Anatomy Of A Hoax

My name is Danny Frankland, and I am responsible for a surprisingly widespread hoax on cricket Twitter (and by now probably several other social media platforms as well). To be precise, I created this image:

It’s the fourth fake statement from the ECB which I have posted on the @OutsideCricket twitter account, but the only one which got out of hand in this way. This is a big reason why the reaction surprised me, as I thought fewer people would be fooled since I’d already pulled the same ‘trick’ three times before. I am The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and yet the villagers appear to keep falling for the same gag. That’s not how I remember the story…

The first fake statement I wrote was in April, after Hampshire’s Lewis McManus managed to dismiss Leicestershire’s Hassan Azad by stumping despite not having the ball in his glove at the time. A clear breach of the ‘Spirit Of Cricket’, and similar to several incidents which have led to lengthy suspensions. On the other hand, Hampshire are one of the counties routinely favoured by the ECB and a cynic such as myself might therefore expect a slap on the wrist. (This turned out to be the case, with a mere three disciplinary points applied to McManus.)

I had recently seen an ECB statement posted on Twitter and noticed that it had a plain background and simple design which would make it child’s play to edit, even with my limited graphic design abilities. I fired up GIMP (Which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and is entirely unrelated to any sexual fetishes) and got to work creating this:

The intent was to satirise the ECB’s expected leniency towards Hampshire by referencing three times where they acted entirely without mercy: The deduction of 24 County Championship points from Somerset for a ‘poor’ pitch, the relegation of Durham due to the county’s financial problems, and the continued unofficial international suspension of Alex Hales after he used recreational drugs in 2019. Clearly the idea that the ECB would punish two teams and a player who were not in any way involved in the fake stumping incident is preposterous and most readers saw it as a joke but it did seem to fool a few people, at least briefly. The official-looking image, the formal wording, plus perhaps not applying their full attention meant that some of our followers missed the joke. The highlight of this was when BBC Radio Solent’s commentator Kevan James started reading it out live on air, only to realise his mistake once he reached the part about Alex Hales.

Most of the reactions to my tweet were positive, enjoying the gag, laughing at those who admitted being tricked, and broadly agreeing with the implication that the ECB doesn’t necessarily treat all teams or players equally. Fun was had by all, and it barely took fifteen minutes to mock up a convincing statement, so obviously I was going do it again. The opportunity came a couple of weeks later when twelve European football clubs decided to try and form their own European Super League. Tweets identifying similarities between the marketing of this nascent competition to the ECB’s The Hundred were flooding my timeline and so I figured, “Surely there’s no better way to explain this than saying that the ECB were behind the whole thing?”

Whilst it was perhaps slightly less improbable than my first effort, I thought the very idea that anyone (much less the ultra-wealthy football clubs behind the ESL) would employ the ECB for their marketing expertise is entirely beyond belief. Nevertheless, this one seemed to catch a few more of our followers out. Perhaps their anger at the ECB or ESL blinded them to the ridiculousness of the situation, or the stunning tone-deafness of the wording. I was particularly pleased with the sentence, “It is no exaggeration to say that the profile of the 12 clubs in terms of social media mentions has never been higher than they are right now, thanks largely to the ECB marketing team.” It really tickled me.

A week after this, the ECB and PCA released a joint statement announcing that they would be taking part in a sports-wide social media boycott in order to protest the lack of consequences for people who post racist and sexist abuse on social media, and in particular those who target sports journalists and players.

This piqued my interest in a couple of ways. First, a joint statement from the ECB and PCA is where this blog got its name. Through clumsy wording, it seemed to suggest that those “outside cricket” (i.e. Anyone who isn’t a professional cricketer, coach or journalist) should not be allowed to criticise the ECB, the England team, nor any of its players or staff. Anything the two organisations do together is going to get my attention. The second, more personal reason is that I absolutely abhor hypocrisy.

Both the ECB and the PCA have a long track record on talking a good game on combatting racism or promoting women’s cricket, often using high-profile tactics like this boycott or flashy videos to promote themselves as champions of equality. Unfortunately, this public facade has no substance to it at all. Every time a racist incident occurs, their reaction is always the same: Hide it, minimise it, (if absolutely necessary) punish the perpetrators incredibly leniently, and then move on with no lasting repercussions for anyone but the people who reported it.

That the ECB would demand social media companies ban racial abusers for life whilst they actually employ at least two such people (The head and assistant coaches for Northern Superchargers’ men’s team) is well beyond the threshold of hypocrisy I can countenance. Another example, and the one I chose to use in my fake statement, is that of England and Somerset bowler Craig Overton.

