After Winter, Must Come Spring

Monday night marked the end of England’s antipodean tour, a solid 5 months of overseas failure brightened only slightly by their two ODI series wins. On a personal note, it seemed reminiscent of a fictional never-ending winter like in the Chronicles Of Narnia or Game Of Thrones to me. The persistent cold weather at home during the day, then the depressing feats of mediocrity by the England Test team at night. It might have only been five months, but it somehow seemed like much longer.

In the Test team, it’s hard to think of many players who come out of this winter without a diminished reputation. Jimmy Anderson, and perhaps Craig Overton (although he had a decidedly average average of 42.28 from his three Tests), are the only standout performers. Certainly, you would expect Overton to be pleased that his 2015 ban after racially abusing another player isn’t the first thing that people think of when they hear his name.

For everyone else, it’s been a tour to forget. Joe Root’s captaincy has been questioned by many, although it’s not clear exactly what more he could do. He was England’s top scorer (always a dangerous position in a losing Ashes), and his bowlers were essentially all dire. As the point was often made during Australia’s period of dominance, it’s easy being captain when you have McGrath and Warne in your side. It’s not like a lot of balls were being edged to vacant slip positions by the Australian and New Zealander batsmen, or mis-hit in the air to where fielders should have been. England’s bowlers just didn’t seem to induce many false shots throughout the winter.

Finishing with bowling averages over 60, it’s hard to see how Jake Ball, Tom Curran, Mason Crane, Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali can expect to play for England in the near future. Jack Leach has been receiving plaudits for his performance this week, but they may be premature. Being economical when the opposing team are trying to bat out a draw might not be the greatest test for an international spinner, although I wouldn’t be disappointed if he was picked for the Pakistan series. Woakes and Moeen were also disappointing with the bat, both averaging under 20, which could herald an end to England’s policy of picking three allrounders. In fact, with Stokes’ court dates coinciding with the India Test series, it’s possible that England might play without any allrounders for parts of this summer.

That in turn could badly expose England’s fragile batting lineup. Apart from Root, no English batsman averaged over 40. The tour began with questions about virtually all of England’s specialist batsmen, and it’s ended the same way. Stoneman has averaged less than his opening partner Cook, but also outscored him in 11 of the 18 innings they’ve shared so far. Vince looks great until he plays a loose shot and gets himself out cheaply. Malan did well in Australia, averaging 42.55, but once he was in conditions conducive to swing in New Zealand he seemed to have the same flaws as he demonstrated last summer against South Africa.

All of which leads us to the question: Where do England go from here? So far, the only people to lose their jobs have been the selectors. Certainly this seems overdue. England’s Chief Selector James Whitaker’s last selectorial triumph was Gary Ballance, who was dropped almost three years ago due to a catastrophic lack of form. It’s honestly been somewhat astonishing that he wasn’t fired years ago.

Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace both seem secure in their positions until 2019, having survived this. You’d assume that this is because of England’s ODI form, because otherwise England’s immediate future looks pretty bleak. There hasn’t seemed to be much speculation on Andy Flower losing his position as the ECB’s Technical Director Of Elite Coaching, despite there not being much evidence of any elite players having developed during his tenure. In fact, the more cynical amongst us are speculating that he will move sideways into the vacant selector’s position. It would certainly seem apt, seeing as the ECB hired him for his current job following his team’s abject failure in the Ashes four years ago.

With failures apparently across the whole England team and staff, you would normally expect that the ECB’s Director Comma England Cricket Andrew Strauss should be under fire. When the tragically inept Paul Downton was fired and replaced by Strauss in 2015, England were 5th in the ICC Test rankings on 97 points and even the ECB realised that things needed changing. Today, England are 5th in the ICC Test Rankings on 97 points, and apparently the Director in charge of England’s cricket team is doing a fine job?

Except no one really wants to put the boot into Strauss right now, not least because he left the Ashes tour early when it was revealed that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. He also seems to have a lot more friends in the English cricket media than Paul Downton did. Whilst Downton was outside the English cricket establishment for several years when he was making a living as a merchant banker (decide amongst yourselves whether that’s rhyming slang or not), Strauss has never left the upper echelons of English cricket society since his ascension to Test captain in 2009. He’s well-connected and, for the most part, well liked by the people who could make trouble for him. Sacking Strauss would also be an admission of failure from ECB Chairman Colin Graves, and even making the suggestion that Graves has failed is probably enough for him to sue you.

All of which means that the England Test team is virtually in the same position it was six months ago. And a year ago. And two years ago. And three years ago. And four years ago. They have a weak and brittle batting line up, a below average bowling attack, and there are no immediate prospects of improvement.

Still, at least winter is over now…

As always, please comment below.

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NZ vs England: Second Test, Day Three – England Ascendant (Not An April Fool)

You might be forgiven for treating any news this morning with suspicion. It’s traditional for most news outlets nowadays to have at least one ‘joke’ story for April Fool’s Day. Therefore, when I awoke to see England had managed to build a lead of 231 runs with seven wickets remaining, the first thing I did was doublecheck the scorecard on another website. Especially when it suggested that Vince was the top scorer so far in England’s second innings.

The day started with 5 overs remaining until the new ball and New Zealand’s batsmen Watling and Southee took full advantage, smashing 27 runs off Wood, Stokes and Leach’s bowling. The match turned when England got the new ball, with Anderson quickly managing to swing the ball past Watling’s bat and into the wicketkeeper’s stumps. Broad followed up in the next over by taking another wicket when Ish Sodhi fenced at a ball outside off stump and edged it to Bairstow.

Tim Southee made it to 50 before Anderson bowled him, when the batsman was looking to hit him for six. Anderson was then hit out of the attack by Wagner, who managed 12 off Jimmy’s next over. This left the final wicket up for grabs, and Broad grabbed it by drawing Boult into a hook which he top-edged to Malan at fine leg.

England’s innings started with the customary early wicket, and as you might now expect the victim was Cook. It wasn’t an unplayable delivery, just a ball outside off which Cook prodded at and edged to the New Zealand keeper for 14. At this point, even people Inside Cricket are speculating that Cook might retire or be dropped this summer. He averages 33.25 this winter, which is remarkably low considering his top score of 244*. Other than his mammoth innings in Melbourne, he hasn’t managed an innings of even 40 runs whilst on tour.

The former captain’s quick departure left Stoneman and Vince at the crease. Not typically a sentence which inspires confidence in England fans, but both batsmen applied themselves to the situation.Both accumulated runs steadily, with Stoneman surviving a caught behind after his DRS appeal showed that the ball had hit his shoulder rather than the bat’s. Stoneman had more luck when Ross Taylor dropped him at slip on 48, and again when he sliced the ball just beyond the slip to bring up his half-century. A few overs later, Stoneman was dropped a second time in the slips by Southee. Proving that third time’s the charm, Stoneman edged the ball again and this time Watling caught it.

