Guest Post – Man In A Barrel Gives Us The Numbers

Just before this latest test match MiaB, before his metamorphosis into Shane Warne on steroids (and not his mum’s diuretics) when it comes to declarations :-), did some interesting, unsolicited analysis of batting trends for England’s key players of the past and present. I found it interesting anyway. Please note this was written before the last test, so if there are any amendments MiAB wants to make, I’m sure he’ll let you know.

I’ll let Man in a Barrel take it from here…many thanks for the time and effort sir. It’s fascinating stuff. As always, comments welcome, and be nice. Well, as nice as you can be!

A New Way….

For a while, I have been trying to think of a better way of assessing batsmen than their career average.  It has some very real disadvantages to counteract the fact that it is widely used and understood and that it does tend to winnow out who the best performers are – no one, for example, disputes that Bradman was the greatest ever and nor can anyone dispute the fact that WG Grace was much, much better than any of his contemporaries, at least when he was in his prime.  However, it does have its problems.  For example Victor Trumper has a Test average of 39.04 and yet most commentators who watched him state that he was the best of his era – 1899-1912.  His average for that period is in fact bettered by, among others, Clem Hill, Jack Hobbs, Ranjitsinhji, George Gunn, RE Foster, and Aubrey Faulkner of South Africa.  For me, though, the real problem is that it gives undue emphasis on a big innings – if you make a score such as 364 or 294, it certainly helps to boost your average although, of course, its impact is mitigated the longer your career extends.  The career average also gives little information on your value to the team at a particular point of time.  Is it better to make a lot of 50s and the occasional daddy hundred or to make a series of 30s and a lot of small hundreds?  Those questions cannot be answered by inspecting your career average because the information simply isn’t contained in that single figure.  Nor does it contain any information about the way your career is trending – are you in decline or on a rise?  To some extent, you can gauge that by common sense and watching how the career average is moving but those are fairly blunt instruments.

To overcome some of those problems, I have been investigating the use of a moving average, as widely used in the investment community to discern underlying trends in noisy data.  The question immediately arises as to how many innings should be included in the moving average.  I looked at a number of options.   An average over 30 innings seems to flatten out the data too much.  A 20 innings’ average looks about right.  Broadly it should cover 10 Test matches – essentially a year’s worth of data – and it is long enough to let a batsman move in and out of form, to show the impact of a major innings and yet not allow it to have too much effect on the new data as it arrives.  For convenience, I will call this measure the Twenty Innings Moving Average – TIMA.

To put it to the test, I put Geoff Boycott under the microscope – 8114 runs at 47.73 in 193 innings.  Obviously these are very distinguished figures especially when you consider that he played to the age of 42, in an era of uncovered pitches, no helmets for the most part and inadequate gloves – in the first part of his career he was often incapacitated by broken fingers.  If you graph it it makes for interesting viewing but I don’t think it will come out in WordPress.  So to present the results, I will use a histogram.  The moving average breaks a series of data into chunks of 20 innings, over which I calculate an average.  Each successive TIMA drops one innings from the start and adds a new innings.  This is repeated until you get to the end of Boycott’s career.  So I have calculated 174 averages.  These I have summarised into how many of these averages were between 10 and 20, 20 and 30, 30 and 40, etc.  And the results are very much as you might expect:

Boycott

10-20

0%

20-30

2%

30-40

24%

40-50

36%

50-60

18%

60-70

17%

70-80

3%

80-90

0%

I think this gives a sense of just how consistent he was.  His TIMA was below 40 for only 26% of his career.  However, if you could see the graph, you would also note that he was in decline towards the end.  His TIMA was above 40 in the Oval Test against Australia in 1981.  Then he went to India and it moved into the 30s apart from a blip up to 42 when he scored 105 in the third Test of that dismal series – does anyone remember Tavare’s 147?  The last time before this that his TIMA was below 40 was the Mumbai Test of 1980, when his figures still showed the effect of his dismal Ashes tour of 1978-79.  He ended up at 37.05, rather below his career average.

Given what I thought was a successful trial of the method, I then moved on to the current team, starting with the obvious comparison, Alastair Cook.

Boycott

Cook

10-20

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

30-40

24%

23%

40-50

36%

40%

50-60

18%

21%

60-70

17%

7%

70-80

3%

2%

80-90

0%

3%

A slightly higher percentage below 40 and more time averaging between 70 and 90 but pretty comparable to Boycott.  However, his early career was much more consistent.  After the Ashes tour of 2010-11 and his feats against India in 2011 the swings in his TIMA become very noticeable.  The last period of time his TIMA was above 60 was in the wake of his 263 at Abu Dhabi and only lasted until the Sharjah Test.  The last time it was above 50 was in the recent Mohali Test against India, after his last century to date.  It bears out the importance of LCL’s focus on the number of big scores he has made lately: there have not been many.  By the end of that tour his TIMA was at 41.68 and it has continued to go south.   TIMA also highlights the prolonged period when he averaged less than 40 between the 2nd innings of the Chester-Le-Street Test of 2013 and the 1st May 2015 match against West Indies when he got his first century since the 130 against New Zealand at Leeds in 2013.  After the recent Oval Test, he is hovering in the mid to low 30s.  It has dropped from 54.53 at the end of the first innings of the Mohali Test to 33.50 today, in the course of 11 innings.  The decline in comparison with his career average, which is still 46, is marked.

Turning to Joe Root:

Boycott

Cook

Root

10-20

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

These are impressive figures by any criterion.  The only times his TIMA was below 30 was during the 2 Ashes series of 2013.  It hit a pinnacle of 84.75 in the Lords Test against New Zealand in 2015 – after innings of 98 and 84.  More recently, since the Sharjah Test of 2015, his TIMA has bounced around between 57.39 and 43.17.  More worrying is that his overall time series shows a declining trend but that is probably because he hit such a peak so early in his career.  He is just reverting to a more “normal” level.  Another point of interest is the really low amount of time he has spent below 30.

With these 3 batsmen, the results just confirm what we know already, I suggest.  Now let’s see what we learn about the more controversial selections.  Jonny Bairstow for example:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

The sample size is smaller – only 50 data points.  But 44% is a lot of time to spend averaging under 40.  The point of concern is that since the Dhaka Test last year, his TIMA has gone into steep decline, from 71.24 down to 41.05.  I am sure that LCL will remind us that it is 25 innings since his last century.  However, it has stayed in the 40s for his last 6 innings, against his career average of 40.86, so I believe he justifies his position.  If your TIMA is above your career average, it does suggest that you are making a real contribution.

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

Stokes and Moeen have quite similar records.  Stokes has 2120 runs at 34.19 from 63 innings; Moeen has 2090 runs at 34.26 from 68 innings.  But the TIMA shows a very different picture.  Stokes has been below 40 for 76% of his career and has never climbed above 50.  Moeen’s figures are, in one sense, far superior in that he has spent more time above 40 but it must also be said that he has also been in the 20s more than Stokes.  If you look at Stokes, you would expect the 258 to have a massive impact on his TIMA.  In fact it raised it from 27.15 to 35.45, so poor had his record been over the previous 20 innings.  At the time it dropped out of the TIMA computation, it dropped from 46.37 to 34, which highlights his real lack of consistency.  This happened a mere 7 innings ago and he has stayed in the mid to low 30s. In his last 20 innings, he has been in the 40s nine times, ten times in the 30s and once in the 20s, with a highpoint of 46.47 after Mumbai.  These are disappointing figures for a #6.  In comparison, Moeen’s last 20 innings have shown TIMA in the 40s and 50s, with just one blip down to 35.17 when his 155 against Sri Lanka fell out of his moving average.   But it immediately went back above 40 when he scored 146 at Chennai.   As a result of the Oval Test, his TIMA has dropped to 33.  Moeen’s TIMA has dipped below his career average and Stokes has blipped above his: perhaps the selectors have the right batting order.

And just because I am a controversialist, guess this batsman:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

?

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

44%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

37%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

5%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Yes….KP

Thanks MiaB. Any excuse for a KP shot…

cropped-wp-1500506510756.jpg

 

 

Guest Post – “Suits, Not Boots” by Simon H

Simon H is the man I look to for updates on the governance of the game. Here is his take on the events of this week….as always, many thanks to Simon for his time and effort in putting this together…. He e-mailed me this last night and there’s an update at the bottom to reflect further events.

SUITS, NOT BOOTS

It’s been a stellar few days for those of us (and we number literally in our half dozens) who find cricket governance fascinating. The administrator-media complex that runs the game have produced three stories at more or less the same time, so here’s some attempt to sort out what’s been going on:

  1. The ICC.

As LCL has already written, there has been an ICC board meeting in Dubai. I’m very much a newcomer to trying to understand the ICC and don’t claim any great expertise here. Firstly, those who remember the world pre-1990 may remember something called Kremlinology. This was how outside observers tried to understand the goings-on in the USSR without virtually any official sources – no minutes, no press releases, no interviews, no diaries, no leaks, no non-attributable briefings, no former members pontificating in TV studios. The ICC offices in Dubai feel very much like the Kremlin, except they’re uglier and less drafty.

So, from a handful of statements that have appeared, and from the sterling work of the handful of journalists who are interested, what can we glean? This was an ICC board meeting, featuring the heads of domestic boards but not, as far as I can gather, Shashank Manohar. The formal ICC meeting is next month (I thought it was going to be in Singapore but it now seems to be in Cape Town). ICC board meetings don’t appear to generate any minutes (not that they are ever anything less than next-to-useless) and I don’t think they have any formal power. However, informally, they seem to matter a great deal in preparing issues for the ICC meeting proper.

The big story emerged, of course, on the first day in the lack of a majority for the draft two-division plan for Test cricket. The plan needs seven FMs in support and only had six. India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were the four against. This was apparently ‘understood’ without a formal vote and was used to prevent the plan even being discussed. Therefore, a measure backed by 60% of the FMs, presumably most of the associates if anyone bothered to ask them and 72% of players according to a FICA survey (although that may be deserving of some scepticism) has been quashed. The most that seems possible is a play-off between the top two in the rankings (hands up who’d like that to Pakistan – and India). Money talks and democracy walks in cricket governance.

