Tell Me To Relax, I Just Stare – Alas Smith and Roy

I have had a post on my mind for a while, and it’s never really presented an example by which to convey it accurately, (and having written the piece now, I’m still not sure I did – but stick with it). There’s a lot of stuff, random cricket stuff, that floats in the flotsam and jetsam that is now my brain. But this one has stuck with me. I have always hated the kneejerk reaction of fans – the sort that has one bad run from its football team and the manager has to go. Sport has always had winners, but for it to have winners, someone has to lose. Every time I criticise, I comment, I bemoan my team’s fortunes, am I not the same as those people. Yes, those people. As if I am not one of those people.

On my former football message board dalliances, I was always the one preaching caution and patience, of not wanting to sack the manager just as he was sacked, of knowing our place in the football firmament, at a time when there was still hope, just about, in the game. I wasn’t the impatient one with England football teams. I thought the 90s cricket team, the legendary bad years for England supposedly, mainly saw the team picked on merit, and players given opportunities, other than when Illingworth bought some half-baked, old fashioned out of date thinking to the position. I was passionate about sport, but didn’t get massively angry about it. I would not even contemplate airing opinions outside of a small cadre of like-minded supporters. and found the conflict I did encounter on that message board as something bloody scary. I didn’t think I was one of “those people”.

The stigma of being associated with kneejerk and loud opinions is that it is expected of you, and you need to play to the crowd. What’s your schtick if you aren’t coming in with some “hot take” explained at high pitch and with little to back it up? Why is my opinion the right one, and why is the man or woman being paid to make decisions always wrong, in my eyes? In the eyes of the one reacting. You don’t have the font of all wisdom, I don’t.

And you aren’t allowed to forget it. You aren’t inside cricket, so you can’t know. You don’t know the finances of the football club and how the manager works with the players he’s lumbered with, so how can you comment? What do you know? Who do YOU think you are? I genuinely thought about it like that every day of How Did We Lose In Adelaide’s existence (for those new here, or who don’t know, that was my previous blog on cricket, and was the personification of Mr Angry!). Why should I be angry? What do I know that others don’t?

This is a long intro into one selection this summer that should expose the myth that we don’t have a clue, while those highly paid experts are the font of all knowledge. Just like us, the experts are winging it, on the back of received wisdom, strategic leaks, a bit of cricket knowledge, and being a bit inside cricket. That myth was exposed in the selection of Jason Roy as a test match opener.

Jason Roy as a test opener was always a “magic beans” selection. Anyone with eyes knew he had technical difficulties against the moving ball, a decent issue with his technique and no track record of playing long innings in first class cricket. What was going to be inevitable was  “experts” citing two cases. The first would be David Warner, who came into test cricket on the back of limited first class experience, and if, I recall correctly, played a T20 for Australia before he’d played for NSW. The second would be Virender Sehwag, a dashing opener, who, when conditions suited, could flay attacks to all part. These two, of course, came into test cricket on flat, batting friendly playing surfaces and reasonably benign conditions. They are also freaks. Other limited over kings like Chris Gayle or Sanath Jayasuriya were playing the long form of the game at the same time as their white ball pomp. It would be disappointing if a selection was made purely on the comparison of the two recent examples. You’d expect people paid to be pundits to just do more than that.

If Jason Roy wants a template on which to base his Test match career, he should look to his opposite number in England’s Ashes opponents this summer – David Warner.

Like Roy, Warner went from T20 cricket straight into the Test game and has made a stunning success of it – precisely because he adapted his game to the longer format. Watch Warner in a Test match now, and he doesn’t just try and whack everything. Instead, he takes his time, assesses conditions and plays the ball on its merits. Yes, he is still an attacking player, but that attitude is tempered by common sense.

Virender Sehwag was the same for India, taking the positive mindset which had served him so well in one-dayers into the Test…

Oh well. What do you expect? I’ll give you two guesses who wrote this. No analysis of Roy’s technique, no acknowledgement that when the ball moved around in the Champions Trophy, and indeed the Final, he looked lost. I love Jason Roy in one day cricket, and when he gets in on flat decks in the county championship. I really, really wanted Jason Roy to be a success, but I knew he wouldn’t be. All evidence pointed to him not being one. What possesses experts to write and speak this nonsense?

