It’s Outside Cricket Day

outside-cricket-iii

Welcome.

The joy of writing a blog is that events sometimes throw you off a little. I’ve had what I planned to do today all mapped out. I would be celebrating Outside Cricket Day with a fisking of Lawrence Booth’s interview with Paul Downton in last month’s Cricketer Magazine. Rest assured, I will be doing that. I’ll be finishing it off after writing this. I will, at one point in this piece, quote one line that really grated with me in it. It’s not from Downton, by the way…..

So what is Outside Cricket Day for those of you either new to here, or who think I have serious issues with my own sanity, or who are regulars who need reminding? Every February 9th we commemorate what was, quite possibly, the most immense cock up by our sporting governing body when it came to dealing with the people who, effectively, pay their wages by purchasing tickets, or expensive Sky subscriptions. So while, on the 4th, we commemorate the sacking of Kevin Pietersen (well, at least I do) and on the 6th, by sheer bad luck, we celebrate the birth of this esteemed blog, so the 9th means we get to look back on that press release. It was a cold, dark, Sunday night, and Pringle was getting more and more irate as the hours passed, when this superb piece of prose dropped from the ECB into arrogant immortality.

I’ve put a copy of the 11 February 2014 post on the press release on “The Extra Bits”. It’s great fun reading it again. The sheer bloody arrogance in it speaks volumes. Hence I called the piece “Know Your Place”. Click here to relive the nonsense.

The reason I’ve scrapped the idea of a Downton fisking to mark the date is because we have seen, this week, precisely why the concept that took HDWLIA and BOC forward remains as pertinent today as it did three years ago. I saw a tweet earlier saying we have a very different ECB now (I believe Mr Dobell wrote it) and yet I just don’t see it from the fans perspective. How? A cricket programme being messed about with. An international schedule drawn up by a sadist, which will mean a dilution of quality, and players collapsing in a heap? Durham? The fixation on a T20 league? Maybe we don’t have quite the blatant briefing against players we used to see, but the treatment by our media of Adil Rashid has set alarm bells off. I do not, for one minute, think the ECB gives any more of a stuff about the thoughts of the everyday cricket supporter than it did three years ago. If it did, Giles Clarke would not be still walking around representing us in any way whatsoever.

It has been this week’s media operation around Alastair Cook that has reinforced the need to highlight matters other than Downton’s lamentable attempts at self-justification. Let me go back to that key elements of the Press Release.

However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.

Remember this when Alastair Cook says, this week, that he was hung out to dry. Remember this when people make the moral equivalence that both have been done considerable wrongs by the powers that be. Also remember how Alastair Cook was desperate in those early months to set the record straight, and now, as a former captain, and with most, if not all the key elements in the decision not in supposed positions of influence, he still focuses only on his own bad luck to be playing badly at the same time as one of our best players had been scapegoated. You don’t need to read between the lines in that statement above to see who had truly been “hung out to dry” and who the real “lightning rod” was for the ECB.

Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.

There it is, still in all its unvarnished (ok, I emboldened the best bit) glory. You, peasants, are outside cricket. Only those of us ITK are “inside”. As we’ve seen this week, this is latched onto by the powers that be, the media, and the useful Cooky stooges to mean “Piers Morgan”. As we’ve said, and Chris will opine on this at length, no matter how much you despise the man (and I do) Piers Morgan is a club cricketer who just happens to be friends with Pietersen. If Piers Morgan is “outside cricket” then so are we. I’ve always wondered what genius thought substituting Morgan for “outside cricket” was a good idea. We got that from Paul Downton’s use of the phrase in the 1985 Cricketer’s Who’s Who.

The complaint at the time still stands. The inside cricket grouping were clearly those that agreed with the decision, such as the ECB, and the compliant media to who they leaked copiously at the time. Selfey, Muppet, Bunkers, FICJAM, Aggers, Newman, Etheridge et al were clearly inside the tent, and wanted to stay there. Hell they probably needed to be. But you, the ones who really wanted to know what the hell was going on, and in the absence of any concrete information, drew your own conclusions? Nah. Stay outside. Shut your mouths. Know your damn place.

I love how that sentence also defends the ECB’s rationale about decision making! Still brings a smile to my face, that.

Outside Cricket as a phrase has stuck. I like to think our little gang over the last three years has made that so. Sure we’ve been called zealots live on air, but after a while I get used to that. They throw their allegations at us, and we have to take them. Cook’s comments this week, backed up in full by the papers (calling KP the Human Stink Bomb is a nadir even for that paper’s cricket coverage – the comfort being that not many people would have noticed) show that there is still an utter contempt for the group of people, loyal cricket fans like those who show support for our captain, who were disgusted at a scapegoating. And yes, I will still go on about it until I see a change in attitude by the ECB and the media.

With this press release in mind, let me take you to one line written in The Cricketer article about Downton:

“Having been approached by the ECB he gave up a lucrative job in the city to become England’s MD, he walked into a mess and did what he thought he needed to do to tidy it up. Disagree with his modus operandi if you like, but at least acknowledge it came from the right place.”

