2015 Dmitris #7 – Mike Selvey

Bilious Inadequates

Last year I put the whole of the UK media in to the Hall of Dmitri, so it leaves me open to start picking them off individually. So while Jim Holden’s article might have had a place all of its own, or Paul Newman might deserve true consideration for his commitment to anti-KP wordsmithing and excessive pro-Cook prose, or Stephen Brenkley could take his arslikhan to a new dimension, there is only one who can really walk through the hallowed portals this year. That man is Mike Selvey.

Often hard for journos to remember they are read by many many more people online than few bilious inadequates who dominate comment section. – Mike Selvey, 8 May 2015

During the KP business last year, Selvey was annoying because he seemed to have a firm feel on next steps in front of others, and when he didn’t, he’d been seen to bolster credentials of people who later got jobs. There was the “how Downton was an inspired appointment and he was a good and safe man on the tiller”. No-one remind him of that one, eh? Then there was how Andy Flower was the second coming, and that the 2013-14 Ashes debacle really could’t be pinned on him. How about his wailing against the dismissal of Graham Gooch, gnashing his teeth at players who had stopped listening to him as if that was all he needed to do – talk? But most of all it was the proposing, repeatedly, of Peter Moores as the obvious choice to replace Flower. He was unshakeable in his contention, firm in his belief. Not forgetting, of course, how he was good friends with our bowling coach in the face of evidence that our bowling was regressing alarmingly, maintaining support as you would for a friend (and that still rears its head – see “the enforcer” comments which, as our readers showed, came from Saker and weren’t a “media construct”).

So the judgement is sound, but what got worse is that as these contentions looked more and more ridiculous, Selvey got more and more hardline, and that has upset a lot of readers on here. It’s easy for me because I’ve never really liked him as a writer or broadcaster, but to see people on here who thought he was a top journo and a decent TMS man turn on him was revelatory. When it came to the crunch, after a debacle of an Ashes series, Selvey, writing for the putatively sceptical of authority Guardian, revelled in the role of the Company Man. A more loyal scribe to the powers that be you could not find.

This year he has grated on the commenters on this blog like no other. He has made his position abundantly clear. He has no time for the likes of us. Hence the bye-line on the blog. We are “bilious inadequates”, “vile ignoramuses” or “social media zealots”. I’m not asking for an invitation to the Cricket Writers Christmas Shindig, but what I am looking for is someone who is there to represent all shades of cricket supporter, not just those who think the sun shines out of the ECB’s backsides. Because if you are looking for critical dissemination of the running of England cricket, you’ll be seeing Selvey’s heels, but anyone upsetting the applecart will get it with both barrels. I’ll let others determine the motivation, because there is one major theory doing the rounds.

So this year he is our journalist emeritus idioticus for a number of reasons. Contempt is top of the list. Now I get people will not exactly invite their critics in for a cup of tea, but Selvey’s attitude is remarkably dismissive. I have looked at this post a lot (it was originally going to be the third Dmitri, but I wanted to be fair) and can understand being riled by nonsense. But I don’t think he’s tackled by stupid people.

There was this quote around the time of Moores’ dismissal:

Too many people here do not understand how journalism works. And too many look for conspiracy where there is none. And do you seriously think we would give up the sources of our stories? Get real, as Farage once said.

There’s that theme again. “You don’t know how journalism works” as if the securing of information is some sort of complex, unsolveable equation that only those with the special gift can solve. Your job entails watching cricket, analysing cricket, listening to anodyne press statements and indulge in gossip and intrigue to find out what is happening as background. How you do it and who your sources are is your stock-in-trade, and probably requires you to be slightly ruthless but also not backward in coming forward. But to me, the only special skill you need over the likes of us is the ability to develop contacts while not betraying them. So save that £5 for the first pint, journos. If they really mean keeping in with the ECB while maintaining enough of a link to provide stories, then that’s not a skill I’d be singing about.

But the last part of his dismissal above sums up how far up their own arses some have gone. “Do you think we would give up the sources” he wails. What the fuck is this? Nuclear secrets? Industrial espionage? It’s bloody gossip and it relates to the future of OUR England team, not some cosy cabal of journalistic purveyance to maintain THEIR relevance. For without the backstories, they become us with a paid ticket in a shady stand. No wonder they wail when people try to pin them down on who stabbed who in the back in OUR team…. without their “access” it’s Wizard of bleedin’ Oz time. They would be virtually irrelevant.