This neatly segues into the cracking piece by Simon Kuper on Ed Smith last week. There are many excerpts we could take from it. Let’s leave aside acknowledging Ed Smith’s intelligence, his confidence in himself, and his wide-ranging sources of inspiration. Let’s look at these statements in the context of selecting Jason Roy.

Anyway, he has never claimed to have the answers to selecting a winning team. All he tries to do is think hard about questions that torment the growing number of modernising decision makers in all sports. How do you select, manage and drop people? How and when to use the new mountains of data? How to build team spirit? Most basically, how to improve performance?

 

All this went out of the window in selecting Jason Roy. This was the ultimate “gut feel” and “ignore your eyes” and “analytics” selection. Now this is Kuper’s commentary on the interview, not Smith’s view, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, eh?

Smith says: “If you ask, ‘What is selection?’ What are the moments when your judgment diverges from what would have happened anyway? That’s what selection is.” The temptation for a clever person taking a new job is to assume that all past conventional beliefs in the field were mistaken. Dominic Cummings, adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, embodies this approach. Smith avoids it. He quotes his friend Howard Marks (the American investor, not the late Welsh drugs smuggler): “Just because most people think it’s a bad idea to stand in front of a bus and you’re a contrarian thinker, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stand in front of a bus.” Smith adds: “If you rate yourself as someone prepared to challenge conventional wisdom, you also should know the moments when conventional wisdom is right.”

The truly interesting part about this is that who were the “most people” in the Jason Roy example? Was it the voices he was hearing from inside the camp, and from key pundits and talking heads that we’d tried “traditional” openers with no success, so we should try more attacking ones (and forget about Alex Hales and his trials). Was he the bus, or the individual standing in its way? Those who really thought about it, people like us, and took the evidence we’d seen, the way he played, the “when he comes off” feast or famine, the utter talent and bravado at ODI level he has shown no signs of reining in with success even if he could, and thought “this ain’t going to work”. Especially against a really top bowling line up the Australians possess.

Smith doesn’t mention the deeper problem: England’s squad isn’t prodigiously talented. To solve the puzzle of beating India last summer, England picked decent bowlers who could bat well enough to score runs at number seven, eight or nine. Smith says: “Lower-order runs made the difference. The solution didn’t derive from statistics. It derived from problem-solving. It was a resources question: what do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them?” Then there’s team spirit. Smith, who is dismissive of motivational buzz­words, prefers to sit in the stands watching teammates interact. “A bit pretentious, but: ‘Trust the tale, never the teller’ — DH Lawrence. The truth is in the game.

Again, this countermands any thinking behind selecting Jason Roy. What do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them. Let’s select a batsman, who has rarely, if ever, opened in first class cricket, who has a glaring technical issue against the moving ball and a quite ineffective defensive technique going hard at the ball, who will also just try to hit out of major corners, and hope he’s Marcus Trescothick, or heaven above, Sehwag or Warner (keep quiet now). Trust the tale, never the teller. What tale did Ed Smith trust? Or, heaven above, is he just bluffing?

Yet it wasn’t enough. Arguably Smith & Co made selectorial errors, such as picking Jason Roy as an opening batsman.

Kuper leaves this little nugget to the end, and Smith does not, or was not asked, to comment.

Throughout this summer I’ve bemoaned the team we’ve had. In the middle of the piece Smith points to the structure of the Australian team of the early 2000s – six batsmen, one wicketkeeper-batsman, three seamers, one spin bowler. He then says selection then became a rank order. Was the fourth best middle-order batsman a better selection than the next cab on the rank. Was the third best seamer better than who could come in – as Lee did for, say Bichel or Kasprowicz. Here Smith gives his ideas as being getting the best players and making it work. It’s a theory, but it isn’t a particularly new one – akin to the “why don’t we pick all the great Liverpool players qualified for England in the 1980s and fill in with out other top talent.” It isn’t particularly innovative, it’s just other received wisdom, but because you wear a cravat or something. As if it damn well matters/:

This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.

