Curating a Better Egg

Barring a collapse from New Zealand of the kind that England have so often managed to conjure up in these circumstances, this match will probably end in a draw, not least because the weather forecast isn’t overly promising.  The hard facts will then be that England have lost a second successive series in New Zealand, albeit with only two Test in each instance the term “series” is barely justified.

The surface in Hamilton is slow to the point of being turgid, and England have demonstrated they can definitely bat on such pitches, so assuming this game to be a benchmark for the future would be unwise to the point of recklessness.  But it is also the case that in both matches England have at least tried to play more like a Test team with the bat, and if that went rather badly wrong in the first match, it was at least an attempt.  As Dr Johnson once said about a dog walking on his hind legs, it’s not that it is done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.  Perhaps this is a new approach, perhaps it is indicative that England are taking Test match batting more seriously and without the carefree approach that has seen them fall in a heap all too often.  Or perhaps it’s just a very slow pitch with minimal movement that has allowed them to plod to big total.  Whether the glass is half full or half empty probably depends on how many times someone has cursed at the television over recent years when England are playing away from home.

The upside is that Joe Root will unquestionably be better for a long innings and a big hundred.  Sure, conditions for batting were benign, even if upping the tempo was difficult, but Root’s relatively poor run in recent times appeared less down to a technique that couldn’t cope with faster tracks than someone who appeared to have lost his patience to play long form cricket.  To what degree this was down to his pursuit of T20 contracts is a matter for debate, but it certainly can’t have hurt to be reminded of what it felt like to play a long Test innings and make the kind of personal score almost forgotten by English batsmen.

In the same spirit, Ollie Pope’s 75 is also highly welcome, especially so given his additional role this match as emergency wicketkeeper.  He is a player of promise, and at such a young age there is no reason to assume he won’t learn and develop, meaning his occasional extravagant shots can be forgiven at the present time.

The new coaching set up had insisted that England were going to bat properly in Tests and these two matches have at least shown a willingness to try.  That doesn’t mean the first Test collapses aren’t indicative of pre-existing faults, but at such an early stage, perhaps a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt towards the intention is worthwhile.

What it doesn’t fix is England’s ongoing problems using the Kookaburra ball overseas, but then there are many reasons behind it that are unlikely to be fixed in a couple of Tests in New Zealand, even if there was a firm intention to fix them at all, which remains doubtful.

Slow, low pitches provide the least entertaining conditions for watching cricket, and if the setting is stunning, the cricket has not been.  The game can ever surprise, but anything other than a draw after tonight will be a major one.  Test series should never really be just about learning for the future, but neither should it just be a case of looking at outcome and ignoring at least the possibility of progress, however limited that might be.

The problem is invariably a complete lack of faith in the ECB to truly mean any of what is needed to provide a genuine pathway, but if the ECB’s duplicity in talking up Test cricket while acting at every stage to undermine it, at least they’re not alone in that.  Cricket South Africa have provided an object lesson in Dennis Healey’s first law of holes – having removed the accreditation of cricket journalists for the crime of daring to criticise a highly dysfunctional governing body, they have subsequently tried to justify it, apologised for it while justifying it, mentioned that cricket journalists should only be talking about events on the field, and even got in the ECB favourite of thanking the stakeholders.  They haven’t so much backtracked as crabbed sideways before flipping over and waving their legs in the air in a vain attempt to get back upright.  It remains endlessly fascinating how cricket administration is so appallingly inept that it even fails to reach the limbo level low bar of sports administration generally.

With England due to arrive in South Africa in a fortnight, it offers up the enticing prospect of playing against a team whose governing body is even more crassly incompetent than their own, although in their favour they haven’t yet come up with an entirely new but unnecessary playing format.

Still, first things first – England do have a match to win this evening, and unlikely as it may be, the old favourite of a couple of quick wickets making it interesting will certainly apply.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 2

It’s an odd experience, writing a match report for a game I’ve barely seen, hurrying to get it finished before I go to work in the morning.

The story of the New Zealand innings seems to have been one of slow, attritional batting against England’s seamers bowling dry. Probably not a bad one to sleep through, now I come to think of it.

Broad did most of the damage, getting rid of the dangerous BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell (not that one). Archer, Curran and Woakes combined to take the last few wickets, dismissing New Zealand for 375.

One thing which truly angers me is that Ben Stokes bowled 11 overs today. Stokes is, after Anderson’s injury and Root’s dramatic loss if form, probably the first name in the team sheet for the Test team. Or at least would be, if England didn’t have such a maverick selector. Therefore, and I know this may sound crazy and nonsensical to Joe Root or anyone in England’s medical team, they should STOP TRYING TO FUCKING INJURE HIM. He has what seems to me to be a large amount of strapping on his leg, and frankly I don’t think I would even risk him fielding. He is the only Test-quality batsman England have right now, and losing that to an avoidable injury would be an absolute disaster.

Of course, the normal thing to do when a bowler is injured would be to lean more on your spinners. Leach’s exclusion from the team always made this unlikely though, and in the end Root and Denly only bowled 6 overs between them. It is a consistent thread through Root’s captaincy, and Cook and Strauss before him, that there’s almost never any inkling of long term considerations in their decisions on the field. They will drive a player into dust in order to increase their chances of winning the game in hand, when that player could make a greater impact through the whole season if they were handled with more care. The most obvious example would be the end of Flower’s tenure as coach, when the whole team virtually imploded, but England and the ECB don’t seem to have learned any lessons in the years since.

England had 18 overs to face at the end of the day, and battled through to the end without conceding…

Just kidding. Obviously, England lost two cheap wickets and will have to bat really well tomorrow to have any chance tomorrow of drawing this series. Sibley fell cheaply again, and (admittedly after only 3 innings) he isn’t impressing so far as a potential England opener. Denly, who seems likely to open in South Africa, didn’t do any better. Oddly, Zak Crawley didn’t come out to bat today. The batsman, who was apparently in contention to open the batting for England in this series, is down at 6 in the batting order. I just can’t understand that decision.

As will surprise no one after seeing only 6 overs if spin were bowled, the day ended 4 overs short. Nothing will happen, of course, but we do like to keep mentioning it.

On a positive note, at least we aren’t Pakistan fans, as they are watching Australia absolutely cream them. Smith and Warner have apparently both beaten some of Don Bradman’s records, and it’s looking like a really one-sided bloodbath over there.

If you have anything to add, especially if you actually watched the game last night and can offer some real insight, feel free to comment below.

Game Over – NZ v England, 1st Test, Day 4

Denly, Root, Stokes. Those three batsmen are basically all that stands between England and a crushing defeat characterised by poor batting on a pitch which is frankly every bit as dead as Melbourne in 2017. There is absolutely no reason that this Test should not have been a bore draw, except for England’s ineptitude in the middle.

The New Zealand innings, which lasted for just over two sessions last night, was pretty much a repeat of day 3. Watling and Santner batted through most of the day, with England’s bowlers causing few if any problems. The scoring accelerated after Lunch, with the two batsmen pushing New Zealand’s first innings lead beyond 250 until the hosts declared just after Tea. England’s bowling was flat, but so was the pitch and it doesn’t really seem fair to ascribe any blame to them when virtually every wicket which has fallen has been to a collossal mistake by the batsmen.

Which brings us to England’s innings. They needed to bat out 118 overs in order to save the game. Historically, that is seen as a very tough task. On a dead pitch where New Zealand’s numbers six and eight have just shared a partnership lasting 83.2 overs however, a solid batting lineup should at the very least fancy their chances. Burns and Sibley saw out the first hour from Boult and Southee, and then left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner came on.

Sibley was the first wicket to fall, edging a forward defensive prod to a ball which was about a yard wide of the stumps and spinning away. Four overs later, with England just three overs away from the end of the day, Burns top-edged a slog sweep which went almost straight up in the air before being caught at square leg by de Grandhomme. The only blameless wicket was right at the end, when nightwatchman Jack Leach was wrongly given out caught behind. A specialist batsman would almost certainly have immediately reviewed the decision, even if they thought there was a possibility they had in fact hit it. Leach, probably aware that the outcry for wasting a review in the England camp would almost certainly outweigh the potential congratulations if it was successful, chose instead to walk off.