That headline story may mask that other measures won approval at the board meeting. ODI and T20 leagues were supported. This will necessitate ODI series being standardised at three matches of each – and every team will have to play the other top thirteen at least once in a three year cycle (hmm, I’ll believe that when it happens). The leagues will be used for qualification to ICC tournaments. It was also agreed members retain control of Test fixtures and the ICC continues to have no power here. Most importantly, there appears to be some move towards revenue-sharing with England, Australia and South Africa keen to pool their TV revenues and other boards welcome to join. This has the potential to be massively important and needs more discussion among cricket-followers. Cricinfo report that changes in the Indian TV market are the driving force behind this and a sharp decline in those revenues is expected. There has been an assumption that sharing means it would be equal – but that remains an assumption.

The background to much of this appears to be a rapidly souring relationship between Manohar and the BCCI. The head of the BCCI has been visiting Srini and playing the card straight from the Srini handbook – threatening boycotts of ICC events, starting with the 2019 CT. Resentment at funding for the CT compared to the T20 WC has been cited – Manohar disputes their figures and the chances of any of us knowing who’s right are as great as a recall for Nick Compton. The internal politics of Indian cricket are something we’d all better learn to start taking an interest in:

http://www.firstpost.com/sports/bcci-vs-icc-battle-gets-murkier-india-may-pull-out-of-champions-trophy-2017-2993924.html?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

And although it’s hardly been mentioned, all this would seem to leave Manohar’s plan of handing back 6% of India’s 22% ICC revenue-share as dead in the water….. which I rather suspect was, ultimately, the point.

  1. City-franchises

Not to be outdone in farcical cricket governance, the ECB have been building up to their very own D-Day. The interminable debate about city-franchises has led many to tune out of the issue – but the crunch meeting is soon upon us as September 14th looms. The proposal needs a two-thirds majority and Nick Hoult, who’s reporting on this has been in a league of its own, reports the ECB are close to achieving the numbers they need.

This isn’t the place to debate again the merits of city-franchises. Whatever one thinks of the idea, the methods of the ECB are the issue here. They’ve presented county chairmen with five options – but to discover these “options”, the chairmen have had to sign ten year gagging clauses. We may discover what these options are later next week once this meeting is done. The ECB’s conception of options might turn out to look rather like that expressed here (starting at 14:55):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jllMX_bQx7U

Then there is the role of our media chums. Curiously, a number of writers who have taken a not exactly critical line of the ECB in recent years have suddenly discovered a rampant enthusiasm for city-franchises. One got an extended holiday with his mate out of it. Others have been convinced more easily. They get to know confidential ECB survey evidence that has not been published. They don’t know how that survey was conducted, and whether the results are worth the paper they’re written on, but they’ll repeat them anyway:

https://twitter.com/theanalyst/status/773787861342650368

https://twitter.com/theanalyst/status/773834112750723072

They’ll use their Twitter accounts and magazines they’ve somehow come to edit as platforms for not debating an issue but prosleytizsng a cause. Maybe they are genuinely convinced? Maybe after the nonsense of the last two years, they don’t deserve any benefit of the doubt……

Finally, Nick Hoult captures in a nutshell what lies behind all this:

https://twitter.com/NHoultCricket/status/773990826120736769

  1. Eoin Morgan

While ECB chairmen are gagged for ten years, certain journalists discover that Eoin Morgan has told Strauss he isn’t going to Bangladesh:

https://twitter.com/JohnSunCricket/status/773991330221522944

Certain other journalists then have pieces out that proclaim that signifies the end of Morgan’s England career forever:

https://twitter.com/Anarey_NLP/status/773974634609905664

There will be widespread rejoicing among certain BTL communities where who can hate Morgan the most seems their main amusement.

It turns out Morgan has some good reasons, based on past experiences in Bangladesh. Lawrence Booth has produced the best account of these:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-3780211/England-one-day-captain-Eoin-Morgan-gives-strongest-possible-hint-not-tour-Bangladesh.html

Some have already decided it’s because Morgan isn’t English enough. That’s all they needed to know, they’ve known it in their bones all along when he wouldn’t sing the national anthem or miss the IPL to watch it rain in Ireland.

Some are reading Strauss’s comments about not going giving opportunities to others as trying to pressurise Morgan and as a veiled threat. I’m not exactly Strauss’s greatest fan, but I think these were more anodyne statements of the patently obvious. The captaincy will now presumably be between Root and Buttler. We’ve seen there are some doubts about the former as captain before and there has been some talk of resting him in the Bangladesh ODIs. Some may also suspect he would raise more issues about the Test captaincy. Smart money may be on Buttler.

Will others follow Morgan and opt out? If they do, Morgan is damned for influencing them. If they don’t, Morgan is damned for thinking he’s something special. Maybe KP’s intervention might produce some desire among the ECB to show that he was wrong and they will forgive Morgan. Maybe…

SATURDAY UPDATE FROM SIMON…

I should say this was written late yesterday afternoon and quite a bit happened just afterwards. Newman’s article for one. the discovery of Dobell’s podcast for another:


Reading Sharda Ugra on Cricinfo has also opened up a new interpretation of the two-division plan – that the ECB and CA were trying to drive the less attractive parts of their schedule off the roster just before negotiating new TV rights’ deals. It’s a new argument – but if trying to judge whether they are more motivated by short-term greed or a sudden conversion to the principles of meritocracy, which one – based on their recent track record – seems more likely?

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

Part Two…Simon H kindly wrote out his memories of this important, but often overlooked but for the battering the old guard got, test match in 1976. In part one we had the build up and the first day’s play. Now let Simon take you through the rest of this match.

You can access part one here.

DAY TWO

The memory has every day of the summer of ’76 sunny and hot but in fact Friday at OT was cloudy. However overhead conditions had little to do with England losing 8 wickets for 34. A pitch that had something for medium pacers and spinners turned out to have a whole lot more for bowlers who delivered the ball at searing pace. Roberts bowled impressively from one end probing Edrich on off-stump until he finally knicked one and then getting one to rear off a length to have Hayes caught at fourth slip. But it was Holding at the other end who was electric. Running in from near the sightscreen it was athletic and thrilling as only great fast bowling can be.

If I may digress for a moment, it is one of the beliefs of the moderns that fast bowlers of the past weren’t really fast. After all, haven’t all objectively measured sporting performances got better over the years? Fast bowlers of the past seemed fast at the time but they’d be medium pacers now, some say. I have to say that , from the little footage I’ve seen of Frank Tyson, he doesn’t look that quick. But look at the film of Holding in this match and he looks quick, very quick indeed. The 1970s speedmen were also tested in early speed-guns and Thomson was found at 99 mph with Holding (who wasn’t then at his peak) not far behind. It isn’t rheumy-eyed nostalgia that imagines this was ‘pace like fire’. It was.

Nightwatchman Pocock soon edged Holding to first slip. However it was an unplayable lifter to Woolmer that knocked the stuffing out of England. Greig tried to counterattack but it had a hint of desperation about it. Daniel replaced Roberts and with his wading-through-water run-up and muscular action produced an in-ducker that bowled the England captain. For all the talk about bumper wars that was about to erupt, West Indies realised Greig’s weakness was to the full ball and didn’t make the mistake of Lillee and Thomo in 74/75 when Greig goaded them into losing their length. Knott couldn’t salvage this England innings and edged to second slip. Underwood got an alarming bouncer and then was bowled as was Hendrick. The bouncer at Underwood was genuinely scary but he had made 31 in the previous Test (without which West Indies might well have won the game) and English bowlers inflicted some nasty injuries  on tailenders in the 1970s (Snow to Jenner in 70/71, Willis to Iqbal Qasim in ’78 and, most famously, Peter Lever to Chatfield in ‘74/75). Holding had 5-17 and West Indies a lead of 140.

England needed quick wickets to keep a toe-hold in the match but like all great sides West Indies sensed the moment to attack. Greenidge launched a second furious attack on the England seamers who looked tame in comparison and although never at his best Fredericks chipped in with fifty before treading on his wicket. When the opposition are effectively 256-1, seeing Viv Richards striding to the crease was just what England needed! Richards survived a few early alarms and at the close West Indies were 163-1.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtWKfhGKw9w

DAY THREE

So far the match had had great batting, great fast bowling, some decent spin bowling and good catches. What it hadn’t had was major controversy. The last hour on Saturday changed all that.

Most of Saturday’s play was actually the dullest part of the match. That one can say that when it featured Viv Richards making a century says something about the rest of the game! Richards had been a little scratchy late on Friday but here he was at his masterful best and some of his late cutting of Underwood was a delight. It was only slightly dull in the sense that a century was so inevitable. Greenidge hit some more thunderous drives on the way to his second century but then Selvey knocked his middle peg out – a moment captured in a photo that Selvey doesn’t like to show every chance he can. Clive Lloyd tried to bat himself into some form and was looking more like his old self before he holed to mid-on to give Selvey his sixth wicket of the match (and the last of his Test career). Otherwise Kallicharran, King and Murray scratched around to no great effect and started to remind everyone that this wasn’t an easy pitch to bat on. A bored eleven year old drifted off into the garden to play some cricket with his brother (cooking apple tree trunk for wicket, Gunn & Moore bat, don’t loft it on the on-side as it would go in Mr Fry’s garden and he was a bit scary) and he missed what was about to kick off……

Lloyd declared leaving England 80 minutes that night to survive and then a further two days to hold on or 552 to make. What happened next Martin Williamson recounts here:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/921731.html

As has been a fault of mine too often, I could see both sides. England were to blame for preparing such an unfit pitch and selecting such an unsuitable opening partnership. As I said earlier, English fast bowlers dished it out in the ‘70s and West Indies’ batsmen took it without (as far as I can recall) any complaint. Complaints about nasty fast bowlers usually boil down to “why haven’t we got any?” There was a nasty tinge to some of the complaints that denied the skill of the West Indies and tapped into some unpleasant stereotypes. But….. Holding did go too far that evening and Lloyd was too laissez-faire about it. That bouncer that just misses Close’s head is a genuinely frightening moment.