There’s a great interview with Roy Keane on youtube, when he goes through how players bad mouthed him when he was Irish assistant manager. Roy Keane did not sugarcoat his contempt at all for them. He called one a “bluffer”. Great in the media, a great talker. While Keane is not without blemish, I listen to him. He comes across as someone who doesn’t sugarcoat his views, whether you like them or not. When it comes down to it, and I’ve only time to give a couple of examples, most of those out there as pundits are “bluffers”. They know as much as we do. They try to persuade you we don’t know. I’ve taken a ton of words to say your view is every bit as worthy as Michael Vaughan, who is the ultimate bluffer (and it’s his quote about Jason Roy above), and the rest. So while I’ll never lay claim to knowing the game, or knowing what it’s like to face 90 mph bowling, but knowing what it’s like outside my technical comfort zone, I won’t bluff. I’ll give my opinion, honestly held. And so should you.

I thought I’d offer a brief personal comment on the Sun and Ben Stokes. The piece today, which I know the contents of but not read, has no merit. It has no shame. It has no thought of consequence. It is not in the public interest. It is very noticeable that in Ben Stokes’ book, I don’t believe it is mentioned (if it mentions his mum being married before, I can’t recall – I read it a while back). It is an extremely horrific thing, and I can’t for the life of me understand what possessed anyone to think this was a piece that should be published. When I think of the stick given to me by journos, and yet there is a large silence by those same people on this to their colleagues, it makes me sad. I’m not comparing myself in any way to Ben Stokes’ situation – before I get some clown who thinks I am – but at reactions.  It’s a complex argument, the Sun isn’t the only scumbag paper out there, but it only really has one rival for the top of that podium, but I hope that there’s an apology and a massive donation to a charity of Stokes’ choice. I shake my head at humanity, and the lack of it. I really do. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Up to others whether they think this is enough.

 

A Hornet’s Nest

Over at our friends at the Full Toss, a proper debate has been going on – it started initially on Twitter, with Tregaskis raising a point, and snowballed from there.  The whole thing can be read through Maxie’s post on TFT, and I’m not going to repeat it here, so the link is as follows:

http://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/the-return-of-caesars-wife/

Here’s the thing.  I like Maxie.  I like his writing, and I like him personally.  I’ve had a couple of good nights out with him, and enjoyed his company thoroughly.  Which is why I know that saying I disagree with his premise is not going to be met with shock and horror, but more “Oh really, why?”   Because if there’s one thing I do know about him, it’s that he’s exceptionally comfortable with the idea people hold different views to him – it’s something that always makes me smile when you get the more virulent criticism of him for his articles, he is quite interested in those who don’t agree.

It’s one of those things that is striking across a few of these blogs.   Dmitri is the same, forever worrying about whether his perspective is a reasonable one.  The irony is that it’s me who tells him to ignore the trolling and the abuse, yet I’m the one who is probably thought of as less polemical and more nuanced.  The true beauty of all of these debates is that it involves real people, who can be hurt.

From his post, it seems Lawrence Booth in particular felt that he was being unfairly maligned, and here I have enormous sympathy with him.  I really can’t see a thing wrong with something like a golf day that might involve a few players.  And this is why – in my own line of work there is a fair bit of what we might call “promotional” activity.  The deal is what is has been for generations across many kinds of career, we take them out, spoil them, show them a good time and when it comes to contracting maybe they’ll be better disposed to us than our competitors. Naturally, our competitors do the same.  It’s the kind of thing that tends to be pontificated about as somehow dubious, but it’s normal practice.  More specifically, I’d fall down in a faint if something like that made a potential client switch to me, it doesn’t happen, it’s way more complex than that involving building trust and – the key point – getting to know people.

For journalists, their stock in trade is copy for their newspapers.  It’s nothing like as simple as on here – I can write any old rubbish and click “Publish” and up it goes.  The press pack have to pass it via their editors and hope that some kind of simulcrum of what they wrote appears in the paper the following day.  It is extremely easy to be totally cynical of all media output, and it just ain’t that simple.

Want the proof?  I can write a piece on here talking about Kevin Pietersen, and the hits we get double from normal.  Hell, just the fact his name is used will add a few extra ones. It’s extremely easy for us to manipulate the content if we were so inclined, and thus when online papers do it, the line that it’s clickbait might be true, but it’s successful clickbait.

