I Once Had Pride, Now That’s All Behind. I Want To Get Rich Quick

I’m Dirty Cash, The One Thing You Asked For

I have some really bad news for all you cricket lovers out there. The Hundred is already a success. Whether the game is a total farce, whether the promised stars fail to turn up, whether the teams gain no groundswell of support and whether the promised Mums and Kids ™ show up, it’s a success. Why?

Because the ECB get to define success, and that will be in cash terms, and cash terms only, no matter what they say. When they got Sky to bankroll the game for another four years.

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has heralded its £1.1bn broadcast deal with Sky and the BBC as a “game-changer” for the sport and one that, in an era of increasing player power, will mean professionals are better paid than ever before.

The ECB on Friday announced a five-year deal to run from 2020 to 2024, with Sky having beaten off competition from its subscription rival BT Sport to retain rights to all international and domestic cricket in England but with 10 matches from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition and two men’s international Twenty20s to also be screened on the BBC.

This combined £220m-a-year deal is worth nearly three times the £75m Sky now pays for its exclusive rights, with the new free-to-air element representing a tacit admission by the ECB the subscription-only model in place since 2006 has shrunk the sport’s place both in the national conversation and in terms of grassroots participation.

Let’s put that TV contract into some sort of context. The previous TV deal was for £75m per year. Let us be totally charitable and say that as this cycle includes two Ashes series, and with some price inflation, the bid price had added 40%. Let’s say the market worth based on present earnings, with inflation, would be around £120m per year. That means the worth, per year, on a totting up basis, for the new competition is £100m a year. That is more than the current total income from TV revenue in a year. Tests, ODIs, T20 internationals, Blast, Royal London, Women’s international cricket, Kia Super League and anything else I’ve missed. That is 125% the revenue the game currently earns. And you know who pays for that?

We do. Of course we do.

So in the short term, the Hundred is bought and paid for, counties might see some extra money, as the Guardian excerpt shows above, so do the players (oh very much so), and the international cricketer will be very wealthy under the new scheme. SO when it launches the Hundred has bought cricketers and some parts of the establishment five seasons to save the game.

Sky is under new ownership now, since this contract was struck, and Comcast are no-one’s fools. They may come to the conclusion that cricket does not justify £220m a year in 2024, and will decide to put in a reduced bid. There may not be competition. BT Sport is withdrawing from a lot of sport, and shareholders are questioning why they are in the loss-making sports rights game, and aren’t pleased with how much they are paying for the Champions League. If a five-year billion quid package from the Champions League came up, as opposed to one of the same for cricket, and there was no competition, what would you choose as a businessman?

 

“Business Decision”

The very essence of sport is competition. Then, by its very nature competition, when at its finest and tensest, is entertainment. For me sport is all about the story, and the build up to a tense conclusion, for the best entertainment. In football, given goals are relatively scarce, a two goal lead is never safe, one less so, so despite the wretchedness of what went before, the conclusion can be remembered. That’s sport as entertainment in its purest form. If that coalesces with an “occasion” to bring out a classic, then it goes down in legend. I’m thinking Champions League Final, 1999, as a good example. Edgbaston 2005 as another.

Entertainment is seen to mean money. The more entertaining, the more people might want to watch, the more it might attract new viewers, or so the story goes. The biggest revenue spinning sport in the USA is the NFL. It dwarfs everything, it has, pretty much an appointment to view (with several live games scattered either side of the core Sunday afternoon suite of games) and the players have exceedingly short careers. The NFL salary cap, per team, is around $177m. Each team receives $255m from TV contracts per year, split evenly. That was up from $150m in the previous contract. The highest paid player in the NFL is, at time of writing, is Aaron Rodgers, receiving $33m per year in salary. With bonuses and endorsements, he gets up to around $76m.

Clearly cricket isn’t in that ballpark, but what do Green Bay get with that Rodgers contract? 20% of the eligible salary on one player, doesn’t leave a lot to go around for another 45. He’s also injury prone in a violent league. His team collapsed this year. But it doesn’t really matter. Green Bay will still get $255m in TV revenue, massive amounts in merchandise, ticketing and other commercial ventures, and the world will still turn. That’s how franchise sport works. It’s a business decision.

It’s more extreme in baseball. There are parallels. A sport supported by an ageing core support, questions over whether the game is too long, controversial propositions regarding pitching clocks, to speed up the pace of a game. But the classic games can go on for hours – a World Series game this year went on for 7 hours and 28 minutes and ended up with a walk-off home run. The game is as entertaining as it always has been, save for one thing.

Another danger with franchise sport in particular, where there is no relegation, is that if you aren’t going to win that year, any money spent is utterly useless. So teams dump the salaries of viable older players onto teams who think they will win, and stockpile younger cheaper players, who are strictly salary controlled into their mid-to-late 20s. The teams have the right to move those players, the players do not have the right to move of their own accord. Those teams will then decide, when the players are free agents whether to fight to retain those players, or let them go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox et al. In 2018 the Boston Red Sox spent around $240m in salary. The Chicago White Sox spent $77m. In 2015 the Kansas City Royals, a perennial low payer, stockpiled enough talent, married them with a couple of expensive parts, a few cheaper veterans and won the World Series. They are back where they normally reside now, with $141m in payroll and that is likely to decline. The Houston Astros gutted their team in the early 2010s, acquired magnificent talent, won the World Series in 2017, got to the semis in 2018, and are now faced with having to pay those young stars market rates. It’s a big decision. A business decision.

Players often say that money doesn’t motivate them, and that they have short careers. In the NBA, Anthony Davis has said he will not re-sign for the Pelicans when his contract is up, so his team tried to trade him at the deadline (akin to football’s mid-season break). They asked too much, and no deal was done. There is active talk that as the Pelicans will not make the Play-Offs, there’s no point in Davis playing and potentially getting injured. At a college sport level, where the athletes aren’t paid, potential pro players the following year are sitting out lower level Bowl games for the same reason. Business decisions.

This year, in a close NFL game, there was an onside kick in a contest involving the Giants. The ball went near to the Giants’ most valuable asset – either on the field or in the transfer market – and he appeared to choose not to go for it for fear of being clattered. He protested that no-one should question his heart, but there weren’t many who believed he didn’t really give it his all. A Business Decision.

Take football in this country. What is it that counts the most? Winning something, or just being in the Premier League? We all know the answer to that. And please, don’t throw Leicester at me. The reaction of the Premier League big clubs to that was to close the door tighter, and to try to get the big clubs more money in the overseas revenue rights. After all, no-one in the Middle East is buying their football package for Huddersfield v Crystal Palace. So, instead of busting a gut and trying to progress in a cup competition, where you might actually win a trophy by getting lucky on a day or two, and big clubs get knocked out, what do mid-range and lower tier Premier clubs do? Play their reserves. Why? Need to keep their best players available for that mid-table game next week. Business Decision.

So now, you are the head of the ICC. Or the ECB. You see a club like Surrey, or a league like India, get big crowds, big revenues, from a short game in an evening slot. The players like it because the physical factor of short-pitch, aggressive bowling is mitigated by the rules, you have to physically exert yourself for shorter periods, although they may be more intense, and everything is geared to the batsman, so that if a bowler can find the magic elixir to keep himself below 8 an over, he’s valuable. You can rinse and repeat that day in day out in a league format, and at the end, given these are franchises who switch players backwards and forwards, and everything can be sponsored, money flows every day for not a huge amount of effort. Why on earth would you bother hosting a single test match? That takes five days, six and a half hours per, and you still might not get a result. If cricket were taking purely Business Decisions, we wouldn’t have tests at all, no matter how we are convinced how great they are.

Many of you work out there. Five, Six, Seven days a week, 8 hours plus at a time. You are offered more money, for less time, but you will have to work a bit harder in that time. For that we will offer you double your domestic salary, which you get to keep anyway. Are you going to turn that down? Or will you make a Business Decision.

 

Pay To Play

During the debate over the Hundred, many of the players have been careful in their pronouncements. It’s been left to the usual ex-playing talking heads to show their hands. I will give Harry Gurney one thing – he expressed an opinion and stuck by it. What Harry did is what many pro players do all the time – they conflate their success, in terms of wages, with a sports success. Those of us old enough to remember when the Premier League football started, there were grand messages about how the Premier League players were in solidarity with their lower league colleagues, then played in that league, picked up the massive wages, and left the other clubs behind. Who can blame them? No-one is asking Rory McIlroy to give his money to your local club pro who plays in the regional tournament. No-one is asking Andy Murray to  share his wealth with the Challenger Tour events. Sport is a meritocracy, and why shouldn’t the players be the ones to earn the rewards?

I did a little research for this one. It’s interesting.

In the end of year accounts for 2011, the ECB employed 28 players, who were paid £5.6m. In the 2018 accounts, the ECB employed 40 players (this would be accounted for central contracts to women internationals) and paid them £23.9m. The players are most definitely getting their cut of the ECB turnover pot, which in 2011 (not a lucrative international summer in 2010 with Pakistan and West Indies the visitors) was £106m, and in 2018 (with 2017 also not lucrative with Pakistan and South Africa) that was £125.5m. Turnover is not a good base measurement for revenues in cricket. A set of accounts after an India visit, such as 2012 or 2015 yielded £146m and £174.7m. So players should get a cut.

I tell you who else has had a bumper decade – the highest paid admin at the ECB. In the early part of the decade there were two, but since Harrison assumed control of the parish, there is just one. In 2011, the highest paid director took a salary, less pension benefits, of £253k. Tom Harrison, according to the 2018 accounts, took a salary of £605k. Paul Downton’s last salary was £360k. There is no reason to believe that Harrison is going to cure this largesse once the new TV contract is in place. Assuming he stays, after all, the Premier League appears to be still looking for a new head honcho, and he has to be better than the EFL guy, doesn’t he? Tom Harrison, we have been told, sees himself as a little bit of a zealot, if you can be a little bit of one, convinced of his own judgement, sold on his own brilliance, and assured of his own decision-making prowess. Every so often that is revealed in his demeanour. He revelled in being the tough guy sacking Downton, of merging two jobs, and employing Strauss, and hey, standing behind him when THAT decision had to be made. There was no doubt trust between him and Strauss.

But what also emerged was his attitude to the new competition. And his opponents.  The media have told us that he has refused, or just not set up, one-to-one discussions or open press conferences with them. The first question anyone should ask Tom is what is the measure of success for this competition. If it’s for some wistful, long-term, you’ll-see-it-when-I’m-long-gone fantasy, then he should be called on it. If it’s something linked to the amount of revenue the game brings in, he should be called on it. If it’s about how it will attract women and children,he should be called on it, and produce his massive evidence to suggest the Blast can’t. And if it is anything else, which I suspect it is – most notably his ego – then he should be called on that too.

