It is something that is becoming more and more prevalent in the world we live in. Something new has to be good. Evolve or die. The only constant is change. To sit still is to be complacent. The Hundred is a seismic change and after one game you are either on the side of one, or the side of the other. No middle ground. So because of that the lines are drawn and the result is anger and I told you so. The results haven’t even begun to be evaluated – this is a long-term project, not a short-term feelgood factor. There are a lot of people hurting today, like me and you, cricket fans. Division, as I know, is not resolved in a day, months, even years. You can’t pretend not to care when you do.
So, it is the morning after the night before. The Hundred launched itself properly with a game played at The Oval between the Invincibles and the Manchester Originals. The women put on a pretty good game of cricket, with a quite exciting finish, with the key moment being Mady Villiers’ six off Sophie Ecclestone. I am not, for a number of reasons, most of them time related, a regular watcher of women’s cricket (and indeed men’s these days as well) but this was not a surprise to me. That it appeared a surprise to the host broadcaster I watched, and some of those on Twitter, is another thing.
The immediate aftermath from the game appeared to be that as this had been a brilliant game, with a fantastic finish, that the Hundred was a rip roaring success, and that the haters might be advised to pipe down a little. I mean, this ignores that there was a T20 with a similar exciting finish the day before, so it might be the sport that’s doing well, and not necessarily down to the format, but 24 hours is a long time in this day and age. On the evidence of last night resistance is futile. Now, if you think this is a straw man I am sticking before you, let’s see Paul Hayward’s tweet:
To put it mildly, this is nonsense. An experienced sports journalist should not be writing this arrant nonsense. Who knew that when someone bowls to someone who bats, and the game is in play, that it can get close and be quite good to watch? It’s still cricket, and cricket is really, really good. Why the host broadcasters, the ECB, Paul Hayward and others seem so unsure of this is beyond me.
Because I watched it doesn’t mean I am fully on board with this format, fully on board with the ECB for doing this and putting the game in huge jeopardy and therefore going to sing its praises. On a night when there was no other sport on the TV that I was hugely bothered with, it was something to watch. I mean, I hated what England did back in 2014, but I still watched them, and I don’t think anyone would consider my outpourings on How Did We Lose In Adelaide as acquiescence.
To make a sort of comparison, and with a sport that was on TV last night, darts messes around with the format of its competitions, be it the number of sets played, or a double to start, or a straight legs total like they use in the Matchplay. They can have knockout competitions, league competitions, groups then knockout competitions. It’s still darts. If you shortened a Premier League football match to 80 minutes, made the goals a bit bigger, had 10 players a side, and you scored 1/2 a goal if you hit the woodwork, put two good teams against each other and it would still be something to watch.
For me the format was too gimmicky. As my boss is inclined to say, a solution in search of a problem. I can’t see how it makes the game simpler, but then maybe I am too pre-conditioned against change. When the captain of the Invincibles, Dane van Niekerk said she was trying to work out how many runs per over were needed, it was a reasonably damning indictment, issued in a really honest and soft way. I am sure people will get very used to it with time, but you are asking yourself, as a person who has followed the game since he was a kid, why do this? Why change the concept to the number of balls? You could allow someone to bowl two overs on the bounce if you wish. I don’t know.
The key elements of this competition are that the BBC will cover it, that it gives the women a competition on an equal footing to the men, and that it is shorter than T20 to meet the BBC’s programming needs. We have been told by those inside cricket that the BBC would not countenance a county-based competition, which is about as large a case of the tail wagging the dog as you might ever see, so we have eight franchise-organised, city-based teams, with no history or overly tangible support base, and you are asking the public to get invested in it. Not only that, you are asking new cricket fans to be the driving force, because you’ve shown you didn’t give a damn about existing ones. You can’t replicate the IPL here, because India won’t let you (being very protective of their own product, and who can blame them) and the Big Bash in Australia is based on the six existing state teams and an additional side from the two largest cities.
So while we had a decent attendance last night – it remains to be seen how many of them at the game were paying spectators (free tickets can be a really good marketing strategy) – and the BBC got in on the act, let’s not start doing a victory lap if you are the ECB. This is a colossal gamble for the game, and one nice night has not changed that.
I chose to watch the action I did on the BBC (I took a 4 mile walk during the game as part of my 5 million steps for the year challenge that I have set for myself). I know I am not the key demographic here, not the target audience, although, frankly, I don’t know why not when I might be one of those persuaded to pay for tickets for this. The fireworks were naff, but then I hate fireworks anyway. The BBC found a young child who loved them, which was nice. I had no idea what was going on with the toss, and the BBC had about six people working on the game, which given two of them were Vaughan and Tufnell, was two too many. More of them in a minute. Isa Guha did a reasonable job, but below her usual standards, and people were switching around and moving, due, of course, to Covid. It wasn’t an easy job last night. My overall impression of the BBC stuff around the edges was I missed the professionalism and slickness of the BBC Sport team in years gone by. In an attempt to engage a new audience it looked borderline amateurish. Carlos Brathwaite, who impressed last year, was disappointing in his analysis, when repeatedly mentioning “old-fashioned cricket” to describe how van Niekerk and Kapp rebuilt the innings. Say it once, Carlos, but not over and over.
Overall there was a defensiveness over the place that the women had found themselves in, probably understandably the tone was one of justification at times (they really shouldn’t be doing that, and perhaps it is sad that they still feel they need to). I am just not interested enough in the teams, the competition or the format to actively seek out further matches on a regular basis, and that goes for the men’s game as well as the women’s. I was actively considering putting as the song lyric in the title “you can’t pretend to have fun” from the Was Not Was song “Shake Your Head”, but it’s more like trying to force you to have it. I went into last night attempting to divorce the game itself from the circus surrounding it, and while it was in progress, and I was concentrating on the sport, I largely did that.
There is always a but, though. There are plenty of good women broadcasters around, and probably a lot more quite good or average ones. Any one of those would have been preferable to 2 and a half hours of Vaughan and Tufnell. I’m not a fan of Shiny Toy, you know that, but he’s a tedious arse who has alienated me and many others. He isn’t even a good commentator, doesn’t bring much in the way of tactical insight, wings it, relies on cliches and frankly, his selection as the lead was a joke. Tufnell spent the first few balls guffawing in his faux comedic geezer schtick at Lizelle Lee playing defensive shots, giving the impression that he’d done next to no research on the teams, and that he was there because someone might recognise him from Question of Sport (Oh that’s him, is it?). Isa Guha was a little too enthusiastic, and that put her off her game a bit, but she was most importantly for all concerned in selling mode and will settle down, I am sure. Kate Cross appeared underused, I am not sure quite what the roving reporter was up to (and that stuff when interviewing kids makes my teeth itch), and as I said earlier, Carlos Brathwaite had an off night.
There was little revolutionary. The branding appears to have come straight from the London 2012 school – make it bright, make it quirky, sell it everywhere, you’ll make the people like it – and while the onscreen graphics could do with some work (I am sure many of you, like me, had bits of the side-bar scoring missing because my screen wasn’t wide enough), they weren’t too intrusive (for example, in the BBC’s Open golf highlights, the scores for the players are enormous – do they think we all have fading eyesight!) and I really didn’t mind them. Other quirks went un-noticed (did they have a time out in the first innings), and for all the requirement to squeeze this in to a 2 and a half hour slot, the game over-ran, so we had some blank airspace to fill with a load of old rabbit to wait until 9:30.
The final few observations are my own. The press, and the print media in particular, are not our friends. They are not the friends of cricket lovers up and down the country. Let’s say I am disappointed, but not surprised, when strident critics of the format and what it has done to cricket in the UK, sometimes priding themselves on being on the side of the county game, are photographed on a freebie at the game. They will get prickly at the suggestion, but they must have thought “this doesn’t look good”? Me having a go isn’t going to make a difference, they have to look at themselves and say have they been honest with their punters? Their conscience not mine. If I pay for a ticket to watch it, I’d feel reasonably comfortable with that as I have not been as strident a critic of the game as others. I still paid for a test ticket for Cook’s final game even though I hated the ECB and felt Cook had a lot to answer for. If you give me a freebie, well, fine. I’m answerable only to the readers on here, and that’s fine. I think a good friend of the blog summed it up in a DM I received. Remember how the print media and so on kept mum about Sanford, how they saw it as a chance to put the IPL in its place which had rewarded KP and Flintoff so handsomely, and that when it turned bad, they all said “we told you it was bad”. Let’s not even go there on 2013-14. I was disappointed.
Does the WinViz stuff do anything to add to the show? If not, then why have it. I don’t need to be paid money for bogus analysis by some people who saw what happened in baseball and thought, we can do that, to tell me after it got to 3 balls left and 1 to win there was a 100% chance that Invincibles would win. Having been 86% a couple of balls before. That’s not really simplifying the game for punters watching. Can’t they just watch and see how it is going. Why do you need to quantify and analyse everything. It’s a game to be enjoyed. Oh, no, of course. It’s a damn business.
The men’s competition starts tonight. We will be told, no matter what, that it is great. That the newness is the charm. The concentration of the elite sport into 8 rather than 18 teams will make things more exciting. The quality will be better, when the audience it is trying to attract won’t really know what to compare it against. The ECB have all the cards and yet they are still exposed. They have bent England and Wales’ cricket constitution to its will, made the counties dependents on their largesse to an even greater degree, made them sacrifice the golden goose of the Blast, with all its faults, and rendered the 50 over competition even more irrelevant. They have sacrificed their reserve pot, most of it gone even before the Covid disaster hit. They have launched a competition as an Olympics is about to start, with the EFL starting in two weeks, the Premier League a week after, and a public who may have found other things to do. There’s the risk that if cases continue to rise at scary levels, that teams and public will find more problems. Given the close links between the ECB and their primary broadcaster, you aren’t going to hear much negative stuff. They are in pure sell mode. This is a Tom Harrison, and therefore ECB, vanity project, which will succeed on their terms because they will set the success criteria. We will need the journalist corps to hold them to account.
Many loyal, domestic cricket lovers feel utterly abandoned, reviled and borderline humiliated by what has happened in the last few years. They are in agony over this. If they are against it and campaign as such, they are participating in a disaster, and will be blamed. If they compromise and go to the games, or hope it succeeds “because it has to”, then they are betraying the team they support. These are your sports biggest advocates, its biggest supporters, its volunteers, its conduit for access for kids and the recreational game. This competition has called them “haters” (see Welsh Fire blurb) and its founding father has dubbed them “obsessives” and “it’s not for you”. It’s arrant madness even if it does succeed. Remember. It wasn’t the supporters who made the sport less visible by putting the national team exclusively on a pay TV channel. Yet these people stuck with the game despite that. And when they were needed, they were told they weren’t. So, Paul Hayward, think about that next time when you jump in to make an observation like that.
Yes, it is a simple post to write. A couple of years ago the four day test was mooted as a solution to a problem that we didn’t know existed – that test cricket was too long. We have not been blind to the fact that they are expensive matches to put on and they aren’t brilliantly supported in various parts of the world, but naturally the people at fault aren’t the schedulers who have knackered the players out from over-playing in all formats, it’s not the fault of the players who have brought the standard of the game down to levels I have a hard time remembering, and it’s not the fault of TV companies who will bid up the cost of TV rights, and want to maximise their advertising revenue. No, it’s your fault. The dyed-in-the-wool lover of test match cricket. YOU just don’t understand.
