3 years, 900 posts and a million views: Happy Birthday to Us

Writing a blog is a funny thing: you forget what you’ve done, time goes by, and eventually one of the team says something along the lines of “Hang on, isn’t our birthday in February?”.  So it is, although I must confess I initially thought it was our fourth rather than our third, which just goes to show how much attention we pay to such things.  Nevertheless, allow us to be all self-congratulatory for once, as the very idea of lasting more than a month or two seemed fairly daft back then.  It wasn’t really the start, for Dmitri Old’s How Did We Lose in Adelaide blog was the reason so many of us got in contact with each other in the first place, but his opening lines to this particular site are wryly amusing to look back on:

Let’s see how this one goes

The fallout from the Australia tour, the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the shambolic reign of Paul Downton, the failure of the press to scrutinise rather than regurgitate the inner thoughts of Andy Flower and Giles Clarke – it all seems so distant, yet so recent in other ways.  The schism those events triggered hasn’t healed; if anything positions have become even more entrenched, even if some of the actors have now left the stage.  But when the ECB not only refuse to “clarify”, let alone apologise for the “Outside Cricket” jibe that gave this blog its name (that press release is still up on the PCA’s site), perhaps that no matter how things change they remain the same shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  They meant it then, and they still do now.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the posts on here, and some have been very vocal about it.  Fair enough too, we have several points of view that people can agree with, disagree with, or ignore, but perhaps the volume of hits for an obscure little blog that’s been pathetically useless in promoting itself (we only got round to using the Twitter address properly recently) suggests it’s not a totally out there line to have taken.

Dmitri’s blog swiftly became a two handed site, then three, and now four.  We professionalised it by buying a real domain name rather than using a WordPress one, and apart from a small issue where some idiot on the team accidentally thought the renewal was a fraudulent payment (now you know why the site disappeared for a couple of days) and cancelled it, it’s been that ever since. With hindsight, outsidecricket.com might have been a better name than beingoutsidecricket.com, but you can blame that same idiot for that as well.

That first year it was all about Strauss, Pietersen, the press, books and subterfuge.  The two posts that attracted the highest volumes were A Matter of Life and Trust and Statement of the Oblivious, both about the sheer duplicitousness of the ECB attempting to pretend their chairman hadn’t said what he really had, and that going back on his word was in no way utterly deceitful and treating people like idiots.  Oddly enough, in the years since, Mr Graves has barely said a word, and could well be gagged and chained in a distant dungeon for all we know.  The most enthralling thing looking back on the first of those is how the focus on trust hasn’t gone away – is there actually anyone who believes anything they say?  Why would they when they are so often caught out fibbing?  Even for matters as small as player injuries the statements range from implausible to outright falsehood.

Both of those posts stand up pretty well in terms of the sentiments expressed, and it should be alarming (but it’s not surprising) that the objections raised have still never been answered.  The joke that the most recent hammering in Australia was probably also Kevin Pietersen’s fault remains as sharp a barb now as then.

Andrew Strauss’s announcement that Pietersen was persona non grata persuaded us to do our first ever live blog – something we’ve fiddled with from time to time since.  The tweets embedded in that particular piece are striking in retrospect – mostly because they’re every bit as true today.  Various of the We Need to Talk About Kevin brigade never did come up with any kind of decent defence, beyond the “Pietersen is a tosser” line.  Unless, that is, we count the marvellously pathetic leaked dossier that was swiftly disavowed once it became clear it was an object of derision.  Note that a real one never did appear – how could it?  That was the actual depth of the evidence against him.

Two other sackings that year also got plenty of attention, firstly that of Paul Downton, with the beautifully titled post Aplomb highlighting the absurdity of all those in the media who backed their mate as someone special despite it being blindingly obvious to everyone else he was utterly out of his depth.  The other sacking was of course Peter Moores, a man who didn’t succeed on either occasion as England coach, but who is a rarity in ECB circles as someone on more than nodding terms with the concept of integrity.  His shabby sacking – leaked to the media as he watched his England team play a one day match, caused BOC to get all angry on his behalf about his treatment.  For all that plenty of people may dislike a Pietersen, always remember this happened to someone who no one thought could possibly deserve such underhanded and unpalatable conduct from his bosses.  The ECB have the sheer cheek to still claim (lie) that they don’t leak.

