Last week, former England captain Michael Atherton published an article entitled “Cricket: it’s where rational, joined-up thought goes to die” on the Times website. It was briefly put on the site for free before being pulled behind the newspaper’s pay wall, so now if you want to read it, you’ll need to at least register a free account with them. The great and good of the English cricket media immediately hailed it as a masterpiece by one of cricket’s greatest writers.
Last Monday, the British Sports Journalism Awards were held at a fancy hotel in South London, where Michael Atherton was given the Cricket Writer Of The Year award for the fourth time in a row. In congratulating him on Twitter, the Times cited his latest work as an example of why he is the greatest cricket writer in the country.
.@athers has won the #SJA cricket writer award for the fourth year in a row and here is a taster of why:
In the article, Atherton lists a series of decisions taken by cricketers, coaches and administrators which he deemed to be ‘irrational’. Now, regular readers here will know that there’s a lot to choose from here. The ECB in particular are prone to making irrational decisions most of the time. It is therefore somewhat incredible to realise that he names virtually no irrational things in the whole piece.
So I have gone through the whole thing, and explained point-by-point why he is wrong.
Alex Hales changing his mind about first-class cricket – Rational. Athers quotes a 2016 interview from Hales where he says he wants to play in all three formats. To put that into the correct context, at the time he was playing in all three formats for England. He said it just before he played in a Test series against Pakistan, in which he averaged 18.12 and was then dropped. Now it’s almost two years later and he seems unlikely to get another chance in the Test team. He did average 47.11 last year in the Championship, but that was in Division 2 and was only the 24th highest average in that competition. If his dream of playing Tests again is dead, why not concentrate on limited overs cricket?
Nottinghamshire changing their mind about offering Alex Hales a white ball contract – Rational. Again in 2016, Nottinghamshire refused to offer Hales a white ball contract. To put this into context, in 2016 he was playing all three formats for England and so would only have been available for his county in April before the international season began. If he wasn’t contracted for red ball cricket, he might not have played a game all season. Now that he isn’t in the England Test team, he will likely be available for large chunks of the county limited overs competitions.
Adil Rashid apparently changing his mind about a white ball contract between December and February – Rational. In December, Rashid gave a standard generic quote about wanting to help Yorkshire regain the Championship title but in February signed a contract which meant he wouldn’t be taking part in that competition. It could be that he changed his mind, or he didn’t think that Yorkshire would offer him a contract without him having to play 4-day cricket. Either way, it’s hardly a sign of irrationality.
Jack Leach bowling more overs than Mason Crane during the Lions tour of the West Indies – Incredibly rational. Jack Leach is a better bowler than Mason Crane. He just is. The England Lions captain Keaton Jennings correctly surmised this, and chose his bowlers accordingly. Mason Crane wasn’t even selected for the third game of the Lions tour.
Mason Crane was selected for the Australia and New Zealand Test tours – Irrational. I’ve got to give Atherton this one. It was a ridiculous selection.
The ECB are offering white ball-only contracts to players – Rational. The truth is, England’s white ball specialists have been getting screwed until recently. Test players have had much more money and job security through their central contracts whilst the ODI and T20I cricketers have largely been relying on match fees. This was a much-needed rebalancing of the scales.
The chairman of the English players’ union and the chief executive of the South African players’ union disagree about white ball-only contracts – Rational. Two people in similar jobs disagreeing about something. Who cares?
Trevor Bayliss believes that there shouldn’t be bilateral T20Is, but the ECB has scheduled more – Rational. This time, someone disagreeing with their employer. Who cares?
Jos Buttler disagrees with Bayliss’ idea – Rational. A player disagreeing with his coach. Who cares? (And seriously, who edits Atherton’s work and lets all this stuff through?)
Trevor Bayliss suggested that Paul Farbrace should replace him as England’s T20I coach immediately – Incredibly rational.Trevor Bayliss has publicly stated that he plans to leave the England job in 2019 after the Ashes series. The World T20 competition starts just 12 months later, which doesn’t give the new coach much time to shape the T20 squad beforehand. Bayliss’ T20 record is also much more shaky than what he has achieved in ODIs so far. Since his appointment, England have won 12 and lost 12 T20Is, compared to having won 36 and lost 15 in ODIs. It seems that either England or Bayliss is not that good in cricket’s shortest (international) format right now, and could use a change.
Eoin Morgan offers to play first-class cricket for Middlesex after not being drafted in the IPL – Rational. Morgan had the choice between sitting at home or being paid to play cricket, albeit not where he had hoped to be. He obviously chose the latter.
Australia played against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland, which has a field too small for T20Is – Rational. Atherton even explains that it’s because the ground was already in use before the regulations regarding the minimum lengths of boundaries came in, and so it has a special dispensation. Increasing the boundary sizes on an existing ground would be very expensive, requiring major construction work and other costly measures, and probably isn’t possible at all in dual-use stadiums like Eden Park. Unless the ICC is prepared to pay New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new cricket ground in Auckland, it seems fair enough to bend the rules slightly.
Australia and South Africa’s schedules are very congested – Rational. It makes their boards money. The more they play, the more money they make. It’s as simple as that.
Despite major investment, Durham, Hampshire and Cardiff aren’t hosting any Tests from 2020 onwards – Rational. Again, money largely explains this. The other grounds make more of it during Tests, and so are the preferred hosts.
Somerset won’t stage any internationals despite being a well-run county, whilst other counties will – Slightly irrational. The main criteria which Somerset have failed to meet is capacity, the County Ground in Taunton only has space for 12,500 spectators whilst the ones which will host internationals can each hold crowds of at least 15,000. It’s a shame, but perhaps part of what makes Somerset such a solid and responsible county also prevents them from committing to costly expansions to their ground with uncertain financial returns.
Rashid Khan is top of the ICC bowler’s ODI rankings, but might not play in the 2019 World Cup if Afghanistan fail to qualify – Rational. Sometimes great players are on teams which don’t qualify for major competitions. I hear Gareth Bale is a great player, but Wales last qualified for the football World Cup in 1958. (Note: I don’t care about whether Bales actually is a great player or not, so please don’t try to argue this point with me.)
The ICC claim they want to expand world cricket but have contracted the ODI World Cup from 14 teams to 10 – Rational. The ICC (or to be exact, the member boards) were lying. If expansion made the existing members more money in the short term, they’d be doing it. The format of ICC competitions is decided solely on monetary terms.
And yet Michael Atherton is considered the greatest cricket journalist in England. Go figure.
It’s not so long ago that newspapers and broadcast media bestrode the world of information, disseminating news and comment to the public, explaining what was going on and read and watched by the public in their millions. The internet changed all that, mostly for the good and sometimes for the ill. It allowed blogs like this one to take off, gave a voice to a citizen army of writers and broadcasters and fragmented an industry that in some sectors still struggles to generate an income and define what content is worth paying for. New viewpoints could be heard, if sufficient numbers were prepared to listen, share and discuss, and the democratisation of opinion was held to be a “good thing” even while the established media lamented the loss of control and influence amongst the great unwashed who now had the means of answering back. Fake news became both a reality, and a term of abuse used to dismiss awkward opinions and shut down debate, and the general level of intolerance toward contrary opinions increased.
But there was a different strand that is only now being discussed and publicly recognised in traditional media – the centralisation of messaging amongst sports clubs and governing bodies. In one sense, it’s little different to how business has always operated, advertising being the key means of getting messages across and PR campaigns used to establish a reputation and a brand. The means may change, but the principles remain the same. Where it differed in a sporting context was that while the media had always been their means of doing so, there were few methods of exerting control over what was said and what angle the reporting took. The club or board might not like it, but retaliating against a media outlet was entirely counterproductive, as they could be starved of publicity or constantly referred to as an entity who didn’t like free speech. The objections in print would reach a wide audience, and be more or less impossible to successfully counter.
What has changed is that a club or a sporting body can now be their own media outlet. Football clubs have their own TV channels, where they proudly boast exclusive interviews with their own employees, and where the message can be controlled in its entirety under the guise of access.
Tim Wigmore, always one of the more thoughtful cricket journalists out there, and one prepared to ask the most basic and important questions has written an article about this very question, Manchester United’s expressed desire to increase the prevalence of its “news” app providing the catalyst, alongside an acknowledgement that the USA has been moving down the same path. There are many good points within that, and from a cricket blog perspective there’s a certain amusement to be had given it’s been one of the central themes of the writing on here over the last couple of years.
The ECB certainly floated the idea of their own subscription channel when musing the broadcast options coming up, and the appeal is easy to see – the revenue accrues entirely to them rather than to an intermediary and they can completely control the themes and provide a direct link to their army of sponsors. Something approaching that model has been seen fairly clearly in India, where broadcast criticism of the BCCI has been rather comprehensively shut down. In the UK at least, there are laws preventing the subject of a broadcast exercising editorial control, but that doesn’t apply (currently) to online. In any case, while the attraction is clear, creating a full on media company is a big undertaking and to that end the ECB realistically still need partners for the foreseeable future.
Of course, there’s nothing especially radical in wishing to control a message, businesses do that all the time though generally speaking, avoiding being in the news is the aim there. But the creation of their own story is part of the trick, and for employees and members of the industry, it’s nothing especially new. By way of example, working in the travel and tourism industry I will tend to be very careful about what I say in public – not just in terms of those I work for, but in general. Becoming the story through controversial opinions is something to be avoided like the plague, except in certain specific circumstances where such opinions are in themselves the currency – viz. Michael O’Leary.
Yet a full on takeover of the message by an organisation like the ECB is unlikely to be the real problem. When that happens journalists become much more critical anyway, and the example contained within Mr Wigmore’s article, when Newcastle United banned journalists, attracted lots of attention and even more criticism. By trying to control the story, they lost control of it completely, and freed the media to criticise with no further cost in terms of their relationship.
The far more insidious and dangerous trend in recent years has been the use of soft power to try to direct the narrative. Sports journalism of the day to day nature requires access to the players and other key people in order to provide copy and generate interest, readership and, yes, clicks. This can be made more difficult, and the plum opportunities given to those who are onside and can be trusted not to cause too many difficulties. Those that don’t follow the script find that it’s a little harder to talk to the right people. This is extremely tough to combat and a fair degree of sympathy for the individual journalist – but not the industry – is warranted. To turn it around a different way, the three of us on here have no compunctions about what we say for the very good reason that we know for certain there is no prospect whatsoever of us being invited into the ECB’s inner sanctum, or even within the same diocese come to that. However in our case, we aren’t being paid to do this, and don’t have a boss who can fire us. But our and other blogs’ freedom comes at a different cost – highly limited contact with those in any degree of power. A few journalists maintain a back channel to us, and occasionally we are given a heads up on something that they feel unable to write about themselves, which is a curious state of affairs on the one hand, and entirely understandable on another – not least the commercial imperative.