Mitchell Santner has never taken more than three wickets in an innings, but seems poised to exceed that by at least a couple more tonight. I think it is remarkable how many mediocre (as Colin Graves might say) spinners excel when playing against England. Of the 24 spin bowlers (a number which includes quite a few part-timers) to have played against them in the last two years, seven made their career Test best bowling figures. New Zealand’s Santner and Astle; Chase in the West Indies; Sandakan, Pushpakumara and Dananjaya in Sri Lanka; Vihari in India. None of these are world-class bowlers who other teams seem to have trouble facing, and yet they run through England like a vindaloo through an incontinent grandpa. This is a consistent, clearly identifiable flaw in England’s Test batting which needs addressing.

There was an interesting conversation on Sky during the Lunch break, following an interview between Wardy and Ashley Giles about the changes the ECB has made recently in coaching and developing England players. In just two minutes, Key absolutely destroys the ECB’s National Cricket Performance Centre as a worthwhile endeavour.

Nick Knight: What about Loughborough? What about the Lions pathway? Ashley [Giles] spoke a little about it there. You’ve been through both those pathways. Have they worked over a period of time? The ECB have invested a lot of money and time in those pathways. Are players now more developed, having come through that pathway than they were before it existed?

Rob Key: There’s two different things there. Loughborough, I’ve always seen as a bit of a waste of money because I see Loughborough as a bit of a glorified indoor school. Where it’s the hub in the middle of Loughborough University. There’s an indoor net facility, a few other things, gyms, all of that type of stuff that I’ve spent many an hour in. Generally, Loughborough itself hasn’t really done anything to help cricketers. But what has, as Ashley Giles spoke there, which is a big difference, which I’m all for, is if someone wants to practice against spin. You’re not going to learn to play spin at Loughborough, but you will do if you get shipped out to Mumbai and you go and practice playing spin out there for three or four weeks. And then you want to play fast ones, they help people go to Australia. So then you can just send the players all around, it’s like a finishing school or it’s meant to be a finishing school, the Lions programme. Like he said, Ben Foulkes going out and playing in Sri Lanka. The Lions tours that they go on are absolutely vital, and they’re really good. The academy trip or the Lions trip I went on, we spent six months in Australia facing Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Chris Tremlett, Alex Tudor. Forget about coaches, you can’t not improve in that sort of environment. But that wouldn’t have been any good just being at Loughborough, in the middle of winter in an  indoor school.

So I have no idea how much money gets ploughed into Loughborough, there’s nothing against the coaches there or anything else. I just don’t see the point in having an expensive facility that pretty much every county has. Probably not as nice, put it that way, but every county has its own indoor school. But the Lions programme I think is actually very good. It gives the opportunity to players that you don’t get in counties, especially in the winter. So they have a whole pathway system where they have Daniel Vettori doing a bit with the spinners out in the UAE and places like that. So that I think is really vital. Loughborough itself… It was a pain having to go up there. Bowlers don’t want to bowl in an indoor school. So you’re going up there, you’re not doing any cricket. You just do fitness testing. That seems like an expensive thing to have for that.

Ashley Giles clearly thinks the problems at Loughborough lie with the staff, as major personnel chances have occurred since he took charge. I agree with Key on this. The core issue is in the concept itself, not its execution. No indoor net, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate the experience of playing overseas. Nor can it simulate an innings which spans more than a few overs. Fitness, whilst obviously important, in no way requires or justifies a multi-million pound annual investment in a specialist facility. County cricketers are, as far as I can tell, as fit as any international players. The main problems with England’s Test team in recent years have been lack of concentration and focus by the batsmen, and frequent spells of ineffectiveness from the bowling attack when overseas. Loughborough can’t and won’t do anything to clear either of these hurdles.

If you want to comment on the game, or anything else, feel free to do so below. Because, unlike Chris/thelegglance, I will never block comments on my posts.

World Cup Final: England vs New Zealand – Live Blog

It’s 9am, and cricket is about to start on Channel 4. Anyone can tune in, it doesn’t need a day pass, it doesn’t need a subscription. Just turn the television on, or if you’re one of those millions the ECB insist don’t “consume content” this way, use the 4OD app and stream it. Either way, the England cricket team are there to be watched by everyone for the first time in 14 years.

It’s a treat of course. A special occasion, a one off. And the sheer delight at cricket opening itself to the masses is tempered by the absolute fury that it can have been 14 years since this was last the case. For a sport, any sport to have hidden itself away for so long, as a deliberate strategy, remains extraordinary, and extraordinarily stupid.

The way the ECB have been banging on about “engagement” in the last few days is the mark of an organisation desperately trying to justify its own actions, using every possible matrix to try to deny the consequences of its own conduct. It’s a common tactic of course, the same kind of adding up that led Manchester United to claim they had 659 million fans, through amongst others sleights of hand including all those who support other clubs but who play United and thus count as being interested in them, but with cricket, the numbers are so frighteningly low to begin with that the exaggerated numbers are more terrifying than reassuring.

Still, today is a chance, a rare opportunity, for someone to stumble across the game that we love, and be hooked by it. It’s a common memory for so many of us, to have played in the back garden or the street, and to discover it shown on tv and be drawn in. Times have certainly changed in the world of broadcasting, but a central tenet of sports adherence has not – in order to fall for a game, it has to be seen, it has to be watched. Today can only be beneficial. But the sad part, the desperately sad part, is that instead of being a foundation on which to build, it is instead a one off, a quick glimpse through the palace gates at the riches beyond and little more. Celebrate this instance, but remain furious that it is all we get.

It will be intriguing to see what kind of viewing figures are gained, and it’s not hard to imagine that the ECB’s worst nightmare is if they are strong. They’ll certainly be higher than anything gained on Sky over the last few years, but a strong latent interest will shine a light on their policies like nothing else. Naturally, they’ll protest that it justifies their Hundred approach of showing the odd game to the public, and how they intend to capitalise on reaching non-cricket fans in future. That’s the trouble with the ECB – you can write their responses yourself, if you can bear to continually write sentences including the words stakeholders and engagement.

Of course, this is an ICC event, and the granting of free to air coverage is entirely the decision of Sky, so the ECB claiming credit would be laughably misplaced, but it is unlikely to stop them.

But this is an unqualified “good thing”, an unexpected bonus for those who might well be able to afford a Sky subscription, but who care enough for the health of a sport that they want to see everyone exposed to it, who want everyone to get the chance to appreciate it. Of course Channel 4 are going to switch to the Grand Prix, they’ve had that scheduled for ages, but it is not like the early years of the century – everyone, and I mean everyone, now has digital television and can switch. Perhaps just as importantly given cricket’s absence from the wider airwaves, some who tune in for the motor racing might just hang around for the cricket afterwards as well.

It’s sunny, it’s exciting, and we’re all going to watch cricket. What a fabulous day, and there will be a new winner of the Cricket World Cup. What’s not to like?

As for the game, England are warm favourites against a New Zealand team that epitomises the cliche about them being more than the sum of their parts, but who have some outstanding cricketers in their ranks too. There seems little doubt the team winning the toss will wish to bat first, and that the pitch will be a batting friendly one for such a showpiece occasion.

We’ll all be joining in with the live blogging and commenting during the day, so the usual reminder that auto-refresh is a plug in that we’ve not come across yet, so you’ll need to manually refresh the page. Oh the hardship…

09:10 – 5 Live have started the build up, Sky have started the build up, and half the Channel 4 audience are seeing for the first time that a World Cup has been on for the last 6 weeks.

09:17 – I remember the 1992 World Cup, getting up at 3am to go down to the student union to watch the final. My mate Jason was going to come with me, but overslept the little shit, so I was stood outside his house cursing his name as he drifted. He eventually turned up at about 9 I think.

09:30 – the irony of the Sky feed showing bits of the 2005 series on Channel 4 but with the Sky commentary.

09:50 – interesting watching the interview with Eoin Morgan. Some in the media have been falling over themselves to praise people behind the scenes, like Strauss. It surely can’t be too difficult to give the bulk of the praise to the bloke who has been in charge of the team for the last four years. He’s the one, not a suit.