Close Holding

I should perhaps say here that I was always immune from the cult of Brian Close. Perhaps I was just too much of a confirmed Southerner? Mostly, I wanted an England batsman to hook like Greenidge. John Edrich was something of a hero though – I liked a dashing opener like Greenidge but a nuggety opener was okay too and anyone with eyes could see that Edrich was having to face some tough bowling. At the time, Surrey weren’t too good and didn’t keep beating Hampshire which also helped.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8kvK-rylWw

 

DAYS FOUR AND FIVE

I don’t have any recollection of watching day four on the Monday. Was I still at school? The match started on July 8th and I remember watching the first day live – did we break up that early in those days or had I pulled a sickie?

Anyway, the records show that West Indies reduced England to 125-9. After all the focus the day before on Holding (and Daniel) it was Andy Roberts who stole the show. Roberts was also one of Hampshire’s and, if he wasn’t as high in my affections as Greenidge, he was still one of ours. Later in his career Roberts cut his pace and became a more English style bowler relying on accuracy and seam movement. In 1976 he was still genuinely rapid, if not quite in the Holding league.

He was twice on a hat-trick and the second time he was denied when Greenidge at second slip dropped Selvey. I can remember watching that but it was late in the day so I’d obviously come back in from whatever I’d be doing. At the time it didn’t seem such a big deal – didn’t hat-trick chances come around quite often? Poor Frank Hayes who’d been picked as a bit of a dasher (he hit 34 off an over once) who might take the fight to the West Indies hung on the longest. His reward was to be promoted to No.3 for the next game where he made 7 & 0 and was dropped never to play again. He played all his nine Tests against the West Indies and ended with an average of 15 despite hitting an unbeaten century.

Rain ended play early on day four so the teams had to come back for ten minutes on day five. Selvey edged Roberts to Greenidge again who didn’t drop this one. West Indies had won by 425 runs. It was the fourth worst defeat in Test history at the time (there have been two worse since) and England’s second worst:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/records/283901.html

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63165.html

AFTERMATH

The next Test at Headingley was in some ways even better. Unfortunately, the family holiday got in the way of watching most of it and I spent several days in the Cotswolds trying to find a TV or radio so I could find what the score was. We got back in time for the climax and I remember being incredibly upset when Knott was caught behind and any realistic chance of an England win went. Fortunately, the decks were cleared for the Fifth Test and a game of three monumental performances (Richards 291, Holding’s 14 wickets, Amiss’s 203) could be enjoyed in its entirety. The moaning about bouncers became moaning about over rates and about crowd noise and I wanted to become a cricket writer/commentator who would write/talk about his love of the game and not just moan all the time (!).

It would be 14 years and over 20 Tests before England would beat the West Indies:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=1;opposition=4;spanmax1=01+mar+1990;spanmin1=01+jan+1978;spanval1=span;team=1;template=results;type=team;view=results

West Indies’ global domination perhaps wasn’t confirmed until they beat Australia in Australia in the first post-Packer series in ‘79/80 – but in retrospect the domination had started at OT. A cricketing dynasty was founded.

England recovered some pride by winning the winter tour in India. West Indies hosted Pakistan in an epic five Test series at home and, with Holding and Daniel injured, discovered two new bowlers in Colin Croft and Joel Garner. (Ironically it was David Holford’s leg-spin that won them the final test and the series 2-1). The West Indies’ reservoir seemed bottomless and the game became increasingly dominated by pace (or at least seam). Mike Brearley wore a skullcap under his England cap to protect the temples in 1977 and on the tour of the West Indies in 1977/78 Graham Yallop became the first batsman to wear a helmet.

This youngster joined one of those cut-price book clubs so he could buy cricket books cheaply. CMJ’s ‘MCC in India 76/77’ was I think the first. Tony Cozier’s ‘Fifty Years of West Indies cricket’ soon followed (with its cover picture of Clive Lloyd driving while Greig stood helpless at slip). I replayed the matches endlessly in garden cricket or on the indoor cricket games I had. I don’t remember listening to the India tour on the radio so either it wasn’t covered or I wasn’t doing that yet. I only listened to TMS when there wasn’t TV coverage and there was no Richie. Richie was impossibly exotic and didn’t keep telling us it was better in his day. I loved listening to him and felt transported to a different, more exciting place. The Centenary Test was shown on TV in a highlights’ package and in the epic Lillee-Randall duel, England at last a batsman who could take on a great fast bowler and win. Australia arrived in 1977 – the Ashes were supposed to be this great thing but it soon became clear this Australia weren’t very good. Lillee had stayed at home and the fearsome Thomo of legend wasn’t so fearsome. And they weren’t the West indies.

 

My thanks to Simon, for a brilliant account of a very interesting test match. Feel free to comment, and to share any memories if you are old enough!

Guest Post “40 Years On – England v West Indies, 3rd Test 1976″…by Simon H.

gordon-greenidge-02.jpeg.jpg
Gordon Greenidge – 1984. Although the post deals with 1976, Gordon needs to be in colour!

One of our loyal commenters has offered up his first main cricketing memory for a piece. SimonH, international governance monitor, statistics maestro, memory man for the game has put together this piece on his first test match memory.

I’ve decided to cut it into two pieces, with the first part the build up to the game and the events of Day 1. The second will finish off the game report, and the aftermath of the match.

As always, I’d love to get pieces from you out there on your cricketing memories, or on anything that catches your eye or you want to talk about. We don’t take anything, as it has to be within the blog’s remit (don’t ask me to define it), but we do certainly like pieces like this.

So, SimonH…. this is your test!

FORTY YEARS ON – ENGLAND V WEST INDIES, 3rd TEST 1976

We all have matches that are particularly dear to us. Some of these are dear to most fans because the game is such an obvious classic – Headingley ’81 or Edgbaston 2005 spring to mind. But others are more personal. Often it’s a first that sticks in the memory. My first ‘live Test was bloody awful. England lost to India at Lord’s under leaden skies.

However the first Test I can remember specific moments from watching on TV has stayed with me and it’s a shock to find it was forty years ago this month that it took place……

SOME CONTEXT

Cricket and me – I had been hooked on cricket the previous year by the first World Cup and my father’s love of the game. It was a love  that dare not speak its name at school though (a West Sussex rural comprehensive) where football was king and cricket was seen as dull and posh (if it was noticed at all). This eleven year old was desperate for the game to show it was pretty cool. I’d watched some of the 1975 Ashes but can’t really remember any of it if I’m honest. I don’t remember the first two Tests of this series either (although I do remember watching the ‘Grovel’ interview on ‘South Today’). The Third Test at Old Trafford is the first Test I remember watching – and it turned out to be a game with everything the sport has to offer, except a close finish. It was also one of the most significant games of the modern era, marking the formation of a dynasty that would rule the cricketing world for two decades.

England – England had been the dominant side of the early 70s in world cricket, at times holding all the trophies (TM). What had seemed a settled side inherited by Mike Denness from Ray Illingworth had capitulated in the original ‘difficult winter’ of 74/75 and I got a clear impression from my father that English manhood had somehow been found wanting. Tony Grieg had taken over the captaincy in 1975 and the side recovered some pride as David Steele stood up to Lillee and Thomson. Although Boycott was in self-imposed exile, the team had Edrich’s reassuring presence at the top, SPOTY Steele at No.3, Bob Woolmer fresh off 149 against the Aussies and the new Cowdrey we were told in the middle order, Greig and Knott to halt any collapses at six and seven and plenty of bowling options that seemed to cover all eventualities (pace from Snow and some bloke called Willis if only he’d stay fit, plenty of English type seamers, spin was in the capable hands of Underwood). There was no winter tour 1975/76 so the team was somewhat unproven but there was little sense that this was a team heading for the slaughter.

West Indies – West Indies had been through a rocky patch after 1967 when the great 60s side started to age. From 1967-74 their only great series’ win was in England in 1973 but around that were some poor results. The middle order batting (with Kanhai, Sobers, Lloyd and new bloods Kallicharran and Rowe) and the spin department with Gibbs still looked strong but (ironically, given what was to follow) they had no reliable opener to partner Roy Fredericks and the pace bowling had lacked any real speedster. It all started to come together for West Indies on the 1974 tour of India as new batsmen Greenidge and Richards established themselves and the attack found a new spearhead in Andy Roberts. However that appeared a false dawn as the team went to Australia in 75/76 and were mauled, both on the pitch by Lillee and Thomson (Kallicharran vomited on the pitch after being hit on the head by one bouncer, Bernard Julian had his hand broken by another) and off it by some crowd behaviour that shocked some of the younger players who’d never encountered such blatant racial taunting. West Indies tried to fight fire with fire on that tour and kept losing wickets to hook shots that reinforced the stereotype of ‘calypso cricketers’ who couldn’t knuckle down under pressure. New captain Clive Lloyd, one of the few to sustain his personal performance on that tour and now able to put his stamp on the team with the Sobers-Kanhai-Gibbs generation departing, was determined to change all that.

Cricinfo recently interviewed some of the participants here:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/998589.html

GROVEL – had there been any previous series more famous for what was said to the media more than any of the actual play? And has there been a more infamous line by a Test captain than Greig’s:

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

Greig’s choice of words, and his delivery in that unmistakable accent, hung over that tour. The fact that there was some reasonable thinking behind it was obliterated by his crassness. West Indies had just lost 5-1 in Australia. England had beaten them on the 73/74 tour by hanging on in a series of draws until West Indies collapsed, apparently under pressure and to Greig’s own bowling, in the final Test. Greig himself had been involved in the controversial run out of Kallicharran and seemed to thrive on confrontation. My memory of it at the time is that it was controversial but more for Greig’s brashness and impoliteness than for its racial sensitivity. That only became clearer (at least to a white schoolboy in rural Sussex) as the summer unfolded.

