Guest Post – Man In A Barrel Gives Us The Numbers

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

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

A New Way….

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

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

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

Boycott

10-20

0%

20-30

2%

30-40

24%

40-50

36%

50-60

18%

60-70

17%

70-80

3%

80-90

0%

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

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

Boycott

Cook

10-20

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

30-40

24%

23%

40-50

36%

40%

50-60

18%

21%

60-70

17%

7%

70-80

3%

2%

80-90

0%

3%

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

Turning to Joe Root:

Boycott

Cook

Root

10-20

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

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

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

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

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

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

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

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

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

?

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

44%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

37%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

5%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Yes….KP

Thanks MiaB. Any excuse for a KP shot…

cropped-wp-1500506510756.jpg

 

 

Dmitri Old and the Real T20 Experience (and an American’s first game of cricket)

You know I’m not a fan of T20 cricket. It’s like those 30 second clips you get on Amazon of songs off an album (no, I don’t like streaming, kiddies(. Sometimes you get the important part, the chorus, the hook, the key verse. Sometimes you get the boring guitar solo or nothingness of an instrumental. You rarely get the full picture of a sport not meant to be played like this. To give the potential opportunity to bat for hours, days in pursuit of the undetermined. The variation in conditions, grounds and weather interventions, that form part of the tapestry of the long-form are eliminated more or less from the T20 genre. It’s not what got me into cricket, test matches did, and prominently Viv Richards in 1976 with his double hundreds, but it is still cricket. At least I think it is.

So off I trotted to Surrey v Essex on Wednesday night. Before some might carp, these tickets were bought well before Kevin Pietersen announced he was going to play for Surrey, but the primary purchase was to take my American colleague, we’ll call him Stan, to his first cricket match. It would be his entry point to the sport I bang on about. He also has kindly written his comments on the occasion in a quintessentially American way for us. I hope you find them interesting. His last paragraph is particularly interesting – “even the brash version of the game was unassuming” – didn’t exactly resonate with my experience.

I have been to Surrey T20 matches before, but the last few have been in the Pavilion. This time I was in Block 9. I was in among the legendary Surrey T20 evening crowd. The reputation was of hard drinking, abusive support, and a disregard for the game in front of them. I am a Millwall fan. I’ve been home and away, in fact my 20s and early 30s saw me travel the country watching them. A Surrey home game in the T20 would be a walk in the park. Hardly the razor’s edge.

First of all, getting to the Oval from anywhere in rush hour is an total pain. The Northern Line is a horror, and we had to walk from Kennington Station, which isn’t a massive problem, but symptomatic of some of the sporting difficulties we encounter when a venue has no parking. There’s little point in expanding the Oval to 30,000 if the transport can’t cope with 20,000. But we put up with it. The contrast with my visits to baseball in the States is stark. Once at The Oval the bag search was laughable. I mistakenly left a half-full bottle of water in the bag. She ignored it (it was 1.5 litres so couldn’t be missed), and now I’m sad there wasn’t alcohol in it! Already the concourses were rammed, the queues for beer lengthy, the extortionately priced food less congested but doing (un)healthy business. There is a definite buzz, but not the one you get before a football match. There seems little investment in what is about to unfold. It’s ultimate entertainment. People want to be entertained, far and above caring about the result. Sure, there are Surrey diehards there, like me, but do I care if we lose? Not really. Do you really care if you win the competition?

p1080181-01.jpeg

Surrey won the toss and batted. This I understood from being told by John, who had bought the tickets and had met his son. In common with most of the night, I didn’t glean this from the public address system which was hopeless. Or it could be that someone sabotaged it because Colin Murray was on the mic. My suspicion is that Jonathan Liew might have done that. He likes Colin Murray. The teams were put up on the scoreboard, and when Ollie Pope was shown, I went “who”? They didn’t have his name and I couldn’t hear the announcer!

Surrey came out with their fearsome looking opening partnership of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy. Essex opened with a spinner. It didn’t work as Finch tucked in to him. I advised Stan that 10 an over through the powerplay (I also explained the 6 over restrictions on the field, after explaining what an over was) was probably a minimum given the high scoring games seen at the venue thus far. Progress was good until Jason Roy somehow hit his own wicket (I couldn’t really see how it happened on the replay) and while expecting Kumar Sangakkara to come in at number 3, we soon realised it wasn’t that maestro.

I have to say that the pervading noise around me was booing. Now I cannot tell how many of them were Essex fans, but I’ll wager they weren’t all from Essex. Now as you know, and as I once wrote at length on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, this thing absolutely pisses me off. Pietersen may be a hate figure, but you pricks wouldn’t have been cheering the parade, rejoicing in 2005 without him. None of your current heroes has done anything near that. Comma has. Freddie has. Ashley Giles has. They haven’t. How dare you boo one of our all-time greats? I wouldn’t boo Cook, and I’ll bet I feel like a lot of the anti-KP mob when it comes to him. It still “boils my piss” as Stan found out!

p1080195-01.jpeg

KP and Finch dropped the pace a little as the former tried to get into his groove. Finch still let loose a drive or two, but then went himself. So to join 8181 test runs at the crease would be a man with nearly 27000 international runs to his credit. I tweeted about what a privilege it was to see them both at the crease at the same time. T20 in England still has its moments, and both these characters, for differing reasons, are irreplaceable.

Neither player could get into a rhythm and indeed Pietersen was dropped on the boundary when trying to cart Zaidi over mid-wicket. This seemed to galvanise Pietersen afterwards, and I have to say a couple of moments made the evening worthwhile. Simon Harmer came on to bowl, and Pietersen hit four sixes in the over. I’m trying hard and can’t remember ever having seen someone do that at a game I’ve been present at. What’s more, two of them flew straight over my head at long-on. I am a Pietersen fan as a batsman, as a cricketer (more about the lack of fielding later) and to think this might be my last chance to see him play in England made it more special. Even when a little over the hill, a lot out of practice, and seemingly at war with much of English cricket (who, never forget, started the fight), Kevin Pietersen still can surprise and delight with the bat. You’ve seen some of the pics.

p1080210-02.jpeg

Pietersen was the only one who could get going, while for Essex the sight of Mohammad Amir was also something to behold. He seemed to be the main man to control the scoring as the runs seemed targeted off other weaker bowlers. Surrey kept losing wickets. Kumar holing out to square leg off a sweep shot; Sibley bowled by Zaidi, Pope caught off Walter. KP moved past 50, including 5 sixes, before himself teeing off and getting underneath a Walter delivery, seeing it caught by new England selection Tom Westley on the long-on boundary. The applause going off wasn’t deafening – too many people didn’t have a clue – but this writer appreciated seeing him play. Sitting underneath towering sixes reminded me of the sheer genius that the bloke possessed. Perhaps he still does. Off the golf course, no proper T20 play since the PSL, and he can do that. Yes, he was dropped early, but he capitalised. Only after the match with the next best score being 28, did you realise quite how good a knock it was.

wp-1500908953218.jpg

Surrey’s total was 150, after some stops and starts and no real fluency. You have no idea at the game how the wicket is playing, and although not lightning fast due to the storms the night before, the outfield was not slow. Boundaries were at a premium though. Sibley, Pope, the two Currans did their thing, but other than provide me with a spectacular pic (Sam’s Stumps Splattered), there were few fireworks. I tweeted at half-time that it looked a wholly inadequate score, but doing that I was basing it on the previous two T20 games played there. Where 200 wasn’t enough.