The piece could go into many things this year, but to me two items really summed up Selvey’s year of antagonism and they are:

The Attitude to the issues raised in Death of a Gentleman – Selvey made, it seemed, a virtue out of the fact that a cricket correspondent for a major national newspaper did not bother to watch a film which tried to expose the workings of international cricket (as he revealed on CWOTV). Now, whether he thinks Sam and Jarrod are a couple of chancers who love to indulge in conspiracy theories, the sort of which Selvey would never indulge in, is by the by. It’s the sort of story the Guardian should be lapping up. Potentially corrupt officials governing an international sport in naked short-term, corrosive self interest. To our shame our board is part of this disgrace. Our toffee-nosed, dismissive, disgraceful ex- ECB head, who manouevred himself into the role of our international representative has committed these acts in our name. An important, widely discussed in cricket circles film is out there, and he’d not even watched it? If that is acceptable to you, fine. I think it’s pretty shoddy. As I said above, there are reasons out there that seek to explain this nonsense. Let them stand until they are disproved. On the key topics he seems to have reasonably well developed views. He’s clear that the Olympics won’t work, instead of seeing the massive advantages of trying to do so – that seems remarkably similar to another key individual – and talks the way he does to anyone who disagrees.

Adil Rashid – I have not seen anything like it. Selvey has been waging a one man campaign against Adil’s selection the likes of which is unprecedented in my memory. That any number of 80 mph trundlers have been selected for overseas tours that were going to be played on flat decks with a Kookaburra ball passes with little comment, but a leggie with success in county cricket who bowls under 50 mph is beyond the pale? I may be being unfair, but really? If you’ve been told once that he bowls too slowly, then you’ve been told dozens of times. No-one here believes that Adil is the answer to our spinning woes, but we should at least give him a try. He can spin the ball, the wrong way for many English players, and he can also hold a bat (as he proved when nearly saving the Dubai test). But he was briefed against:

There is a view, though, one held within the England set-up, that Rashid bowls too slowly for Test cricket where the demands of batsmen are not to try to score at seven an over with fielders round the boundary.

and…

There are also doubts about how comfortable he would be in a Test environment.

Although I am struggling to find the smoking gun at present, I do believe he was also scathing about his injury at the time of the Lord’s test. But that one above is just odd. Who had those doubts? Why are they telling you? Why are you putting this out there?

Then there was the Abu Dhabi collapse by Pakistan which Selvey put down to him increasing his pace (not discernibly, according to my scribes here). It has been a bizarre campaign against a new player to the squad (relatively). I have no idea what this is about.

Selvey’s dismissive attitude towards his critics is, in some ways perfectly understandable. There’s been quite a few sightings recently of “he’s a good bloke, really” statements by people we speak to and read. They are aware how a group of people feel about him. The censoring of comments to his articles, the wonderful responses to tweets, all the received wisdom and sniffiness. Of course, he doesn’t care. Why should he? All I can say is that I read the Guardian a lot less now, due to him.

I have a huge amount of anger towards the press corps, yes for Pietersen, but also for what they did in 2014 to prop up a corrosive, rotten edifice because of reasons they’ve never quite explained, but no doubt will form a chapter in the elusive tome “How Cricket Journalism Works”. The anger is derived from that, it will take a long time to go away, if, indeed, it ever does. This year Selvey gets the nomination, aided by Pringle’s demotion to virtual irrelevance and Newman winding his neck in. The readers here are the reason why – as I said, I try not to read too much of what these people say now, but I’ve seen enough – because they feel let down.

No doubt this will be filed away as another attack. I think there are messages in there. But hey, they don’t really care. Why would they? We just want to be them, don’t we?

So Selvey wins the Dmitri. That is all.

 

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2015 Dmitris #6 – Andrew Strauss

The next Dmitri is awarded to someone who has, in many ways, defined the England cricket year. On his appointment to replace the incompetent Paul Downton, Andrew, Strauss took the bull by horns, sacked Peter Moores, canned KP and brought in the coach no-one thought was a serious candidate. He set in train a number of events that meant this was a memorable year for the game in England, but also showed that a number of key principles had been put in place.

Strauss Motivator

That Andrew, Strauss has had an eventful year would be a little bit of an understatement. After his retirement from the England cricket team in 2012, he walked into the Sky commentary box for the 2013 Ashes and beyond, and proved pretty much why he should have stuck to the playing side. In a box that contained lightweights like Knight and bores like Warne and Botham, he just did not carve a niche. His whole time in the commentary box was overshadowed when he called a certain someone a certain word when he thought he was off air. In a taste of things to come, the press came to his aid, like Walter Raleigh for Good Queen Bess, and the whole thing was laughed off. Sure, he apologised, but it did rather paint a picture, didn’t it?