Hell NO! Acknowledge that I am “outside cricket” because he clearly believed people like us were, and should stay there. That’s not coming from the right place. It’s coming from someone telling me to know my place. I don’t think “disagreeing” with his modus operandi comes into it, and boo hoo if he came into a mess of a situation. He was rewarded with a decent salary and an opportunity to cast his own influence over the scene with all the aplomb to go round. His “modus operandi” was to treat the paying public like he would a pesky fly. A fruit fly maybe?

modus-operandi

Three years on and the damage from that decision, that press release persists. We’re always the ones being asked to “move on” and “let it go”. A number of us have. We’ve given up following the game we absolutely loved. As modus operandi go, alienating key supporters of the game is a pretty terrific way to go, don’t you think? I for one am glad that this blog is still going on, remembering and highlighting this as the days and years go by. We’ll come to our natural end one day, but it still seems a way off.

Happy, and angry, Outside Cricket Day.

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Outside Cricket Day

Outside Cricket Day 9 Feb

I love an anniversary. I’m into that sort of nonsense.

You have to admire the timing of the latest nonsense. Eoin Morgan exclusively reveals to the Daily Mail that the door is shut on Kevin Pietersen. We knew it was, of course we did. For to say it isn’t would mean answering many, many questions more than reinstating him would. To reinstate him wouldn’t placate us, and would only enrage those who so “loyally” follow the team, and we can’t have them upset too. And, most importantly, it would require the authorities to say they were wrong. They might even have to profer a little apology. We’ve waited two years for that. We’ve waited two years for someone to tell us – you know us, the cricket fans who actually liked watching him play, who thought England teams on merit. Two years? Yes, two years today….. when those in charge told us truly what they felt.

It was a Sunday evening two years ago when the ECB and the PCA (and my God we must never forget that the PCA were co-authors of this press release. Never forget that) issued that infamous press release that gave the game away…

It is still there. On line. No remorse, no regret….

It has been a matter of great frustration that until now the England and Wales Cricket Board has been unable to respond to the unwarranted and unpleasant criticism of England players and the ECB itself, which has provided an unwelcome backdrop to the recent negotiations to release Kevin Pietersen from his central contract.

Those negotiations have been successfully concluded and whilst both parties remain bound by confidentiality provisions the ECB would like to make the following comments.

The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade. He has played some of the finest innings ever produced by an England batsman.

However, the England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that we must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other. It is for those reasons that we have decided to move on without Kevin Pietersen.

Following the announcement of that decision, allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket, which as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director and some of England’s players.

Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.

Whilst respecting that principle, it is important to stress that Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, who have all been singled out for uninformed and unwarranted criticism, retain the total confidence and respect of all the other members of the Ashes party.

These are men who care deeply about the fortunes of the England team and its image, and it is ironic that they were the people who led the reintegration of Kevin Pietersen into the England squad in 2012.

It is just a work of art. The Canaletto of condescension. Read it again and again, and the eyes still focus, laser like, not on their pathetic efforts to nudge-nudge, wink-wink their accusations against Pietersen, but on that phrase “some from people outside cricket”.

As usual, we will be accused by our critics of saying “well, you know they meant Piers Morgan so why do you get upset?” but that spectacularly misses the point. They cast the phrase “outside cricket” to mean anyone outside the playing, running and reporting of the game. Pure and simple. Morgan plays the game, watches the game and is a fan of the game. They knew that. Oh no. Don’t sell me that twaddle because I’m not buying. You can’t just pass off high-handedness that easily. We’ll have the usual eye rollers, the usual discounting of the views, pissed off less at the comments being made, more that we’re still making them.

I love that press release. It’s the petrol in my engine. Whenever I feel doubts as to why I write, I read this. The author, because, as we’ve seen from some little background research that the outside cricket phrase had been used by this key player, was spectacularly bad at his job and was removed (we’ll wait and see if the compo package appears in this year’s annual accounts, as David Collier’s appeared to be stated in the last one). We remember how those “inside cricket” said he had aplomb, was impressive, was helpful behind the scenes, while those outside were a little more careful in jumping to such lengths of adoration.

But what I’ve found in the last two years as that we’re no more inside cricket now than we were two years ago. The ECB felt a successful England team would be the antidote to the rage and fury, but it really hasn’t. Indeed, it is the ECB that leaves people less than keen on the team’s progress. The ECB of the Big Three stitch-up, something no-one should be interested in according to their man on the ICC top table. The ECB who thinks “trust” is a viable selection criterion. I’ll give them one thing – they’ve cured most of the leaking, which is nice, but I’m wondering if that is coincidence as it seemed to dry up a lot more once Clarke was shunted off to the ICC.

But there is hope. The ICC might be coming to their senses, and India may be a more receptive figure to change, which rather casts the remaining head honcho of the Big Three still there in a different, more challenging light. Death of a Gentleman played a small part in saying what many “outside cricket” fear – test cricket is dying, the game is run as a closed shop, and fans are there “to be monetised” (and never have a say). The journalists now feel a bit more reinforced now the test team has stabilised and won a couple of impressive series, but they still preach to us as mere neophytes, rather than lengthy watchers of the game, just like them.

So much made over two words. Oh yes. Because they spoke volumes. After all, you lot are still here after two years. It meant something. It still does. We are outside. We are not welcome. We are the irrelevant ones.

Two years on, it applies every bit as much as it did then. My thanks to Paul Downton. A legacy for a lifetime. Oh. And don’t forget the PCA. They agreed it. That’s important.

Wooden Outside Cricket Sign
And don’t come back….