Look, I could possibly give four day test cricket a hearing if it wasn’t so flaming stupid, if the people proposing it were being honest with us. But that would never do. They would much rather insult our intelligence. All World Test Championship cricket is proposed to be four days, and hey, they are going to bowl more overs in the day. They are seriously proposing that the punters will get 98 overs in a day. If this had been imposed on the second day of the recent test match at Centurion, that would mean playing until two hours after the scheduled close. Ignore the absolutely obvious – you won’t be getting 98 overs in a day unless we have all day-night tests with the play scheduled to start as if it were a day test – but what is that going to do to the quality of play at the end of the day. 6 and a half hours has the players knackered if they’ve been out in 35 degree heat, so, hell, eff it, keep them out for a couple of hours more, why don’t you! And you, the long-suffering fan, you’ll be kept out for a couple of hours more too. Hell, that’s what we want!
Who is demanding this change? Is it the fans? Well, no. I don’t know many people out there who think the main problem with test cricket is its length. The main problem is it is uncompetitive, too in favour of the home team, poor quality, and not enough matches for lower ranked teams as the Big 3 hoover all the cash up and ignore the underlying game. The only thing that lures fans in many countries is limited overs and T20 cricket. Instead of trying to get both to co-exist with test cricket, the authorities deal in the only language they understand. Money. The players aren’t absolved of this too. They frequently state that they want to be test legends, but they wouldn’t trade it for an IPL gig, that’s for certain.
Test cricket does not move at the pace of County Championship cricket which gets in 98 overs most days it doesn’t rain. There are five minute drinks breaks, endless reviews, times to change stuck advertising hoardings. A need to get in the required adverts. England don’t make a secret that they never hope to bowl 15 overs an hour. Selecting five seamers for two tests on the trot showed they don’t care about a dog that doesn’t have teeth.
I’ve been writing some “On This Day” pieces for the Extra Bits (first one here), and really enjoying going through some of the history. Tests have never really been fixed in length, and I’m coming across timeless tests and shorter test matches – but they actually bowled many, many more overs than now. The history makes the sport. The legends. I’ve got Arthur Mailey tomorrow (the only Aussie to take 9 wickets in an Ashes test innings), Kapil Dev on Monday and many stories in between. Test cricket runs through it. Endurance. Toughness. Poor records, great records. Never really forced, most earned. It’s great, but it doesn’t make money here and now. It’s all Premier Leagues. How did that South African one finish? Anyone give a flying one other than their nearest and dearest? Won’t be much T20 in “On This Day”.
It’s easy to poke holes in four day tests, and the logic behind it, but as my colleagues said on Twitter, this is a principle we should adhere to:
And, if you were considering it, you are falling foul of Vaughan's Law: If you find yourself agreeing with Michael Vaughan, you're almost certainly wrong. https://t.co/ffleaHkhv8
Vaughan has been the most prominent proponent of this utter horseshit for a while now, and he is saying it will die without these benefactors coming in to save it. It is dying now because your beloved benefactors and administrators are starving it of oxygen with incessant T20 bilge (yeah, I know people like it, but is it memorable if there are millions of bloody games). If you are struggling to attract people to it due to the change in working environments now, then get creative. People want to see Virat bat in any conditions. Give them a chance. Throw the gates open. Yes, SUBSIDISE it, and if you aren’t subsidising it enough, use the money to prop it up in all countries, not pay players even more for less.
I have no doubt that in 20 years, test cricket will be on its knees. I would hope the authorities would actually care and try to save it, but they are too money obsessed to bother. The Ashes would be an anachronism, maybe carrying on as some peculiar spectacle until we get bored of that. And the authorities, with the ECB pushing over themselves, and not, of course, listening to their paying customers who can just get to hell in their eyes, to say Yes, Yes, Yes (they need these players to play in their lovely Hundred vanity project), we’re stuffed. As I have said for many, many years, I told you so. Do you really think Graves (CBE) and Harrison give a shit what you think? Do you think old #justsaying gives an absolute stuff about anyone who tells him he is wrong. Imagine a supposed 98 over day in Abu Dhabi? A long day in Chennai or Durban? We might be a bit better off with our long summer days, if it doesn’t rain, but the closer to the Equator, or for northern hemisphere teams who play in cooler months, are we thinking this through? Of course not.
I see the previously opposed Professional Cricketer's Association will now consider the 4 Day Test plan. A reminder of their normal pattern of negotiation: pic.twitter.com/5lGPtcxle3
Rainy Days – Oh yes. Rain. So we have a closely fought test match. Team 1 has spent Day 1 accumulating tough runs, and finish the day at 245 for 8. They get dismissed for 270-odd but then skittle out the opposition for 180 the following day, but are 50 for 3 at the end of Day 2. It then rains all day on Day 3. 150 ahead with 98 overs to bowl on Day 4. You think the team with the advantage is going to throw that up the wall by allowing the other team a sniff? They’re going to make the game safe first. They’ve worked hard for an advantage so why give it away. Giving advantages up are not what test cricket is about. So they’ll play it safe, and get 300 ahead and give themselves a session to bowl the opposition out. Whereas a Day 5 keeps the game going.
Four day tests would have ended the How Did We Lose In Adelaide test in a bore draw – unless England declared on 450. Old Trafford 2005 would have been killed by Saturday’s rain. The Oval? KP? No, rain on days 2,3 and 4 would have rendered an historic occasion a damp dull washout. Those famous rearguards at Cardiff, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Centurion… no interest. The great theatre of test cricket is time – the pressure of how long you have left, and the immense feats of endurance. I can’t put it any better than Jack Russell. If you cut the marathon to 20 miles it doesn’t make it a marathon. Test cricket should remain five days. You know it, and deep down, if the authorities cared about the game and not money, they know it too. These are specious people. We’ve known it for ages.
It appears that the ECB method of market research* is catching on around the world.
*people who love cricket can piss right off, we have no intention of asking what you think or listening to the answer https://t.co/REN0CPoVJA
New Zealand and Australia also appear on board. This has the hallmarks of a global stitch-up. You ever feel like we aren’t wanted anymore? Those who support the game now. Because I sure as hell do. The insidious question back will be “do you want it to survive” and I’m inclined to say “no”. Not at this price. Those who claim to be its saviours are its killers. Job’s Comforters. Snake Oil Salesmen.
We’ll be back for a preview of the next test match…. Also on “The Extra Bits” see my “On This Day piece for 1 January ( click here). I’ve written the first seven already, Got a bit of a writing bug today.
Well this game is very nicely poised. There is something for everyone in this game. There’s defensive and attacking batting, moments of calm serenity when nothing much happens, followed by a crescendo of wickets falling, because, well, this is England we are talking about after all. There’s fast bowling, medium paced bowling, spin bowling. There are great catches, and massive errors. Debutants mixed with experience. Players making their way, against players nearing the end, fighting against the dying of the light. The venue looks brilliant, a festival approach to test cricket in a market that while it still clearly loves the format, wants to bring it to the people in a slightly different way – taking it from the impersonal multi-sport stadium to the park like atmosphere at Hagley and Bay Oval.
In short, it makes you glow for test cricket. Hell, I even like the graphics bug at the bottom which my colleagues feel is too obtrusive. It looks quite classy, if you ask me. Surely you don’t need to be middle-aged to love this? Surely there’s something here for every cricket lover. You get to watch Kane Williamson, a modern great, against Jofra Archer, a phenom who will either hold England together, or flame out. You get to admire the sheer struggle and effort that Joe Denly is applying to his test career. You get to watch Tim Southee, with Lockie Ferguson breathing down his neck, rip out our lower middle order and bring England to heel, just when it looked like the game was being ground down.
There is, as always, a problem. Life. That’s the issue isn’t it. It’s not because I don’t want to devote the time to the game, to watch more of the action, but it’s because I can’t. Boiler issues, work issues, lawyer meetings (they go on for longer than a cricket match and are much less exciting) and an airport run this morning means I’m not going to be able to give you the match report. I watched the first hour last night. I watched as the commentators built up Ollie Pope, only to be made look a little silly when he flashed at a wide one and nicked off. There was Ben Stokes, playing shots of amazing authority, getting out when a hundred beckoned. Sam Curran, in because we presume he can bat, getting out for a golden. Jofra showing he’s no clue as a test batsman. Then Leach and Buttler restoring some honour and taking the score to something that means there is a game on. 350 doesn’t daunt great teams, but it certainly keeps those just below top level on their toes that errors mean danger, and Raval and Taylor will look at their dismissals and think, that’s giving it away (and yes, I know, we’ve gone on about attacking shots not working being more tut tutted than having your defensive technique defenestrated). Raval, from the highlights, tried to hit out against Leach and barely succeeded, so it appeared he wanted to keep trying until he failed.
With the wicket of Williamson towards the end of play, England hold the advantage. New Zealand are 200 behind but without their two major run producers (Williamson and Taylor – Latham has also had some good form in the past twelve months), but there is plenty of batting to come and that lead is by no means safe. It does appear that the Black Caps should not bat England out of the game, but that there is a good game to be had. It was also funny that Sam Curran got the wicket with a surprise short ball at “only 126 kph”. David Lloyd appears not to be a fan.
I’ll get to watch a bit tonight, so hopefully I might even be able to live blog some of it (absolutely no promises).
Since I last wrote a fair bit has happened. Three of us had an interesting evening with Nick Hoult and Izzy Westbury on Tuesday, in which I spoke more bollocks about blogging than usual. It was certainly interesting to be in the minority of one in not being amazed by Ian Smith’s commentary at the end of the World Cup Final (too screamy for me), while still liking Smith’s overall work. We had the T20 series, and Shiny Toy Vaughan overlooking the Malan hundred, and calling me a muppet for alluding to his management loyalties (the point being if Vince had scored Malan’s ton, he’d be singing from the rooftops).
David Warner has proven his brilliance on flat decks against a ball that is softer than England’s lower middle order. Simon Hughes kept his job despite a faux pas that spoke volumes about his sheer lack of self-awareness, and for many to jump on someone for a mistake that wasn’t malevolent, but dumb.
India are dominating, playing a day night test, seeing Agarwal make a double hundred, making Shaw feel even worse for his doping violation. Each batsman has appeared to fill their boots against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, India are almost certainly in the WTC final already, and this day night test might work well, and thus we’ll see more of them, and India might even believe they created them!
We also have a T20 competition starting in South Africa where all the game’s greats are in action and as far as I am aware, no-one really seems to care, except the TV networks who love this stuff. Oh and Harry Gurney has decided this competition is too long and is playing in the T10 jamboree in the Middle East. Liam Livingstone has withdrawn his name from the IPL auction, which had literally millions of Indian cricket fans in tears at the news, to concentrate on something else. Which is about as relevant as me withdrawing from my bid to become Prime Minister. No more politics than that.
