The Outside Cricket 2017 Predictions

At the start of every year, every newspaper, magazine and website worth its’ salt often comes up with a list of their predictions about the upcoming year from an array of supposed experts in this field.

However, as we’re just ‘little bloggers’, who are continually told by a number of the big beasts in the national press (though they are rapidly declining) that we know nothing. We thought that we would come up with an alternative set of predictions for 2017.

The below is meant to be taken in jest and we refuse to be held accountable if any of the preposterous predictions that are written below actually happen. If anyone is remotely offended by these predictions, well good, stop being so thin-skinned.

Happy (belated) New Year!


January

After intense speculation around the continued captaincy of Alastair Cook, Cook finally meets with Director, Comma in a 5 star hotel in Mayfair. After some intense and forthright discussions between the pair, Andrew Strauss finally calls a press conference outside the Ritz to reveal the decision. Clutching a white piece of paper in his left hand, the Director Comma announces that

“The settlement of the Cook captaincy problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which English cricket may find success. This morning I had another talk with the England captain, Alastair Cook and here is the paper, which bears his name as well as mine. Alastair Cook, or Lord Cook of Essex as he will now be known, will continue to the lead the English cricket assault to be the number one team. I have returned from the Ritz with success for our time”.

The press are unanimous in their support for Cook, with Newman stating “how only a true English great would put their country ahead of themselves”; Scyld Berry comments that ‘without doubt Cook is the finest leader that English cricket has ever seen”; whilst John Etheridge is reported to have written that Cook “is truly a man of the people”, however no-one is able to corroborate this as no-one has ever read a cricket piece in the Sun.

Meanwhile, England’s one-day team travel to India as underdogs against their strong hosts. After losing the first ODI by 5 wickets, Two Eoin Morgan centuries in the final two matches guides England to an unexpected 2-1 victory and an even more impressive whitewash in the T20’s, thanks to Morgan’s clever use of his spin options and clean hitting at the death. Whilst most of the press are subsequently impressed with both Morgan’s batting and leadership of the team, Oliver Holt calls it an “absolute disgrace from a fraud of a man” and demands that he resign immediately. Paul Newman’s subsequently retweets this 4 times.

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February

 As part of the expected England reshuffle after the heavy Test defeats in India, Andrew Strauss announces that Mike Newell, James Whittaker and Angus Fraser are to step down as England’s selectors, subsequently adding in “well it was all their fault anyway”. In a somewhat surprise decision, Michael Vaughan is elected as Chief of Selectors with input from Andy Flower and Lord Cook of Essex into the final selection panel. A clearly delighted Vaughan describes this “as a fantastic opportunity for ISM’s members, sorry I mean England’s young players, to play a vital part in English cricket in what will be a defining year for England.”

There is also some sad news, when John Etheridge announces that he has been made redundant by The Sun in a series of expletive ridden Tweets. A slightly embarrassed Chief Sport Editor of the Sun admits that they thought they’d gotten rid of him five years ago and that he thought the columns that kept appearing in his paper were from a new unpaid intern called John. An outraged Etheridge, with some support from Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey, launches another vicious attack on the Sun’s decision before flying out to Bangladesh on holiday to let off a bit of steam.

Mike Selvey also launches his blog “Uphill into the wind” amongst much fan fare from himself; however things quickly turn ugly when he doesn’t get the 500,000 views in the first week that he’s expecting and a couple of mildly critical comments appear below the line. A raging Selvey states this blog was “not a vanity project” and how dare “those bilious idiots and little bloggers dare to question his unrivalled cricketing knowledge?” Selvey immediately shuts down the blog and spends the rest of the year posting bitter Twitter comments whilst sat in various pubs in Suffolk. We at BOC are devastated at this news as this was likely to form most of our material for the coming year.

March

England begin March with a ODI tour to the West Indies in preparation for the upcoming Champions trophy. In what proves to be a tight and low scoring affair, the series is played in a downright spikey spirit with Marlon Samuels continually goading Ben Stokes. Going into the final game at 1-1, The series finally culminates in a West Indies win with Samuels hitting Stokes into the stand needing 4 off the final ball with only 1 wicket remaining. A clearly delighted Samuels sets off on a lap of honour whilst revealing a T-Shirt claiming that Stokes has a tiny manhood. Unsurprisingly Ben Stokes does not take this slight in good humour and unfortunately breaks both of his wrists whilst trying to hurl his locker from the England changing room at the gloating Samuels below. A giggling Paul Farbrace comments that “boys will be boys”, whilst confirming that Stokes will miss this summer’s cricket for surgery on both his wrists.

