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.

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Their Business is Our Business

Clarke 2

I wrote this piece at the beginning of last week, and I’m going to put it up without amending it from then. I hope it still works.

Admin Matters – Their Business Is OUR Business

It’s one of Giles Clarke’s bon mots. That “no-one should be interested in sports administration”. I know many supporters of sport feel the same way. “Can they just get out of the way and let the sport play out” they say. “It’s not worth worrying about bad administration. What is there we can do?”

This could go the way of one of my usual diatribes about how sport isn’t what it used to be, how business has corrupted the sporting ethos, how money is much more important than the sport itself. And I probably could bore you senseless as I go over all that again.

I stopped going to Millwall at the end of the 2012 season. Why? We were a lower-middle Championship side then, probably punching a little over our weight, and yet I felt I didn’t really associate myself with the team being put out there. We’d survived the drop due in no small part to a useful old player called Harry Kane. But he wasn’t our player, of course. We’d loaned him in. As we did with Ryan Mason. With Benik Afobe. We were getting more and more loan players in. They style of football was boring, all about surivival and defensive resistance. This was because a drop into League One was seen as a footballing disaster. It wasn’t like that in the recent past. We survived and thrived in that league below by bringing on youngsters, or snapping up wily old pros and lower league talent to prosper. That’s not the way now. It’s all about borrowing other team’s players.

But I’m digressing. Sport is about loving what is out there. It’s about enjoying the moments you are at a venue, or watching on television. One such moment occurred this weekend. Oklahoma City Thunder were at home to Golden State Warriors in a regular season game. The game ebbed and flowed, the Thunder not quite sealing the win, and the Warriors keeping it close. The game went into overtime, and with 20 odd seconds, the game was tied. Then this happened….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkaqIujpcbw

The Warriors are not my team. But it is watching that total class act do something truly extraordinary that defines what sport is about to me. It’s about enjoying the best being the best, and indeed, enjoying sporting contests with ebb and flow. I love watching Barcelona, but not when they are duffing up some mid-table nonsense, but when they are in a contest. A true battle against a foe they could lose against. That’s when you see how good they are, and why the Champions League is as successful at is, because for all the fact that they win it more often than others, Barcelona sometimes struggle. Tainted by money and used by the rich to get richer the Champions League maybe, and that daft nonsense about putting the rich teams automatically in defines why business should just foxtrot oscar, but even in its present form it still knows that it needs to excite.

It is that excitement, passion, emotional investment, the need for good competition and entertainment that drives sport. The fact is, these are traits that are an advertisers or businessman’s dream. This is a demand that is super-loyal, and takes a lot to break. It is a clientele that when they fall for something, will become irrationally devoted to it. Association with your team, or your sport, is seen as a reinforcement, even sub-consciously, of what you believe in. But still they want more. The best playing the best more often, completely ignoring the short-term “gains” with the long term contempt those contests engender if they happen too often. It’s their relative rarity that makes them special. The World Cup is special because it takes place every four years. So are the Olympics. Sports administration just wants to make money, by and large. In F1, how can you have a grand prix in Sochi, but not in Germany like last year? How can Monza be under threat, but there be a race in Baku?

But it’s pernicious. I heard someone say that what else was all this football from all round Europe on TV for now? What is football on TV channels now other than a vehicle for in-play betting? Check out how many betting adverts there are on all football broadcasts. Betfair, Skybet, BetFred, Bet365, Betway, whatever that one Swann did, BetVictor, William Hill, The effing Ladbrokes Life, Paddy Power…. and that’s off the top of my head. I know a gambling addict, and I know that watching a football broadcast now is akin to mild torture. Football is the betting industry’s cash cow, and as some say, it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as it is televised. That has been levelled at cricket, with the reputation that affixes itself to any ODI that has a collapse, or a T20 where scoring rates slow surprisingly. I’m sorry, I find that objectionable. I want to watch sport, not intervals between middle class, mainly white blokes, celebrating whatever wins they have, or flogging me free bets.