Where it is different for a journalist is that if they lose their access they struggle to do their job, and given it’s their livelihood it’s a real risk to take. A reluctance to rock the boat is the likely result, and the other side of the coin is that by keeping close to the ECB they can get even better access and thus even greater reach for their articles with obvious personal benefits. This kind of behaviour is worse by far because the bias is harder to spot, particularly amongst those who only pay cursory attention to the goings on. It’s for that reason it’s such an attractive way of working for the ECB, or for any other organisation in the same position – limiting dissent, encouraging promotion, and enabling the party line to be maintained. It’s also the hardest to combat; many journalists are very aware of the problem, but being aware of it and trying to prevent it are two different things.
There’s no real reason to assume this will improve, just the opposite. In order for sports reporters to do their jobs properly, they need that access and they need to be able to talk to people within the top levels of the game, not just for themselves but for us as readers to try to glean the truth. From that comes much of the best journalism, whether from sources or openly in interview. It is a problem for the truth if any time they report on something they’ve learned they are dismissed for daring to talk to people – that is their job. They face a dilemma in attempting to both gain insight and obtain a good story, while at the same time being entirely aware of what the ECB are up to. Equally, conspiracy theories about all of them are unreasonable – the vast majority have professional pride and wouldn’t allow it to happen to them and wouldn’t be party to attempts to restrict them. There are exceptions to that, and those that behave that way tend to attract a degree of contempt for their output. But it’s rarely a matter of open collaboration, but of being sufficiently vulnerable to rein any criticism in because of the possible consequences.
If much of sport is now nothing more than a branch of the entertainment industry, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same kinds of rules apply to the reporting. Interviews with members of the movie industry are almost always on the back of promoting a film rather than for the sake of it – and always remember few people would wish to open up for the sake of it, these interviews are a part of their job and one many of them greatly dislike. The prevalence of a footnote stating that a player is being interviewed courtesy of a particular sponsor has been an unwelcome development, and creates the dilemma for the journalist as to whether to play that particular game. It’s hard to criticise them for doing so, yet it remains something of a blight.
There are few material answers to all of this. Either journalism as a body responds and reacts to the threat to their independence or they don’t, and as is so often the case some of them do just that, and others take the advantages on offer as a trade for their independence. It will undoubtedly allow them to generate much copy and many readers but at the price of their integrity. That is their decision, ours is how much trust we have in anything they might say. Some have found that even when they are right they are no longer believed, to their clear frustration. But it’s brought on by their own conduct, and the collateral damage of good journalism being considered guilty by association makes it even worse. We need them, we need them badly, but the truth is that they need us as well. And that’s what needs to be remembered.
It’s not exactly original, I know, but the end of a year brings forth a time to reflect, to review and to write tedious end of year pieces looking forward to the next. Good grief, I know I am guilty of that more than most! Be warned, this is a long one……
How will I look back on 2016? It has been a challenging year for blogging, it has to be said. From a personal perspective I’ve found this year quite tough. I’ve not had the pure motivation of previous years, and for quite lengthy periods have not been bothered to write. That’s probably a product of two things.
The first is that with a few glorious exceptions, the authorities have upgraded themselves from Keystone Cops to Dad’s Army, and thus haven’t really pushed the buttons. Combined with somehow finishing the KP for England (in the T20) debate despite none of us thinking it was ever an option they would undertake, the ECB mainly steered clear of self-made obstacles. Then they raised their T20 plans and banished Durham, and they gave us some gifts to work on. However, the ECB had a quiet year (by recent standards) it has to be said. The rumblings of old perennial flowers in the garden may give portents to future growth of enthusiasm.
The second is blogging burnout. I have said on many occasions how unprepared I was when How Did We Lose in Adelaide took off. Not just the time and effort to write and write and write, but also mentally how draining it can be, especially on top of a very busy job. The whole thing took a lot out of me. Writing the blog became borderline obsessive. Content, no matter how it was derived, mattered. I started feeling the pace during the 2015 Ashes. Having moved from HDWLIA to the new blog, it had become established and even had a new writer to help out (which greatly undersells what Chris has brought to this blog – but that’s how he worded his first offer, “helping out”), but I was thoroughly pissed off by the cricket, the media, the idiots throwing bricks at us, and probably culminated in the Twitter meltdown with Etheridge. I was knackered. At times during 2016 that has resurfaced. I have a life outside of here and work. I have a lot of other interests. It is time I paid attention to them. But, this is like an addictive drug. It keeps pulling me back. I’m sometimes not sure if this is good or not!
For me 2016 was a year when the campaigning, more vociferous (shall we say) blogging was put a little back in its box. This hasn’t been the year for it, although it may have ended a good deal more tetchily than it was in the middle months. That’s not to say I don’t think Being Outside Cricket is declining in relevance, such as we have. There’s still something on here you will not find anywhere else, and that’s a lot of cricket tragics putting forward angry points of view, without fear or favour. The voice is still heard, if a lot less acknowledged in public, and that we have retained a very healthy hit rate and visitor count despite a decline in the number of articles, in conjunction with a test year which, on paper, wasn’t the most attractive in pure media terms, and a lack of major controversies speaks volumes. At the end of 2016 I feel better than at most parts of the year. I do recognise, though, that the next four or five months are going to be absolutely brutal with a lack of England test matches, and only patchy instances of ODI cricket to sustain us. The one thing learned is that test matches drive traffic. Well that and KP and/or Alastair Cook. With an absence of those factors, all of us here are under no illusions how tough the barren lands of early 2017 will be. In contrast, the next year from May 2017 will be absolutely off the charts.
Outside of Being Outside Cricket, I am sad that people like Maxie (totally) and Tregaskis (to a lesser extent) are not rumbling around as they used to. Both are inspirations to me over the past few years, writing in their own styles, and attacking their foe with precision and not a little flair as well. If they are the guided missiles or sniper’s rifle, I’m a big hefty cannon! Maxie in particular is a grievous loss to our cause and to that of cricket blogging. Maxie drives traffic when he writes. You may not agree with him, but you read him. You may argue with him, but you listen to him. He has that skill to get under the right people’s noses. I have said that he will always have a place to write if he ever wanted to “come back” and that stands. Without him, and with the different direction I think The Full Toss has gone, it does feel quite lonely out here, being angry and keeping the fires burning!
That’s because others who were equally vociferous during the tumultuous times are much less so now. That is the writer’s choice, of course, and I don’t want to criticise them for it. Each cricket writer / blogger has to be true to themselves. I have said, many times, that if I wasn’t true to what I believed in you’d see it a mile off, and I wouldn’t be able to write for any length of time. I have a couple of individuals in mind (and not the Full Toss before people put 2+2 together and make 5), and they need to realise that playing both sides of the fence is taking much of their readership for granted. They are still capable of great things, pieces I read and enjoy. But there are other times I think “are you being, have you been, totally honest with your readers?” That’s for them. Call it friendly advice.
It would not be a review of the year without mentioning the madhouse that is Twitter. Contact with the media has fallen off a cliff this year as obviously we don’t need to be acknowledged as we were post-KP. Now that’s a dead issue the media, those who bothered, don’t need to know how the great unwashed feel. That’s no more evident in the recent Cook incidents. The press don’t need to protect him now, because there’s no combined angry backlash if he was to be sacked coming, other than from a couple of diehard pillocks the world can ignore safely. After KP there was an angry backlash from a number of blogs, new and old, and the reporters had to recognise this. Now there’s nothing to get angry about, there’s nothing for them to worry about. I’d be a little bit concerned, if I was a journo, about some of the key big beasts being put out to pasture. They weren’t, in the main, the ones who had the foggiest idea about “social media”, despite being on it.
Twitter has been a lot less confrontational. The odd arsehole that got on my nerves as always – some who follow KP’s twitter feed to have a pop strike me as particularly “obsessed” – but nothing like the rubbish I’ve had to put up with in the past. After the early issues this year with one, we’ve had a spell where we’ve managed, I think, to not get mad at each other, which suits me. The other one I have had constant issues with showed their nasty side by threatening to out my name in a particularly lovely Tweet, but even if they do, no-one cares. Then there was the remarkably odd parody twitter feed. I’ve blocked that old bollocks. Other than that, it’s all quite quiet, and that can only be a good thing for your health, I suppose.
So to the cricket. What, really? If I must? Let’s focus on England.
The year started with the Ben Stokes blitz in Cape Town. This incredible knock didn’t get England a win, but it did set the tone for some high octane stuff during the year. Almost, but not quite, unnoticed in that innings was the magnificent first hundred for Jonny Bairstow, which would lay the table for his year. England actually finished Cape Town on the back foot after a double hundred by Amla and a century by Bavuma, and a last day wobble, but returned magnificently on top at Johannesburg when the stars aligned for another of those Stuart Broad spells. Joe Root’s masterful century on a surface that Broad made hay on is conveniently forgotten by those wishing to criticise him now, and it laid the foundation for the series win. England then went on to lose a one-sided, we don’t give a stuff test, at Centurion. Funny how, when we lose these matches, we don’t give a stuff because we’ve won the series. I suppose it makes us feel like the 1990s Australian team if we think like that.
The ensuing ODI series with South Africa started with England’s attacking play dominating. The first two matches were taken in some style, before the tide turned, and England’s devil may care approach came unstuck in the decider. If one lesson was learned it was not to say we would win a series 5-0 when we hadn’t actually won the series. Maybe we’ll learn. Also, Adil Rashid dropped a catch and copped a ton of blame. That set a tone.
The World T20 competition was greeted with little hope, given it was being played in India and “we never do well in the sub-continent”. England lost to the West Indies in a Gayle tour de force, but came back to win the rest of their group games, including a phenomenal run chase against South Africa that was a much a trait of our new attitude as the loss in the ODI decider in South Africa had been. People, it’s two sides of the same coin. It just isn’t a tuppence, but a nice shiny new £2 one. England qualified for the semi-final, and overcame New Zealand, and when they got to the Final were relieved to be facing West Indies and not India. We all know what happened then, and we also know how important a moment in the cricket year for attitudes going forward in the media and the blogs that was.
The good feelings from the World T20, despite the tumultuous ending, and the start of the new county season seemed to beckon a bright summer. But the first half was low key, and in many ways just dull. The home series v Sri Lanka, both in tests and ODIs, lacked a certain something. There were exciting moments, none more so than Liam Plunkett’s last ball six in the first ODI, but Sri Lanka’s game approach was not matched by results. England won the test series 2-0, with a rain-affected draw the other “result”, and got through the two limited overs portions of the somewhat less than Super Series unbeaten. It was job done for England, but judging by attendances at the test matches, the level of interest on here, and my own (lack of) attempts to keep up with fixtures while on holiday in the US, it raised a number of very awkward questions about the quality of the product on show. This was the first time I had to listen via Guerilla Cricket. A useful service, but really not my cup of Earl Grey. After that it was Cricinfo (and my first question on Polite Enquiries which was met with George saying “I don’t think Dmitri is being totally serious”.