09:55 – toss delayed to 10:15. So presumably a delayed start too.

10:16 – New Zealand win the toss and bat. Probably not an easy decision given the overhead conditions. Same side for New Zealand. Morgan says he’s not bothered about losing the toss and that it was a 50/50 call. England also unchanged.

10:29 – “I got a duck in the World Cup final, it’s not that bad!”. Brendon McCullum is great – all the pontification about pressure and so on, and he offers a healthy dose of perspective.

10:38 – is it just me who really, really hates anthems before a cricket match?

Ok here we go. Not really nervous, not like before the football or rugby World Cup matches. Odd in many ways, I’d like to be.

10:45 – having said that, it’s worth England being in the final for the sheer bitterness of some of our Australian friends in particular. Marvellous.

Massive wipe at the first ball by Guptill. Fantastic to see, and what I’d hope to watch down the local club.

It’s a World Cup final and we’ve got Michael Clarke on comms. Did we deserve that?

Boy that pitch looks green. 5-0 after 1.

10:53 – great decision from Erasmus not to give a catch behind, and a good one from Morgan not to review it. Have to say, first instinct was it was out. Nope, hit the back leg.

10:55 WICKET! Nicholls lbw to Woakes. It’s been reviewed…oh this looks stone dead. Wow, going over the top. Must be going blind. So overturned, as you were. 8-0 off 2.3

11:00. 10-0 from 3. There’s movement for the England bowlers out there, but surviving the first half hour is going to be key.

I’m absolutely certain that my (abysmal) bowling arm came over at the same speed as Jofra Archer’s. But the ball dribbled out for me and goes down the other end like an Exocet for him.

11:03 – 22-0 from 4. Decent start.

How come I always get the promotion email about World Cup matches from the ECB well after the game is underway?

11:06 24-0. England have started reasonably, there have been a couple of alarms, but no more than ought to be expected.

Archer is perhaps bowling a bit short. The speed is starting to crank up though.

11:10 WICKET! Probably anyway – Woakes bowls full to Guptill and pins him in front. It’s been reviewed, and yep, that’s out. New Zealand also lose their review. 29-1.

Woakes has been good this morning, looking much the more dangerous of the opening attack. Kane Williamson arrives at the crease…

A general thing about reviews. Dharmasena hasn’t had a great tournament, but his error in giving Roy out in the semi-final would have been overturned had England not burned their review on a desperation attempt to prevent Bairstow’s dismissal. So it is here with New Zealand, by hoping for a miracle, they’ve now put themselves at risk of a mistake later. For all the criticism about a wrong decision, teams bring a lot of it on themselves with Hail Marys on ones where it’s a fair enough decision. My sympathy is in short supply.

11:20 bit of short pitched bowling from Archer to Williamson. A fast bowler pinging a batsman is great stuff. As long as you’re not the batsman. 30-1 from 8

Nicholls is struggling a bit here. 10 runs off 26 balls and looking a tad fretful with it.

11:28 Always easy to slate the commentators, and some are woeful. But it’s Atherton, Bishop and Smith on currently. They’re bloody marvellous. Can we have them on for the rest of the day?

1135 40-1, given it’s not easy out there, New Zealand will be pretty pleased with this start. Could have easily lost the final in the first hour, but they’re in the game.

1142 Bit of an iffy first over from Liam Plunkett, but everyone knows this entire game is about watching him bowl, and particularly watching him bat.

1148 50 up, in the 14th over. Been a bit of a struggle, but it’s fine. They’re in the game.

1150 Kane Williamson 4 not out off 24 balls. Which says above all else that people can get too stressed about the early part of an innings, because if he’s still there in 20 overs time, he’ll have a big score. Mark Wood into the attack.

1155 Mark Wood is getting more (away) swing than anyone else. Swing hasn’t been a big part in this tournament, it’s a pleasant surprise to see some.

95mph from Wood. That’s rapid.

1156 and that’s drinks.

1159 Hmm Stokes is limping a bit. Seems to be ok now, ran around the boundary well enough just now.

1202 68-1 from 16, and here’s Danny to take over.

1206 Tight over from Wood. New Zealand seem to be targeting 250-270, which has to be too low against this England team?

1210 Seven from Rashid’s first over, with not much spin off the pitch. It might be worth bowling Stokes a bit early on and seeing if the pitch if more receptive to Adil later on…

1214 Seven again from Wood’s third over. New Zealand are accelerating, and the English bowlers aren’t seeming very threatening in these middle overs so far.

1219 Another seven runs from Rashid’s over, and again no real threat.

1223 Seven runs from Wood’s end too. Since Woakes finished his 7-over spell, New Zealand are scoring at 6.4 runs per over, which could lead to them scoring over 350 altogether. Very worrying…

1226 Better from Rashid, only four of this one, but nothing to worry the batsmen. Ominous.

1230 WICKET. Williamson given not out edged behind, but that decision was by Dharmasena so England have reviewed. Huge spike on the UltraEdge and Plunkett has got Williamson out. Huge wicket from nowhere!

1242 A couple of tighter overs after the wicket and the pressure is back on the New Zealand batsmen. Losing Williamson could have cost New Zealand 50 runs or more from their total.

1248 WICKET No need for Dharmasena to fret about this decision. Plunkett bowls a full ball and an inside edge rips out Nicholls’ off stump. Amazing what happens when you bowl full.

1302 Three tight overs from Plunkett and Rashid, New Zealand’s wheels are spinning but they’re going nowhere fast. Stokes has apparently recovered and is bowling his first over.

1306 Stokes keep it tight, conceding four, and now it’s DRINKS.

13:08 – Dmitri taking over now. Teddy permitting.

13:10 – Rashid bowling his 8th over, with no wickets. Four singles from the first four balls and then two dots. Think they aren’t really taking a chance here, putting their eggs in a 250-270 basket. There’s not a lot in this wicket, so I’m not sure that’s a top idea.

13:12 – Ben Stokes on for his second over. All quite low key so far. Latham pulls the second ball firmly for a single to backward square. Ross Taylor does pretty much the same to the next ball, but just a single. No getting away from the lack of boundaries. Another nick for a single off the fourth ball. Two leg-byes off the fifth ball as it flicks off Taylor’s hip to fine leg. Wide off the sixth ball which went right over the blue line. Kumar being a bit harsh. Guided down to third man for a single off the last ball. Seven off it – 141 for 3.

13:18 – Not sure this will be enthralling the nation. Mark Wood replacing Adil Rashid, to bowl his fifth over. First ball he nails Taylor in front, and with no review he has to go. Is that New Zealand’s last chance to post a big total? Erasmus is fireproof at the moment. Has he got this right?

WICKET – Ross Taylor LBW Mark Wood 15 – 141 for 4

Our band sings (well I do) this song, and our guitarist plays a damn sight better guitar solo than this. Neesham in. Is the game gonna go his way? LBW was too high, so congratulate Guptill for blowing the earlier review. And let’s see Erasmus get some grief (I don’t mean that, but Kumar got stick for some stuff earlier today on the back of a bad decision on Thursday). No runs from the next four balls. Make that five. A wicket maiden from Mark Wood – 141 for 4 from 34.

13:24 – “Funny How the Missus Always Looks The Bleedin’ Same” – How am I ever going to get that lyric into a blog post title? Stokes on again. One from the first, full bunger not dealt with for the second. Two left-handers in now. Stokes strays on to leg stump and Neesham clips it through mid-wicket for a rare boundary. First in 15 and a half overs according to Bishop. Follows up with a wide. Neesham clobbers the short ball through wide mid-on for another four from the fifth ball. A driven single makes it 11 off the over and the score with 15 overs to go at 152 for 4. Are we seriously expected to pay £20 extra to watch Dillian Whyte?

13:28 – Wood gets smacked first ball by Neesham but no run. Blocks the second, with Wood registering 92 mph on the speed gun. Evades a short ball third up, but connects with the fourth – Woakes dives to save three runs on the boundary. Jimmy giving it big lash early on. Play and miss on the fifth. Blocks the sixth, with just one run from Wood’s sixth over. 153 for 4.