What few had noticed was that in their last series before coming to England, West Indies had taken on India at home. Some fellow called Richards (mainly up until then famous for his fielding in the 1975 WC Final) had scored a stack of runs at No.3. The last Test seemed to have some odd goings on with half the Indian team marked down as ‘absent hurt’. There were accounts of fearsome pace from new bowlers Holding and Daniel – but then hadn’t India been bowled by England for 42 only a couple of years earlier by Old and Hendrick? Perhaps Holding and Daniel were as quick as those two? India had also chased a then-world record score to win the Test before Kingston – so it looked at worst as if the West Indies were still crazily inconsistent. Nothing too much to worry about……

The West Indies played warm-up matches against all bar one of the counties on that tour. Win after win didn’t set many alarm bells ringing. The few who saw them thrash a strong MCC side at Lord’s (including a century for Richards and seven wickets for Holding plus putting Denis Amiss in hospital) warned this was a formidable team. Still, Yorkshire had come within 19 runs of beating them and Chris Balderstone had nearly scored two centuries off them for Leicestershire.

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Given what was about to happen, it’s still slightly surprising to realise that the teams went into the Third Test after two draws. Not only that – the matches had been quite even. West Indies had the best of the first game after Viv Richards made 232 (I think I remember him saying that was the best innings of his career) but England held on for the draw relatively easily. Steele and Woolmer made runs which seemed to show their performances against Australia were no one-off. England had the better of Lord’s with Underwood skittling the tourists in the first innings and West Indies had been only four wickets from defeat at the end. The match had ended with Greig resisting Lloyd’s call to call things off early and with England fielders clustered around the bat.

However….. West Indies had not been at full strength for either game. Holding and Daniel had missed the First Test and Richards the Second Test. At Old Trafford, they had everyone fit. England, on the other hand, had problems, especially with the bowling. Snow and Old were injured (possibly others too) so England’s pace attack lacked a cutting edge. However, West Indies had collapsed against spin at Lord’s, had collapsed against spin in 73/74 and OT had a reputation for turning compounded by rumours that, as the hot summer of ’76 took hold, the pitch was dried and cracked. England went in with two English-style seamers in Hendrick and, on debut, Mike Selvey, two support seamers in Woolmer and Greig and two spinners in Underwood and Pocock. There was an issue in the batting too – the openers at Lord’s hadn’t convinced (Mike Brearley had looked out of his depth, Barry Wood had been injured by Roberts) so 45 year old Brian Close (who had top scored at Lord’s) was pushed up to open and local hero Frank Hayes (who had made a debut century against 1973 West Indies) was called up. There were promising young batsmen emerging on the county scene like Gooch, Graham Barlow and Randall but the selectors held off picking them (perhaps remembering Gooch’s tough baptism against Lillee and Thomson the year before). Randall was made 12th man which was one of the few times in his career the selectors did him a big favour.

THE MATCH

DAY ONE – Clive Lloyd won the toss and batted. That was what you did in those days. It was the right decision – and made precious little difference. The start of that day is etched on memory. In his first over, Selvey bounced Roy Fredericks who hooked it straight down Underwood’s throat at long leg. Fredericks falling on his wicket in the WC Final hooking was my first cricket memory and now Fredericks getting out hooking was my first Test memory. I’ve never seen Selvey explain why he bowled that bouncer. In his next over, Viv Richards played his trademark walking on-drive to a big in-swinger, for the only time in his career that I can remember missed it and was bowled. Almost immediately , Kallicharran (who like Lloyd and Rowe was never in any great form on that tour) played on. Lloyd was soon caught at slip off Hendrick and West Indies were 26-4.

What followed was one of those times when you know you’re watching something special. When it’s one of your heroes doing it, it’s something even more. As a young Hampshire fan (although I lived about 800 yards over the border in Sussex I was born in Hampshire, all my family were from Hampshire and there was only one team I was ever going to care about), Richards and Greenidge were my heroes. Greenidge in particular was one of ours. With Greenidge and Roberts playing for West Indies and considerable resentment that Hampshire players (despite the team winning the CC in ’73 and coming second in ’74) were ignored by England, I could feel nothing but enjoyment at what Greenidge was doing. A lifetime of not seeing England as ‘us’ and the opposition as ‘them’ was born. West Indies were more ‘us’ than England to me. I liked him because he hit the ball hard. Very hard. And he had the coolest of cream pads. Later the pleasure would be deepened by discovering Gerenidge had not had an easy upbringing and was a complex and at times difficult man. But mostly he hit the ball hard. When the bowler pitched up, Greenidge waiting on the back foot, would throw his whole weight into the drive in a way that wasn’t textbook, and would get him out sometimes, but was mighty thrilling when it came off. Even better when bowlers pitched short, he took it on. If it was wide, he’d cut – and what a cut! If it was straight, he’d hook – and it very seldom seemed to get him out. No ‘high to low’, no rolling the wrists – he’d try to hook it out of the ground and he usually did. He was everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t. If I couldn’t be it, I could damn well appreciate it in others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UEo2VDnakw

In bald stats, what Greenidge did that day was score 134 out of 211 (193 while he was at the crease). He gave no chances – the nearest he came to dismissal was a top-edged hook that landed between Knott and Underwood. Only Charles Bannerman in the very first Test had scored a higher percentage of his team’s runs at the time (three more have since):

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/records/283999.html

Not only was it a lone-hand but he scored his runs at a phenomenal rate by the standards up to that time:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?batting_positionmax1=2;batting_positionval1=batting_position;class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=batting_strike_rate;qualmin1=100;qualval1=batted_score;spanmax1=10+jul+1976;spanval1=span;template=results;type=batting;view=innings

It wasn’t quite Roy Fredericks in Perth – but it would do. Greenidge’s main support came from one of the great unrealised talents in West Indies’ cricket, Collis King, who on debut reined himself in to make a handy 32. King would only play nine Tests but would have his moment in the 1979 WC Final when he eclipsed even Viv Richards for a time. He never seemed forgiven after Packer and ended up a banned SA tour rebel. These days he’d have made a fortune in franchises.

England ended the day on 37-2 with Close and Steele out. Batting had looked tough but the match seemed evenly poised. The next day saw a power-shift in world cricket that would last two decades…..

—————————————————

The second part will be put up in the next day or so. My thanks to Simon for all the effort put into this. I don’t remember this test myself, but do recall Viv’s 232 at Trent Bridge and 291 at The Oval.

Sean B’s Briefing – T20 And Counting

As my laptop clings precariously to some sort of working life, I am thankful that Sean B has taken time out to write a piece that certainly echoes many of the thoughts of this parish. I had the great pleasure in meeting with Sean a couple of weeks back, and I am keen to see him write more for us in the future. His pieces certainly seem to go down well. Maybe I can retire to a villa in Hastings at this rate.

Anyway, Sean’s piece is reflective of his mood about cricket at the moment. Read it, and feel free to comment. It was sent over on Friday night, and as far as I am aware, he doesn’t want to change his mind…

 

T -20 and counting

I’m going to be honest, I have no interest in the World 20/20 at all. Not a jot. I’m not bothered whether England win or lose (I felt no emotion when we lost to the West Indies nor when we beat South Africa) or whoever goes onto to win the damn thing. I haven’t watched any of the highlights, nor do I plan to and I haven’t had the scores up at work, which is normally the very minimum for me. It’s a surreal state of affairs for me as it’s the first time in my life that I really couldn’t care less about a televised world cricket tournament. In the past I have always managed to convince myself that we would pull it together at a tournament despite the normal rubbish build up and hence would make sure that I watched as much as possible, but I just can’t do it for this tournament. Now I do include the caveat that I’m not the biggest fan of the one day or T20 cricket, I’ve always been more of a traditionalist and preferred the ebb and flow of Test Cricket, nor do I really attend any International T20 games though I do normally go to a couple of domestic games a year, but this is more an excuse to meet up friends and have a beer or two. When England won the world T20’s in 2010, it was only really in the final rounds of the tournament that I started to become really interested in the tournament when it became apparent that we might actually go on and win it. Now despite not totally enthusing about the white ball fare, I would normally at least watch it on the TV when it’s on or at least settle down in front of the highlights at the end of the day, but not this time. I’m disillusioned with the game and perhaps even worse, I feel actively disengaged from cricket for the first time in my life.

 

How dare you not throw your support behind Eoin’s young guns some outraged individuals might scream, you “outside cricket” lot are the worst type and spend too much time shouting about Mike Selvey and the ECB rather than supporting the team. And yes it’s true, the absolute and total refusal to cover the most important issues in world cricket to protect your buddies from the former and the endless levels of corporate bullcrap, naked greed and total incompetence from the latter has no doubt soured my view of the cricket world, but by no means are these the main reasons. We also have the Kevin Pietersen question and how one of the world’s most talented T20 players can’t play cricket for his country (I unfortunately accepted that he wouldn’t play Test Cricket when Darth Sith Strauss told him he wouldn’t be considered after scoring 300 odd) because the phony administrators and those who hold personal grudges against have him, have decided that “he doesn’t come from the right type of family” and ultimately, they’d rather go with less talented, but easier to manage individuals. You wait until they do the same to Ben Stokes in a few years time. To them, it doesn’t matter that they weakened and significantly reduced our chance of winning the tournament, nor do they care what the fans think, pay up and shut up is the order of the day now and they have plenty of willing accomplices in the Media to carry out this line. Indeed no-one could be fooled by the Daily Mail exclusive, when Eoin Morgan was trotted out in front of Nasser Hussain (and no doubt a fair number of the ECB’s press office) and declared “That door is completely shut. Kevin will not be picked. That’s from me.” He owed Andrew Strauss a favour for keeping the England captaincy after an absolutely awful World Cup, this was his payback, sell KP down the river or sell yourself down the river and unfortunately it’s a bit of a no brainer really. This again annoyed and angered me, but it didn’t surprise and although again, it plays a part in my current cricketing malaise, it’s not really the main reason for my current disengagement.