When my main source of comedy material was booted out after the World Cup, there became a little bit of a beauty parade to see who might fill the mighty Downton’s boots. Would it be Shiny Toy Vaughan, with his snap judgments, his greatest ever addiction and his “lad” persona on Twitter? Would it be Alec Stewart, a man who carried out the job on offer at Surrey, with a continuous role in the game, gravitas and respect? No, of course not. It was always going to be Strauss. He’d have taken the job at the time Downton took over, but they thought it was too soon. It was Strauss from the moment Downton was ditched. There was no suspense…..

When he was appointed I thought immediately “KP – gone”. While they had appeared to have papered over the cracks in 2012, the bon mot on Sky said that was a lie. I’ve had an independent source confirm to me that the divide runs very deep. That’s not exactly a world exclusive. So when KP scored that 355* there was no doubt it wouldn’t change Strauss’s mind. So while many of us still have grave problems with the way the decision was made, the justification for it, and the premise it was based on (we will not pick our team on merit alone, but on personality and held grudges), it would be unfair to say that’s the only thing he’s done. And I don’t mean the shambolic sacking of Peter Moores, which gave Strauss an early peek at how things work in the ECB Media world. To be fair to them, they’ve tightened up that aspect considerably this year.

Newman Markings
Newman needed convincing on a bit, but clear on his bete noire

Strauss’s clear best move was appointing Trevor Bayliss, which, in hindsight should have been done last year instead of the Moores Mistake. Bayliss has had an immediate impact on the ODI team, so that we have an invigorating, exciting bunch playing cricket we could only dream of. Eoin Morgan’s retention as captain has also been a major plus for Strauss, because received wisdom was that Joe Root would take it on as a dress rehearsal for the big job in a year or so’s time. Under Morgan, Bayliss and Farbrace, faith has been put in Hales and Roy, who both made their maiden ODI hundreds this year, given free rein to Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in the middle order, and allowed Jos Buttler to do his thing knowing he has hitters around him. The bowling looks more tricky, but if the batting is this lethal, some sins can be covered. Strauss has made this a priority and short term rewards have ensued. It does look, though, as if some long-term strategies are now in place, with key players not too old, and a modus operandi being developed for English conditions. That future is bright.

His bonus came in the form of an Ashes win. Now we’ve had some varying opinions on here about this series and its true relevance. The diehard England fan, the sort that thinks this blog is an abomination, believes this to be one of the great triumphs of the modern era, and I’ve even seen it suggested (by one muppet who seems to have disappeared) that it was better than 2005. Those of a more sceptical lean are quick to point out that pitches outside of London were made to suit our attack, and in some cases, to an unfair degree. It is a debate that will linger. To me there should be a balance to the wickets, and that home conditions should be an advantage but not a decisive one. To that degree, although it was slagged off, Cardiff was the best pitch of the series. However, the view of many was that the condition of the wickets were dictated by the ECB and possibly Strauss. He denied it, but there was that thought that England had stacked the deck. I’m not so sure, and even if I was, I’m not so sure I care that much except that no test went five days. Some barely made it to the half-way stage. That can’t be right.

But winning the Ashes gave Strauss important breathing room, an argument to counter the pro-KP faction (there still isn’t a coherent one for not picking him for the T20 team) and the media did their thing by anointing Mr Mindflick as a genius, pouring on aplomb, genuflecting to his genius. Strauss has had a good first year in charge, of that there can be no doubt, but the success of the test team other than the Ashes, and certainly away from home remains elusive. The batting is in a mess, the bowling too dependent on two bowlers with many miles on the clock, the keeper not nailed down, no spin bowler standing up to be counted and no real bright shining lights in sight. They’ve now seen off Bell, and it remains to be seen what happens next. So while the ODI side is full of hope, the test team is a massive work in progress, and quite frankly, not as good away from home as the sum of its parts. An Ashes win, as odd as it was, will only go so far. Strauss has a lot of work to do, but there is no doubt he’s been an integral part of much of this year.

2015 Dmitri #5 – Steve Smith

Note – this was written before Christmas.

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Dmitri Number Five celebrates an overseas cricketer who made an impact on me this year. There were a number, including Kane Williamson, who has had an amazing year by anyone’s standards, AB DeVillers for the sheer verve of his batting and the skills he brings, and given my love of West Indian cricket, I was particularly pleased to see Jason Holder’s maiden test hundred, although the body and weight of his work has a long way to go to match those above.