Before getting on to the second innings of the game, I thought I’d make my observations on the client base. I did not move from my seat for the whole game, which was cheeky as beers were being bought, and thus did not circulate. It’s bloody noisy – not that test match buzz which I sort of miss, the low hum of conversations around the ground, but something a level, several levels up. It’s not football match chanting but it is increasingly “weather-worn” folk shouting at each other from the seat next to their recipient of vocal intercourse. As usual, because I’m a grumpy so and so, I was getting more and more irate with the muppets behind me, and I’ll go into that more as the article progresses. But of more interest was to the right of Stan. It was a father with two young kids. Not a great guesser of age, but I’d say 11 and 8 years old. Now remember, this is the target audience for the new T20 competition. They are our future. It was good to see them there.

However, they were kids, and what they saw on the field did not captivate them one bit. First of all, the little blighters couldn’t sit still. We had to let them through on numerous occasions. Dad hadn’t taught them the etiquette that you don’t do it until the end of the over, but he was far from alone in that. When one did sit down he played with his Nintendo portable system for most of the game, while the other played on his tablet. They didn’t “engage” with the onfield action at all, as far as I could tell. It’s a small sample size, I know, but didn’t fill me with hope. Not sure if the Surrey Lions or whatever we might be called will be any different from a super franchise team (and Surrey have a lot of name talent in their squad), but the suspicion is that a new product needs more to win hearts and minds.

After a short interlude, and Stan relates what he thought of the T-shirt shooter, where I couldn’t hear Colin Murray, Essex came out to bat and got off to a decent start. It seemed very much to be a “new ball” wicket, where the batsmen had to make hay early on in the innings. I like Dan Lawrence, and think he has a big future, and he and Chopra set about the total. Sam went for a few in his opening spell, which meant that idiot behind had something to shout when he came down to where we were sitting. Sam had to take the most god-awful, stupid abuse from a tanked up imbecile who clearly was a lot less clever than he thought he was. Unrelated boundaries hit by an Essex batsman were met with “you’ve cost them the game, Curran” or “that’s your fault Curran” even when they went to the opposite part of the ground.

It was also dawning on us (as if it had been announced on the tannoy we’d never would have heard it) that KP wasn’t fielding. The murmurs went round that this was a classic case of “pulling up the ladder! We used to call this a HABAFO (Have a bat and….well work the rest out). He was replaced by Rory Burns. By and large Surrey were hungry in the field. They nicked out the two openers, and then felt they had to get the two real danger-men, Ravi Bopara (who nearly won Essex the game in the first contest) and Ryan ten Doeschate. Also, there was new test selection, Tom Westley, who didn’t stay for the duration. The run rate crept up, the wickets kept falling, with Batty very impressive. Ravi went, Ryan couldn’t hit the boundaries, and Surrey pulled the noose tighter and tighter. They ended up restricting Essex quite comfortably, with Tom Curran being particularly impressive at the death again.

And then 24000 tried to go home. At the same time.

Walking out of the ground is a chastening experience, Very drunk, very noisy and I’m not convinced that many gave a damn about the game or the result. It just seems like a chance to get on the lash, and Surrey are not ashamed to enable this. Service at the bars is efficient. You don’t wait long to get served at all. What I found slightly soul-destroying was the sight of grown adults scouring all parts of the ground for empty beer glasses to earn a pound a pop for returning them. It felt a bit tawdry. Maybe I’m just an old stick in the mud, in fact, I know I am.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not a massive T20 fan, and the experience was not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I didn’t see beer thrown, there were no Mexican waves, and the people standing up mid-over had to be excused). You can always get the idiot sat with you (he wasn’t in the league of the Indian fella at an ODI in the early 2000s. It was a miracle I didn’t clock him) but even he just made me mad because his abuse wasn’t funny, clever or, in fact, related to the truth in any conceivable way. Plus, you always have the feeling that he might have been you before. There were some mouthy cricket know nothings on the bus back to London Bridge, but again, I’ve been to so many football matches and met people like this, and it never compared to some of the plankton at the Adelaide Oval. I didn’t take an age to get home, either, but got lucky. I never saw a programmes seller, so never got one. I like that sort of thing. This ground is the exemplar in getting people to part with their money. £5.20 a pint was remarked upon on Twitter as being some horrific price. Do these people drink in Central London pubs? The £1 to return your cup is to deter beer snakes, but instead encourages other forms…. The beer isn’t undrinkable, but not far short, but I can handle Yardbird if it’s on offer. The leg room is garbage, and is why I don’t go to tests there any more.

Did I enjoy it? It’s not as bad as I may have portrayed. I found the cricket enthralling, and isn’t that the point? When Surrey scored 150 I thought this was 30 light, but they bowled and fielded hard. They made Essex work, and they couldn’t keep up the momentum. A game the following Friday followed a similar pattern. My colleague (not Stan) at work said he found both games boring, but they were both contests. The cricket on show more than made up for the duff stuff off it, but not for the reasons the ECB or TV want.

The star of the show, whether you liked it or not, was Kevin Pietersen. The murmurs and outright accusations that he was faking injury not to field were probably put into context by Friday night’s antics. KP is a divisive character, more so since retirement from the test and international arena, and he can say some obnoxious and stupid things. He can also be incredibly prescient. I saw a lot of rust in his play, but then he hit Simon Harmer for 4 sixes in an over. That’s Pietersen. Box Office. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t say T20 doesn’t matter, that it’s just entertainment, and then get huffy when he acts like a diva, but plays shots out of heaven. It was amazing the Twitter response to both matches – the plaudits, the hatred, the defenders, the vitriol. I like him. You know that. For what he does on the field.

It was also a real pleasure to see two quicker bowlers on the top of their game – Mohammad Amir and Tom Curran. This game was not a batting parade, but a chance to see the skills of pacemen in a batsman’s game. Their ability, pace and cunning were on show. Amir tied KP up, as well as not providing the width or length to allow Roy and Finch to really get the game off to the flyer (although they went quickly enough). Curran, T has come on as a death bowler and although I hate that “routine” celebration, preferring spontaneity to something over a prep piece for #39’s lamentable advert, he has real nous now. Jade may well be a very good teacher for all we know. I have to be nice to Jade, he blocked me on Twitter ages ago.

We also got to see two legendary keepers. James Foster is a joy to watch behind the stumps. Utterly capable, smooth, no rough edges. Surrey had Kumar in the gauntlets. Hell, if you are going to retire from a sport that punishes your knees, finish them off with a spell of keeping. Still, he completed a stumping in the game.

Chris, Sean and I have purchased tickets for the 4th August match against Glamorgan. If you are there, or in the vicinity, please let us know and we’ll try to catch a drink or chat with you. T20 isn’t for everyone, but a bad day at cricket is better than a great day at work, and if Surrey are still in the running to make it through, as they should be, and if Colin Ingram is in form like he has been, it could be a really nice night out. If you can put up with the others around you.

And so, to Stan…..

Hey, where’re the Surrey City Dancers?