13:33 – Stokes removed, and Liam Plunkett back on. First ball to Neesham who hit straight to backward point first up. Drop and run on the second ball. The Barmy Army trumpeter plays, whether you like it or not. Dot ball. Michael Clarke doesn’t remember much about the 2015 Final. Just like I don’t recall the early days of this blog. Plunkett goes short, and Latham goes for a pull, for four. Bounced before the “rope”. Quick single next ball. Dot ball off the sixth ball. Six from the over. 159 for 4 from 37.

13:37 – Latham times a ball through the covers for four from Wood’s first ball, but follows up with a play and miss to a pitched up delivery. Lovely to see the ICC dignitaries enjoying the cricket. Latham to third man for a single. Let’s see those ICC characters again. The public demands it. Dot ball to Neesham off ball four. Nothing from the fifth, a short ball Neesham ducks under. A squirted dab into the offside gets Neesham a single. 6 runs from the over, 7 from Wood’s last three, and it’s 165 for 4 with 12 overs left.

13:41 – Wasted. That’s a tune for the MCC members. Might be about the 2005 legacy, eh? Dot ball first up from Liam, just missing off stump. This is Plunkett’s ninth over. Dab down to third man for Neesham. Ah the Women’s world cup winners. What a legacy they’ve built since, aided and abetted by the ECB. Single to Latham, then two for Neesham. Not fireworks by any means. Neesham hits the next ball for four, an offdrive off the back foot that Woakes couldn’t reach. Then Liam gets his revenge, fooling Neesham who lofts it straight to mid-on and it is caught by Joe Root.

WICKET – Jimmy Neesham Caught Joe Root Bowled Liam Plunkett 19 – 173 for 5

A key wicket for England as in comes the Big Man. I’ll call him CdG for the purposes of this live blog. It is easier.

13:47 – Wood gives up a single to Latham first ball, and CdG now faces. He takes two to wide third man to get his score going as those lags, the Barmy Army, sing Livin’ On A Prayer. No more comment offered. Nothing doing from a misjudged shot third ball for CdG. A full ball on leg stump is beautifully timed, but Bairstow dives and the ball goes in clean and is returned rapidly. Still two runs, but great fielding. Dot ball from another 92 mph delivery. Wood is rapid at the moment, so no way he stays fit this summer! Single from CdG – 179 for 5, with six from the over. 10 to go. dum de dum dum dum dum.

13:51 – Lovely to see the full ICC box again. Half expect to see that Infantino chap turn up. Last over from Liam – two dot balls to start the 41st. What the public wants is more ICC freeloaders on screen. Single to deep midwicket for CdG off the third ball. Short ball clopped to deep midwicket for a single by Latham, who is onto 25. Oh, it’s our PM. For at least another week. Play and miss off the penultimate ball, so Liam has one more. 3 for 42 at the moment. It’s how he finished, a dot ball. 181 for 5. Here’s Ray Winstone. I miss him “having a bang on that”.

13:56 – Archer back on, and a single for Latham to start. Archer has 5 to bowl. Play and miss to the 85mph second ball. A total miscue from a short ball for CdG gets a single as it balloons off his helmet over backward point. I now get a two minute break. Latham strokes a single from the fourth. Sharp single from the big man, which would have been tight if hit. Wide from the sixth ball. Bouncer off the last ball. 186 for 5. 8 overs remaining.

14:01 – Single off the first full pitched delivery from Wood, as it goes down to fine leg from CdG. Single off the second. A run a ball gets New Zealand just around 230. 4 leg byes as the ball flicks CdG, a nice and nasty bonus. Two runs for CdG as he takes on Adil’s weak arm and gets home. Chopped down to third man for a single off the fifth ball of the over. Latham miscues a short one for a single. 10 off the over, and it is 196 for 5. I see Naylor has cheesed off some of the parish. Ah yes. One of my early blogging inspirations. And another of my regrets.

14:06 – Single from the first ball of Archer’s over. Another leg bye off the second. No, Simon, it hasn’t gripped the country. Stop telling nonsense. Short ball flapped for a single by Latham. Wide given for the next bouncer. 200 up. Miscue doesn’t carry to cover from CdG. Had a few of these through the innings. They’ll get ’em in leg byes as CdG is through early and it ricochets for a single. Wide off the supposed last ball of the over. Still six off the over so far. Wide again. Short and wide of leg stump. Single off the last, pictures of MCC eccentrics and 8 from the over. Pip Pip. 204 for 5 with six to go.

14:11 – Wood’s final over. No run from the first ball. Swing and a miss from the second. Lovely shot for six over mid-wicket by Latham as he picks up a straight full delivery from Wood. Wood hits Latham a midships the next ball. Top edge falls short of Archer who pings in a return to prevent a second. Buttler gathers and slings the stumps down, it is being reviewed and CdG is just in. A lot closer than it looked. One run. Bouncer, not given wide off the last. Wood done. 1 for 49. 7 from the over. 211 for 5. Five overs left.

14:16 – We are the army, the barmy army, we are mental and we are mad. Single for Latham from the first ball. Single for CdG from the second. Slower ball dabbed for one by Latham again. Wood clutching his rib at the end of his spell. Three weeks from the Ashes. CdG gets tied up with another short ball. Dot. Slower full ball means CdG mis-times. No run. Slow ball bouncer (78) and CdG waves what looks like a stick at it. 3 from the over. 214 for 5. 24 balls remaining.

14:19 – We interrupt the generic pap music to say Woakes is coming back. Wood wanders off. Hurry up and bowl Chris, that tune is dreadful. Latham pushes a single first ball. Slower ball is tucked behind square for 2 off the second. Single from the third ball. Latham cross bats a single. Slower ball is chipped in the air by CdG and he loops it to mid-off.

WICKET – Colin de Grandhomme Caught Sub (James Vince) Bowled Chris Woakes 16 – 219 for 6

James Vince gets his name on a World Cup Final scorecard. More than KP and Sir Al ever did! In comes Mitchell Santner, but Latham is on strike. Stroked to midwicket for a single. 220 for 6. 6 runs from the over. 3 overs remain.

14:26 – Archer to Latham. Single down to deep backward square. Single to Santner for the first run of his innings. Dot ball from a short ball third up. Driven single for Latham on the fourth ball. Single to Santner. Single to Latham. Dull. 5 from the third last over, and barely a chance taken. 225 for 6.

14:29 – Appeal, Woakes for LBW against Latham. Review. Missed run out. Need the lav. Ted’s asleep. Doesn’t look out, although he did wander. Pitched outside leg. A run taken. Santner clumps one to midwicket. Single. Lazy cricket gives New Zealand five runs. Short ball bouncer, wide, boundary. Muppets. Wide full toss, slow ball, chipped up, and Woakes gets another wicket. Horrid cricket.

WICKET – Tom Latham Caught Sub (James Vince) Bowled Chris Woakes 47 – 232 for 7.

Vince becoming a legend here. The catchmaster. Wonder if Vaughan can leverage that into an Ashes place. Someone shoot the guitarist. Woakes bowls a beamer to Santner, no ball and a free hit, which Santner misses (a slower ball telegraphed by second class post). Quick single again, a direct hit is missed, but probably safe. Vince not quite the legend. Woakes last ball to Henry is slower, and Matt massacres it over cow corner for a one bounce four. 238 for 7. 13 from the over. Last six…

14:37 – First ball, Santner move across, ball goes over leg stump. Dot. Another quick single second ball. Throw misses. One run to Santner. Bouncer third ball is adjudged as a wide. McCullum ranting on about 240. Full and straight next, and it smacks into off on the full.

WICKET – Matt Henry Bowled Jofra Archer 4 – 240 for 8

Next man in is Sweet Child Of Mine (not so sweet with this clown on the guitar) Trent Boult. Three balls left. Slow yorker. Dot ball. Boult drives the penultimate ball for a single, and scampers down the other end. Last ball to Santner who has five from eight balls at the tail end of the innings. It’s a bouncer and Santner ducks!!!!! A dot ball without a shot being played. Curious and even more curious. Innings over 241. Just 242 to win. New Zealand going to need early wickets. I think this is England’s to lose. It’s not a great wicket, but it isn’t 241 in 50 overs. England never took their feet off New Zealand’s throat.