However, I have to give this Dmitri to Steve Smith. On a personal level, I was there when he completed his double hundred at Lord’s, so in that sense his batting had a direct impact on me, but also the fact that he would deliver regularly for his team, including the greatness of scoring a 199! He scores quickly, with a hand-eye co-ordination to die for, despite having a technique only his mother could love. He has taken over the Australian captaincy without missing a beat, being the key man to dismiss and with a steely ruthlessness that our own Iron Man can only envy.

This won’t be a long piece. Smith is accused of being a bit flaky outside off stump, and has attracted the ire of some of our press corps already. Many of them committed Smith to the dustbin of irrelevance as the Aussies picked him in the fateful 2010/11 Ashes team, where he was derided for a poor technique and seen as being more there for his leg spin bowling. In 2013 he made his first hundred at The Oval, having made an important score at Old Trafford in support of Michael Clarke. In the following series he was also there to make crucial hundreds to win test matches, a very decent habit he gets himself in to. The double at Lord’s this time around, and his hundred at The Oval were key in winning both games. In between that he feasted on Indian bowling in the last test series, had a decent World Cup, took major runs off South Africa in their last ODI series and became Australia’s main man.

There was a large groundswell of support from certain sites and Twitter personalities for Smith that, frankly, I didn’t get. Probably not hipster enough. But his performances this year have been exciting, mountainous, and combined with the captaincy, inspirational. We may not take too kindly to some of his mannerisms – he is quite abrasive, it seems, as captain as evidenced by the Stokes incident – but he’s a fine player who played for the World Champions. Congratulations came from many quarters as he won the ICC Player of the Year award. This pales into insignificance compared to a Dmitri, I know.

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Two Dmitris in One Shot

Let me explain, just for the record, that I’m not measuring the greatest performances, but someone who impacted on me the most. Many will say Kane Williamson, and they would not be wrong, but Smith’s reaction to and performances after the Philip Hughes tragedy, and the way he’s gone about his business since swayed me. Kane’s century last weekend made the decision tighter, but I’d already made up my mind. Steve Smith gets the second International Dmitri Award, following Brendon McCullum.

After I wrote this piece, Smith moved to the top of the run-scoring charts for the calendar year with a candy-from-a-baby hundred against West Indies. Redemption for the selection!

2015 Dmitri #4 – Peter Moores

I’ve been absent for a bit, what with it being Christmas and all that, so I think I owe it to you to produce a couple more Dmitris for the end of year round-up. This one takes us back to the first half of the year and his role in a couple of the major talking points in the opening round for Being Outside Cricket. As Paul Downton was on the list last year, he can’t make it in for this, so instead it will be the man he called, with many remarking at the time how impressive he was in so doing, “the greatest coach of his generation”. Dmitri number four is Peter Moores.

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History, it is said, is written by the winners. And in the case of Peter Moores re-appointment, several key people who, shall we say, were glad to see the back of KP, set about rehabilitating the past reputation of the best coach in county cricket over the last decade or so. His triumphs at Lancashire were lauded as if this were Sir Alex Ferguson (who was a crap international coach too) at the helm, while the relegation the year after they won it all was consigned to the “forgotten” pile. His time in England colours was to be remembered for the great talents he brought on, not for the losing series or the problems motivating players for which one man carried the can (and the strength of that contempt from others was evident in the manner of Moores’ dismissal). By the time the likes of Selvey had had their say, with plenty of evidence of “good journalism” to help him along the way, it would have been mad not to appoint him. To be fair to John Etheridge, he pointed out at the time that the reappointment lacked credibility. Still, we were trusting a World Cup to him. We were trusting an Ashes series to him.

The appointment was greeted reasonably favourably. It was seen as a chance for redemption, to give Moores the proper go at the big competitions that he’d been denied previously. And that was the tone, he’d been denied, as if there were no choice but to sack him the first time around because of HIM. It was all nonsense of course, and Moores was back because (a) he was a decent coach and (b) he would have no trouble not picking HIM.

This isn’t a piece to berate Peter Moores. Everything about the bloke in his public utterances and the way he conducted himself, especially during the shameful events of his humiliating sacking, indicates he is a class act as a person. But he wasn’t an England cricket coach to take us forward. He was a useful interim while the ECB sorted out the post-HIM wastelands. Seen as a nurturer of talent, he was given a number of new players, in the fresh and exciting era, to bring on. The fact that none have really gone on to greater things has to be a worry, but while we were beating India 3-1, objectivity in both the media and the blogosphere was in short supply. Ballance was Whitaker’s poster-child, there was an almost unhealthy obsession with Chris Jordan, who looks like a slightly less good Phil DeFreitas to me, and Moeen Ali may always be the nearly man. Jos Buttler started well and faded. The ODI cricket was going nowhere as Alastair Cook stuck out like a sore thumb as opener. There was muddled thinking, horrendous days (Day 4 at Headingley…) and some baffling press stuff.