Vince followed not long after, a loose drive edged to Taylor at first slip. This honestly might be his trademark shot. Root and Malan steadied the ship, and saw England through the remaining hour of play until the day ended due to bad light. The tourists have a lead of 231 runs, with seven wickets still remaining.

This game is some players’ last chance to impress the new England selectors (whoever they will be) and cement their places this summer. Both Vince and Stoneman have good reason to worry, and their performance today might just be enough to save them. Their partnership of 123 runs in this innings has given England a significant lead, and crucially allows their middle order to avoid facing Boult and Southee with a new ball.

Stoneman might feel harshly treated if he is shown the door. In the 18 innings he has played for England, Stoneman has outscored Cook in 11 of them. That said, a Test average of 30.17 from 10 games hardly suggests a promising future. Of course, Stoneman’s career stats look amazing when compared to Vince’s Test batting average of 24.90. In truth, both batsmen must hope that the new selectors look primarily at their last innings rather than their entire body of work.

This game has also thrown up an unusual stat. So far, all 23 wickets have been taken by the opening bowlers. Southee, Boult, Anderson and Broad. That it has happened to both teams might suggest that it’s difficult to take wickets with the older ball. Equally, it might be an argument that the first change bowlers for both teams don’t match the quality of their teammates. Leach and Wood haven’t been particularly good in this Test so far, although in Leach’s defense spinners typically don’t prosper on day 2 of a game.

So, that’s it. England are 231 runs ahead, and there is virtually no way for them to lose the game. I have no doubt that they will smash New Zealand out tonight and finally win a game this winter.

Just kidding. They’re obviously going to find some way to screw this up. Happy April Fool’s Day!

“Taking Full Responsibility” – Day 2 at Hagley, Day 7 of Haggling

It was a good day.

Ice Cube probably had slightly better than a recovery from 30 odd for 5 in mind when talking about a decent 24 hours in Los Angeles, but given what England have been through this winter, having the opposition in strife has to qualify as the best of times. The early inroads after Bairstow had completed his hundred put England really in charge, and with the two men, it seemed, really capable of taking the game away from England by going long (Taylor and Williamson) back in the pavilion, England had visions of a substantial lead, of well over 150 runs. Stuart Broad had made the main inroads, pitching the ball up, getting the edges, and as he said, beating both sides of the bat.

I have to say I’ve not seen a lot, despite suffering from a bit of insomnia. I’m too busy trying to shut my brain off than watch England. The bits I did see were wicketless. I saw Mark Wood bang it in short, and when he didn’t get any wickets with it, carried on banging it in short, at one time hitting BJ Watling. I’d seen de Grandhomme latch on to early short stuff and get his innings going. I feared the worst. I tweeted that I was going to sleep (and I was successful) and wondered how we would let the hosts off the hook. When I woke up I was just grateful to see we had got one of them out.

At this point you have to tip your hat to BJ Watling. He’s a bloody good cricketer. In amongst all the hoopla of 2015, the Ashes, the Cook hundred, the Stokes performance at Lord’s, the wicket-keeper batsman’s feisty, energetic second innings century at Headingley set the visitors up for a famous victory. He has participated in two mammoth sixth wicket stands in his time as well. He is under-rated, overlooked and bleedin’ pesky. When the bigwigs of world cricket talk about great keeper-batsmen, he’s never mentioned. He’s a little diamond, and well worth a place at number 6. He’s 77 not out. He averages more with the bat than Ben Stokes, He’s pulled New Zealand away from out of sight to in with a sniff. These are big runs.

Stuart Broad was the pick of the bowlers with his four wickets, and that’s to be celebrated. It’s clear the bowler himself is pleased with the results of going back to basics and putting in a ton of effort to right what he saw were his technical issues. As the point is raised often, there is no-one kicking the door down to take his or Jimmy’s place. Broad is a positive thinker, given his interview answers, and if this builds his confidence, then great. I saw none of the wickets. I’ve not seen the highlights yet. I suppose I need to take his, and the pundits’, words for it.

Now, and you can turn off if the Australian business is too much, what I was awake for was the David Warner interview. You may, or may not, know that in the past week the Being Outside Cricket feed on Twitter has, as the saying goes, been “going off”. We get a ton of looks, responses, and a boost in new followers. It started with a crap joke, but now we get lots of interesting comments. Chris was all over it last night, at the same time as I was making less of an impression on my own – that’s showbiz! What we were both on the same page with was how this is getting silly. That there seems little way that any of this is confined just to the three bad apples who have sniffled their way through press conferences.

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Do you know who that is, with Cricket Australia merchandise on, holding the door open? Unless I’m very much mistaken that is our friend, and everyone else’s, Malcolm Conn. A supposed hardened journalist, who praised all those scribes in attendance at Smiffy’s Sniffles, acting as doorman and enforcer when the press got a little out of line, trying to commit the heinous crime of following up a question that David Warner thought could be answered by “I take full responsibility”. Conn, as you may know, is a personal favourite of mine. He accuses everyone outside of Australia of all sorts, while never seeing a single sin in his own nation. The one where he accused us of pitch doctoring in a test where three of the four innings were over 300, and his team saw a very dry pitch and decided not to pick Nathan Hauritz (and from a home team in 1999 that produced THAT Sydney wicket, picked three spinners, one of who opened the bowling, and told us that we should produce better spinners). The one who went mad over urinating on the wicket in the dark. The whole problem those outside Australia see with their cricket, and their attitude to it is their sanctimony. They are holier than thou. They talk down to the rest while not mending the roof at home. They put this man, Malcolm Conn, the poster child for the sort of attitude we despise in charge of the press arrangements? Are they ever going to learn?

Warner said nothing of note. He omitted something of note, as Alison Mitchell just pointed out on the Debate. He never once said it was just those three. It was just culpability for his own mistakes. At one point I wondered if Cricket Australia was holding his kids hostage until afterwards. Managing Warner is going to be Australia’s biggest test, but from the perspective of containment, last night worked. Any ranting and raging from now on and it’ll be “well he had the chance to say it earlier so why believe him now”. LBJ’s famous urination linked to camping quote comes to mind!

In other news, Australia are getting buried in Johannesburg. South Africa making just short of 500, with Bavuma stranded on 95, and Australia on 110 for 6. Those wags pointing out there was not much reverse swing going on today will be forced to speak with Malcolm Conn and the Integrity Unit.