GUEST POST – Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine, Blame It On The ECB

Great Bucko Tag

The thing with a cricket blog, and certainly one like this one, is that we can get all wrapped up in our little worlds as authors / editors / masters of all we survey. I’m as guilty as any of that.

Earlier this week I wrote a post called “Schism”. It reflected how I felt the last two years had gone, and where we are now. Now, separately, without any prompting, our fellow writer, Sean B, had been thinking along similar lines, but with a different approach. As a long-time commenter on the blog, he’s certainly of our parish, but when he put the piece to me, I thought it would be good to have another set of eyes cast over this landscape. It might seem to be more of the same, but it isn’t. I believe this issue is simply to big to ignore. English cricket cannot afford to toss fans away.
As usual, my huge thanks for Sean’s efforts and contributions, and as always, if you want to write something, you only have to ask….
TAKE IT AWAY SEAN B……

 

I’ve been somewhat of an interested bystander this week (not to be to confused with Innocent Bystander from Twitter) around the continued arguments between what I will refer to as the “Cook enthusiasts” and the “Cook sceptics” on both the blogs and on social media. After all, this all stems from the wretched remnants of the 2014 Ashes tour, which saw England sink to new depths both on and off the field. I read with interest Dmitri Old’s piece – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/01/25/schism/, in which he highlighted how time hasn’t healed the divides, in fact it is has made them more entrenched than ever before. You only have to read the BTL comments of the national newspapers (or those that haven’t been edited suitably by Mike Selvey and his Guardian chums), that the mudslinging and rancor is greater than it have ever been, which is another reason why I stopped reading BTL comments apart from those on a couple of blogs. How and why is it the case that even after 2 years, we have no sign of peace from both warring parties? Is it really just the sacking of Kevin Pietersen or is it something that goes way beyond this?

After the Ashes humiliation 2014, the ECB knew something needed to change to take the heat off them. Andy Flower, a favourite son of the ECB, was no longer in a tenable position to lead the England team; however such was the humiliation of events Down Under, they were also aware that this would not satisfy the fans. They realistically knew that one of the senior team members would have to be sacrificed (Cook, Bell, Anderson or Kevin Pietersen), so they could herald a new start and claim that lessons had been learnt. I genuinely believe that they had identified their main target after Perth, as we all knew which way the series was going by then, which was more than enough time for a new Managing Director to be briefed about the ECB’s wishes. Enter Paul Downton, a creature so hideous and incompetent that I genuinely don’t know which bog the ECB dredged him up from, to do their dirty work. Kevin Pietersen, they decided, was the man to go, as he was the easy fall guy, a man that had completely polarized England fans across the world. KP would be the sacrificial lamb and Paul Downton the bumbling hitman. The ECB probably thought the fallout would last a few months, in which time their pals in the National Media could do a character assassination of him to alienate him from the English public. Except it didn’t quite work out that way, many people were rightly angered and saw past the hacks, and here we are in 2016 with the KP issue still being violently discussed.

Now, I don’t want this to be a KP piece, there has been so much written on it, that quite frankly I’m done with it. He’s not going to come back, and as much as I am still angry about and as much as I would like Strauss to do a U-turn for the World T20’s, it’s not going to happen. You may well be thinking, that if this isn’t a KP piece, then why have I spent the last 2 paragraphs talking about him? Well I needed to put the piece into some context. I believe that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than this. As I alluded to in my paragraph, there are a group of people out there, who think Alastair Cook has had a terrible rep from some of the online blogs and on social media and can’t understand why people in the “Cook sceptic” group would want him to do badly. I will do my best to explain why not all of us hail Alastair Cook, coming from the more sceptical group myself, though I don’t agree with all of the reasons set out below, this is more to try and provide those that think we’re not “England fan’s” with some sort of context.

I’m no great fan of Alastair Cook; however neither am I his biggest critic either. I genuinely hope Cook has a great summer with the bat, England desperately need him to fire owing to the porous nature of our current batting line up for us to be successful in the upcoming series. I think when he has retired, history will look upon Alastair Cook as a good quality international batsman but an average international Captain. He will soon reach the landmark of 10,000 runs, which will be a great achievement personally for him and I will be happy to congratulate him on this; however the stark reality is that the majority of his runs were scored pre-summer 2011 and at that time only could he be rightly hailed as world class. Since the Summer of 2013, Cook has scored runs only sporadically and rarely when we have needed them most. Using the winter as an example, Cook had an average of around 48, which is very acceptable in itself; however if you take away the 250 against Pakistan on the flattest of pitches, his contribution was quite meagre. In South Africa, Cook didn’t manage to score any meaningful runs at all, yet Nick Compton’s match winning knock of 86 in the first innings has been totally forgotten and both he and Hales have been singled out as the fall guys. Aside from his international statistics, I strongly believe it’s not Cook the batsman or even the captain, that has caused any real ill feeling amongst the Cook sceptics, it’s the Cook aura that has led to most murmurings.