If 2015’s posts were dominated by the seemingly daily dose of ECB ineptitude, 2016 saw many of the most popular posts being about actual, real life cricket.  The tours of Bangladesh and India towards the end of the year in particular gained a lot of attention, and probably gave rise to the inside joke that this is the Bad News Blog, where readership rises in proportion to England’s cricketing woes.  It’s not quite true, the reality is that Test cricket is what gets the attention, whether England win or lose.  That we prefer watching and writing about Test cricket suggests there may be a hint of self-fulfilling prophecy about it, but it does mirror the newspapers, who also see traffic drop off for the more disposable versions of the game.  This of course makes it thoroughly intriguing how T20 in particular is seen as the future, when attention is so limited, at least in the written media.  This place isn’t representative of anything at all of course, but when it’s widespread across all media, it becomes notable.  The interest is unquestionably there of course, but it’s shallow.

Outside of the cricket itself, by far the most popular (in the strictest sense of numbers that is – it was deeply unpopular with many of the targets) post was the collective effort that was the Outside Cricket(er) List, a riposte to the gloriously pompous Power List published by The Cricketer Magazine, the one where its editor (Simon Hughes, just in case you’ve forgotten) decided to include himself – presumably 39th place was as high as he dared and well ahead of the editor of Wisden, for example.  Our own list probably caused more internal discussion than anything else we’ve ever done, mostly involving debates as to whether any of the entries were too nasty.  A few probably were, though in at least one case the response by the victim magnificently made a debatable hatchet job turn out to be nail on head.  Mind you, it was a few days later that someone asked why we’d left out Piers Morgan, followed by the horrified realisation that we really had somehow forgotten the most obvious subject of all.  He may consider that particularly wounding.

It’s long been considered that county cricket is death in terms of attracting attention, but Sean’s post  about the climax to the season, player availability and, that old favourite, the ECB shooting themselves in the foot provoked plenty of comment.  Perhaps there is life in the old dog beyond the Guardian county clique blog.

2017 of course was all about the Ashes, and the spike in hits across that period reflected the way that however hard the cricketing authorities try to undermine the game, certain things still resonate with anyone who loves the game of cricket.  That the series turned out to be once again a mess from an England perspective didn’t alter that, except that both posts and comments tended to range from furious, via despair to withering contempt.  Still, there was always l’affaire Stokes to keep everyone entertained, as writers and commenters worked out the best ways of talking about a subject that couldn’t be talked about.  Some of the Tangled Web didn’t age terribly well, but that’s blogging, and anyone who wants to go back over the output of the last three years and point out where we got it completely wrong is more than welcome to do so.  No need to tell us though – life’s too short.

Alastair Cook is a perennial favourite on here – partly because there’s just so much to say about him (and often very positive, contrary to popular belief), but the day he stood down as England captain (what, you didn’t realise?) was unquestionably a big one, not least because of the length of time he’d held the job.  I’ve always felt Dmitri’s assessment of him that day was one of the best things he’s written, weaving a tale of a flawed captain propped up by an adoring media who wouldn’t brook any criticism of the Chosen One.  The prescience of that piece was highlighted perfectly by the astoundingly over the top media response to what certainly was a fine innings in Melbourne, just not a visitation from the Almighty.

Last year also saw the completion of the Gang of Four (presumably, execution isn’t on the cards for this one) with Danny joining up and posting his analysis of All Stars Cricket, the latest wheeze from the ECB that pays lip service to grassroots cricket and generates lots of positive headlines when announcing it, before anyone has time to really start looking at it properly.