But why Moores for a Dmitri? Well, the World Cup comes around every four years, and this was his go at it. We went out before the quarter-finals, losing to every test nation we met. The scale of these defeats were monstrous. Australia annihilated us in the first match of the Australian section of the competition. James Taylor, who’d looked solid at 3, was demoted to 6 and made runs, while Ballance, who’d busted his hand in the lead up, looked out of his depth at 3. The loss to New Zealand was awful. A total rout, losing with what, 35 or so overs to spare (226 balls to be precise)? Then came Sri Lanka where England patted themselves on the backs for making over 300, and then watched the islanders cruise to total victory. Finally, the loss to Bangladesh, chasing a total we probably should have got, but collapsing under fear and pressure. A punchers chance, they said at the start of the tournament? We knocked ourselves out.

England head coach Peter Moores

At this point I think we knew that Moores was not going to last.The ECB were in a period of flux as Clarke was being shunted upstairs, Collier had a replacement in professional Tim Westwood body-double Tom Harrison, and reviews threatened. Graves said what he said (yes, a throwaway line according to Alec Swann), and there was a febrile atmosphere. Harrison had Downton on his way, but Moores was left to win a test series in the West Indies with the medicore tag ringing in his ears.

A drawn test series against the mediocre West Indies sealed his fate it seemed, but I have a feeling Strauss’s antipathy to his coaching techniques would have done it anyway. When the ECB were cleaning house, and brushing out the Downton from the cupboard below the stairs, it was easy to claim a clean break and relieve the coach of his duties. Except the new man couldn’t keep his trap shut, the information got out there (was it Moores’ agent, was it Nick Knight – I was in the US at the time) and Peter Moores had to endure a day I’d wish on no-one. Saying sorry never really felt like it was enough, because he’d had to run an England team while others were almost laughing at him. The ECB probably reached its nadir that weekend, because HIM made a big score soon after and leaked that out too.

When Downton got his marching orders (after a frankly bizarre reaction to the World Cup exit which actually sounded like a “please sack me because I’m out of my depth” plea) and Strauss replaced him (albeit with a comma) Moores was out. Strauss had made no secret in his autobiography, carefully worded as it was, that he didn’t think much of Moores as a coach (the only time he was dropped as a player was under Moores – any coincidence?) and sure enough he pulled the trigger. I am accused, constantly, of being obsessed by HIM, but it spoke volumes that Strauss did to Moores exactly what HIM did, yet…..

Moores went back to county cricket, assisted Nottinghamshire and got hugely favourable reviews, and he will probably go on to do what he does best. Raise young county cricketers and gel them as a team with technical skills. When you get to international level coaching, that doesn’t appear to be enough these days.

I’m convinced that an English coach will never succeed in major international sport, because, by their nature, they’ve not gone overseas, and they don’t have that charisma or gravitas. Peter Moores was the victim of the HIM putsch, not the beneficiary. His record first time around replicated. His reputation the same as before – good county coach, found wanting at the top level. The collective brains of the outfit thought they could reinvent the wheel. Sell us the same goods, but with experience. Peter Moores was chewed up and spat out. He was Downton’s folly. Bayliss has proved how lacking he was, especially at limited overs cricket. It wasn’t all his fault, as the selectors for the World Cup ballsed it up, but he didn’t exactly provide the data to keep him on.

More Dmitris to follow…..

2015 Dmitris – Number Three – Death of a Gentleman (Kimber/Collins)

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In essence this is a really simple one. Probably the most important cricket film in our lifetimes, one that tried to at least have a stab at getting to the power-brokers and making other journalists sit up and listen to what some of us social media zealots had been banging on about since the Big Three carve up, and which slowly but surely is setting the narrative on what is happening in the world game today.

Jarrod and Sam, who both TLG and I can speak to freely, which is pretty nice of them, are every bit as deserving of the good journo award as George was last year. They are not your typical reporters. Jarrod, in particular, has always been one that has intrigued me. His is a bloggers style taken that extra mile that is beyond nearly all of us. His piece, for example, on the beaten England team at Sydney was a masterpiece, capturing the spirits of a defeated army better than the sniping, leak-driven, agenda-laden bog paper our media was serving up. He was also the journo responsible for the reading out of the Top 10 Worst Journalists poll to the press corps at the Sri Lanka tests. He gets the blogging mentality because he is one. He recognises the fandom we have, that that is a positive energy for the sport, not one to be derided, abused, ignored or treated with contempt. So while a Selvey will sneer, or a Bunkers go into a paroxsym of Cookie worship, Jarrod is sniping around the edges.