This one appeared to only fool one of our followers, and I was honestly surprised it managed even that. Both the wording and content were wildly out of character with the ECB. No sports governing body in the world would use the phrase “In hindsight, that looks bad.” in a press release, for example. My intent was less to mimic the real statement and more to highlight the 2014 incident. Because it occurred two years before his England debut, most casual observers haven’t heard about it at all. Overton faced almost no consequences for his actions, with him recieving the same penalty for racial abuse (three disciplinary points) that Ryan Ten Doeschate did for disagreeing with an umpire’s decision. Not only that, he’s gone on to play five games for England and is being touted for a recall this summer.

Which brings us to the fourth statement.

Not unlike the first two statements I produced, I intended to satirise the ECB. This time, my target was their greed and lack of principles. They have a long track record of valuing money over the concerns of cricket fans, with the Sky TV deals being the most obvious example. When it was reported that the BCCI wanted to reschedule the fifth Test to make room for the IPL to resume, Sean messaged me to say that this would be a great time for me to do another of my “fake ECB releases”. It takes just a few minutes to churn one out, so I duly obliged.

The first thing I noticed about the reaction was that a lot more were falling for it. I hadn’t expected that. It was the fourth one I had done, and so I thought most of our followers would realise that it was almost a running gag by this point. In particular, people seemed to instantly see through the previous efforts and get the joke or message behind it. This time, many obviously believed that the ECB would screw over English cricket supporters in exchange for the BCCI’s money and support.

Whilst I thought every single element of the statement was ridiculous and absurd, to the point that it would mark it as a clear knock-off, a significant portion of those who read it seemed to think it was genuine. I don’t think the ECB would move a Test match to October, if only because that would presumably anger Sky Sports. I would very much hope that not refunding your customers when you unilaterally change the dates would be illegal in England. Even I, with my very low opinion of the ECB’s general competence, don’t believe that the ECB would trade away part of their valuable summer merely for an agreement to “reconsider” Indian players participating in The Hundred. The response quietened down after a couple of hours with several replies making clear that it was a joke, and that was the end of that.

Except it wasn’t. Whilst it was relatively docile on the @OutsideCricket Twitter account, it was gaining momentum elsewhere. The impetus appears to be users taking the image and re-uploading it themselves, rather than retweeting the original. This had two key ramifications: People seeing the image for the first time wouldn’t know where the image originally came from (i.e. Not from the ECB), and they wouldn’t see the replies underneath which (correctly) called it out as a fake.

It’s hard to track exactly the route the image took since Twitter doesn’t allow you to search for an image, plus several people deleted their tweets once they realised they’d been had, but some high-profile names posted it: Dan Whiting, ‘Sir Fred Boycott’ and Peter Casterton, amongst many others. As well as borrowing credibility from the people who reproduced the image, it seems that someone is more likely to think it is genuine if it pops up multiple times on social media rather than just coming from a single (arguably disreputable) source.

The statement continued circulating, to the point that Wisden Monthly saw fit to post an article on it. We found this hilarious on several levels. It’s such a non-story, I’m amazed a (presumably) paid journalist took the time to write about it, so it must have beeen a very slow news day. We were all amused by the assertion that I am the person “who runs Outside Cricket”. That would technically be Chris (aka thelegglance), although the organisational structure of BeingOutsideCricket is essentially non-existant. Everyone basically does what they want. I was less amused by the suggestion that my fake statement was “fraught with inconsistencies in text and context”, although I did knock it up in about ten minutes so that is probably fair enough.

Even now, I can’t believe people were taken in by such an obvious fake (at least to me). For one thing, it’s made it clear to me that many people have a significantly lower opinion of the ECB than myself. I honestly don’t believe the ECB would even consider the terms I put in the press release, although maybe I’m wrong to think that. It also showed how little fact-checking some people actually do, even with news which they say is “unbelievable”. If a deal between the ECB and BCCI had been agreed, particularly one with such massive consequences for both countries, it would be the top news story in both the Indian and English cricket media. Every cricket website, every cricket magazine, every blue-ticked cricket journalist and player would be talking about nothing else. It wouldn’t just be a single image posted from a handful of Twitter accounts.

I hope that those who were fooled, either momentarily or for a little longer, learn from their experience and become more questioning of news in the future. Even supposedly reliable sources of information, such as professional journalists or the ECB, often put out misleading or incorrect statements. It honestly feels like around half of the posts I have published on this website, excluding match reports, are on that very topic. Many journalists are in fact stenographers, people who will simply copy what others tell them without engaging in any critical thought. It might be due to deadline pressure, or a desire to maintain access, or plain stupidity which causes it. Regardless, I would love it if people were more cynical about what they read.