But it’s money, and that’s what matters, and keeping our players in the huge pay to which they’ve become accustomed (I read today that Nathan Loftus Cheek is on £65k a week) and the next TV contract (£11m a match – just let that sink in) is just going to make it worse. But people can’t get enough of it. The English Premier League is a worldwide “brand”, is successfully run if you just look at the bottom line, and as far as we all know, not corrupt. I said, as far as we know. Again, despite some rumours floating around, we are given to believe that English cricket is largely without sin, but how do we know?

Colin Graves
The “Paul Downton Locked Cupboard Under The Stairs”. Currently occupied by Colin Graves

Contrasting the organisation of our behemoth “best league in the world (c)” and guardian football authorities with the ECB is interesting. The President of the ECB was awarded the post because it would have been too bloody to get rid of him altogether. So they created a post for him (the head of the FA is being pretty much forced out by the “blazers”. There’s much rejoicing that he will have to face the DCMS Select Committee, but it’s a Pyrrhic Victory getting him there now – although it might be jolly good fun. We have Colin Graves, who will obviously need a very long sheet of paper to detail what he’s been up to this past year, because, frankly, other than the KP thing, who the hell knows? Tom Harrison is lauded in some parts, but comes across as a slightly aloof, extremely dismissive, sharp suited chap we’re totally used to and who most of us would cross the road to avoid. The press office have changed little, we have a North Korean-like Twitter feed (it’s been ten years since Cook’s debut, which they commemorated twice this week), which is so resolutely upbeat it should be prescribed downers forthwith. The counties control the agenda, and change seems to be wrung out of them like a fiver out of my wallet when the charity collection comes round. I’d wager all the bosses of these counties, in their business lives, are great proponents of “change” but in this world, they seem rather reticent.

The award at the SJA last week for Death of a Gentleman has opened the window a bit, and the light is slightly seeping in. The MPs had a screening on Monday, and more and more clubs and institutions are showing it (I went to one at an unlikely venue, it has to be said). The word is getting out, and yet we still feel all so powerless. Our fears for the game fall on the deaf ears of administrators who want the power, and its measurable unit, money. We are to be monetised, as Gideon Haigh says in the film. We have no say. I understand people feeling that one voice doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I’ve just finished “The Ugly Game” about the bid to win the 2022 World Cup. It is a book that has made me incredibly angry. Do NOT confuse this with “surprise”. I remember talking with people many years ago who said Joao Havelange was a crook, and Sepp Blatter was learning at his side. Blatter is the archetypal head of a crime syndicate. He’s not getting his hands dirty, but he’s certainly making sure that anyone becoming his henchman is going to get their’s very mucky. As Michel Platini is finding out, as Bin Hammam did before, if you take on Blatter, you are assured of your own destruction. The book actually made me feel sorry for Bin Hammam, would you believe. A billionaire businessman, bribing a way for Qatar to win the bid, and then disowned afterwards by both FIFA and his own royal family, as a result of getting too big for his boots and challenging Blatter. The list of corrupt practices in the FIFA “family” is relentless, yet the organisation is run as some sort of private slush fund for its corrupt members. The motto being “don’t get caught” but even if you do, we’ll bring in some judge on our dime to bury the evidence. Even today, Charles Sale repeats this line about the Qatar bid….

It emerged after the FIFA Congress in Zurich that the still-to-be-published Garcia report into the bidding process for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 has no smoking gun in its details.

The report will only the see light of day when an investigation into the conduct of Thailand’s Worawi Makudi is complete. But even if Garcia has uncovered one or two instances of bribes playing a part in those murky votes from 2010, it would not be enough for either country to lose the World Cup.

One or two? Jesus wept. Sale’s being a muppet here, because the Sunday Times ran this story to saturation before the World Cup in 2014, and there’s evidence that a key man bought votes. He did deals, it seems, with Spain to secure the Latin vote. He broke rule after rule, and yet he gets sent into purgatory and the paymasters, the people who get to reap the spoils have plausible deniability. And there is precisely fuck all we can do about it. Except speak out.