By Stan

Wednesday I attended my first cricket match ever. More accurately, I attended my first British sporting event ever. I’m an American. Having lived in London for a year now, I had yet to immerse myself into local sport, preferring to keep track of sports across the pond. Fortunately, I work with one of the authors of this blog and I was invited to The Oval. Although I had months of warning, I made a conscious decision to not learn about cricket in advance. I knew that even the most exciting description of a sport would pale in comparison to the experience. (They call it a bat, right?) I wanted a raw first impression. The event, the T-20 Blast, sounds like something pulled from a Red Bull commercial. The name should be partnered with EXTREME! and IN YOUR FACE! and things that are neon and shooting flames. This event was decidedly not that. (Though there was fire, which was cool.) For an EXTREME sporting event, I was expecting more music, and noise, and three jumbotrons, and a team of dancing girls. Nope. To belay the point, even the t-shirt cannon, which is normally designed to knock out the person in the back of the top deck – WHOMP! – barely got past the 6th row – pfft...

However, I learned that the name was not completely inappropriate. This was as IN YOUR FACE! as cricket gets. The T-20 matches are designed to be fast and furious.  The teams are allotted one inning each, with 20 overs, curtailing the game to 3 hours. If you’re reading this blog, this is not news. It was to me. But, realising this, I began to appreciate this sport. This was not a showy sport, and trying to turn it into one could only go so far. This was a restrained game. There were exciting moments, to be sure. There were plenty of sixes hit. (Not home runs?) It was a close game, going down to the last few bowls. However, the ratcheted down environment encouraged fans to appreciate the game for what it was: an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world up close without the extraneous frill that other sports peddle. (He now knows Kevin Pietersen’s back story, as told by Old, D. – Ed)

The stands were filled with business types in rumpled suits drinking beer after a day at the office. Many seemed only casually interested in the match. I was informed that these were not fans that would be at a proper test match. The guy behind was eager to show off his knowledge of the game, taking Sam Curran’s proximity to us as an opportunity to repeatedly critique him with, “Hey, Curran, you suuuuck!”.

In short, this was a less than pure cricket experience, and I liked it. I like that even the brash version of this game was unassuming. In a world that is overcome with a barrage of noise, it is a pleasure to find a sport that is not given to excesses. I hope to see more.

Three Years / 1096 days / 156 weeks and four days

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Did you think I’d leave it alone this year, just because I’ve been quiet recently? Of course not. When a key date like this, a key anniversary such as this comes along for this blog, then of course I’m going to commemorate. Just as we will with the two other anniversaries / birthdays this week. Why I do this can be summed up by a Tweet on Friday, when Pietersen said he was nor putting his name forward for the IPL. The suspicion being, certainly in the eyes of some of the media, that an Indian franchise would not part with big money for a player who hasn’t played a full IPL schedule since his sacking from the England team. So what? If KP thinks he’s not going to get a sufficient amount of money for two full months away then that is his decision.

The Indian fans on his twitter feed were generally very disappointed. The England fans on there were generally vindictive. Oh well. We knew that would happen.

We know the significance of the decision, still. That you placate mediocrity to put mavericks in their place. To announce a decision and still never say why you did it, treating the supporters with contempt. To see how the media reacted. It’s still too funny to watch the contortions, the sheer hatred that people have for him.

So, by way of a tribute, if it could be construed as such, I thought I’d share a part of a post I wrote some time ago. I intend, and still do, to go through each of his test hundreds, but I haven’t got the energy, time or desire to really do it at this time. But I had written a lot on the first one, and I give you now the draft thus far. It’s unfinished, it’s quite long, there’s still most of his innings to do, but there’s a ton about the build up to his 158. Hope you enjoy it.

Pietersen Century 01 – “The One That Saved A Dream”

I don’t think anyone who was an England cricket fan will truly forget that day. I don’t think you should either. There’s nothing quite like toppling a giant, and there’s nothing quite like doing it in style. That the style came from someone as un-English should not, and at the time, did not bother anyone. And by un-English I’m not going to get into qualification procedures, whether his mum being English was enough despite his background, but by the way Pietersen set out to save the game. It wasn’t English. You wanted to see English? Wait 18 months for Adelaide.

Four days earlier I’d had enough of Kevin Pietersen. Enough of the macho bullshit. Enough of the “it’s the way I play” stuff. Enough of the “mates with Warney” twaddle. I didn’t want my England players to be mates with the Aussies. Imagine Ponting having Pimms with Freddie? Of course not. Pietersen rang too many celeb sportsman alarm bells. So I did what I always did in these positions…. I took the piss. Pretended to my mates that he was the best thing since sliced bread. Did stupid pictures. Cooed at his very name. Sure, I loved what he did at Lord’s and Edgbaston but this seemed like a fire burning brightly, but for a short time. Graeme Hick made ODI hundreds. Never that great as a tesr player. I seriously doubted KP had it as a test batsman. When he lost his wicket to Warne on the first day, to another macho shot, I texted my mate Tom (who writes for the Offside Rule site) and we exchanged comments on how the bloke’s ego was way ahead of his production. In truth, it was a totally English response. It was bloody defeatist. That the only way to success, England style, was process. Play safe. Limit risk. At that time I wasn’t a risk assessor, and so hadn’t had my life complicated by weighing up those sorts of things.

But it is also odd how your memory plays tricks on you. I could have sworn when KP was out we were 80-odd for 4. We weren’t. We were 131 for 4, which although not great, wasn’t awful. I thought he was out for single figures. He wasn’t. It was 14. Again, not substantial but better than the 3 or 4 I thought he got. I think it is symptomatic of the way we remember things. Exaggerate the highs, depress the lows.

I was at The Oval for the first three days. I did some eccentric things prior to it, including hiding the tickets in a book in case we were burgled. Yes, I know. Dumb. Extenuating circumstances? Mum died two months before. I’m not sure my head was on straight for a couple of years after that. What was clear that I had about £1000 worth of tickets in my house for me and my mates, and they were worth a bloody fortune. I must have checked I had them all the way to London Bridge, when I could offload them on a mate. Or at least some of them. I’d seen Millwall in the FA Cup Semi-Final the year before and been nervous as hell. This was up there. This was, as every England fan knows, massive.

Those first three days left you constantly wondering if we were about to blow it. Yet again, the memory plays tricks. The opening stand was decent, and quite pacy, but I thought it ended in the 50s, not the 80s. Then I thought Ian Bell went straight away – none of us had any faith in Bell at this point – and he did. I seem to recall Vaughan at three played a really poor shot, and given Cricinfo’s update, he did. So KP’s demise at 131 had us all worried, with the high risk strategy that was Freddie at six, and Jones at seven. However, as he’d done all summer, Freddie played brilliantly, and at the other end, Andrew Strauss scored one of England’s greatest ever hundreds. It’s great because absolutely no-one talks about it, but without it we were dead.

There’s little sense in playing out the whole test in detail, because the story has been told. What I intend to do with the hundred is to put it into personal context, to go through the highlights I have and comment on what I’ve got, and add some of the perspectives in books and reports from the day. Distilling this isn’t going to be simple. I’ve been reading “Is It Cowardly To Pray For Rain”, which is the Guardian’s OBO reports on the series, and fills you with all the dread I get from some of this self-referential drivel, but, in its defence, it is a good reference point to judge mood swings.