What is always lost when the TV contracts are let is that it isn’t Sky paying the money. This increase in contribution from the key stakeholder is recouped in two ways – advertising and subscription fees (let me know if there are any others, like sell-on rights). I refuse to believe there are a mass of businesses flocking to the paywall cricket offering that weren’t before, so while we might see a slight increase – especially if one of the family friendly consequences of the Hundred is an increase in betting on cricket – in the advertising revenue, the bulk of this is going to fall on Sky subscribers. This will be in the form of fewer events shown on Sky Sports, and higher costs to watch it. Sky, of course, are doing both. This year there is no IPL. No Indian international domestic cricket. Two big holes in the Sky Cricket offering. They don’t care a jot about the County Championship despite the online streaming market showing some positive developments last year, but that’s because it’s limited so it is free. No use for Sky. At some point subscribers are going to say enough. I’ve been saying it for a while, and it rode out the financial crisis world well enough, but it’s a big number out of my salary each month, and I cut out the movie channels. If the Hundred flops, isn’t getting big TV revenues, if the BBC screenings don’t create a new vibe, or if the competition becomes exclusive again in 2025, who knows where the revenues go. Harrison is thinking Premier League. I’m thinking Scottish Premiership.

Play to Pay

England does not publish player salaries. There are rumours that the top players derive incomes of around £1m a year if they play across all formats, but they are just that, rumours. Top county players may be on 200k per year, which for some counties is the revenue from the county format. What will happen with the new deal is a money transfer – from your pocket as a cricket fan to their pocket as players. That’s why Gurney is so keen to jump to white ball cricket. As KP said, why wouldn’t you do less and get paid more? For those that know world greatness isn’t going to be their destiny, but there’s a little niche in there to make more cash, why not. Get on the gravy train while you can. This is about keeping players, administrators and TV happy, not the fans who like low revenue, high maintenance sport. As the ECB cast the envious glances at the IPL (remember Stanford, oh please remember Stanford) and Big Bash, the players who might have deserted England for riches stayed (and my, wasn’t one of them thanked for doing so). In the new era, when even Jos Buttler, a white ball behemoth states he really wants to play test cricket, and the greatest white ball batsman of this generation is such a profound respecter of the test game, people can, perhaps, breathe easily. What Gurney is doing isn’t to be disrespected – we didn’t when Rashid did it last year – but it’s his attitude is so forthright that the next generation of players aren’t going to be as wedded to the long game that grates.

Maybe it is because he is telling the truth. It’s a business decision, after all.

I want to expand on this theme a bit in the next couple of posts, purely because I feel like the sporting world is passing me by. Sport was always about enjoyment and, yes, entertainment, but it was always about not knowing the outcome. My years travelling home and away with Millwall brought unexpected surprises and pitfalls. Last weekend I measured the despair of that 95th minute equaliser with play off losses and last minute disasters – then you recall those last minute wins away, the days your team puts it together. What stayed constant, mostly, was 90 minutes plus added on time. With cricket, it’s the game itself that gets changed. In football, money means that a year like 1989, when Millwall finished above Manchester United is now practically impossible. In cricket it means 8 counties get to host a new tournament and 10 don’t, potentially creating a divide that could be avoided if the game believed long-term revenue is about competition and not “big clubs”. It’s a battle I feel is being lost, and with it, my love for sport. When that gets to the tipping point as per paying to watch it, I don’t know. But I found when I stopped going to Millwall, it was a lot, lot easier than I thought. Maybe sports administrators and players might recognise that. But probably not. It’s short-term, and that’s all that matters these days.

I’m not sure this captured all that I wanted to, and it feels like a ramble. I hope it gives some food for thought.

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You Walk Alone With The Ghost Of Time – Australia and Me (Part 1 of a Few)

“Those darling byegone times, Mr Carker,’ said Cleopatra, ‘with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture, and their romantic vengeances, and their picturesque assaults and sieges, and everything that makes life truly charming! How dreadfully we have degenerated!” Charles Dickens

So, Australia. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and remember back to when I did a series on the Blackwash series of 85-6, which people seemed to like, and I enjoyed writing. This isn’t a history of the Ashes, I leave that to wallet chasers like the Analyst and so forth. It’s what Australia means to me. From the early memories, through 81, the 86-7 series, losing the World Cup Final, the juggernaut Aussies of the 90s and early 2000s, to seeing them in the flesh, to the 2010-11 series, the humiliation of 2013-14 to today, and their current plight. It’s going to take a while. If I have the inclination, I can spare the time, as the Pet Shop Boys nearly said. This is a post of Opportunities, after all.

There is, certainly within, me to lurch back to what Ian Botham thought was the curse of Ray Illingworth. “It was so much better in my day”. As India have closed a test series in Australia with a 2-1 advantage and taken home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, there is time to consider how big an achievement that is for the nation that has most grown the game in the past 30 years or so. But it also makes me look back on the great players of the past that never won a series there for India. While this era may be the time of hyperbole and sell, sell, sell, yesteryear comes with rose-tinted glasses, an in-built editor for the unmemorable, and a forgetfulness for the sub-standard. There was crap authoritarian bullshit in huge supply from the governing bodies. There were players who divided the press, the populace and the players themselves. There were blowhards, know-it-alls, rent-a-quotes and mob rule just as there is today. Today, the players get paid more, and so do the administrators, and even taking for inflation, the people paying this are you and I – directly through ticket prices and subscriptions, or passed on advertising costs for the corporate backers.

So what’s my point, you ask, not for the first time. Well, I’m about to get a bit nostalgic and go back in time a little. The kernel of the idea for this post was planted by Fred’s response to my comment on the current Australian schmozzle over the ball tampering nonsense. I’ve been clear from the start. I think the ban was ludicrous, the reaction over the top, the penance a joke, and the authorities, some of who needed to be taken from the building kicking and screaming, playing the role of sanctimonious, pious hypocrites that I won’t reel back from. These were aided and abetted by a media who have one main role in life – generate heat, to get those clicks and peepers on the TV, to flog advertising. This was a story. The heat generated far outweighed the crime. That it carries on to this day, and Australia submitted meekly this winter to India as a consequence, is bizarre. An act of self-flagellation that will satisfy no-one. A crisis borne of its own self-regard, its own view of the world of cricket. England are not immune from this stupidity. We actually ban players for f*** all, and are told to shut up moaning about it by the authorities, acting with aplomb, the media, acting like ventriloquist’s dummies and the useful idiots in the social media world who clapped the result while not exactly considering what happens next time.

There can be a view taken, and some do, that I hate Australia, and that comment is the basis for what I want to write here. Australia has been the most important cricket influence on me alongside the West Indies of the 70s and 80s. I would watch them at every opportunity. They were an amazing team during the 90s and into the early part of the century. They are the most important series we play in the mind of most.

So with nostalgia firmly in place, for good or ill, let me take you back to my first cricketing memory and move forward. This piece is going to be what Australian cricket means to me, as an England cricket follower, and may take more than one post. Because it’s complicated.

It actually goes back, funnily enough, to a One Day International, probably a Prudential Trophy match, played at The Oval. All I remember about it is that they carried on playing in the pouring rain. I know I remember it because every time this person sat down in front of the TV to watch cricket and it was raining, I would say “well they played out in it in that game at The Oval, why not now?” It appears as though the game may have been this one in 1977 (http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/17145/scorecard/64960/england-vs-australia-3rd-odi-australia-tour-of-england-1977) but my faded memory could have sworn it pre-dated Viv’s 1976 destruction of England – thank god for real facts and not alternative ones. But let’s go from there. Chappell (G) was the danger man. He played the winning innings. Dickie Bird was the umpire in the pouring rain. I have no earthly idea who was playing for England in that game.

1977 was the first Ashes series I remembered, and to be frank, it was no big deal. To me, as a growing enthusiast for the game, my memories, my love for the game, and my fear for England derived from the West Indies team. Not Australia. 1976 was the hot summer, the summer of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding. Immense innings augmented by pace. The game at a different level. I knew not of Bradman. I knew nothing of Bodyline. I had a book that told me we won the Ashes after donkey’s years in 1953 when Compton swept the ball to the Gas Holder. But that was it. In fact, looking back, that book had Randall’s cartwheel on the cover, so I would not have known even that.

1977’s series, won by England, had several memories for me. The Aussie to fear was Greg Chappell. I wasn’t really familiar with many of the others. England gave a debut that series to Ian Botham, and yet his test commencement, great as it was, was overshadowed by a run out. Geoff Boycott, who everyone knew (play a defensive shot out in the street, it would be “who do you think you are, Boycott?) had returned after exile, and came into the team for the third test. A memory of the time is that the series was being played under the shadow of Packer – at the time I never had a clue what that meant (Imagine BOC being around during that!) – and Tony Greig, a favourite of mine, had been sacked as captain but stayed in the team, and some grey-haired posh-speaker had taken his place as captain. The first test (might remember a catch or two, but nothing else) was drawn at Lord’s, the second won by England at Old Trafford. Boycott returned for the third test at Nottingham, and then promptly ran out the prodigal son of Nottingham, Rags Randall himself, and got booed. Mercilessly. I can still picture the head in his hands at what he had done. You can loathe Boycott all you want, but the bloke had some mental resilience. Australia had made 243 in the first innings, and Boycott’s faux pas contributed to England subsiding to 82 for 5. Then came Alan Knott. I remember looking at a TV in some shop window in SE London and Knott and Boycott still being there. They went on, and on, putting on over 200. Boycott made a redemptive hundred. Knott made a match-winning one. Australia set England 180, Brearley made one of his highest test scores to get us on the way to the ticklish total, and Boycott was there at the end for 80 not out. So was Randall. Lovely.

The fourth test of that series was played at Headingley, and this then gets into the realms of how life used to be. I was lucky to be able to go on a summer holiday with my parents every summer, and in 1977 this meant Kalathas in NW Crete. Nothing really happened while we were there. I met my first real-life Americans (they said “hey you guys” a lot and came from the big naval base on the west of the island). My mum had the most momentous strop on the whole family (the only one I ever saw), and as she’s no longer with us, I’m sort of safe to say it. Elvis Presley died. I got stung by a jellyfish – that sort of pain is very memorable. I got wound up by my little brother, turned round to give him a whack, and belted a local kid by mistake (I was 8) – his dad wasn’t pleased.

But the main thing you had to do, before I got a long-wave radio, was to find the shop that sold the British Newspapers. Yes, even at that age I was agog at newspaper writing. I was brought up reading the sports pages of newspapers by my parents. But on holiday finding out football scores and cricket scores was a different, and in some ways much nicer, ball game. If something happened on Thursday, it would be in the Friday paper, which you might get on Saturday, if you were lucky. That weekend, we found one. Boycott had made another hundred. That special one, the hundredth one. Then, every day we tried to find a paper to continue the story. That’s how we found out Elvis died. I’ll never forget where we were – Hania Market. Meanwhile, while Elvis was preparing to leave this mortal coil, England won the match by an innings, regained the Ashes with a 3-0 series lead, and Derek Randall did a cartwheel and ended up on Brian Johnston’s Book of Cricket the following year (a really important book in my cricket life – I still have the remants of it). I saw none of the test, though. Now there’s a problem that still exists today when I go the States. Then you couldn’t watch it. Now you won’t watch it (legally). A game, authorities will never learn.