There is widespread condemnation of the behavior of both teams by the press, so much so, that Oliver Holt flies out to Barbados demanding that Eoin Morgan is sacked immediately as only a “cowardly captain would allow a great Englishman like Stokes to have to protect himself from these foreign savages”. When the English captain refuses, Holt and Newman return home and organise a ‘live aid style’ concert to demand that ECB removes Morgan called ‘Times up Eoin, it’s time to get going’ in reference to his refusal to sing God Save The Queen. The concert is a somewhat sparsely attended affair with various B-List acts and some rousing faux patriotic speeches from Piers Morgan, George Galloway, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove; however this is enough for Colin Graves to decide that he needs to act immediately and Morgan is swiftly relieved of the England ODI captaincy with the full consent of Andy Flower.

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April

April begins with various strange sightings of Andy Flower dressed up as the Grim Reaper standing outside Adil Rashid’s house with a sign declaring ‘you’re next sunshine’. When a clearly confused Rashid complains to the various authorities about this harassment, England’s Chief of selectors, Michael Vaughan declares in various newspaper columns that only a ‘weak minded and fragile individual such as Rashid would be bothered by this type of attention’ and vows never to pick him for England again. A clearly exasperated and downhearted Rashid retires from cricket completely and takes up a surprise position as Head Coach of Leeds Football Club stating that he feels “he will get far more support from Massimo Cellino than he ever did from Alastair Cook”.

The commencement of the County Championship starts under a cloud when the English County Chairmen refuse to endorse the newly proposed, 8 team T20 Franchise competition that the ECB has been pushing for. A clearly angry Colin Graves blasts all the counties as ‘mediocre’ and states that he “didn’t need their support or their grounds to launch such a forward thinking and money spinning new competition”. In a surprise move, Graves announces that the T20 Super Bash will still go ahead with the franchises being held in Beckenham, Luton, Shrewsbury, Norwich, Scarborough, Rochdale, Eastbourne and Aberdeen. A suitably impressed executive from BT Sport immediately bids £35million for the rights.

After vowing to watch more county cricket, there is a disaster when Trevor Bayliss mixes up Middlesex’s and Surrey’s fixtures and turns up at a deserted Lords. In private conversations, Bayliss is heard saying “jeez, there are two teams in London mate, why didn’t anyone tell me that, I mean London isn’t even a county!” Thankfully Bayliss has enough nous about him to report back to Director Comma that he witnessed a couple of decent young players from South African descent who should be ripe to play for England in the next year or so. Strauss remains impressed.

May

After a string of low scores in Division 1, Lord Cook of Essex declares that he is going to miss the next county game to play for Norfolk in order to get his eye in. Cook proceeds to make a chanceless 300 not out, which immediately prompts Peter Miller amongst others to declare that this clearly shows that Cook is better than Bradman and will easily smash Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the most amount of Test runs scored by a player. Meanwhile in Division 2, Ben Duckett records his 3rd double century of the campaign followed by another 184 not out as Northants storm to the top of Division 2; however many of the media are left unimpressed as Division 2 runs don’t really count (unless you play for Essex).

England meanwhile start their ODI series against South Africa, with Jos Buttler now leading the side in place of the demoted Eoin Morgan, who doesn’t even make the squad. In an exciting series where both sides post scores upwards of 320 in each game, South Africa pinch the series after England fall 8 runs short of chasing 370 to win in the last ODI at Lords. Jos Buttler makes the third quickest hundred in history in that game but England fall just short after a wonderful inning of 189 from Quinton De Kock. In the post series press conference, Director Comma comments that things may have to change in order for England to win the Champions Trophy and orders that all of the games for that Tournament be played on uncovered pitches to “preserve the old-fashioned values of the game”. Paul Farbrace sat beside him just chuckles.

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June

After Strauss’ shock decision to play all of the Champions Trophy game on uncovered pitches, England decide to make some last minute changes to their squad. Out go Buttler, Roy, Hales, Willey and Bairstow and in come Cook (cpt), Vince, Bopara, Anderson and Read, with Michael Vaughan declaring that they ‘were looking for some solidity’ at the top of the order. The tournament is somewhat of a let down as no team is able to post more than 150 on the green, swinging surfaces; however England progress to the final thanks to some fine swing bowling from Jimmy Anderson and 200 runs from Cook at a strike rate of 48. England play India in the final and despite restricting the hosts to 148, England fall 5 runs agonizingly short despite a fine 24* (62) from Ravi Bopara.