I was fortunate to be allowed to see Death of a Gentleman early. It was an interesting film, and probably Sam and Jarrod would admit that it isn’t perfect. But what it is is a reminder of how test cricket exists for no real logical reason now. Sure, the Ashes might sell, as might an India v Pakistan match-up, but little else matters. The all-consuming T20 expansion around the globe is seen as a threat, but the film argues it shouldn’t be. It highlights what test cricket meant to Ed Cowan, and that a number of other players see it that way too. But then it turned to the governance of the game, and the film got to its main point.

Sports bodies around the world are viewed with suspicion. I think the term is “a toxic brand”. Collins and Kimber bring that toxicity to the screen. Interviewing Clarke should come with a Hazardous Material warning, while Wally Edwards probably told them to foxtrot oscar. Srini avoided every question that might tie him down. While they might not have found the smoking gun, what they did find were rooms with a huge smell of discharged bullets. The biggest of them all was being left outside the meeting rooms, given short shrift by the security guards, and fed platitudes by the press officers.

While some of the key players, well, I mean Srini really, are not in the picture any more, the evidence Jarrod and Sam needed is coming out. Tim Wigmore is doing massively good work (keep that up and he’s in the running for next year) in highlighting the plight of the associates. Peter Miller and Andrew Nixon are two vociferous associate defenders. The game’s concentration, rather than widening is disheartening to all. While countries treat test matches like the last thing they want to play, there are loads of countries dying to give it a try. It’s a nonsense.

But let’s put it this way. They made Giles Clarke look even worse than we thought he was. That is a stupendous achievement. They have continued to fight the good fight, taking the film to Australia, holding a demonstration outside The Oval, continuing to keep the film in the public eye. The mainstream British media have done little to highlight the film since (with some notable exceptions) and certain senior journalists have not even cast their eye over it, or been major defenders of the ECB in their own lovely way.

So for the efforts to bring the dark arts of cricket administration under the scrutiny of the media, the cricketing public and anyone who might actually give a stuff how our sport is run, I am giving a Dmitri to Jarrod and Sam for their excellent Death of A Gentleman. Available on Amazon etc, and very recommended. My heartfelt thanks for all the work they have done.

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Dmitri Award Number 2 – 355*

 

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It was either Tickers or Miller who said that Kevin Pietersen was the greatest ever exponent of the “Fuck You” innings. There was the infamous 149, full of anger, full of bravado, full of full blown confidence. That’s a legendary knock. But there’s nothing quite like timing your career best, the fourth highest score ever made at The Oval, the second highest by a Surrey player to coincide with Andrew Strauss’s annointment as the Director Comma. I think if you had to put something forward for a Dmitri, that dominated the landscape of the blog, that fuelled a record month of hits, then to leave out this innings would not be right. As I said in my previous post, it’s time to be true to what I think the blog should be, and not what others want me to write.

Kevin Pietersen still dominates the landscape. Even today he’s playing in a T20 Final in South Africa, and although he failed today, he was the story of the early stages with back-to-back hundreds. It was KP in a nutshell (I apologise). Selvey called him a fruitfly back in the day, but it’s not Pietersen’s job to make things cosy for the powers that be and their enablers in the print and TV media. It is not his job to be quiet. He is playing T20 cricket and that’s so depressing. Because on that day back in May, we saw what he could do. He was dropped a few times, it wasn’t the strongest of opposition, but he was doing as he thought he was told. Go out and score runs in county cricket. He did. 355 of them.

I was in the States at the time. I’d managed to buy a £15 data roaming card which gave me around 500MB data. I’d started the day following the increasing level of his score as we drove up the Parkway to Atlantic City. I have to say I was chuckling heartily. I could sense the bile of those who loathed him from 3500 miles away. You could hear the nonsensical arguments to decry the innings. They had a spectacularly bad tempered Dominic Cork to hide behind if they so wished. But you don’t ignore triple hundreds. You just don’t. This innings made a statement. Pietersen could still bat, so it put to bed that magnificent nonsense that people were putting out there that he was finished. It left them now with the only line left – England would not be picking on cricketing merit. They would be using other criteria, as if any sentient being believed otherwise. The fig leaf was removed. Note – next highest scorer in that innings was 36. By some muppet called Sangakkara!