Sports administration, be it in football or cricket, needs vision and it needs to be open and transparent. It should run the sport, not be the sport. It should keep itself to matters organisational, and should not be intervening in the playing side (and if it does, it should be open and transparent as to why – and you know who I am getting at here). Sport has always been a business, and yet, now, it is more corporate than ever. That corporate nature is built upon those people who love moments like the Curry long-range shot, the Messi genius, the thrill of Grant Elliott’s semi-final six (which I committed to DVD last night) and such like. Moments of drama and excitement. They are up for sale, and you’ll pay the price. They are up for monetising you and your love, knowing it is an inelastic demand that takes a hell of a sacrifice to break. It preys on a form of addiction, and you, the punter, feel like can’t do anything about it. It’s wrong. Sports administration matters all right. You just choose not to admit it. This is OUR game they are flogging. Not their’s.

But it doesn’t matter, does it. Because they are ruining what you love. It’s always the same. When they are gone, with their damage, we will still be here. Paying the next lot the cash.

Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 2

Come hither, Al, and look at my soul....
Come hither, Al, and look at my soul….

Having started the review of the Summer with the supposed closure of the KP issue, the conclusion of my piece was that it really wasn’t about KP any more. He’ll forever be the Keyser Soze of English cricket. Lack trust and you’ll be treated like KP. Step out of line with the big cheeses and you see what the consequences are. No-one I know thinks KP is a saint. We think he’s just a damn fine batsman dropped as part of a vendetta, and no exposition of “good environments” “team culture” and “playing for the shirt” will persuade me otherwise.

So the interesting part is the source of the vendetta, and what it could mean for other parts of the cricketing world. As we will recall, Colin Graves came in to take over from Giles Clarke as Chairman of the ECB. There was silent rejoicing as many (NOT ME) thought this would see exit stage left for the true pariah of English cricket. No chance. These people don’t go quietly, and while the ICC role was very much spun as “ceremonial” it has been anything but. So, after this reasonably lengthy introduction, let’s get the ball rolling with Part 2 of my Off The Deep End/Long Run series…

2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman

I’ll say it up front. Giles Clarke is still, very much, the main man in the ECB. Others may pretend otherwise, but they have not been allowed their own free hand, and it has showed. Colin Graves was never the shy sort when he held the reins at Yorkshire, but suddenly, one incident under his belt, and he’s become mute. People might be looking for him in the legendary cupboard Paul Downton was bundled in to last Summer.

Clarke’s anger was then compounded by the speech given at the Wisden dinner at Lord’s on Wednesday night by Ehsan Mani, a former president of the International Cricket Council, who made no direct reference to the Big Three but rather pleaded the case of the other seven Test-playing countries. “Giles became more and more agitated,” according to one eyewitness.

Scyld Berry – 9 April 2015

Harrison and Graves sacked the unfairly derided Paul Downton but at least Strauss’s predecessor had been straight, at least he told Pietersen where he stood and attempted to explain it before lawyers stopped him.

Paul Newman – 12 May 2015

The above two quotes seem to capture the moods and swings of the ECB hierarchy. Giles Clarke still knocking about, still arrogance personfied, even with his reign apparantly coming to an end; Harrison somewhere between the two extremes.

I’ve had a ton of people, a ton of them, tell me that cricket administration is dull and it’s only the team that matters. Therefore, because we won the Ashes in a huge surprise, can’t we just be happy? I’d be doing the blog a huge disservice if I pretended that my heart was filled with joy, but I do, honestly, get those that feel that way. In 2005 I didn’t give a toss who ran the sport, and how they ran it. I knew India held the power, because they held the money, and was sort of resigned to the future. But the cricket team took our eyes away from this because it was a joy to watch, and, importantly from the outside, the ECB didn’t seek to make the team it’s personal window on the world. Importantly, for me, at that time the England team were playing for the public. Now, a good deal of me feels it is playing for the ECB. It is a massively important distinction.