In the meantime there are shock call-ups for Scott Borthwick, Joe Clarke and Ajmal Shahzad for the upcoming England South Africa Test series. There are a few murmurings around a potential conflict of interest for the Chief of Selectors especially when he is heard off camera stating that ‘he should get a decent commission cheque this month’. These rumours are further substantiated when Vaughan is found to be posting contracts under the door of each of the England squad with a post it note attached to it stating ‘sign this or you’ll never be picked again’. Andrew Strauss is forced to act and fires Michael Vaughan ahead of the first Test claiming that his job at ISM was potentially influencing his selection thoughts. An incensed Vaughan issues a statement through his lawyers that he has had no commercial interests with ISM since 2013 and threatens to sue the ECB. A spooked Colin Graves immediately offers to settle for £20million, which Vaughan accepts and he immediately retakes his spot on TMS and BT Sport using them as platform to promote ISM’s latest roster of talent. Andy Flower meanwhile is named as Chairman of Selectors and is solely responsible for selection at all England levels.

In other news, the first day-night County Cricket fixtures get off to an inauspicious start when play is delayed at the Essex vs Middlesex game as someone at Essex Cricket club forgets to order the pink balls. In another turn for the worse, 30 spectators are treated for hypothermia at the Emirates Riverside during the Durham vs Worcestershire game as temperatures drop to minus two during the evening. An unrepentant Colin Graves declares that the games are an unmitigated success whilst imposing another 48 point fine on Durham for insubordination and playing the game that far North.

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July

England’s First Test of the summer results in a draw, thanks to a fluent Joe Root ton in the first innings and a battling second innings 100 from Lord Cook of Essex. Commenting on the draw, Cook remains in full belief that this “group of young guns is the best team he has ever coached, I mean captained”. The remaining Test’s do not bear this out though, as two second innings collapses means that England lose the series with one to play. A tetchy Alastair Cook loses his temper with Ian Ward when asked about what this series means for his captaincy by replying “I’ve got 10,000 runs more than you, how dare you ask me these difficult questions on camera.” Cook immediately declares in a press conference that as the Lord of Essex, he is not willing to put up with subordinates asking such impertinent questions and resigns the captaincy immediately as well as making himself unavailable to play in the final Test. The ECB immediately declares that this is a time of national mourning and demands that all flags are let at half-mast. Meanwhile, the ECB also declares that they are retiring the English captaincy as an honour to the great Alastair Cook, Paul Newman writes a 1,000 words in support of the former Captain and the ECB’s stance. A bemused Joe Root goes out to face the media declaring “I’m not sure what’s going on really, I’ve been playing on Fifa17 with Jonny Bairstow for the last 24 hours, but I’m sure Cook’s spirit goes with us or something like that”. In the last Test of the series, Root and Hameed both score a double ton, whilst Moeen Ali bags 10-78 in the match as England rout South Africa by an innings and 155 runs. England’s vice captain Root declares that ‘this was for the honour of Alastair Cook’, whilst trying not to crack up whereas Faf du Plessis admits the South African side lost some concentration having pissed themselves with laughter for the last 3 days at the state of English cricket.

There are some sad scenes at the end of series press conference when Director Comma announces that they have decided to let Trevor Bayliss go in order to “progress English cricket moving forward”. A clearly inebriated Bayliss attends the press conference demanding to know ‘which one of you w*nkers is George Dobell’. A slightly embarrassed Dobell sitting in the front row is thankfully saved by Melinda Farrell after Bayliss comes windmilling towards him, when she takes downs Bayliss with a swift uppercut. Paul Farbrace, sat at the press conference table, chuckles heartily.

In other news, Ed Smith is once again in hot water when it transcribes that he has copied the whole of Jonathan Agnew’s commentary from the first day of the First Test at Lords. Smith might well have got away with it until one attentive TMS listener pointed out that Smith was commenting on how well JP Duminy was batting during the England first innings. Smith refuses to comment on Social Media and instead writes a 5,000 essay in the Spectator comparing fielding to life in the pre-Raphaelite era; however embarrassed TMS officials are forced to quietly fire Ed. In a surprise move, TMS hire disgraced ex-football commentator Andy Gray as his replacement; however this ends predictably badly when Gray launches into a diatribe during the 2nd Women’s ODI when he constantly refers to them all as ‘a bunch of swamp donkeys’ and repeatedly asks ‘what they’re doing on a cricket pitch in the first place’? The BBC sensibly sacks Gray and headhunts Nick Knight to restore some calm order into the TMS commentary box, when asked about how he feels about the move, Knight admits that “he had never come across TMS before”.