If KP had not made that innings, then he could have trundled on, and the can could have been booted down the street. “He’s not making enough runs, and he’s at Division 2 level. There are no vacancies in the middle order.” The elephant in the room always was that KP couldn’t be allowed back in because too many people would have been wrong. By making 326 not out at stumps that day, he’d rammed the nonsense back down their throats. “Not enough runs?” Well…..

History has treated Strauss kindly after this decision. An Ashes win was the end justifying the means. The ODI renaissance paints a youthful verve rather than a look-back to past times. But the test batting is now an effing mess, and the only trust we have is in Dmitri #1 to keep the middle order in any reasonable functioning order.

But let me tell you what it did for this blog in May. Being Outside Cricket had its record day, week and month. Pietersen is box office. Those who come here to snark on their own little private echo chambers know this. I know it. I know of people who are sick that they didn’t go to the Oval that day. I know of people who are glad to see the back of him, finally. But what you can’t deny that he is a compelling cricketer. The 355 runs he made in May set up the Director Comma era, and there will be more of that later….

So, as, under my own silly rules, I can’t put KP in, the number 355 will be put into the Dmitri Award annals…..

Here are some interesting links on that time….

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/15/statement-of-the-oblivious/ — on Colin Grave’s pathetic justification.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/13/a-matter-of-life-and-trust/ – TLG’s wonderful piece on matters Strauss

and this line…

“That Pietersen has been treated dreadfully is a given even amongst those who are not remotely his fans – and let’s nail this particular straw man argument right here, there are a tiny number of people who are proper, out and out Pietersen fans.  Most of the others are England fans who may or may not think the side would be better with him in it, but believe a team should be selected from its best players, and who know a stitch up when they see one.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/12/trust-1/ – On Trust. We’ll be looking at that in due course.

https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2015/05/12/strauss-press-conference-live-blog/ – TLG’s behemoth post (most hit this year) on the press conference.

So – 355*. Dmitri Award #2.

The First 2015 Dmitri – Joe Root

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Joe Root – Lord’s 2015 – A Dmitri Pic

It needs to be stressed up front. These “awards” are not to be confused with “Player of the Year” awards because there’s an additional unquantifiable criteria that I want to bring in. That said, you’d need to put a pretty good case against Joe being our player of the year. He’s vital across all formats, he has a joy about him when he’s playing the game, he’s a right royal pain in the arse for the opposition, and no person can deny that he has a rock-like temperament. The main problem, if it is one, is that Joe Root is taken for granted.

The Joe Root story goes back (for me) to his county season before he broke into the team. The ageing World #1 outfit were going to need fresh blood to put pressure on the middle order. But the most urgent need, as Andrew Strauss was struggling for form, was for an opener. Yorkshire appeared to have one. A young kid banging out big scores at the top of the order for his county, playing on the mythically difficult Headingley wicket. It was second division cricket, which wasn’t used against him, but 700+ runs at an average comfortably over 40 indicated a real talent. A 222 not out at Southampton, out of a score of 350 for 9, indicated an appetite for big runs, and especially when the pressure was on him. He was on the radar.

His debut for England came under intense pressure. Brought in for the 4th test, with England 2-1 up, it was not an easy position for him to enter the fray. It might have been a good wicket to start you career – a road that tested the batsman’s patience rather than technique – but it was 119 for 4, and he was to lose KP very soon after. No worries – 130-odd for 5 on a dead deck, trying to keep the series in our hands. The temperament shown was exemplary. He dug in, he put on 103 with Matt Prior, and made a hugely impressive 73 in 289 minutes. In his first game, he’d played a massive part in saving a series. After the match Vic Marks wrote of his selection:

Root knew that he was going to play 24 hours before the match began. The day before that the England think-tank had watched him carefully in the nets, noting that he played an assortment of respectable Indian spinners exclusively with the middle of his bat. That net may have convinced them to take the plunge and to select Root for this vital Test – ahead of Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan. Having come to their decision against the expectation of all those on the outside, what did they say to him? “They just said I was playing,” explained Root. “They didn’t say why.

He has had travails since then (all players d0), over the 10 tests against Australia he was moved up to open, then dropped to three, before being dropped entirely, and a 180 apart (which is the anchor point for Root Maths because he was let off very early by Haddin) at Lord’s, questions were asked. But a return to the side in 2014 brought a double hundred at Lord’s, more big scores against India (all three of his hundreds that summer were unbeaten) and suddenly the man we were questioning was now the anchor of the middle order, batting at 5. Given another go at Australia overseas, I think most people believe he’ll be a much finer player than the one on the 2013-14 disaster.