After the winter of discontent, when “he who must not be mentioned” (Kevin Pietersen – Ed.) was given his marching orders, it was decided the Captain Cook was the man that the ECB would lay all its eggs in. He was well spoken, talked about the team a lot and most importantly came from what the ECB would deem as “the right type of family”. As a result, any criticism of the Captain meant that you were automatically deemed as “outside cricket”. It was deemed a hangable offence from anyone inside the MSM to criticize Cook after all, the ECB knows how important it is to relay the right message to the masses – “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”. This is actually a quote from Joseph Goebbels, that well-known member of those “lovable rogues” the Nazi’s; however if you replace “government” with the “ECB” then you have a fair idea of the ECB’s views on their approach to our national press. The deification of Alastair Cook that the MSM and Sky have been portraying since the Summer of 2014 has made many of us wary about this continued praise, I would hasten to add that this is not in any way Alastair Cook’s fault, but it is certainly a circumstance of the ridiculous eulogies emanating from our own broadcasters and national press.

This, however, is not the main reason why there are individuals out there, who not only dislike Alastair Cook, but actually want him to fail, of which I am not one for the record, despite being highly critical of him at times over the past 2 years. Alastair Cook, whether he likes it or not, is the public face of the ECB. Alastair Cook was both consulted and in the room, when KP was sacked in the full knowledge that this was an opportunity to both get rid of the person who had criticized his captaincy in Sydney in 2014 whilst also ensuring that his failings during that series alongside his captaincy were quietly forgotten about. Cook displayed a ruthless trait by quietly cozying up to the ECB, to ensure his position as “head boy” was unchanged, never mind who else got thrown under the bus. Would I have done the same, possibly, possibly not. This isn’t a one off either, you just have to examine Cook’s words at the end of the South African series to realize that self preservation is of pressing concern to our Captain:

“It’s been tough batting conditions and it’s not been easy, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions in our top seven batting,” he said.

“I think at the end of the day results matter and your end column of runs is absolutely vital. So to say they’ve totally convinced me would be wrong, but there have been flashes.

“There’s certainly places up for grabs. Myself and Trevor (Bayliss, head coach) and the selectors will have to sit down and discuss that because the output we’ve had in this series hasn’t been good enough if we’re trying to get to number one in the world – which is the ultimate aim.”

This is from a Captain, who averaged 23 with the bat, but one who was more than happy to pile the pressure of Hales, Compton and Taylor, who are all trying to make their way in the international game, whilst trying to take the heat of himself at his own poor series (also unless I’m mistaken and the Captain is now a national selector, then why would Cook be talking to Bayliss about this). It’s hardly from the Mike Brearley coaching manual of great captaincy. This is another major reason why there are some people out there that both dislike Cook and some that want him to actively fail; however again, it is not just what Cook says or does that garners a distaste for him, which I must again stress is not his actual fault, it ultimately what he represents as the face of his employers, the ECB.

The ECB, it would be fair to say, hasn’t covered itself in the greatest of glories over the past few years, unless you mean financial glories, with over £70million sitting in their account at the end of last year (I don’t think Giles will struggle to dine well this year). At a glance, some of the ECB’s highlights (or most probably low lights) over the past few years have been:

  • Sacking our best batsman, with a so called dossier of misdemeanors given as the reason; however, much to the embarrassment of the ECB, this dossier has since gone missing (though you would suspect they could call Newman, Brenkley and Selvey to throw some more mud)
  • Hiring Paul Downton, a man so inept, breweries and piss up doesn’t even seem to cover half of it.
  • Telling many English fans that we were “outside cricket” and treating the rest with such a level of disdain, that you wonder why we were ever even allowed to set foot onto a cricket ground to watch our national team in the first place.
  • Requiring Test Grounds, many of whom had been promised international cricket if they invested in their facilities’, to bid so high for Test matches, that they have to raise prices to an unsustainable level to try and break even, which are beyond the means of many.
  • Sticking with a completely antiquated and unsustainable domestic format, with the games and formats being constantly interchanged to try and plunder the most money possible from the T20 competition. I’d genuinely not be surprised if the players turning up to a ground, knew which format they’re going to be play that day.
  • Cozying up with Allan Stanford, a criminal convicted of one of the largest ever Ponzi schemes ever, as the answer to the competition from the IPL.
  • And the coup de grace, selling their souls to the BCCI to ensure that they didn’t miss out on their cut of the riches in international cricket. Never mind those outside of the Big 3, who will see international cricket slowly die in their countries. Giles Clarke is on record saying his priorities are “to put his board first”, stuff the rest of international cricket.

This is the ultimate reason, why many individuals do not see Alastair Cook as the shining beacon of hope that he has been portrayed as in the national press. In fact, if anything, it has nothing to do with Alastair Cook himself, more the ruthless, greedy and disdainful organisation that he represents every time he appears in the paper or speaks on television. This is why there are those out there, who have been England supporters all their lives, that are so disillusioned with the sport, that they are thinking of walking away for good; in their eyes, it has become impossible for them to distinguish between the team that goes onto the field with the deceitful organisation in the background. Am I one of these people, no, as much as I despise the ECB, I still want every member of the England team to do well (Cook included) and to win every series possible, but I can understand where these individuals are coming from (much as I do understand, those who choose to think that everything is rosy in the garden of English cricket). This is why I do struggle to both abide and understand the constant mud throwing from both camps, which shows no sign of abating. There shouldn’t be an “us and them”, we are all England cricket fans after all but there is and it is wider than ever before, yet we hear nothing from the ECB to try and unite English cricket under one positive banner like the Ashes in 2005. Perhaps though, it is really not in their interest to unite the English public, as whilst we’re still arguing about what a divisive individual KP is and how he should be nowhere near the England cricket team, the ECB has got in to bed with India and sold international cricket down the river, with a hardly a murmur from the masses. After all, we’re all still shouting at each other about Kevin Pietersen.