It never really resonated, the importance of the series, until the next one in 1978-9. By then Australia were decimated by Packer, and the team was a shadow of what could have been put out. It was also the first series I remember where action from far away fields was shown on TV via mid-evening highlight packages. The BBC opened up the geography of Australia to this boy who loved maps. I still wonder to this day when we were going to go to Darwin as we’d visited everywhere else for a test (sorry Tasmania, you were an odd drop at the bottom of the country). We also won, a lot. 5-1. I missed one of those tests on a school trip. Might have been the one we lost. But this was brilliant. England winning easily against Australia. It seemed we reserved our worst performances for Melbourne, but still, mustn’t grumble at 5-1. Of course this was the series of Rodney Hogg. I sort of remember him being really quick. It’s that “sort of memory” we all have of certain sporting events. You think you remember, but you probably don’t. Subsequently, on the recommendation of one of the blog commenters, I got the Graham Yallop book on the series – the fall guy Aussie captain – and it’s superbly bitter. If you can pick it up, get it.

England visited Australia again the following year in a curious winter where we played three tests but the Ashes were not at stake. We lost the lot, I remember nothing. Not even the aluminium bat nonsense. I remember us getting into the haughtily named World Series Cricket final and not looking like getting Haynes and Greenidge out in one of the Finals, listened to no TMS when I could get the chance. Given I lived 8 miles from my primary school, the morning run was listening to this day-night oddity on the trek up to Deptford. This was the Australians being flash for flash sake in my eyes. Even then, as a 10 year old, I was quite resistant to the new world order. I loved test matches. ODIs? Not for me.

After I drafted the main part of the post, I realised I had left two main test events out. The Centenary Test played in Melbourne, where the first formal test match was played, and Lord’s for the English version, where the first formal test match in England wasn’t. Summed it up. The first game I never knew was going on, and it passed this young Deptford lad by. Of course, it was famous for Derek Randall’s solo super effort, and the result being the same as the first ever test. The second event was more famous for the Lord’s members kicking off and getting mad about the weather and the reluctant umpires. Oh yes, and Kim Hughes belting the ball into the pavilion. Boycott may even have made a hundred on the final day, but it doesn’t leave a huge impression on me.

I suppose, like most, the mysticism and aura of the Ashes, and beating Australia, derived from the events of 1981. Cricket, it has to be said, was massive in England then. In 1979 we had lost the World Cup Final, and then appointed Ian Botham the captain for the start of the 1980 season. A 1-0 loss to the West Indies was not a bad result, although the weather played a huge part. Botham’s baptism as captain was not helped by the West Indies being on the agenda that winter, and a 2-0 loss barely covered the tour’s story. Thrown out of Guyana, the death of Ken Barrington and an opposition growing into its pomp, coupled with Botham’s loss of form ramped up the media pressure. Without being melodramatic, if Alastair Cook thought that the media were against him in the aftermath of the 2013-14 tour, he’d walked about 2 feet compared to the mile walked in Botham’s shoes at that time. The media were vicious. This was not just the cricket writers, but the front of the paper mob too. Cricketers, and Botham in particular, were that famous.

The first test was played at Trent Bridge. It was a dull, drab, low scoring affair, played under miserable grey clouds. Australia had a little wobble chasing a small total, but got there and took a 1-0 lead. They had an innocuous looking dibbly dobbler bowler (compared to what we’d seen the year before) who kept taking wickets. Botham was out of sorts with bat and ball. England saw the pressure ramping up day-by-day. Botham was a match-to-match captain as Alec Bedser, faced by the froth and fury of a tabloid world, and an establishment mob who saw Botham as an oik, trying to walk a plank that was going to snap.

The concept that Beefy was constantly on trial was not helped when, immediately after the defeat, Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, announced that Botham was appointed as England captain for the first Test match only. “We have to decide whether the captaincy affects Botham’s play,” said Bedser, with Botham himself trying his best to remain positive over the affair: “It’s better than not being appointed at all.”

Both England and Botham would need a good performance at Trent Bridge to keep the doubters at bay. The Mirror’s “Both on a tightrope” headline summed up the player’s perilous position. – The Guardian – 9 July 2013

After a pair at Lord’s which I missed due to the minor inconvenience of being at school, the legend grew about the stony silence that greeted Botham’s return to the pavilion. As always, it seemed, with Lord’s, this was a bore draw, but England had a big issue. Botham resigned “a minute before he was sacked” (Matthew Engel – Cricinfo). England listened to his sage advice in the now oft-played interview. They picked Brearley as captain. Then came Headingley.

As a 12 year-old I recall the start of Botham’s innings to turn around our fortunes coinciding with attending my little brother’s sponsored walk at Deptford Park. It was a Monday. The first day I knew nothing of the score. The second day coincided with last day of term, so no interest there either. Saturday was sitting in front of the TV, or going out to play football. I saw some of Botham’s 50 in between the horse racing. Then Sunday was a rest day (although we started experimenting with Sunday play in subsequent games – something I welcomed because Sundays were boring), and Monday we were all resigned to defeat. I do remember the Saturday morning being one of the most boring spells of test cricket in my memory. England became shotless. It wasn’t the only time.

So when I got home, England were on life-support, but somehow, someway, Graham Dilley was batting well. Botham was chancing his arm. Now this is what gets a kid truly inspired by the game. Alderman suddenly looked human. Lillee, dominant throughout, not looking too great now. Lawson, tyro Aussie, losing his rag. Ray Bright being ordinary. The deficit decreased. There was still no hope, but this was, at least, exciting to watch. I’d missed many of Botham’s batting tour de forces until then, but now I could watch. Anyone who underestimates the power of visibility in sporting figures needs to take heed of moments like this. You could sense, as the stories of the comeback were being told, more and more people switching over to BBC 2. More and more people willing him, Dilley and then Chris Old on. You sensed it meant so much. The legendary confectionary stall six. The thrashes over the slips, the belt to deep backward point for the hundred, Botham running the first, big sweater on, raising his bat and fist. I sometimes didn’t warm to him as a kid, but you didn’t half love him then. The gesture from Brearley on the boundary to stay there in between the applause for the hundred. All there. Seared in my brain, with or without the endless replays of the game. If this was an epoch in English cricket, mis-appropriated, repeated more times than Dad’s Army, clutched to by England fans during the dark days, then so be it. For it is what sport is about. Victory from the jaws of defeat, attacking and reckless, thrilling and without pressure, it seemed. If you sneer at Headingley 1981, then you are wrong. It made heroes. It gripped people. It is what sport is absolutely all about.

But even me, who did have some grains of optimism, thought 130 to win wasn’t enough. But I was going to watch it all, to the last. My dad was a printer, and he was on the real late shift, so he wasn’t up and about. Mum worked weekdays. My brother didn’t care. So it was me, on my own, in the living room, glued to it. The dodgy first wicket of Wood, who probably didn’t nick Botham’s wide half-volley. Then peace until just before lunch, Australia on 56 for 1. The wickets off lethal short balls to get first Trevor Chappell, and then straight away, the dangerous Kim Hughes, and we were in business. In my head it was now all about one man. Stuff Dyson and his dull first innings hundred. Who could see as dull a batsman as that win the game. It had to be someone getting Allan Border out. Already he had that aura with me. The player to dismiss along with Hughes.

Yallop lasted five minutes, getting another brute from Willis. But with Border there, it was still in their hands. When Old got one through his defences, it was 65 for 5. I thought we had a chance. Willis got Dyson, and then the dangerous Rodney Marsh, who probably brought forth Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ most famous TV commentary “Dilley underneath it….AND HE’S CAUGHT IT”. Lillee gave me heart palpitations before I knew what they were, but when Gatting took the catch at mid-on we could breathe. Willis cleaning up Ray Bright (after two drops in the slips) and then wheeling away in delight had me waking up Dad. I think he was pleased to be woken up with the news.

You can’t put a price on experiences like that. But what did it tell me of Australia? Well, at this time all that had happened was they bothered to put a full team out only at home. They were riven by Packer. They had decent bowling. But they hadn’t embedded themselves in my cricketing soul. The West Indies had. It was important to beat them, but you did not feel like you were beating the best.

I’ll pick up Part 2 from Edgbaston 1981, and take it up as far as I can, probably to the inflection point on the relationship. The 1987 World Cup Final and then the 1989 Ashes. I’d love to hear any memories you have from the late 70s, Headingley etc. All I can say is that I never had a favourite Aussie player, I never particularly cared about playing them, I never measured England on the Australia axis. They were beaten in England, and we could beat them there (I didn’t know any better).

Obviously since those days I’ve bought and read a lot on the above matches. The pictures above are from some of the books I’ve snaffled on Amazon SecondHand Books, or at cricket book stalls. The rivalry is such that now reading about your childhood memories reinforces the views of the day, basked in the hindsight of what was to come a few years later and the Aussie total domination. It’s what makes the game special. It’s why it should be treasured. I look forward to writing Part 2. I genuinely enjoy stuff like this.

I Came Across A Cache Of Old Photos

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Please, No. Don’t let this be the whole of our future (T20 night at The Oval v Glamorgan)

OK. Time to write.

I have had a pretty tough stretch at work, and as is the way with me, when the stress levels hit high, I have to make a choice to cut something out that might cause me some more. So, after a couple of weeks just looking at the comments, reading the posts and making a couple of observations, I thought I should contribute something. Thanks to Chris, Sean and Danny who kept the show on the road.

I’ve been investing the hard-earned on some new furniture, most notably bookcases. I have also been investing in lots of cheaper books to fill them up. I’ve acquired a number of B&H/C&G Yearbooks as they become available cheap on the Amazon secondhand market. I also cleared out some of the old cupboards, and it was there I came across the contents of the title. A load of pictures from the Ashes tour of 2002/3. Most notably the Brisbane pics I’ve not seen for a while (and also from my visit to the Nou Camp, or Camp Nou, that year too). Back then, pre-parents death and with a bit more disposable income, the dreams of seeing great sporting venues filled my head. I wasn’t a little old 20 year old, but a 33 year old cynic! The excitement was immense, even though we knew we’d get stuffed. The photos are a terrific memory. I’ve now located the video Sir Peter made of the whole adventure and laughing at it again. I’m currently ranting about Day 1 as I write.

Mark , in his comments on the piece below this, sort of strikes the current mood. 2002 was pre-T20 and so much an innocent world where no-one seriously questioned the primacy of test match cricket. Now, 15 years on, no series really seems to matter to the English cricketing psyche like the Ashes, as everything that happened this summer seemed to only matter in that context. The T20 world encroaches on the test scene more and more, where a great West Indies test win is buried under the Caribbean Premier League. The people want it. The cricket fan that sustained the game through the last three decades is cast aside.