Neither Dmitri nor I make a penny from this place, so we can say what we like, but it’s pretty easy to see how commercial sites love it when you can do something that straightforward to get extra hits.

So for a newspaper journalist, first and foremost they need to create copy that attracts attention.  That might be about – say – Joe Root, as we’ve seen with the Telegraph interview with him that has got plenty of notice.  But what we can’t do is expect those articles to come out of the ether, and that’s where the whole point of argument has stemmed from.  It’s a fair bit easier for former England batsman and captain Michael Vaughan to do it, but for a normal cricket journalist, to provide an angle requires them to do the legwork both before and after.

We know what Root (poor lad, still using him as the example) did in raw figures and anyone can write that, it’s just that barely anyone will read it because it’s dull.  How does a journalist provide context and colour?  It’s by getting to know them, talking to them, allowing a sufficient degree of trust that they will speak to them in the first place.  So both because of my rationale about hosting events, and because of the peculiarities of sports journalism, events such as a golf day are critical.  What else would people desire of their correspondents?  Glorious isolation? It simply is not going to happen, and the journalists aren’t doing their jobs if it does happen.

The unguarded comment from someone suckered in by a journalist they trust is in itself part of the job, but they can’t do that unless they know them in the first place.  It’s just not a fair argument to attack people for doing what is in reality their job.

On here we have offered up plenty of criticism for journalists not holding the ECB or ICC to account, and those criticisms stand absolutely. The frustration about that can’t mean though that everything they do is therefore criticised, we have to be fair about this. When we get a fascinating interview with Nick Compton, it’s because that journalist spent time getting to know him well enough for him to talk, and created sufficient trust for him to open up. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend the means by which that happened shouldn’t.

Criticism for not doing their jobs properly is legitimate and necessary. But not for when they are.  And heaven only knows there are enough things to complain about there, for there really is much too cosy a relationship between some journalists and the ECB, while the fact that the senior cricket correspondent of one of the broadsheets can’t even be bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman remains as pathetic a dereliction of duty as there is.  But seeing reds under every bed weakens the argument, it doesn’t strengthen it.  Sometimes they’ve simply done nothing wrong.

Unpleasant

And don't come back....
You are either Inside, or you are guessing

It has been quite a day, hasn’t it? The line that the ECB spun last night, that the Graves position yesterday was not, in fact, an opening of the door, but merely a restatement of current positions is eroding before our eyes. Nick Hoult’s latest piece in the Telegraph seems to paint a very different picture, and even Selfey’s article gave the game away because he writes it as if there is a chance KP might come back before defending Downton et al. Other articles in The Guardian, here and here, intimate that the existing ECB line last night might be a little, er, premature. I don’t know – maybe someone really in the know can keep those of us outside really informed. Then we might not get so up in arms, eh?

There are clearly, it seems to us trying to figure out what the hell is happening through the prism of our journalistic corps, divisions in the ECB; differences of approaches and perhaps personalities and nuances to do with timing of posts being actually filled. Nature, and bloggers like me abhor vacuums. There’s something afoot, because we’ve seen it before. We remember how Cook was disposed of, the modus operandi of putting something out there, getting the reaction, and moving from there. We aren’t out of the World Cup, yet this looks like jostling for positions to me. The World Cup had better come right or there could be more of this on the way. In the absence of clarity, in the absence of the full context, we’ll try to fill in the blanks.

This blogger, as you know, has a job, watches cricket when it fits in with his life, and has many other things to do. I do not pretend to be a journalist, and I doubt you will ever find a claim to it on here, it’s not my job and I do this because, believe it or not, I enjoy it.

I’ve written on the sport I really enjoy and am thoroughly saddened by in the past year or so. I indulge in speculation based on comparing articles with what I hear, with what I’m told, with what I read, trying to cross reference where I can, but time is limited. I watch the sport, have a vast back catalogue of books, dvds, magazines and podcasts. I’m a cricket nut with not enough time. I also think I know a little, not a lot, about human nature. I am not friends with any cricketer. I hear gossip, much of it told to me by the way, by people who might know. If this is guesswork, then so bloody well be it. But it’s guesswork based on caring, based on looking and reading and trying to draw conclusions. You know, the sort of thing we all do.