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August

In a move that shocks the whole cricketing world, Andrew Strauss announces that the ECB have hired the first female Head Coach of a male International cricket team. Sitting alongside the new hire, Mandy Flowers, Strauss reiterates that England are “consistently pushing the boundaries and that Mandy comes highly recommended with sustained experience and success of coaching at both a National and Youth levels”. Dressed in a slightly ill-fitting tracksuit with what appears to be a long brown haired wig on, Mandy speaking in a soft Zimbabwean accent emphasizes the need for discipline within the England team as well as being able to consistently ‘build pressure and squeeze the opposing teams’. The English press are somewhat surprised by this ‘bolt out of the blue’ appointment but are unanimous in their praise for both Mandy and Strauss with Scyld Berry calling it “a match made in heaven” whilst Derek Pringle states that “only Andrew Strauss would be so forward thinking in hiring such a successful coach, irrespective of gender, to drive England to the very top of international cricket.” George Dobell bucks the trend by stating that he has some suspicions that “all isn’t quite what it seems”.

The first success of Mandy’s reign is to track down Lord Cook of Essex and persuade him to retake the England captaincy. After a 3 hour meeting at Cook’s Palace, I mean farm in Essex, Mandy declares that Cook, who has now had the title the ‘patron saint of English Cricket’ bestowed upon him by the ECB, will be fully focused and in charge of England’s upcoming series against the West Indies. A delighted Paul Newman pens a 1,000 word love ode to Alastair Cook. Indeed, the Flowers and Cook partnership gets off to a wonderful start as they decimate a somewhat disinterested West Indies 3-0. Flowers plan to bowl 2 foot outside the off stump to the West Indian batsmen completely flummoxes them as they chase wide delivery after wide delivery and keep nicking off to 2nd slip. England’s batsmen also make hay against the West Indian bowlers, who seem to have their minds elsewhere with Cook, Root and Bairstow each scoring two hundreds in the series. A triumphant Flowers states that “this is the perfect tonic for the upcoming tour of Australia” whilst Paul Farbrace chuckles next to him. The English media also don’t hold back in their praise with Victor Marks boldly predicting that “Cooks young warriors are now in prime position to conquer Australia”.

In other news, there is controversy in the Sky commentary box, when Shane Warne mildly criticises Alastair Cook’s captaincy during the 2nd Test. Warne is immediately dropped by Sky and deported back to Australia and is replaced by the North Korean news anchor from their state TV. On this surprise announcement, a Sky spokesman comments “that they are consistently trying to broaden the appeal of cricket and that through this appointment we have an experienced operator who is not afraid of praising the patron saint of English cricket, Alastair Cook, fulsomely.” Nasser Hussain in his column for the Daily Mail praises the appointment as ‘forward thinking’.

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September

There is some controversy in the world of English cricket when the Cricketer Magazine launches it’s annual ‘Top 50 most powerful people in English Cricket list”, with Editor in Chief Simon Hughes naming himself as the most powerful 25 people in English Cricket. When pressed about some of the glaring omissions from the list and why he saw fit to nominate himself 25 times, a somewhat perplexed Hughes simply stated that there were 25 reasons why he was more powerful than anyone else, hence the 25 consecutive nominations. Hughes then goes onto to patronise anyone who disagrees with this selection, including a slightly disbelieving Lawrence Booth, who had questioned his motivation behind this, apart from Hughes being an arrogant fool.

England’s decision to continue playing the ODI series on uncovered pitches in the middle of September comes a cropper when play is abandoned for the whole of the scheduled ODI and T20 series against the West Indies due to rain. The Director Comma comments that whilst this is an “unfortunate situation” he would make the same decision again, having agreed with Mandy Flowers to prioritize the upcoming Ashes tour and having already been vindicated by England’s strong showing in the Champions Trophy.

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October

In a quiet month for Cricket, Mandy Flowers announces that England will start preparations for their Ashes tour with an extended fitness boot camp at Sandringham at the end of October, as this will ensure that they are in the right frame of mind for the upcoming tour. When a fit again and slightly perplexed, Ben Stokes questions on Twitter the decision to prioritize fitness over playing skills, Mike Selvey writing in The Cricket Paper comments “that Stokes’ is sailing close to the wind with his career; there are sceptics about, some with a greater knowledge than most, and his card has been marked”. Selvey naturally refuses to name any of these sceptics, though England chairmen of selectors, Andy Flower who has hardly been seen for the past couple of months, is said to be one of them. England’s decision to hold this high fitness, high intensity camp so close to the Ashes seems to backfire though, when they finally manage to break a stricken Mark Wood for good.

Colin Graves also appears back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons when he declares that the Australian Cricket team are a “bunch of mediocre convicts and bums” whilst also stating that ‘England should win the Ashes convincingly’. A predictably outraged Australian national press pick up on this immediately labeling English Cricket as an “outdated and arrogant institution” whilst a fired up Mitchell Starc starts to grow a handlebar moustache and is seen in the nets bowling at 95mph at the head of a cardboard cut out of Alastair Cook. When pressed by Ali Martin during an interview, Paul Farbrace chuckles and says that no doubt the Australians will have “taken these comments with a classic pinch of Australian humour”.