We have a half hour break.

15:09 – Sean on the decks for the upcoming passage of play. How is everyone’s nerves? The Sky commentators seem to be confident of an England victory, i’m not so sure mind!

15:12 – This new ball is going to be crucial in the outcome of the final. If England can see off Boult and Henry and be 40-0 off 10, then they become overwhelming favourites

15:14 – Roy is a lucky boy. Boult raps him on the pads and NZ review, umpires call saves England from the worst possible start. Must admit that looked dead in real time. Just the single from the over.

15:21 – The ball is doing all sorts at the start of the innings, i’m glad i don’t have to face Boult and Henry on this. Roy connects with one sweetly down the ground. England’s first boundary.

15:27 – Steady from England here with Roy keeping hold of the strike. The Kiwi bowlers still looking dangerous mind, they need a wicket in the few overs though.

15:32 – Bairstow joins the party with 2 boundaries off Trent Boult. Are the Black Caps getting a little desperate now?

15:36 – OUT: Well they’re not getting desperate anymore, Henry gets Roy with an out swinger that is caught by Latham. Root comes to the crease and England will need something big from the Test captain.

15:43 – This has been a fascinating passage of play and kind of resembles the morning of Day 1 at a Test with a good old fashioned battle between bat and ball. ODI cricket is so much better to watch when there is something there for the bowlers as well as the batsmen.

15:50 – Bairstow playing Boult very sensibly here, leaving the one that goes across him and then a lovely pull for 4. Oh look, Tom Harrison is in the crowd, desperate to jump on any successful bandwagon no doubt. I hope Bairstow hooks one into his mush.

15:53 – Henry bowls a maiden over, he has bowled a very fine spell here, much fuller than the England bowlers. The Big Man is loosening up and coming on to bowl, the conditions could certainly suit De Grandhomme’s type of bowling.

15:56 – Many people commenting how flat the atmosphere is at the Final. It’s pretty much like every Lords international i’ve been too.

15:57 – CHANCE – The Big Man drops a relatively straight forward catch of his own bowling from Bairstow. How costly will that drop prove to be??

16:06 – Tense. The squeeze is on here from the New Zealand, England have to be a careful not to get bogged down here. 2 boundaries from Bairstow, the first a nice push of his legs and then nearly chops on next ball relieves a bit of pressure. Meanwhile:

16:12 – New Zealand bring on Ferguson for his first bowl of the game. England didn’t face him during the group game, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against him and that tremendous moustache.

16:16 – Root is getting bogged down here, not his fluent self by any means. An ambition LBW shout from De Grandhomme and then an ugly swipe from Root.

16:17 – OUT! A horrible innings from Root comes to an end with another ugly swipe and a tickle behind to Latham. New Zealand are most definitely still in this.

16:19 – Drinks and a good time to handover the reigns to the ice cold TLG. I’m going to hide behind the sofa meanwhile

16:20 – well now, TLG here and this is interesting. Tight and nervy all round. You’d say objectively that England ought to win from here, but there’s that nagging doubt and the pressure is on.

16:26 – A quick switch across to the laptop, as this blog has now got so long the WordPress app is struggling to load it properly.  I mentioned the tension with this game, and the cynical old sods writing this are all a bit tense.  Which is strange, considering it’s a feeling that’s been absent from all of us for quite a few years now.  Which just goes to show that once this ridiculous game has wormed its way in, there’s no stopping it.  Oh it’s 65-2.

16:31 – A gorgeous cover drive from Jonny Bairstow, but which is then followed by WICKET! As he chops on to his stumps from Lockie Ferguson.  It’s been coming too, he’s cut a few past his own stumps, with his bottom hand being overly dominant today.  England are in a bit of strife.  72-3

16:37 – Anyone wishing Moeen Ali was in the batting order today yet?

16:39 – Just two off that over.  Funny thing with England, if they go after the bowling, you back them to pull off a run chase, but the moment they get hesitant and cautious, you can almost see the nerves.  That’s not to say they should be having a slog at it, they’re probably approaching it the right way.  But it doesn’t half look as if they’re worried.

16:44 – 82-3.  You know, it’s almost like England on free to air tv hasn’t gone away, I’m pretty sure we left it in 2005 with England in a tense tight sitution.

16:47 – You’re thinking you don’t mind really if New Zealand win the World Cup, aren’t you?  Decent bunch of chaps, not Australian, underdogs, punching above their weight, a victory for cricket and all that.

16:49 – Checking our stats page, it seems we had a visitor to the blog who searched for “cricket for posh people”.  You what?

16:50 – WICKET! Oh drama.  Is Morgan caught?  Yes he is.  Pretty poor shot, and a fine catch from Lockie Ferguson.  England are in trouble here.  86-4 is not a promising position, and Ben Stokes is going to have to try and pull the fat out of the fire once again this tournament.

16:56 – 24 overs gone, 89-4.  Two new batsmen at the crease, both destructive, and with a target that’s modest enough it can be whittled away quickly.  But England have little room for manouevre now, the batting quality remaining is good, but we’re very much into the all rounders.

17:00 – How are the fingernails?

17:03 – Extremely unimpressed with Arron in the comments for drawing the England/Jimmy White parallel just as I was thinking about it and before I could write it.

17:04 – 98-4.  It’s interesting seeing people think the pitch is not up to scratch.  There’s something in that, given it’s not rewarded stroke play.  On the other hand, if this goes to the wire, then irrespective of anything else, the viewing figures are going to soar, and the chewing of fingers is going to reach cannibalistic levels.  For that’s the point, it can be certainly stated that fours and sixes might drag in the uninitiates (T20 suggests exactly that), but drama is what really does it, whether high scoring or low scoring.

17:09 – Stokes eases the pressure a bit with a crunching straight drive to bring England’s hundred up.  The required run rate is just starting to climb a bit, up to 6.22.  Manageable certainly, a problem if a wicket or two falls.  And just to expand that earlier point, I’m not convinced that this is a poor spectacle right now.  Earlier in the day that could be said, but you don’t have to be a county member or a club player of 20 years standing to understand this is very tight.

17:15 Nelson up!  111-4.  These two are starting to look more at ease now.  You know what’s going to come next…

17:21 – A few singles here and there.  Nothing is happening but everything is happening.  Cricket is so good.

17:26 – Buttler cuts just out of reach of Guptill, and it races away for four.  Naturally, it gives the commentators the chance to talk about what would have been the catch of the tournament for the thousandth time.

Expect much, much more of this kind of thing if New Zealand win.

17:31 – 136-4.  Starting to tick over nicely.  And up comes the 50 partnership, that to channel my in Ronay is as welcome as a Green and Black’s ice cream on a hot day ooh aren’t I a clever one.

17:34 – time for a Powerade Hydration Break*.

*Just fuck off.

A masterclass in “I don’t know what the hell to say because I’m nervous, so I’ll state the bleeding obvious”.  We’ve all been there.

17:40 – 35 overs gone, 141-4.  A healthier looking scorecard, but still on a bit of a knifedge.  Those dull middle overs eh?

17:43 – Big lbw appeal against Buttler, Dharmasena says no, and we go to a review…looks to be heading down the legside though.  Yep, missing leg completely according to Hawkeye, so that’s New Zealand’s bowling review gone.  And since he’s had such a kicking from so many people, a good decision from Dharmasena, albeit not the hardest he’ll have had to make.

17:47 – Don’t bowl there.  Short and wide to Buttler who crashes it past point for four.  Stokes is the more conservative of his pair, with Buttler looking to be the aggressor.  Runs required is now under 100.

17:50 – The pressure is beginning to switch around.  New Zealand are now starting to badly need a wicket.  Required rate 7.24 though, and rising.

17:53 – Gorgeous straight drive for four from Buttler off Neesham.  Seven off the over, just what England need from here.

17:55 – Stokes in on the act, hooking Ferguson in front of square for four.

17:59 – 5-5 in the final set in the tennis by the way.