This summer his contributions in the middle order were vital. In fact, I’m not sure “vital” does it justice. His 98 and 84 at Lord’s kept England afloat in that tumultuous first test at Lord’s, with the 98 impressive because of the enormous pressure England were under (and why I rate Stokes’s innings in the first better than the second -although I realise that’s a personal choice) in the match. Without that Root and Stokes fightback, the summer may have turned out totally differently. His 134 in the first innings at Cardiff played a part in laying the Johnson bogeyman to rest (allied with the wicket) and allowed England to post an extremely competitive score, and his 60 in the second innings allowed us to post a large target. His 63 in the first innings at Edgbaston was important to allow England to post a sizeable lead when his cheap early dismissal may have put us in strife. His 38 not out to take us home against a small target was also not to be underestimated. As Joe went so did we. His innings of the year candidate at Trent Bridge, on a wicket Australia had been dismissed on for 60, when he made 124 by the close in quick-fire style had pretty much sealed the Ashes. It was fitting that it should be him to do so.

Joe is also a fine part of an attractive ODI team, playing the role of the relentless accumulator with the big shot, in amongst the pyrotechnics of Roy, Hales, Morgan and Buttler. You almost take him for granted now, yet we would not want to be without him. He’s a T20 player of some class too and will be a part of our World Cup line-up. As I’ve said, he’s easily taken for granted. His 182 not out was largely forgotten in Grenada due to Jimmy’s last day heroics, but was immense, class, ruthless and brilliant. 8 test hundreds before he is 25, 6 ODI tons in the same period, a 90 not out in a T20 showing he can take to international attacks in that format. Even his UAE experience wasn’t too shabby. No hundreds but two good matches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai where he wasn’t dismissed below 70, was followed up by a poor one in Sharjah. That his standards are so high meant we were disappointed.

I like to start off with a positive Dmitri and I have nothing but praise for the way Root keeps that England middle order afloat. In the ODI team he is a part of the puzzle, in the test team, he’d be the missing piece if he wasn’t there. We’ve put a lot of weight on his shoulders, look to put more on him by making him test vice-captain and FEC, and ascending to the top post has had bad long-term effects for all who take it on. His off spin is not to be taken lightly, but his back may restrict how many times he is able to turn his arm over. He looks the popular leader on the field, the leader of the foot soldiers rather than pure officer class. He’s had off-field run ins with oppo players. He’s a pest on the field. Without him, certainly in tests, we’re bang in trouble.Look at five of our six losses this calendar year – 33&1 in Bridgetown, 0&1 at Leeds, 1&17 at Lord’s, 6&11 at The Oval, 4&6 at Sharjah (only Dubai, with twin 50s saw him succeed in a losing cause) – where his failure has played a key part in losses. In tests England did not lose this calendar year, the lowest score he was dismissed for was….59!!!!!

But he’s our man. And he is the first of this year’s Dmitris.

The Dmitris – 2015

Those of you with me last year will remember my awards at the end of the year called “The Dmitris”. Last year there were 10 in my initial Hall of Fame, who got in there for all sorts of reasons. The main thing that gets you in is that you had to play an important part in my blogging year, been a main subject, a top player, a good writer, a bad writer, an inspiration or a source of despair.

While I had 10 inductees last year, there won’t be that many this year. I have six in mind already. You can only go in as an individual on one occasion – so you people who think all I do is talk about KP or Cook are fine, they are both in already – but you can enter as part of a collective and as an individual.

Last year’s 10 were:

1. George Dobell. For services to keeping us sane with proper cricket reporting.

So, all cricketing journalists are in play because they were all included in number 8. The only one who won’t be in is George Dobell.

Happy to hear your views, but at the end, this is my choice. I have been known to be influenced.

Thought I’d add last year’s acceptance response from George Dobell.

https://dmitrihdwlia.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/the-dmitris-1-george-dobell/#comment-9293

Thanks for this. It’s hugely appreciated. Probably far more than I should let on.

There maybe a couple of reasons for that. Firstly it’s a long time since I won anything. That under-7 Scripture essay prize really is some time ago. And while I did win a fast bowling cup about 20 years ago, the gloss was slightly tarnished when it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

But mostly it’s gratifying to be recognised by the people I’m writing for: spectators; cricket lovers. You know the ones: the fleeced, patronised and taken for granted. Whenever cricket’s ‘stakeholders’ are considered and consulted, it is the spectators who are over-looked. But where are the players, the media, the sponsors and the administrators without them? The ‘outside cricket’ comment, you may recall, was made in a statement not just from the ECB, but from the PCA as well.

It’s been a tricky year in some ways but this is a welcome reminder of the reasons to KBO as Churchill would have put it. Thank you. Sincerely, thank you.

Class!