Now I do remember my mate, who I secured tickets for and went to Australia with in 2002 (and South Africa the previous winter) had managed to secure one for that day. I’ve forgiven them both (the other mate, who got it, had known Sir Peter longer than me, and did great work getting tickets in 2006, so I forgive him!) and yet jealousy permeated my core that day. However, given my test record, my mate in Australia, Matt, was delighted that I wasn’t there, figuring we had more of a chance if I wasn’t (“you were at Lord’s.”…he said). I had to face up to following the action, knowing my brain would not allow me to concentrate on anything like work, in the office, on the internet, and sneaking up to the TV room for as many crafty looks as I could. It used to be if you smoked, you could nab quite long breaks. Coffee? No. You looked like a skiver.

As many of you will remember the state of the game coming into that day was “delicately poised”. A large chunk of time had been lost to bad light the previous day – play was starting at 10:30 in the last year of Channel 4’s contract and this test match started in early September, the 8th to be precise – so that the factor of overs remaining was pertinent and every ball, over, run survived drew the target further away from being accomplished. The 5th day was set fair, no real cloudiness, and England resumed on 34 for 1, having lost Strauss to Warne in the 4th over of the innings. This meant England resumed 40 in front after the Herculean bowling early on Day 4 had dragged the Aussie potential advantage back. England had made 373. Australia were 185 for 0, 264 for 1, 323 for 3, but Freddie did us proud. 367 all out. A lead, a precious lead of 6. Or potentially, a number of runs that could be scored from one ball.

The fact was 28 in front was nothing. Permutations suggested England needed to be batting until tea, at a minimum. Australia would go for pretty much anything. England needed to be scoring around 200-220 to give themselves a chance at a normal test rate of scoring.  England’s approach had been positive, so we thought they might go on the attack a little. Australia had Shane Warne. We were, to be frank, effing terrified of him. By we, I meant the fans. I know I was……


Just remember how we felt at the start of that day. Just remember.

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#39 Mis-steps

I’m really sorry to do this. But let me just put this excerpt from The Cricketer out there. It’s not a great copy, but it is readable. A piece by Simon Hughes (aka #39).

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News Hughes. We were there. We documented it. We commented it. Don’t lie to us. Don’t omit Strauss. Don’t pretend that this was informal – he gave up money to have a go, and Graves spoke out on the radio – and don’t pretend Pietersen was the author of that sordid episode as the comment “went off in a huff” implies.

This is why I do what I do. I can’t abide this distortion. It treats the public like idiots. This excerpt is from the Power List piece on COLIN GRAVES. This incident made Graves look like an imbecile. Not the most powerful man in cricket. Strauss finished KP’s career, probably in alliance with about three other people. Graves was made to look a clown.

#39 getting high on his own power trip. This is nonsense.

Kevin Pietersen – The Test Hundreds

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A while ago, a good year or so probably, in one of our editorial meetings Chris and I were pontificating – because we pontificate well – as to what we could do for future pieces. I mentioned that although a massive fan of all that KP did for England (well, nearly all), it’s got to the point where the very mention of him has some of our supposed cricket lovers rolling their eyes, but that there were things that I would like to do around his career and put up as posts.

Chris, in his sage like way – because he sages well, a Yoda figure – said something along the lines of “you should write a series of articles on his great innings for England” but advised I should leave it “for a bit”. We discussed about how his innings impacted on English cricket, the important moments, the approach, and that I should do something in the vein of the piece I did on Thorpe’s centuries.

The thing is, I have nearly all of KP’s centuries on DVD. In either highlight form or in the case of two of his Ashes tons, in full. A number of them are also on youtube. So there’s plenty to look at and review in terms of material. Then there are the books written around the time of some of them, including KP’s tomes, varying as they are in usefulness for the purposes of this set of pieces (Glenn McGrath, on a speed read of his book, barely mentions the 2005 Ashes!). But throughout the review of the hundreds there’s nearly always that sense of utter brilliance that was, by pretty much common consent of all his peers in the team, beyond their comprehension.

Good friends of mine, who’ve known me decades, cannot understand why I am such a fan of Pietersen’s. He seems, in their eyes, to embody all I hate in sport. The flashness, the assuredness, the flamboyance, the appearance of I above Us. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. It can’t be abrasive characters because I’ve always sort of liked Nick Faldo. It can’t be talented geniuses who rub team mates up the wrong way because I love Brian Lara. I think they reference across to my “hatred” of Manchester United and especially David Beckham, but that was because I hated (and still do) United and he was the epitome of why. Pietersen was playing for my team, and in fact Beckham, post United was nowhere near as loathed when he played away from United and was a key player for England.

So for this series of pieces, which will take some time, and I may never finish, I’m going to look at all KP’s test hundreds. I may take one in one piece, may couple some together (going to struggle with that one to set up a declaration in the West Indies), but I’ll do it looking at the footage I have and discussing each one. Of course, that means the first is the 158 at The Oval in 2005, and books could be written on that one alone. As always, I’ll intersperse these pieces with personal recollections, photos if I have them (I saw three in the flesh, and the start of a fourth) and anything else that comes to mind. Pietersen is a divisive figure, putting it mildly, but it is because of what we saw, and how he did it, that makes those of us who were furious at the end of his England career how we are. How can you not want to see him do “this” again?

So…Part 1 – Century #1 v Australia at The Oval – September 2005… Coming Soon. But in the meantime, let’s get the introductory part to prepare for it.

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To go into the story of the 158, you probably have to go back a long way to the way Pietersen’s career unfolded. But I’ll spare you the county details which you can read in Paul Newman’s ghost-written autobiography of Kevin Pietersen which came out soon after the Ashes victory. Instead the true beginnings were in Zimbabwe, at the tail end of 2004. All through that summer I recalled that Kevin Pietersen’s name was in contention for the A team, unconstrained by full country qualification requirements, and he’s played his part in a massive England A innings in India that also ended in a massive run chase by the home team to win the game. I’d seen Pietersen play at Whitgift School for Nottinghamshire against Surrey, and although remembered some clumps to leg, and a couple of big shots, I also recall falling asleep on the grass bank! That game pre-dated my Olympus Ultra-Zoom camera so no shots of the man from them.

Pietersen was picked for the Zimbabwe ODI tour which attracted, shall we say, a fair bit of controversy. I think, and I could be corrected here, that it was the last international tour not covered at all on live television in this country. So what came back were news reports and scorecards. In his debut he made 27 not out to steer England home to a relatively small total with a couple of overs to spare. Ian Bell had made his ODI debut too, and done very well, making 75, whereas the only report I could find on KP’s debut was:

Pietersen eventually hit the winning runs, but not before running out Collingwood and twice almost doing the same to Jones.

Some might say there was a warning right there. The second ODI, also in Harare, saw KP deliver a more substantial return. He made 77 not out in 76 balls, including three sixes, to get England to a very competitive 263 – he and Geraint Jones put on 120 in 13 overs and put the game out of the hosts reach.

Pietersen and Jones hit maiden one-day international half-centuries in a rollicking stand of 120 off 80 balls, which stood for four days as an England record for the sixth wicket against any opposition. Pietersen’s innings had the air of an announcement. Arriving in the 26th over with England stuttering on 94 for three, he was initially studious, taking 40 balls over his first 16 runs, before opening up to finish with 77 from 76, including four fours and three sixes.