18:01 – Of course, if England do win this, they will be the only country to have won cricket, football and rugby World Cups.  It doesn’t matter much, except that it’ll cause an outbreak of fury amongst Australians and comments about it being a United Nations team.  It’s worth it for that alone.  166-4.

18:02 – Ah the Buttler ramp shot.  How good is he at that?

18:03 – Into the last ten overs, 72 needed, six wickets in hand.  You’d say England really ought to do it from here, or at least you would in a normal JAMODI.  In the World Cup final?  Feels a bit more fraught than that.

18:05 – Three balls gone this Ferguson over.  Three dots.  Pressure…And a wide follows.  But a fine over with just three off it.  Required rate edges up to 7.66

18:09 – New Zealand are putting the squeeze on here.   Just four runs off that over.   177-4, eight overs to go.

18:13 England probably need that one big over.  But they’re struggling to score at the moment.  Lots of singles, not many boundaries.  Creative from Buttler, almost scooping it, changing his mind and running it down to fine leg.  But only for a couple.  Six off that over.  OK, but no more than that.  8.42 an over needed.

18:17 Trent Boult returns.  Buttler crashes it over extra cover for four and goes to 50.  And Stokes joins him with a single down the ground.

18:23 – 53 runs needed from 36 balls.  Fantastic shot from Buttler, again over deep extra cover.  48 from 34.  Followed by a, well, a hoick, that heads down to third man.  Fine piece of fielding on the boundary saves a couple of runs.

18:26 – WICKET!  That’s huge.  Buttler skews it off the outside edge out to deep point, and the sub fielder Tim Southee runs in and takes another fine catch.  The game takes another twist as Woakes comes to the crease.  196-5.

The ECB have all the luck.  They do everything in their power to hide the game away from as many people as possible, and then when they fluke a game being shown on Free to Air, they get a thriller to remind everyone what is missing.

18:29 – Woakes gets off strike at the second time of asking.  England need a boundary or two, and it’s all on Ben Stokes.  The pendulum has swung dramatically with that wicket, and New Zealand might well be favourites here.  Four!!  Stokes somehow pings it through midwicket off the back foot, lacking any kind of finesse whatever.  But it’s unlikely anyone cares at this stage.

18:34 – WICKET!  Woakes has a massive heave at Ferguson, and it goes straight up in the air.  Latham makes an awful meal of it, but clings on, just.  And at this stage, no runs off a ball is a nice bonus.  All of which means it’s Plunkett time.  203-6

Plunkett can’t get his first couple of balls away, which is hardly surprising given the situation.  But it all adds to the ever spiralling required run rate and the pressure.  But wait, he then responds by belting it through midwicket for four.  But that’s it for the over, and again England are short of what they needed.  They have a chance, but it’s getting harder and harder.

Hussain is on commentary talking about the pitch dying and what a clever and brave decision it was to bat first.  Not so sure that was said by too many at the time.

18:40 – Right, 34 needed from three overs.

Four!!  Again over midwicket from Stokes.  30 from 17 balls.

Next ball through square leg for one.  Five off the first couple of balls is just what was needed.

Lads – get me a drink will you?

Plunkett too goes towards cow corner, and picks up a couple of runs.  Good over so far for England.

Dot ball.

Down the ground this time, the pair scamper for two.  217-6

And a single to finish the over.  24 runs needed from 12 balls.

18:44 – We’re all perfectly relaxed aren’t we?  Indifferent.  Calm.  Utterly chilled, right? Neesham to bowl the penultimate over, and England really need it to be a big one.

Single for Plunkett.  23 off 11.

Single to Stokes.  22 from 10.  A super over has been mentioned – I think England would take that right now.

18:47 WICKET!!  Plunkett goes down the ground, but doesn’t get the distance.  England are falling short here.  The one positive is that Stokes is back on strike, but this is now needing something spectacular.  22 from 9 as Archer comes in.

Six!!  Wow, that’s extraordinary.  Stokes goes big over deep midwicket, and Boult catches him, but his foot treads on the boundary rope.  Guptill is quick to signal it was six as well.  16 from 8.

Single from Stokes.  Archer has the last ball of the over to face.  WICKET!!  Archer has a slog, misses and is bowled.  England are 8 down, and it’s going to be entirely down to Stokes to pull off a miracle.  15 needed from the final over, or 14 to take us to a Super Over.  Which would be fun, wouldn’t it?

18:52 – Right, the final over, to be bowled by Trent Boult, who has been excellent as ever.

Stokes declines the single.  15 from 5 balls.

And again.  15 from 4.

Six!!  Bloody hell.  Stokes absolutely smashes a slog sweep for six over midwicket.  9 from 3.

Well that is accidental, but probably controversial.  It counts as six runs, as Stokes hits a couple, and as the throw comes in it deflects off him for an additional four overthrows.  Completely accidental, but this puts England right in the box seat.  Never seen anything quite like that.

I need a drink.  So do the umpires it seems, as they have a chat, but it went for four overthrows, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  Sheer good or bad luck.

3 from 2

WICKET!! More mayhem.  England go for 2 runs to try and get Stokes back on strike.  Rashid is run out by a mile, but Stokes is back on strike.  2 needed off the last ball, but 1 for a super over.  What drama.

Here we go:

WICKET!! It’s a tie!!  Surely!  England go for two, but Wood is run out, and we have a super over.  Jesus Christ.  That was the most extraordinary final over I’ve ever seen – the six caught on the boundary, the accidental four overthrows, the two run outs.  What a finish.  What an incredible finish.

Fantastic innings from Stokes.  What a magnificent bowling and fielding performance from New Zealand.  Who the hell do the teams pick for a super over?  How big is Channel 4’s audience right now?  Where the hell is that drink?

19:08 SUPER OVER

Stokes and Buttler come out to bat for England.

Outside edge from Stokes, over third man, and they sprint three runs.  Buttler on strike…

A single.

Four runs!  Another slog sweep from Stokes, that goes flat through midwicket and beats the diving fielder.  8 runs off the first three balls and it’s a fine start from England.

Single.  9-0 off 4 balls.  Buttler back on strike.  A six would be nice…instead it’s a fine yorker, that Buttler screws out to deep extra cover.  Nicholls doesn’t pick the ball up and they get two.

Four!  Buttler goes over midwicket!  That’s a big total in one over, and New Zealand need 16 to win.

It’ll be Archer to bowl for England.  If the scores are level, it comes down to who hit the most boundaries, and that’s England.  So New Zealand do indeed need 16, if they get 15 then England will win.  Which is kind of a pity, because I was thinking we might have super overs for the rest of eternity, in a glorious, never ending arm wrestle for the title.

Guptill and Neesham come out to bat.  This can’t be easy, it’s been seemingly years since they batted today, and to have to come out, fresh and tee off for one over is a bit of a challenge to say the least.  England have the advantage already, even without having scored 15 runs off theirs.

Archer bowling from the other end to that he’s been bowling from.  Interesting call.

Starts with a wide.  15 from 6 now.

Fine yorker second ball, but it’s drilled down the ground by Neesham for two.  3 off the first ball effectively.

Six!  Huge over midwicket from Neesham.  And suddenly New Zealand are almost there.

Two runs.  A misfield from Roy allows a second run.  5 from 3 needed.

Two again.  3 from 2.  England really need a wicket.

A single.

And here we go, two runs needed from the last ball.  Not only did it go to the last ball of the normal game, not only did it go to a super over, it’s gone to the last ball of the super over.  What a game.

England have won the World Cup!  And even at the last, it was extraordinary, a run out going for the second run.

Collecting thoughts from that finish is going to take a little while.  Sport is just the most incredible thing, and that was the most extraordinary possible finish.  Undoubtedly this will be shown again and again over the years to come, and please God the TV audience on Channel 4 was enormous.  I’m sure it would have been, because word would have gone around about the utterly incredible conclusion.

England finally get their hands on the World Cup, New Zealand, have the consolation which is no consolation at all of being the unluckiest runners up they could possibly have been.  It can’t be said England deserved the win, because it can’t be said that New Zealand deserved to lose.  But someone has to win, and someone doesn’t.  The deflection off a diving Stokes to go for four overthrows was probably the margin between the sides at the end, and that probably says it all.