This has, from my perspective, been a dull summer of test cricket. South Africa were meant to pose a huge threat to the inconsistent England team under a new captain, but instead capitulated poorly in three of the four games (but absolutely slaughtered us in the other). They seemed a team confused with themselves – a bowling line up that worked a charm when it fired, but a batting line-up as fragile, if not more so, than England’s. All this was played to a backdrop of AB de Villiers egging his team on from home, while sitting out the series to rest for some other appointment at some other time in the future. there seemed something symbolic about the state of test cricket. England, a team in flux, with key weaknesses at 2,3 and 5 were easily beating a team that had a great away record, but who had seen their best batsman sit it out because he needs to make money and T20 will do it for him. I might react to his tweets because it seemed like he was having his cake and eat it, but I don’t blame him for making the choice.

Joe Root got his captaincy off to the best possible start with a win and a big hundred. This was augmented by Moeen Ali taking ten wickets in the game, as the Lord’s surface took spin and South Africa’s batting took leave of its senses. The second test was an almost bizarre role reversal, as South Africa took a big first innings lead after one of the most skittish test innings I’ve seen from an England team – as if we were on a time limit. The third test at the Oval saw one of those great knocks from Ben Stokes that we are going to need more and more of, while South Africa fell away (despite a terrific century by Elgar on the last day) and Moeen took a hat-trick to finish the match. The fourth test at Old Trafford went much the same way. South Africa couldn’t nail England down with the bat, but were brought to their knees by good bowling.

The West Indies series was supposed to be 3-0. Good sides, in fact some not so good, would have hammered the visitors 3-0, but England infuriated us again by mailing in a test match at Headingley, and being done by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite. As someone rightly said, I’m not on the Shai Hope bandwagon just yet. It takes more than taking a couple of centuries off England to convince me he’s the real deal. He looks well organised, he looks to have the temperament, but he also looked at an 18 batting average pre this tour in 11 tests, I believe. Hope, Blackwood and Holder have made all their test centuries against England.

The first test was an embarrassment to test cricket. England piled on a ton of runs against a Division 2 county attack at best. The batting crumpled in a heap. It was over inside three days. That Headingley was a remarkable turnaround, and we could actually watch much of the play over a Bank Holiday weekend (it will never catch on), had some of us reaching for our memories and hoping for the best. But like those old photographs, they are just that. Nice memories. The amazement that the West Indies could chase down 300 in a day at Leeds of all places was a chimera. It was nice to have a pop at idiots who want 4 day test matches, two divisions et al, but those voices are listened to, and ours are not. We go to Lord’s, we get a test lasting 2 an 3/4 days, where a larrup stand between Broad and Roland-Jones made the lead meaningful enough after the Ben Stokes show, and the same old problems manifest themselves.

This is an era missing a great team. This is an era where if you have some level of talent you can accumulate some decent statistics. Jimmy Anderson, who has done superbly to reach 500 wickets, just to last that long to play all those games, was, at the beginning of the year a player who looked in terminal decline. He had pretty much fallen apart on the unforgiving surfaces of the sub-continent, but back home, probably a bit fitter, he made hay. But he wasn’t exactly up against the South Africa of Smith, Kallis and DeVilliers (and I would say an Amla not in terminal decline), nor the West Indies of a Chanderpaul being a constant pain. Jimmy does not need weak batting to feast – he used to have a lovely knack of getting out Sachin – but averaging 14 (?) this summer does seem to indicate the quality he was facing. A great bowler, and he is, feasting on the scraps.

England’s oddly organised team, comprising a brittle top and middle order anchored by the current and ex-captain, need to be rescued by a ton of all-rounders and a lower order that can cause some havoc. In the absence of top order batsmen, it is a plan that has to work. There’s not a lot else we can do. We really are putting our hopes in magic beans, that we can pluck a batsman out of our domestic game who may actually be better at test cricket than he is at the county level. It’s a bit like the alchemy sketch in Blackadder II, or Rodney suggesting to Del that they try to make money out of nothing. As SimonH has pointed out in the comments on the end of the test, there’s not a lot to go on, inspector. I look at the Surrey team, and I hear people say Jason Roy. A man dropped from the ODI team for technical problems. He’s not pulled up any trees in his return to Surrey.

To me, though, the test summer of 2017 will be the season I fell totally out of love with the social media side of the game. By that, I mean Twitter. It’s a very strange medium at the best of times, but this summer it has been rank. Utter garbage. People seem to want to take shots at each other, to be the smartest smart-arse in the room. Some have fully moved on to the journo side when they were fellow travellers not so long ago, and in some instances, forgotten where they’ve come from. Others just wind me up all day long with their need to be clever. I’ve muted more accounts this summer than in the past few years combined. People get irate when I say 5 out of 97 or 6 out of 103, when it’s a fact. People raved more about a 80-odd by Cook, as genuinely good as it was, than the 99 by Bairstow that played every bit as much of a role in a series clinching win. Cook has made one ton this summer. It was a mighty one, a long one, the first player in my memory to make four double hundreds for England. But we need a lot more from him as an all-time great.

There will be more on Alastair later in the piece, as we have an Ashes series coming up, but he is symptomatic of the schism that still, really, exists. It’s moved on now to those who seem to live in a world where 2013/14 never happened, or at least the ECB and its nonsense needs to be forgotten, and those who can’t, or won’t forgive. The former seem to have gone back to being calm, observers of the game, only rising up when one of their own (a fellow England fan) has the gall to question. Blind obedience, or at least a recognition that you need to be in with the in crowd, is more important than critical evaluation. You have a point, and I will listen to it, and discuss. I won’t if you say my blog, and that of the team, has been put together solely to have a go at Alastair Cook. I don’t do blind obedience. I don’t do the “in crowd”. IMVHO, it’s a bit silly.

Instead what do those on the other side of this schism do? We fade away. We post less. We certainly care less about England. We worry about test cricket. We worry that T20 hasn’t come close to maximising its destruction of the long-form of the game. We see no-one giving a crap about what we say. In many ways we, and our ilk had more a voice post-2014 Ashes that got heard. Now we don’t matter, if we mattered at all. Other than a place where we can lick our wounds, remember the better times, and hope for a saviour or two who place the test match at the heart of the sport we love.

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This place has always had something going for it. Never Being Boring. The cache of old photos still bring a smile to my face, as do my rants on Sir Peter’s video (the one about the bloke behind me and the Michael Bevan Asia XI v Whatever XI knock). The sport has given us joy. It still can do so. But it’s tough to love at the moment.

Always leave ’em laughing.

“Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for”

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Up and down the country, young people are picking up a bat or a ball for the first time.  It might be in the back garden, it might be in the local park, but at any given moment someone who will go on to be a cricketer is gaining their first experience of the game.  For most, it will go no further, a casual game with the family or friends, and a memory that will occasionally resurface through life.  For some, a few, it will instil a deeper affection for and love of the game itself.  Those people will seek out a club, will learn how to improve and will play on a regular basis for years to come, and perhaps even for a lifetime.

At some point will come a time for reflection, a wondering of how they got to that point and about those who played a part in it.  Family is often first and foremost, and perhaps it goes without saying that it was my father who first put a bat in my hand.  But that is frequently just the start of the story, there are many others who play an instrumental role in what follows.

A few years ago I received a text from my mother to let me know that one of those who introduced me to the sport had died.  He was an old man by that point, the circle of life I guess, but nevertheless it came as something of a jolt to the system to hear the news.  In our minds people stay the same, and particularly so as we move away from our childhood homes and lose contact with those who were present in those formative years.

Neil Duncombe was someone who was in the team when I first started.  The excitement of being in the Sunday 2nd XI for the first time aged about twelve or thirteen is a vivid and evocative memory, far more so than playing for my school.  Of course at that point playing involved batting somewhere in the lower order, making up the numbers and doing the running around for the older players (wondering why they wouldn’t make an effort in the field, only to discover 30 years later that they were making an effort), and realising that the boundary was a hell of a long way from the wicket keeper.  The contribution in terms of runs was minimal – to the point I can recall reaching double figures for the first time and considering it a substantial achievement.  Neil was already about sixty by then, his career was coming to a close and he spent the day stood at first slip imparting wisdom and the humour that is so particularly a part of the game.  Yet he was one of the gods of the team to my young mind, a proper player to whom I looked up who I would spend the tea break sat next to just so I could listen to him, and who showed me how the game should be played.  He had been a good cricketer too, and a lesson gleaned from that was that if a 60 year old is playing against you, then don’t see them as they are now, imagine how good they must have been in their youth to still be on the field at that age.

Nor was he remotely alone in imparting wisdom, the captain was a man called Mike Connell, not the greatest cricketer – although at the time I thought he was of course – but the one who worked endlessly to ensure eleven players turned out every week, who organised everything, who walked the tightrope of friendly cricket game management in terms of trying to keep everyone involved and happy.   He was also the one who after a couple of years asked if I’d ever thought about keeping wicket.  Of course it hadn’t occurred to me, but given it was abundantly obvious I was one of the worst bowlers anyone had ever seen (capable of reasonable pace but entirely unable to direct it even vaguely in the right direction) he rather pithily pointed out that being behind the stumps might actually lead to me offering at least some kind of contribution to the team in the field.  He took me beyond the boundary, lobbed the frankly rubbish and oversized club gloves to me and started throwing cricket balls.  That I remember clearly, along with the “OK, you’ll do” observation having watched me.

To that point I’d had no desire to do the role at all, batting was all I cared about and by that time I was developing and scoring runs.  Mike was also the one who to my shock told me one day I was opening the batting.  I scored 19 – hardly an innings to pull up any trees, but I batted for a fair while and came off to lots of smiling team mates telling me that this was my metier and that I was a born opener.   My wicketkeeping on the other hand had to be pretty much self-taught; in those days the idea of qualified coaches in a club was something of a pipe dream – even now finding those capable of teaching wicketkeeping is a rarity.  Nevertheless, with encouragement I learned and progressed, and it gave me the added bonus of now being stood next to Neil on a Sunday afternoon where he would tell highly amusing tales and periodically offer up pertinent advice.  He may not have been a wicketkeeper himself but he knew the game, and importantly he knew when to keep quiet, that advice can be counter-productive if it’s not from a position of knowledge.

Curiously enough his son Chris also would become a keeper (and in my adult life a good friend) and some years later we would battle each other for the position in the first team, with me being driven on by the fact he was usually the first choice.  I was much younger than him and I was learning – put simply he was better than me at that point, though naturally enough I didn’t see it that way at the time.  Besides, my primary role in that side was to be a batsman, first as one of those not quite good enough for the firsts and then moving up the order until reaching the opening slot where I would spend most of my subsequent career.