Alex Hales is replacing David Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad. That’s good news for his bank account and the white ball practice he will get. I’m not entirely sure why he wasn’t picked up in the initial bidding, but he will be relieved to get a chance. As with many teams, though, there’s no certainty he’ll be regular. Here’s their squad.

The Australian women won the T20 triangular series in India, beating England handily. Malcolm was really mad on that. He’s tweeted more about women’s cricket this week than addressing the incident on Saturday. Not that I’m beating him with a stick.

Zimbabwe have sacked their captain after the World Cup Qualifying campaign came up short. It’s been hard to feel sympathy for Zimbabwe in the past, given their hiding under test status, but now it’s the opposite. Would the World Cup really suffer from the presence of any of the Super Six contenders? Would Sikander Raza not shine on the top stage? I don’t know.

Then there is the ECB and their potential legal action against George Dobell and ESPN Cricinfo, as reported by Charlie Sale in the Mail. Obviously we have to be careful, but if this is Colin Graves taking a comment at him and taking umbrage, I have to say that the optics are “mediocre” to say the least.

No promises, but I might try to live blog some of this evening. Given I’ve slept most of the afternoon, I think I might be awake tonight! A key day, with New Zealand aiming to get up to England’s total. The thought is that the third day will be the best for batting, and the new ball is 31 deliveries away. BJ Watling is the key, and yet we know, from Mark Wood, that once in, there are runs in the hills. Then it will be the turn of the faltering England batting line-up to set up a total. It is time for the big men to stand up. Jonny Bairstow’s century has pulled us out of the mire. We know that we can put ourselves in it very easily.

Comments below, of course. My thanks to all of you participating on Twitter and below the line in the past few weeks. You may have noticed the counter is now over 990k. We’re closing in folks!

UPDATE – LIVE BLOGGING

11:30 – The final ball of last night’s unfinished over is seen off, and it’s Stokes opening from the other end. Southee takes two off the second ball. Eyes on the BBC feed from Joshua v Parker. As I say that Stokes serves up a long hop, Southee clatters it for 6. Nice of England to play him in. 200 for 6.

11:35 – 11th seed Loyola Chicago have closed the gap on Michigan in the Final Four. Meanwhile Mark Wood, he of the 42 bowling average is on, and BJ scampers a single off the second ball of the over. They say Wood offers something different and becomes a much better bowler when he doesn’t play. Joshua v Parker is into the last round. Southee crunches a four straight back at Wood to move on to 25. He pulls the next ball for 4, and it’s 209 for 6.

11:38 – Stokes back on to play the batsmen in some more. Red Sox up 1-0 in the top of the third innings. Joshua v Parker has gone to points, and Ben Stokes is bowling up around 75-80 mph, and bowls a maiden. Remains 209 for 6.

11:42 – Jack Leach is on, and bowling to Tim Southee. Say your prayers. Joshua won, by the way. Sounded dull. Southee smashes the second ball for 4, straight back, and not a million miles from Leach (who might have touched it). Leach floats the next one up, which is brave, it gets clattered but straight to mid on. Floats the next one which Southee belts straight to mid on and takes a single. Shouldn’t have been one there. Last ball to Watling is also a single. 215 for 6.

11:46 – Stokes ambles in, and doing a tight job at the moment, that clatter from Southee aside. Soon as I say that Watling gets a four through third man. That’s the only runs from the over, and it is 219 for 6. The new ball is due.

11:50 – The working assumption is that the new ball is going to end the innings. The first ball from Anderson swings away from Southee’s bat. The problem with the assumption is England haven’t been adept at blowing away tails. Southee wafts at another outswinger second up. Southee pokes a single into the offside off the fourth ball. Alan Butcher tells us to “move on” on Twitter, which is a red rag to this particular bull! Watling gets a single off the 5th, through the gully. Southee straight drives the last ball, gets four, and England heads start to drop. 225 for 6.

11:54 – Broad on. Hello Santiago! Broad bowling at 134 kph, which is Stokes’ speed. 226 for 6. Did I miss a run when I checked in on the Red Sox (still 1-0 but Porcello has put two on in the third). Yes, looks like Watling got a single.

11:58 – CASTLED. Beautiful outswinger does for Anderson, pitching it on middle and leg and hitting off with a beautiful shape. Off pole out of the ground. 226 for 7.

BJ Watling  Bowled Anderson 85

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00:01 – Ish Sodhi gets off the mark first ball. Southee then squirts one down to third man for four and moves on to 43. Cut in half with the fifth ball, Southee blocks the last and it is 231 for 7.

00:04 – Porcello got out of the third innings with no runs, so Red Sox still 1-0 up. Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a Red Sox fan. Well, a lot of one. But the cricket is on so I am at your service. No runs off the first three balls. Sodhi gets in a tangle with the fourth ball, but no harm done. Alan Butcher utters the magic words..

Move on. Talking of move on, Stuart Broad bowls a beauty, and Sodhi nicks it to Bairstow and we have our 8th wicket. Broad gets his 5th in this wicket maiden. 231 for 8

Sodhi  Caught Bairstow Bowled Broad  1

00:09 – Anderson back to bowl, to Tim Southee. Second ball he smashes a ball in the air, aimed at square leg, ended up at long stop. 4 more. Leg bye off ball number 3 puts Wagner on strike. Actually given as a run, so Southee goes to 48. Nice inswinger first up to Wagner, but he plays it well. Last ball he somehow plays and misses. 236 for 8. And here comes the vaguely dodgy Paddy Power advert.

00:12 – Southee moves on to 49 with a single from the first ball of Broad’s over. Wagner gets sconed on the fourth ball of Broad’s over just as the commentators were saying he was about to cop some short stuff. While Wagner takes a break, I see number 11 fairytale NCAA team Loyola are 7 points up at the interval having started really slowly. I love the NCAA March Madness. Wagner is back up and we should be rolling soon. Next one is short into the ribs, and Wagner fends it just part boot hill for a single. Southee clips the last ball to deep square for a single and his fourth test fifty in 45 balls.

00:21 – LBW appeal second ball, but England don’t review. Red Sox 2-0 up now. Conceded runs in just one innings so far. Anderson bowls a straight one, Southee goes for the fences and loses his middle stump.

Southee   Bowled Anderson 50

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Trent Boult gets off the mark with a couple of runs, which I missed for a reason. Boult plays a ludicrous straight shot for another couple, clearing his left leg to clump it down the ground. End of the over and it is 243 for 9.