After such events, the “Greatest of All Time” comments come out of course, and usually cause eye rolling, but in white ball cricket, that might be hard to argue against.  This one really might well have been.

England have been gracious in their interviews, New Zealand are understandably crushed.  At this point, I’ll call time on the live blog, and go and get something to drink.  Thanks for the company, and of course the comments are still open.  TLG.

 

 

 

World Cup Semi-Final: India vs New Zealand

After 45 matches, and into the third calendar month of the competition, we finally reach the semi-finals.  Three games to go, the secret tournament gets to the business end amid a frenzy of indifference in the host country.

The semi-final stage really ought to be the one where the anticipation is huge, and where the wider audience is tuning in far in advance ready to view a showpiece occasion.  In New Zealand, Australia and India, that could well be the case.

This has been repeated in numerous quarters ad nauseam, but it doesn’t make it any less true, or less concerning, nor is it a dig as Sky Sports, no matter how sensitive their employees are or how “outrageous” they consider articles on a blog lamenting the invisibility of the game to be.  That they are so touchy tends to re-inforce the truth of the complaints – no one gets so irate unless it has touched a nerve.

Still, while the viewing figures for today will be as miserable in this country as they usually are, it is a World Cup, it is a semi-final, and a big event for the cricketing world.  And the two teams involved today have had sufficiently contrasting recent form to make India overwhelming favourites.  Despite their defeat to England, they have looked every inch potential winners of the competition, whereas the Black Caps three successive defeats have resulted in them stumbling into the knockout stage on net run rate.  The outcome of this one ought to be obvious.

But underdogs though they might be, New Zealand’s malfunctioning batting order do have enough to cause problems, and have the bowling attack to make any opponent queasy.  Their slump has been a rather surprising one given the quality on offer, even if player for player, the Indian team would be reckoned superior overall.  New Zealand embrace their underdog status at the best of times, and with this one, when someone as notable as Sachin Tendulkar wishes MS Dhoni all the best for “the next two games” it will certainly provoke a wry smile in the Kiwi camp.

India should win.  New Zealand have been poor.  But it could be fun if they decide to show up for it.

Comments below.

 

World Cup Matches 44 & 45: Sri Lanka vs India, Australia vs South Africa (and a bit of TV, FTA and the ICC)

And so we arrive at the end of the group stage, and more by luck than judgement, there is even a little bit to play for in the last two games. Not in terms of qualification though, after Pakistan’s always likely to be vain attempt to gatecrash the top four ended in victory, but not by enough, against Bangladesh.

Thus, it’s merely the order of the top four that is in question, and the incentive, such as it is, of who plays whom in the semi-finals. The most likely outcome is that Australia will play New Zealand at Old Trafford, and that India will play England, once again at Edgbaston. It’s probable that India and Australia would prefer to play New Zealand, both because of their recent stumbles, and also because England are unquestionably a side everyone else fears somewhat, even if they would certainly feel they can be beaten. But it’s hard to see beyond victories for both the Big Three members playing tomorrow, and that the semi-finalists includes them plus England is unsurprising, if somewhat depressing. But then, the whole structure of cricket at a global level is intended to allow them to maximise their income and power, so it is exactly as desired in the corridors of power. In most sports, an unexpected outcome in a tournament is something to be celebrated, only cricket responds by trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Today Sky Sports announced that if England reach the World Cup final, it will be broadcast free to air. At present it isn’t quite clear what “free to air” would mean, but it appears highly unlikely it will be via a mainstream channel with a large reach. This isn’t so surprising, there are other major sporting events on the same day, such as the men’s Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix (another outstanding piece of scheduling for cricket), and clearing the decks for six hours of cricket at short notice is somewhat impractical, albeit it would be amusing to see the response if a main broadcaster expressed interest in doing so. What seems more likely is for it to be on something like Sky Mix, or even online via Youtube or Sky’s own app and website – the BT approach to screening the Champions League final.

Such an initiative is to be welcomed, but the focus and pressure on Sky to allow it to be shown free rather lets the ICC specifically, and the ECB more generally given this tournament isn’t in their purview, off the hook. The World Cup is behind a paywall because the policy of the ICC, as instructed by its members, was to maximise revenue in their TV contracts. The moment that was the intention, pay TV was always going to be the only outcome. The principal contract for England, India and Australia is held by Star Sports, who paid $2 billion back in 2014 for the rights to ICC tournaments up to 2023. It was for them to then sub-contract to national broadcasters and, naturally as a business, to maximise their revenue accordingly. Everything stems from that, the drive for revenue at every stage, and the reason why such tournaments not only won’t be on free to air, but effectively can’t be.

This isn’t Sky’s fault, they too are a business trying to make money, but it is the ICC’s for making the financial aspect the key one. To suggest, as some notable employees of Sky have done, that this is down to the free to air broadcasters failing to bid is a specious argument – they simply cannot financially compete on the same level as pay TV, and see little point in spending money preparing bids, or even considering preparing bids, for something they cannot win. It almost certainly is the case that the kind of wall to wall coverage required is now only in the purview of the satellite broadcasters here, but it’s still a matter of justifying the status quo by pretending that the creation of this situation is entirely separate from the bidding processes in the current market.

Where it does get more interesting is in the argument as to whether some cricket on free to air would benefit Sky themselves. This is one of those that only those inside broadcasting (we’re outside that too) can answer, but holding expensive rights to a sport in major decline cannot be a healthy financial position for them either, even if the fear in the future is that cricket sinks so far that Sky will be able to buy all the rights for a song as no one else cares. It seems unlikely this will happen for as long as there is more than one pay TV broadcaster, for cricket is a boon for them, filling lots of screen time for comparatively little cost compared to, say, drama. In any case, to say no one else cares about cricket is a weak defence. Firstly, the single positive of the Hundred, that there will be some shown on the BBC, implies otherwise to at least some extent, but more than that, if more cricket is of no interest to the terrestrial broadcasters, it’s because cricket isn’t of sufficient interest to them. But it was, at one point. And now it isn’t. For the ECB to have failed to nurture their broadcast partnerships over the last 15 years has been an abrogation of their responsibilities to the game. At another time, a World Cup the majority were unable to watch would have provoked howls of outrage. Now it is largely indifference whether they can or they can’t, and limited awareness that it’s even on.

Equally, there is the wider argument about the role of the various governing bodies. It is simply wrong to argue that all the ICC can possibly do is sell the contracts to make as much money as possible, because it isn’t what other sports do at all. Wimbledon could certainly make far more from selling off their event to the highest bidder, but refuse to because they value the exposure they get on the BBC. More pertinently, World Rugby, for their own showcase World Cup, specifically talk about finding free to air partners. Indeed, their wording is very precise:

“Securing deals with major free-to-air broadcasters who are passionate about sport is central to World Rugby’s mission to make rugby accessible in a global context. With each Rugby World Cup we are broadening the sport’s reach and appeal through a broadcast and digital strategy that is aimed at reaching, engaging and inspiring new audiences within existing and emerging rugby markets.”

This is completely alien to the approach taken by cricket, to the point that it is diametrically opposed in almost every clause in that paragraph. Very few people are so single minded as to believe that everything should be on free to air, irrespective of contract value, and given World Rugby’s activities and attitudes in other areas, it’s hardly that they can be held up as notable supporters of the common man and woman in every aspect. But it is a striking difference in strategy, to intend the widest possible audience for their blue riband event.

It is highly noticeable that Sky appear to feel they are on the defensive about this whole subject. It’s not necessarily why they’ve made the decision to offer the final conditionally free, but also how some of their staff appear to be spending considerable time messaging cricket supporters and blogs with impassioned defences of their position. It’s a different approach, certainly, and perhaps not a coordinated one, but the righteous indignation, when it isn’t even them who are bearing the brunt of the annoyance, is interesting.

What the viewing figures might be for any final, broadcast for free, with England in it will be interesting. It really isn’t just the free aspect either – buried away on a minor channel that only subscribers are aware exists is not going to cause a dramatic change, although in a perfect scenario, a very tight, exciting final might just allow word of mouth to spread, and for non-adherents of the game to seek it out.