The second half of the summer was covered in my 5th Dmitri for the year. From England’s perspective it was a series that possibly got away. There was much rancour and discord over the omission of Anderson and Stokes from the first test, which grew when the whispers that they were fit were married up with a defeat at the hands of a vibrant opposition and around the same time Andy Flower broke his “dignified silence”. There was a distinct smack of “good journalism” about it all. The second test at Old Trafford was one way traffic once Cook and Root set about the task at hand, with Root becoming only the second domestic player since 1990 to pass 250 in a test match. England took the wickets they needed within the time allotted for a comprehensive win. A tight third test that ebbed and flowed went the way of the hosts when Pakistan failed to survive Day 5 (heard that one before), but any resting on the laurels was rudely awakened when a lax first innings at The Oval was at least 150 runs short (despite a Moeen masterpiece) and Younis Khan’s double hundred pointed the way to a series levelling victory. In both wins Yasir Shah had applied the bowling coup de grace. Yasir was lethal in London, undone up north.
The ODI series that followed had some magnificent performances, most notably the breaking of Robin Smith’s 23 year old record for the highest ODI score by an England player. Hales had 200 at his mercy but had to settle for 171. That new record might not last 23 months. England also made the highest ODI score of 444 for 3, Wahab recorded figures of 0 for 110 (second only to the legend of Mick Lewis in ODIs), Jos Buttler took 22 balls to reach 50 (an English record) and so on and so forth. We also had a number 11 make a 50 in the response! Pakistan rallied towards the end of the series, winning the last game, and then winning the T20 as well, but overall, sentiment towards the white ball team was in the ascendant. They were/are genuinely fun to watch.
The problem with England, its media, and many of its fans, is that there is too much emphasis placed on “doing what is perceived to be the right thing”. Looming at the end of the series was the trip to Bangladesh, where international teams were less keen to go, especially after the early July terrorist attacks at a bakery in Dhaka that was frequented by overseas visitors. After a very thorough review, itself indicative of the tricky nature of the decision, and backed by a host government prepared to throw a shedload of money at security, the tour was deemed safe to proceed. Players were given, by the ECB, keeping in mind the security issues, a choice whether they would go on the tour or stay. Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales said they did not feel comfortable and withdrew, just as Andrew Caddick did in India many years ago. The results were a widespread condemnation of Morgan, an Oliver Holt expedition so shallow that it barely merited being a puddle of a piece, and the generation of nonsensical heat and light about duty, loyalty, courage and leadership. A 2-1 ODI series win, under some interesting and tetchy leadership by Jos Buttler, was greeted like a huge triumph, and now the same heat and light is on whether Morgan should be in the team on merit, or whether we should just throw in the young guns, like, er, Ben Duckett (that went well in the test team). Morgan is a great captain of an ODI team and keeps his place on merit. Cook wasn’t a great captain of a poor performing test team, and was in poor nick for quite a while, and the press could barely mention it. We are a funny bunch.
Once the ODI series and the all the old cobblers that came with had been got out of the way, so we went into the two match test series. Alastair Cook had come back from the UK after the birth of his second child, and assumed the reins of the team, as they sought to hold back the hosts on some very spicy, spinning wickets. Both tests were filled with drama. Batting was perilous, but England got enough to win by a narrow margin at Chittagong, with Stokes being the difference, but the cracks did not hold at Dhaka, and Bangladesh romped to a famous victory. There was lot of great spin in evidence, with the English representatives coming from the media, and the hosts from the team, and especially the exciting talent that was Mehedi Hassan. The media tried to make it look like this was a valiant drawn series against a talented foe. Most of us thought this was a recipe for disaster with India looming, and no-one was being called for it except the three spinners. Batsmen weren’t to blame, they rarely are (unless you should not have been picked in the first place, Gary Balance). Those of us with long memories will recall the over the top reactions to a hit out or get out 50 by Ben Duckett for a while to come. It took all of two matches for him to become “unselectable” after that.
Then on to India. The result was pre-ordained according to the press and other experts. I’m listening to an old Switch Hit where Mark Butcher basically said that anyone with any cricket knowledge should have known that was going to be the result. I am really sorry, but I am not buying it, will not be buying it, and won’t be buying it any time soon. England were competitive, so they said, but lost key sessions and lost 4-0. Because this was the bar set at the start, then it was almost acceptable for it to be the end result. I was half joking when I said anything other than 5-0 would be painted as a success.
But you know, and I know, that this isn’t really what is going on. For the media to, almost as one, indicate that it’s time up for Alastair Cook suggests he’s not really thought of as totally without blame for this one in the same way David Gower wasn’t for the Blackwash of 1984. The captaincy was abject at some points – and all captains go through abject moments – but he seemed to be unable to rouse anyone, to get them enthused or excited. At times it was going through the motions. Karun Nair has a test triple hundred to his name, for heaven’s sake. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Viswanath, Hazare et al have not made one, but Karun Nair has. Jayant Yadav may be a very talented cricketer, but he has a test ton to his name too. Yet this was seen to be almost “expected”. I’m scratching my head.
England played well at Rajkot, batted with discipline, made a massive first innings total, dictated terms, and played with good sense. The declaration caused some ructions, but I wasn’t overly fussed about it. A decent performance after Dhaka was what was needed. Of course, some went silly over it, and then found out why you shouldn’t when we were handily beaten at Vizag. Kohli’s masterful 167 being the key batting difference, and while some were still saying the signs were really encouraging, most of us thought that unless the bleeding was stopped we were in real trouble. Of course, the toss was “crucial” there, and the result might have been different had we won it. When we won the toss at Mohail, we were promptly dismissed for 283 and dead in the water. Of course, this ignores the fact that India were 204 for 6 in reply and were totally let off the hook, as the tail wagged. A 124 run lead for India was enough. England never got back into the game.
At this point Haseeb Hameed had sustained a broken finger and was out of the rest of the tour, which meant his almost legendary start could benefit more from not playing in the final two test matches. Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.
The last two test matches followed similar patterns. England won the toss, thus gaining an advantage, but still found themselves batting last as they made on the face of it decent totals, but totally inadequate when you neither appeared to have the clue or the sticky hands to constrain Indian batsmen. Are you really telling me that Mumbai was a 631 wicket? I’ve just heard Mark Butcher call England’s second innings as being inevitably below 200, because the deck was doing everything. Yet we couldn’t get shot of the Indian lower order? They were 34 runs behind us when the 7th wicket went down and walked away with a 231 lead! As for Chennai, that was a road. A road we couldn’t be arsed to stick it out on to get a draw.
Look, I recognise, as someone who has watched the game enough that winning in India is tough. I am not bloody stupid. What got me with this is the almost reticent attitude of those following, who seemed to take more time explaining away our failures rather than getting stuck into players who underperformed, unless their name was Adil Rashid. It was quite strange, having lived through some disastrous tours where the press declared open season, even at times when we were expected to be thrashed (every overseas Ashes series it seemed). Now everyone wanted to be ever so reasonable about it. As the beloved says “beware a change of behaviour”.
The year ends with England, touted as possible world number 1s after their win in South Africa in a state of flux. I think most people, in their hearts, know Cook should go. Some have known it a lot longer than others. There is almost ludicrous expectations on Hameed, while Keaton Jennings may have a debut test ton under his belt, but still appears to have a bit to prove. The batting order is a mess, we are playing a wicket keeper batsman as a batsman, and a batsman wicketkeeper as the keeper. Moeen Ali doesn’t know whether he is coming or going. Adil is on the one hand a fragile, catch dropping liability, and within a fortnight our number one spinner. The seam bowling looked worryingly ineffective once the wickets got flat, and James Anderson appears to be an injury prone, too many miles on the clock, up and down bowler (has he lost that nip) on wickets that don’t help him. That doesn’t even mention the coaching staff. Trevor Bayliss got too much praise when things were going well, and pushed off a day early when they weren’t. He’s either managed the press well, or there is something going on. There are a number of grumblings about his test coaching ability, but nothing serious yet. Maybe there’s a nice herbaceous border around him with lots of pretty flowers? As for Paul Farbrace, who knows? Everyone still seems to be in Camp Farby. Nothing to seems to stick to him. If we are doing well, he gets lots and lots of praise. When they go badly, he gets lots and lots of praise. I’m not entirely sure why! Maybe it’s because he’s a cheeky chappy, chirpy and upbeat, a lovely assistant, creating a good environment. 2017 has many many tests – the Champions Trophy had better go well. South Africa won’t be pushovers, and we might freeze West Indies to death by the end of September, while our players will be on their knees. And then….The Ashes!
So to the media. We’ve seen the loss of some of the behemoths of the reporting game. Stephen Brenkley was dispensed with when the Independent went online only, and now is the home of any jobbing freelancer wanting to sell copy. There’s the case of spreading yourself too thinly as a couple of the hardy perennials of the up and coming crew are doing. While Brenkley wasn’t my cup of tea, and to be fair, I’m not really sure who is, I found him more the unthreatening scribe, clearly in love with what he was doing because of the sport and less because he appeared in love with himself. In some ways I miss Bunkers.
Then there was the well trailed removal of Mike Selvey from the Guardian. It is never nice to see a man lose his job, and it is important that this isn’t jumping on his misfortune, but he needed to read the runes and he didn’t. Like Pringle before he gave off the impression the game owed him a living, and the reverence he received BTL in The Guardian often enforced that. The lachrymose tributes on his demise were OTT. His view of embracing social media was to put what he thought out there and slag off anyone who disagreed. As a newspaper man, you can’t do that. Engage, debate, even try to get to know your accusers. Some have done it and found it, I think, of mutual benefit. For Phil Walker to almost cuddle him on Cricket Writers was the last straw for me with AOC. Selvey had no truck with the likes of us, independent of mind, as acerbic in print as he could be. He didn’t want to read views contrary to his, or at least, he might if you’d played the game at the highest level. But he might ask himself why we have a decent relationship with certain journalists and not him while he sups his pint and pines, of course, for a job lost. There were a lot on here who really liked you Mike. Maybe ask why they ended up being on the other side of that line at the end.
Meanwhile the same old correspondents plod along, touring the world, filing copy, being read by fewer people as the game gradually disappears. It’s a bloody shame. Again, to those who block me, namely Paul Newman and Simon Wilde, ask yourselves why we got so damned angry at some of your copy – well that’s Newman, I don’t have the first clue why Wilde blocked me, I quite liked him – because a number of your colleagues did. Think about how the fans are consuming their cricket writing these days. Think beyond scoring a few cheap hits and stupid BTL twaddle, and more about the sport itself. Try not to use your columns to settle other people’s scores.
On TV the new kid on the block, BT Sport, has made a middling start to its coverage. Speaking for myself I think it has a decent panel, even with the odious Lovejoy on it, and it made a splash with the early prominent names of Ponting and KP, knowing these were for a short period of time. This is a practice run for their Ashes coverage next year. Let me give you a number of pieces of advice based on what I have seen of their test and ODI coverage.
A highlights show is to watch cricket first, hear you lot jabbering on later. The amount of actual play shown is laughable. When the Ashes are played next year, more cricket and a lot less bunny.
Greg James is a promising host but he appears to be limited in what he knows. Now either he is being constrained by the format and the talking heads, or he is limited in what he knows.