If I may use an analogy (with the caveat that I’m desperately not trying to sound like Ed Smith): At the battle of Pharasalus in 48BC, Caesar dragged his war-torn armies into one last battle with his former ally and member of the triumvirate, Pompey. After a vicious battle with many casualties, Caesar eventually won and the dead Pompey was brought to him. On receiving the dead body of his former ally, he shook his head and uttered the immortal words “hoc voluerunt” – “They wanted this”. It would be quite easy to interchange 48BC with 2016, and “the Senate” with “The ECB”. I have the very same fear that in a few years time, when we finally look up from our arguments about KP, that we too maybe uttering these words when looking at the barren and parched landscape of international cricket. No-one wins in a pyrrhic victory, except perhaps the ECB and Giles Clarke, and the one thing that we can all agree on is that this would be the worst case scenario for all parties.

@thegreatbucko

 

South Africa vs England: 3rd Test 1st day. Not a match report

One of the issues with a blog such as this, is that it’s written by people who have jobs, and jobs that aren’t in (and definitely not Inside) cricket.  That means that any post when a match is ongoing is dependent on being able to have the television or at worst the radio on during play.  In my own case I am fortunate enough to be self-employed with an office at home, and doubly fortunate that having it on in the background doesn’t distract me in the slightest when I’m concentrating on work.  Cricket is like that, it exists but it isn’t necessarily something where full on focus is possible or even desirable all the time.  The same applies when going to a match of course, where much of the time can be spent chatting to others; queuing for the bar (which at Lords can take up to a session of play, so inept are they at looking after their customers); queuing for food (because you don’t want to do that during that portion of the day usually referred to as lunchtime, unless you want to miss even more of the play); or nipping off to the usually vile loo.  Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to stretch the legs that have indentations from the seat in front and where you try to recover some kind of blood flow in a backside numb from a plastic seat presumably bought in a sale at B & Q.

It’s a routine that cricket fans tend to be familiar with, and regular supporters take account of it.  As an aside, a picnic at the cricket is often viewed by the media as being somehow charming, as opposed to the reality of it as being a necessity when faced with outrageously priced, virtually inedible tat you’ve waited an hour to receive – at which point imminent starvation tends to win out over revulsion.

All of which is the background to explaining that with meetings all day, I haven’t seen a ball of the match, and haven’t heard a ball either.  But then you see, as I work for a living, I don’t get paid to watch cricket.  On the contrary, cricket costs me, and costs me a lot of money.  It’s not just tickets of course – for some on here go to far more matches than I do –  or indeed for some like Dmitri, flights, hotels and tickets.  It is also television subscriptions and the TV Licence fee.

This could be viewed as something of a disadvantage on a cricket blog, and indeed in terms of providing brilliant insights on a day’s play, it unquestionably is.  I mean, I could start talking about how late the fonts moved off  the seam on Cricinfo’s ball by ball text, but it’s probably not going to make anyone sit up and ponder.  But here’s the thing, this isn’t a newspaper, and it isn’t written by journalists.  We don’t get paid for this, and more to the point we don’t want to be paid for it.  In fact, let’s go further than that on the point about us not getting paid.  We don’t monetise this site through advertising either.  The odd advert does come up, but that’s a WordPress thing, it’s nothing to do with us.  The option to get banner advertising here is in the settings, it hasn’t been done, and it won’t be done either – neither of us are remotely interested in ever doing that.

And yet the idea that we are frustrated or failed journalists because we pen our thoughts here doesn’t seem to go away.  Let’s be clear about this, neither Dmitri nor myself have the slightest aspiration to join the ranks of the paid hack, to have to pay attention to the possibility of upsetting someone at the ECB, to worry about “access” to players or officials or to  have to write “Sponsored by Waitrose” at the bottom of a puff piece about Stuart Broad’s latest hairstyle (receding by the way, poor lad).  Why would we?  We have our careers and we’re both pretty happy with them.  More to the point, if journalists as a body were doing their jobs properly, then blogs like this would barely exist, for few if any would read them, let alone take the time to make comments which repeatedly teach me new things and find out contradictions and hypocrisies of which I’d otherwise be unaware.  Why unaware?  Well, you see it tends not to be in the papers.  Written by…oh yes.

What is puzzling is quite why some journalists find the blogs to be such a threat.  If they are so irrelevant, inane or downright mad, what’s the problem?  Clearly no one will pay them any attention and readers will instead genuflect to the great correspondents who nobly dispense wisdom on a daily basis.  So why even mention them, why make a pointed comment about the difference between a journalist and a blogger as if one is somehow inherently superior?  Because they get paid for it?  Some people get paid for having sex, we don’t tend to consider it a plus point.

We do get the occasional journalist talking to us directly on here or on Twitter.  It’s quite striking the difference in approach.  The ones utterly unconcerned about blogs tend to be friendly, inquisitive and (he’ll hate me for saying this) full of praise for my partner in crime’s writing.  The ones who are tend to make public comments at odds with what they say directly.  There’s a word for that kind of behaviour, although “insecure” fits, it’s not the one I was thinking of.