Why the anger? Well, a journalist today, who we all know, and I’ve been pretty civil to on here and, from communicating on social media I quite like, posted this on my Twitter feed.

My giddy aunt.

Here’s why I put a picture of Doug Ibbotson on my blog feed, (and it only really seems to appear on my dashboard, which you don’t see, and on blog posts copied onto Twitter) John. Because the edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly in around 1988 it comes from had it, and the thought that a journo today could have a photo like that as his identity pic, complete with pipe, amused me. Plus, as you say John, he was a damn fine journalist. As was David Foot. As was Neil Hallam. The brilliance of the county scene in those WCMs is a million miles away from what we get today in our cricket magazines. So maybe it’s a little nod to a previous era. And maybe, just maybe, a pic of an old journo with a pipe is pretty damn good. I’m not comparing myself to him, I’m not thinking I’m a journalist, and I’m certainly not meaning the use of the pic in any mean-spirited way. I do hope you are not implying that. And please don’t invoke the old “he’s more of a journalist…” stuff because I know he was. Because I’m not.

I’m sorry if you find this blog “quite unpleasant”. I plead guilty to this being guesswork in the main, because I’ve not pretended to be ITK. But you aren’t exactly playing by the rules on your side either.

I actually have a fair bit of time for John Etheridge. I’m surprised he picked on this as something to try to beat me with. Come on, sir.

Right, got that off my chest.

By way of a public service, I managed to capture some of the BTL comments from the Selvey article that got deleted. I have reproduced some of them here. If the author wishes me to take them down, then please let me know and I will be happy to do so. I stored a few others, but they haven’t been deleted yet.

Bag of smoke…
“That theme of course was Kevin Pietersen, the fruit-fly, the pest that will not go away.”
Don’t sit on the fence, Mike.
Honestly, it makes you wonder doesn’t it, about the supposed impartiality of so-called ‘journalists’? Since when was it acceptable to so nakedly express one’s opinions of a player like this? I suppose it beats the normal innuendo, but quite how Selvey thinks this sort of thing is acceptable is beyond me. It’s faintly amusing that he should be so hostile towards our best ever batsman (going on statistics…), whilst affording the current shitshower of an England team and its hierarchy every courtesy.
This bit too made me chuckle – could it be any more matey? Proof, if it were required, that Selvey is essentially a mouthpiece for Downton. What a puppet.
“Downton takes no offence, thinks it was merely something clumsily expressed and in no way malicious :but it is grist to the mill at a bad time.”

Bagsofsmoke again..

“…the fruit-fly, the pest that will not go away.”
Don’t sit on the fence, Mike…
Since when is it acceptable journalism for a correspondent to be so nakedly hostile to a player? I understand you don’t like the man, but afford him some respect, Mike, as England’s best ever batsman. You sound like Etheridge. Since when is this sort of journalism acceptable in the Guardian?
Ah, it all becomes clear. I forget that you’re essentially a puppet, a mouthpiece, for the execrable Paul Downton. Proof, were it required, that that is the case:
“Downton takes no offence, thinks it was merely something clumsily expressed and in no way malicious :but it is grist to the mill at a bad time.”
Gluck
How can His Lordship still be considered a journalist anymore? Is he angling for a job as ECB PR chief (and pray, how would we tell the difference?)
Sorry about the fonts going all over the place….
The Slogfather…
Well.. I’ve waited until now to become an ‘under’, as well as having been a long-term ‘outsider’… but having read this from ‘lordselfie’…
The reality is that the new (yet to be confirmed) ECB (or whatever the next name becomes) Chairman, has now rattled a few cages within the press…
Following on from this, it would/should appear, that the current Team management and overlords (DowntownShabby, MooresThePityful, ForGodsSake -er, HisGreasyGilesness and TheFlowerpotman) are being found out…
There is no team management, just jobsworth incompetence – but then we’ve known that for many a month…
Sadly, most of the mainstream press (with a few notable exceptions) have chose to ignore reality.
So us, being the (outside) meek, shall inherit this dearth…
Others were saved but remain, lots more I missed….