 

Personally, I just think my disengagement has been building up over the past few weeks and months, hence my absence of any guest posts for the past few months. I have attempted 2 or 3 pieces in that time but have simply never got round to finishing them or have given up and binned them halfway through. I must admit the grim reality of the Big 3 carve up has been weighing heavily on my mind and the fact that our own board are not just complicit in the most disgraceful act in cricketing history, but have actively got into bed with India and allowed themselves to be repeatedly violated has brought even more shame on already shameful organisation. I thought things couldn’t get any worse, when Giles “the cockroach” Clarke decided that Alan Stanford seemed a genuinely nice guy and the sort of chap that it would be good to do business with; however they have got worse, much much worse, as we’re now in the drivers seat of a bulldozer heading straight towards world cricket in return for the cash that the BCCI are offering. The Cockroach is the driver, the ECB are the passengers. The evidence of what cricket has in store for us over the next few years has been demonstrated with some vigour at this World T20 tournament and it’s a nightmare vision, one where you pinch yourself that you’re not dreaming; however it is not a dream, just a grim reminder that cricket’s best days are well behind us. This is the reason why I can’t bear to watch the World T20’s, if I did then I feel that I might be in someway adding some sort of credence and credibility to the Big 3 and ICC when they deserve none. So whilst we’re looking at the World T20 tournament, let’s examine the sort of thing that has beset the competition from the outset and the sort of thing that we can get used to in the future:

 

  • The Tickets – you want to come and watch the game and support your team, well tough luck, we’ll release them 2 weeks before the event. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
  • The Politics – India and Pakistan playing the hokey cokey, will they, won’t they, game. Governments posturing for power, sport a very distance second.
  • The Organisation – We’ll tell you what’s happening when we want to and switch grounds at a moments notice, moan all you want.
  • The Associates – No you’re not welcome at our party.

 

These are simply the 4 most important things in any tournament and the BCCI & ICC either through laughable logistics and decision making processes or more likely because they don’t give a rats arse, have absolutely pissed up all of them. Those that have watched the games have told me that all of them are being played in front of half empty stadiums in a country that is supposed to adore the sport (however I’m sure the administrators will point to the sold out game between India and Pakistan in defense). Fans are meant to be the lifeblood of all sports, but obviously cricket is the odd one out, the ICC and the Big 3 don’t give a monkey’s arse about the fans. Simply pay your money and keep quiet at the back, you’re customers not fans now, there to line our coffers. In Death of a Gentleman, Gideon Haigh asks the question “does cricket make money in order to exist or is it now the case that it exists in order to make money?” I think it’s very clear what the answer is now.

 

And then we come to the Associates and this is the part that makes me the most angry. How is it that in every other sport the growth and expansion of the game is paramount to the health of the sport, but in cricket we are actively trying to constrict the game? The treatment of the Associates at this tournament and throughout the past few years has been absolutely scandalous. The ICC may bleat that it’s a 16-team tournament, but anyone with any sense (Dennis Freedman has obviously lost his) can simply see the first 2 weeks as qualifiers to win the right to lace the big boys shoes, Christ half the teams weren’t even in the country when the tournament began! They are the warm up act, the matinee, the token effort by the ICC to show they are expanding the game. Oh and what reward do the Associates get for turning up, go play your games in Dharmasala during the monsoon! They may as well have held them in Aberdeen in January. Nothing angers me more than watching a group of committed and in the main talented players being forced to feed off the cast offs from the Full Nations table. Preston Mommsen (amongst others) absolutely nailed it when he remarked “In general, it’s tough to attribute our lack of getting over the line, i do go on about it, but there is a lack of international cricket for us. Since the 2015 World Cup I have played in one ODI match – in 12 months. So, you tell me how I’m going to improve my skills and develop as a cricketer. That definitely has something to do with it. Playing under pressure, being exposed to a higher level of skill, exposed to different conditions, you know it all adds up, every little percentage. You know unfortunately that’s just the way it is and we try and handle it in the best way we can. However, it probably does take its toll.” What was the reaction from the ICC? Absolute silence, although Harsha Bhogle did manage to come up with this pearler “You can either moan about how little you have or you can make the most of whatever you have. For the hungry, opportunity resides everywhere”. For the record, for some of the associates the most they’ll get to play against the Full Nations in the next two years is at most two or three times and many will get none. £100,000 out of a £500,000 yearly fund to put on a ODI against a full nation team is totally unfeasible. Yep that opportunity certainly resides everywhere Harsha.

 

So why does the ICC and the big 3 give less than 2 f*cks about the rest of world cricket, let alone the Associates? Well we go back to Gideon’s quote again – it’s the money stupid. Imagine if the World T20 was a true 16-team tournament divided into 4 x 4 groups (as it should be in my opinion) and imagine if some of the Associates got through and knocked out the likes of England and India? Well that’s simply not good for business, they don’t have the crowds or the support and the large television audiences to attract the large advertisers, so best not take a risk in that case then, it’s our club and our cash and everyone else can go jump. Quite simply the ICC does not run cricket for the good of the fans or the sport anymore, it runs it for the good of the sponsors and the good of their cash-flow and they won’t let anything get in the way of it. So for those who choose to watch the T20, I genuinely hope you enjoy the spectacle, I however won’t. I have now seen glimpses of the future of world cricket and it looks a long dark road ahead.

 

@thegreatbucko

 

Guest Piece – Philip on Opening the Batting

P1000309-01
Chris Jordan in his temporary role as a Surrey opener. Did he have what it takes?

Philip, aka Batting With The Bola (Too long a name for the heading!), who can be found on Twitter @pgpchappers has kindly written a piece for us on what he thinks is required from an opening batsman. As usual, I’d like to express my great thanks for the time and effort put in to this post (and for Philip’s previous post on batting technique too).

Feel free to jump in, have some questions, and I’m sure Philip will answer.

Take it away maestro……

 
By Batting with the Bola
 
The England team has had many struggles working out what should be their opening pair since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Rather than say who I thought should be playing which like most people seems to be a guess, I thought I would write a few words on what I think a successful opening pair needs to do, which I hope will spark some debate. Feel free to disagree and challenge in the comments section.
 
I have set this up with a few headings which I have then tried to elaborate on them – clearly I won’t have thought of everything and they are in no particular order, but what I have tried to do is look beyond the obvious (with the exception of the last one). With the coaching I do I try to work on how players think about their game and read the situation rather than just focussing on technique as especially in club cricket this isn’t something that is generally worked on.
 
Putting pressure on the opposition bowlers
Barnes, Morris, Haynes, Greenidge, Slater, Sehwag, Hayden and Warner – all tremendous attacking opening batsman for genuinely great teams and they also set the tone for some of the greatest teams ever to play the game (I accept the mid 2000’s Indian team wasn’t as good as the Invincibles, the 80/90’s WI side or the Australian 90/00’s machine so no quibbles about the Indian team please!). All were/are horrible to bowl at, especially on the first day of a test match and all put pressure on the opening bowlers by taking them on. They were instrumental in taking their team to the top. Their value cannot be underestimated in setting the tone of an innings. As far as I am concerned not allowing the opening bowlers to settle is a key function of an opening batsman. I admit that those players I have named were (are) extraordinary and the very fact there are so few of them is relevant, although there are others you could name. 

But at any level having a player who can upset the bowlers is key. If you don’t have that then the received wisdom is to have a right hand/left hand combination or a bank foot or a front foot player as contrasting styles for your opening pair. Why have England been struggling in this department? Cook’s form has been mixed (but recently decent) and the player at the other end hasn’t known whether to stick or twist and have been bereft of confidence pretty quickly into their period as the other one to Cook. What Cook and Strauss always did really well was run between the wickets and put pressure on the opposition that way. There are many ways to skin this cat…
 
Regardless having a dynamic opening pair is crucial – at the moment you can’t say Cook is hugely dynamic. I sort of wonder if, given that Root won’t bat at three, perhaps Cook should, I think having two new opening batsmen would take the pressure off the new player that isn’t Cook, the problem England has at the moment.
 
Batting as a pair
This is a very common comment, but what does it mean – in my view it means knowing if your partner is struggling and giving them a breather, perhaps hogging the strike a little, knowing if they are flying – so giving them the strike, running well between the wickets, knowing who is the “bogey” bowler. When you are opening it does matter who takes the first ball – Which one of you will the bowler least like to start his spell against… this matters – put pressure on that opening bowler. As an experienced player you should take the first ball because your junior partner will be more nervous. It is natural. Conversely if you know that a batsman has a terrible record early on against a bowler, put him up the other end to start with! Be flexible, especially when one of the openers is the Skipper. A few years back Andrew Strauss was captain when there was a rain affected toss, had to do a few interviews then was out batting under 15 mins later. He was out first ball. In those circumstances, why didn’t Cook say: “Straussy mate – go up the other end have a breather get your head sorted, I’ve got this.”  That is what batting as a pair is.
 
 
Reading the field – what is the opposition trying to do?
As you are walking out to bat – read the field – this will tell you what the bowler and opposition skipper is trying to do – also read where your strong scoring areas are – and are they covered or clear. Classically as a batsman you are told to look where the fielders are – but it is far more helpful to look where the gaps are! 
 
Where the fielders are will tell you what the bowler is trying to do however – whether that is 3 slips and a 6/3 or 7/2 field for an away swinging bowler or 5/4 with 2 slips and a short leg for an inswing bowler. I wonder with all the computer analysis that is done these days whether players forget to remember that each day is different, different pitch and conditions and the bowler may be in a different rhythm.
 
But above all know where you like to hit the ball and know where the gaps are.
 
 
Understand the state of the game/setting up the innings/being adaptable
One of the key roles for the opening batsmen is to give confidence to the other batters and to set up the game. This isn’t always easy as you are facing the new ball with the freshest bowlers – but a few solid shots and a couple of early boundaries will make a different. A few wild shots and a play and miss however and you are causing a bit of chaos for you mates in the shed. Remember so much of batting is in the mind.
Knowing the pitch is a road also brings its own pressure – you are expected to score runs – but how often in these circumstances there is an early wicket because the batsman is so eager to cash in they haven’t played themselves in properly.
 
 
But what about Seeing off the new ball? 
I know – what would Sir Geoffrey say – you have to see off the new ball – it is harder, it bounces more, it moves in the air more. Taking your time helps the rest of the team, play with soft hands, leave the ball well etc… I paraphrase – and it would be callous to disagree with Sir Geoff – but I don’t see how that isn’t in any way compatible with what I have tried to outline though this commentary.
 
I hope it is helpful, I look forward to reading your thoughts…

GUEST POST – Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine, Blame It On The ECB

Great Bucko Tag

The thing with a cricket blog, and certainly one like this one, is that we can get all wrapped up in our little worlds as authors / editors / masters of all we survey. I’m as guilty as any of that.