So Day 3 beckons. I hope you are following it, enjoying it, and loving it for what it is. A good game of cricket, in a lovely location, with plenty of meaning without it being World Test Championship. It’s the start of the Silverwood era, there are players not established, and players with something to prove. It’s well poised. It’s good sport. It’s fun.
The Cricketer Magazine has decided to do another Power List, of the great and the good in the game of cricket and ranking them in order of said power. Once again we appear to have been sadly overlooked on the entirely spurious grounds of being completely irrelevant to anyone of importance. Lists matter particularly to those who think they might have a chance of being included, as they scan desperately up and down upon publication and react with feigned indifference as they realise their name is missing. The magazine has approached it differently this year, by inviting people not completely barking mad to judge it, which is extremely disappointing from our perspective, given that The Cricketer Editor putting himself at number 39 a few years ago (doesn’t time fly) provoked us into doing our own – once we’d recovered from laughing.
So here’s our own Power Cut List, comprised of those who genuinely have influence and have made a monumental balls of everything, those who just annoyed us, and those we really like and have desperately tried to find something to have a go at them about just to be contrary. If you’re on this list, sorry. If you’re not on this list, not sorry. Or maybe the other way around. It’s completely capricious, and is very much a team effort – so you won’t know who to blame except us as a collective.
There is no particular order to this list, just whoever the editors decided to have a crack at first. As before, we fully expect return fire – that is after all the point of it.
This year’s recipients:
Jonathan Agnew – Currently (but for how much longer?) the mainstay of the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage. Has skin thinner than rice paper and is known to respond to any criticism by chucking his toys so far out his pram that they reach orbit. Has an extraordinary command of basic Anglo-Saxon that has yet to reach the airwaves, placing him behind Andrew Strauss and David Gower in the Inadvertent Public Broadcast Swearing league table – though miles ahead in the Twitter DM equivalent. Still has legions of adoring followers who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that delightful Aggers may not be as charming as first appears. Best friends with Jonathan Liew.
Malcolm Conn – Australian “journalist” (stroll on, that’s stretching it) about as likely to be fair to England as the ECB are to invite us over for a cup of tea. Constantly banging on about England players born overseas while going very quiet when Australian examples are quoted back to him. Still in therapy after England won the World Cup but known for upholding his role as a fearless interrogator of Australian cricket through consoling Australian cricketers caught cheating, to the point there was genuine confusion over whether he’d been appointed as Cricket Australia’s media liaison officer / press conference bouncer in the wake of Sandpaper-gate.
Michael Vaughan – Some people are born to lead. Some people are born to follow. Michael Vaughan is one of those rare individuals who manages to achieve both, often at the same time. Frequently speaking on any topic, bravely ignoring any questions about a lack knowledge or forethought. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott – I’ll be the first to say that the honours system is archaic, random and illogical. Even so, the ennoblement of such an objectionable individual as Boycott really sticks in the craw. Rebel tourist, violent convict, and utterly without empathy for other people. An all-round terrible human being. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Phil Tufnell – He turned being a mediocre spinner (having a worse Test bowling average than Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Monty Panesar, James Tredwell to name a few) into being famous. Lacks any kind of insight in cricket commentary outside of possibly how a spin bowler should try to be economical. His bosses apparently overlook this tragic lack of talent, and he will almost certainly be a big part of the BBC’s TV plans next year due to his celebrity status. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Graeme Swann – The most annoying commentator on TMS, which is saying something. The nonstop stream of forced banter is like an ice pick being stabbed in my ears. No doubt a big part of the BBC’s big plans for their TV coverage next year, which could see Swann become the new Danny Morrison. I do not mean that as a compliment.
Jonathan Liew – One day there will be two people left in a press centre and one taxi. At that point maybe Jonathan will contemplate the bridges he burns. While he’s up there in the talent stakes when it comes to writing, he lapses into Ronay-isms, being more in love with his own work than the job he has to do – in search of THE angle. While picking fights (and yes, having them picked back) with the doyen of the blue rinse set is possibly a public duty, appearing to be a dick doesn’t help. But that’s the place he’s chosen to be, and in some ways its admirable because he does hold truth to power. I wonder, though. If you write for an online-only publication, aren’t you really a blogger in disguise?
Eoin Morgan – England’s World Cup winning captain who happens to share his disdain of red ball cricket and the County Championship as much as his paymasters at the ECB. Led the revolution in the ‘new brand of white ball’ cricket that has proved far more successful than any other previous brand in England’s history but has still remained loyal to the ECB’s ‘dressing room harmony’ mantra. Likely to become a T20 gun for sale in the near future, which is fine unless you want him to perform with the bat in any big game. Former pen-pals with Oliver Holt, who has seemed to go a little quieter now that Morgan is demonstrating his true worth by parroting the ECB’s line in support of the Hundred.
Paul Newman – Being chief cricket writer of the Daily Mail is an interesting place to be – he’s been there a while and shows no signs of moving on. Head of an establishment sport at a snarling outlet like the Mail is going to be tough for a chap who by all reports we hear is a pretty decent fellow – a consistent line we hear from his colleagues. That is until you have a pop at one of his talking points, when he can snarl and spit like, I don’t know, an irate blogger. He’s been less of pest recently, but retains his place on our list for works past. The anti-KP, pro-ECB, Cook fanboy stuff. I have no idea why that rubbed me up the wrong way. He’s on Mount Cricketmore for a reason. Then I realised he isn’t. Oh well.
David Gower – Now ex-presenter of International Cricket on Sky who is keen to blame ageism rather than the fact that he has been mailing it in for the past few years. On his day, Gower is still a joy to listen to and it was a little bit of a tear-jerker watching his final exit on Sky. Why have Sky got rid of him? Well maybe, in his own words, he “hasn’t got a fucking clue”. May be a safe pair of hands to anchor TMS if the BBC tire of Jonathan Agnew’s late night tirades, certainly unlikely to call anyone a c*nt in public. Has a penchant for fine wine, light aircraft and the odd shocking apartheid comment.
The Hundred – The behemoth which is casting a shadow across the next year in English cricket. People seem to be either of the opinion that it will solve all of the game’s endemic problems or destroy half of the professional teams in the country. The truth is probably more bland, but still damning: It’s going to be a bit shit. The level of play will be marginally above that of the better county T20 teams, the coverage will be nauseatingly bad, and the expenditure by the ECB on largely pointless things like fireworks and other gimmicks would make Croesus blush.
Elizabeth Ammon – Let’s be clear here, being a woman in such a historically male dominated world as sports reporting isn’t going to be easy, nor should she have to put up with the pretty vile abuse she receives from all too many just because she’s a woman and therefore in their tiny minds incapable of understanding or commenting on cricket. It’s idiotic, moronic and says far more about those knuckledraggers than anything else. But it does not mean there is a general immunity from any kind of criticism whatever, nor that there is much moral high ground in being utterly outraged that other people might hold different opinions to her, especially on county cricket. Has blocked us on Twitter, for something so minor we couldn’t remember what it was, but it’s her right to do that, and was met with a shrug.
The IPL – Seen as the original evil curse in the eyes of the England management team, it has now become ‘the learning place’ for England’s white ball specialists. Somehow the answer to all of English cricket’s ills despite the fact that the tournament has mainly been designed to make MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli look amazing in the eyes of the Indian public. Expect at some point soon for another 10 teams to be added and for the tournament to last almost half a year before the Chennai Super Kings win it again. Known as a haven for some of the most cringeworthy cricket commentators around. Has a propensity to have “exciting” final over finishes on command. You wouldn’t bet on that every day, would you?
Barney Ronay – There is a trend in cricket writing, actually sports writing, where the author is actually writing to be told how dashed clever he is – if they were ice creams, not only would they lick themselves, they’d smear themselves with chocolate sauce before doing it. There are plenty in that genre, but Barney is among the best/worst exponents of this craft. If craft it is. The point of his articles, and his tweets, aren’t to inform, to report, to entertain you, to perhaps give you something to think about. It’s about “how damn good am I” and “look what angle this pseud has come up with”. It’s the over-weening self confidence and attitude that gets me – it’s snarking at those who disagree, bemoaning those who don’t worship his brilliance, and yes, annoying the hell out of a recreational writer who knows a charlatan when he sees one. Have a nice day Barney.
David Lloyd AKA Bumble: The main reason for why the mute button was invented. Bumble likes to cast himself as the man of the people and he has proved his case, if that means endlessly parroting the ECB’s agenda and refusing to answer any questions on anything that remotely matters to cricket fans. Establishment through and through, despite his protestations, and very happy to leave his morals at the door in favour of still clinging onto his Sky gig even if he somehow makes Shane Warne sound lucid in comparison. Desperately trying to appear hip with all the success of a 70 year old heading over to Ibiza in skinny jeans, a glow stick and an LP of Andy Williams. His mascot races, books and Bumble specials (see the Kings Road video if you fancy trying to rip your eyes out of their sockets) are about as funny as genital warts but far more painful.
Andy Bull – Guardian journalist/writer who popped up on our comments this year after some mild comments from one of our number, and it being helpfully pointed out to him by someone. Thanks for coming Andy. It was nice to hear from you. You spent ages on your little self-justifying tome, links and all, but impressions count, and I don’t remember you sticking it to the ECB when they needed it being stuck to. Then we might just have avoided this Hundred nonsense if you, and the rest of the press, had opened their eyes and seen it as the preview for ECB treating the hoi polloi like shit. But you live in your reality and I’ll live in mine. What MFing Side You On?
Sanjay Patel – Chief polisher of the turd that is The Hundred. Speaks like a politician, in that every statement seems to be a combination of wishful thinking, half-truths, and blatant lies. As such, probably the favourite to succeed Tom Harrison if any company would be prepared to offer the current ECB chief executive more than £700,000 per year.
Tom Harrison – I saw the other day someone who will remain nameless say Harrison deserves his £700k because it’s the going rate for snake oil salesman, lying three faced pricks, selling polished turds in Management Speak Bollox (MSB), while alienating pretty much most of the existing customer base, who just happen to be in charge of a sport. It’s especially worrying when that individual not only sticks his snout in the trough with incredible pay increases while his sport shrinks, he believes he’s been placed in this position to save us from ourselves and to save the sport. His modus operandi? 1. To blame and call names – the Obsessive County Cricket fan – they felt his misplaced ire. But if you are the architects of the dire problem…. not a bad word – Giles Clarke and the preceding shit show are not to be mentioned. 2. Think of an idea, run with it, sell it, ignore the peasants, secure patsy interviews and deny reality. Copious mentions of stakeholders, partners, pathways, culture and “the game” do not mean you. Love or loathe the incumbent at Number 10 but the PM gets paid 20% of this rate. Harrison is a liar, a dissembler, a fraud, a charlatan, a zealot, an idiot, a bully, a clown. But hey. £700k is the going rate. Downton must be sick. He would have been worth millions.
Colin Graves – AKA CostCutter Colin. He is still here as Chairman of the ECB somehow. I don’t think even Colin Graves can believe he is still here, but there he is still giving out Silver bats, awarding Ashes Test Matches to Headingley (no conflict of interest what so ever of course) and appearing on high profile presentations. Thankfully, it appears that his contract extension also contained a mute button, so he is unable to insult the counties or any other international opponent England might have to face in the near future. Will probably receive an OBE in the near future from our archaic class system as a forward thinking entrepreneur. Proud owner of a brand new cupboard under the stairs at the ECB’s HQ.