As I have no doubt caused several people at the ECB at least some mild discomfort with my little joke, it only seems fair to give them the final word:

Wealth of Nations

Amid the early stages of the county cricket season, and away from the bizarre debate about Alastair Cook’s choice of helmet in which to bat, the IPL continues.  It is of course hidden away on Sky, as is pretty much all cricket bar the odd tournament on BT Sport, but it is unquestionably the daddy of all T20 domestic tournaments.  As such it attracts the very best players, commands the highest fees and is alone in genuinely causing issues around international tours in terms of availability of players – specifically in England, but also in the Caribbean to some extent.

It is a riot of colour, noise, explosive action and comprises a definite segment of the cricket watcher’s bucket list of events to attend.

So why is it that I just can’t get into it?

Now, there needs to be some disclosure here – I am certainly one of the more old fashioned of cricket fans in that for me Test matches are the pinnacle of the game, which is why there have been so many blogs I’ve done expressing concern and fear for the direction that particular format is heading in, but I’ve always been a cricket tragic, able to stand and watch a club game quite happily, let alone higher levels of the sport.  Equally, I rather like T20 cricket; for all the organisational issues, the treatment of the Associate nations and so forth, the recent World T20 was thoroughly enjoyable to witness.  Test fan or not, the shortest format has plenty to offer a cricket supporter.  It may be disposable, it my not live long in the memory except in exceptional circumstances (Carlos Brathwaite, take a bow), indeed in culinary terms T20 generally has all the appeal of a McDonald’s Meal Deal – you look forward to it, devour it as fast as possible and then feel both sick and guilty in the immediate aftermath.  But you still go back for another a month or two later.  Anyone admitting to more frequency on this needs to have a word with themselves.

Thus it certainly isn’t some kind of inherent disdain for the format, indeed the English domestic T20 tournament is watchable, as the crowds going to it can attest.  Here is not the place to analyse how it could be improved,  or the thorny question of whether city franchise cricket would be a step forward or the onset of the apocalypse, suffice to say it’s part of the season and as such receives attention.

So it could just be parochialism perhaps?  Except that the Big Bash is not too bad, and given that the timezones involved aren’t always terribly friendly to the UK watcher, it still gets me tuning in more than perhaps I expect, especially at the weekend.

OK so, it’s not purely domestic interest.  In fact, the Caribbean Premier League is quite good fun to watch as well, especially given that the scheduling of it means that evening channel hopping can be rewarded with that joyous “oh there’s cricket on” feeling when you come across it.  The ultimate expression of that incidentally is during the New Zealand season, where 9pm means flicking over and these days marvelling at their apparent internal competition to build the most beautiful grounds possible.

But the IPL is by far the biggest and most important of any of these competitions, the one where even if you are being entirely parochial, you can watch the English players and will them to succeed (unless it’s Kevin Pietersen of course, in which case certain sections of the British media and public will be sticking pins into a doll throughout – peculiar, but not surprising).  English players who do go learn a lot, and bring it back into the domestic game – a player in the recent past may have advocated just that – and if you succeed in IPL then you’re on the fast track to both the international level, and indeed all the other T20 tournaments around the world.  It matters, especially to players who need to earn a living.

Of course, franchise cricket struggles to build any kind of affiliation for the teams, despite the weaknesses of county cricket, Premier League football or similar structures, they do at least have the advantage that longevity has lent them; if you’re from a specific county for example, chances are that you have an interest in their progress.  The same does apply to geographically based franchises too, but with a much higher prevalence of shifting around, the emotional bond is going to be more fragile, as might be deemed the case in US sports.  It is still there of course, but for overseas viewers it’s much harder to build in the first place, which makes the support of Premier League football teams from the other side of the world a slightly curious phenomenon.  In that instance, at least they aren’t likely to up sticks to a different city, MK Dons notwithstanding.

Yet active support of a specific side isn’t remotely a requirement to either enjoy a competition or pay close attention to it.  The IPL has everything you could want in a tournament even if you don’t care in the slightest who wins – in that sense it’s the purest of sports enjoyment, in that it’s for its own sake. Certainly it’s highly popular and not just in India.  Friends of mine make a point of watching it, and talk about it on a fairly frequent basis – usually in terms of “Did you see…..” to which the answer is invariably “No”.

Now, this is not to say that the IPL is specifically ignored for those reasons, I couldn’t give a stuff who wins the Big Bash either, and actually I’m not even that fussed who wins the domestic T20 Blast (ugh, what is it with these names?  Marketing departments all too often belong in Dante’s lowest circle of hell) either.  My affiliation to county cricket is, and always has been extremely weak, partly because of mixed county heritage, partly because of a view that the county structure is inherently parasitical both from above and below.  No matter, my opinions don’t coincide with all that many people.