The third member of those seniors in the Sunday 2nds was the opening bowler, Derek Robinson.  A seamer who eventually had to stop playing when his back finally gave way rather spectacularly during a game; he was also supremely accurate, something of a boon to someone having to learn how to stand up to the stumps from scratch.  With the batsman’s healthy disregard for bowlers of all types, I probably had less direct interaction with him initially in a learning sense (after all, bowling was for lesser types in my mind), but his delightful disposition and humour made him a joy to share a field with and a source of wisdom about the wider game.  As my keeping developed so would his advice in that discipline and his study, usually from fine leg, became a valuable source of information.

Of course, it wasn’t too long before I outgrew the Sunday 2nd XI, progressing through the sides to the league teams, initially the Saturday 2nd XI and then the 1sts.  Runs came much more freely, wicketkeeping progressed rapidly, life developed and I moved away eventually to a new club in a different county who got by far the best of my cricketing career.  It is a deep regret that while their time and effort allowed me to develop into a reasonable cricketer, those at my first club never remotely saw the best of me on the field.

And yet.

Looking back now, everything in terms of my cricketing life developed from those few short years on the lowest rung of the cricketing ladder.  Those three people were hardly alone, there were numerous different ones at every step of the way, even when I was old enough to hold my own as a player at a decent level.  But nothing is so formative as those in the early years who encourage, advise, criticise and perhaps especially when they tell you off.  An opposition player did that once too; I don’t know who he was and never played him again, but one of his team-mates scored undoubtedly one of luckiest fifties I’ve ever seen, balls flying in the air just past fielders, edges past the stumps and so on.  Reaching his half century was greeted by us in silent disbelief, with one or two making unfriendly observations about good fortune.  But as with many friendlies, one of their players was standing at square leg umpiring.  He came in at the end of the over and quietly said “People have different levels of ability – this is a big thing for him, respect his achievement”.  That opponent may never have scored a fifty again in his life, but that was his day, and it was magnificent.

His comment is seared into my mind, I felt deeply and utterly ashamed instantly, and the lesson he taught my fourteen year old self remained me with ever since.  I would always applaud or acknowledge an opponent’s landmark from then on, no matter how fortunate it might have been, and that wise cricketer’s words were passed on by me to many a young team-mate in similar circumstances.  I doubt he would ever even remember saying so, but I cannot thank him enough for delivering that quiet, understated bollocking.

For here is the point:  Few are ever aware of the impact they have on other people, young people especially.   They would doubtless be surprised to learn of their part in it all.  Neil Duncombe even gave me my first set of batting pads, old-fashioned cane ones with buckles that provided limited protection to my legs, but they were mine and they were a gift from someone I both looked up to and adored.  Mike Connell made me into a wicketkeeper.  Just him, no one else; hundreds of stumpings and catches down to his decision on a sunny day.  What made him do that, I have no idea.  Derek Robinson taught me how to improve, how to get better, and how to have fun on a cricket field.

I never told them.  Oh dear God, I didn’t tell any of them, not these three, not Paul Brook – a modest cricketer but a great man, not Martyn Cobb who taught me that cricket is a game that rewards thinking, not one of the many others I could list who weren’t my father yet who did so much.  In at least one case it’s now too late, and for the others I don’t know where they are or if even they are still around.  These people were instrumental in my cricketing life, yet I was far too self-absorbed with the arrogance and certainty of youth to realise it at the time.  They taught me everything, they gave up their time – yes to have fun, but also to guide, encourage and teach a young player about both the game and about life itself.

Everyone reading this will have had the same kind of experience;  it might be in cricket, it might be in any other sport. It doesn’t even have to be within a sport itself, for we all have those who have made the difference to who we are.  These names mean nothing to all but a very few, but you will have your own who do.  Tell them.  Express to them what they did for you.  Tell them how important they were, thank them for being who they were and what they did.

Before it’s too late.  Before you fervently wish you had taken just a moment to do so.

The State Of This Blog Address

It seems that time of year for awards, the dawning of a new season, and the end to a pretty long dry spell in terms of things to really write about. So in the self-regarding, introspective manner I’ve brought to my epic scale of self-indulgence over the past few years, I thought I’d set out where I see this blog, the cricket writing landscape in general, and more importantly the game itself from this writer’s perspective. You might like it, you might not. But here goes.

The excitement is growing for the traditional start of the domestic cricket season, with the first game in the IPL starting today (Wednesday). Of course our County Championship starts on Friday with a lot less hoopla than I recall this time in the last three years. This may not be an accident, given the ECB’s and County relationship could be filed under the Facebook status “it’s complicated”, but there has not been the traffic on other blogs I read or the newspapers and their BTL sophisticates as the last couple of years. I think we all feel rather beat up by the relentless demeaning of the county scene by people who should know better, culminating in the downright offensive “obsessives” muttered by the Empty Suit a couple of weeks ago.

I found out last year that county cricket really doesn’t float the boat of those who read this blog – and it was pointed out to me! We did a bit of a preview and the interest wasn’t great. Now, I don’t write to generate hits, but because I think I have something to say, but this year I just can’t be bothered to do anything in depth on a competition that the governing body has messed about with again, with a team relegated reinstated to the top division (and by pure coincidence, a toadying owner who did the ECB’s bidding), and a second division with an oddball format which is justified by “this happened 20 or 30 years ago, so why are you moaning?”

The governing body clearly wants first class cricket, but it is determined to strangle it until it pleads for mercy, and quite possibly to control it and concentrate it. I have concerns, and Durham should be the canary in the goldmine. As a Surrey fan I think it is terrible that Stoneman and Borthwick, who sound like a firm of accountants, have had to leave Durham and play for my team. I welcome them, of course, but wouldn’t it be better if they were playing for the county they should always be associated with? But Durham have been the victims of the ECB expansion programme, despite arguably having every bit as sustainable a business model as the team that stayed up in their place.

So while I will definitely attend some county cricket this year, and if you fancy meeting up for a light beverage and some decent cricket, get in touch (current plans are Guildford on 9th June, the Surrey v Essex T20, a day of Surrey v Middlesex in the August Bank Holiday week, and a couple of post-tea visits to the Oval if I can nip out early enough) this blog won’t concentrate on it unless something makes us. You can, of course, put any relevant thoughts in comments and open threads which I will repeat from last year, but it is clear this blog is here to address three or four key points:

  • International cricket, and England in particular
  • ECB and ICC governance
  • The press and TV coverage of cricket
  • Nostalgia, and how it WAS so much better in my day!

We’ve a busy and interesting next 12 months ahead. It could be the make or break of us. We will probably look back on the past three months as a period of rest, and in Sean’s case, purgatory. We will jump into a Champions Trophy in a couple of months’ time, followed by the test series against South Africa and then a series of international cricket against a team purporting to represent the West Indies. There’s a short break for England before we go into Ashes mode again (was it really 2 years ago) and then we play New Zealand after that, do we not? It’s kamikaze scheduling and like the previous Ashes cycle, who knows how many will survive it and come out the other end intact and reputations enhanced? And I might be talking about us here on the blog!

Which means the blog needs to up its game if it is to stay in the vanguard (hark at me) of the malcontent world. I have felt that the blog has drifted this winter, and not just because of the lack of cricket I am very responsible for this as I have to say that at this time cricket is not in the front of my mind. It has been a hectic last three months in my life – health issues within my family causing time to be seriously constrained, and at times, really worrying – but things might be stabilising a little.

But I’ve also not been myself on here. For the first time I pulled an article because I was not prepared to attack someone who I thought deserved it. It was, for once, Lawrence Booth, for the Cricketer article on Paul Downton, and one line in particular regarding you might “question his actions, but you can’t question that his heart was in the right place”. A man, Downton, who brought the world the title of our blog had his heart in precisely the wrong place – that there was an inside and outside cricket – and he absolutely needs to still be called on it. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to do it. I’ve stewed over that draft article and never finished it.

I can’t let that happen again. As you might have noticed, I’ve not pulled my punches on Tom Harrison or the cabal putting the T20 show together. It’s always much harder to hit the ones you have more time for than the ones you don’t.

I have to say that the cricket blogging world frustrates me at the moment. A few years ago I thought we had tacit support from some, and an undercurrent egging us on. Now, not so much. In many ways I feel that we are looked upon as some sort of mad outlier, and if there wasn’t anything to moan about, then we would find it. When HDWLIA, which I still see as this blog but with a different name, got traction I was, behind the scenes, approached quite a lot by a wide cadre of cricket “insiders”. Sure, we got our enemies too – having forthright opinions and not putting up with nonsense does that – but we see a fair bit of what we said then, and how we said it, reflected in some of the mainstream journalism.

There’s no credit to be claimed, and none would be given anyway, but the dial might have been pushed by the resounding way we, and you, put the cases for the prosecution. I don’t see that now. Did you feel much blogging anger at the way the T20 league is being imposed? I didn’t. I saw a bit BTL, I saw a bit on Twitter and in some of the papers. The comments were more on Twitter where key proponents of the new way (some of the old school) were lambasted by all and sundry.

Having said I played safe with one piece, I see a lot of playing safe now by others. It’s a shame. I see bloggers drifting away. I see the new bloggers mentioned in Wisden are not the regular content deliverers but more considered writers. I congratulate them all, and know what it did for me when I got the mention. I really, sincerely, hope they keep on going.

There are some others that disappointed me, who perhaps used the rage we had, and the wave we got on to, for their own purposes and now ignore or degrade us. I’m still a pretty sensitive soul, and believe in being true to yourself. I have never been cocksure about my own position, but drive content by the way I feel. I try not to act like I know it all, because I don’t. It’s something I can’t say comes across with others who I once thought were fellow travelers. Maybe they never were. Us and the Full Toss produce content, we think it is decent content, time after time, while never talking down to you (I believe) and yet I feel others don’t act that way. Just a thought.

The blog itself is ticking along nicely with hits. Where, on a really quiet day, in the past we might struggle to get 200 hits a day, and 50 visitors, we never get less than a hundred visitors each day and we get over 450 hits most days. That’s our worst days. It means we are read regularly by a decent number of people. We don’t have vast networks, we rarely go overboard publicising our posts (I find it somewhat depressing to see people new to the field go to the celebrities and ask for a retweet – I sort of did it once, and regretted it) but we have longevity and stickability. We rarely go a week without something being put up, and during peak season we try to limit ourselves to one post a day (the catchphrase on Whatsapp between us is “let it breathe”) because often there are more talking points. I’m glad we are a niche, I’m glad we offer something a little different to the mainstream. I’m also absolutely indebted to the two other editors, and to all the loyal support and comments we get. I say it often because I never take it for granted.

I am not motivated by hits as the main purpose. Writing a piece that goes down well, gets people talking, and I feel resonates means more to me than the volume of people who see it. We could bombard Twitter and Facebook with this, but don’t. Not really. I love the guest posts by people who love the sport and want to contribute, and we’ve had Simon, Andy and even NonOxCol put posts up. We’d love to see more, so drop us a line if you have any thoughts. You might even want to do one of our Test Match or ODI reports as these are quite often the difficult ones when it comes to availability of scribes. This involvement is what keeps us ticking over.