Paul Farbrace – If the sky darkens and one of the 30,000 evil characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up to take over the world (honestly, I can’t be the only person to watch these things saying “Who the hell is that, then?” every ten minutes), good old Chuckles would seek out a camera, laugh a few times and tell everyone that Iron Man just needed to execute his skills a bit better. It’s not a bad approach to life, and given some of what he’s been through probably reflects well on him to point out the inherent unimportance of sport. Even so, just once in a while a serious answer would have been nice.
Dominic Cork – A marginal inclusion, which might upset him if he gave a crap. The former all-rounder who got on everyone’s nerves, and resident of Stoke City’s car park during transfer deadline day (until Stoke got relegated), his most notable achievements this year have been getting Derbyshire to T20 Finals Day, and a Verdict (sorry Cricket Debate) in the wake of the first Ashes test defeat, with Charles ‘n’ Bob where he acted as if Tom Harrison was holding his nearest and dearest hostage. And no, I’ve not forgiven him from his anti-KP outbursts, of course I haven’t.
Mike Selvey – Highly successful ex-International Bowler (with a grand total of 3 caps to his name) and ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian before they finally saw sense and kicked him onto the street, not that he is bitter at all. Well known to have skin which is about as thick as water and a Twitter account in which he is now able to spout the same rubbish as he did when he was at the Guardian, with slightly less adulation than he feels is deserved. Currently enjoying a stellar campaign as President of Middlesex County Cricket Club, who are reversing backwards faster than a Michael Vaughan opinion. He doesn’t make decisions but acts like he does until called on them, and then says he doesn’t. Clear? A marker of cards and well versed in quoting unnamed sources, which naturally the public don’t deserve to have access to, because, well he is the Lord of the Manor and knows better than all you plebs. BOC still mourn the day he decided to abandon the construction of his blog, because it would have been bloody hilarious. Still sending love letters to David Saker when last checked.
Don Topley – Harry Gurney ideas, with a more human face. Not seen anything, ANYTHING, about the Hundred he doesn’t like. Doesn’t seem to contemplate that it will possibly be the death knell for the county he played for, and the county his son currently plays for. But we recognise the sacrifice, Don, and no doubt Tom will thank you someday. Maybe the ECB need your help. And yes, I do remember that catch at Lord’s. Those were the days.
Michael Henderson – There is, in every form of work, the example of someone who is there for reasons you can’t really understand – a totemic reminder of days past maybe? At the Cricketer Michael Henderson is still given writing gigs, still paid for his opinion, still earns from his contemptuous snobbery, and no-one seems to understand why. It is (for my good fortune) the only place I see his work these days, and its not pretty. Whether it’s barely concealed dislike of others (as the last one was), or snobbish references to the right kind of people in his eyes, or some stupid outdated cultural reference that has no bearing, no relevance, other than to act as some “upper being” spouting to the unwashed, it angers nearly every month. Yet it’s still printed. How did he get away with the September piece? If it hadn’t got mass objections, I guess it tells you a lot about the readership of the Cricketer. An anachronism in a world with pretty shitty people writing isn’t a good place to be. Go, in the name of God go, and take your poison pen with you. You can reference some opera singer as you push off out the door.
Simon Hughes – He’s always rubbed me the wrong way, from the first time I saw him on Channel 4, being referred to as ‘The Analyst’ when the insights he gave were about of the level I’d expect from club coaches. Still using the name about 14 years after he presumably last provided regular analysis on TV seems like taking the piss, quite frankly. He loves the sound of his own voice, is arrogant without much justification, and is hilariously poor (given his nom de plume) at offering even the vaguest analysis of any tripe the ECB sends him. His editorial policy is questionable to say the least, and his podcast is like being stuck in a lift with the three most boring people on the planet for an hour. Nice guy though.
Nasser Hussain – Ex-England captain and one of the most frustrating presenters in the game. There are times when he can be thoughtful or downright spiky which can really add to viewers enjoyment in watching the game, just look at his piece about Root’s technique with Ponting during the Fourth Test or his series about Cricket in Mumbai, which was fascinating. However there are other times he either feels compelled to spout the ECB’s prologue or is so banal that he makes Botham seem cutting edge. Having a Daily Mail column isn’t helping things much either. Supposedly has a big nose and is tight. Wow. The japes they have in the Sky commentary box are just wonderful.
Robert Key – In life it is all about being in the right place at the right time. As a T20 commentator, he’s tried to balance analysis and bantz. Recently the former has been pants, and the bantz has been rank. For this, it appears promotion as a junior David Lloyd for test duty beckons. I suppose someone has to, but is this really the best we can do? And yes, I am bitter that every time I saw Kent play Surrey, this man made my life a misery.
David Warner – For Australian cricket to make such a pig’s ear of the Sandpaper affair that it caused twinges of sympathy for Warner in this parish was quite exceptional. That he’s managed to make himself about as popular as an itch down below is rather beside the point. The mood lighting, arm around the shoulder (literally) poor ickle Steve and Cameron press conferences contrasted wildly with the way Warner was thrown in to a barely disguised hostile one. He then confounded expectations by refusing to dish the dirt (dammit) but instead acting contrite and providing the waterworks fully expected of Australian cricketers caught with their hands in the cookie jar. New gentle Davey didn’t last particularly long, though longer than all of his innings lasted in the recent Ashes series. Last seen trying to get out of Stuart Broad’s pocket.
Geoff Lemon – A number of things amaze me. Michael Henderson writes articles for the Cricketer. Martin Samuel thinks he can write about cricket. Today’s rap artists compared to Public Enemy. Jason Roy as a test opener. You get the picture. Geoff wrote a book. It won lots of awards. Never shy to march out of step from received wisdom, I thought it was (for large parts) utterly atrocious. A Jarrod Kimber tribute band, playing tired old metaphors and similes, attempting to be Gideon Haigh. But everyone else loved it. His excoriating takedown of Channel 9 was a career highlight – but that was a long time ago. I didn’t think Steve Smith’s Men was a highlight. I make no apologies. Perhaps Rusty might tell tales on me for saying so.
Jonny Bairstow – England stalwart who is known to throw his toys out of his pram every time anyone suggests that he isn’t quite a good enough keeper and has a gap in his defence so large that you could fly a jumbo jet through. Currently trying to do his best impression of James Vince by making 20 odd before attempting a shot that Stuart Broad would be embarrassed with. Known to be about as bright as nightfall in the Sahara Desert.
Ed Smith – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record, despite being banged to rights for plagiarism in his former role. You can tell if England are ahead in a game or not by whether Sky’s cameras can pick Ed Smith out in the crowd. In fact, it’s arguably more accurate than WinViz. His one shining success in terms of Test selection was Jos Buttler, who averaged 24.70 this summer. Generally speaking, a lot more misses than hits in his selections so far.
James Taylor – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record. On the plus side, no one seems certain about what his role actually is, apart from almost always being pictured with Ed Smith. About as interesting as watching paint dry in interviews.
Sir Andrew Strauss – Strauss appears to be the man getting all of the credit for the men’s World Cup victory. He hired Trevor Bayliss, he was in the selection meetings, he explicitly made it the priority for English cricket. That’s fine. But it also presumably means that he’s responsible for the bad things too. England’s Test team, for example. Their lacklustre T20 record. The backsliding of the women’s team from the heights of 2017. Aside from all that, it’s difficult to forgive him for his disastrous launching of The Hundred. It’s genuinely incredible how inept it was. Essentially telling existing cricket fans that it wasn’t for them because “mums and kids” were the priority. Insulting those mums and kids by saying that the only reason that they didn’t already like cricket was because they were too stupid to understand it. Truly, this belongs in a textbook teaching students how not to promote a new product.
Harry Gurney – Started out at Leicestershire and yet wants to get rid of or demote the lesser counties so that ‘top’ players like him can get more money. Not awash with self-awareness, bless him. I had to check to make sure he didn’t attend Radley College, because his approach to winning friends and influencing people is remarkably similar to that of Andrew Strauss. Has more Twitter followers than you or I, so there.
Martin Samuel – Putting Martin Samuel on cricket duty is a public affront to decency. It would be like your humble author being tasked to write about ballet (a load of skinny people dancing on their tippie-toes to some god awful tosh music). When the Ashes comes round, old Martin pulls the Oiliver (deliberate typo) Holt stunt of saying “I’m a SPORTS writer, dammit” and gets to unleash some putrid shite onto the Mail website; a forum awash with the stuff. What the proper cricket writers must think of this oaf, the cricket equivalent of the hippos in Fantasia, or any hippo actually, being let loose is anyone’s guess. I await the “Samuel on Stumps” anthology book or live tour announcement any day now. It’ll be a ripper. Cricket writing needs Samuel like a fish needs a sunbed.
John Etheridge – Chief Cricket Correspondent for the Sun. I genuinely don’t think there’s any more I need to say. After the events of this week, I wonder how he can remain. I suppose getting paid a small fortune travelling the world watching cricket is, as Chicago once sang, a hard habit to break.
Shane Warne – Aww mate, you’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to win. Warne is like one of those individuals in the pub who keeps banging on about the same opinion for as long as anyone will let him. I reckon even Warne tires of his own voice at times. Used to be known as the best leg spinner ever, but now more synonymous with plastic surgery, terrible banter and frequently bedding younger women. The bastard. Soon to become the head coach of the new Hundred franchise at Lords, which will no doubt massively upset many of the MCC members. A small win for us fans who will have to put up with this turd of a competition.
Virat Kohli – A character that divides opinion. In India they adore him, but not like they adored Sachin and still do Dhonut. Outside of India, most appear to think of him as a flash, gobby, unsporting oik. Me? I am worried about his neck. He hurt it instead of playing for Surrey. I still wonder, to this day, how Guildford would have coped. Will probably end up with 80 ODI hundreds, we’ll remember none of them, and no-one will care.
MS Dhoni – AKA Dhonut. Is to run chases as I am to work deadlines. Whereas in my younger days I had the stamina to pull rabbits out of hats, deliver work from nowhere and get the job done, now the sands of time have prevented me and I have to start the task earlier or fail. There’s a lesson MS. Unfortunately when I fail, I get a bollocking from my bosses. When Dhoni fails, his fanboys and girls threaten anyone who dare question the great god Donut with fates worse than death. Like watching Dhoni ramp the run rate up to 12 an over, and manufacture T20 games to go to the last over. I have absolutely no reasons to question anything here. Really I don’t.
Tim Paine – Has a reputation as a nice guy, but this is very much relative to his predecessors. Still allows gobby shits like Wade and Lyon to mouth off at the opponents, and still cheats if he can get away with it. The most annoying thing for me was his insistence on handshakes before games. His team gets caught cheating, everyone else piles in about all of the (objectively worse) other stuff Australia had been doing for years, so why did they think they could force the opposition teams into a PR exercise like that.
Nick Knight – In keeping with his status as the most vanilla of broadcasters, I had to go and check what I’d said about him last time. It mostly consisted of him saying “would you believe it?” repeatedly, and that’s absolutely dandy, because since Knight just repeats “would you believe it?” all the time, it seems appropriate to do the same to him. Would you believe it?