As for the live coverage, please stop the silly little inserts during the coverage. It’s bad enough with Channel 9 cramming in their imbeciles, without adding to the number of voices. Let it breathe.
Separate the action and the chat as much as possible.
I have the week off to follow the Sydney test next week, and might provide some more views. It’s good that there are different avenues to watch, but not so good when you have to pay more. The world will, must, have a dedicated cricket viewing source soon, or else it is going to lose revenue and customers.
There’s a bigger piece on domestic cricket to write, and how it interacts with TV. At the moment we have an almighty mess with the ECB and the counties being accused of all sorts by everyone. Until something truly crystallises – ha ha, playing in Beckenham – it’s all heat and light. And dull to watch.
So a year that began with a bang, ended with a dud. There’s too much here already to give a world view of the game, so maybe that’s something I can look into in the New Year. I’ll also be encompassing another aspect in another of the Dmitris, but for now, with cricket, media and blogging in here, it should be enough to be going on.
It is indeed a tough task following the last two pieces by The Leg Glance. They were superbly written, cogently argued and received with the responses they deserved. So it’s a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, but let me try, and the subject is Alastair Cook. Isn’t that so frequently the case?
England are losing the test series 3-0, but it is a very difficult one to assess from the visitors’ standpoint (well it is in my eyes). England have missed opportunities, but if we are talking about catches in such a way, as being pivotal to outcomes in the absence of something else, we should throw away all those 2005 DVDs and just change the record on who held the Ashes that year after those key drops on Day 5 at The Oval.
You need to create chances to take them, and the team that wistfully looks back on isolated opportunities is usually one deluding itself. In referring to Adil Rashid’s dropped caught and bowled, a tough chance, as a key point of the match, we are probably less inclined to focus on Keaton Jennings being fortunate not to bag a pair on debut and we’d be saying how out of his depth he looked. On such small margins are careers forged.
Each of the batsmen in the starting XI at Mumbai has some moment of success to look back upon, and maybe it is the start of a more firm batting line-up, especially with Hameed waiting in the wings – but it’s still not the certainty many seem to indicate. There are still vacancies in the top and middle order.
The spin bowling has been game, but not as good in these conditions as their opponents but that can hardly be their fault, and it isn’t a surprise. We didn’t go to the West Indies in 1985/6 expecting to match the West Indies pace attack on friendly wickets, so why expect our spinners to match the Indian bowlers? I’ve been more disappointed with the seamers, who not only have looked mostly unthreatening, have also been talking as defeatists. We aren’t worried about them in England, but when the chips are down in Australia, and they may well be, I don’t want to hear talk of wickets nullifying them, and players being good at home.
Given the diverse signals being given off, and interpreted, by the press, the media have had to coalesce around one key issue. The agenda was set, and how it will please him that it did, by #39 and his interview with Alastair Cook prior to the tour. There he let slip that he might consider leaving the captaincy sooner or later, and that might be at the end of this tour. There was a certain wistfulness about returning to the ranks and being the senior pro, rather than the one calling the shots.
I said what I thought of that when the issue reared its head. Alastair Cook may give off an “aww shucks” demeanour, but he’s a very skilled media operator (rather than a skilled orator). There is no way that the media profile he’s had has not been achieved without some very skillful work. Grown journos have confessed their undying love for the chap. So if Alastair thinks he’s been misinterpreted, as Trevor Bayliss has mentioned today in a totally unconvincing load of old tosh, then more fool Cook. But I don’t think he was misinterpreted at all. I think he knew how that comment would come out, but as to his motives, you’ll have to ask him. This hasn’t arisen before, to my knowledge. It’s all about steel, iron and resilience under fire.
What this article did, though, was to give the journalists out there, and those sitting back here in the UK, a way in. They could start debating whether Cook should stay or go, without impugning his character or reputation. This reminds me most of the end of Atherton’s time in charge. Having won a breathless final test in the 1997 Ashes, when the media were calling for him to go (Nigel Clarke being particularly vociferous, I seem to recall), Athers was persuaded to stay on for a tour of the West Indies. We lost that series 3-1 and Atherton resigned immediately after. He’d given off the signals that he didn’t want to stay on, and was persuaded to do so. Cook is giving off those signals now, even talking about imagining a future where he is in the team, but not captain. So if he’s considering it, he knows, he had to know, that the press would speculate on it given half a chance. That would be more pronounced if we were losing the series, and the captain looked a bit frazzled around the edges in doing so. If there were a couple of odd dismissals, then even more could be read into it. Post-Bangladesh, with that series ending on a bad note, this wasn’t ideal timing.
After Rajkot the tune changed. There was a lot less about Cook’s perceived wishes, and a positive bounce in the steps after a very worthy performance and a century for the captain. The scribes, commentators and “The Verdict” crew were effusive in their praise, paying homage to the captain, and excusing his caution (which I agreed with, so you won’t be getting me on that one) as totally understandable. He had shown great resolve, some good captaincy and the universe could live in peace. Cook’s future wasn’t on the agenda.
Two test matches later, some odd dismissals, some lacklustre, even downright bad captaincy in those games, combined with a week off between tests, and the mood and direction had changed. In watching how the press approached it, one could see the great forces at play. Having a go at Cook is, for the digital world, with its plethora of opinions, On here the outside world believes we are mostly focused on “getting rid of Cook because he got KP sacked”. That’s the view we get, no matter how many times we repeat ourselves as being the wrong end of the stick. It’s a very unreasonable simplicity that prevents those reading for looking at this more deeply.
I’m past caring whether Cook carries on or not. What we have not done on this, as the media have at this juncture, is to raise a storm now – this is seen as the most vociferous of blogs, but it isn’t us who have started the fire. It hasn’t been much elsewhere I’ve seen, but it is with some of those who have sat on the fence, or even issued “Back Cook” missives in the past. In this case, believe it or not, the digital world of social media has followed, not encouraged. Has commented but not been the provocateur.
I wrote in “What’s Cooking”
So why now, people? What aren’t you telling us? Someone is clearly muttering something, because even though we have no idea how good journalism works, we know how this thing works, because we’ve seen it happen. Is Strauss talking? It appears the most likely as Bayliss is a Strauss appointment, and Cook a Hugh Morris/Paul Downton one (Morris originally, Downton post Ashes 2103-14). Is it the Venus Fly Trap, through Newman, who is laying his poisonous seeds for sins of the past? Something is afoot, and I think we all want to know what it might be. Going to tell us good ladies and gentlemen of the press? Why have Pringle and Newman turned? Now?
Is it merely a coincidence, or is it a message? Can the press seek the changes they always used to, but in a more deferential, less combative manner? To call for Cook to resign because he’s a poor captain is to invoke a wrath rarely seen in the media world, and from his loyal fans online – hell we’ve seen it often enough. But it’s not far from the truth to question his ability, because tactically he’s never been the best. He’s had to rely on the nonsensical “leads from the front”, probably because he opens, but in his past 45 test matches he has five test hundreds. There’s no doubt he is a leading figure in the dressing room, looked up to by many of his colleagues, but is that enough? Are we aiming so low as creation of a good environment? There’s the contention he’s a nice guy, and you don’t have a go at them (friends of mine at work encountered him at Chelmsford, and said he was genuinely very friendly) if they are nice, do you? That makes you mean spirited, bilious, vitriolic. Something the mere blogger gets thrown at them. So the press get to do their thing having it both ways. Looking to create the succession, but keeping their cards close to their chest if it doesn’t happen now.
Which has been perfect for them. This whole “debate” is a pretty cynical construct if you ask me. It allows key supporters like Newman, Stocks and Selfey (passim) to put forward public positions of support, but that he should pack it in if he really doesn’t feel up to it. They wouldn’t have a go at him for feeling he’s run his race, given what he has been through, and he’s been an absolute beacon of integrity. The man has “suffered enough”. There’s no debates over who might be the best captain, whether the team needs fresh ideas, a new impetus, a different direction, because these people will still be very happy if Cook remains in post. There are little digs about Joe Root, about how he might not be a leader – nothing in the league of Newman’s leak against Ian Bell – and how we might ruin his best form. As Chris said in the comments on the previous piece, why is this a given?
An attempt to put the case from outside this cosy consensus is met with the usual old crap about us being pro-KP zealots who wanted him gone the day he got shot of our hero. I could write another 10000 words on that old bollocks, but I saw it again today and it made me whistle now as it did then. I’ve been pretty laid back about this Cook crap. If he wants to go, he’ll go. If he wants to stay, Strauss would stun me if he effectively dismissed him. I’ve always felt getting to the 2017-18 Ashes was a huge stretch, given Cook would need to be in the job for over 5 years, and the natural cycle (unless your Graeme Smith) is 4 years or so, but I can perfectly understand why Cook might want another go at the Ashes down under to lance a boil if possible. But it’s not his decision, and that is the point – or at least it shouldn’t be his decision. This is England, not Cook’s England. If our board, our Comma, think Cook is at the end of the race, then they should tell him. If he chooses to make a dignified exit, then so be it. It should not be if Cook wants to stay, that’s it. But I suspect that is precisely how it will be.
The press can speculate. It’s fun to speculate. But when that speculation has to be on message, then we smell a rat. We can come up with all sorts of theories – mine is Cook has been very affected by missing the immediate aftermath of the birth of his latest child and has appeared slightly off key all winter – but at the end of the day if, as I sort of expect, he goes at the end of this tour (that’s what all the desperate signals say) I’ll actually be quite disappointed. Yes, you read that right. I’d be disappointed because if he felt like this at the start, and all impressions were that he was, he should have sought a rest. Some proper time off. I don’t think anyone, really, could have begrudged him that. He should not have skippered with this in his head. Because if he quits after this next test, it was in his head all along. Just like Atherton back in 1997-8.
We can evaluate the test series at the end, but I find our media machinations much more fascinating. They have had to twist and contort their way through this issue, keeping loyal to the Cosa Cooky, while intimating they aren’t out of touch with the messages being dripped to them. It is a high wire act convincing no-one. This is about the softest press a captain at the end of his tether has ever got. It’s about invoking KP tweets to feed the hostility some more. It’s about complaining that we never had a chance, and then saying it is perfectly understandable that the captain might think about his future. They may not be all either/or issues, but they are a clear message. Cook is still their main man, will always be their main man, and nothing is going to sway them from it. By trying to give him a dignified way out is out of character, and isn’t fooling many of us. It’s the same in many ways as 2014. Cook is the ECB’s man, and that means a lot. Get in line, follow the crowd, make the pro-points, and be a good little journo. Because Cook is nice.
An interesting post-script to Cook leaving the captaincy is how much rope he will be given to stay in the team. Cook the batsman is more disposable than Cook the captain. He will be 32 in less than a fortnight. A bad run at the top of the order is, with 32 year olds, accompanied by accusations of not being fit, being worn out, having your eyes going, not wanting it any more, or “time to make way for young players”. Watching our media when that happens is going to be truly fascinating. I suspect many want him to play until he’s 36 / 37 when he can get to Sachin’s run totals. There will be more rope than others, I’ll bet. Ricky Ponting didn’t have to make too many iffy scores before he got the tap on the shoulder.
