have sown over the last fifteen years – handicapping the England Test team specifically, deliberately, and as part of a wider strategy. Late term panic about the invisibility of the sport from an organisation that continues to undermine its very essence not only fails to mitigate previous actions, it exacerbates them.

At every stage in this slow motion car crash there has been the opportunity to change direction. At every stage they could have listened to those who had the interests of cricket at their heart. And at every stage they have doubled down and pressed the accelerator pedal still further. Pathetic tinkering at the margins and pretending we haven’t got to this point by design is nothing other than fundamental dishonesty and contempt for everyone else.

You broke it ECB. And you don’t even care about fixing it.

England vs Pakistan, 1st Test Day 3

If there are two people who are happy at the result of today’s play, it’s MCC President Ian MacLaurin and England’s new head selector Ed Smith. This is because the MCC seem unlikely to have to refund any of people’s Day 4 tickets, as the play tomorrow should last more than 30 overs, and both new players selected by Smith have finished the day not out with a half century to their name.

Things didn’t look quite so good for England early in the morning. Pakistan managed to add another 13 runs for their last wicket, and then Abbas trapped Alastair Cook in England’s second over. Stoneman was bowled soon after by legspinner Shadab Khan with a delivery which spun out of the rough and kept low, which left England in the precarious position of being two wickets down and still 148 runs behind.

Joe Root and Dawid Malan steadied the ship somewhat beyond Lunch, until (quelle surprise) Malan lost his wicket to a swinging delivery by Mohammad Amir. Amir also bowled Bairstow two balls later with a vicious swinging delivery between bat and pad, which heralded the third Englandbattingcollapse of the game as Stokes and Root also fell in quick succession. Stokes hit a loose shot to midwicket, perhaps mistaking the situation for an IPL game rather than a Test match, whilst Root was trapped LBW in the crease by Abbas.

This brought the Somerset (or Lancashire/Somerset duo, if you prefer) duo of Jos Buttler and Dom Bess to the crease with England still 69 runs behind and only 4 wickets left. At this point, the most England fans were probably hoping for was a quick finish followed by the traditional blame game. Instead, Buttler and Bess batted through to the end of the day whilst scoring 125 run.

This leaves England 56 runs ahead and with the distant hope that they might set a target which at least allows for the possibility of a win. Obviously a quick collapse tomorrow morning is more likely, particularly with the new ball due for Pakistan after two overs, but it is England’s best position in the game so far.

Ed Smith’s supporters are likely to be crowing over this scenario. The two new members of the squad which he selected have both scored crucial fifties (and are still going). The head selector himself might be more circumspect for two reasons. The first would be the example of James Whitaker, who continually cited the success of Gary Ballance in interviews as justifying his approach until Ballance lost his form and became unselectable. At that point, Whitaker became something of a laughing-stock. The second, assuming that Ed Smith is mathematically minded, is that he no doubt knows the dangers of making assumptions from a small sample. Two innings is hardly enough to judge a player, especially when you consider that in recent times Westley, Dawson, Jennings and Hameed all made half centuries or better in their debut.

To follow on from thelegglance’s point yesterday, another 5 overs were lost today due to slow over rates. With 6 lost in the first day as well, it may well be beyond the point where the ICC and match umpire will forgive the bowling teams. Pakistan appear to have been slower of the two teams, and captain Sarfraz Ahmed must be in real danger of being suspended for the next Test match at Headingley. This might be a blessing in disguise for Pakistan, as Sarfraz has been in poor form recently and only averages 31.63 over the last two years.

So we will have a day 4, which means that LordCanisLupus will get to do a report (whether he wants to or not). Whichever way tomorrow’s play goes, at least we have that to look forward to…

As always, feel free to comment below.

England v Pakistan, 1st Test Day 1 Report – “A New Era”

A new season. A new selector. A new era for English cricket.

Or at least that’s what the ECB must have been hoping for after a disastrous winter. In truth, the team sheet from England’s head selector was very similar to the last one prepared by his predecessor in New Zealand.  Replacing Vince with Jos Buttler was the only unenforced change, with Buttler playing as a specialist batsman at number 7 and everyone else (bar Stokes) moving up a spot. Jack Leach was also ruled out of the team due to injury, and so was replaced by fellow Somerset spinner Dom Bess. For Pakistan, Hasan Ali was preferred over Rahat Ali. This decision was no doubt aided by Rahat Ali’s inability to take any wickets in the Test against Ireland a couple of weeks ago.

Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat. What followed was very reminiscent of England’s previous era. Of their previous twenty or so ‘new eras’, if I’m being honest. It started with Stoneman being bowled through the gate by Abbas, which is never a good look from an opener. Root and Malan both edged Hasan Ali to the keeper, and England were 43/3. Cook and Bairstow regrouped and managed to survive until Lunch, but England were facing a humiliating start to the summer.

The partnership looked solid after the interval, until Bairstow played inside a delivery from Faheem Ashraf and was bowled. This brought Stokes to the crease, and a second counterattack from England. Together with Cook, he put on a 49-run stand which was ended by Amir bowling Cook. This left England at 149/5. Not a great position, but with the remaining 6 batsmen including two allrounders, a specialist batsman in Jos Buttler and a Test centurion it was hardly the worst possible position for England.

Whilst England’s tail looked very strong on paper, on a cricket pitch they looked abjectly poor. Stokes, Buttler, Bess and Broad fell in quick succession and, within 11 overs, Pakistan had bowled the England tail out. Considering that England had won the toss and chose to bat, 184 was an abysmal total.

It looked a little promising for England at the start of Pakistan’s innings, with Broad trapping Imam-ul-Haq LBW after a successful DRS review. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was almost the only bright spot for them in the evening session. Anderson and Broad seemed to be a bit fuller and straighter than normal, but the Pakistani batsmen were resolute and seemed fairly comfortable facing the English attack. The only exception was an edge by Sohail from Mark Wood’s bowling which Ben Stokes dropped at third slip. Otherwise, Sohail and Azhar Ali made steady progress to the end of play leaving Pakistan on 50/1 and just 134 runs behind England.

Cook was England’s top scorer with 70 runs. As essentially the only member of the England team who did anything close to their job, he certainly deserves praise. Instead, I would guess the press’ attention will be aimed towards Joe Root. He chose to bat first in what many would say were bowling conditions (never mind that this was presumably a team decision involving the coaches and senior players), and he got out for just 4 runs (ignoring that he averages 50.12 as captain).

Perhaps the most worrying thing for England and their supporters is that this doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Pakistan team. Mohammad Amir, who was heavily hyped in the lead up to this series, was wayward and slow. Their batting lineup seems fragile to say the least. Pakistan are currently 7th in the ICC Test rankings, and you can see why. This is a side which England should be able to absolutely dominate at home. That they can’t is damning. This series could well be the first one Pakistan have won in England since 1996.

As always, comments welcome below.

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.

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!