00:28 – Wagner gets a single off the first ball of Broad’s over. Lead down to 63. Not insignificant, but still not as good as England might have hoped. Another WTFWT shot from Boult… but no run. Can’t describe it on a live blog. Nor that one. Dancefloor moves. Needs a yorker. Nope, short, and Boult misses his attempted swat. Boult drives the last ball for two, its 246 for 9 and I’ll be back….

00:37 – Just got back from a natural break to see Wagner clatter a six over fine leg off Anderson. Lead being downgraded from good to useful. Not long before slight, and then negligible. Broad fumbles the ball when a run out looked on. 13 from 5 balls off this over. Now it’s 259 for 9.

00:40 – Broad carries on. So does Wagner, who cuts the ball for 4. Went a bit finer than I thought. Another two as Wagner smashes one into the air over point. You have to laugh. Or not. 265 for 9. No more runs from the over. Another betting advert.

00:46 – Wood on for Anderson who doesn’t look like he’ll get a five for now. Wood bowls a full one first up and Boult carves it over extra cover for 3. Not a million miles from the fielders. New Zealand not far away from England. Mood music not good. Talking of not good, Mark Wood has an appeal turned down against Wagner.

Pour encourager les autres. Wagner clips one through leg side for one, then Boult pulls his left leg away and wipes one through the covers for another 4. This is royally cocking things up. All those calling for the raw pace of Wood, please stand up. I referenced Ice Cube above and now I’m doing Eminem. 273 for 9.

00:52 – Let the carnival continue. Broad around the wicket to Wagner. A single off the third ball of the over to Wagner down to fine leg brings Boult on. Someone stick a sock in that effing trumpet.  Boult lofts Broad down the ground, for another couple. This is silly. Last ball he bowls straight and it is off the middle of Boult’s bat for no run. 276 for 9.

00:58 – Wood back, and Wagner cuffs his second ball down to long leg for another single. We are having a review for caught behind. Bairstow is the one driving this. It doesn’t look to be anything, to be honest, and nothing is registering on snicko. He was so far down legside he might have been outside the sound zone! Not out. I’m now pre-occupied with something else. It’s 278 for 9. All over, and so am I. Night all. Will Cook last to lunch?

278 all out.

 

And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

A Good Weekend To Bury A Bad Result

Good day to you. It’s test losing day on Being Outside Cricket, and we know what that means. Rancour. Introspection. Anger. Despair. Ambivalence. Wait. Not ambivalence. That never happens here. Imagine what it would be like if this were the Ashes! Instead of that anger, we are probably all still too busy laughing over the other events. No, not Afghanistan winning the World Cup qualifying, or the news Varun Arron is going to play for Leicestershire. But worrying about whether Malcolm Conn is OK. Australia Fair indeed. We’ll come to that.

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Lord Save Me…. Oh, You’ve Got It On Tape?

To England first. Another defeat by an innings away from home, as they came within 20 or so overs of forcing the draw their first innings of 58 didn’t deserve. There were half centuries in the innings for Stoneman, Root, Stokes and Woakes, but none went on to the big century or the 250 ball stay that the situation was going to require. It was certainly a better effort, and survival until later than we probably expected, but it was still very disappointing. England’s record away from home is abominable, and the excuse that no-one is winning really doesn’t wash. India, for example, went to South Africa, lost 2-1, but were competitive all the way. Australia have been pretty competitive in South Africa too (more of that later). We fold like a cheap suit, and it’s not good enough.

But that is the easy bit. Identifying the issue is a bit like identifying why Monday and the horrors of commuting, has to follow Sunday and the relative pleasures of sitting at home watching the Australian media drown in hubris. It just happens (God, that was a bad juxtaposition – Ted Dexter will be after me). Why it happens needs some more deep seated, probably psychological analysis. How has Joe Root stopped getting to 100 in test matches? Why does Stoneman look like a test opener, and then looks so out of his depth? Why does Alastair Cook do “it” so rarely in match saving situations? Why is it just absolutely bleeding obvious that Stokes is worth his place as a batsman alone when he is clearly carrying a back injury? Will Bairstow ever be consistent with the bat while he has wicket-keeping duties? What the bloody hell has happened to Moeen Ali? Is it a measure of our desperation that Dawid Malan’s form is going to be more John Crawley than Graham Thorpe? When will Stuart Broad bowl another one of “those” spells? Would Woakes be in the team if he couldn’t bat? What’s James Vince doing there? What’s Liam Livingstone doing there? What’s Jimmy Anderson really offering these days? Why did Craig Overton have to spoil it all? It’s like an episode of SOAP.

England started the day three down, and didn’t have to wait long to be four down after Malan nicked to Latham at second slip with 10 runs added to the overnight score. Stokes settled in for a decent bat, and Bairstow joined him, which you sensed needed to last well into the second session to give England an earthly. 20 overs of denial, especially from Stokes, followed, but Astle got the England keeper who pulled a long hop to mid-wicket to give the hosts their fifth wicket. England could probably have lost one wicket in the first session, at worst two, but it became three on the stroke of tea when Mooen succumbed, and for all intents and purposes, England had too.

Woakes and Stokes put up a long spell of resistance throughout the second session, and hope started to rise. But this England team have become specialists in hope rising only to be disappointed, and although I’ve not seen it yet, it is the dismissal of Ben Stokes that has the tongues wagging, or keyboard fingers itching, on social media. Another gift wicket, another at the interval, and another hammer blow. He may have made 66, and we are great at having a go at the contributors rather than those who flop, but one wonders just how much more vehement a KP or Ian Bell dismissal in those circumstances might have been treated by the press.

300 for 7 at dinner, England fought gamely for another hour or so, with Woakes completing a half century, but the game was up. When Anderson lofted tamely to end the innings, England had been beaten by an innings.

I know a number of you, including those who don’t comment on here, made/make a bee-line for the site when we lose. They seem to like our sense of anger, our dismay that this is going on, that somehow, if only we’d done things better we might have won. I would normally go off the deep end, usually going at members of the media not giving it to us straight, the ECB pulling the wool over gullible eyes or some other matter that would get the rage machine firing.

Not today.

This England team are now in the laughing at them stage, as I said after the 58. For a team mollycoddled and given all the support staff and encouragement they need, they under-perform mightily. Or do they? Is this, whisper it, our standard for the foreseeable future? Half decent home, half a team away? There is no sense of anger here, because even some of the media cheerleaders have given up, thrown their hands up in the air, and just accepted it. Sure, they’ll give some big and mighty words, but they don’t mean it. That the selection of James Vince did not have them screaming blue murder showed that. A selection to be laughed at, was one to be ignored, by and large. I don’t sense anger from the fans, I don’t sense anger from bloggers and I certainly don’t sense it from Strauss, Harrison and Graves. England writers, one senses, are only conceding test cricket is in trouble because England test cricket is. There is so much to put right, you don’t know where to start. There are so few solutions, one senses it is going to take luck to find them. I don’t think there’s much upside at the moment because batsmen seem incapable of making very big scores on a regular basis, and our bowlers don’t look like bowling teams out overseas. That’s a combination.