I’m never surprised by this lot. Not really. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went into mourning the day he does resign. Especially if it is before the next Ashes, where the Redemption Tour will be in full force. Deep down they know they can’t go into it with a half-hearted leader. They know he really has to go. But they can’t force themselves to really say it. But they can still create a debate. It’s been a fascinating exercise to watch. Vic Marks reckons his time is up. Dean Wilson seemed to be saying it too. All at the end of a series where we have been well beaten, and the captain excused of it while players are blamed. It’s been a real treat. There’s more to follow, I am sure.
I thought I might take a look, in a bit more detail, at how the domestic (to the UK) written media has evolved and changed over the past couple of years. While I don’t have the in depth knowledge of the commercial metrics that some of the contributors here retain, I do think I know a little bit about the message drivers. I’ll also go into some of the social media developments – blogs, Twitter etc. – and what I think of the future for BOC.
This blog, and its predecessor, made its presence felt when it commented upon the journalist corps and its attitude to the events of 2013/14. I had always had an eye on the writing corps because I saw them as our window to the play when we weren’t there, and also a little bit inside to tell us the latest goings on. I’d always been a bit of a sceptic, probably since the Hold The Back Page days, when the personality of the journalist seemed to be more important than the story. Mark’s take on that always makes me smile. There was always a thought that this was a dying trade, as the internet and cheaper writers were available, and cricket, like baseball in the US, seemed a sport open to “new media”. I never thought I’d be part of it, writing away, with no-one paying attention. 2013/14 might have been the Year Zero, but it had been building up to a crescendo for a while. Did the print media care more about themselves than they did about the readership. That’s been the question for me.
Despite a journo telling me that we are wasting our time talking about the press because no-one gives a shit about them, the evidence on hits and responses shows this not to be the case. Since the end of that ill-fated Ashes tour. there has been some interesting interaction with a number of the print media, and some of the television/radio gang too, but while quite frequent in 2014, and early 2015, in the past few months that has slowed down to a trickle of comments. But it is funny how pieces about journalists seemed to get traction. We’ll see how this goes down. What I do know is that the old media don’t come around here much no more.
For example, I can’t remember the last time Etheridge got enraged, Selfey called us bilious inadequates, Pringle called us irrelevant, and Paul Newman said we are “nothing important”. In some ways this is a shame. Our penchant for investigating their writing was at times great fun, but also headbangingly annoying. It provided the fuel to run much of this blog, but was also something that needed writing about, and some of them cared what we did. It is evident that quite a few of the journalists are fully aware of some of the things written about them. For example, I was told categorically that Newman never read this blog. I’ve never abused him, as far as I know on Twitter, but he blocked me, and has done for a while. Did someone read it to him? He knows enough about it to deem it “nothing important” which isn’t really the point, but if it keeps him happy, who am I to complain.
Interaction has diminished because, most definitely, the heat is off, for now. In much the same way as Ed Smith is riding out the current plagiarism accusations by saying nothing and hoping it will all go away, he has a precedent in the way the press had time on their side with the fallout of 2014, knowing, that at some point, the main cornerstone, a recall of KP, would become impossible for even the legendary fruitfly to pull off. It’s no coincidence that some of the media who spoke to me in 2014, and who I struck up reasonable conversations with, now barely bother to feel out how the proles are taking things. That’s fine. But if there is a future storm, we’ll be a little bit more guarded than we were before. Others, who were testing us out, taking the temperature, and even getting involved, see no need now despite claiming they wanted to have an interaction. Again, that is absolutely their call, but again allows us to look at them as a “cosy little clique”, with us not sure what side they are on. Actually, we know full well, but let’s be polite here.
There has been a decided trend in cricket reporting. As the sport gets less and less visible, so paying the big beasts large sums in a crowded media market becomes more anachronistic. It has been evident this year. The departure from the scene of two key players, following on the release of Pringle a year or so before that has confirmed it.
The noticeable journalistic news of the past season was the moving on of two of those behemoths. The first was Stephen Brenkley, aka Bunkers, of the Independent, who appeared to be a casualty of the Independent’s decision to go online only. Bunkers filed his last piece as the season was about to begin, and I have to say, I have no idea what he is up to now. Bunkers will always, in my eyes, be associated with the “aplomb” verdict on Moores and Downton’s first presser. Bunkers’ removal / resignation was the canary in the goldmine as a cut-down, online newspaper was not about to keep the payroll of a minority sport specialist on the books when it could source copy from cheaper sources. Bunkers is a good writer, and I disagreed with a lot he said, but he had a turn of phrase that was clever but not, in the main, patronising. Deep down, I quite liked his persona, but he backed the wrong horses on the ECB front and for that he will not be judged favourably. But as I said at the time, we should not be rejoicing, firstly on a personal level, but also on our wish to see cricket in the spotlight.
The departure of Selvey is definitely more seismic. This is the biggest of cricket writing beasts, and he is being moved on, and given his Twitter pronouncements, it appears against his will. This sends out the message that few are safe – is it new media and new audiences, or just the reticence not to pay over the odds? The game is losing visibility and although we may not like what he writes, his departure is a bad sign for the game.
Selvey’s not been shy in reminding people he is on his way, a decision that did not surprise your writers on BOC who had heard from multiple sources that this was on the cards, but maybe the timing did shock because we thought there was a natural fin de siècle at the end of the next Ashes series. Selvey is the cornerstone of the Guardian’s cricket coverage, and the feeling is if he could be dumped, so could anyone.It’s a chill wind blowing. England may be on the up, but if the game is so out of the public eye, the top people might as well be reading out the stock market prices.
On this blog the consensus from our commenters is that Selvey had it coming, and there are few tears being shed. I can’t celebrate people losing their jobs, but Selvey made sympathy tough for me. I’m sure there would be little sympathy if the situation were reversed. He’s certainly dismissive of this “newer form” of cricket writing, and much was based on a snobbish “requirement” of having played at the top level to be an aficionado of the game. When being a former pro appeared to be the main reason for employment, things looked shaky. He thought our passionate criticism of his positions taken were an affront to his professional sensibilities. He reacted not with engagement, but with hostile fire. We’re not ogres here, and we believe a vast majority of the upset fans weren’t either. But it was either you were with him, or you could Foxtrot Oscar. Incidentally, exactly the same attitude a certain fruitfly has towards his detractors! Those that come in peace and constructive dialogue find we are what most of the readers of blogs and newspapers are – cricket fans. That care.
What we have, or at least had, in my view were three classes of national journalist (there are others, but lets deal with the three main sectors).
There were the old pros reinventing themselves as writers – we’re thinking Selvey, Atherton, Marks and Pringle. Athers is newer to the genre, and as he’s hidden behind a paywall, and I’m not walking conspicuously to the newspaper rack in the office to read him, is a little blindsided to me. Athers is not a source of any heat, nor, on most occasions is Marks. But the other two have been lightning rods.
There are the experienced writers, a genre being phased out, including Bunkers, to a lesser extent Etheridge (not really a call to be a writer in The Sun, not that his role isn’t skilled), Wilson and Newman. These are the hacks, the day to day sloggers, the test match reporters who weren’t former pros. They’ve done the hard yards to get where they are, and they stay there.
Then there is a third section – a newer breed. The likes of Dobell, who has been around a while, Kimber, to a lesser extent Hoult, (Booth crosses hack and new school), who don’t seem to treat their audience with contempt, and attempt to approach things in a more open manner. This isn’t to say they are not “hacks”, but they get “newer media” and its opportunities, and yes, its threats. That they are of the generally “younger” generation, may, or may not, be a coincidence.
Of course, there are other areas of reporting I’ve not touched yet. The Cricket Paper, out every Friday, is a really worthy attempt to bring the old newspaper type reports into a distilled weekly package. It’s not perfect, of course it isn’t, but if it wasn’t there I’d miss it. It allows talented new reporters like Tim Wigmore to have an outlet, for which he is getting wider viewing as a result, and although I have my issues with the way Chris Stocks is going about things, and that it gives Derek a chance to air his misery, it is generally a good read. How viable it is in the long-term, I have no idea.
The Cricketer magazine has had a revamp, it looks quite good, but I can’t quite get past the Simon Hughes thing. He is one of those who effects to be a “man of the people” and in with “new media” but in practice I never see it, with his interactions quickly breaking down when challenged and reverting to “I know more than you because…” responses. He, and others, don’t have to read blogs like ours, or TFT or whoever, but there’s a good deal of journalistic snobbery in the Cricketer – Henderson and Selvey each month for example. Again, though, the failings as I see them are outweighed by the fact that there is a cricket magazine on the market and it can be worth a read. I don’t intend giving up my subscription just yet, though do note that I used to renew each September and now that auto-renew seems to have moved forward to June. They have given airtime to some bloggers – most notably our old friend Tregaskis – but it’s a toe in the water, and a risk. It was interesting that T’s most recent piece, a short one, about how close journalists were getting to players, sparked the ire of Jonathan Agnew, for instance. I thought that interesting. Maybe the Cricketer could try that approach again?
Then there is blogs, and blogging. While there is a twilight zone between papers and the bloggers, where the likes of Peter Miller and others inhabit, with a foot in both camps, I’m obviously interested in how they are working, but to do so, we need to consider what is being reported, and how/
How do people consume, if that’s the word, their cricket reporting? As you know, Chris, Sean and I do reports on test matches, previews etc., but we see them as part report, part opening up comments to the visitors here. We do not see ourselves as the alternative to cricket reports in newspapers and magazines. I rarely read those reports on newspapers, often, these days, scrolling through a Selfey tome to visit the resident muppets BTL, looking to see who can put out the most ridiculous or obsequious comment. The Telegraph website is an absolute disgrace, and I’m finished with it – a shame. It’s where I chanced upon the comments of Chris, where Nick Hoult resides, and where I used to draw a lot of material. The Telegraph has become a horror to visit and it really does Nick, an absolute trojan in the game, no favours whatsoever. Nick is an example of how studying and looking at things more changes minds. I used to be quite scathing. Now I know more, he’s a great example.
The Independent was only worth a look when Bunkers was there – and then only for laughs. No idea who writes for it now, and don’t know what they are saying. The Mirror and Sun are only read when someone leaves me a copy. The Express is a joke. Which leaves the Mail.