The journalistic landscape is definitely changing, but also there is still the resonance of the big beasts out there. I don’t think anyone with a clue can think that Nick Hoult, George Dobell, Ali Martin, Jon Hotten, Tim Wigmore, Lawrence Booth et al are not a vast improvement on the Selfey/Bunkers/Muppet axis. They will write things I disagree with, and even try too hard for my tastes at times, but those six, off the top of my head, are people I read because I find they have something interesting to say. I have to say that a lot of the others disappoint, concentrating more on being safe with the authorities than being honest with their readership. I mean, love him or loathe him, and you know where I stand, Newman at least has something to say and is interesting to read, and I owe him royalties for the amount of posts he has driven on here. Given I’ve lost three of my key ingredients, I need Newman to stick around.

Which brings me to the others. The one thing, as you know, that drove me nuts was Selfey saying he was going to do a blog, and not only that, he wasn’t going to do it for the love of it, but to monetise it. I wonder how long that market research took. Denis, with one n, put him straight with an “it doesn’t work like that”, but no. I’ve not seen it yet. Perhaps, just perhaps, someone like Mike will realise how much bloody hard work goes into blogging, and that it isn’t just a nice old recreational pursuit that any old sap could do. This blog is maintained, one way or another, nearly every day. I never, for one minute, think of myself as a journalist. I am a blogger. I never pretended that I was one of them. Nor, for one minute, should they think they are one of us. I won’t let that little beauty lie on here. Selfey’s blog is going to be up there with Alastair Cook’s promise to tell everyone why KP was sacked.

One of the seminal posts on here, the one that got the most attention in the last 12 months, was the Outside Cricket List. Obviously the idea derived from the pretentious, tone deaf, totally ludicrous list in the Cricketer magazine. Of course, the one that got to me most was the editor of that publication anointing himself as one of the top 50 movers and shakers, and not conveying any ounce of humility in doing so. It wanted attention, it got it. It also begged to be parodied.

This is the sort of thing Chris, Sean and I do best. Chris is the calmer head, the incisor, the homing missile of the blog. He is also the one who gives the least shit about what people think about him. Sean has my anger gene, definitely, and has the advantage of giving less of a shit than I do. I’m the worrier, believe it or not. I’m the one who thought a couple of the names were unwise, but they convinced me (not that I had a veto) to go for it. The result was a spectacular success in terms of feedback and hits. It could be a little OTT, but we weren’t being entirely serious. What we watched for most was the reactions of the names contained within it. It told us a lot. It will take a lot to top that for co-ordination, speed of writing, editing and cross-checking. I worried, I needn’t have. I’m in safe hands with those two. I learned to give less of a shit what people thought of me, but then, I am who I am. The diva to his driver.

That’s blogging. We’re not after awards, or to be awarded a writing gig for someone else. If that’s your thing as a blogger, then fine. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s also not a quick route to stardom and fame. To those fortunate enough to get mentioned in Wisden today, keep your feet on the ground, continue the hard work, and write about the game. We need more people to write about it, to show the world there is a core of fans who love the game, and aren’t in it for something else. It’s why I admire Tim Wigmore a lot, because he keeps his feet on the ground and writes for the supporters of the sport better than most. I had a fascinating chat with him at Lord’s about the way he worked, and what he went through at a Cricket World Cup, and it wasn’t the life of bleedin’ Riley. He’s a reporter, but working on a lot of subjects others won’t touch. I appreciate him a lot.

So, on to the next year. It’s been a tough year. A year where we have done our thing, got the people on board, passed 750000 hits in just over two years (but I’m not obsessed about it) and all being well we’ll make it to a million later this year. Not bad for a bunch of social media zealots, bilious inadequates and vile ignoramuses.

Have a great season.

This Piece Is For All The Fellow Outsiders…..

So 2016 is nearly over. We’ve had a hell of a year, seen the usual ups and downs of enthusiasm and anger, but now, combined with the last year of HDWLIA, it’s been nigh on three years of this full-on blogging lark.

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My thanks to everyone who has contributed throughout the year. To my two co-editors The Leg Glance and Sean B, to those who have written for us including PGP Chapman, Andy and Simon H. All of you are so appreciated by me you will not know. Chris has been a rock behind the scenes, when Dmitri (speaking in the third person) has his diva moments, while Sean’s pieces while both Chris and I were either away or totally snowed under were both top quality and kept the show on the road. Our newer writers added their own fresh perspective, and we’d love to see more. Simon has already provided some good stuff for the new Glossary.

In terms of hits we were down on 2015, but that was an exceptional year with an Ashes, a World Cup, and a major KP incident or two. This year had two lower profile home series, a more calm environment and some very quiet periods. We’ve seen a decided uptick in hits towards the end of the year, with December easily the busiest month, and we are really happy with where we are.  The blog is closing in on 3/4 million hits, has had its busiest month in 2016 and more visitors than ever. We have a decent core of readers, a wide range of hits, and interest is still there. Thanks for all the support.

So, now it comes to my annual “thanks for commenting” list. If I miss you out, please remember that it’s not as easy this year. This is chronological from 1 January to now, and entailed scrolling through over 700 pages of comments on our admin site, but I want to sincerely thank almost all of you for buying in to what we do. Even if you don’t comment, and we are aware there are a number of you who don’t, I thank you for reading and hope this blog makes you happy/mad and provokes a reaction or makes you think as a result.

So thanks to (and I hope I got you all)….

Rohan (the first commenter in 2016), BigKev67, ArushaTZ, Ian, Arron Wright / Nonoxcol (and for the offline support too), the bogfather (our poet / stirrer of hornet’s nest), Grenville, cricketjon, MDPayne87, paulewart (one of our regulars who went missing – hope all is OK, paul), the one and only Mark (a firm fave of our “haters”), Simon H (just an absolute rock on here), Gambrinus, Sherwick, jomesy, Escort (the spam filter’s favourite), MM, greyblazer/Neil (it is Christmas, goodwill and all that), benny (we must meet up next year, hopefully Southern Trains might have a service), D’Arthez (do not argue with this commenter! Seriously, many thanks), hatmallet, fungineer99, Marees, alecpaton, Tuffers86, Pontiac (one of my US commenters – hope things are well), metatone (my main retweeter, thanks sir), pktroll (who has met Sean – we should sort out Surrey v Essex this year if possible), Zephirine (a voice of calm reason throughout), Rooto (the Nice man), Larry David Niven, AB, Badger, amit/amitgarg (many thanks for your contributions during the recent series), “Iron Balls” McGinty (and I’m never, repeat never, going to ask), camelsticks/sopwithpup/M Echs, northernlight71 (our man on the Guardian BTL never afraid to stick the boot in), Nicholas (and his stack of old cricket magazines, hope you are well, sir), Tregaskis (the man with gravitas), emasl/Elaine Simpson Long (a long time follower, hope life is treating you well), Julie (our KP diehard from Down Under), Steve T, RPoultz (and why do you have that person in your e-mail address), the inimitable “man in a barrel” (we’ll do that Yorkshire post in the New Year), Bob W, Andy (thanks for that piece, feel free to think of some more stuff for us), BoredinAustria (still bored, eh?), Burly, Mike (not heard much from the last two, hope things are good), sidesplittin (I promise I’ll finish that Trent Bridge piece), Oscar da Bosca (again, long time no hear, hope things are ok), Alec, jennyah46 (always a voice of calm), Rufus SG, DmitriOld (who he?), chateleine, keyserchris (still have Day 5 to do), TLG’s main man Jasspass, Narelle, Leningrad Cowboy, Topshelf, Jamie, Mike Westerton (one comment, calling us oddballs and a hate filled bunch), BC (who did much the same), dlpthomas, Grumpy Gaz, alan, Sarah, Matthew, Nashville Pam, Danny, Clivejw, Ian Jones/Ianrsa, Dennis Freedman (with one n), Localboy (the sort of commenter that we probably get a load of, read but rarely say anything. But welcome when they do), dallia.india (a truly odd comment), fred / Deep Purple Fred (can’t wait for the Ashes next year), Vicky/ The Vickster (again, she’s gone quiet…..), Keeper99 (new this year, now a stalwart, it’s that easy), David, David Oram (our expert on all things West Indies, hope things are well in your current posting), my good friend CJDaniels (who revealed my real first name as Peter, by accident), Phillip Chapman, the great Maxie Allen (missed so much around these parts – certainly an inspiration), Oreston (another newbie, now stalwart – the mime artist), John Etheridge ( 🙂 ), THA, Tony Bennett, volkerelle, Helen Grace, Russ Degnan, Tuntun, Phil A (a new Glossary, Phil, if we can tempt you back), cricketcage, Tom (our man in Hawaii, of all places. Humbling really…), sgtcookieblog, Andrew Nixon, Yossarian 1977, Anteater, Boz (if you are still reading, all best wishes to you sir), Adrian S, Distinct, zeitkratzer stockhausen, whiterose76, Simon K, Lawrence Booth, moggahooler (?), JacobSweetman1978 (who is localboy), Sir Peter (keep rollin’ and we’ll build this city), General Zod (ho ho ho), andyinbrum, James (although I think he uses another name – including LondonWasp), quebecer (at last), Rob, Lolly, Jez Moses, Geoff Boycott’s Grandmother, Random, Ed, another David, Harry Badger, jim ovens, Riverman21, nick, simplyshirah (aka Annie), lionel joseph, Glenn, Adam H, May, moosyn, Slats, Editor (Sam Blackledge), Blancrabello, Miami dads Six, Andrew Robertson, Jayman, Adelaide Exile, samisportsupdateindia31, Sri Grins and Silk.

Since putting the initial list together, I think we have another Andy, veturisarma, Scrim and nkumar to add. And possibly another Alec.

So, 2017, here you come. A quiet time for England, then full on for 18 months or so from May. It may be that we face a struggle to keep ourselves in the eye, but we’ll do what we can. With your support, comments, or even if you are one of our silent readers, you keep me going, and I’m sure I speak for Chris and Sean in wishing you all the best.

Happy New Year everyone.

Dmitri (Peter)

The End of Summer

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Eoin in rare Middlesex pose… Last game as Skipper tomorrow?

We were discussing, on the way home, whether to bother with a preliminary for the T20 international being played tomorrow between England and Pakistan. This is it. If you want to comment, now the Super Series is over I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, then please do so here.

In the meantime a couple of house notes. First of all the List, which has seen more unique visitors hit this site than has been achieved in a long, long time, now takes it permanent place above in the Pages section, next to The Glossary (which I must really update). We’ve had some very interesting reaction and comments, and the post will remain on the blog itself as well (so you can read the comments), but it’s time to unpin it and get on with our lives.