But the best thing about this loss is when it happened. It happened on a weekend when our best of enemies decided to have a meltdown. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written, but if I may, could I be permitted to give you some more…

First, one of the fascinating things was watching the scandal develop. There was the press conference. As soon as Smith announced he was part of the group responsible I tweeted “he has to be sacked as captain”. There were some out there who thought this was because of ball tampering – it wasn’t, it was because he was admitting a conspiracy and you can’t have that. After all, you can’t even text your mates in the opposition these days.

But the Aussie journalists at the ground seemed strangely reticent. Indeed Peter Lalor praised the two for confessing and fronting up. At this time Australians would mostly have been asleep, and I was waiting for the Sydney / Melbourne boys to wake up. Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Courier-Mail all seemed quiet. Then Michael Clarke woke up, tweeted, got dressed and let fly. Fox Australia let them have it with both barrels and the floodgates opened. It didn’t take long for a tsunami of hand-wringing, a flood of self-loathing and some good old scapegoating of the present for past sins and we had ourselves a full blown meltdown. I’ve seen this happen before, and it never gets less dull watching it. By the end of the Aussie day we are seeing mentions of life bans, every Aussie and his/her pet koala having a say, and proportion and perspective abandoned for the immediate future. How could they? How very dare they?

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Him, Or Me. Australia decide…..

The second is something that might strike you odd. I loathe Australia as a cricket team, but I love watching them play. The male equivalent of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. You want them to lose, but you want them to lose with them playing hard and keeping the winning team on their toes. It’s why I will always love 2005 over 2011. So I think we need a strong Australia in test cricket, because we need a great rival that over time has been better than us. Their late 90s, early 2000s team had sanctimony by the bucketful, cheating (in its widest sense) down to an art. We, well I, secretly loved them for it. Every action movie has a baddie. The fact is Australia genuinely never saw themselves as the bad guys. They were, it seems, utterly convinced they were the pinnacle not just in achievement, but in attitude and fair play. Every piece this weekend, will nearly every, seems to take this line. There was a running joke between me and my mate Adelaide Exile about Gilchrist’s selective sportsmanship, but now Adam is seen as a paragon of virtue. I’ve seen it suggested that Ricky Ponting come back to instil Aussie values, which I presume including haranguing umpires if he doesn’t agree with decisions, and screaming at visiting coaches (and I love, almost unhealthily, Ricky as a pundit). I think I speak for many when I am amazed they think this way. This isn’t me putting my lot on a pedestal. How the hell can I with our vile governing body, a director who called his former star player a c***, a team for many years hated by match officials every bit as much as this Aussie team is now, it seems. We are laughing at you Australia. Stop it. We know you are upset. Take a deep breath, realise this was stupidity personified, that there is a sporting crime and someone has to pay, make them pay, then rehabilitate, reform if you must and move on. We will, once we’ve stopped laughing.

Third, watching the press and others stick the boot in here is very funny. They should be looking at the way Australia handles this and be ashamed. There’s no sense here of one Cricket Australia. If the organisation doesn’t do something to address this, and presuming it isn’t off the charts, or too soft they will come to some thoughts, the press will crucify them. They will do it to their Australian of the Year, who was exceedingly popular it seems, until he isn’t. The Cricket Australia statements included fans, don’t say they are outside cricket and to fuck off because this has nothing to do with them. They at least provide some recognition. If they care in Australia, they care too much, which is not an awful thing. Here, our press are so terrified about losing access, that they avoid conflict. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t need to draw you a picture.

Me? I’d make sure they never captained their team again – that honour and increase in pay has to be forfeited – but they should all play again if their form permits it. A suspension seems in order, and Bancroft needs to do the time too, but if it is six months they’ll miss just ODIs, T20s and a test in Zimbabwe. They’ll be back for India at home. A real punishment may be to ban them from the IPL by not giving NOCs, but that might bring in m’learned friends.

As I said, we’ve all read a lot. Sydney Morning Herald has been my go to site, and I recommend it to you all.

But as Jo Moore said, this is a good day to bury bad news. England chose the right time to lay a cricketing egg. We await Friday in Christchurch to see if there’s an Easter resurrection, or we prove to be the bunnies we really seemed to show in Auckland. And with that, comment away on the lines above if you feel you want to, and thanks for your contributions over the weekend, whether you agreed with us or not.

Dmitri (Peter)

“Rain” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 2nd Day Review

After what must be considered their worst day of the whole winter (and they have plenty to choose from), the England team probably weren’t hopeful about getting any kind of result from the game. The one thing which might help undeservedly rescue them is the weather, and that was what happened today.

The first session started on time after rain showers earlier in the day, but lasted only 10 overs before the downpour began. New Zealand made steady progress and Williamson completed his 18th Test century, but little else of note happened.

The heavy shower passed fairly quickly, and play restarted just over an hour later. This session coincided with the second new ball for England, and both Anderson and Woakes (with Broad only getting two overs before being pulled) got quite a lot of movement with it. An Anderson inswinger did for Williamson, hitting him plumb in front, and the traditional captain’s DRS review failed to save him. Whilst the swing challenged the other New Zealand batsmen, neither gave up a clear chance and after just 13 overs the rain came down again.

And thus ends what is by far the shortest and easiest match report I’ve ever had to write. The forecast for tomorrow looks even worse than today, which might leave England the faint hope that they can rescue a draw. Meanwhile, with a lead of 171 runs New Zealand must be considering a declaration sooner rather than later.

As always, comments welcome below.

“Duck” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 1st Day Review

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Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali

“58 doesn’t look a good score right now, if that isn’t stating the obvious.” Scott Styris, who has to be the weak link in the commentary team, has just said this. 58 all out doesn’t tell the whole story. It could have been worse.

Let me tell you how my night unfolded. I had been at a leaving do last night, and had a couple of drinks so was expecting a nice night’s sleep. But I’m a light sleeper and woke up around 1:30 and looked at the phone. Opened up the Cricinfo app and saw we were 12 for 2. Saw that Cook was out, and thought how the fans in the media were going to explain it away (had to be a terrific ball), and that Stoneman was still in (and Root not so he wasn’t batting 4). OK, this happens a lot to England, nothing to see here.