Angus Fraser – Grumpy former England and Middlesex bowler and now even grumpier special guest on the Verdict. Spends most of his time looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than on TV and responds to any questions he’s asked with the look of someone who has been asked to recite the first 200 numbers of PI with someone standing on his testicles. Currently overseeing the complete demise of Middlesex as Director of Cricket, which has proved to be a veritable banquet of mirth for 2 of our editors and yet has made another of our editors very sad indeed.
Ian “Wardy” Ward – “Great question Wardy”. If you are looking for a point where the scales tipped from my eyes, that was it. The arch-enemy, the zealot with not-a-lot, the establishment money guzzler, with so much to defend (Tom Harrison), treating his TV interviewer with contempt by using his nickname – and the interviewer smiling away. Pat Murphy, for one, would not have stood for that crap. Wardy’s post-match interview technique has turned from probing and incisive, to “why are you so great”. And now he’s reportedly moving into Gower’s seat as presenter. While good with Masterclass, the perils are there, the warning signs are flashing, the whispers of being too close to the players are louder and louder. Let the new era, or error, begin.
Steve Smith – One of our number proudly points out that as far back as 2010 he insisted to all and sundry that Smith was destined to be a Test player of repute while everyone else was laughing themselves silly at his bowling being smacked around the park and his batting was all over the place. His batting is still all over the place of course, but with the difference that no bugger can get him out any more. This startling insight and genius punditry would be more notable were it not for said writer also insisting that David Warner wouldn’t last 15 Tests. Has infuriated everyone all summer for managing to have a technique similar to a drunken crab while selfishly refusing to get out to anyone. Eventually won around the English fans to the point that he got a standing ovation as he walked off after his second innings dismissal at the Oval, which at least had the benefit of shutting up the more sanctimonious short memory Australians who treated booing as though it was the worst crime since Bodyline. Which they’re still whining about 90 years on come to that.
Joe Root – What happened to you Joe? Just a couple of years ago, you were a young cheeky chappy with a grin fixed on your face and the enviable problem of scoring too many fifties. Now you look like you’re ten years older, you’re more likely to get a duck than reach a half-century, and your captaincy is almost making us long for the halcyon days of your predecessor. What have the ECB done to you?
Trevor Bayliss – Ex-England Head Coach who had as much interest in county cricket as the rest of the editors do for Kabbadi. Played a key role in changing the mentality of our white ball approach and deserves credit for helping to win the World Cup; however Test Cricket always seemed a bit of an after-thought for him. Likely heading for a career coaching various T20 franchises across the World. Liked very much by the England players but don’t ever try and pull his shorts down as Mark Wood found out. Should be knighted for services to scented candles, whale music and yucca plants.
Kevin Pietersen – Officially branded a “genius” by Sky TV, five years after said “genius” was sacked so we could pick Gary Ballance, and keep a crap captain in power. I haven’t been as offended by a replacement since Technotronic turned up at a PA, and neither of the two main protagonists showed up. Anyway, said genius still has all the media etiquette skills of the animal he is trying to save and sometimes he should can it, but hey, he’s interesting, annoying and you’d still watch his greatest innings over any other English player not named (possibly) Bell or Gower. And I annoy my wife no end with the “Because they’re my mates” impression from that Sky documentary, which amuses only me. Rumours are Tom Harrison wants to appoint him as PR head to convince sceptical county fans that the Hundred is great. If Carlsberg did piss-takes…..
Stuart Broad – Fantastic Test bowler and even better comedian on the pitch, Test cricket would be a lot poorer without his various celebrappeals and complete lack of understanding of how DRS works. At one point, he was considered England’s next all-round great, but was in decline before getting hit in the face by Varun Aaron and since then his batting has looked like it has been based around the Devon Malcolm school of batting (he has a higher test best than Mark Waugh!). Has finally learnt how to pitch the ball up after 10 years of trying and now has his own rental space in David Warner’s head.
Jimmy Anderson – Legendary England swing and seam bowler who has transformed himself from wild tearaway to metronomic grumpy wicket taker par excellence. Has an end named after him at Old Trafford which probably represents the greatest achievement any male could wish to obtain, though I may have slightly misunderstood what that’s about. Has reached the point where his cricketing prowess allows the great and the good to defend him even when he’s not behaved particularly well on the field, a privilege reserved to a very few. Subject of complaints that he hasn’t had a knighthood when batsmen are queueing up for them. Made an observation in the documentary The Edge that had one of our number falling off his chair at the known for certain brazen hypocrisy of it.
Glamorgan – One of just three counties not to develop a single men’s England Test cricketer in the past 10 years, but the only one which hosts international games and a men’s team in The Hundred. It would benefit English cricket immeasurably if they split off to become the Welsh national team. It probably wouldn’t damage the development of Welsh cricketers either, to be honest.
Sir Alastair Cook – It has been a contention of mine that the single most divisive figure in English cricket in the past decade hasn’t been that batsman who was sacked, but rather a batsman that was extraordinarily backed. In being forced to be the face of a regime who treated the supporters as the bien peasants, Cook took up the cudgels and milked it, and in turn got the love of an entire media gang. The Cook era is a key one for English Cricket. It’s not about his stats, it’s about what he stood for, either intentionally or not. Backing Alastair Cook became a matter of faith, a matter of your applicability to be a real CRICKET fan. You had to love him. Or else. I can’t be humorous, or wise crack about this. This was a cult, with the dullest leader imaginable. As long as Outside Cricket has breath, Cook will be here. The handsome prince of English cricket. The cult leader of the insipid. The face of the ECB. Jonathan Agnew’s BFF. Records be damned.
The T20 Blast – So called mediocre tournament that the ECB is desperately trying to get rid of despite growing crowds and fan affiliation. Supposedly can only attract mediocre white ball players such as AB de Villiers, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, Michael Klinger, Mohammed Amir and Faf du Plessis to the tournament. Likely to eventually be phased out for something the ECB management team designed on an empty packet of fags between lunches, because they know better than the fans after all. Still not enough women and children for the ECB’s liking.
Somerset – Lesser county somewhere near Wales that was last in the national headlines for King Alfred burning some cakes. Worth pointing out that he went to Somerset to hide from an entire army looking for him. And succeeded. In more recent times the 14 residents of this backwater have not only discovered Twitter, but have launched a takeover, leading some to the mistaken impression that they’re important. Currently playing Minor Counties, probably.
Cricket Highlights on 5: I reckon a highlights programme with commentary from Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann and Mark Nicholas would probably make kids have nightmares about the sport and certainly not want to pick up a bat unless they were able to use it to hit said commentators. Certainly not one for the casual fan as it’s the first and last programme I will probably ever watch on that channel.
New Zealand cricket team – On this list primarily because they’re so damn likeable, even in the cruelest of defeats. Imagine the howling from the England camp and press if we’d have lost in such a manner.
Russell Jackson – For one day only, this man made himself look an idiot. But he didn’t keep it to himself.
Dean Wilson – Poor old Dean, he so desperately wants to leave his position as Chief Correspondent of the Mirror to become the next ECB head of communications. So much so that he is happy to trot out any old rubbish the ECB gives him. Was referred to as a journalist during lunch in a gathering at the 5th Test, which is probably the first time that has ever happened. It is well known that being the Chief Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is more akin to be deputy train manager of the Island line in the Isle of Wight. Likes a free lunch or five.
Piers Morgan – Unaccountably left out of the last Outside Cricket list due entirely to the ineptitude of the writers. Chief cheerleader for Kevin Pietersen, which is about as useful as having Katie Hopkins appear as a character witness. Acknowledged in the KP documentary that this may not have been entirely helpful, which is probably the only occasion he’s ever come close to an apology. The blog will be forever grateful to him for infuriating those Inside Cricket sufficiently that they responded by giving us our name, and then leading one idiot to publicly say that we were his online agents. One of our number has played cricket against him on a couple of occasions, where he increased the sense of outrage by coming across as a fairly pleasant bloke. Totally unacceptable.
Gordon Hollins – Ex-Chief Operating Officer of the ECB and now Managing Director of County Cricket (haha), Hollins is still there owing to the fact that he now resides in a small basket next to Tom Harrison’s bed and has stopped soiling the carpet. Over qualified for the role as an ex-Commercial Director at Durham CCC, which naturally didn’t stop him from taking a steaming dump on his former employer. Wheeled out when either Tom Harrison or Sanjay Patel have more important things to do like meet a sponsor or count their money.
Sam Morshead – Erstwhile digital editor of the Cricketer, who has shown exceptionally poor judgement by failing to include himself in the Cricketer’s own list, breaking all convention and tradition, and thus showing himself to be far less of a man than Simon Hughes. Has feet of a type last seen in the Lord of the Rings, and looks a bit like Frodo too, come to that.
Jim Maxwell – Legendary Australian radio commentator who is a welcome visitor to these shores every four years – or more frequently as the ECB and Cricket Australia determine for financial cricketing reasons. Has rarely put a foot wrong on air and is a pleasure to listen to. Makes this list by virtue of the fact that he quite plainly cares vastly more for the health of English cricket than most of his English colleagues, and is not shy of saying so, and he liked and commented on one of our tweets (we’re so shallow). Good on him, but while it says a lot about him, it says far more about those others that this is the case, and that’s pretty scandalous in itself.
Middlesex – Every single Middlesex player and member seems to be a champagne-quaffing, tweed-wearing, Waitrose-shopping stereotype who looks down on Jacob Rees-Mogg for being too common. Despite their ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, including their own official diamond merchants and Porsche dealerships, they still can’t afford their own ground and have to rent one from someone else. This is fair enough, considering London prices, but you would think that they would be able to find one which was at least level. I would certainly complain to my landlord if I was living in a property with a lopsided floor. That a professional (and international) cricket ground has this issue is, quite frankly, embarrassing. More worringly, ex-Middlesex players seem predisposed to finding other jobs in cricket once their playing careers end. They tend to be jobs which they lack the experience and talent required to do it fully, which means that people (including us) notice them: Administrators, selectors, coaches and journalists. No sector of English cricket is untainted by Middlesex. Of the forty-ish ex-cricketers in this list, at least ten played for them. One of our editors is slightly less than impressed with this entry.
Mark Robinson – He deserves enormous plaudits for taking the England women’s team to the heights of success, culminating in a thrilling World Cup win in 2017 at a packed Lord’s. Thereafter the team went into reverse faster than an Italian tank, and by 2019 Australia weren’t just beating England, in England, but were handing out a a thrashing game after game. Another lauded when successful by Lord, but excused when the wheels fell off (the players fault, natch). Resigned his position as a result, thus demonstrating a degree of integrity scarcely ever seen in ECB circles and certainly not from those who slashed the investment in the women’s game and sacrificed the successful and growing Kia Super League on the altar of the Hundred.
Mark Ramprakash – Former England Test Player and England batting coach, who managed to make a huge mess of both jobs. His main achievement as coach was to bring down the England batting unit’s average to around his career Test average and whose mess is now being tended to by Graham Thorpe. Firm believer in accountability, as long as it is not his accountability being questioned. Likely to end up in ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ this year.