2014, and the early part of this year, cannot just be swept under the carpet as a mistake – and we aren’t even getting on to the international issues in full here, because that’s for another long ramble. I’m not the forgiving type when it seems to me that what we have here is no real change of insight, just of personnel. There was great rejoicing in the parish when it appeared that Clarke had been forced to exit the stage, and Costcutter Champion Colin would move into the ascendant. Great suspicions were raised at Chez Dmitri because Giles Clarke never seemed the sort to be pushed upstairs into irrelevance. Whichever position he held, he seemed the type to want to control it. Sure enough he has taken on his new Presidency role with delicious abandon. He’s left the knotty problems of the Shires to Twinkling Tom H, and kept his dead hand firmly on the international tiller. Any doubts about this were surely sunk during the Colin Graves attempted rapprochement to KP phase.

It is important to state, from the outset, that in the words of a certain reporter, I’m about to indulge in a bit of guesswork. In the absence of anyone telling me otherwise, and I am perfectly willing to correct these assumptions when someone tells me what really happened, let me make some educated hypotheses.

I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn't give us the key.
I wanted a picture of Colin, but Giles wouldn’t give us the key.

The man who vetoed Kevin Pietersen’s potential re-admittance into the England team was Giles Clarke. In my view that is because he has a visceral hatred of him, that is no doubt reciprocated. KP said that three people needed to go before he had a chance to come back. One of those named was Giles Clarke. People then read into the fact that Graves had gone all in with the rapprochement, to say that Clarke was the final piece of the jigsaw gone and now the move could be made. I never believed it for a minute. There were too many press stories to indicate that as soon as Graves said what he said saying “nothing has changed at the ECB”. Far far too many. The policy hadn’t changed and some people were very keen to say it pre- and post- Downton.

Now, as a happy coincidence, Andrew Strauss was appointed as the new Comma, England Cricket, and he’d have no trouble in pulling the trigger on KP. Suspicion was that he was the only one of the potential candidates who would be perfectly content to adhere to the ECB pre-conditions. Others pulled out of the race, or weren’t seriously considered. Strauss fit the bill in many ways, and he did what all top execs seem to want to do when they come in – make big decisions, make big statements. I’m sure Giles was well pleased. Not only was Strauss pursuing the Clarke line, it also, undoubtedly, put Colin Graves in his place. Instead of under the old regime, where the head of the ECB was very public (Clarke) and his CEO took a back seat (Collier), now we have a still public President (Clarke) an emasculated, silent head (Graves) and a prominent, Downtonian CEO (Harrison). It’s progress, but not as we know it.

But does this matter outside of my own narrow KP prism? Probably not, to most, but it was interesting to see the control the ECB has over the sport. Paul Downton is now a laughable footnote in sports administration, and yes, some of what I said was probably a bit cruel, and lessons have been learned to a degree. The most important thing, over and above true ability, was the need for the ECB not to be a figure of fun this year, but instead a more disciplined, unified entity. In some regards it worked. Although I’m not a fan of the old rebranding and such forth, the slick ECB Twitter feed for the England team worked for many. It was hard for this cynical old sod to look past the pure corporatism of the feed, but it did show an intention to engage a bit more – if only it didn’t seem to take it’s modus operandi from Pravda. There’s also no doubt that the efforts the players made, no doubt at the behest of the authorities, to spend more time with the fans instead of being totally aloof also worked. It is frequently said that this isn’t a bad bunch of guys at all. That’s good that that is happening. It works.

But behind this, you just get the nagging feeling that nothing has changed in the corridors of power. It may be that Clarke’s powers are over-estimated by me, but the reaction to Mike Brearley’s comments on the Olympics, again, it seemed, echoing the thoughts of Graves and Harrison, by Clarke seemed to indicate that our old Chairman was still wielding the might. Brearley was made to climb-down, humiliatingly, and the MCC were also later seen to not offer a screening of Death of a Gentleman to its members in something that was no doubt a total coincidence.

Colin Graves is known by me only for a rant he had at Yorkshire over poor performances a few years back. It put his “professional Yorkshireman” persona in full view. In his accession to the throne at the top of the ECB tree (supposedly) he did nothing to dispel his “professional Yorkshireman” persona. There was always the nagging thought that Graves was a party to all the decisions made prior to his appointment as Chairman, so would there be much change? Leaks seem to have been less plentiful since he arrived (so do we draw conclusions from that), but also we’ve seen less of him, and heard virtually nothing. Instead the void appears to have been filled, in part, by Tom Harrison.