The first paragraph of this post detailed some of the joys of going to cricket when you’ve actually paid for a ticket.  How many journalists are in any way aware of any of it?  How many have paid to get in to a Test match and sat in the normal seats?  There’s a TMS commentator who played the game at the highest level and thought tickets were about £20; there is a total disconnect between those who report on the game and those who pay to watch.  It’s a delightful little club, where they really are Inside Cricket, and the rest of us are Outside.  Obvious it may be, and it’s all too often regarded as a trite point by those on the receiving end, but without people going to matches, they truly wouldn’t have a job.  In my line of business I’m acutely aware that without customers I don’t have a job, not least because it’s happened.   And yet there is very little evidence whatever that the media appreciate that most fundamental of points.  The various ECB disasters over the last couple of years were dissected repeatedly from the perspective of those on the inside of the special club.  The wider question of why people should pay a fortune to be treated like dirt at the ground while at the same time being dismissed as irrelevancies never occurred to many of them, because they don’t even realise that’s how it is.

It isn’t all of them of course, no one would claim that.  And yet those this isn’t directed at would know that perfectly well from reading it.  They know who they are, and they do good work.

Here’s the rub, great journalism does what a place like this could never do, and wouldn’t even try to do.  It can be majestic, and it can change the world (FIFA, IAAF).  You want to know the difference between a journalist and a blogger?  It’s that you can.  You want to know why there isn’t one?  It’s because you don’t.

Oh yes, the Test match.   Looks pretty even to me.  Here’s a match report:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-england-2015-16/content/story/961977.html

Discussion on day two below!

 

 

Lost in Space

It’s been a fair while since I’ve  written a piece, and it’s been like an itch that needs scratching.  The last few months have been fairly manic with work, but after next week it should be a quieter period, just in time for Christmas and then January and February, which are my easy months of the year, comparatively.

I’ve also been doing some research on a bigger post to come, and have notes scribbled all over the place.  Picking the right time to do that is perhaps the biggest question.

The approaching series is the one in South Africa, historically always one of the marquee series, and thus one where excitement is building, right?

Hmm.  Over the last week we had the nominations for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the observation that despite a truly fantastic year, Joe Root was missing from the list.  It was also pointed out that at the same time, a woman footballer was on there, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.

From a couple of cricket writers.

From the wider public there was the sound of complete indifference.

Now, the reason for me apparently picking on a female footballer there was deliberate.  You see, not only are those matches visible on terrestrial television, but it goes further than that.  Participation in female football has been growing rapidly in the last few years, and in the next 12 months or so, it will exceed the male participation in cricket in this country.  Add to that the higher viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup, and realistically, why should there be the slightest objection or even query?  By these measures, women’s football is simply more important to the English people than cricket is.

Is it really?  Probably not, yet one of the defences the ECB puts up to cricket not being on terrestrial television is that it is available on Test Match Special on the radio.  Yet here we have an Ashes winning year with one player across the calendar year proving genuinely exceptional and becoming the number one batsman in the world, and he wasn’t included.  But the fundamental point is that people do get missed off these things, that isn’t the story – the total indifference to it is.

Few would argue that the SPOTY award is more than a bit of fluff, yet it is symptomatic of the decline in interest in the sport generally that Root being left out didn’t cause a storm of outrage, instead it wasn’t even noticed.  Go to the pub, sit at the bar, raise the subject amongst those interested in sport and see what the reaction is.  There’s a slight raising of the eyebrows and a response of “oh yes.  That’s true”.  This is more dangerous to the game here than anything, when the sporting public don’t even realise until it’s pointed out.

When this debate occurs, the question of terrestrial television coverage is always rejected with the line that the drop in revenue from doing so would be a disaster for the game, and that terrestrial coverage wouldn’t suddenly change everything.  This is true, yet it is what it always has been – a complete straw man argument.  No one is arguing that it is a panacea for all ills, it’s a deep seated concern that there won’t be much of a game to support at this rate.

Ah yes, but crowds remain excellent and there is strong demand, so the story goes.  Yet this year there were day one tickets available for the Lords Ashes Test, on the day of the match.  Trying to find this kind of information out from the ECB is nigh on impossible, and so the supporting evidence for this assertion is a simple one – I looked at the Lords website and went through most of the process of buying one to see if I could.  It’s unlikely there were many, but the point is there actually were some.

Let’s just think about that; day one tickets, on the day, for the Lords Test, of an Ashes series.  And England had just gone 1-0 up.  Cost is a big part of this for certain, the exponential increase in ticket prices and the gouging of supporters by the ECB (funny how the huge rise in income for the ECB hasn’t held ticket prices down) has probably reached a point where a substantial number of those who would go simply don’t solely for this reason. Yet the alarm bells should be ringing loudly, and the biggest concern is they don’t seem to be.

It didn’t help of course that the Ashes series itself was such a dreadful one, five completely one sided matches with barely any drama or uncertainty beyond the first day and a bit.  But to counter that, the two Tests against New Zealand were truly magnificent, cricket as entertainment at its best.  It still didn’t make much difference.

With most specialist interests, there’s the matter that anyone writing or talking about it is doing so in an echo chamber, the only people who react or read it, or argue back are those who have the same interest, and thus it can be talked about at great length, entirely oblivious to the fact that no one outside of it cares.  This is where cricket now is.  The national press do cover the game, but if the Sun stopped writing about it (tucked away four pages in from the back) would anyone care?  Would anyone outside of the few even notice?  It seems unlikely.