November

Andy Flower announces the tour party to Australia, with a number of surprise selections on the bowling front. Whilst Anderson, Broad and Finn travel as suspected, there are call ups for Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Reece Topley and Jamie Overton as Flower comments that they are looking for tall bowlers “who can really dig it in at the Australian batsmen”. In a press conference just before the players fly out, Mandy Flowers praises Flower’s selections and confirms that she is happy with the bowling arsenal at her fingertips, stating the need to “bowl dry” and be up and at the Australian batsmen. When the players finally land in Australia, Mandy organises another fitness drill at a local Australian army base before they play a 3 day warm up game against the New South Wales under 12’s 2nd XI, which they comfortably win thanks to a double hundred from the Patron Saint, Alastair Cook and the fact that none of the oppositions batsmen are above 5’5. Chris Stocks states that England should comfortably retain the Ashes on the back of this performance.

England arrive at the Gabba in confident mood and despite losing the toss, Cook maintains that this England team are “ready for anything that the Australians throw at them”; however things don’t start well for the tourists when Stuart Broad bowls his first delivery to 2nd slip, whilst Jimmy Anderson is forced to leave the field complaining of soreness after bowling only 2 overs. Much to the glee of Denis Freedman (one n), who launches into a record 96 hours of “Overratedson” banter on Twitter, Anderson is unfortunately unable to return to the field for the rest of the series. Freedman’s Twitter banter is only cut short, when Cricket Australia announces as part of it’s strategic programme for keeping players at the top of their game, that Steve Smith will be rested for the rest of the tour after Brisbane. At this point, Freedman spontaneously combusts. Back to the Gabba, England have a torrid time in the field with Topley and Hannon-Dalby leaking runs as David Warner hits a double ton before tea on Day 1 before Australia finally declare on 635-3. Australia then proceed to find holes in the English batting unit as a mustachioed Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood rip through the English batting unit twice to win by an innings and 170 runs. In the post match interviews, Cook insists it “will be a good learning experience for our young team” and that he is confident about “bouncing back in Adelaide”. KP meanwhile does a tweet about Alastair Cook’s captaincy, which is panned by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ and is subsequently told that his UK visa has been revoked permanently. Andrew Strauss denies any involvement in ‘getting rid of that c*nt’.

Meanwhile, there is tragedy in the BT Sport’s studios when Graeme Swann’s smugness reaches unprecedented and dangerous levels and he wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a clone of Simon Hughes. Swann subsequently refuses to watch any of the action for the rest of the series but constantly exclaims that “he would have bowled out this Australian team on his own”. Greg James eventually does the humane thing and suffocates a writhing Swann with a cushion live on TV.

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December 

England are humiliated in both Adelaide and Perth as the moustachioed Starc in particular, continues to torment Cook, who has only managed a high score of 9 in the series so far. Despite battling performances from Joe Root who makes a glorious 150 in Adelaide in their 8 wicket defeat and a 2nd innings rearguard of 173* from Ben Stokes, who nearly salvages an unlikely draw in Perth, England’s batch of tall, floaty bowlers are unable to contain the Australian batsmen, who continue to pile on the runs with glee. Hazlewood and Lyon also competently back up Mitchell Starc, who with his new found confidence and continued hostile bowling, terrorizes an increasingly brittle English batting line up. Steven Finn is unfortunately sent home from Australia after being declared as “unselectable” by Mandy Flowers, whilst Moeen, who has been unable to deal with the short ball, and with only one wicket in the series, is also dropped for the rest of the series. Liam Dawson is bought in as his replacement owing to his ‘understated character’.

After defeat in Perth and with the Ashes having been surrendered 3-0 to a powerful Australian team, a tearful Alastair Cook laments the fact the Australians refused to “honour the gentleman’s agreement that they would only bowl slow long hops on his pads, for the sake of the health of the international game”. Cook confirms that he is resigning from the both English captaincy and from the game at the age of 33 as “it isn’t fair”. Cook is last reported some 25 miles from the WACA helping out at a centre which deals with injured Kangaroo’s. Paul Newman describes this “as a brave and heartfelt decision from one of the most talented and courageous player’s ever to have worn an England shirt.” Meanwhile in England, a stone-faced Colin Graves announces that Andrew Strauss has been “relieved of the position of Director, England Cricket”. Graves confirms that they have an appointment in mind and that once this is ratified, the new man will conduct a root and branch review. Three days later, Dominic Cork is confirmed as the new Director of English Cricket and he vows to fly over to Australia to get a first hand look at the England team.