This is the only online site where I read the writing and ignore the comments. The focus, of course, is my perennial favourite, Paul Newman. He’s either excellent at his job, or the worst out there depending on your metrics. But, to contradict myself within one sentence, I think it is a bit of both. The articles, at times, are absolutely designed to provoke a reaction (aka blatant clickbait). His anti-KP screeds in 2014 were by far the most intense in their dislike for the controversial one from a journo – or gave the impression that he did. But the comments followed in droves. His defence of Alastair Cook, the England hierarchy and his attacks (the Bell one in particular) on potential rivals were seen as lacking integrity. It has been noted, that in my perception, he has been more vociferous against Colin Graves than he ever was against Giles Clarke in the Great Leader’s later years at the ECB. Graves made the cardinal sin of trying to finesse the KP situation when it wasn’t called for in Newman’s eyes. From that day it seemed as though Graves was in Newman’s cross-hairs. Not that he’s wrong to do so (especially over the four day test nonsense). I’ve been about as unimpressed by the Costcutter Clown as I was Downton. But Newman’s motives are absolutely not those I share, and he’s attacking Graves as an affront to the old ways, not some desire for a new broom.
While the Mail employs a stream of writers, including Booth, Lloyd and Hussain, Newman is the focal point here. After a quiet period where things had calmed down post KP and World T20, he got the interview with Andy “Dignified Silence” Flower in what seemed a barely concealed pitch by our former Team Director to have a more prominent role with the main England team. That that was followed, not long after, by an attack on the selection panel revolving around playing, or not playing, not fully fit players (Stokes broke down in his first test match back – something not noted anywhere near as readily as the row over the first test), which again was construed as a pro-Flower supremo piece. We can be accused (well I can) of tin-foil hat conspiracy theories here, but isn’t as if we don’t have form here with Newman and his sources. As you know, we have seen plenty of “good journalism” round these parts.
So, with a couple of small exceptions, this summer has been pretty quiet on the journalistic ire front. We saw the treatment of Nick Compton by some, which seemed to be borderline personal in places, as if Compton, who has as two test hundreds to his name, two more than Alex Hales, for example, was the first intense batsman to fail in England colours. There barely seemed an article by Pringle passing by where Ramprakash, who had a better test career than Muppet in my eyes, was not used to compare Compton. But in the end, the fact that Compton wasn’t, or isn’t up to it, was “proved” on the cricket field. His performances in the Sri Lanka series weren’t good, while Hales had a decent series so someone has to be on the hot seat. But the vitriol, and it seemed it from Stocks in particular, was something I’d not seen in a while.The calls for Vince seem slightly more muted to me – there’s an England player there but with mental blocks – is odd. He’s never looked like making a big score. I guess personalities matter.
Cricinfo remains a reassuring constant presence. I have a post on them alone in my head, so may well leave it until then to go into detail. The Ed Smith nonsense will pass – he’s not some ordinary OBO person so making a stand is harder – but the journalistic and writing chops of Dobell, Kimber, Hopps and Andrew Miller for starters, with all the others who contribute means it is a much better force for good than bad. We are really lucky to have such a vehicle covering our sport so well.
So to social media, and blogging. How does it look from my perspective after the test summer has ended? I have to say I don’t read anywhere near as much as I used to, as time pressures and other interests make a play for my spare time. The perception is that there is not as much to see. My “must reads” were always Maxie Allen, Tregaskis, Yates and The Old Batsman. Of course, there is also the Full Toss, seen by a few in the media in times gone by as joined at the hip with us – which wasn’t correct. That is not so much the case now, as James has taken the blog in a slightly different direction, which is absolutely within his right and he still produces fine work. But there is no doubt, if ever there was one, that we are two different entities now (not that we were that similar in the past – just we attacked the same targets) and I do miss Maxie’s takes.Long may they continue. James is a bloody hard worker and the site has some crossover and some distinct areas we don’t approach. Their presence is important.
Tregaskis plays his cards very astutely, posting little, but substantial and tenacious when he does.His jumping on the golf interaction in the UAE and the follow up non ODI with Hong Kong is the main time we saw the press truly interact with us in the past 12 months.
Yates doesn’t update his blog any more, but is still an astute and acerbic commenter on Twitter (if you can get through the darts stuff), and I’d love to see him get back on his horse. The Old Batsman, aka Jon Hotten, has gone from strength to strength and has shown how blogging can get people to notice good writing, but his blog is now neglected for other outlets.
The blogging environment is getting somewhat more scarce – I’m more interested in blogs delivering messages rather than trying to win writing awards (T does both, and I’m envious) – and quite often the biggest “enemies” of the writers are those who frequent BTL and put their own views prominently on newspaper comment sites, but seek to deny or decry those who take the time out to create their own space. Never understood that thinking. I see BOC as my home venue, and you know where to read what I think. I know where to go to find out where my antagonists comment, so I choose to avoid them. I see no point in going out of my way to say what I think. I’ll never understand them, even as my two co-conspirators tell me not to try! Which takes me on to the Danger Zone…
Twitter has its behemoths as well. Peter Miller is obviously quite a prominent figure, and he appeals to some and not others, in his double act with Dave Tickner – I’ve interacted a lot less in the past year as it does feel like too much of an in crowd. Fair enough. They are doing bigger and better things. Lizzie Ammon, who veers more to the journo side than blogger, given she is a journo, also caters for that audience, but not for my tastes as I stopped following a while back.
To me, the biggest question on Twitter is when does Innocent Bystander sleep. If you go on Twitter, he’s a must follow, and also, as much as you can judge someone by Twitter interactions, a top bloke. His coverage of the game is amazing. I’ve singled him out but there are loads of top people to follow, and in my view some to avoid, but I don’t doubt all their sincerity and love for the game, even if that is sometimes not reciprocated and my motives in particular are questioned. I’m not going to comment on Dennis Does Cricket. I really am not!
Now to us. Sean being brought on board was brilliant for us, and I’d like to thank him for all his work. He’s shown he can do this, and so can you! So we all met for the first time as the Glum Boy Three. As you may know, we had an Editorial Meeting on Wednesday, and the minutes have been recorded as follows:
MINUTES OF BEING OUTSIDE CRICKET EDITORIAL MEETING – 17 AUGUST 2016
Attendees – Dmitri Lord Canis Lupus Old, The Leg Glance, Sean Great Bucko B
Apologies – We apologise to no-one
Items for Action – 2 x 3 rounds of beverages.
Actions Going Forward – Write more articles
Items for Discussion – Two of the editorial committee have made club hundreds. One has made double figures in hundreds. Bastard.
Date of Next Meeting – Some time before Christmas.
It has been a curious summer. I think the first thing that needs to be noted is that for a blog like this to run as it does, it needs some commitment and a lot of hard work. It also has to be enjoyable to do. This year, from my perspective, the enjoyment has waned a little, but not enough to pack it in. Those who read this blog regularly and comment on here know this. They really get what we do, and what it takes, and I feel the same way about our commenters. We genuinely regret seeing some old faces go, but we are happy when new ones appear. We are particularly concerned that genuine newbies are allowed to dissent, without there being too much rancour. We’ve seen a few come along and stick, and that’s good. We do not want this being an echo chamber. We will maintain our policy on moderation – that is there really isn’t one, just behave yourselves.
In the same way an Ashes summer boosts TV viewings, and controversy drives hit spikes, we know there is a solid core of people who visit nearly every day, and even when we don’t post there are still a core amount of hits per day. No-one is confusing us with a national circulation, but we have our niche. It would be lovely to grow it further, but we will not do it by compromising our values and beliefs. We write because we enjoy it, we write what we want, we do not try to court hits via blatant clickbait, and we love interaction and comment. If you are prepared to come on here with that in mind, you’ll find me sticking up for you. If you question my motives, I’m afraid that’s not the way to keep me onside. Question what I say, by all means. Don’t impugn motives that aren’t there.
Here ends the ramble through the written media this summer. Hope there is something in it for all of you, and would welcome, as always, any views. Being Outside Cricket remains, and will continue, to provide comment, analysis, reporting of sorts, and a forum for you to discuss cricket. We will provide nostalgia, anecdotes and a platform for anyone who wants to write things on here that fit with our concept. We loved it when Andy and Simon provided us with pieces, and we’d like some more! The future looks busy – we have seven England tests scheduled by the end of the year, five of which are in India. There are some key anniversaries for series to go through, as well as a number of international matches that are sure to be interesting. There appears a dead spot for a couple of months next Winter, but then the following 12 months looks full on. Sean B, TLG and I are looking forward to it. Hope you are too. Where the print media is at the end of the next 18 months is anyone’s guess. Where the blogging world is, who knows? Maybe some new players can come on the scene and hit it off. Where English and test cricket is too is going to be interesting and with the flaws in all teams, plenty to debate. Let’s hope there are plenty of sources to read and talk about it.
UPDATE – I came across this piece in an old edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly from 1987. Amazing how the same themes come through three decades on, especially the bit about team selections (below the header “Briefed In Advance”. We’ve done a bit of EM Wellings before, I think, and he might have been a spectacular curmudgeon, but this certainly is something worth reading.
Also, great to see Yates back on his metaphorical horse with a new blog post. Read him here.
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.
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.
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.
Well. Here we go again. Scapegoating by “good journalism” after a defeat. We’ve sure been here before.
I’ll give Paul Newman something. He sure knows how to rouse the media to a story, and he sure has the “sources” to back him up. Naturally, this prima facie case of “good journalism” throws James Whitaker, Mike Newell and Angus Fraser under the bus, keeps Trevor Bayliss on board as the driver who doesn’t quite know his way, and Alastair Cook as the conductor, shouting and barking his words, but being far enough from the action not to be culpable. Meanwhile, stretching this metaphor beyond breaking point, Strauss acts as Bus Inspector Blakey (from On the Buses for you oldies out there) spouting “I hate you Whitaker” and we have, after one defeat, when a player is left out of the team on health grounds, some unhealthy scapegoats to target. Stop me if we’ve been here before.
Oh yes, and if we weren’t perturbed enough already there’s a begging letter from “the greatest England Coach ever” to come back as some all-knowing, all-seeing eye. Funny how that came out on the day Ben Duckett made 163 in a romp for the England Lions.
Today Selfey and Berry have followed suit with the comments that the current structure is archaic, and that we need a new format for selecting the team. This sort of groupthink, co-ordinated or derived, or both, is the sort we’ve seen for years. Andrew Strauss is still very much in the plus column when it comes to his achievements with Team England, and the Comma Master may well wish to spread his Mindflicking wings and take a good look at a selection process. A process which has had zero scrutiny (in public) once Strauss put it to bed in the immediate aftermath of the I don’t trust KP monologue in May 2015, but out of the blue surfaces when we lose a game quite narrowly, and one of our key players has not played because he was told not to by medical experts – a marginal call some said, but one heeded by the selectors, who were actually doing their jobs.
There’s the rub, and it stinks. Newman tweeted last week, before the test, that Anderson looked fine in the nets, so why wasn’t he in the squad? Former New Zealand bowler Iain O’Brien helpfully pointed out that bowling in the nets was not the same as 20 overs on a flat deck at Lord’s in a test match (in possibly warm weather) and was (maybe temporarily) blocked by Newman on Twitter! (Join the club Iain – but, apparently we are irrelevant and he never reads us, so why he had a fit with me, I don’t know!) My sniffer dog nose for inside tracks was going overboard – why would Newman undermine the selection committee, and medical experts, to the length he’d block a former test bowler for calling him out on it, if there wasn’t more to it? Then it hit you yesterday. This looked like an inside job all right. People running from a decision, and running from their assumptions of a comfortable series win to explain away a surprise defeat. Suddenly Whitaker is in the crosshairs. An inside job.