Then the frequent noise from the phone vibrating to signify the comments on the blog kept me awake. I saw Sri’s comment saying 18 for 6, and thought he must be joking. Still lying in bed I couldn’t get back to sleep. At 23 for 8 I got up, went downstairs because history beckoned, and England were now relying on Craig Overton, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to (a) get us above New Zealand’s test cricket record of 26; (b) get over England’s lowest score and (c) try to get it in the region of embarrassment rather than total humiliation.

I may be a major curmudgeon, but Stuart Broad’s attitude really peeved me. He flapped as he does when he thinks he needs to score fast, and played loose. When he edged one to Williamson, who took a blinder, he smiled. Great catch, but why are you smiling? I can’t remember ever smiling when I got out as a club player, so why now? I know, I know. It’s me.

Craig Overton was getting stick on Twitter for ruining everything with his 33. He played good shots without appearing to be as loose, with some selectivity in his shots. He made 55% of our runs coming in at number 9. From my perspective I have to say thank heavens. 30 all out would have really been a scar that this team would have to live with. The partnership took us from 27 for 9 to 58, and was ended with Jimmy Anderson trying to guide a ball over the slips, but instead prodding it to point. It summed up the hapless, hopeless nature of this team.

I’m watching Trevor Bayliss floundering under questions from Ian Ward, absolutely bereft of ideas, solutions, and thoughts. What could he say? Questioned on the “ridiculous” schedule by Ian Ward (I wonder if his Sky bigwigs will have a quiet word with him over that) he basically shrugged his shoulders. “What can you do? Don’t know? I don’t have the answers?” He faced up, I’ll give him that, but I hope this supposedly calm, methodical man threw the tea cups in that dressing room. I’ve just seen all the wickets, and his comment that our feet were like lead summed them up. Nick off, nick off, miss a straight one, nick off, miss a straight one, prod one back to the bowler. What a disaster.

Back to the action, I went back to bed early in the New Zealand innings, but still saw the chance off the first ball. Raval prodded a ball into the offside, and set off. Latham was slowish off the mark, our cover fielder (I think it might have been Malan) picked it up and with a clear view of the stumps, from 8 yards or so, missed. Latham was yards short. It was a missed opportunity, and to get out one of the form players, and getting Kane Williamson in second ball. But on such moments do fortunes pass. England got Raval early, but then struggled. Williamson batted superbly for 91 not out, and although Broad got his 400th test wicket, there was precious little to smile about. England’s test cricket, and especially its away test cricket is in a tail spin.

New Zealand finished the day on 175 for 3, already 117 runs ahead, seven wickets remaining, and a shot England team in their sights. England’s selection of five seam bowlers, if you include Stokes, seems muddled in itself. No-one is pining for the removal of James Vince, but to pick an additional seamer after the statements from the team about Ben Stokes and his ability to bowl is classic England. They are not confident in him being fit to bowl, so he is really in this team now as a batsman, and it puts Root at three, where he doesn’t want to bat (and we can discuss the mentality of this until the cows come home) and Malan one place too high (and please, let’s stop Malan at three in its tracks). Stokes is a bit bigger than the team these days.

Of course the New Zealand bowlers did a great job today. Both of them. Boult got 6 and Southee 4. They bowled full, they gave the ball a chance to swing, they exploited the weaknesses before them, and got their rewards. But as Rob Key said, this wasn’t a 58 all out day, this isn’t some green seaming menace, it was a combination of bowlers on form and batsman being out of it. (Also, a quick point, I thought Key was excellent today on Sky’s coverage. He was clearly fuming, and wasn’t going to let anyone get away with this being explained away by just good bowling, as ECBTV is given to do with its mild criticisms at best. He did it in a measured, pretty calm manner but always showed his frustration and anger.) The New Zealand bowling attack has a reputation that doesn’t always match its results, especially against the “big” teams. Maybe my arrogance is given away there, considering us a “big team”. We’re not. Nowhere near it.

So, what is going on? What’s the reaction here? Being honest, I don’t really care that much, but yet I am angry as hell. A contradiction wrapped up in resignation. England deserve this. Totally deserve to have their test team humiliated. They paper over the cracks at home, and then fall apart away. In an era when the game is global, they seem the ultimate home cooking boys. In an era when the international calendar gives you the opportunity to play on many surfaces, we look all at sea when we cross the Channel. It goes for our Lions team too.

There’s a Doug Stanhope clip on the Grand National where he says “…and they die, horses die, and no-one gives a shit!” I keep thinking of that line when I recall the media reaction to the Ashes. No-one gave a stuff. The same squad with a couple of little changes, is exactly the same. Failure was rewarded. Analysis was for the fools. Any reaction would not be appropriate. The same players would go to New Zealand, which is always seen as a nice, comfortable, popular tour, go out and play themselves back into test nick. You can see this attitude a mile off. “It didn’t matter in the Ashes, it matters less in an after the Lord Mayor’s show tour of just two tests with New Zealand.” The England team should have had a major shake-up, to see if we can find someone with requisite ability and temperament to play for the forseeable future. Instead the only change is to bring back someone on an affray charge for fear of his lawyers suing the ECB for restraint of trade, and we all have to be happy about that (while ignoring several important double standards). There’s a lot of focus on the joke practice matches, and yes, I know the intensity can’t be replicated, but this was as far away from a proper match as you could get, on both occasions. I wouldn’t be too tough on this if it hadn’t been held up as a fig leaf for the less than difficult winter so far. But England and the ECB want it all ways.

So what now? England need to salvage some pride. The game isn’t quite gone, but it needs a miracle to salvage it. It will need England to probably score 500 minimum in the second innings, and that really looks unlikely. What they should be afraid of is the fact that people will stop getting angry, and instead laugh at them. It might, just might get to the worst stage of all, where we pity them. Stocks is usually a good gauge of the way the press are thinking, and their current solution is to sack Bayliss from the test role. While I am not going to die on the hill of keeping him, it’s the players. It’s nearly always the players. Creating a good environment appears to be now an environment of tolerating failure. If Root isn’t hopping mad, then he bloody well should be. If Farbrace isn’t tearing into people, then he bloody well should be. Bayliss looked like he was going to cry when he was being interviewed. He appears a really nice guy. I don’t think it’s time for a nice guy, he needs to make it really clear. Like him, their jobs should be on the line.

Your thoughts, as always, welcome. We’ve been through some crappy England days on this blog, but this one feels worse, for some reason. Not patronising or belittling New Zealand, who were great, but they looked like a team up for test cricket. We looked like a team who frankly, aren’t. That’s a disgrace.