Of course, it’s not just been the four of us, the guest posts have been without exception outstanding – in one instance a journalist got in touch to expressly mention how good it was (they don’t do that for me, damn them) and how well researched.  Furthermore, the comments are always what makes a place like this worthwhile, whether agreeing or disagreeing, praising or hostile.  Like any community, it’s only ever as good as those who make it up, and from a personal perspective, it’s involved meeting a lot of terrific people, and in the case of a few, firm friendships have been forged. I did think about individually thanking everyone who has posted a comment on here, but then I realised how long it would take, blanched and bailed out. Sorry.

We’re three years old, we intend to carry on.  There’ll be hiatuses no doubt, and nothing ever stays quite the same.  We’re never going to monetise it, we’re never going to accept “sponsorship” from a betting company.  We (and I mean all of us, readers, writers, commenters) do it for the love of the game and the burning anger at how it’s being systematically wrecked by those who care for filthy lucre rather than the sport.

Onwards and upwards, and if you can, forgive this one piece of chronic navel-gazing.  So happy birthday to us – all of us.  To answer Dmitri from February 6th 2015, it’s gone pretty well.

Oh one last thing – on the million views claim.  We’re actually 30,000 short.  But as exaggeration goes, we’re not remotely close to newspaper levels.  And it won’t get us a profile in the Cricket Paper either.

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Infamy

In an act of self-indulgence, I am commenting on the mention of this blog in Wisden. I have a copy of the article, from the editor himself, and I’ll have to say it’s an interesting take on the blog.

One topic dominated the agenda of the English cricket media in 2014.
England’s brutal and irrevocable decision to dispense with Kevin Pietersen, and its deeply unsatisfactory aftermath, prompted serious attention from some of the blogosphere’s best writers. In terms of quantity and passion, Dmitri Old at cricketbydmitri.wordpress.com stood out.

Old wrote thousands upon thousands of words, mostly excoriating the
ECB. While at times the effect was like being repeatedly hit over the head with one of Pietersen’s bats, his blog acted as a valuable conduit for deep resentment at the ECB’s administration of English cricket. This was exemplified by their reference in a press release to people “outside cricket”, intended as a response to one of Piers Morgan’s many incursions into the saga – but which was latched on to by Old as evidence of the board’s lack of empathy with the fans.

First up, thanks to Brian Carpenter for including me in his review. It is interesting to see how your blog is viewed by those outside my usual comment client base. I actually grinned when I read the bit about “repeatedly hit over the head”, but at the time when this blogger was that mad about things, there was always gold in them there hills in which we could pick apart the arguments. I could repeat and repeat, because the press and the ECB repeatedly gave us the ammunition.

I am, by my nature, quite a modest person. I really find praise and that sort of thing awkward. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I don’t claim credit often. But I do think this blog (along with TFT of course) has done the most to put “outside cricket” front and centre over the last year. We’ve never let it go, even if it means I’m likened to a bludgeon. Repetition hammers home the message. I don’t apologise for it. I don’t think Brian means me to either, but there are a number who tell me to let it lie. Never. Not until I get the sense that the authorities do anything more than pay lip service to what this small, noisy band of cricket tragics say. This sport does not need to become more exclusive, more insular, more arrogant – it needs, to use their bloody horrible phrase, to reconnect with the public.

However, Old didn’t take aim merely at those in authority: he also trained his sights on the traditional press, some of whom he viewed as Establishment stooges. In one or two cases, he might have had a point. But the press coverage reflected, in part, the vulnerabilities of cricket journalists, who have a symbiotic relationship with administrators and players: the administrators grant access to the players, who provide interviews and quotes. Most bloggers have no such privileges, yet this very freedom from professional dependence means they can shoot from the hip.

This is a really interesting debating point, in my eyes. Let’s go back to when KP got dropped. There is a substantial section of the England fan base that said “good”. Fair enough. I have always said they are entitled to their opinion and I’d never want to shut that down. That part of the fan base, shall we say, was more than adequately represented in the journalist corps. We pick on Paul Newman a lot here, but he’d got the inside track, by hook or by leak, and there appeared glee in reporting the end of his career. The other big beasts, such as Pringle and Selvey, and I’d say Etheridge too, had nailed their colours to the mast.