Earlier this week I wrote a post called “Schism”. It reflected how I felt the last two years had gone, and where we are now. Now, separately, without any prompting, our fellow writer, Sean B, had been thinking along similar lines, but with a different approach. As a long-time commenter on the blog, he’s certainly of our parish, but when he put the piece to me, I thought it would be good to have another set of eyes cast over this landscape. It might seem to be more of the same, but it isn’t. I believe this issue is simply to big to ignore. English cricket cannot afford to toss fans away.
As usual, my huge thanks for Sean’s efforts and contributions, and as always, if you want to write something, you only have to ask….
TAKE IT AWAY SEAN B……

 

I’ve been somewhat of an interested bystander this week (not to be to confused with Innocent Bystander from Twitter) around the continued arguments between what I will refer to as the “Cook enthusiasts” and the “Cook sceptics” on both the blogs and on social media. After all, this all stems from the wretched remnants of the 2014 Ashes tour, which saw England sink to new depths both on and off the field. I read with interest Dmitri Old’s piece – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/25/schism/, in which he highlighted how time hasn’t healed the divides, in fact it is has made them more entrenched than ever before. You only have to read the BTL comments of the national newspapers (or those that haven’t been edited suitably by Mike Selvey and his Guardian chums), that the mudslinging and rancor is greater than it have ever been, which is another reason why I stopped reading BTL comments apart from those on a couple of blogs. How and why is it the case that even after 2 years, we have no sign of peace from both warring parties? Is it really just the sacking of Kevin Pietersen or is it something that goes way beyond this?

After the Ashes humiliation 2014, the ECB knew something needed to change to take the heat off them. Andy Flower, a favourite son of the ECB, was no longer in a tenable position to lead the England team; however such was the humiliation of events Down Under, they were also aware that this would not satisfy the fans. They realistically knew that one of the senior team members would have to be sacrificed (Cook, Bell, Anderson or Kevin Pietersen), so they could herald a new start and claim that lessons had been learnt. I genuinely believe that they had identified their main target after Perth, as we all knew which way the series was going by then, which was more than enough time for a new Managing Director to be briefed about the ECB’s wishes. Enter Paul Downton, a creature so hideous and incompetent that I genuinely don’t know which bog the ECB dredged him up from, to do their dirty work. Kevin Pietersen, they decided, was the man to go, as he was the easy fall guy, a man that had completely polarized England fans across the world. KP would be the sacrificial lamb and Paul Downton the bumbling hitman. The ECB probably thought the fallout would last a few months, in which time their pals in the National Media could do a character assassination of him to alienate him from the English public. Except it didn’t quite work out that way, many people were rightly angered and saw past the hacks, and here we are in 2016 with the KP issue still being violently discussed.

Now, I don’t want this to be a KP piece, there has been so much written on it, that quite frankly I’m done with it. He’s not going to come back, and as much as I am still angry about and as much as I would like Strauss to do a U-turn for the World T20’s, it’s not going to happen. You may well be thinking, that if this isn’t a KP piece, then why have I spent the last 2 paragraphs talking about him? Well I needed to put the piece into some context. I believe that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. As I alluded to in my paragraph, there are a group of people out there, who think Alastair Cook has had a terrible rep from some of the online blogs and on social media and can’t understand why people in the “Cook sceptic” group would want him to do badly. I will do my best to explain why not all of us hail Alastair Cook, coming from the more sceptical group myself, though I don’t agree with all of the reasons set out below, this is more to try and provide those that think we’re not “England fan’s” with some sort of context.

I’m no great fan of Alastair Cook; however neither am I his biggest critic either. I genuinely hope Cook has a great summer with the bat, England desperately need him to fire owing to the porous nature of our current batting line up for us to be successful in the upcoming series. I think when he has retired, history will look upon Alastair Cook as a good quality international batsman but an average international Captain. He will soon reach the landmark of 10,000 runs, which will be a great achievement personally for him and I will be happy to congratulate him on this; however the stark reality is that the majority of his runs were scored pre-summer 2011 and at that time only could he be rightly hailed as world class. Since the Summer of 2013, Cook has scored runs only sporadically and rarely when we have needed them most. Using the winter as an example, Cook had an average of around 48, which is very acceptable in itself; however if you take away the 250 against Pakistan on the flattest of pitches, his contribution was quite meagre. In South Africa, Cook didn’t manage to score any meaningful runs at all, yet Nick Compton’s match winning knock of 86 in the first innings has been totally forgotten and both he and Hales have been singled out as the fall guys. Aside from his international statistics, I strongly believe it’s not Cook the batsman or even the captain, that has caused any real ill feeling amongst the Cook sceptics, it’s the Cook aura that has led to most murmurings.

After the winter of discontent, when “he who must not be mentioned” (Kevin Pietersen – Ed.) was given his marching orders, it was decided the Captain Cook was the man that the ECB would lay all its eggs in. He was well spoken, talked about the team a lot and most importantly came from what the ECB would deem as “the right type of family”. As a result, any criticism of the Captain meant that you were automatically deemed as “outside cricket”. It was deemed a hangable offence from anyone inside the MSM to criticize Cook after all, the ECB knows how important it is to relay the right message to the masses – “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”. This is actually a quote from Joseph Goebbels, that well-known member of those “lovable rogues” the Nazi’s; however if you replace “government” with the “ECB” then you have a fair idea of the ECB’s views on their approach to our national press. The deification of Alastair Cook that the MSM and Sky have been portraying since the Summer of 2014 has made many of us wary about this continued praise, I would hasten to add that this is not in any way Alastair Cook’s fault, but it is certainly a circumstance of the ridiculous eulogies emanating from our own broadcasters and national press.

This, however, is not the main reason why there are individuals out there, who not only dislike Alastair Cook, but actually want him to fail, of which I am not one for the record, despite being highly critical of him at times over the past 2 years. Alastair Cook, whether he likes it or not, is the public face of the ECB. Alastair Cook was both consulted and in the room, when KP was sacked in the full knowledge that this was an opportunity to both get rid of the person who had criticized his captaincy in Sydney in 2014 whilst also ensuring that his failings during that series alongside his captaincy were quietly forgotten about. Cook displayed a ruthless trait by quietly cozying up to the ECB, to ensure his position as “head boy” was unchanged, never mind who else got thrown under the bus. Would I have done the same, possibly, possibly not. This isn’t a one off either, you just have to examine Cook’s words at the end of the South African series to realize that self preservation is of pressing concern to our Captain:

“It’s been tough batting conditions and it’s not been easy, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day results matter and your end column of runs is absolutely vital. So to say they’ve totally convinced me would be wrong, but there have been flashes.

“There’s certainly places up for grabs. Myself and Trevor (Bayliss, head coach) and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to number one in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”

This is from a Captain, who averaged 23 with the bat, but one who was more than happy to pile the pressure of Hales, Compton and Taylor, who are all trying to make their way in the international game, whilst trying to take the heat of himself at his own poor series (also unless I’m mistaken and the Captain is now a national selector, then why would Cook be talking to Bayliss about this). It’s hardly from the Mike Brearley coaching manual of great captaincy. This is another major reason why there are some people out there that both dislike Cook and some that want him to actively fail; however again, it is not just what Cook says or does that garners a distaste for him, which I must again stress is not his actual fault, it ultimately what he represents as the face of his employers, the ECB.

The ECB, it would be fair to say, hasn’t covered itself in the greatest of glories over the past few years, unless you mean financial glories, with over £70million sitting in their account at the end of last year (I don’t think Giles will struggle to dine well this year). At a glance, some of the ECB’s highlights (or most probably low lights) over the past few years have been:

  • Sacking our best batsman, with a so called dossier of misdemeanors given as the reason; however, much to the embarrassment of the ECB, this dossier has since gone missing (though you would suspect they could call Newman, Brenkley and Selvey to throw some more mud)
  • Hiring Paul Downton, a man so inept, breweries and piss up doesn’t even seem to cover half of it.
  • Telling many English fans that we were “outside cricket” and treating the rest with such a level of disdain, that you wonder why we were ever even allowed to set foot onto a cricket ground to watch our national team in the first place.
  • Requiring Test Grounds, many of whom had been promised international cricket if they invested in their facilities’, to bid so high for Test matches, that they have to raise prices to an unsustainable level to try and break even, which are beyond the means of many.
  • Sticking with a completely antiquated and unsustainable domestic format, with the games and formats being constantly interchanged to try and plunder the most money possible from the T20 competition. I’d genuinely not be surprised if the players turning up to a ground, knew which format they’re going to be play that day.
  • Cozying up with Allan Stanford, a criminal convicted of one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes ever, as the answer to the competition from the IPL.
  • And the coup de grace, selling their souls to the BCCI to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their cut of the riches in international cricket. Never mind those outside of the Big 3, who will see international cricket slowly die in their countries. Giles Clarke is on record saying his priorities are “to put his board first”, stuff the rest of international cricket.

This is the ultimate reason, why many individuals do not see Alastair Cook as the shining beacon of hope that he has been portrayed as in the national press. In fact, if anything, it has nothing to do with Alastair Cook himself, more the ruthless, greedy and disdainful organisation that he represents every time he appears in the paper or speaks on television. This is why there are those out there, who have been England supporters all their lives, that are so disillusioned with the sport, that they are thinking of walking away for good; in their eyes, it has become impossible for them to distinguish between the team that goes onto the field with the deceitful organisation in the background. Am I one of these people, no, as much as I despise the ECB, I still want every member of the England team to do well (Cook included) and to win every series possible, but I can understand where these individuals are coming from (much as I do understand, those who choose to think that everything is rosy in the garden of English cricket). This is why I do struggle to both abide and understand the constant mud throwing from both camps, which shows no sign of abating. There shouldn’t be an “us and them”, we are all England cricket fans after all but there is and it is wider than ever before, yet we hear nothing from the ECB to try and unite English cricket under one positive banner like the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps though, it is really not in their interest to unite the English public, as whilst we’re still arguing about what a divisive individual KP is and how he should be nowhere near the England cricket team, the ECB has got in to bed with India and sold international cricket down the river, with a hardly a murmur from the masses. After all, we’re all still shouting at each other about Kevin Pietersen.