Out of sight, out of mind is the most dangerous state for any sport to reach.  For decades the lamentation that football has taken over the national consciousness at the expense of cricket has gone up, but it’s gone way further than that now.  Rugby union is miles ahead, notwithstanding the England team gloriously completely the full set of the three “major” team sports all going out at the group stage of their respective World Cups (the football team’s failure is positively superb by comparison with the other two), in fact rugby league probably is.  Cycling, tennis, athletics – they all now have a much broader appeal than cricket does.  It’s nothing more than a minority interest, and the slump in people playing is as good an evidence of that as anything else.

If you were to visit some of the London parks, the removal of the cricket pitches by the councils is something that has been highlighted over the last few years.  Yet a question that is never asked about that is what if the councils are right?  What if they have removed them not just because of the expense, but because no one really cares if they do?  It’s not like it was met with strong protest, more like quiet grumbles at the way things are going.

The national team is the pinnacle of any sport, and also the showcase of it.  For all the talk about the dominance of the club game in football, nothing pulls in viewers or captures the imagination like the national team doing well – younger readers may need to ask a parent – yet despite the defeat in the UAE, the England cricket team had a reasonable enough year post World Cup, and for most of the wider public, it simply passed them by.

A South Africa tour should be highly anticipated, England don’t win there often, and despite the hosts comprehensive defeat in India, it will be a stiff challenge.  But will anyone notice?  Will anyone even realise it’s happening?

The wider ramifications of the ICC power grab are yet to unwind, the complicity of much of the media in allowing that to happen with no objections or investigation as shameful as it ever was.  But the bigger issue right now is the game itself, and where it is in this country.  And for the first time I am starting to truly fear for its future, not just at the top level but throughout.  The mendacity and self-serving nature of the avaricious ECB is a subject to which we will return time and again.  The danger is that it reaches a point where even when it’s put in front of the public, they still couldn’t care less.

 

 

Hardly

I was in good cheer when I read another tweet yesterday, and which I’ve seen in today’s amazing episode of The Cricketer Magazine.

I mean, seriously. I am getting to be seriously crotchety in my old age, but I hate this shit. I realise we live in a corporate world, where sport has to flog itself to maximise the revenues for its players and so forth. But Hardy’s doesn’t own the Ashes, and they aren’t some commodity that can be flogged to death to some corporate with ties to the sport as deep as a puddle. But no, let’s have it hawked out and retweeted by the players so they can earn a few more bucks. Let’s have all the interviews by England players sponsored so they can earn a few more quid. I even saw an advert on Twitter by Specsavers using the Ashes.

While I don’t doubt the sporting commitment of any of these players, there seems far too much of players hawking themselves to flog a bit of the sponsors wares and not enough actual proper engagement with the hoi polloi who follow them around. The team looks appallingly distant still. I get no more of a warm glow from Alastair Cook as I do from my neighbours on the other side of the estate I live on. I hate how sport has become a corporate vehicle, so it’s corporate first, second, third, fourth and so on, and the punter comes a distant last. The corporate pays and gets the finest seats, the best service, and fuck me blind, decent beer. We sit in the cheap seats, have to somehow manage to carry four beers in a paper/cardboard contraption that happens to break if it gets to wet to a crowded seat, with eff all leg room, to be bombarded by nonsense, have official rehydration breaks, have the most prestigious test series in the game paired with an investment bank every time it is mentioned over here (it was never the Cornhill Insurance Ashes, was it) and drink absolute piss masquerading as one of Paul Sheldon’s selection of “fine beers”.

Their priority is to make money – the players and the administrators. To soak the asset. If they see off some of the low earners or recalcitrant fans, well that’s just collateral damage. They probably wouldn’t drink Hardy’s wine, probably think Waitrose is a bit too pricy, wouldn’t have a scooby who Royal London are, think tap water is fine to drink, don’t use an investment bank and so on and so forth. Stuff ’em. After all, they are outside cricket.

Commercialisation is a growing annoyance, and don’t tell me the journos don’t think so. Agnew, for one, was livid he had to go through this “interview is brought to you by…” crap. The players seriously don’t help themselves when any interview they have is done under serious media management and only on the premise that they can hawk something for a few bob more. This tweet summed it up…

Which brings neatly on to Betway’s new “employee” in his Editor’s notes in The Cricketer…

“Alastair Cook has been called a weasel and a coward and other derogatory things. He does not deserve any of it.”

Ah. But calling someone who scored 8181 test runs a c–t is ok. Rah Rah. The article has decency all over it. Alastair is a thoroughly decent man. If you get a chance, read it. It’s like a bloody love letter. There seems no recognition that there is another interpretation of all this. That Cook has never truly explained the decision that he must have been party to to (a) exclude Pietersen and (b) as Dean Wilson reported, I believe, at the time, that he maintains a veto over his return. I call not explaining this as, yes, a form of cowardice. A form of weasel behaviour. He may have very good reasons, but I’ll bet he’s storing them up for a lovely autobiography somewhere down the line. Hughes, of course, conflates the cowardice line with actual facing up to quick bolwing in a marvellously ridiculous finale…

“He (Cook) is the antithesis of the men who say, “It’s the way I play.” He is constantly evolving as a player and as a leader and is about to confront the fastest attack and feistiest foe to visit these shores for many a year. So whatever you think of him, don’t call him a weasel or a coward.”