This means we move from the ridiculous to the sublime, and I will be putting up Simon’s conclusion to the 1976 test piece that, in my opinion, was absolutely fantastic and would love to see more of. This blog is more than just criticism, debate and reaction. It’s nostalgia, it’s a world view, it’s the memories that make cricket the game it is. It’s also getting YOU to tell us your memories and personal thoughts. They may not get the attention that a List like Saturday did, but they are what I most like about doing this. So my thanks to SimonH once again for all the effort he put in. It will be up within the hour (all being well).

Lots more to come – and if you want to comment on the T20, do so here. I may be at The Oval tomorrow as well, so be prepared for pics etc.

All the best, and thanks for the support.

 

A Perishing Nuisance? Or An Irrelevance?

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How Did We Lose In Adelaide? I Was There. Not A Blogger Then.

Before I start, please give your answers to the questions posed in last night’s post. I’ve had a few, but would love to see more.  https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/07/25/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-think/

The kernel of an idea on writing about this came from a Twitter exchange with Dennis. He called me a journalist, and I disagreed (it was light hearted), but these things get me thinking about ideas to write about it. What am I? What, if any role do we play and what about our relationship, if there is one, with the media? Bloggers and the print media. Are we two sides of the same coin, or implacable enemies?

When I first started blogging, nearly a decade ago now, I was under no illusions. Blogging was not about gaining fame, seeking adulation, attention seeking or even something I was committed to. I liked writing, I’d just lost both my parents, I wasn’t satisfied with commenting on message boards because I felt I couldn’t really control my message and I started to read some pretty decent stuff. So I took to blogging. It was an online record of my thoughts, my views at the time (really, you don’t want to read them) and how they evolved. Everything was going well, I didn’t get any attention from anyone except my mates, who told me they loved it and to keep doing it, until the time I decided to criticise a potential elected appointment at the football team I support. I was threatened, I was abused, and I lost the innocence and the love of just writing my thoughts. Despite presenting a clear case in my defence (and producing it), there was no chance of winning. In choosing to flight or fight, I did the former. That blog is still out there, but I closed it down pretty much that day and is locked behind a password.

One of the accusations that day has stuck with me.

….these things crack me up. its like the sunday broadsheet columnist equivalent of kids playing shop. pretending and imagining that people are fascinated by your article the rise of padraig harrington, and nodding in agreement as they read your article with their cafetiere at their side on a sunday. its the biggest load of self absorbed b*llocks on earth, if they werent so inadvertantly funny it would be tragic.

Ignore the borderline illiteracy in the quote.This person thought I wanted to be a journalist. He might have been the first, but he won’t be the last. I have neither the instinct nor the energy to bother people into talking to me who don’t want to. That makes me pretty much unsuited to that genre of work, that of the journo, the hack. I’m not pushy. I’m not in to having cosy relationships with insiders as those who have met me will attest. If you want to tell me something, then fine, otherwise we can chat about this and that. Sure, I love a little bit of gossip, but you don’t, in the main, find it on here. I’m about as likely to be accused of “good journalism” as I am to win the 100m at the Rio Olympics. What that blog did was to get me to enjoy writing as a bit of fun, and not something to take too seriously. Some say it was really well written, some say my style is an abomination. But it made people laugh (my mates) and it made them see me slightly differently.

Once that blog closed I opened up another, and Seven and Seven Eighths was born. Again, this was a general blog on all matters, but a lot on sport. It followed up the original but my heart was not quite as into it. To put this in to context, this blog (BOC) at its peak got over 2000 hits per day. The record day on Seven and Seven was 350 – for the death of Dan Wheldon. I was perfectly fine with that, but the posts got further and further apart, and my mind wandered on to other potential opportunities. I set up a cricket blog, a football blog, a football memorabilia blog, a photo blog, a cricket photo blog, and yet never seemed settled or focused. I’m all over WordPress. Again, this isn’t to gain attention, but to try to compartmentalise what is written / displayed. At the best, I thought I might get some new friends to speak to who happened to stumble upon my efforts. But mainly it was cathartic, a release valve and enjoyable to do. It stopped me being bored. I love to write, but would never want to be forced to. About as far away from a vocation as you could get.

The How Did We Lose In Adelaide blog, famous or infamous as it was, started in 2010, and ran until I discontinued it in 2015. The final year of its existence was tumultuous. Minding my own business for the first four years, writing away with only my mates looking in occasionally, the trenchant views I took surrounding the collapse of the 2013/14 Ashes team hit a nerve. Suddenly one of my blogs had caught some momentum. This was a genuinely scary moment for me. I did not seek attention, but I wasn’t disappointed to get it. I did not seek to be anyone’s voice, but I seemed to be representing a certain part of the England cricket fraternity/sorority . I had a decision to make – carry on with Seven and Seven, or devote all my energy to something that had caught a wave. I decided to do the latter.

This isn’t a journalist’s journey. It’s a writer’s journey. Ultimately I’m not going to be judged on the stories I break, because I can’t break them. I’m here to comment on what I see, what I think about things, and what I think of those that tell the tale. In many ways the journalism I think should be practiced isn’t anything like a blogger. A journalist delivers the stories, he/she acquires them, and develops them. They report on what they have seen, and pass comment on them. Only the last part applies to a blogger.

Blogging on cricket in the last 30 months has been exhilarating and terrifying in almost equal doses. It has developed my personality, and in a number of ways damaged it. It’s unpaid, and I will always want it that way, despite my wife thinking I’m crackers. It should be a spare time enjoyment, not a vocation. I no more want to be paraded as my real name in search of fame and glory, than I would to have a root canal. I’m not a blogger who thinks he should be anywhere near “Cricket Writers” let alone be on it (as a journalist suggested to me a while back), although I have real issues with some of the “alternative media” that have been on there. You may think the “writer” (and I’ll come to that) protests too much, but then you’ll see my resistance to meeting any of the journalistic corps. I’m not them, I don’t want to be them, I never will be them.

Ed Smith News

What I find nauseating, and what I try to do different to those who write for the national press, and the broadsheets in particular, is the way many around cricket treat it as some sort of intellectual joust. Exhibit A is Ed Smith, a man who cannot communicate in print at all but still gets gigs because he uses long words and has evidently read a couple of books. That Cricinfo would employ him to write an article, but not a Maxie, or a James, ora Sean or Chris is what’s wrong. Ed Smith got this gig handed to him, has not had to really work at being a communicator, and then gets to preen and pose on articles like the one yesterday on stress. Instead of a piece on a sensible subject, he just had to flaunt his reading material. The Abridged Ed Twitter feed is a wonderful creation because it is so accurate. You can sum up his articles in one or two sentences because that’s all they add up to. The rest is the writing equivalent of looking in the mirror and asking whether you are the cleverest of them all. You see, I can read a Tregaskis, obviously a very clever man, and not be bored by the nuance and cadence of his writing – his piece on the executed West Indian cricketer Leslie Hylton is absolutely magnificent, and an instruction to us all – whereas I’m just waiting for Ed to show off. And that riles me t the extreme. Don’t be ashamed of your education, but don’t patronise with it. Ed Smith patronises.

The other thing I really get annoyed about is the “expert”. This card is played by Selvey the most, but others are prone to lapse into it. We get it, you played the game. That does not mean that we cannot comment upon it, comment upon what you write, and perhaps dig a little deeper. It does not mean you can cast out statements and expect us to take them as fact because you had a county career with a few test caps. The treatment of the avid fan as an idiot, because that is what it is, is patronising, and you wonder why some people rail against it. I don’t claim to be an expert, I never have. I bow to my co-writer’s knowledge of technique, and those of Philip who have written the occasional piece on the subject here. I’m not in some Michael Gove “we are tired of experts” mode either. It’s just not a catch-all that allows you to be an ECB insider and get away with it because you’ve played the game. Without the avid fan, new fans are not created in anywhere near as large a number. The expert may see the blogger as an inexperienced know nothing, a challenge to someone who “knows” but misses the point. That “fan” is mad keen on the sport. Maybe more keen than you are. You have no room to alienate them.

So with those two genres out of the way, the third is the one we focused our aim on in the last couple of years. The journalism by leak, or as it is known on here “good journalism”. I listened to the interview that Agnew had with Parky on that Sunday lunchtime at Lord’s, and Aggers showed that the accusation made (prominently by Tregaskis in The Cricketer) that journos were too cosy with the players and authorities still resonated with him. He made a point of mentioning the dirt in the pocket and the Stuart Broad non-walking incidents. He said that despite them being friends/on friendly terms he had to go with his reporting instincts and calling them out on it. Part of me thought that if that even came into it, thinking how it might hurt friendships, then there’s an issue, but we are all human. I don’t have that gene in me. Indeed, one of the fears I had as a blogger was would people genuinely hate me for what I write. Some do. I’ve seen it, though a lot less lately. Bloggers have that distance, the sort of thing that makes us “cowards” in the eyes of journalist and some of their supporters. We’ll say things on a computer screen we’ll never say to their faces. Well, it was interesting to hear Aggers say that he and Atherton have never talked about the dirt in the pocket. In many ways, that’s the same isn’t it? It is this analysis of the “good journalism” output that I think genuinely spooked some of them. They weren’t used to having their work scrutinised forensically and some made their views clear. Some block me on Twitter. Some call me a bilious inadequate. Some spoke to me on social media. Some called me irrelevant. Chris can speak for himself on this, but it seemed odd that they really thought people should just let it go. Trust them to be our eyes and ears. Instead, we thought they weren’t doing things well enough. Preferring access to aggro. That’s still an issue today. Newman and his selectors piece being the latest in a long line of “I wonder who leaked, I mean helped out, on that piece of “good journalism”. Journos have to get these stories, we don’t.

Dinosaurus Vexed

A blogger has more scope to broaden their approach. They have no editor (I couldn’t deal with that, I really couldn’t) and can go longform at will (as I do). The blogger isn’t particularly time driven, but given there are many competing elements for my spare time, I make a point of drafting once and polishing later, but I can also go a good few days without writing. I choose the topics (or my co-writers do) and our editorial board, such as it is, is on WhatsApp or Twitter DM. Free rein is given, and we write what we feel. Again, Aggers said it on his interview regarding radio, you have to be yourself or you get found out. I think that equally applies to blogging. So I do get emotional. I do get angry, and I do get down. It’s a diary of life and cricket. It isn’t journalism.

I think the term “writer” is pretentious, and one, personally, I don’t want, and I don’t think it applies. I am a blogger. It’s nowhere near journalism, it’s not really seeking to be one’s artistic best as “writers” do. It’s about a view, communicated in my own, and TLG and Sean’s own ways, to people who might be interested. We aren’t here for commercial gains, we are not here to challenge journalists. We’re here because we care, and because we enjoy the platform blogging gives us. It’s what makes us different.

I’ve had a piece of advice from one prominent “nu-school” journo who said of my pieces “why do you write about journalists, when no-one gives a shit about them? You’re a good writer, so do something more with your blog” I’ll take that last part on advisement, but the premise that no-one is interested is more cricket authority facing than the way I face, which is writing to you. That journalist, who in no way is protecting the old school interests, doesn’t realise what pieces on Newman and Selvey in particular do when I write about them. The hit rate is increased.Our commenters bring them to the blog, and then they get more comments back. They drive this place at times.