As the Almanack expressed this as an “announcement”, the thought that KP might actually play for England in the next Ashes probably seemed fanciful. But Vaughan was beginning to be convinced, and maybe this is in hindsight, he thought KP had that “something” that was different. In the Third ODI, Pietersen wasn’t needed as a century from Solanki and 50s from Bell and Vaughan meant England chased down a total for the loss of two wickets. Game 4, also in Bulawayo (where the 3rd was played) saw KP get a first ball duck. But he’d done enough to convince the selectors he was worth a go for the ODI series in South Africa, and we pretty much all know what happened then.

That series, where Pietersen made three centuries (although none in a winning cause) ranging from the bravado of Bloemfontein, where one might say he went a little over the top in celebrating, to the rapid but ultimately fruitless explosion at East London, and the worthy but let down by his team mates 116 at Centurion. Pietersen had proved a point, and none more so than his international TV debut at Johannesburg where he confronted the hostility of a crowd and an opponent he had riled, stared them down, and held firm to assist a D/L win.

Nobody seemed happier than Pietersen, who was there at the end after being loudly booed while walking out for his first innings against South Africa, the country he abandoned in frustration at a perceived lack of opportunities. His initial exchanges with the always theatrical Nel provided the most dramatic moments of the game, with Pietersen struggling nervously for 11 balls before getting off the mark.

Pietersen weathered a hostile reception from the crowd, and the odd word from the fielders. After a nervous start – he played and missed at his first ball, at Nel – he proved a worthy replacement for Strauss, as he and Vaughan moved seamlessly through the gears. Vaughan brought up their fifty partnership from 73 balls with a forceful cover-driven four, while Pietersen’s thumping on-drive took England past 100.

The centuries and the attitude that was reported to come with it seemed to indicate a coming force, and conjecture already surrounded how he could be fitted in to the test team. Michael Vaughan claims that his mind was made up that in some way he had to be selected for the Ashes. A lot of weight was being put on whether you had “mental scars” from too many Ashes beatings. Here was a man, unburdened by history, it seemed, fearless and relentless. It seemed too good to be true. It probably was.

Seasoned cricket fans on this blog need few reminders about the events of early 2005. England’s test team had won in South Africa, without Ian Bell who had made his debut at The Oval against the West Indies the previous year. The England team that finally won in South Africa contained a line-up of Trescothick, Strauss, Key, Vaughan, Thorpe, Flintoff, Jones at the top of the order, and with Freddie being a clear choice at six, the main vacancy appeared to be Key’s. This was despite an impressive innings at The Wanderers, and a double ton in the home series before. Bell was clearly earmarked for three, judging by the press statements (Butcher had been injured in South Africa and never played another test) in advance of the home series against Bangladesh. There seemed little threat to Thorpe, who although creeping on in years, had been a vital cog in the previous series (his century in Durban making the game totally safe in a famous fightback, and also vital in the West Indies the winter before). Whispers started to surround Thorpe. He was too old, too many scars, going to retire soon etc. etc.

Those whispers weren’t made any louder by his form in the Bangladesh series, where I don’t believe he was dismissed, but also got little chance to make an eye-catching hundred, while Bell did at Chester-le-Street. The batting line-up seemed settled then, and in truth there was not a lot of noise for Pietersen. Then came that Sunday afternoon in Bristol.

I was out watching my club side that afternoon (my Mum was in the last throes of her cancer, and I took the chance to meet some friends as a brief release), and so have only seen the very repeated highlights on Sky. The innings that won the game had all the same bravura of South Africa. He dismantled Jason Gillespie in particular, and gave off that self-assured, confident demeanour that would delight and enrage in equal measure. He also had narrow escapes on run outs. But this was totally un-English in its approach. It reminded you of a more developed, more accomplished Ben Hollioake at Lord’s. It wasn’t really true until he did it here. Sure, he had played well in the T20, but this was nearer “proper cricket”. The crescendo grew.

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In action v Australia at The Oval – 12 July 2005

I was at The Oval to see his 70-odd pull England to semi-respectability and it was the second time I’d seen him in the flesh. I really can’t remember a lot. My mum had passed away 11 days before it, and her funeral was the next day. As a release it was great, but as a day’s cricket, Australia’s win passed me by. My mind was more on what would happen the following day, putting the ill-fated eulogy into my head, worrying about my Dad and all that. Compared to the events of the following day, the effects of which persist to this day, seeing a KP 70-odd hardly resonates. But where it did, it mattered. Now the calls for Pietersen to be in the test team were unstoppable. And in the firing line was Graham Thorpe.

Now, as you may know, if you’ve read the blog long enough, Thorpe was/is one of my favourite ever players. His hundred in Barbados in 2004 is still one of the greatest innings I have ever watched for England. When he got to the hundred, that shot of adrenaline, the thing that makes your hair stand up on the back of the neck, was amazing. The ovation at Kensington was incredible. He had fought so hard, and you’d think that fighting that hard would be what was needed against Australia. We thought wrong.

When Pietersen was up for selection there was absolutely no doubt that Ian Bell would play. None. In hindsight we all say “well, he shouldn’t have played instead of Thorpe, it should have been Bell” but that was not on the cards. Thorpe was in danger. Pietersen batted in his position in the side – number 5. Thorpe was the oldest. Thorpe wasn’t mobile in the field. Thorpe had back problems. He looked vulnerable, and when the axe fell, it was on him. He’d just had his 100th test match, and it seemed a neat end. But there still are the pangs of “what if”?

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I was fortunate enough to be at Days 1 and 3 of the first test match. Again, anyone with a passing interest in cricket does not need a reminder. KP came into bat at 20 for 3, saw two more wickets fall quickly, rebuilt the innings to a degree with Geraint Jones, and make a fifty, including smashing McGrath into the Lord’s Pavilion for 6. In the second innings he made another 50 in a totally hopeless cause, and despite a soul-crushing defeat, loads of dropped catches (although he did effect a run out) and all round feelings of “here we go again”, the man with the mad hairstyle had announced his arrival.

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The Edgbaston test saw KP play his part in the rollocking 400 in 80 overs first day, with a quickfire 70-odd in concert with Freddie, and then a 20-odd in the second dig. Diminishing returns at Old Trafford, including his first test duck were lost in the tenseness of the test, and he did not pull up any trees at Trent Bridge.

So to the Oval. Here is where we pick up the story of Kevin Pietersen’s test centuries. The next instalment will be along when it is written. Keep your eye out…..

Two Years / 730 days / 104 weeks and 2 Days…

KP Sacking Anniversary - 4th Feb

I make no apology for commemorating this date. Even after a wonderful, fluent, thrilling, exciting ODI batting performance, the point remains.

February 4th. It is now two years since Kevin Pietersen was sacked as an England international cricketer.

Note to some of you who are reading this. In case there is a problem understanding this, the book “KP” was released in October 2014. By my maths, 8 months after his sacking. Therefore, it did not cause his dismissal.

I know. A number of you are rolling your eyes right now. “The book showed why he shouldn’t be playing”. Hang about, what did that have to do with the attitude shown by our cricketing authorities towards the cricket supporters when the dismissal took place? Sweet eff all, is the answer. I know, a number of yo are rolling your eyes “we’ve moved on, we’ve an exciting team, we’ve won the Ashes, we’ve won at the World #1 team”.

It’s what the sacking meant, it’s what it means now. It’s what, as one of my twitter friends says, the cause (I’d say more a very effective catalyst, but let’s not split atoms….) of the schism now. It still has a profound effect on the team, the support, the media and for this blogger.