Bloody hell. Instead, we’ll just laugh at this piece of analysis (as previewed in comments below) in a tweet from Tickers.

Indeed.

I’m sorry, but Lovejoy, complete with stupid mug shot is at it again in The Cricketer…

“Obviously the above are moot points if England themselves have a divided camp and are still being forced to answer questions about the captain, opening batsman and other extraneous stories that refuse to die down. Alastair Cook must shrug off any worries about the hierarchy and apparent criticism from the media and get back to enjoying the role of prolific run scorer and team captain.”

Count the many ways this is laughable.

365 Days Of Shame, And The Return Of A Legend

For all that we remember that press release for the phrase “outside cricket”, the real cherry on the trifle, the diamond encrusted monument in your own private courtyard, the beauty among the beast (get on with it – D.O.) is this little corker:

Clearly what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be distributed to people not connected with the team. This is a core principle of any sports team, and any such action would constitute a breach of trust and team ethics.

Stop laughing at the back.

Our late lamented blogger, DO, went into it in some depth last year, and I’m not going to do the same now. But it does always help to remember the chutzpah behind it. This was written a month after Paul Newman was singing like a bird in an example of “good journalism” rarely surpassed.

For any of you new to this blog, and not aware of its ongoing themes, let me place before you Exhibit A, in the Hall of Infamy.

We Worship At Their Altar
We Worship At Their Altar

It appeared that the mysterious disappearance of Bottom Left had meant that a replacement may have needed to be found. As these four, by far and away, won the awards on DO’s site (yeah, let’s keep that split personality going) for wretched prose, the new entries seemed difficult to imagine. John Etheridge was one possible candidate, but his misdemeanours are not as offensive to most of us. Jonathan Agnew maybe, but I’m not as down on him as others, and this is my site.

It seems fear not, for beyond the horizon there speaks a man on Wisden India.

http://www.wisdenindia.com/interview/england-tend-trip-plan-b-pringle/146929

Hurrah! I am in a state of high excitement. Lady Canis Lupus (not that judge who got turfed off the enquiry) beware…

It is difficult to tell how much of a difference the switch has made. England were wallowing under Cook the captain, whose bad form with the bat was influencing his mood and decision making as team leader. Against good bowling sides in Australian conditions, they may yet come to miss Cook’s batting qualities, providing he had rediscovered his mojo. The cry by some for England, and other teams, to pack the side with hitters could backfire if the ball keeps swinging around as it has done in the tri-series.

Ah, how sweet. The Essex Mafia, the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra, the Ilford Illuminati, however you like to call them, stick together. We only had to wait for Cook to regain his “mojo” and for the captaincy to really flow from the tactical brain we all loved. I call it “magic beans”.

Like England’s fans, India’s supporters quickly become despondent. Tournament play is all about gaining confidence and your best players delivering at the big moments. If Virat Kohli, Rohit and one of the bowlers can find some persuasive form, the semifinals are not out of reach.

Only we don’t get despondent at those on the pitch, more the entourage off it, and towards those in the echelons of power and the press box. See your wibble on Cook above.

We take a break to comment on the preamble:

Pringle played in two World Cups – 1987 and 1992 – and, on both occasions, England made the final, with Pringle turning in impressive performances with the ball, especially in 1992.

OK. 1992 was pretty good. Let’s look at the potential for impressive performances in 1987:

Need to look up the victim.
Need to look up the victim.

Shared responsibility..

In 1987, we had the final in the bag until Mike Gatting played an unnecessary reverse sweep and we collapsed.

It’s a wonderful piece of Q&A, and may we see more of it.

My record only looks moderate in terms of wickets and, therefore, average. In those days, bowling dot balls was the key for bowlers like me, and you built pressure that way.

6.16 an over in 1987. You have to chuckle.

This Week’s Agenda

The World Cup starts on Friday night, with New Zealand v Sri Lanka, followed by Australia and England kicking off at 3:30 in the morning. Given it’s Valentine’s Day I don’t think we’ll be getting much in the way of posting on Saturday, but I’ll do what I’ve done in the past and get Game Threads ready for each match that I can.

I would strongly hope that as many of you as possible enter the competition. I might, or might not, offer a prize, but it won’t be life changing. I’ll tag the thread…

https://collythorpe.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/day-2-world-cup-competition/

I’m not one for previews, so you can look elsewhere for that, maybe at The Full Toss, although I have no idea of their intentions.

Tomorrow is National Outside Cricket Day. Perhaps you can tell me what the phrase means to you.

Piers and KP Outside

Each new blog post will be announced on Twitter under the new @LordCanisLupus feed.

Posting will not be as frequent as it was before, but I’ll try my best.

My thanks to all who have made it over here. Zero Bullshit lived up to their name by just going on to TFT and saying what he did. Like name, like nature. I want also to reach out to the old crew, such as Pontiac, David Oram, d’arthez et al to get them on here, as well as SimonH, SimonK, Rooto, Burly and all the rest. Spread the word.

As always, happy to have any other views on here. No-one really takes me up on it, but if you want to fill in some of my blanks, then so be it.