This blog coasted through the Sri Lanka series (a bit like everyone else) but as soon as Selvey announced his retirement – BOOM. One world cricket writer had reference to us within ten minutes of the announcement, and he wasn’t alone. Newman’s piece on the selection committee, and BOOM again. They aren’t quite the clickbait of Kevin Pietersen times, but there is a noticeable uplift in hit rates when journalists are questioned. The journos will never be allowed to forget 2014, and their part in the abominable process that followed, and this blog will always focus on them. It’s one of our “mission statement” pieces. It’s what got us noticed in the first place.

So, after 2000 words, and potentially a lot more could be written, what is the conclusion? We are not two sides of the same coin, nor are we the feeder fish that cling to the sharks. Bloggers are not a threat to journalists, unless journalists allow us to become a threat because they are not doing their jobs. Bloggers should be encouraged, they should be nurtured, and they need to retain a total independence to be effective. Bloggers are truly judged on the quality of their pieces, and of satisfying their audience, not by giving them what they want, but by retaining their identity and being true. If I became something else, this audience would drop me like a stone. That we’ve kept a core audience even when the supposed keystone to this blog has gone away (the KP back for England) speaks volumes. That others have fallen by the wayside is not surprising. We’re not two sides of the same coin at all, we aren’t even a threat. We’re different, and not to be controlled or briefed, edited or spun, inside or beside. We are outside cricket for a reason – because they don’t want us inside, and we quite like the chill air.

I’d be interested in your views on this. How do you see the “relationship”? Is there one? Are we competing? Let me know in the comments.

Hi Hate US

Good evening from the East Coast. It’s nearly midnight, I’ve just watched Game 2 of the NBA Finals, we’ve seen the uselessness of the weather forecasters who predicted something nigh on the apocalypse for us and it didn’t hit here, and I’m off to the beach tomorrow. Send help. I need the ECB to piss me off.

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Cricket? It really is easy to lose touch when you are away. When I was in the States last year it coincided with the May madness. The KP 355, the trust, the Moores sacking, the Barbados farce, the Strauss appointment, the Harrison appearance. It’s just a ton quieter this year. Sean is doing his thing, and doing it well. Chris is in a faraway land, doing faraway things. And me? I’ve seen three minor league baseball games. Well two actually. We paid for the third and got conned a little (watched the grounds crew work for 2 hours having been told that play would start in an hour when we bought tickets – then they postponed the game. So not just cricket that takes the michael). I am not going to Philadelphia to see the Cubs on Wednesday, but if I wanted to watch it, that would be easy. So it would be if I wanted to watch my Red Sox in San Francisco if that was the thing to do. Because, if you want to see any game, there generally is a way to do so (if you have money).

Was there a way I could legally watch any of the T20 games from the UK here? Not that I know of. Hell, I couldn’t even get to see The Derby yesterday. This is a modern world where we are constantly told by those selling rights that the “youth consume things differently to us” and yet when we try these so called “youthful consumption” we find massive obstacles.

The thing is that the customer experience, to which Sean so eloquently commented upon in his last piece, is something we really don’t have a clue about. I went to see the Lakewood Blue Claws on Thursday night. It was a miserable night (2% chance of rain they said) and I couldn’t do what I love at these games (which is take pictures). Instead I paid $10 for a general admission seat (on a grass bank over right field) and got our souvenir garden gnome (which was part of the reason for selecting this game) which was free to the first 1500 inside the stadium. There were a lot of people there for the gnome.

Once inside the ballpark, there was a promotional night on where it was $1 beer (called Thirsty Thursday). Now the beers you could drink were either Coors or Coors Light, so let’s face it, that is some overpriced shit even at those levels. The serving was around half a pint for a $ but the bar area was rammed, there was live music, tables and chairs/stools to watch the game, and cheap chicken wings as well. Also all soda drinks were a dollar, and some of the spirits were cheap too. If that wasn’t your thing, you could get craft beers / local brews at various stalls around the park. The food was a bit pricey at normal outlets, but not Wembley standards of crapness, and not Oval standards of expense for plain stuff. Lakewood missed out on the souvenir cup (I’ve a few of them at home – sucker for that stuff). In gaps in play there was all sorts of nonsense going on (at Wilmington on Wednesday that actually meant my ugly mug was, for about two seconds, on the big screen). As I put in the comment on Sean’s piece, it was really noticeable how many kids were there. This is crucial, because you need to get the balance with the drinking community and those families who want to enjoy the game without nonsense. This is managed really well in the US, in my view. There are alcohol free areas, whole large swathes of the park are set aside, and kids have other activities to keep them interested when the play gets a little slow.

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Parking at all three parks is economical, which isn’t true for the big leagues (got stung for $40 at Yankee Stadium in 2011 and some are even higher) and we got there so early for Lakewood that we didn’t pay anything. We didn’t pay a dime at Delmarva but that was because we entered the carpark in a torrential downpour and the attendants had vanished. The Wilmington car park was free – possibly because it is in the part of town where they are trying to encourage people to go to for an evening’s entertainment although getting to the ballpark from the I-95 that runs next to it takes you through a “very interesting” part of town.

These teams are the fourth or fifth level squads of major league clubs. There is a great enthusiasm for local communities who don’t want to splash out the big money to see a major league team often two or so hours drive away (and much further when you get away from the Eastern Coast) but can get to see some players on the rise, or on a rehab assignment after injury (I’ve been to Lakewood three times, and the first time had the largest crowd because one of Philadelphia’s top pitchers was playing a game back after injury). These teams are pulling 5 or 6 thousand spectators on a weekday night. It isn’t top ranking baseball, but I wonder how it compares to the Royal London Cup today? Remember also, there are around 65 home games for these teams.

I realise this isn’t cricket talk, but it does give you food for thought. A lot of the stuff that goes around the game is “Americana” and wouldn’t work here, but you have to see what works and what doesn’t. Cricket has one innings break, while baseball has 16 or 17, including a longer one for the seventh innings, and there is less time to fill. But some of the best I’ve seen include the President’s race at Washington, some far out nonsense at Vermont that included someone being chased down by a llama, and the dreaded “Kiss-Cam”. But it’s fun and yet somehow not forced. The aim is for a relaxing “spectator experience” where the game and the community mesh together – not an ordeal. There’s plenty of legroom (my beef with the Oval, in particular) and drinks holders on the seats. The walkways are spacious, the lines to get served are rarely long. Even at a packed Yankee Stadium in 2011, there was a sense of plenty of space.

So, I’ll hopefully be back for some more in the week but it has been nice. I’ve not bothered with those who have bothered me. I’ve read your comments with the usual mix of amusement, enthusiasm, some indignation and thankfulness that the community keeps going even when I’m not around as much as I should be. I did read that Mail article in response to KP’s list of favourite grounds, and it just shows, doesn’t it? For the hundredth time, who is obsessed again? I see Jason Roy hit a century on Friday in the T20, but Surrey are struggling in all the other formats. I do believe we have a Lord’s Test this week. How peachy that this one wasn’t in May this year, but in early June. I noted that West Indies beat South Africa but were then skittled out for shirt buttons by Australia.

Finally, I have a book called Baseball Prospectus. It comes out every year, before the start of the season, and has in-depth statistical analysis and commentary by stat-heads and fans on each team and their players. It is a truly amazing piece of work. I nabbed a copy of 2015’s cheap, and once I saw it, I ordered 2016’s book. I weep that cricket (and even football) can’t put together something like this in the UK. The NFL has a similar book, and yes, I know that the youth consume their reading material differently to how we used to, but this is a forward-looking annual, not a backward one like Wisden (which has its place – I get the backward looking baseball ones as cheap as I can too). The sheer love, and quality, of the writing, the care they take (spotted one error so far in the 2015 book) and the exuberance is amazing. Enthusiasm can be contagious. Debate can be welcome. And the love of the sport is paramount, even with all that money. It’s a handy old message.

Speak soon.

Dmitri

Cape May

Good night…..

Being Outside The Loop

Well, hello to you all.

First up, and I think this really needs to be said, well done to Sean in picking up the slack while the usual duo have naffed off to the other side of the world (different other sides). It would have been extremely difficult for me to report on this test as there is more than just me and this blog to worry about… all the family stuff that comes from a visit to the States. We’ve had a washout on the Bank Holiday Monday here (Memorial Day) as the tropical warm air from a storm called Bonnie has brought lots of warm rain. I’ve rediscovered a love for, wait, jigsaw puzzles, and acted like a kid buying baseball trading cards…including getting one of my favourite player in the second pack I opened!

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It’s interesting because Ortiz, above, is retiring at the end of this year, and is being feted by most of the Major League clubs as he does so. He’s having a great season after a few not so wonderful ones, but still is seen as the man for the big occasion, the one who will provide that clutch hit in the circumstances that require it the most. Quite how this links in with Cook getting to 10000 runs I don’t know. There’s something about 500 home runs (the 600 doubles on the card isn’t that vital) that sets the pulses racing. I think what you might be getting from this is that although I followed the scores of both England and Surrey quite closely over the weekend, on the requirement to go the extra mile… no. Sorry folks. A procession, even one not quite as simple as it looked on Saturday, hasn’t drawn me from a 1000 piece puzzle, watching an extraordinary NBA series between Golden State and Oklahoma City (Game 6 was fantastic) and keeping up with the baseball.  It seems such an effort.

I’m going to be even further away for the next few days as I am off on a mini r0ad-trip around Delaware and Eastern Maryland. I have three minor league games on the agenda – at Delmarva Shorebirds, Wilmington Blue Rocks and Lakewood BlueClaws. There’s something of the village cricket atmosphere at minor league games, albeit a little noisier. I’ve been to Lakewood (near where the Hindenburg went down) a couple of times (including standing in the line to get in when I got the first report of last year’s Exit Poll), but Delmarva and Wilmington are new. So far I’ve seen minor league in Burlington, Vermont (from where the Dmitri Old name arose); Harrisburg, Pennsylvania which was indirectly linked to trying to smuggle booze into the Oval Test; Greensboro, North Carolina where I saw the Marlins top pitching prospect throw rubbish; Salem, Virginia, where I saw a Red Sox affiliate team and Rochester, New York.

I thought I had a piece in mind for Cook’s 10000, but you know what, I can’t be bothered. I have no feel for whether Moeen’s innings was due to a resurgence in form or a bad bowling and captaincy perfomance? I don’t know if Sri Lanka made what they did due to a good pitch or bad bowling. It has just been a set of numbers from 3500 miles away. Should I read the news today? Will it make me feel good?

Don’t worry, when I am back I’ll be more than ready to take up the charge. In the meantime, it’s Sean’s show, and what a bloody good one it has been.

Finally, I intend to update the Glossary next week when I might have a bit more spare time. Suggestions welcome.

This is Dmitri Old, signing off.