Jason Roy – I understand that professional sportsmen have a lot of self-confidence. That it may even be part of the job. Would any great, unlikely, unbelievable sporting moment if the people involved weren’t absolutely convinced that they were 100% certain to triumph? Even if the chain of events to get there was so improbable that their belief was verging on delusion. But, even acknowledging this, how on Earth did Jason Roy think he could be England’s Test opener?
Pavel Florin – Romanian superstar cricketer who managed to move from figure of fun to cricketing icon faster than a Jofra Archer bouncer. His enthusiasm for the game is boundless, the faint whiff of condescension from those approving of his efforts mere moments after laughing at them unmistakable. Undoubtedly a welcome voice in terms of spreading the word of cricket beyond its traditional boundaries, which is one reason the ICC wouldn’t dream of making use of him. Cannot be forgiven by any club cricketer anywhere around the world for having a Cricinfo profile when we do not.
Andy Nash – Most akin to a reformed smoker lecturing all around him on how appalling it is that other people are partaking. Former Somerset Chairman and ECB board member whose trenchant opposition to the Hundred would be slightly less confusing had he not been part of the group that passed the idea in the first place. It may well be that this is an entirely unfair reading of events, since the opacity of all ECB decision making is such that voting records don’t necessarily mean agreement. Nash is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines about how terrible it’s going to be while absolutely no one Inside Cricket engages him. He is (of course) correct, but he is now experiencing the kind of cold shoulder to his views experienced over many years by that tiny, unimportant group of people called cricket fans.
AB De Villiers – Like the guy who turns up at your annual Christmas Party unannounced after having left the company 8 months ago, AB did exactly the same at the World Cup as there weren’t any 20/20 leagues going on at the same time. Well known for bouts of extreme tiredness that can suddenly be cured by a large wedge of cash being waved in his face. Expect the same thing to happen at the next World Cup unless the Albanian Professional T20 league are offering big money.
Mr Maximooo – AKA Vinny Sandhu, the hugely excitable commentator of the inaugural European Cricket League. Took to shouting “Maximooo!” extremely loudly when a six was hit, which was highly amusing at first, but started to grate somewhat in a tournament that turned into a real life version of Stick Cricket, with virtually every ball disappearing out of the park. To his credit, he acknowledged that point afterwards, and his clear love of what was going on endeared him to a small but increasingly dedicated audience watching cricket being played purely because the players loved the sport, and so did the commentators. A Celebrity Death Match with Danny Morrison beckons.
DAB Radio – Needs a particular entry in here simply because for years we’ve been told that digital radio is the future, that we all need to chuck our analogue receivers out, and that having DAB in the car is far better than some crackly old signal on 198 LW. But here’s the problem: It’s shit. It’s monumentally, utterly shit. Any journey undertaken that involves travelling more than 50 yards beyond Broadcasting House involves more drop outs than the first year of a media studies course. On one occasion, I managed to miss two England wickets in the period while it was searching madly for a signal while driving on the motorway, which says a hell of a lot about England’s batting, but even more about the utter pup we’ve been sold as a viable means of listening. I don’t know who was responsible for this complete shambles, but I’m going to find out and write a strongly worded letter – mostly because if I say it on digital radio they’ll only hear the first two words before it cuts out again.
World Cup Super Overs – Anything that is designed to be finite and then fails to be so, thus making the decision of the winner on the number of boundaries scored is always going to get on our goat. Interestingly enough those who whinge about it most aren’t our Kiwi friends but legions of Indian and Australian fans, who didn’t actually make the final. Ca’ Plus Change.
Lawrence Booth – Glory-hunting Manchester City and Northants fan (possibly a unique combination) who occasionally writes nasty things about the ECB in his sideline as Wisden Almanack editor. Has a fairly routine Daily Mail column that still looks like Shakespeare next to Martin Samuel’s cricket forays, but disappears between January and April on a long holiday.
Kumar Dharmasena – ICC World Umpire of the Year 2018, which is about the most damning statistic about the health of umpiring in our international game. More known now for giving shocking decisions and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of cricket. Somehow makes us pine for the days of S.Ravi, who he has miraculously made to look like a competent umpire.
Ricky Ponting – Sometimes in life, you get to meet your heroes. And all too often they show that they have feet of clay. Disappointment is often the result, a bad memory to taint the good ones you have. Imagine then the even more acute disappointment to be found when Ricky Ponting decided to go entirely the other way. He had been a monumental pain in the arse as batsman and captain of Australia, partly because he was so bloody good, and partly because he was combative, fantastically bad tempered and insistent that he defined where the line was while the rest of the world rolled their eyes. His appearance in the commentary box this summer was therefore a massive disappointment – not because he was bad, far from it. Instead he was engaging, witty, brilliantly incisive and came across as a thoroughly all round good egg. This. Is. Not. Good. Enough. We want our Australian enemies to be the bastards we always expected them to be, not to turn out to be delightful. That Mitchell Johnson had rocked up and been equally engaging merely made it worse.
Derek Pringle – Why me? Why do I have to write about this person? What have I done? Other than the wikipedia article, which we talked about last time, and the fact he’s written a book that I’ll wait until it gets to £0.01 on Amazon secondhand to buy, and that he’s some bon viveur now used for those talking head pieces on Sky, and that he’s the Chief Cricket Writer at the Metro, what else is there to say? I’m warming to him? That I shouldn’t have been mean about him? Hell No. HELL NO.
Ellyse Perry – You could say that she was the female equivalent of Steve Smith in terms of her complete dominance over the England team this summer, but it’s not quite true. She is better at bowling than Smith. Has done absolutely nothing wrong and is a powerful standard bearer for women’s cricket. Unfortunately, she’s both a bloody good player and Australian, which in itself is grounds for excommunication.
Sheldon Cottrell – Ok. We get why he does the salute and, as reasons go, it’s not a bad one. The only problem is that it’s been done before (and in an infinitely funnier manner) when Marlon Samuels did it to Ben Stokes and got away without having the bat wrapped around his head. There’s merit in it as long as you’re first, and he wasn’t.
Kumar Sangakkara – A batting career similar to Steve Smith but with attractive shots already marked him out as a cricketing great, but in retirement he’s managed to improve his standing even further. Firstly by doing Sky masterclasses that are so impressive Sky daren’t repeat them 30 times a day, and second by quite pointedly doing commentary that ignores David Lloyd’s banter and talks about the game itself. Has a delightful habit of pausing for a few seconds after a fellow commentator has talked about wicket-keeping to make it abundantly clear he thinks they’re talking bollocks. Sangakkara then goes on with all the skills of a diplomat to explain why. At this stage the suspicion is growing that this is all too good to be true, and at some point he’s going to rip his face off and reveal he’s the leader of an alien invasion.
Innocent Bystander – Bestriding Twitter like a gambling colossus. Friend of the blog (we think) and all round top contributor to social media. If there’s an irrelevant, gobshite T20 league in the world, and it’s playing, he’ll be on it, making the readies – watch out for the Kazakhstan regional T20 any day now, and IB will be on the Almaty Matters, while his bete noire will be favouring the Astana Stammers. Very convinced of Australia’s position as self-appointed arbiter of world cricketing etiquette, he doesn’t, at all, go on about it.
Michael Clarke – One of the list of Australian cricketers who highlight the difference in approach between Cricket Australia and the ECB when dealing with the “shit bloke” problem. In the wake of tragedy he conducted himself with a dignity and sense of leadership that caused many cricket followers of all nationalities to assert with awe that they’d happily follow him to the gates of hell, and has since then steadily eroded the goodwill by the simple medium of absolutely refusing to shut the fuck up in the commentary box. In decades past Richie Benaud used words sparingly and when he felt there was something worthwhile to say. Clarke observed and learned from the example of Benaud, but unfortunately by misunderstanding the brief and assuming that every single one of the silences needed to be filled. It is deeply impressive to be so much the anti-Benaud that grown men have been known to weep, or worse still, turn over to TMS to listen to the witterings of Graeme Swann instead.
Ben Stokes – England’s best player across all 3 formats who has basically piggy backed the rest of the England team this summer in the Ashes and in the World Cup. Victim of a horrendous piece of gutter journalism from the Scum, which he handled both intelligently and maturely. Still barred from enjoying the bright lights of Bristol’s glorious nightlife due to a small misunderstanding.
Mo Bobat – The ‘behind the scenes’ driving force of Ed Smith’s currently highly successful selection policy. After all, it is mandatory to have such a resource to rely on to pick a successful white ball opener who has never batted for over 2 sessions in a red ball game and a plucky, if not quite talented enough 33 year old county specialist for the Test team; That’s why he is paid the big bucks after all. Well known to do a “chuckles’ in that he suddenly appears in the papers when all is going well, yet suddenly goes missing in action when they’re not. Last seen in Teesside building a wooden canoe for reasons not currently known.
Ian Smith – There was a period fairly early on in the World Cup final when Smith was on commentary with Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. There followed half an hour or so of cricketing nirvana, as the three of them talked with intelligence, humour that didn’t veer into slapstick, and deep insight into the game of cricket that was an unadulterated pleasure to listen to. His calling of the super over was commentary brilliance, and made everyone regret his departure at the tournament’s conclusion. So what is he doing on this list? Well he still can’t pronounce fish and chips properly and I’m sorry, but that’s enough reason for anyone.
Simon Kuper – Have you read that Ed Smith interview? Have you? Any pretence of remaining a hard hitting journalist evaporated in the opening stanza. “Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.” But it gets better when he asks the startling naive: “Today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia?” The correct answer is “Because they were about to lose the Ashes, and he didn’t want the cameras on him,” you pillock. The easiest answer is usually the best one, Simon. Call your next book Cricket Against The Plagiarists. Instead of worshiping one.
Peter Lalor – The fact that everyone knows about Lalor for the fact that he got wrongly charged an exorbitant amount for a beer at the Malmaison in Manchester rather than for anything he has ever written about says a lot about his journalism. I mean who has $99,000 AUS in their account? My card would have spontaneously combusted at 1/10th of that cost.
Matt Prior – Cycling guru who used to be fairly handy with the willow and gloves for England. Has kept a fairly low cricketing profile since retiring from the game, low enough to avoid making an appearance on the KP documentary because he found it too difficult, though The Edge was apparently worthy of his input. Resurfaced recently to quite gloriously provoke Shane Warne into a fantastically Australian response that reasserted their national obsession with telling everyone else where the line is and (even better) managed to get Chris Adams caught in the crossfire.
Denis – Cricket “writer”, shit stirrer and now a government spokesman for Pakistan. The world of cricket writing takes you to curious places, curious situations and curiouser outcomes. Does he still write a blog? I have absolutely no idea. We might spell his name wrongly one day, too.
Bob Willis – It remains the case that England having a bad day or (better still) a catastrophic day gives cause to wishing to tune into the Sky Cricket review just to see how Uncle Bob will respond to it. He rarely disappoints, providing significant entertainment with a generally epic rant that causes no end of amusement. Tends to be less comfortable when Charles Colville asks him a difficult question or (worse still) reminds him of something he’d said previously that contradicted it entirely. Given the ruthless culling of Gower and Botham, his time in the chair may be somewhat limited but he remains worth having just for the baleful sneer usually aimed at England batsmen who fully deserve it.