In those two years we’ve watched people contort themselves in many twisted arguments not to go back to Pietersen. We’ve seen the funnies – the lack of form argument always tickled me, as did the “he is on the decline” right through to “no vacancies in the middle order” – and those who think he still texted the South Africans telling them how to get Andrew Strauss out. There’s those of pure blind hatred, who I sort of respect more, because they use the “I hate him” line. They used it before England sacked him. That’s daft, but it’s honest.

My line has been consistent. Pick your team on merit. All along. Not deviated. If KP is one of the best four middle order players, then play him. The only thing that would prevent that is gross insubordination, and even then, I’d want the causes of why that happened to be investigated too. That has never been suggested, as far as I know, by anyone in authority. If they did, they’d be on firm grounds legally and that would be that.

The anniversary is to note. We won’t pick him for the T20 World Cup. We certainly won’t for tests or ODIs. Strauss hates his guts. To climb down on this would be remarkable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recall the day he was sacked. It was the first of a number of “up yours” to the supporters, and the more important one is commemorated in five days time.

Roll your eyes all you want, those who visit here to get riled up. We ain’t going away.

Remind me – did you cheer this?

Thanks to all the commenters for the last two years. The significance of this decision brought most of you here. Five days later we were to have our tag……

Oh. And in case you think I’m obsessed, there’s nothing like the Daily Mail…

 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-3430590/Kevin-Pietersen-smokes-shisha-Dubai-England-score-second-highest-one-day-international-beat-South-Africa.html#ixzz3z8oCw7vo 

Dmitri Award Number 2 – 355*

 

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It was either Tickers or Miller who said that Kevin Pietersen was the greatest ever exponent of the “Fuck You” innings. There was the infamous 149, full of anger, full of bravado, full of full blown confidence. That’s a legendary knock. But there’s nothing quite like timing your career best, the fourth highest score ever made at The Oval, the second highest by a Surrey player to coincide with Andrew Strauss’s annointment as the Director Comma. I think if you had to put something forward for a Dmitri, that dominated the landscape of the blog, that fuelled a record month of hits, then to leave out this innings would not be right. As I said in my previous post, it’s time to be true to what I think the blog should be, and not what others want me to write.

Kevin Pietersen still dominates the landscape. Even today he’s playing in a T20 Final in South Africa, and although he failed today, he was the story of the early stages with back-to-back hundreds. It was KP in a nutshell (I apologise). Selvey called him a fruitfly back in the day, but it’s not Pietersen’s job to make things cosy for the powers that be and their enablers in the print and TV media. It is not his job to be quiet. He is playing T20 cricket and that’s so depressing. Because on that day back in May, we saw what he could do. He was dropped a few times, it wasn’t the strongest of opposition, but he was doing as he thought he was told. Go out and score runs in county cricket. He did. 355 of them.

I was in the States at the time. I’d managed to buy a £15 data roaming card which gave me around 500MB data. I’d started the day following the increasing level of his score as we drove up the Parkway to Atlantic City. I have to say I was chuckling heartily. I could sense the bile of those who loathed him from 3500 miles away. You could hear the nonsensical arguments to decry the innings. They had a spectacularly bad tempered Dominic Cork to hide behind if they so wished. But you don’t ignore triple hundreds. You just don’t. This innings made a statement. Pietersen could still bat, so it put to bed that magnificent nonsense that people were putting out there that he was finished. It left them now with the only line left – England would not be picking on cricketing merit. They would be using other criteria, as if any sentient being believed otherwise. The fig leaf was removed. Note – next highest scorer in that innings was 36. By some muppet called Sangakkara!

If KP had not made that innings, then he could have trundled on, and the can could have been booted down the street. “He’s not making enough runs, and he’s at Division 2 level. There are no vacancies in the middle order.” The elephant in the room always was that KP couldn’t be allowed back in because too many people would have been wrong. By making 326 not out at stumps that day, he’d rammed the nonsense back down their throats. “Not enough runs?” Well…..

History has treated Strauss kindly after this decision. An Ashes win was the end justifying the means. The ODI renaissance paints a youthful verve rather than a look-back to past times. But the test batting is now an effing mess, and the only trust we have is in Dmitri #1 to keep the middle order in any reasonable functioning order.

But let me tell you what it did for this blog in May. Being Outside Cricket had its record day, week and month. Pietersen is box office. Those who come here to snark on their own little private echo chambers know this. I know it. I know of people who are sick that they didn’t go to the Oval that day. I know of people who are glad to see the back of him, finally. But what you can’t deny that he is a compelling cricketer. The 355 runs he made in May set up the Director Comma era, and there will be more of that later….

So, as, under my own silly rules, I can’t put KP in, the number 355 will be put into the Dmitri Award annals…..

Here are some interesting links on that time….

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/15/statement-of-the-oblivious/ — on Colin Grave’s pathetic justification.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/13/a-matter-of-life-and-trust/ – TLG’s wonderful piece on matters Strauss

and this line…

“That Pietersen has been treated dreadfully is a given even amongst those who are not remotely his fans – and let’s nail this particular straw man argument right here, there are a tiny number of people who are proper, out and out Pietersen fans.  Most of the others are England fans who may or may not think the side would be better with him in it, but believe a team should be selected from its best players, and who know a stitch up when they see one.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/12/trust-1/ – On Trust. We’ll be looking at that in due course.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/12/strauss-press-conference-live-blog/ – TLG’s behemoth post (most hit this year) on the press conference.

So – 355*. Dmitri Award #2.

Rehabilitation? No Chance… KP the Book, KP the Movie

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I’ve just finished KP on Cricket, and watched Being Kevin Pietersen (should I sue?) as England’s most polarising cricketer undertakes his next steps in visual and print media. The programme and the book, taken in isolation, are the usual media image portrayals which leave you annoyed at their lack of bite. Of course, though, neither of these are in isolation. Pietersen is not about to rehabilitate himself with anyone, and judging by these two pieces of work, isn’t trying that hard with those who he has no time for, and who have no time for him.

Let’s take the book first. Unlike the visceral KP – the Autobiography, this book took days to finish reading. I really hate bad errors in books, and there is one on Page 2 – Francois Pienaar is named as Francois Pineda, and that gets you started thinking this is a lazy book. It actually isn’t, but I tell you what else it isn’t…. It isn’t what John Crace said, and what the Private Eye review said. Pietersen was exhorted, last year, to include more about the cricket than the arguments. Oh, if there wasn’t one press person expending crocodile tears saying “what saddened me was Kevin not talking about those great innings” there were dozens. So Pietersen does, and the press people by and large ignore it (other than to slag it off as an extension of his out of control ego).

I said in a comment to BigKev that it is a rather dull book, but I don’t mean that as being a book you should not read. When you’ve written a book like the autobiography there is nothing to compare to it. I’ve said about that book on a number of occasions, we mock the sportsman’s autobiography (while they are playing) for being dull and boring (I’m re-reading some of Alastair Cook’s initial autobiography at the momen), but when someone tells it as he sees it, people are shocked. Appalled.

In some places this book is all over the shop, and then in others it brings some interesting insight. I thought it quite re-affirming that the innings of his that I thought was the best (his 151 in Sri Lanka) was the one he did too. The one the English public refer to a lot, his 149 at Headingley, isn’t in the top five. He puts Glen McGrath in his World XI yet whenever he’s interviewed on him (most memorably in the Radio Five Live one with Andrew Flintoff in 2013) KP says McGrath never caused him many issues.