For this is a positive, without any question. How big a positive is more debatable. If the stars were to align, then just maybe it could grab attention, even with all the competition. This is what every cricket fan surely wants.

One other small item. It’s been reported that the other counties are displeased with Warwickshire for offering guaranteed contracts with the Birmingham Phoenix franchise in an effort to lure them to the county. This is the kind of esoteric, obscure item that barely anyone notices, but has a big impact. For the Hundred franchises are meant to be entirely separate to the counties. But what did the other counties expect? That this would be adhered to? That it wasn’t really going to go down the route of concentrating power and wealth in the hands of the chosen ones? We get accused of being cynical too often, but to not see this coming is extraordinarily naive on the part of those upset by it. It’s more likely to have been a deliberate strategic approach by a governing body that has long disliked having 18 counties to deal with.

Update: the article concerning the recruitment for the Hundred has been pulled, and according to George Dobell, a retraction sought. Curioser and curioser.

Comments as ever below.

World Cup Match 36: Pakistan vs Afghanistan, New Zealand vs Australia (and a few other bits)

It’s been an interesting insight into the World Cup from outside over the last week. I’ve had a client over in the UK with me, a German resident in California, and someone unaware of cricket beyond it being a funny little game played by the strange English amongst others.

First day in London he saw a bit of one of the games on the TV, and expressed having no idea what was happening, but that it looked like the crowd were having fun. Knowing I was a cricket fan, he asked about the game, and what was happening – not so much about the World Cup itself, beyond wondering why there was so few teams in it, but more about the sport and to get a handle on how it is played and what the idea of it was.

Like any unfamiliar sport (and trust me, my eyes glaze over when Sean and Peter get all enthusiastic about rounders, fake rugby or whatever else it is they play in the States), he didn’t really know what was going on, but he was sufficiently interested to ask. Cricket does itself no favours by revelling in the pretence that it’s a complicated game, when it is no such thing. The explanation took 30 seconds and he had a fair handle on what was happening. All sports are complex in the details, but cricket is and always has been a chuck-ball-down-and-hit-it kind of game in its essence, and one easily grasped in its fundamentals.

For the remainder of his time here he had a passing interest. Not the one of a convert, but that of someone who likes sport and is aware of it going on. He noted in a WhatsApp message that the Australian team were outside his hotel as he got back one afternoon for a start. Naturally, being busy meant I saw very little of the play in any of the games, though a meeting that adjourned to a London pub offered the England-Sri Lanka game on the TV. Or at least it did until the start of the England U21 football match, at which point, and with the cricket very much in the balance, it was unceremoniously turned over. That match went about as well as the cricket did, incidentally.

Likewise, the Women’s World Cup got far more attention and discussion between us during the week, notably the German, English and American teams’ progress, and the vagaries of VAR. Towards the end of his trip here finally came his summary about the cricket – “no one here seems very interested”. Ouch.

He’s not wrong, and the viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup make it very clear where public attention is aimed, even before Wimbledon begins which will dominate airwaves, print and screens. How depressing, that what should be the opportunity for cricket to showcase its wares worldwide remains an exclusive club, not just for the competitors, but also for those observing, or not observing as is the reality.

While I may have been keeping up to date with the action, it feels like I’m one of a die-hard band who love a sport that has gone beyond being sneered at (remember the days when we used to have to defend cricket? Doesn’t happen now), and is so irrelevant to the wider country that it is simply ignored. Just like a veteran rock band’s latest tour, the response is more likely to be surprise that it’s still happening.

England’s travails have had the side effect of making the latter group stage much more interesting, a noble and selfless gesture on their part as most would agree. Pakistan are one of the teams that can overhaul them, and today’s game against Afghanistan should allow them to go above the hosts, albeit having played a game more.

In the other match, Australia and New Zealand are almost there, so while it will be an intriguing match up, it offers little beyond practice for the semi-finals and a bit of jockeying for position. Loading the key games towards the back end of the tournament may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but only in an organisation so lacking in confidence in its own sport that it feels an ordinary draw at the business end would lack inherent drama.

Comments as ever, below.

World Cup Match 25, New Zealand vs South Africa

Into the second half of the tournament, and for the sake of the competition, South Africa need to win this one. The Big Three are fairly clear, and the prospects of them being turned over sufficiently to open up qualifying seem remote. And thus, while the concept of all playing each other is not inherently unreasonable, if there is a huge difference in resources that translates into playing success, we may end up with up to a quarter of the games rendered irrelevant in the latter stages.

There were some who pointed this out long in advance, and fair enough too, but the format in general can work passably so long as there’s competitiveness and hazard between the sides, and barring Pakistan’s win over England, that hasn’t happened. And that above all is what makes for turgid viewing, and would do however it was structured. Nevertheless, it’s fair to make the argument that structure can determine the jeopardy and that this one actively works against that.

England’s demolition of Afghanistan’s bowling yesterday was not unexpected, but it is still worthy of note, given their propensity to do it to anyone if it’s their day. The absence of Roy might be a blow, but Morgan’s tour de force emphasised that come the business end of things, England can destroy anyone. Whether they go on to win the World Cup or not, they are an extraordinary batting side.

Comments on today’s game (and whatever else takes your fancy) below:

World Cup Matches 12 & 13: England v Bangladesh, New Zealand v Afghanistan

Assuming that the weather doesn’t intervene, England have the chance to show that the defeat to Pakistan was nothing more than a blip. There’s a bit of World Cup history, for Bangladesh have defeated England in the last two competitions, and of course knocked them out last time, as skipper Mashrafe Mortaza was quick to point out. It may be a much different England team, but Bangladesh have improved too, their victory over South Africa was a mere mild turn up, not the major surprise some pretended it was.

Still, a team with pretensions of winning the World Cup really ought to win and win comfortably, defeat today would be something of a crisis.

In the later game, New Zealand are of course strong favourites, and have been quietly and impressively going about their business. At this World Cup there are more dark horses than at a point to point meeting, suffice it to say that they look dangerous enough to anyone. Afghanistan’s achievement is their continual and rapid improvement. It’s not patronising to regard them with astonishment and awe, but this looks a tough day in prospect for them.

Comments below, and we’ll do a proper review on the England game later.

World Cup Match 10: Australia vs West Indies

Perhaps the trick to make a World Cup interesting is to add a pinch of Bangladesh – two games so far, a win and a defeat, and both eminently watchable. This is, of course, the nation that booted England out of the 2015 World Cup so unceremoniously and spectacularly.

Yesterday’s match against New Zealand was one of those where every time you felt the Kiwis had got control, they lost a wicket, often through that particular joy of cricket, the ridiculously daft shot out of nowhere. There were a fair few of those on display in the first game too, though Bumrah’s opening spell will deservedly get most of the headlines for that one. India looked decent enough elsewhere, as far as can be determined from a single game.

South Africa on the other hand have one foot already on the aircraft home – three defeats out of three doesn’t put them out of the tournament, quite, but it does leave them needing to win at least five of their remaining six games to have any realistic kind of chance. Given the entire format of the World Cup is to maintain it for as long as possible, this might well be the earliest a team has managed to get themselves on the brink of elimination in decades. In their favour, it can be pointed out that they have played England and India, rankings wise the two best sides in the world, and perhaps teams the Proteas might be expected to lose to. But then they lost to Bangladesh as well, have batted badly, bowled worse and caught abysmally. The loss of Dale Steyn is a blow to the tournament, and to cricket fans everywhere, but South Africa’s problems are deeper.

Today’s game is Australia vs West Indies, and one that might just be an intriguing one. Australia with their returning bad boys look a vastly stronger outfit, while the West Indies have arguably the most potent pace attack in the competition, and the possibility of a Chris Gayle Day leaves every opponent slightly nervous.

Is it too much to hope from this World Cup a tournament where everyone beats everyone else? Perhaps. And perhaps in the long term such a hope would be the most damaging, as it would re-inforce the ICC’s claimed motivation for making it a 10 team World Cup. That’s the trouble with cricket these days – wanting good cricket has to be with an eye kept on how the bastards will use it.

Comments as ever below!