A depleted and dejected English team head to Melbourne, with Mandy Flowers confirming that they are looking for a couple of replacements who are already out in Australia to compliment their batting and bowling in time for Sydney. There is a recall for Alex Hales who is playing for the Sydney Thunder at the time, whilst there is a shock call up for Chris Tremlett, who happens to holidaying in Adelaide at the time. There are positive signs in Melbourne, as Joe Root, who is now captain in place of the newly retired Alastair Cook, wins the toss and England post 400, thanks to centuries from Hameed and Jonny Bairstow, whilst a 5 wicket haul from Ben Stokes limits Australia to a 50 run deficit. Things go wrong in the 2nd innings as England’s batting once again collapse in heap, with Nathan Lyon taking for 6-32 as Australia easily knock off the 160 runs needed for victory.

Sydney proves to be even worse, despite the introduction of Hales and Tremlett into the side and England crash to an innings defeat, despite two fifties and seven wickets in the match from Ben Stokes. England has once again been whitewashed in Australia much to the glee of the home fans. Meanwhile, Dominic Cork, who has now landed in Australia launches an astonishing attack on Ben Stokes claiming that he has “never seen anyone so disengaged from what was going on” despite being England’s highest run scorer and wicket taker in the series. Cork states that this will be reviewed with senior management on his return to England. Paul Farbrace, who is sat alongside Cork, lets out a chuckle. In better news, Alastair Cook is eventually found wandering through the Perth wilderness and returned to his rightful owners, the ECB. Mandy Flowers and Andy Flower meanwhile, are somewhat surprisingly, nowhere to be seen.


Of course, none of the above is likely to happen when we have such a competent and well run Board as the ECB, one that is completely in touch with the feelings of ordinary fans!!

Thanks again for your continued support moving into 2017, we’ll be here again for every England batting collapse, every screw up by the ECB and every bit of sycophantic journalism praising our ‘dear leader’.

Sean, TLG, Dmitri

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A Christmas Carol (of sorts)

Kevin Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the Director (Cricket), the Chairman, the Chief Executive, and the chief Guardian Cricket Correspondent. Ebenezer “Scrooge” Cook signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to’. Old Kevin was as dead as a doornail.

It was a cold and bleak winter in Essex – has been for years – and the lambs were bleating nearby.  Ebenezer Cook was in his rooms, counting up his runs, when there was a knock at the door.  “Bah” he exclaimed, “I’d just got to to 8,142 as well.  Jimmy!” he called to his faithful servant, Jimmy Cratchit, “Go and see who is at the door”.  Jimmy, puppy dog eyes as ever, returned a moment later.  “There are two men at the door, sir, it’s about Christmas”.

Scrooge got up and went to the door, to be met by Mr Bumble and Mr Beefy, carrying champagne.  “Merry Christmas!” they cried, and explained they were there to collect money for the peasants of Isleworth.  “Humbug” said Scrooge, attempting to close the door.  “But sir, this is for the poor folk of Sky, they need this desperately.  How else will they be able to sell the company for vast profit to Mr Rupert?”

“Bah” said Scrooge again, as he shooed them away only to find his nephew Adil waiting behind them.  “Hello Uncle, come and join us for Christmas!  It’s a wonderful time of the year”.  Cook frowned, “Hang on, you don’t celebrate Christmas”.  “Er.  Ah yes, good point, but it’s too good a character to ignore, so let’s celebrate” said Adil.  “Quite frankly young man, this is another example of you having a weak personality.  I’m going to have nothing more to do with you, and to prove it I’m going to have you running in until your fingers are falling off  and you’re the most successful worker we have.  I don’t think there’ll be any doubt at all about your weakmindedness after that”.

Slamming the door, Scrooge turned to find Jimmy Cratchit in front of him.  “As it is Christmas sir, and I’ve been bowling non-stop for three years now, I was wondering if I could have Christmas Day off?”.  “Don’t be absurd,” Scrooge replied “You’ve had a couple of months off with that shoulder problem of yours, you must be fully rested.  And as far as I can work out, you’ve not done anything on the India work at all.  Oh very well,  but just one day”.

“Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. What a load of nonsense.  It’s been only good for one thing, and that’s the historic birth of a noble creature, one who has changed the world.  One who is known for being the greatest and most important of all, especially in the eyes of the Miller.  Presents?  Celebration?  Humbug!  Runs is all it is good for, lots of runs”.