New Zealand v England – 1st Test, Day 1

Your hard working writers have been working bloody hard recently, and so the articles on here are a little thin on the ground. We have always said we won’t post for posting sake, and that we know you understand this. A lot has got my interest recently, and even today there is barely concealed anger over the ICC Qualifiers for the World Cup. We’ve had the tiresome nonsense between two groups of adults acting like children in South Africa. We’ve had the KP retirement and the reaction (and lack of in some quarters). There was the schmozzle in Sri Lanka, there are the frequent laments over county cricket. If the game has nothing to moan about, then it can generate something in a heartbeat. Sadly, despite all these subjects we’ve just been crushed by our day jobs. So sorry, but that’s life. It’s especially tough when we see some of the stuff being put out there at the moment.

But we have some actual cricket tonight. I was going to say proper cricket, but I’m not sold on this pink ball stuff, but according to all and sundry I am supposed to be the one to get into line. This is a sad tour for me. New Zealand are attractive opponents, playing an exciting type of cricket, with some good bowlers, and we will be tested. So let’s just play two test matches, bunged on to the end of an extraordinarily long winter tour, which to the public at large is going to be as an invisible tour, straight out of the HG Wells novel. You can tell how important it is for all and sundry – no-one appears to give a toss that Ben Stokes is playing. It’s an interesting sub-plot rendered meaningless by it being so low key. Stokes is making a comeback in the country of his birth. Such courage, as Andrew Strauss said. Let’s play a game. Let’s see if it’s New Zealand-born Ben Stokes on the scale of South African-born Kevin Pietersen in days of yore.

The first test is being played at the world’s most Mickey Mouse playing area, with some primary school boundaries in play at Eden Park. It’s also being played under lights (you’ve said that already), and it’s a two test series. One wonders if the ECB don’t take this series seriously, why the hell should supporters? As I’ve said many times, England lost an Ashes series 4-0 and no-one really gave a shit. So why should we care about what happens in New Zealand?

We do need to start winning away test matches. It may not be something the ECB cares too much about, but there is a worrying trend of England folding when there are distances to travel. This is a big series for a lot of players coming off an underwhelming Ashes. Stoneman has a place to play for, and even then, I’d be dubious of his test longevity. Malan came out of the Ashes with rep enhanced, but it’s a fragile place to be, and he may end the winter being chucked in at number 3. Joe Root has a number of critics to placate, because he keeps making 50s but not 100s. Moeen Ali had a chastening Ashes, but he’s not allowed one bad series, while some of his teammates survive three or four. Alastair Cook thought about quitting, but then didn’t think about, made one massive knock amid the slim pickings, but he’s not under pressure. Why should he be? Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes also need to recover some of their mojo. Well, not Jimmy. He’s in the sainthood with Alastair. But both could do with good series to bring England a victory, if possible.

New Zealand are going to be formidable, one would think. Neil Wagner is particularly interesting, having run through the West Indies before Christmas. Boult and Southee need no introduction. Kane Williamson is a class act, and the fear is after the ODI series is that we have a red hot Ross Taylor to contend with. It’s got plenty to commend it, this match.

We also have Act Three in the Children’s Party in South Africa. Who will call each other the worst rude word? Who will come up with the unfunniest quip? Who will ask another player out for a fight after play has finished? Which team will be more cheeky to teacher (umpire or match ref)? Which player will actually shut up and play cricket? England as a team are no angels, that I know. But this series has seen some tense cricket, good performances and exciting periods of play. Hell, AB De Villiers has shrugged off his fatigue to be fabulous. They don’t need this needle, and for grown adults to say they do, they should grow up. I can’t say I perform better in work if my manager tells me to fuck off every five minutes, or it gets me going if I threaten HR every now and again. They don’t have the monopoly on tense working environments, so pack it in, you tedious bores.

Comments on both matches below. We’ll try to get day reports up as and when. No promises.

And There Upon A Rainbow Is An Answer To….

One for all you Limahl fans out there.

A Never Ending Story indeed. The tour that started way back at the end of October rolls on to New Zealand and the one day international saga resumes. England face New Zealand in (looks up because frankly he hasn’t checked) five 50 over contests, and the first is tonight, in the early hours, in Hamilton. Feel free to comment away on here, and who knows, we may even watch some of this series. There are priorities at the moment and giving up a night’s sleep for JAMODI is probably not one of them.

I hope we can put a post or two up in the following week because there also looks to be a cracking test series in the offing in South Africa as Australia are visiting. I’ll be looking forward to catching as much of that as I can and while I think Australia have to start slight favourites, South Africa were pretty resilient at home to India and the quality of the pitches will be really interesting. Sometimes I think too much is made of a wicket with a bit of life in it, but that Joburg surface was a brute. We are about a week away from the ODI qualifiers for the World Cup. Much has been written about the structure of 2019’s edition, but this could provide some thrilling cricket which very few of us will see…

The big news this week were the white ball contracts for Adil Rashid and Alex Hales. This isn’t really new, as overseas players have been on these for a while now, but the two players have shown their cards and as is everyone’s wont in the cricket world, there has been much hand wringing and wailing. Rashid is the less surprising of the two. He’s had a while now of being briefed against – once again Selvey was at it recently with his “colleagues have formed a view” – but he is penned in now as an ODI and T20 bowler and that is it now. How we can blame Adil for doing this when he can only be of limited value in the County Championship, and the test team don’t want him, I don’t know. Hales has taken the path of least resistance, and in my view he wasn’t in with a shout for the test team because if he was, he wouldn’t have taken this view. Despite a white ball barrage in the last couple of years, he hasn’t got an IPL contract. He’s also one of the players who has a reputation for off the field stuff, so goodness knows what is really going on. Sean is going, possibly, to delve into this more and I’ll leave his path clear. But one thing it leaves me with is that the England set up doesn’t exactly seem to be engendering a love for the game.

As the snow and ice moves in to the South East, and the county cricket season draws closer, the contrasts between what we have now and what we might have this summer is stark. The overseas commitments for England and its staff continue until early April, and it is little wonder that the players feel burned out. The summer doesn’t exactly offer respite. The final test ends on 11 September – not last summer’s end of September farce – but it’s an intense summer against India, preceded by 2 tests against Pakistan, and for some reason not related to money, Australia are popping over for an ODI series.