The same inside job that absolutely looks like has been perpetrated on Nick Compton. Sure, his form merited being dropped, but Newman cites this as another example of the selectors not being fit for purpose. He was “mystified” why Compton was given an extra chance to prove himself at the start of the Sri Lankan series, when that contest against overmatched opposition gave us the chance to blood a new player (ignoring, of course, how successful the blooding of new player James Vince has been) and is now continuing that whispering campaign against Gary Ballance. Both of these are conveniently lumped on top of the non-selection of Anderson in particular as massive errors.
These things do not appear out of the ether. The whispers around Compton was he was a bit of an oddball, a bit intense, a bit “not suited to test cricket”. He fell out with Andy Flower. Rumours were Cook didn’t like opening with him because they were both attritional. Trevor Bayliss never wanted him because he wanted two dashers and a steady one in the top three. Compton was primed to fail. The same whispers about how Ballance refused to change his technique which secured him four test centuries once dropped, which now has him classed as a failure while Hales and Vince await their first. This has all the hallmarks of the impervious inner sanctum of days of yore. You know, the one that there were never leaks from, but plenty of good journalism to go round. You have to wonder who is squawking in the camp, but I don’t think things are as tickety-boo as they were when we were winning overseas series and preparing for a 7-0 summer. For starters, Pakistan were meant to be frail, on the edge, and ready to be steamrollered. Instead, at Lord’s, we got a nasty shock.
The clear inference from Newman, and whoever it is that paints his wagon, is that Whitaker et al took the medical advice that it might be a bit early for Anderson and Stokes, and thought “it’s only Pakistan, Lord’s is a road, let’s save them for next week.” That is now going to be a stick to beat the selectors with, and all of a sudden we have a co-ordinated attack on the make-up of the selection panel. So Selfey comes up with something about camels and drinking brandy with Paul Allott. I’ve not read Scyld. Chris Stocks is on Twitter asking when England’s football team stopped picking by committee. A week ago, no-one was in any rush to condemn the way the England teams are selected. One loss, a player or two missing on medical advice (and remember, Stokes was on a limit of “short spells” this weekend, and Jimmy allowed to play for two days, so there were still doubts), some aspersions cast in James Whitaker’s direction, plenty of people saying “well they looked fine to me” and the selection process isn’t fit for purpose? Pull the effing other one.
Don’t you dare confuse this with me supporting James “GARY BALLANCE” Whitaker. I’ve not been a fan, will never be a fan, and I’m impertinent enough to say he was out of his depth from day one. But he was a useful idiot in the immediate wake of the KP debacle (the car crash interview with Tim Abraham still brings a smile to my face) and then the one later in 2014 with Pat Murphy probably went one better. But he stood there, did his master’s bidding by saying KP was never up for selection and provided a useful bulwark when times got tough. He was certainly less visible than his predecessors, and I’m given to believe he dispensed with the press conferences to announce teams. Probably because he was / would have been rubbish at them. His removal from the position, should it happen, will not be mourned by me. It’s just the way it is being mooted to be changed is classic ECB double-speak.
For Strauss now appears, IF THIS IS TRUE, to want to consolidate power in the Comma. While not quite the same as Ray Illingworth’s legendary One Man Committee, as at this moment in time there are no signs that he wants to be coach as well, the Comma man looks like he wants to become the chief selector if the co-ordinated triumvirate are to be believed. This, I presume, would mean the Comma would need to get out of Lord’s and tour the country watching players. Or, as is being intimated, he watches DVD coverage from around the grounds in the luxury of his office. The selectors do tour the country – if Stocks tries to draw parallels with the England football team, he might remember that the national side does not play at the same time as the Premier League – and get to see players in the flesh, back up what they hear, and maybe get more of a feel for the live situation in a game that sitting in an office doesn’t do. There are good reasons for employing selectors (though two county coaches is probably not the best idea) and not leaving it to a coach who knows naff all about county cricket and a captain who may not have seen all the players (and will have favourites).
We’ve seen Matt Prior’s fall from test cricket. We’ve seen Jimmy’s recent injuries. We’ve seen the mess made of Mark Wood’s recovery. We’ve seen Andy Flower take a litany of unfit or unselectable bowlers to Australia. If a group of selectors take the long view, it is not now a stick to beat them with. For it is the same selectors who picked the winning teams of the last couple of years, and you had little problem with them then. Stop Monday morning quarterbacking, ingratiating yourself with the powers that be, try to rehabilitate Flower, keep Cook’s fingerprints off the weapon, and connect the dots. Because we have here.
Disagree with me? Comment away (I know many of you have). But as someone said on Twitter this morning, there are many reasons to do away with the selection committee, but ignoring medical advice isn’t one of them.
UPDATE – Clive, if I may, I have borrowed your comment on The Guardian BTL:
The thrust of this article is exactly like that of Paul Newman’s in yesterday’s Mail and Scyld Berry’s in today’s Telegraph. I put that down to Sheer Coincidence and the tendency of great minds to think alike, rather than the press having been briefed about the imminent axing of the selection committee and told what view to take.
I know many of you were coming on to this site yesterday looking to the reaction I might have about the news that Mike Selvey is not being retained past September of this year. Many of you no doubt thought I’d be delighted. That I’d be revelling in the so-called downfall of one of this blog’s most prominent targets. That I’d be chuffed to see the ending of his writing. That it would be revenge for what happened to KP, and the part people like me thought he played in it. I think some might even have wanted me to gloat.
You probably think I’m laughing my head off right now. You probably want to think that this is something I wanted to happen. Well, you would have been wrong, because the clue was in a post I wrote a few months ago when Bunkers was getting the push from the Independent.
One other point. I know I’ve been a critic of Stephen Brenkley, or Bunkers as he’s known on here. Mr Aplomb was one of those guilty men who drip fed us some crumbs of information but never really told us what went wrong on that Ashes tour. I will remember the salt in the tea analogy as a particular Bunkers piece. Today he took to Twitter to say that he’s written his last piece as The Independent’s Cricket Correspondent, and that’s sad. He also said he has two weeks more to go and he’d write for the I if they wanted him to. I’m not rejoicing. Brenkley’s loss to the media coverage of cricket should be a bloody beacon of woe for the game. I’m not sure who will be taking over at the I, but I’ll bet it won’t be a full time correspondent. Let’s see. It didn’t seem the departure of a retiring man, but one of a paper cutting costs. Maybe things will become clearer.
That it is a disaster for the game when prominent cricket writers are dispensed with on cost grounds. It is a sign the game is losing its audience. A commercial reality writ large, so large, that the ECB can’t keep ignoring it and hoping for the best, can they?
Because I’m not a fan of someone’s writing (and I’m not) does not mean I want to see them sacked. That would be churlish, unsympathetic and nasty, and believe it or not, I might have a part of the first in me (relentlessly so, perhaps), I’m not either of the latter. At least, I don’t think I am. Selvey was (well still is) an integral plank of the written media and the cricket writing genre cannot cope with huge positions being downsized and big personalities being dismissed. It is the canary in the goldmine for the game. As each year passes without a meaningful, well promoted, cross-platform access for the majority to the big events, so another year passes with less people engaged in cricket. When I was growing up cricket was an integral part of the fabric of the nation. Now it appears like an elite indulgence. While the cricket writers of today aspire to the levels of those of yesteryear, anyone without satellite access might as well read Harry Potter, for all the tangible evidence they get of this derring-do. When Ben Stokes played that innings in South Africa, the ECB should have begged, scraped, whatever the BBC to play full highlights of it on their website or Iplayer. When Stuart Broad skittled out the Aussies at Trent Bridge, the patchy wicket highlights were an improvement on nothing, but nothing compared to seeing it live. And you see, as each of those people who have drifted away from the game are further distanced, so the needs for relatively highly paid “experts” diminishes.
It can’t be hard to see, for the likes of Selvey, Pringle and Bunkers, that the sport isn’t what it used to be in the public conscience, and thus as the audience diminishes, so does the need for their salaries. It is brutal, it is hard to take, but we are dealing with commercial realities. The 200 or so who have offered their lachrymose comments on the County Blog are not going to be enough to pay Selvey’s wages. Because, by and large, most of us don’t buy the Guardian (nor the Indy, nor the Telegraph) and read the content for nothing. The alternative for the vast majority is not to pay for access, it is not to read them at all. The Telegraph limit the content you can access free, so I limit myself to that number of articles (and get around it when needed). That is the pure reality of the space we live in now. The free internet news access is a disaster for most, but taken for granted by many.
Of course, I’m taking a leap of faith on the financial rewards of being a journo. I simply have no idea what they are. But I’m wagering given seniority, reverence and output that Selvey was pretty well recompensed compared to someone newer on the scene. Those tasked with making money, which newspapers need to, aren’t going to see his faithful few supporters as anything other than collateral damage. A few might not buy the paper again in disgust, or not access cricket content, but the opportunity to pontificate below the line is always an alluring one, in the same way blogging is for me. They’ll be back, by and large. Do you thing wctt, palfreyman et al are going to up sticks and go somewhere else?
On a personal level, losing a job is a terrible thing, and on that level I genuinely wish Selvey well going forward. If that makes me a hypocrite in some eyes, well so be it. I can’t help that. Those people that think that are probably the first to misrepresent what I say in any case, so f for Freddie them. On a writing level, I was never a fan and that pre-dates 2014. I’ve said it many times when we’ve run the worst journalist poll, that I have not lost any faith in Selvey because I never really had any in the first place. But I do see how those that used to love his writing felt very let down by the post-2014 fall out. KP has made his feelings known in a typically tone-deaf tweet today, and in many ways I think that these incidents with Cook, Flower, Clarke et al were the beginning of the end. He saw one of his peers, Pringle, alienate his audience so much with his misjudging of the mood that it was no surprise when he was given the push. Now, a bit further on, the fickle finger of the feckless newspaper industry is pointing at Selvey.
I don’t actually believe it was the furore that brought him down. The interaction below the line post-2014 has been aggressive because of the Tyers Twitter Tendency (see glossary) that Selvey was one of the prime examples of, but it drove hits. We didn’t see what we thought we should be seeing – a journalist acting as our representative, not as someone giving off the appearance of being an ECB stenographer (and he did in my eyes), but it got people going. There was a consistent groundswell from “our side” that was almost begging Selvey to be more open, but he closed the door, and his plaudits loved him for it. So while some of his output was, undoubtedly, of considerable quality, it kept coming down to the KP question. The damage of 2014 has been very widespread, as you know, because I’ve mentioned this schism constantly.
When 2014 was ongoing, the likes of Selvey and Newman, Pringle and Bunkers provided me with tons of material to fisk. While Selvey was waging his campaigns, his picking apart of Adil Rashid, his defence of the realm, his pet theories of wind directions for ODIs and where to pick hitting boundaries, there was always something to react to, to provide material for the blog, and comments for the supporters of us here. Like him or loathe him, he provided things to react to, in much the same way as Downton did. Our material is diminished by his departure. But that’s me being selfish.