It’s not a book to build bridges. While he is praiseworthy of Swann the bowler, of Prior’s attitude to batting etc. he’s not giving Flower any praise, he’s not giving Moores any praise, and there’s no hint on contrition for the previous words. People will say his inclusion of Jimmy Anderson in his world XI, and his constant references to him as a genius, are just ingratiating. He’s generally nice about Cook, but not his captaincy, not even during this last summer. He clearly believes Cook is not a “flat wicket captain”.

There’s calls for franchise cricket in England, a somewhat silly request for 5 tests at home and 5 tests away each year (and then saying England, India and Australia play each other too much), and throughout there is constant reference to practice, practice, practice. I know of no-one who complains about Pietersen’s work ethic. The impression you get from the media is of a dilettante. A shirker. A natural talent. Pietersne isn’t a natural. He’s worked hard at his batting. He can over-think. He can go off the boil.

You know I’m a fan, and I make no apology for it. Pietersen writes the book the media “wanted” him to (did they hell, Pietersen’s thoughts sell papers, ads) and it sells much less well, gets much less attention and what it does get, is pretty negative. That’s why David Hopps’s excellent review in ESPN Cricinfo is so welcome. Especially this quote:

For those who previously condemned Pietersen’s autobiography as overly confrontational to now dismiss Kevin Pietersen on Cricket as merely an attempt to address his reputation as an outcast star player, just a cynical display of even-handedness and affection towards former colleagues, is an exercise in double standards, a refusal by his critics to accept he has any saving graces whatever he does. Damn him if he does, damn him if he doesn’t.

The book is worth reading, but if I’m being honest, I’d wait until you can get a cheaper copy. KP’s got enough money, and it isn’t a “must read now” like last year’s book.

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Which takes me on to the television programme. Being Kevin Pietersen has been dismissed by the likes of Barney Ronay as a hagiography (the first three paragraphs of which needed an editor to tell him to stop being so effing pretentious), or by Mark Webster as not challenging. While no-one is going to confuse this with a hard hitting expose of Pietersen, it remains utterly remarkable to me that some of the things he mentions in the programme, which he’s been mentioning for 18 months, remain totally unanswered by his critics. Bullying? Swann makes one claim, Cook says he doesn’t recognise what he says, but noticably none of them call him a liar. Textgate against Twitter Parody account – the ECB look stupid. KP doesn’t mention the leaking culture, which like it or not, he was evidently a victim of (e.g James Taylor incident) in the TV programme, but again, in the book, it remains unanswered. What charges is he supposed to answer? The one’s about him giving “tactical advice on how to get Strauss out” which now none of the protagonists said happened and which Jessica Taylor brilliantly summed up as being “such bollocks”?

In the programme he is celebrated by no-one from the current era. And his critics will jump on that. All those that say good things about him are his older colleagues. Piers Morgan turns up as the least wanted character reference since Kenny Senior turned up to defend Brian Potter after the fire at the Phoenix Club. It painted KP in a good light with his team-mates, which is really horrible because, as we all know, he ruins every dressing room he’s been in.

It was worth a watch, won’t change many minds, and that’s the sad fact. We’ve wasted his last two years, not him. The fact is we’ve all been filling in the blanks. This will lead into the media stuff that we’re planning. How those blanks are filled, how the ECB were massively let off the hook, and how we cannot tolerate the something extra, different that he brings.

However, it’s a comment like this, by Webster, that needs challenging:

it is ultimately too much like a documentary that is quite happy to simply be about an exceptional England international cricketer who believes he has has been unjustly slighted. And doesn’t mind telling us

That is because, Mark, we’ve never been told. He says he’s never been told why. The comment put to him about not being a player we could build around, was answered. It then became about “trust” instead, though what he could or could not be trusted is another example of fill in the blanks. You can’t challenge KP’s side when the accusors have never provided the slam dunk evidence. I think berating a bloke for putting his side of the story, when the opposite side tried to leak their’s through the dodgy dossier which was ridiculous, is slightly unfair. But hey, I’m a fanboy. It’s now about the book, apparantly. Well, I’ll let SimonH say what he thinks of that, as he so eloquently did on Guardian BTL.

And those things remain. And so will KP in my memory. He played too many, and I saw a few, great innings for the small-minded haters to taint. Just will not happen.

White Ball Priority

You're our only (choice) hope...
You’re our only (choice) hope…

I was researching a piece I intended to write last night, when the news from Paris started to filter in. I find, like most of you no doubt, that stories like this consume you, so the piece took a back seat. Now I’m struggling to remember what I’d heard, so if this doesn’t have some flow, forgive me. Naturally, last night’s events hit home. That’s us out there, eating and drinking, going to concerts, watching sporting events. The world is a potentially horrible place.

This piece is on Strauss and his ODI comments.

I wasn’t concentrating on cricket much towards the end of the week, which is a bit of a problem for a cricket blogger! Work and social stuff took over, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the reactions on here, and on Twitter, to a round of interviews that Andrew Strauss conducted during the 1st ODI (or just before). So last night I listened to the Agnew interview and the one with Nick Knight.

The confusion I had was I thought the line to take from these interviews was that Strauss would prioritise (and he used that word a lot) “white ball cricket” because if we didn’t we would fail again in the World Cup in 2019. Many of you on here took this to mean that players could miss tests to play in the IPL or perhaps the Big Bash to get experience of top quality, pressure-filled cricket (Mike Walters in the Mirror certainly did). This certainly wasn’t dampened down immediately, but then, yesterday Strauss made it clear that he was not suggesting that England would weaken their test team to allow this to happen.

 “I can’t foresee any circumstances in which we would weaken our Test team in order to allow a player to play in the IPL or any other franchise-based competition.” Strauss…BBC

The cynical among us, and that numbers me, might note that the two day period between the airing of these interviews, when the position wasn’t made crystal clear, and the clarification offered yesterday was deliberate, to see how the position went down when allowed to float, or Downton-esque and a cock-up. Whereas Downton was a buffoon from the outset, I’m absolutely convinced that Strauss is, if nothing else, a sharp operator. Leaving that position open (ish) was probably quite an astute move to see if some of the big beasts roared. I don’t think, for one minute, Andrew Strauss wants Joe Root and Ben Stokes to play in the IPL (the only two test certainties that will play international white ball cricket and possibly get picked). Jos Buttler might also be sought to play in the IPL but his status as a test player is in jeopardy. The test team is our money-spinner and to mess about with that, even in the early season test series, opens the door to much in the way of consternation. Remember when we rested our bowlers against the West Indies at Edgbaston a few years ago? Some people went mad!

KP’s interjection at this point, while understandable, probably wasn’t well judged. I’ll leave it there at this point and may return to it later.

The thing that concerned me was Strauss and his non-stop mentions of the word “prioritise”. What does this actually mean? Strauss claims that the model to follow appears to be the Australian one, where they can play well in both formats of the game at the same time. He takes the message that Australia prioritise the game in the right way and his takeaway is that we should seek to specialise our white ball cricket. This, clearly from where I am sitting, means two almost separate units, with very few players playing in all formats of the game.