Those of us who saw a batsman top of the run charts for his team, albeit, we know, not a stellar record, being the main man to pay the price as unfair, and in my case as a fan, antagonistic, weren’t the beneficiaries of much supportive press. KP split opinions. He still does. The main conclusions to be drawn, from totally outside, was that the press had either personal grudges they weren’t prepared to go into, or they were too close to members of the establishment. Selvey was possibly the worst case, with his piece supporting Downton on his appointment, his Cricketer love letter to Andy Flower, and then his praising of Moores. It’s easy to draw the conclusion we have.

Now, I will admit, that at some times I might have gone a bit wild. But as I’ve explained to the Editor, I come from the background of a football club’s message board. Nuance and reason didn’t work. They just didn’t. You needed to put your argument forcefully. If that’s shooting from the hip. then I’ll agree.

The main gripe, as Brian would know (and he’s limited to space) was our frustration with the journalists was the TTT – Tyers Twitter Tendency – which is “we know more than you, trust us, it was the right decision”. That intimated that there was something, but the proles couldn’t know. I still don’t. Innuendo, unattributable briefing and “I’m not going to comment” isn’t going to cut it in this day and age. And yes, I went on and on and on. I still do. But it is interesting to read these views.

Where Old sometimes fell short was in failing to recognise that journalists find themselves in a different position; in any case, the press as a whole weren’t quite the Establishment mouthpieces he felt them to be. But his obsessive refusal to let sleeping dogs lie – together with an urgent, punchy delivery and a nice line in song-lyric titles – was the most distinctive aspect of the blogosphere in 2014, even if it ultimately prompted the feeling that, at some point, he would need to let go. And in February 2015, he appeared to do just that, taking his blog down, his point eloquently made.

That is very kind of Brian, and while I disagree a bit (and I see the Establishment / Press relationship a little differently now to what I did – amazing what speaking to people does) it’s fair comment. I do listen to these things, and I recognise my style is not for all. I am clearing out the spare room at the moment and came across my old school reports. For English language (and my old English teacher follows me on Twitter) I was accused of all sorts of stylistic abominations. My history teacher called my writing style brutal. Maybe I’ve always been a blogger, and my “florid prose” isn’t to all tastes. But it gets the message across.

There is no secret that I was a nobody who no-one talked to 15 months ago, and now I’m a nobody that speaks to lots more people. I don’t over-estimate any influence I have, but I do know this blog resonates, because mainly the posts are backed up by salient, well honed arguments from many similarly angry commenters. It’s a bit raucous, very angry, and yes, we get things wrong. But it has made it’s mark.

I also see this blog as an extension of How Did We Lose In Adelaide (and Brian wasn’t to know that a new blog had taken its place) so excuse me if there is any confusion over which blog is which!

The conclusion to the article on the relationship between press and blogger is also worth a read, but I think that’s for another day. But it is an important discussion that I think I have a different view on.

My thanks to Lawrence Booth for allowing me to “fisk” the article. My thanks to Brian Carpenter for the review of this and other blogs, and my thanks to all who have supported, and all who hate what we say. It keeps the petrol flowing into the engine.

PS – Do you miss the song-titles?

Perspective

It’s been an interesting 36 hours, but one that has a silver lining.

No cricket for a day brought the silly squad out, and now everyone’s had their say, most notably about Pietersen, and less about the folly of Downton and the first plays of Colin Graves.

The South Africans did for Ireland in a big way, and the full test nation lobby has a little string to its bow.

There’s been the John Etheridge stuff which I’ve probably talked about too much. But it’s been revelatory.

Then there’s been another of our favourtie sponsored interviews, and Stuart Broad does little to disprove “the book” and its little take on our fading star.

But we don’t have perspective, we have guesswork, we have sneering superiority, we have arrogance. Oh well. Let’s move on. (oh dear, I sounded just like them).

Two games tonight, game threads to follow. I think we can say, without fear or favour, judging by hit rates and visitor numbers, that after a month re-establishing myself, the blog is back.