That night, Ebenezer Cook got ready for bed.  To the side were tomes of articles, praising Cooky for his steel, for his gimlet-eyed approach to the accumulation of runs.  All was well, he read the latest adoring billet doux, sent in the Mail, and he gazed into the mirror to see if the bit about doe eyes was true; they became heavy, and he drifted into sleep.

A noise made him sit bolt upright, and reach for the light.  In front of him was a figure, chained by the hands and feet, carrying a bat and hidden in shadow.  “Who are you?” Scrooge asked.  “Better to ask who I was”, the apparition replied.  “Who were you then?  You’re very particular, for a middle order player”.

“In life I was your batting partner, Kevin Marley.  Most notably against India you might recall. I have been cursed to wander the world, picking up only T20 contracts, banished from my life irritating the hell out of that old telegraph operator, Pringle.  I am here to warn you that you must change your ways, lest you too find the future filled with despair – although admittedly you won’t get the T20 contracts and your Twitter account will be a lot duller.  Should you fail to do so, I fear you too will be forced to spend your days pretending Piers Morgan is your friend”.

“You were always a good friend to me”, Scrooge lied, “tell me how I can avoid your dreadful fate”.  Marley paused, and looked at Scrooge, knowing his old habits were still present.  “You will be visited by three captains.  The first tomorrow night will be the captain of Christmas Past, then it will be the captain of Christmas present, and finally the captain of Christmas to come.  Beware Ebenezer, you will not like what they say”.

The vision of Kevin Marley began to fade, and Scrooge returned to bed.  “Humbug” he exclaimed, and went back to sleep.  By morning, he was convinced it had all been a terrible dream, frightening, but no more real than the time some fool put the city clerk Downton in charge of the livestock.

The following night, convinced it was all his imagination, Scrooge went to sleep, content that he had spent his day wisely, making Jimmy Cratchitt say nice things about their best customers, something he knew he hated.  In the early hours, his repose was interrupted by a presence in the room, a gentle figure, who spoke to him, quietly, calmly and with all the assurance of someone who had a degree in people.

“Who are you?” asked Scrooge.

“I am the captain of Christmas Past.  I am here to show you things”.  “What things?” cried Scrooge.  “Come with me” came the reply.  The bedroom disappeared, and a field came into view.  “What is this dreadful place?  I can’t bear it”.  “It is Leeds”.  “No, no, no don’t make me live through it again” begged Scrooge.

As tears rolled down his cheeks, he watched Angelo Mathews hitting balls to all parts, he saw himself stood at slip, unable to change anything.  He saw people in the distance, appalled at the sight in front of them.  “Can I change it?  Let me change it, what can I do?  Don’t make me wait to talk to Mr Moores again, I can’t cope with it”.

Puzzled, the ghost of the captain turned to him: “I have done nothing, this is who you are and what you did.  Nothing can be changed, nothing can be altered.  It is you, it is what you became”.

The scene dissolved, and Scrooge peered through the mist as it cleared, wondering what punishment would be next.  A face appeared, one who had been precious to him, but who he had not seen for a long time.  Scrooge’s heart leapt, and he called out “Bell! oh my precious Bell, we have spent so much time together, so many wonderful years”.  “He can’t hear you” observed the ghost, “watch closely”.

As Ebenezer observed, he could see Bell was happy, and his heart was filled with joy, and some puzzlement.  For the last time he had seen him, he was not, he was anything but.  As the scene expanded, he saw Bell laughing with other people, full of the joy of life.  Scrooge turned to the ghost and said “but what is this?”.  “It is the happiness of being with friends, it is how he now is, since he moved on from you”.  “This is down to me?” cried Scrooge, “but I thought he was my friend”.  “So he was” came the answer, “until you turned your back on him”.

Before he could reply, Ebenezer Cook found himself back in his bed, but not bathed in sweat for it was well known he didn’t sweat at all.  As he thought about his dreadful experience, he shuddered.  “At least that’s the worst part out of the way” he thought, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.

He spent the following day distracted, his paperwork untidy, finding that the slips were numerous and his pen often simply went down the wrong line.  Increasingly apprehensive, he readied himself for bed, and eventually, sleep overcame him.

Mere moments later, he sat upright.  Another vision was at the end of the bed, one vaguely familiar, yet with an undercurrent of threat that made Scrooge recoil.  The dark face was in shadow, but the beard was visible, as was the shining reflection of the earring, and the sound of thousands of people cheering could be heard softly in the background.  As the hood was pulled back, he gasped, for although the eyes were kind, he did not dare to meet them.

“I am the captain of Christmas present.  Look upon me”.  Scrooge reverently did so, the feeling that this was a presence he had been close to seemingly for weeks strongly in his thoughts.  Nagging at the back of his mind was that he somehow knew there was no way he could get him out, even if he wanted to.