Scyld Berry – There is a place in cricket and in journalism for the gloriously bonkers hack who switches between acute insight and the most unadultered bullshit, seemingly at will. His player ratings are the stuff of legend, particularly during the Cook era where the sainted one managing to put his shoes on the right way around was generally worthy of an 8. Hasn’t quite got the hang of Twitter where people have been known to answer back to his tweets.
Gary Ballance – It’s ironic for Gary to be blessed with such a surname when balance and poise are the two things he severely lacks at the crease. If you believe Twitter, you’d have thought that England had left out the new Brian Lara rather than a chubby Zimbabwean whose foot movement looks like he has 2 bricks attached to each boot. Dropped twice owing to the fact that his pads are an even bigger target than Shane Watson’s.
Chris Silverwood – Has somehow managed to persuade Stuart Broad and the rest of the English bowlers to pitch it up in useful conditions, which is something that many have tried and failed before. Naturally this is totally unacceptable behaviour and will harm his chances of becoming England’s Head Coach massively despite leading an un-fancied Essex team to the County Championship. Will probably be let go in the next England revolution for a bowling coach who wants to put the wind up the opposing batsmen.
Wisden Cricket Monthly – Here’s a funny thing. During the World Cup, the bulk of the writing staff for this prestigious magazine appeared to have been seconded to the ICC’s own official World Cup site. Let’s just say that their reporting on the ICC’s machinations in future will be treated with considerable caution.
Mexican Waves – Probably one of my biggest bugbears. Just watch the bloody game that you’ve bought overpriced tickets for and drunk ridiculously expensive pissy beer. Anyone who is found starting one of these should have the choice of facing Jofra Archer in the nets for an hour without a helmet or becoming Simon Hughes’ full time secretary. That should cut them out in next to no time.
Twitter Pseuds – You know how this works. A player strokes a cover drive off a reasonably decent bowler, in a televised match, and it’s not enough, by heaven it isn’t, to say “cracking shot”, it’s “I want to take that cover drive for dinner, wine it, dine it, and take it to a luxury spa for a three week getaway in a tropical paradise”. That sort of shit. That sort of nonsense. There are many culprits, BR isn’t just the former initials of our national railway and VE isn’t just the day the world celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yeah. At least our Twitter feed is funny!
Guardian Below The Line – BTL. A haven for the unaware, over praised, self assured, convinced of their own brilliance, and masters of fawning over Lord, Victor and any other writer who gets their well-heeled juices flowing. While some of this parish still venture into this land of one-eyed, where the blind is king, it has been avoided for many a day by those keen to maintain sanity. Blogs are for ruffians they say. Scoundrels. Bilious Inadequates. Non-county cricket fans. There are no think tanks in Southern Ireland, ECB fanboys can speak and thrill themselves, and the beat goes on.
Sky Cricket Channel Subscribers – Not all, but you know the kind. The one who pays THEIR subscription, and when a world-scale event gets to a Final, and is put on free-to-air for long-term benefit, complains that they have paid their subs, so “Why should those who don’t pay when I do, get to experience what I have paid MY MONEY for”. They proliferated on the Guardian which, as self-awareness goes, is either miles ahead of your time or you are a weapons grade idiot. They think the bigger picture is their Sky bill, and THEIR sacrifice for English Cricket. After all, “it’s only a cup of coffee a day to subscribe”. Really. I have two espressos a day, and they cost 60p. Where the hell are you buying your brew, you gullible twits? And that’s not a day pass on Sky, I can assure you. I don’t hear the moans about Sky not picking up all available overseas cricket, endless repeats of Masterclass and their own series, and Legends of Cricket. No. Don’t let the hoi polloi in, whatever you do. I PAID for this.
Sky Subscribers who don’t have access to BT Sport: The last away Ashes highlighted a particular breed, the smug tossers who have a Sky account, but who don’t have a BT one. All of a sudden they started complaining and whining about having to pay for cricket, even though it was, to use their above justification, just a coffee or two a day. It wasn’t just ordinary people on Twitter either (you can always find someone to complain about something). It was journalists and even the ECB piling in to object to a broadcaster other than Sky daring to show England play cricket, and finding that they might have to spend a bit of their own money to do so. The lack of self-awareness was astounding, as though the aristocracy had been denied their particular wine supplier because Laithwaites (oh my, shudder) had hoovered up the contracts. Some might say that being that wedded to thinking Sky were the good guys was somewhat instructive about where their loyalties lie, but we couldn’t possibly comment. Oh, ok we will – it was frankly embarrassing.
Paul Downton – We simply couldn’t have an ‘outside cricket list’ without the man who helped give us our ‘nomme de guerre’. Sorely missed for his press conferences, interviews and any other time he was on TV as he made the rest of us look like Professors of Classics from Cambridge University.
Marnus Labuschagne – Labooscayne, Labuskakne, Laboochange, Laboochanya….oh sod it.
Isa Guha – Erstwhile commentator who has managed to break up the laddish banter on Sky. Announced that she will be the lead presenter on the BBC’s Hundred coverage – Why Isa? Why?
Ali Martin – Chief Cricket correspondent for the Guardian who has restored the their cricket coverage to something resembling normality after his predecessor got moved on. Still won’t meet us for a beer mind and definitely needs to do something about that beard.
Matthew Wade – Australian gob-shite whose mouth is far more talented than his ability on the cricket field. England allowed him to score 2 centuries in the Ashes to cement his place in the Aussie squad. You’re welcome Australia.
Giles Clarke – The original cockroach who has finally been turfed out of the ECB. Responsible for many of the ills befalling English Cricket.
Jofra Archer’s Twitter account – It’s all getting a bit tedious now isn’t it.
Michael Holding – Often seems more interested in what is going on in the horse racing than on the cricket field; however he brilliantly put the execs at Sunset & Vine in their place during the World Cup. One of our number met him at Lords this year and can confirm he is a top guy.
Peter Moores – Former two time England Head Coach with a penchant for nicking the best players from smaller counties. Hasn’t stopped him from being relegated twice mind. So much for the English coach of his generation. Likes data.
Ashley Giles – New Director, England Cricket. Given the benefit of the doubt as he is still new in post. Nailed on to make the list should we ever do another one.
Andrew Miller – Only to remark that one of our editorial board thinks the sun shines out of his rear end and that he should write more. Have we forgotten someone?
This list is arbitrary, unfair and the result of the four of us having to wait a few years before we could have our views expressed on certain individuals (outside of our tremendous Glossary, of course).
If you’re on the list and are offended, then good, our work is done here. If you aren’t, you are either too good, too dull or now too irrelevant for us to write about.
I have had a post on my mind for a while, and it’s never really presented an example by which to convey it accurately, (and having written the piece now, I’m still not sure I did – but stick with it). There’s a lot of stuff, random cricket stuff, that floats in the flotsam and jetsam that is now my brain. But this one has stuck with me. I have always hated the kneejerk reaction of fans – the sort that has one bad run from its football team and the manager has to go. Sport has always had winners, but for it to have winners, someone has to lose. Every time I criticise, I comment, I bemoan my team’s fortunes, am I not the same as those people. Yes, those people. As if I am not one of those people.
On my former football message board dalliances, I was always the one preaching caution and patience, of not wanting to sack the manager just as he was sacked, of knowing our place in the football firmament, at a time when there was still hope, just about, in the game. I wasn’t the impatient one with England football teams. I thought the 90s cricket team, the legendary bad years for England supposedly, mainly saw the team picked on merit, and players given opportunities, other than when Illingworth bought some half-baked, old fashioned out of date thinking to the position. I was passionate about sport, but didn’t get massively angry about it. I would not even contemplate airing opinions outside of a small cadre of like-minded supporters. and found the conflict I did encounter on that message board as something bloody scary. I didn’t think I was one of “those people”.
The stigma of being associated with kneejerk and loud opinions is that it is expected of you, and you need to play to the crowd. What’s your schtick if you aren’t coming in with some “hot take” explained at high pitch and with little to back it up? Why is my opinion the right one, and why is the man or woman being paid to make decisions always wrong, in my eyes? In the eyes of the one reacting. You don’t have the font of all wisdom, I don’t.
And you aren’t allowed to forget it. You aren’t inside cricket, so you can’t know. You don’t know the finances of the football club and how the manager works with the players he’s lumbered with, so how can you comment? What do you know? Who do YOU think you are? I genuinely thought about it like that every day of How Did We Lose In Adelaide’s existence (for those new here, or who don’t know, that was my previous blog on cricket, and was the personification of Mr Angry!). Why should I be angry? What do I know that others don’t?
This is a long intro into one selection this summer that should expose the myth that we don’t have a clue, while those highly paid experts are the font of all knowledge. Just like us, the experts are winging it, on the back of received wisdom, strategic leaks, a bit of cricket knowledge, and being a bit inside cricket. That myth was exposed in the selection of Jason Roy as a test match opener.
Jason Roy as a test opener was always a “magic beans” selection. Anyone with eyes knew he had technical difficulties against the moving ball, a decent issue with his technique and no track record of playing long innings in first class cricket. What was going to be inevitable was “experts” citing two cases. The first would be David Warner, who came into test cricket on the back of limited first class experience, and if, I recall correctly, played a T20 for Australia before he’d played for NSW. The second would be Virender Sehwag, a dashing opener, who, when conditions suited, could flay attacks to all part. These two, of course, came into test cricket on flat, batting friendly playing surfaces and reasonably benign conditions. They are also freaks. Other limited over kings like Chris Gayle or Sanath Jayasuriya were playing the long form of the game at the same time as their white ball pomp. It would be disappointing if a selection was made purely on the comparison of the two recent examples. You’d expect people paid to be pundits to just do more than that.
If Jason Roy wants a template on which to base his Test match career, he should look to his opposite number in England’s Ashes opponents this summer – David Warner.
Like Roy, Warner went from T20 cricket straight into the Test game and has made a stunning success of it – precisely because he adapted his game to the longer format. Watch Warner in a Test match now, and he doesn’t just try and whack everything. Instead, he takes his time, assesses conditions and plays the ball on its merits. Yes, he is still an attacking player, but that attitude is tempered by common sense.
Virender Sehwag was the same for India, taking the positive mindset which had served him so well in one-dayers into the Test…
Oh well. What do you expect? I’ll give you two guesses who wrote this. No analysis of Roy’s technique, no acknowledgement that when the ball moved around in the Champions Trophy, and indeed the Final, he looked lost. I love Jason Roy in one day cricket, and when he gets in on flat decks in the county championship. I really, really wanted Jason Roy to be a success, but I knew he wouldn’t be. All evidence pointed to him not being one. What possesses experts to write and speak this nonsense?
This neatly segues into the cracking piece by Simon Kuper on Ed Smith last week. There are many excerpts we could take from it. Let’s leave aside acknowledging Ed Smith’s intelligence, his confidence in himself, and his wide-ranging sources of inspiration. Let’s look at these statements in the context of selecting Jason Roy.