This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.
This sort of thing sort of happens. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Now, you lot knew what I thought of Paul Downton. Downton was a lightweight, and on that Thursday night when I stupidly downloaded his interview with Aggers and then listened to it after a great leaving do while “lagered up” it was the casual manner in which he outline how he was recruited that got me. It was as if it was an old boys club and it was his turn to have a tap on the shoulder. The manner of his appointment should have been the source of investigation. Head hunters, do you fancy it, cosy little internal interview, and before you know it he’s wandering off to Australia, sacking one of our best players, hiding from view, giving early off the record briefings, and being called impressive, and showing “aplomb” while many of us sat aghast that he appeared massively out of his depth. What stuck in my craw, as in the episode outlined in the initial picture, was that such a terrible error of judgement wasn’t put on those who made the absolutely nonsensical decisions. No top heads rolled. None.

What insight has there been from those connected to the sport through their media links into this nightmare? Downton was appalling. Utterly useless. But it’s as if “awwww shucks, anyone can make a mistake” is OK with a governing body that actually never owns up to one. That’s the culture up there, and in my view it comes right from Clarke – every interview he conducts is dripping with a superiority complex, looking down on the proles.

Pipe Down....
Pipe Down….

However, where his dripping condescenion transcends boundaries, is when he is challenged, and certainly by people he deems as not worthy (we’ll deal with some of this in the next piece). An example comes from some reading I’ve been enjoying of old Wisden Cricketer magazines and originates before Clarke ascended to power. At the time David Morgan was Chairman of the ECB and Clarke was a loyal footsoldier in charge of negotiating TV rights, and doing his best to make people know he was doing it. Clarke was clearly jostling for position, and we know the outcome. Morgan was up for re-election and there were two groups sticking their oar in about county cricket. One, headed by Atherton and Bob Willis couldn’t be attacked, without looking a bit daft yourself. Clarke was OK ignoring thise because, with few exceptions, these guys know that former players (and certainly ones with Sky/newspapers for a fair time, aren’t going to take the short cut to governing, so the ECB can play a straight bat. But for outsiders like Jonathan Marland. and let us leave his motives out of it at this time, well Giles can turn on the charm:

It’s the same sort of attitude we saw in Death of a Gentleman (and, as I said earlier, more of that later). At the time the counties thought Clarke was their guy. By the end, by all repute, he wasn’t. Giles isn’t going to be constrained by anything so small as county cricket. He has ambitions to be head of the ICC. Only in England.

An empty suit, by pure coincidence
An empty suit, by pure coincidence

Giles was still on watch when our latest newbie appointment was made. Tom Harrison was made CEO and the reputation was based more on his ability to negotiate TV contracts and deal with high-rollers while at IMG than a lack lustre country cricket career. While David Collier had been firmly placed in the cupboard under the stairs (and off the record the man blamed for Stanford) Tom would probably only visit that cupboard to leave his vampire cape. For in my view, there is something of the night in Mr Harrison. But never fear for today Bunkers has said….

Both Harrison and Strauss were impressive that day. Preposterously young men by the normal standards of cricket administration, they spoke with conviction and passion.

Harrison apologised for the woeful fashion in which the dismissal of Peter Moores, an estimable coach and a dignified man who happened to be in the wrong job, had been handled. Strauss explained authoritatively why there was no place for Kevin Pietersen in the England team. Their performances disguised the shambles rather than eradicated it.

I’d run a mile the minute Bunkers puts me in his Impressive Gang. You see, while people like Bunkers and the media gang fall for a sharp line, a snappy suit, a borderline impressive CV and making decisions they agree with, those of us who don”t see a media automoton, an empty suit, a CV lacking in nous and decisions that they made handled appallingly!!!!!