Perhaps above all it is the sheer naked commercialism on display that is the problem.  Sporting events over the last 20 years in particular have become excuses for the already wealthy to become even more wealthy, mostly at the expense of the ordinary fan. It is not sport for the sake of it, it is an excuse to make money.  Certainly the Premier League football has become the plaything of billionaires to the point that mere multi-millionaires struggle to compete on a regular basis, but the history and heritage of the game does lend a degree of respectability to the competition, even if that isn’t really what they deserve, and which they may well lose in years to come.  But the IPL is different in that it was conceived specifically and solely as a means of generating profit and income.  The sport is entirely secondary to that, in fact it’s nothing more than a crutch on which to balance the entire edifice.  I love sport, I adore competition.  I can rationalise and accept the rampant commercialism when it’s buried within the sporting context, no matter how much it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.  But when the rampant commercialism is the sole purpose for it, that’s harder to do.  The Big Bash is actually no different, except in scale and degree. That scale and degree is probably the only thing that elevates it to paying any kind of attention.

And therein lies the specific problem.  The IPL is the epitome of the theft of sport by vested interests in order to enrich themselves.  The amateurish ineptitude of the ECB has inadvertently lent a slight degree of charm to the English T20 game, one that organisation would walk over hot coals to get rid of.  The Big Bash is simply a lesser IPL and has a degree of attraction more or less solely on that basis – although at least Cricket Australia plough back some of the revenues into the game for the sake of the game.

The IPL takes it to the point where the sport is not just secondary, not just incidental, but where it actually doesn’t matter at all.  It is no more than a fig leaf, nothing else but an abrogation of the central tenet that the sport is in itself the point. And when the sport has no purpose as sport, then there’s no love in it.  All sports need that love of the game.

I have tried, and I have failed.  I’ve watched bits, I’ve seen players do what they can do so brilliantly, and if others can take enjoyment from it, then may it profit them.  But if I cannot care about the game, then I cannot care about the competition. For those that do – enjoy.

 

 

 

The Open Thread 2 – You Take First Strike

The first open thread seemed to work well, so let’s go for it in week 2 of the County Championship and the second week of fixtures in the IPL.

First up, the matches….

County Championship – Division 1

Lancashire v Nottinghamshire

Middlesex v Warwickshire

Yorkshire v Hampshire

County Championhship – Division 2

Glamorgan v Leicestershire

Gloucestershire v Derbyshire

Sussex v Essex

and in the IPL

IPL – 16 April – 22 April

16 – Sunrisers v Kolkata

16 – Mumbai v Gujarat

17 – Kings XI v Pune

17 – Bangalore v Delhi

18 – Sunrisers v Mumbai

19 – Kings XI v Kolkata

20 – Mumbai v Bangalore

21 – Gujarat v Sunrisers

22 – Pune v Bangalore

The last thread went in many directions, and not many referring to the cricket. That’s fine. We are well catered for in terms of county blogs and such like. But still, if there’s something on your mind, then let’s have it here.

I’ve been out of commission all day today, having had to go to Germany for work, but was amazed at some of the stuff I was reading. Did someone really say Kumar Sangakkara struggles with English? Really?

You do have to wonder.

I’ve also got a piece on the Wisden Almanack to put up (it’s missed the boat a little, but still, let’s do it) but I’ll do that later tomorrow after this thread takes hold.

All the best.

Opening Up 1 – The Open Thread

When I asked for some input in to further things we could do on the blog during the non-England periods, or when finding something to say proves difficult, one of the ideas that I quite liked was the “Open Thread”. A post where you can post anything on cricket in the comments.

I don’t want this to be a lazy “here’s an open thread so do your thing” type affair. I’ll tie it, if it proves successful to a week’s fixtures, and so given the start of the County Championship on Sunday and the IPL on Saturday, this seems an ideal time to give it a go.

County Championship – Division One

Durham v Somerset

Hampshire v Warwickshire

Nottinghamshire v Surrey

County Championship – Division Two

Essex v Gloucestershire

Northants v Sussex

Worcestershire v Kent

Then there is the IPL and the competition kicks off on Saturday with KP’s Pune team in action against Jos’s Mumbai (if he gets a game!)

IPL –

9/4 – Mumbai v Pune

10/4 – Kolkata v Delhi

11/4 – Kings XI v Gujarat

12/4 – Bangalore v Sunrisers

13/4 – Kolkata v Mumbai

14/4 – Gujarat v Pune

15/4 – Delhi v Kings XI

Also, feel free to comment on anything else unrelated to our posts. It’s all in your hands whether this works or not!

On other matters, I will have a lot of spare time at the end of May/beginning of June so will look to update The Glossary. Any suggestion of definitions will be welcome. Where’s Phil A when I need him?