Anyway, he has never claimed to have the answers to selecting a winning team. All he tries to do is think hard about questions that torment the growing number of modernising decision makers in all sports. How do you select, manage and drop people? How and when to use the new mountains of data? How to build team spirit? Most basically, how to improve performance?
All this went out of the window in selecting Jason Roy. This was the ultimate “gut feel” and “ignore your eyes” and “analytics” selection. Now this is Kuper’s commentary on the interview, not Smith’s view, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, eh?
Smith says: “If you ask, ‘What is selection?’ What are the moments when your judgment diverges from what would have happened anyway? That’s what selection is.” The temptation for a clever person taking a new job is to assume that all past conventional beliefs in the field were mistaken. Dominic Cummings, adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, embodies this approach. Smith avoids it. He quotes his friend Howard Marks (the American investor, not the late Welsh drugs smuggler): “Just because most people think it’s a bad idea to stand in front of a bus and you’re a contrarian thinker, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to stand in front of a bus.” Smith adds: “If you rate yourself as someone prepared to challenge conventional wisdom, you also should know the moments when conventional wisdom is right.”
The truly interesting part about this is that who were the “most people” in the Jason Roy example? Was it the voices he was hearing from inside the camp, and from key pundits and talking heads that we’d tried “traditional” openers with no success, so we should try more attacking ones (and forget about Alex Hales and his trials). Was he the bus, or the individual standing in its way? Those who really thought about it, people like us, and took the evidence we’d seen, the way he played, the “when he comes off” feast or famine, the utter talent and bravado at ODI level he has shown no signs of reining in with success even if he could, and thought “this ain’t going to work”. Especially against a really top bowling line up the Australians possess.
Smith doesn’t mention the deeper problem: England’s squad isn’t prodigiously talented. To solve the puzzle of beating India last summer, England picked decent bowlers who could bat well enough to score runs at number seven, eight or nine. Smith says: “Lower-order runs made the difference. The solution didn’t derive from statistics. It derived from problem-solving. It was a resources question: what do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them?” Then there’s team spirit. Smith, who is dismissive of motivational buzzwords, prefers to sit in the stands watching teammates interact. “A bit pretentious, but: ‘Trust the tale, never the teller’ — DH Lawrence. The truth is in the game.
Again, this countermands any thinking behind selecting Jason Roy. What do we have and how can that add up to getting 20 wickets and more runs than them. Let’s select a batsman, who has rarely, if ever, opened in first class cricket, who has a glaring technical issue against the moving ball and a quite ineffective defensive technique going hard at the ball, who will also just try to hit out of major corners, and hope he’s Marcus Trescothick, or heaven above, Sehwag or Warner (keep quiet now). Trust the tale, never the teller. What tale did Ed Smith trust? Or, heaven above, is he just bluffing?
Yet it wasn’t enough. Arguably Smith & Co made selectorial errors, such as picking Jason Roy as an opening batsman.
Kuper leaves this little nugget to the end, and Smith does not, or was not asked, to comment.
Throughout this summer I’ve bemoaned the team we’ve had. In the middle of the piece Smith points to the structure of the Australian team of the early 2000s – six batsmen, one wicketkeeper-batsman, three seamers, one spin bowler. He then says selection then became a rank order. Was the fourth best middle-order batsman a better selection than the next cab on the rank. Was the third best seamer better than who could come in – as Lee did for, say Bichel or Kasprowicz. Here Smith gives his ideas as being getting the best players and making it work. It’s a theory, but it isn’t a particularly new one – akin to the “why don’t we pick all the great Liverpool players qualified for England in the 1980s and fill in with out other top talent.” It isn’t particularly innovative, it’s just other received wisdom, but because you wear a cravat or something. As if it damn well matters/:
This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.
There’s a great interview with Roy Keane on youtube, when he goes through how players bad mouthed him when he was Irish assistant manager. Roy Keane did not sugarcoat his contempt at all for them. He called one a “bluffer”. Great in the media, a great talker. While Keane is not without blemish, I listen to him. He comes across as someone who doesn’t sugarcoat his views, whether you like them or not. When it comes down to it, and I’ve only time to give a couple of examples, most of those out there as pundits are “bluffers”. They know as much as we do. They try to persuade you we don’t know. I’ve taken a ton of words to say your view is every bit as worthy as Michael Vaughan, who is the ultimate bluffer (and it’s his quote about Jason Roy above), and the rest. So while I’ll never lay claim to knowing the game, or knowing what it’s like to face 90 mph bowling, but knowing what it’s like outside my technical comfort zone, I won’t bluff. I’ll give my opinion, honestly held. And so should you.
I thought I’d offer a brief personal comment on the Sun and Ben Stokes. The piece today, which I know the contents of but not read, has no merit. It has no shame. It has no thought of consequence. It is not in the public interest. It is very noticeable that in Ben Stokes’ book, I don’t believe it is mentioned (if it mentions his mum being married before, I can’t recall – I read it a while back). It is an extremely horrific thing, and I can’t for the life of me understand what possessed anyone to think this was a piece that should be published. When I think of the stick given to me by journos, and yet there is a large silence by those same people on this to their colleagues, it makes me sad. I’m not comparing myself in any way to Ben Stokes’ situation – before I get some clown who thinks I am – but at reactions. It’s a complex argument, the Sun isn’t the only scumbag paper out there, but it only really has one rival for the top of that podium, but I hope that there’s an apology and a massive donation to a charity of Stokes’ choice. I shake my head at humanity, and the lack of it. I really do. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
ECB condemns The Sun over Ben Stokes story. Chief exec Tom Harrison “disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past. We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers” pic.twitter.com/L8mLjgITkW
OK. I went off one one last night. As the lagging keyboard on the laptop got worse, so my anger rose. These people, these so called guardians of the game, transient here today gone tomorrow sorts, convinced of their own views to such an extent that they couldn’t give a shit what you think, are actively floating the four day test idea. More than actively floating it, they’ve put a date on it (the year after an Ashes series). I have had a brief read of an article on Cricinfo which suggests this four day idea isn’t particularly new:
The four-day idea has been championed since 2003 by Andrew Wildblood. “Don’t be scared to fail. We’re going to die wondering if we don’t do something soon”
Andrew Wildblood? No, me neither. It seems as though he was a former senior vice-president for International Management Group. Now I wonder who worked there? Who might be in a position of power?
Tom was Senior Vice President for the leading international sports agency IMG…
Original old groupthink, eh. But importantly, according to Lawrence Booth in the Mail today, Costcutter Colin is claiming considerable credit, as he has been its champion. He consulted no-one I know of in the lead up to floating this nonsense, has not consulted anyone I know of since then, and if form goes its way, has no intention of meaningful consultancy with anyone, certainly not paying customers, before we see a final decision.
I had little hope for both these two when they came to power. Yes, Downton and Clarke are a pairing not to yearn for, in any way, but both were bumbling morons with little to suggest they were going to go headlong into a pitched battle with the existing customer base outside a difficult winter and a disinterested player. After that war, and the disaster at the 2015 World Cup both had shown the scars and were taken from the frontline. We heard plenty of nonsense, but good grief, they didn’t think they could do everything.
Harrison shows all the traits of a zealot. Graves shows all the signs of a dictator. Empowered by making the county turkeys vote for Christmas they weren’t going to stop at that. Where those who loved the ECB’s bastard child, the Blast, were labelled as obsessives by these charlatans, now we will see the term “traditionalist” used as an insult. If you quite like your five day tests, with the capacity to absorb some loss of time, to enable results on all forms of wickets, where roads have to be true roads, and still can provide some excitement, then you will gradually be filed under the Luddite category, and not being innovative, flexible or with the times. We aren’t suddenly going to get four day 420 over test matches. Leave off. We’ll get four day 360 over tests if we are lucky. We’ll make the game more exciting by having all the things that get disparaged in county games of yore. Limited first innings. Declarations of a ridiculous nature. The higher the level of the sport, the less teams are prepared to lose in the pursuit of a win, especially in an Ashes series, for example.
So let’s take a look at the quotes in the Guardian I posted last night.
ECB has no firm position on the staging of four-day Test matches. We can see benefits that more compact scheduling might deliver but are sensitive to the potential effects of any change to the traditional format. Careful consideration is required to support the right decisions for the wider game, and on-field matters are key.”
ECB does have a firm position. Both Graves and Empty Suit want them. They put the position, get the others to agree, usually with coercion and meaningless consultation and only something that might cost them their jobs can stop them. The weasel words in this are not those after the first 10. It’s the first 10. No-one I can recall, has really called for 4 day test matches. Many many more have called for a Test Championship, but somehow, some way, a format has never stuck, and ironically one of the arguments against is “what if the Final is a draw”? Well, to make that event less likely, let’s shorten the game. That should work. Hey, as soon as the Gruesome Twosome open their traps, it’s game on.
It’s not shortening test matches, it’s “compact scheduling”. Or as I call it, taking your punters for mugs. And as far as these people are concerned, they’ve already carried out their “careful consideration”. They don’t just put these things out there by chance. They get a journo, in the same stable as Shiny Toy, an advocate for all these ECB ideas, to put it out there. We have had enough experience of Nick Hoult, a top journo, to know he doesn’t make this shit up. These things seem to be done for a reason. I’d plump for kite flying.
Further consultation will therefore take place before far-reaching decisions are made. “We would welcome more insight on the effects for players and fans in order to help the game make a fully-informed decision on any proposal,” added the ECB’s spokesman. “It is important that cricket is prepared to innovate in all formats of the game where it can help drive interest, accessibility or improvement.
I’d be more impressed with your commitment to consultation if you hadn’t already flagged what you want, haven’t got a firm proposal to put to anyone on over rates, floated this two years ago, been told what was wrong with it, and still have no clue what to do, but you plough on regardless because, let’s be frank, you need your space for the new T20 competition that has hardly grabbed the imagination because we don’t really know how you intend to make it work. Meanwhile you’ve signed a massive deal with Sky who aren’t going to be too impressed if “compact scheduling” means less international cricket. So what precisely are you going to consult with us. A fait accompli from the brains of IMG, in alliance with ISM, and flogged to you by a Costcutter genius. People who are in their posts with not one vote cast by the paying public. Happy days, eh?
Also, when someone innovates and drives accessibility, my hand gets even tighter over my wallet.
Let’s finish with the final words of the ECB on this matter.
“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”
The Big Three money grab never really happened, did it?
Scheduling 15 Ashes tests in 2 years never really happened, did it?
L’Affaire Pietersen never really happened, did it?
Playing injured bowlers never really happened, did it?
If they are committed to it, Lord help us.
Actually, it’s not the end. I can’t let this lie…
Last year Graves said about four-day Tests: “Every Test match would start on a Thursday, with Thursday and Friday being corporate days and then Saturday and Sunday the family days.
There’s your sporting leader (and sounds like there’s plenty of open-mindedness), right there. Care about those corporates, let the rest fend for themselves. It’s as if the “family” days are where these keen fans can take over those wonderful corporate facilities, and stuff you ordinary Joe if you want to be there for the first two days. I can’t believe a man steeped in cricket could ever think like that. The first two days are for low-grade bribery, the last two are for the peasants. What a leader. What a clown.