I’ve never interacted with Selvey (that I know of) and nor him with me. Fine. I don’t live and breathe for journo’s attention, no matter what some of them think. I have been critical of him, of course I have. I don’t share some of the love for him, there’s no doubt about that. But he is a position lost to cricket on a national level, and that can’t be good, and on a personal level, I’m not cheering his dismissal. I’d be surprised if anyone thought I would be. It’s indicative of a sport downsizing. If you are happy with that, then I think you are wrong to be so. But I suspect that’s not a universally held view.
Well, it has been an interesting old week. Today is the 12th May and it marks the one year anniversary of the “Trust” press conference / media event which many now congratulate Strauss on for providing clarity and a clear message going forward.
Relive the joy through the threads on the day. Chris live blogged a press conference:
But no matter how passionately they expressed their platitudes, or how multi-layered they made their appeals for a reassessment of the team’s priorities, the white noise of corporate bullshit was precisely the last thing that we, the working media, and by extension, them, the disenfranchised masses so odiously dismissed by the previous regime as being “outside cricket”, needed to hear.
There’s a lot of this sort of management mumbo jumbo coming out in the ending of the career of Charlotte Edwards, where it is clear the individual wanted to carry on, but also clear that the management did not. Now if this is down purely to playing matters – i.e. whether a player is the best taking into account all facets of the game – is less clear. Indeed, there is some indication that this might have been done with that hoary old chestnut of “developing for the future” coming to the fore. While media gurus sniped at women’s cricket lacking “athletes”, the drop off in performance of our world beating team of a few years ago is disappointing. Mark Robinson is out of the ECB School of Coaching, and this looked like a typical move. It seems a nice contrast to see Pakistan’s men team coming over with a 40+ captain this summer. Age is quite often used against players – see the drip drip drip about Ian Bell’s “eyes going”. I thought it was an interesting day watching the dancing around the issues. Robinson has made his bed and will now have to lay in it. Edwards has made it known that this wasn’t a decision of her choosing, but the inevitable decision she had to make once she saw the writing on the wall. All quintessentially English.
I’m not a keen follower of the female game as some on here – simply not enough time – but it has to be said I am judging this through the “ECB of the last couple of years” prism. I’m also more than wary of the men judging the women’s game through men’s standards – sub-consciously or not. I don’t often hear anyone on the T20 circuit, for instance, complain about Chris Gayle’s lack of athleticism. An extreme example (and when he’s not scoring runs in the IPL, like he is now, a cogent one) maybe, but Edwards is that taliswomanic (I love making words up) figure for the English team. Robinson may be trying to show he’s made of the stuff in making tough decisions. I hope the decision hasn’t been made to appear tough.
I can’t help but reflect on the death of Tony Cozier. For me he was the voice of West Indian cricket. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him on TV. It was on Newsnight, in 1984, with a dazzling white suit jacket on, explaining in the wake of the 340-odd run chase at Lord’s how the West Indies were so great. And of course, without knowing, the response was “he’s white?”. However, the main reasons we cared so much about his passing have been gone into in great detail on here in the comments, in articles, on Twitter etc. He was part of our cricket education. In an era when educative commentary is buried behind “well how many caps did you get” drivel, Cozier educated you on the rise, and fall, of West Indian cricket. He’s one part of the reason that the West Indies have a special place in my heart. His love of the game, and his determination to speak what he believed, shone through. I’m sure he had his faults, we all do, but to finish his life virtually ostracised by the WICB, casting aspersions on his fitness to commentate on the game when he’s surrounded often by braying morons, saddens me. I had the chance to pay a visit to The Wanderers Club in Barbados in October 2005. Before I went I did not know it was his club. Instead I went on a pilgrimage, at first, to Kensington (then being demolished) and then to Holders Hill. But when we visited Wanderers his presence as club behemoth lent it an aura I’ll never quite forget. RIP Tony. You gave much to me, and I know many others.
I won’t comment much on the England selection, which saw the outlandish predictions of a few weeks ago row back into yesterday’s limited changes. Congratulations to Jake Ball for his rapid rise, no doubt helped by being on TV a couple of weeks ago, and also to James Vince who will make his debut, I would imagine, as a straight replacement for the sadly retired James Taylor. Now Vince has undoubtedly benefited from being a client of a prominent management group and a vocal ex-England player, and his initial international performances can be filed under “encouraging” rather than “devastating”, so he has a lot to prove. I hope the hype is matched by performance. The selection of Compton also was interesting. I would have had no problem if he’d been dropped. Provided this dropping was based on his performance on the field and the notion that there is someone more suited for his number 3 slot. Instead what I’ve been reading and hearing is a whispering campaign about being “fidgety” “overwrought” “nervous” “too intense” “bad body language”. Barely a piece goes by that does not allude to Compton’s mental state. In one sense the media individuals spouting this amateur psycho-babble claptrap must be pleased he’s been picked because they can go on about it again. I’ve never seen a player briefed about in this way since, perhaps, Mark Ramprakash. Good luck Nick, I hope you prove the doubters wrong.
Some House News. Both TLG and myself will be off premises for a few weeks at end of May, beginning of June. For me that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to post, but it might not be that regular (depends on how the holiday is going). That said, I won’t be able to watch any of the second or third tests. I can set up posts, and perhaps read some from others, but commenting on the action will be difficult. We’d love one or two of you to write up reports on the day’s play if you have the time (I know you’ll do lots of it in the comments) and if you wish to volunteer, please let me or Chris know. Otherwise, I’ll make do and mend.
Finally, I was journeying home from another leaving do last night when I came across the frankly astounding interaction between Tregaskis and Paul Newman. I want, believe it or not, to be fair to the Mail journo, but good grief he makes it hard for you. There is no doubting that getting an interview with Andy Flower was a “scoop”. Well done. To then allow that interview to appear to be a job application form, and a puff piece with little delving into things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about (like the Difficult Winter), Newman, in my view, let us down again. There’s clearly a desire to hear Flower’s side of the story from the horse’s mouth (and not unattributable “Sportsmail understands” nonsense), but instead there’s a dance around it. The result was an interview so lacking in substance that it’s little surprise that there has not been a lot of re-reporting of it that I’ve seen. Then to get prissy with Tregaskis, who clearly has got under his skin before if that was anything to go by, and start doing that “let me explain journalism to you” claptrap that I have had in spades from others, seemed out of character. Newman blocked me 2 years ago. I can still read his stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever directly tweeted him so blocking me is absolutely spurious, but he blocked Tregaskis who is rather confused by it all.
A message to you good folk of the dead tree press. Speaking for myself. I don’t want to be a journalist. I have never wanted to be a journalist. I just like to write on things that I care about, and cricket is my niche at the moment. I don’t want to know the horrors of your job, or understand access and such like. I’m sure you work very hard doing something you love. But your responsibilities are now to hits and churn and not to getting to the bottom of the story. Flower may have said no questions on KP, but you then go out of your way to praise his dignity rather belies any sort of meaningful approach. We are now all aware that if we are ever going to get the definitive counter-view on that Difficult Winter, it’s going to be through Alastair Cook or Andy Flower’s autobiographies. We’ve long since given up on the dead tree press getting it. So while I received a comment last night, one of a few in the past year, to let these things lie because I can’t change them, it still means a lot to me that these issues, in their own way, aren’t out of the visibility. In our own small way, Flower’s reticence still resonates. Because we, and others, won’t let it go. That’s the issue, not a KP comeback.
That should get you through the next day or so. Chris has promised at least one piece, so we look forward to that.
And from this month’s Cricketer it is a battle of good versus evil!!!!
His finale sums up the issues. Those out there think we don’t understand. We do. But only you are in a position to do anything about it….
The standard of reporting remains excellent, but the desire of the cricket authorities in general, and the ECB in particular, to manage the news, manipulate the media and, on occasions, be downright obstructive, is unhealthy and unhelpful. So is the complicity of those journalists who have allowed the daily news briefing to form the basis of their coverage. Aiding individual requests for access is almost impossible. But if anyone has bothered to buy all the newspapers after non-match days in recent summers, they would quickly have realised they were reading the same story, featuring the same quotes, in the same order. The reader will also be told at the end of such a piece, and sometimes halfway through it, that so-and-so was speaking as a “brand ambassador” for whichever sponsor’s turn it was to have the use of an England player – information that will mean nothing to readers. Those who work in public relations call it churnalism. Journalism, it is not. We have all dined at the same trough. But it did come as a shock to be told by an ECB media officer, soon after I had secured an interview for the first issue ofThe Cricket Paperwith England captain Andrew Strauss (by ringing him up and asking him nicely), that in future I would not be allowed access to any England cricketer unless the piece was arranged in conjunction with a sponsor. I admit I have not always stuck rigidly to the rules.
Players are now well versed in the art and science of media training, to which they are subjected as soon as they show the slightest sign of being good enough to represent England one day. This is conducted by professionals from newspapers, radio and other media, and is intended to teach the poor wee lambs how to talk to journalists – by opening and shutting their mouths without actually saying anything.
In my experience of talking to younger cricketers, media training is the last thing they need. Some may think their time could be better spent being trained to bat, bowl and field. It is interesting to note how much more fun than the English the Australians are to interview, and how much better they come across in public, even while they were losing the 2013 Ashes 3-0. Could this be because, in the main, they said what they actually thought, and not what they thought their media relations department told them to say? If you are looking for answers, don’t bother: I haven’t really posed any questions. But, as well as feeling a profound gratitude for having had such a ball while doing this for a living, I am a little saddened that the next generation of journalists will spend more time glued to the internet than having a beer or two with friends who happen to be cricketers.
And one thing I do know. A bored player talking to a bored reporter in controlled laboratory conditions, sometimes with a sponsor or ECB blazer on their shoulder ready to intervene, usually equals a boring interview for all concerned. The real victims are those who have to read it.
This is why blogs can thrive. We do our best to fill the gap. We don’t need quotes from players, but we look at what happens and do our best to fill in the blanks. It makes us wonder why journalists churn out the line fed to them with little analysis, and in some cases, blind support. They can change it by refusing to comply. The sponsored interview is an abomination, an absolute indication of the utter contempt the powers that be hold us in. You are enablers. You can make it stop. Don’t turn up.
This leads me on to the next Dmitri……..The one journalist to make it in this year for reasons of contempt. You know who it is. I’ve already done 1000 words and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
UPDATE: I was watching Sky last night and they had this teeth-itchingly awful piece with Hussain (RIP his integrity) picking some commentary XI with awful inserts including Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. It was everything wrong with the modern media relationship in a nutshell. It was neither too close (but interesting how Sky managed to get England players to indulge in a puff piece for their station) nor distant enough. It may seem like a little harmless fun, but to me it just spoke volumes. It’s a business relationship. Pure and simple. There’s no soul, no passion, no vivacity. It’s strictly effing business.