What’s been seriously lacking has been the media sorts who care more for the disguising of shambles than actually nailing them for their mistakes, or heaven forfend, telling us at the appropriate time how they happened! Instead, all we got was initial reinforcement, as if actually having to prove you have ability is an additional extra. When things go right, as it did with the Ashes this year, Andrew Strauss is labelled as some sort of genius, when you have to actually ask “what did he do?” The approach does seem to be to congratulate the weatherman for a spell of sunny weather.

No, the media liked Strauss for keeping the troublesome one clearly on the outside, thought it took guts (no, it really didn’t – the gusty call would have been to recall him, because we can all imagine THAT press coverage. I think we’d be picking Newman’s exploded head up now!), when the clear line to take from the ECB was no. No you shouldn’t pick HIM. There wasn’t a lot of support, if truth be told for the outside one. So no, Strauss behaved as expected….

Meanwhile, though, if you even think of ordering the people who select the teams to do so on merit, you know, the old fashioned way, then you can expect this… Newman’s head stayed safely unexploded, and he had a new figure of fun. He was never really that gutsy about old Giles, was he?

Frustration was clear in the voices of Peter Moores and Alastair Cook as they fended off repeated enquiries about Kevin Pietersen’s future more than a year after he had seemingly been banished from international cricket for good.

Well, there is only one person to blame — and that is Colin Graves. The incoming ECB chairman has been responsible for the mixed messages that leave the England team in as big a state of turmoil and internal rebellion as ever.

Graves has forged an excellent reputation in English cricket as chairman of Yorkshire for the way he bankrolled and transformed the club, but his initial forays into the international game have been little short of an embarrassment.

Strauss and Harrison make the call, the right call in the minds of those reporting on the game, and it’s given a nice little sheen. They are clearing up the mess created by Colin Graves. Newman’s piece at the time is a masterpiece in blaming Graves, exonerating Strauss and Harrison and digging a bit more at KP (while laughably offering sympathy). Graves was thrown under the bus, and we’ve heard nothing from Costcutter Col  since. He seems to exist only as a fall guy. Unlike Clarke, he appears to take it lying down. He’s the man who lives in Downton’s cupboard.

The KP issue may be over, but the ECB have major issues over county cricket (and more of that later too). In the meantime, Clarke is allowed to represent the ECB overseas. His most memorable appearance this year, which probably pre-dates the changeover in role, is Clarke’s cameo performance in Death of a Gentleman. It is to this film that I’ll move on to the next instalment of Off The Deep End…

A Simply Charming Man
A Simply Charming Man

3. The Death Of A Gentleman, The Temerity Of Hope

School Report: Summer 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@BlueEarthMngmnt

Upstairs

The day after the Downton Dismissal and the chaos of yesterday already seems somewhat distant. Few journalists seem to be drawing the dots, with the trail leading up the line to Clarke so obvious it almost appears in neon lights. Clarke was a major player in the appointment of his MD, and yet today he leaves the ECB not to enable him to prosper more fully in his ventures in Colombia and Paraguay, but, er, wait a minute…… he’s been made President!

We knew this stitch up ages ago, but there is something even more unpalatable about it now, the day after his cataclysmic decision to appoint Paul Downton had been shown to be the abject disaster that it was. People who make appointments like that don’t stay long. People don’t generally beg those sort of people to remain on the ledger. Instead they are shunted aside, sometimes with an added gong to keep their mouths shut, and then we can pick apart their legacy at will.

To me, retaining this buffoon as Chairman is a stain on our organisation in this country. You cannot truly clean house, have a fresh start, if you merely move the dead rat from the living room and shut him away in the attic. It’ll still stink. His ICC role is even more of an insult, as the incident at the Wisden dinner appears to show. This man does not seem to be able to hold back when he has been criticised, or even mildly questioned. This isn’t Clarke’s team. This isn’t even Clarke’s organisation. I think Dean Wilson probably summed it up best:

But along the way he has ruled the game as if it were one of his personal businesses and he is a ruthless businessman.

His success in that part of his life has largely come about by doing what he thinks is best. By calling the shots, making the decisions and swatting away anyone who gets in his way. It works in business and for a time it worked in cricket, but the England cricket team and the ECB does not belong to him, and he doesn’t always make the right call, just ask Allen Stanford.