If I may use an analogy (with the caveat that I’m desperately not trying to sound like Ed Smith): At the battle of Pharasalus in 48BC, Caesar dragged his war-torn armies into one last battle with his former ally and member of the triumvirate, Pompey. After a vicious battle with many casualties, Caesar eventually won and the dead Pompey was brought to him. On receiving the dead body of his former ally, he shook his head and uttered the immortal words “hoc voluerunt” – “They wanted this”. It would be quite easy to interchange 48BC with 2016, and “the Senate” with “The ECB”. I have the very same fear that in a few years time, when we finally look up from our arguments about KP, that we too maybe uttering these words when looking at the barren and parched landscape of international cricket. No-one wins in a pyrrhic victory, except perhaps the ECB and Giles Clarke, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that this would be the worst case scenario for all parties.

@thegreatbucko

 

Guest Post – Great Bucko.. “The Silent Man’s Silent Man”

A big welcome, and Happy New Year, to The Great Bucko (aka Sean B) for another one of his think-pieces. As usual, food for thought, and interesting to read. Fire away with the comments…

Take it away Sean….

9th May 2015. The date which most of the mainstream media credit as the day when English cricket finally pulled itself out of the doldrums. To be fair it’s an easy narrative for them to create, the “messiah” Andrew Strauss had ridden his chariot into the offices of the ECB to join forces with our “brave young captain” Alastair Cook to pick English cricket up by it’s shoelaces and turn them into the young warriors who would sweep away the invading Australian hordes from the hallowed gates of the Home of Cricket. The disastrous world cup would be a distant memory, the inability to beat the worst West Indian team in living memory now forgotten and oh yes, Paul who?

Of course, I’m being slightly glib here and it would be wrong of me to let me my own personal feelings about Andrew Strauss cloud my judgment of the fact that he has done a pretty decent job since being made Director, English Cricket (see Andrew, it’s actually beneficial not to let one’s personal agenda get in the way of sound decision making – I present Mr. Kevin Pietersen as my first offering to the jury). The decision to sack Peter Moores and appoint Trevor Bayliss was a shrewd move and although the way it was carried out was just horrendous (another fine PR show from the ECB), it was the right decision and one that should have been made 18 months earlier. Dmitri has covered the Peter Moores era in his review of the year, so I don’t want to go over old ground, but it is safe to say that I’m in agreement that Moores, whilst an honourable man and certainly someone who didn’t deserve the shabby treatment he was afforded when being removed of his post, was never cut out for coaching at an international level (my argument was that he should have been made the Lions coach, as he did have a skill for unearthing good young talent). I also applaud Strauss’ thoughts around affording more focus for the one-day and T20 teams, with players like Willey and Rashid encouraged to play in some of the worldwide T20 tournaments to hone their skills and gain experience (perhaps he has read KP’s first book after all). Of course, there was the Ashes victory too, which allows Strauss to justify all his decisions in the lead up to the series and to proclaim England are on the up, even if it was against an average Australian side on doctored green seamers.

However, in my opinion, the 2 biggest reasons why there has been progress from the England side, both on the pitch and just as importantly off the pitch (in the eyes of the paying public), were 2 decisions made before Strauss’ tenure had actually begun. Paul Farbrace, though whisper it, who was appointed under Paul Downton’s reign of calamity, has been a vital cog in the new England set up (though I refuse to give Downton any credit, as I believe it was Moores’ who pushed for his appointment). Bayliss and Farbrace dovetail extremely well, and from all the reports coming out of the dressing room, Farbrace is an extremely well liked and respected individual who has played a major part in uniting the dressing room, allowing players to play their own game and promoting a positive brand of cricket (totally alien to that in which we were playing under Flower and Moores). He has sometimes been referred to as the “silent man” but every cricket fan can understand the skills and expertise he has bought to the England set up. Farbrace has undoubtedly been a big cog in England’s success; however the most important decision that the English Cricket team has made in my opinion, came with relatively little fanfare. The date I will remember as being the most important for English cricket in 2015, was 26th March 2015. The date when a certain Ottis Gibson was bought back into the England fold as bowling coach for a 2nd time, although a lot of credit also has to go to the Melbourne Renegades, who somehow saw fit to hire David Saker as head coach (that’s worked out well hasn’t it??)

This decision, again in the final death throes of Peter Moore’s reign (they had worked together previously in Moores’ first stint as England coach) was arguably the most important decision made by the ECB last year (although some credit has to go to Strauss for extending his contract). Gibson is the exact antithesis of Saker, an individual who isn’t desperate to be in the limelight (I can’t remember seeing an interview with Gibson since his appointment), an individual who is happy to do his work behind the scenes and let the bowlers take the credit when things go well (it always seemed more than a mere coincidence that Saker would appear at the end of a day when England had actually bowled well) and an individual who has more than one tactical plan when Plan A isn’t working. These character traits dovetail excellently with Bayliss’ and Farbrace’s style of management. I must admit that I almost jumped for joy when I heard the news that Saker was leaving England. This was a man who had made a career living off the glories of one great Ashes series in 2009/10 against an Australian side in complete disarray with an English team who were close to their pinnacle. David Saker generally had one plan and one plan only, let the opposition “have it up them” whatever the conditions – bowl short, bowl hard and show them how aggressive you are (no wonder there were divisions in the English dressing room between the batsmen and the bowlers, Saker probably actively encouraged it). For series after series, England bowled too short at opposing teams with the nadir being reached against the Sri Lankans at Headingley in 2014, where England’s bowling tactics were some of the most brainless I’ve ever witnessed on a cricket field; the macho “let’s show these Lankans who’s boss by letting them have it up them” ensured that we lost the game from a position of strength and without doubt showed David Saker’s limitations for the whole world to see. It wasn’t just that Saker was tactically poor, that was his probably his best quality, it was also the fact that he made all of our bowlers consistently worse and nearly destroyed one of them. Jimmy seemed to lose the ability to swing the ball, Broad was told that he had to be the destroyer alongside Plunkett and then we get to the case of a certain Steven Finn. At the end of the 2013/2014 Ashes series, Ashley Giles commented that Finn “was simply unselectable” – not that I attach any blame to Giles, the real perpetrator without doubt was David Saker, who had tinkered and toyed with Finn’s action so much that he simply didn’t know what to do anymore. I remember when Finn burst onto the scene in 2010 against Bangladesh and Pakistan, there was genuine excitement that we had a bowler who could bowl at 90MPH with the height to trouble even the most adept of batsmen, so to then hear that he had been reduced to bowling throw downs at a single stump at the end of the 2013/14 Ashes series should have prompted some thorough soul searching amongst the ECB hierarchy. This was all on David Saker’s watch, how could one of our most promising bowlers been left in such a situation? Why wasn’t Saker’s part in this heavily scrutinized unlike the batting failures that cost Gooch his job? Oh yes they were too busy throwing our best batsmen under a bus to worry about little things like this. The fact that Finn is somewhere back to his best (I thought he was the pick of the bowlers in the first two tests against South Africa) is testament to both Finn and to Richard Johnson (as well as Raph Brandon for helping him with his run up) and highlights what a simply terrible coach David Saker is.

Ottis Gibson, on the other hand, seems to do the all of the basics well and without doubt has the full respect of the English bowlers, many of whom he would have worked with at the start of their career. Aside from the West Indies series where we bowled like drains and to be fair to Gibson, he had only just taken up his post a couple of weeks before, England have consistently bowled better than they had done for the four years previous. Anderson (who many including myself, thought might be coming to the end of his career last summer) is consistently swinging the ball again and bowling better lines both at home and away. Broad has suddenly realised that you’re likely to pick up more wickets by pitching the ball up (gone are the macho “enforcer” passages of play thankfully) and as a result is also bowling far more wicket taking deliveries and also with a far better economy than ever before. Stokes and Finn have been allowed to play their natural games and hunt for wickets and not worry about being dropped for not “bowling dry” as they would have done in the past. Moeen also seems to have improved over the past couple of months and he again was very complimentary about working with Gibson – http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-england-2015-16/content/story/956105.html. The bowling of the white ball side (Woakes, Willey, Topley and to some extent Jordan) has also improved dramatically.

And how have we needed our bowling attack to perform as well, most of England’s victories over the past year have revolved around an excellent bowling performance that has allowed our batsmen to play without pressure (and we have seen what our batting performances can be when suddenly the pressure gauge is switched, the 2nd innings at Cape Town was a perfect example). England’s batting line up still has many holes in it, with only one world class batsman (Root), one other proven international class batsman (Cook) with the rest being talented cricketers (Taylor, Compton, Bairstow, Stokes etc.) either trying to find their way in international cricket or are striving to become more consistent (if Stokes can regularly bat anywhere near to the ability he showed at Cape Town, then we will have a superstar). As a result, for England to be successful in the short term, we need to find an opener (still), get the batting unit to fire more often and pray that the English bowling attack can continue to carry our somewhat stuttering batting line up.

This for me is why Gibson’s appointment was the singularly most important news of 2015. We have always had a good bowling attack on paper for the past few years, but 90% of the time we were never sure which version would turn up, the one that bowled out Australia for 60 at Trent Bridge or the one that allowed Sri Lanka to score 457 in the 2nd innings at Headingley? It was a conundrum that neither Moores nor Saker could solve. It is still early days in Gibson’s tenure as bowling coach, and there will be some bad days as well as good, but the omens appear good. We appear to now have a bowling attack where each individual knows the role in which they have to play in it and as a result of this, it has become far more consistent and threatening in a variety of conditions.

Strauss and Cook may well get all of the credit in the mainstream media (wrongly in my opinion) and naturally there must be a hefty dollop of praise to both Bayliss and the “silent man” Paul Farbrace who have been instrumental in England’s improvement, but for me the most credit has to go to the individual that has received the least credit publicly since his appointment, one Ottis Delroy Gibson – the silent man’s silent man.