“Touch my robe” commanded the dark, coaly vision.  Scrooge dutifully did so, and found himself in the Cratchits front room.  Christmas was being celebrated, Jimmy Cratchit pouring the drinks.  “A toast to Mr Ebenezer Cook” cried Jimmy.  “I shall do no such thing” answered his wife Broady Cratchit.  “For we all know he is simply obsessed with counting his runs, and gives you nothing.  Here we are at Christmas, you’ve worked all year for nothing, and here am I, preparing everything and getting no credit for it whatever.  No, I shan’t toast him.  And what about the boy?  What has he ever done for him?”

Jimmy’s eyes moved to the corner of the room, where the broken child sat with his crutches.  His eyes were bright, but the pain in them was clear.  “Bless you Markwood Cratchit, it will all be well.  We’ll get you the treatment you need, don’t you worry.  Mr Ebenezer knows all the right people and he’ll see you right”.  “He will not Jimmy and you know it perfectly well.” said Mrs Cratchit.  “Look at how the Prior was treated.  All he needed was a rest, and he wouldn’t have it, even though it was obvious to everyone.  ‘It’s up to him’ he said, and before we knew it that was the end of him”.

Scrooge watched on, knowing in his heart that Markwood would get no help from him.  “What will happen to him?” he asked the ghost.  “I see a vacant seat, at the Finchale End, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved”.  “No, no” cried Scrooge, “say he will be spared”.  The ghost turned to him “If these shadows are unaltered by the future, there is nothing that can be done”.

With a flash of light, Scrooge was back in his bed, and he gazed down at his palms, amazed at the first sight of flecks of sweat on them.  Unsettled, he thought about all he had seen, and resolved to change his ways.  Probably.  When he got round to it.  He went to sleep.

That following night, he resolved to stay awake, to ensure no more visitors.  But try as he might, he could not do so, and moments after he dropped off, a third figure appeared.  “And you are?” said Scrooge.  “I am the captain of Christmas future” squeaked a voice.  “You’re very young” said Scrooge.  “I’m not you know, everyone just thinks so – look at this whisker on my chin.  I’m a proper adult, and I can do a really good Bob Willis impression to prove it.  I am here to show you your future”.

Scrooge peered once again into the gloom, and an office appeared.  The ghost led him through the door, marked ‘Dobell and Son’ into the space beyond.  A group of people sat there, quietly talking among themselves.  He moved in closer, wanting to hear what they were saying:

“Do we have to write about this?  No one cares any more”

“We’d better be getting paid.  I hope these drinks are included”

“He just went on too long. It all went wrong in the end.  Apart from us, everyone is celebrating”

“The only one actually crying is that new man, and no one pays attention to him anyway”

“Good riddance I say”

Scrooge turned to the apparition, “who are they talking about?  This person sounds terrible. Awful.”  The ghost turned his baby face, beckoned, and led him over to a corner, an open booth, with half consumed cans of bitter and a nasty letter from his clerk pinned to the wall.  There on the table was a headline “Cooked!  At last”.  Scrooge fell back, shocked.  “It’s me!  They’re talking about me”.  He began to sob, and looked up at the ghost.  “I will change.  I will be a different person.  I will make sure that everyone remembers me for the right reasons.”  The captain of Christmas future smiled.

The following morning, Christmas Day and his birthday, Scrooge leapt out of bed.  “Merry Christmas” he cried.  He went out to buy a duck, and visited the Cratchits.  “Jimmy my friend, allow me to give you this gift for today!  Young Markwood, I have a gift for you – a small horse for you to ride so you will no longer be confined to those crutches.  Mrs Cratchit, there is nothing more that you could want except to be given the credit for carrying us all even when it all goes wrong.  And the password to a secret Twitter account.  Merry Christmas one and all!”

And so it went on, from house to house.  Scrooge had told everyone he would no longer spend all his time counting runs, that he would help everyone and ensure press conferences were the place to praise others and not himself.  And the spirit of Christmas moved through the whole area, as all gaped at the change in Ebenezer.  The joy he felt was shared by one and all, and he skipped like a newborn lamb through the neighbourhood.

In the churchyard was the grave of Kevin Marley.  Scrooge paused in his celebrations, looked across at it and deliberately turned his back.  For not even a fairy tale can create the impossible…


 

Deep and sincere apologies to the ghost of Charles Dickens, and I will spend Christmas in the hope I receive no visitations from his angry spirit for butchering his work of genius, or from the various characters (apologies to them too!) who have been shamelessly libelled for the sake of a smile or two.  Maybe.

From Dmitri, Sean and myself – have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes to all our readers, commenters and detractors, may it be a time of celebration for you all.