When it comes to sport and to cricket, you can’t just tell people what they want and what they are supposed to like. You can’t tell them that because you like one person over another, they must feel the same way.

You can’t endorse an England captain because he comes from the right sort of family.

That sort of outlook is what makes our great game exclusive when it should be inclusive. It is what shuts people out and makes them angry, so when you next ask them to dip into their pockets and buy a ticket to your show, they will turn their backs and look elsewhere.

I was beginning to worry about Dean, but this hits a nail on the head more than many of his other colleagues have. Instead of making it about KP, which is a major point, yes, but only one, he captures the essence of why I despise Clarke. The arrogance which comes from some sort of superiority that only a weapons grade pig can pull off. Every interview, every appearance and every word I heard from this individual brought one word to mind. No, not that one. The word is “unpleasant”.

Now many may laugh that a blog (and blogger) described as unpleasant by more than one member of the media should get on his high horse. But just like Newman, if you meet me, I’m really, most of the time, pretty nice. I like people who like me, and want people to. Clarke’s one of those I don’t get. He seems to get off on being loathed. Why the ECB couldn’t tell him to shove off, because all words seemed to indicate he was going to lose an election, I won’t know. While they made that decision, there will always be a stain.

I’d also like to approach one other point this evening, and it is the sudden reduction in the role and scope of Paul Downton’s role over night. To this, I’ll pick up on Jonathan Agnew’s piece on the BBC:

Downton had a difficult time of it. He was briefed that his first job must be to get rid of Pietersen. He took responsibility for that, but it was not 100% his call – it was a broader decision.

So perhaps he was an easy person to target with regards to KP. He has taken a lot of flak for that. And likewise he was not directly hands-on with the England team.

You have to question how much responsibility he actually had on England team matters.

Downton is moved from the key man in matters of England international cricket, to a sock puppet who danced to his master’s tune. So it wasn’t his decision to sack KP, but someone else. That someone else is either Andy Flower or Giles Clarke (OK, it could have been David Collier, but he was so far off the radar, he was in deep space). Both pose crucial questions to the future of English cricket. If it was the former, it appears as though we threw a drowning man, one who had been in charge of a team that imploded on the spot, a life raft. KP’s description in his “nasty” book of a man adept at managing upstairs seems appropriate. I am not an anti-Flower blogger. At this time I’m converting a lot of my Ashes DVDs from 2010/11 and enjoy the way we dismantled that team. We were a really decent team. But he’d lost it. That was clear. If it was Clarke, then we were sold the mightiest of pups by our friends rushing out of the door that spring day when Moores was appointed, to crown Downton with aplomb. Both the people who pulled the puppet strings are still employed at the ECB. That’s not symbolic, that’s insulting.

He was an easy target, Jonathan, because he made himself the target. He hid. Pure and simple, after the announcement. Not a peep in a live setting for a couple of months. I knew, as much as I could, then we had a problem. We call it, in our game, red flags. This was so red, it had a Liverpool season ticket. Read the stuff on the other blog. You’ll see what I meant from those early posts. The hilarity when Downton actually spoke for the first time, on a Waitrose ad. The difficult winter and all that….

I don’t want to pick on Aggers, but I’ve seen this theme more and more today. Except for one glorious exception which had me rolling about with laughter.

FEBRUARY 2014

After the Ashes whitewash, Kevin Pietersen and head coach Andy Flower are sacked. After days of silence, the official line on Pietersen’s dismissal is that the ECB wanted to ‘create a culture’ in which captain Alastair Cook had ‘the full support of all players’.

From one he was a puppet master, from another he was upholding Flower’s contention that he sack KP. From this article, he actually sacked Andy Flower. He didn’t. He resigned. That author should know the difference between a sacking (KP) and something not quite the same (Flower – resigned, and moved to a job he courted). I don’t think disingenuous quite covers it.
I’ve gone over a 1000 words, and it is late. More reaction including a look at two of our favourite journo’s work (Brenkers and Selfey) to follow. Good night, and thanks for the support.