Let’s leave T20 cricket as an outlier at this time. That’s a format of the game Australia have never succeeded in because they seem to play another different team entirely for that (and pretty much have treated it like a joke – but a productive one – see David Warner). Australia’s ODI winning team lined up as follows:

Warner (current test opener), Finch (specialist), Smith (current test batsman), Clarke (then the test captain), Watson (then the test middle order bat), Maxwell (played tests, but seen as specialist), Faulkner (played tests, in their thoughts), Haddin (then test keeper), Johnson (test bowler), Starc (test bowler), Hazlewood (test bowler).

Arguably Australia had two out and out white ball specialists, and one (Faulkner) who has made his name in that game (but I’m sure is in their thoughts for test cricket). This may change given the retirements – Wade will probably be ODI keeper instead of Nevill, Khawaja isn’t, I think, seen as an ODI batsman, and it remains to be seen if Burns can force his way into the white ball arena. Voges isn’t an ODI player for the future. But what is clear from the above is there isn’t the separation of powers that Strauss seems to think is vital.

Looking at their opponents in the final, New Zealand, the specialists were Ronchi and Elliott. Vettori was playing ODIs to end his career (having been a prolific test player) but all the others are in the test reckoning. There really aren’t that many “specialists” like a Kieron Pollard or a Quentin de Kock.

Strauss wants to bring this specialism to the fore and I think it is dangerous. One of the names he mentions is Jason Roy. At this stage he’s shown ODI promise without delivering the big innings, and it is a great credit that England are going to stick with him. I remember how we treated Ali Brown, and I still get livid about it. We wanted a pinch hitter, but when it went wrong he got slagged off. I think it is too soon to give up on Roy as a potential test player. I don’t think he’ll get there, but in red ball cricket, he has been a bloody important player for Surrey. He plays that innings in Surrey’s line-up that demoralises the opposition. He will fail, but sometimes he will succeed. Strauss appears to be pigeon-holing him as a white-ball specialist very early. The same may happen to Alex Hales. What if we have a new player who comes in as an ODI player, is whisked off to T20 competitions, and yet he could be a test player in the making? All through this I look at how we’ve treated James Taylor to the point that at this stage, we don’t really have a scooby (clue) what he is.

I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a fan of Strauss. I’m also not going to pretend that he’s another Paul Downton. There’s a lot of good thinking in what Strauss is telling us, but he’s a politician to his boot-straps, and management consultancy is in his DNA. The latter seems to make sports journalists go weak at the knees. A man only has to come in, spout out about culture and environment, talk about processes and evaluation, and set low goals, and suddenly he’s a guru to be listened to, a beacon to follow. I call it Lancastrianisation. The aim is stuffed back donkeys years, and when you get there, well……

So much has been written about the Rugby World Cup that it’s almost become a spectator sport. Look at what Lancaster and the RFU did, and do the opposite might be a better lesson to learn. They cut off the talent pool by putting in restrictions on selection, they identified a lot of players (who weren’t good enough), they took multiple second place finishes and close losses as evidence of progress, they then brought in a wild card to show they were innovative, and made last minute changes to the team, and they collapsed in a heap. The journalists in that sport, a lot who make cricket writers appear like meek and humble people, have hardly aimed fire at Lancaster. If half the vitriol that Paul Ackford aimed at Sam Burgess for example had been aimed at Lancaster, well…..we might actually be admitting where the problems lie. Meanwhile, the head honchos in the RFU remain. So while cricket gazed on admiringly at this nonsense, they perhaps need to “refocus”.

What I also found funny was Strauss saying that prioritising ODI cricket for a World Cup would be a new approach. Now it is if you do it a long way out, but in 2014-15 we played no test cricket for six months. We prioritised the ODI game and yet it didn’t work. So prioritisation isn’t new, it is now a different kind. But that’s classic management speak – the past is not to be referred to, and all things have to be new. There has to be change. Change. A word I never want to hear muttered by a manager or administrator again in my life.

Managers also make tasks sound harder than they might be. Strauss sets the bar low (we had a miserable World Cup – while forgetting we got to the Champions Trophy Final last time around) and then makes it sound like the way out is absolutely nigh on impossible. If you fail, well you tried, if you succeed, you are a genius:

“If someone is playing in the Test team or very close to the Test team, then that’s a harder decision to make. But let’s be honest – we’re not going to make massive strides in white ball cricket without making some hard decisions along the way.

“I think we have to be prepared to do that and I personally believe we can make those strides and not do it at the expense of Test cricket.”

So what did we learn. We’ll focus on specialists – so I’m assuming that’s Willey, Woakes, Roy, Billings, Hales, Topley and the skipper, Morgan. Perhaps Buttler if it’s decided that tests aren’t for him, and perhaps Bairstow if he drops out of the test team. The portents are not good – Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara are two that come to mind – but if Strauss is serious about attitudes to the game, then fine.

Nick Knight, in his interview on Sky, raised the T20 World Cup, which seems to be something hardly mentioned in the corridors of power. So the management consultant assured us we had great talent and had a real chance. But the words he spoke at the end of the piece were the ones that sparked the rage in me….

“I think we’ve pretty much identified the group of players we want to work with in the short term. It’s important we give them opportunities to develop.

“It would be wrong to be searching in very different directions right now. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a closed shop in the long term.”

The World T20 is in March. We have a T20 player scoring hundreds. He’ll have plenty of big game T20 experience. He’s absolute class. He’d walk into this team in normal circumstances. I’ll quote Peter Miller from his excellent podcast with Daniel Harris last night – England would rather lose cricket matches than pick Kevin Pietersen. For that, KP is correct when he says:

We all knew that. That’s why I have no problem in him speaking his mind.

Him Again

Hate Weekly

In South Africa there came some rumblings. A noise English cricket has learned to rile itself over. A cacophany sure to light up the social media hordes. A din “no-one” wants.

Yep. You know who has made back-to-back centuries in the T20 competition in South Africa, the Ram Slam. Accompanying this are the usual cries for his return to the England set up, for the ECB/Strauss/Cook to swallow their pride and bring him back. Accompanying those cries we see those implacably opposed denigrating the achievement (domestic bowling, big difference between this and test cricket, rubbish in UAE last time around) as if this is a selection issue based on ability.

I’m writing about it, so I can’t exactly say I’m sick of it can I? I can’t exactly moan at others talking about it when I was accused in Wisden last year or having the effect of constantly beating others about the head with my constant repetition. But it’s the same old, same old. The same personalities, the same arguments, the same rambling debate. KP should be playing test cricket for England, if we select on merit. I think you might have something wrong with your analytical skills if that wasn’t your point of view. It’s not that he’s made runs in a hit and giggle competition, it’s that he has the temperament and the skill to play test cricket. There might be quibbles over fitness, which only KP himself can answer, but on ability with the bat. Stop being idiots.

There is a school of thought that he should play for England in the World T20. Well of course he should. Now that the ECB’s Lancaster fox has been well and truly short, and culture isn’t all, the reasons not to pick him now seem daft. Players who may put up a block, like Cook, Anderson and Broad, won’t be playing. Morgan wants him, or so he indicated. But he won’t.

So, instead of watching him in the World T20, we’ll have to rely on him having a pop at county cricket:

Trolling the ECB and the haters:

Having a pop at Dominic Cork:

Holiday snaps:

Personal grooming

And people who berate me for being obsessed, having a massive conflab about him on Twitter! 🙂

Cheers.