 

@thegreatbucko

Guest Post: County Cricket – The Tail That Wags The Dog

The County Championship.....
The County Championship…..Last Tuesday – Surrey v Derbyshire (Dmitri Pics)

We have another new writer for the blog, by way of a guest post to get the debate flowing. Sean B, a panel member for the Ashes summer, has put together a discussion piece on the potential for re-structuring county cricket.

As always, really grateful for people putting in the time and effort to write for us, and I’d always counsel people to think that this is a first time post, and therefore one to treat with a bit more respect than my repeated old diatribes.

Take it away, Sean…

So we’ve won back the Ashes in glorious fashion and repelled those dastardly Australians’, so all is rosy in the garden of English cricket, right?? I think we might all agree on here (being as we’re most definitely outside cricket) that whilst the MSM might want us to think this, this is about as far from reality as it comes. This English team lacks the consistency and players to become number one, so why is this the case and who is to blame? The ECB? County Cricket? Or is it simply a mixture of the two?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love county cricket. I’ve been bought up with it as a staple for the past 25 years and am a staunch Middlesex fan, but the hard truth is that it is no longer fit to do what it is designed to do, which is to produce test quality individuals ready to go straight into the England team and perform. There I said it and I do not expect this view to be universally popular (I’ve already had my view branded on Twitter by one of the more well known county cricket apologists as “utterly nonsense”); however the stark facts of the current county cricket regime is that we play too much cricket, lurching from one form to another on different days, and this has led to a noticeable drop in quality of the four day game compared to that of 10 years ago. I also feel that the reduction in Kolpak qualified players has adversely affected the standard across both divisions, as the pool of good English youngsters gets smaller each year (it is a well known fact that less kids are playing cricket competitively now compared to 10 years ago). Now I’m not advocating a return to the darker days of county cricket, when anyone who had a South African passport and a cricket bat could get a gig (yes Sven Koenig, I’m looking at you), but I don’t buy the line that these players are blocking young English talent from getting a game. The likes of Peterson, Prince, Hogan and to a lesser extent Franklin are very good players in their own right, have been picked on merit and can help mentor some of the younger members of the team. The bottom line should be if you are good enough you will play, English qualified or Kolpak.

If I take a look back at this year’s Ashes series, the reality is that Adam Lyth, who was really the only opener we could pick based on county cricket form, was nowhere up to the task technically or mentally. Johnny Bairstow, who has murdered county attacks all year wrong, looked all at sea against better bowling and we are currently placing our spin hopes on a batsman (and one I rate) who up until a couple of years ago was most definitely a part time spin bowler. The sad fact is that those cricketers who have genuinely been a success at International cricket (Root, Broad, Anderson, Cook, & Buttler to an extent) have generally been whipped out of county cricket and thrown into the international set up long before they have started to pick up bad habits. On the flip side, those that have had to genuinely make their way in county cricket before elevation to the England side, have more often than not failed (Matt Prior & Paul Collingwood are the two notable exceptions). So why is county cricket currently failing to produce cricketers that can cut it on the international stage? I believe there are two major points that need to be addressed here:

  • We play far too much County Cricket and even worse, we mix and match the formats sometimes from day to day
  • The pitches we play on are so alien to those that are played on the international arena that the first time many of these cricketers face a non-seaming, spinning pitch is on their international debut

These I believe go hand in hand, the current format means that we start the season in April when there is likely to be green tops (and nothing for the spinners) and then we flog our cricketers until late September, which means there aren’t going to be too many 90MPH bowlers left charging in at that stage.

In particular, the two areas that concern me most are that there are simply no incentives for an up and coming county cricketer to want to bowl fast or to bowl spin, as the counties are preparing pitches for 70MPH trundlers who can get the ball to nibble both ways (no offence to the individuals, but a little part of me dies every time I see a Jesse Ryder or a Darren Stevens 5 wicket haul). Indeed, this is my major bugbear and this is where the Counties are just as blameworthy as their paymasters. The fact that it is far easier to stick with an old pro bowling slow accurate seaming deliveries on a green pitch than to prepare a good track and to put faith in a raw quick or a young spin bowler, hence the lack of these talents available to the England team. It makes me so angry that Scott Borthwick has had to reinvent himself as a number 3 batsman to even get a game (I remember the first time I saw him bowl, I said that he would get at least 50 England caps) or that Will Beer and Max Waller can no longer get a game in the four day format. These were the bright young hopes of English spin and county cricket has ruined them.

No wonder Lyth et al failed to make it at international level, it was probably the first time they had probably ever faced a left armer bowling at 90MPH or a decent test level spinner. How can you attach blame to them for that? You simply can’t. The question should be why had they have never faced this type of bowling in the first place?

The simple answer is that the quantity of county cricket is directly of detriment to the quality being played. We need a mandate from the ECB that divides the season into:

  • 3 divisions of four day cricket playing 10 games a piece
  • A window for the England Lions to play against each of the touring teams thus exposing them to international cricket
  • A strictly enforced pitch inspection team encouraging a fair contest between bat and ball and not penalizing pitches that turn
  • A summer window for a T20 tournament, whatever the format
  • Two knockout 50 over tournaments at the start and end of the season

This is very much my opinion and many will disagree, but this is the only format in which I can see County cricket raising the quality of it’s top divisions whilst reducing the workload of our county players. Three divisions are absolutely necessary to do this, as it will strengthen the talent available for the top division and there will be less games but of a higher quality as a result (mostly the two teams that come up from Div2 normally go straight back down again), especially if the England management team only look to pick individuals from the top division. I appreciate that this will make it hard for teams in the third division as many of the top teams will hoover up their best talent; however the standard at the bottom of the current Division 2 is as poor as I can remember, which is another reason why the promoted teams struggle so much the following season. I would prefer a stronger Division one and Division two, comprised of 6 teams each, rather than keeping the status quo pandering to those teams who have hardly won a game of four day cricket in the past couple of years.

I would start the four day season in May (after the first 50 over cup), when hopefully the pitches would have dried out a bit from the winter with a window between the first and second games to allow a full strength Lions team to play the touring opposition. The four-day competition would potentially go on until the 20/20 window in late July/early August and would then wrap up in early September (I would imagine the last couple of games of four-day cricket would end up here as it’s impossible to schedule them elsewhere unless we start in April, which I am totally against). We would then wrap up the season with another 50 over knock out tournament. The other law I would like to bring in is that the pitch inspectors would have full power to dock points for overly green pitches or those that are not a fair contest between bat and ball. Although it is exhilarating to watch 16 wickets fall on a day (it has happened to me twice this year), it is not conducive to high quality cricket and encourages teams to pick medium pace dobbers, rather than players that can make things happen on a flatter pitch, which is the very thing I am trying to get away from.

So why are we still stuck with the status quo? Well that goes back to my point raised in the first paragraph about the way the ECB tippy toes around the problem.

Nick Hoult’s piece in the Telegraph last week showed how the ECB had again allowed the county chairmen to walk all over them in negotiations and had needed to water down their vision of reshaping county cricket to such an extent that is practically obsolete from the original version and achieves precisely nothing. So what are Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss actually doing apart from basking in the glory of a home series win and selling new commercial deals (Hydration breaks – please give me strength)? They are certainly not doing that which they should be doing, which is creating a platform that can allow England to produce high quality international players whatever the format.

I have the horrible feeling though, that I am simply being horribly naïve. Why bother to pick a fight with the county chairmen, when you can carve up international cricket in a way that allows you to make the most money? Why bother lowering the price of international cricket to engage fans or allow FTA coverage when you can sell out highly inflated hospitality boxes to high worth individuals? Why bother taking the time out to clearly set out a plan for the betterment of England team, when the MSM will buy any bullshit that’s on offer and tell you it’s gospel?

The stated aim to reach the pinnacle of International cricket by reshaping county cricket is simply a smoke and mirrors job to occupy the chuntering masses. It’s the money stupid and don’t you ever forget that.

@thegreatbucko

A Poetic Summer

The Bogfather missed the Ashes Panel, but he did provide me with his poetic input, so I thought, why not. Give him the floor….

So the Ashes Summer, in rhyme….

Where’d our summer go?

Where was the ebb and flow?

No context nor contests

Paucity in every city’s Test

No fight, no thought

Test cricket out-fought

By incredulous scheduling

And nebulous reasoning

If it swung, we won

If it didn’t, we were undone

Batting collapses, memory lapses

No guts in weak glory

Same old media story

Three day Tests played

With real fans betrayed

Enthusiasm drained

Thankfully, then it rained…

Dross on the pitch, not blood

Press puffery not in drips but floods

Strokeplay straight out of kintergarden

Nary a sign of batsmen battle hardened

Bar Root, Rogers and Smith

Far too much inelegant biff or miss

Tho’ I do have a soft spot for Mo

Briefly seen in scintillating flow

Saddened that Buttler never gave it a go

And Cook’s self love and batting ego

Left Lyth high and hopelessly run dry

The question now – who next to try?

Bell seems to have rung his last peal

KP back? We have to be real

Hales not to open, or even at three

Play him at 4/5 is what I’d like to see

Alternative opener is hard to call

We need a presence to strike thru’ the ball

Perhaps Root to three now that Cook ‘leads’ on

Save the captaincy for when sheep has gone…

At last some bowling that found the right length

Some excellent spells, Broad best, true intent

Yet when conditions weren’t as we’d like

The lack of variety left us unable to strike

And with the spin cupboard currently bare

We have to trust Mo’ with responsibility there

Push him up the order to five, use his batting flair

And ferchrissakes give Adil a run, in the UAE sun

Use Jimmy only when conditions suit the grumpy one

Look after Wood, let Stokes have free rein

Or injury management will be spotlit again

Not that the ECB will ever care a jot

Coffers still filling from us, the mob lot

So the Ashes, yes, we beat the feeble Aussies

Yet I still can’t separate the team from the ECB

For their ignorance and bullshit still riles me

And don’t even get me started on the ICC3…

To paraphprase Craig Doyle in those Everest adverts…. now you didn’t think a blog would give you that, did you?

My thanks to the Bogfather. We’re being different here. He’s also promised me a book review of the Barry Richards story written by Andrew Murtagh.

Also Sean B has promised me something too. So no getting out of it, Sean!

Cheers,

Dmitri.