A couple of observations. Michael Atherton wrote an article this week for The Times that read like it was a blog post from here, or from The Full Toss. But it was Atherton who wrote it so the press went absolutely all over the shop about it. It was “brilliant, amazing, wonderful” etc. etc. This is the damn problem. Atherton can write an article bemoaning the illogical nature of cricket and its decision making, but the fact he is employed by News International, commentates on Sky and writes for The Times he can’t speak the bloody obvious. That a decision made to hide the game behind a paywall for 12 years now has been an unmitigated disaster for the sport’s visibility. That didn’t appear in his list of cricket’s “failures” or ” mad decisions”. I thought it wouldn’t have made the cut for this place, but of course, cricket’s cognoscenti and those in the sport’s media probably saw it as hard-hitting and great. Athers is like a mafia don, and they were all paying their respects.

Out in the West Indies, our Lions took a pasting. Andy Flower is charged with bringing on the talent. The team included a man with a test hundred (Jennings), the child prodigy who has gone off the rails (Hameed – I’m not going to tell you I told you so), the man who has had his tyres pumped for a while and who will be touring New Zealand (Livingstone), a test debutant who made the media lose their minds (Crane) and someone who would have played in the Ashes if he’d stayed fit (Roland-Jones). 4 test players and a couple of others who have been in squads. And we got destroyed in the second game. Flower allowed himself to be interviewed afterwards, and his nonsense went relatively unchallenged. As some in the comments pointed out “I’m not a selector” has to be one of the great rib-ticklers of the modern England cricket era. He’s not a selector but his favourites seem to get “publicised” and “picked”.

“People should be patient with his development and he should find a balance of pushing himself with high expectations and standards, but also understanding that he is a 21-year-old leg-spinner,” Flower said.

Good. I agree. So why dump him in the middle of an Ashes series, with his run up not sorted, with no real hope of success? To find out if he doesn’t fall apart at the seams? To find out whether he can recover from mental scars? To watch our media lose their bloody minds? It made no logical sense.

“Just because he’s been picked for the New Zealand series doesn’t necessarily mean he will pull up trees.”

This begs a rather bloody obvious question. WHY THE EFFING HELL HAS BEEN PICKED? James Whitaker must be seething at how he has been slung under Alexander Dennis’s finest double decker.

He’s a confident young guy and I like that he’s combative. But he also knows he has got a lot of learning to do, and overs to get under his belt, to come anywhere near to mastering his very difficult art.

3-0 down, off you go. Good luck! Shane Warne didn’t bowl well in his first test and all that…. Also, I’d prefer our players to be “good” “excellent” or merely “very competent”, but instead “combative” seems what we want. Good, we need another gobby player who can start fights? Or am I misunderstanding what Flower means by “combative”.

Selection is not down to me but on pitches that turn he has shown himself to be very effective and has been the dominant bowler for us. In Sri Lankan conditions and with continued development, there is no reason why he can’t make an impact.

Stop laughing at the back. Mr Leach has taken a ton of wickets on this tour, but he needs to develop to play. Meanwhile someone patently not ready is off to New Zealand for a test tour. It’s a giggle this England test selection lark. Selvey had already received his briefing…

Leach nearly pulled the first game out of the fire and added another 6 in the only innings in the second game. But that’s ordinary, “he’s been told”. Who told him that?

Most reasonable people understand results are not always connected to resources, otherwise India would win every series they play. A big part of the Lions is to give players opportunities to grow and learn. We have lost on big turning pitches and batsmen haven’t coped. So that tells us where they are and informs how we work with them.

“Our top score in four innings is 60 from Paul Coughlin at No 7 and that is not OK. So I am not going to talk about who has been impressive, as no one has been. There have been snippets of class but nothing substantial, nothing to match what West Indies have done. People underestimate them and denigrate them but they are proud performers and have a lot of talent.

It doesn’t take Matthew Syed and his common sense dressed in fine flowery pyscho-babble to pick apart this drivel. Four of these players have played test cricket, so should be very much at home at this level. If you have more resources then you should do better – big clubs, well organised nations, well funded Olympic associations win more than those without – but Flower is throwing the players under the charabanc, and not his own well-tried methods that have never rubbed anyone up the wrong way.

The third game starts on Monday. Could be worth monitoring.

OK. You’ve heard enough from me. ODI time tomorrow. Ben Stokes may well return. Cue the noise.

Cheers!

New Zealand vs. England: First T20I Preview

In our latest post celebrating the blog’s third birthday, metatone suggested in the comments that we could put up an “Open Thread” post for England’s T20I and ODI games. Whilst all of the regular writers (and many of our audience) don’t pay as much attention to the shorter formats as Tests, it would allow those sad souls who find T20s “fun” to comment on the site in a thread just for them. As our Dear Leader said just over three years ago, “Let’s see how this one goes.”

England’s tour of Australia has finally come to an end, and it has been a mixed bag. They were dominant in the ODIs, and yet verging on the pathetic in both the Tests and T20Is. The inadequacies in the Test team are laid bare for everyone to see; the bowlers were incapable of taking wickets in challenging conditions and the batsmen were unable to survive the barrage of quality fast bowling and off spin.

The T20I team’s struggles are more puzzling to me. On paper, the squad is a good one. The majority of the players were in the team which took England to the final of the World T20 less than 2 years ago, as well as dominating Australia in the ODIs through January. England are 4-7 in T20Is since the 2016 tournament, compared to 28-7 in ODIs over the same period.

Of course, one thing which these figures demonstrate is that England plays a lot more ODIs than T20Is and perhaps that’s part of the problem. It’s a small sample size, and so maybe it would be wrong to read anything into these results. The T20 format is also more volatile in nature, meaning that a poor team might have more chance of winning than if a similar quality team was playing an 50 over game or Test.

But these issues aside, England’s T20I team does seem to be struggling. The ECB hired Bayliss as a limited overs genius and he has delivered (to an extent) in ODIs. With just over a year to go until the next World Cup, it seems like England are undeniably favourites to win that competition. For the World T20 in 2020 however, I wouldn’t bet on them even reaching the knockouts right now.

So what needs to change? Well there could be a case for a few players being dropped. Since the 2016 World T20, no player in the world has scored more runs than Joe Root at a lower strike rate. Likewise, Eoin Morgan and (surprisingly) Jos Buttler have scored their runs at a relatively sedate strike rate of 120. These scoring rates might be fine if you’re targeting an average score of 150, but I fear that’s not enough in today’s game.

Or perhaps a change in coaching would be enough. The majority of players in England’s current ODI team also played in the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign. The greatest difference between then and now is the mentality and aggression of the team. They don’t settle for a target of 270, instead trying to put the game out of reach of the opposition. The T20I team appear to be unable to muster the same levels of ruthlessness.

All of which is to say that I’m not hopeful about England’s prospects against New Zealand tomorrow morning. England need to win both remaining games against the co-host to make the final, and nothing they’ve shown in the last two games would suggest they’re capable of that.

As always, comments are welcome below.