I Had Some Dreams, They Were Clouds In My Coffee

21st November 2002. Adelaide. After a chastening first test defeat at Brisbane, the England Ashes tour moved to Adelaide. So had I. On my first visit to watch England overseas it was time for the last leg of the most amazing holiday. Day 1 at Adelaide, after the awful queues and mix-up over tickets, was lit up by an innings of unimagined brilliance. Michael Vaughan slipped the gears, flowed beautifully, took advantage of short square boundaries and made 177 magnificent runs. To be there was a privilege. Hell, for a day at least it even gave us a little hope, although we were disappointed he was out from the last ball of the day. If cricket is entertainment, then Vaughan was the main show for England. Sure he’s made a couple of 190s against India in the preceding summer. This was the Ashes, my Ashes, and I had an England hero to be proud of. He even stood straight faced as he did not walk and pissed Justin Langer off. That was a win-win as far as I was concerned.

24th November 2002. Adelaide. The game is over. Despite Vaughan adding a decent 40-odd in the second innings, Ricky Ponting has been made man of the match. The Barmy Army, based by the scoreboard at Adelaide Oval sing “Michael Vaughan, My Lord, Michael Vaughan” in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. How could the adjudicators not watch that innings and put it above Ponting’s? A minor quibble.

12th September 2005. London. After that successful Ashes, where he made two more big hundreds, Vaughan ascended to the captaincy and pointed England in the right direction, making them more ruthless in association with the development of a couple of key weapons. There was the rampage through 2004. A win in South Africa, and then the coup de grace. Winning the Ashes in front of amazed crowds, with a team that should be remembered for all time. They winged it a bit, arguably did not win in their most dominant performance (Old Trafford), but come the final day the series was in the balance. This amazing Day 5 will, or at least should, never be forgotten. A man playing to his captain’s orders saved the day. England celebrated. Vaughan was seen as a genius, a man able to get the best out of his team, to make it gel, and together with Duncan Fletcher, a team that played exciting attacking cricket, with a team of stars and artisans.

Michael Vaughan, for a couple of years, was the star of English cricket. He had become the world number 1 batsman after a run of form so magical it was scarcely believable. While his batting paid the price in the wake of his appointment as captain, he proved himself to be tactically astute, an infuser of confidence, a beacon of control. He did, also, have a really good bowling attack which, after 2005, never played together in full again. I bought his books, bad as they were. I watched the videos time and again. I still have his 177 in full, I think, converted to DVD. Being there for that was incredible. There was such confidence in his strokeplay, such clean hitting, and confidence. That was what struck out at me, his confidence. While Hussain pottered about at the other end, scratching runs here and there, Vaughan was playing a different game.

Fast forward 15 years since then, 12 years since those Ashes, and the picture could hardly be more different. I’ll wager that the England cricket supporters on here would not have had a bad word said about Vaughan after 2005. In hindsight, and with the benefit of what we know now, Vaughan’s role as a captain may even be questioned, such has been the body of evidence post career of insensitivity, stupidity and downright nonsense uttered from our ex-captain that you wonder how he could lead. When we look at Sky, and I am not a fan of many of them, at least ex-captains Hussain and Atherton grip you with what they say. Nass may go off the deep end every now and then, but you see and hear the utter passion he has for the game at heart. Atherton, in his own way, shows his love for international cricket behind a reserved, considered approach very much akin to the way Richie Benaud approached things. Both ex-captains are, I think, still very much respected for different methodologies, but also because their commentary and analysis avoids you thinking “what are they after?”

Michael Vaughan is all over the bloody airwaves, and social media. He is on Radio 5 Live, both in his stint as a commentator on TMS and a podcast show with the vacuous faux joker Phil Tufnell. Even in the days of HDWLIA when I tried to read and listen to everything, these two clowns were not exactly required listening. At least Freddie makes no bones about wanting to get into show-business. Vaughan can also be found commentating on the dead zone that is Channel 5’s highlights, and if that isn’t enough, he’s going to be on BT Sport’s coverage of the Ashes this winter, was on their sofa last year, and is sure to be put up alongside Graeme Swann as the face of the winter. I love the Ashes, especially in Australia (2002 and 2006 did that to me, even though we lost all 4 matches I went to) and we are going to have to put up with this. In the words of one of my favourite pop collectives, What Have I Done To Deserve This?

There’s no sanctuary on social media. There he is, bestriding Twitter with his faux man of the people act that soon disappears when someone picks him up on something he says, or lawks a mercy, mentions potential conflicts of interest when ISM clients are discussed. If there’s an opinion to be had, he’ll have one. If there’s an acca to promote, he’ll promote it (where he is a “rep” for an online betting company, thus turning an innocent sharing of a bet into a commercial opportunity). He’s also someone who lurches into hyperbole far too readily. If there’s a greatest ever, then he’s onto it. I’m a grump, but I find this nonsense tiresome. And for someone bemoaning a drinking culture (once he saw how the land laid) he’s quick to say it’s “vino o’clock”. Harmless? Sure, but when he’s doing it. Oh, and how about filming a commercial with Stokes for an alcoholic beverage? I suppose it was OK as Hales wasn’t about.

If you think you are safe in newspaper land, well you’d be wrong. He has a gig at the Telegraph where he can share with us his knowledge of mental health issues, his social responsibility agenda, and generally act as a slightly more refined Robbie Savage. Jonathan Liew said of Savage that he always has an opinion, and if you hang about long enough, he’ll give you a diametrically opposite opinion. Vaughan is cricket’s equivalent, a sort of Instant Messenger form of writing. He can say something, hope you’ll forget it, and then say something totally different when he sees how the wind is blowing. Note how he’s changed from a sorrowful, almost excusing tone earlier in the Stokes affair, converting to a full on hammering down, even throwing Alex Hales under the bus too. With friends like these, who the hell needs enemies? One minute we need to understand why Stokes needs to unwind, but once the media line to take was set, it’s you never want to go on a night out with these headbangers.

I think, for me, the beginning of the end was how Vaughan watched how the wind was blowing post 2013-14 and made the case for KP. It was always couched in the public should be told, and that this appeared a question of management. One could almost be fooled that he was on “our side”. If KP made runs in the Big Bash, Vaughan would be on Twitter, saying that he’s useful, he should be in our T20 side at least etc. etc. He was, undoubtedly, playing to the gallery. He is well entrenched into the England cricketing firmament, and he was running with hare and hunting with the hounds. So while, on his radio show, he’d be in tune with us, saying those things we wanted to hear, in reality he was talking out of the side of his mouth. It was more self-referential mentions of how he managed to keep KP in check, and less why the ECB were being ocean-going morons with their outside cricket, dodgy dossiers and contempt for the public. Oh sure, he picked the low-hanging fruit, but he never convinced us he’d do anything about it. When the story came and went, ebbed and flowed, he’d be there to talk about it, but given he has an unspoken influence in the game, he didn’t seem to want to get involved or have a true pop.

Because when he got the chance to do it, he bottled it. He may not have won but for a man supposedly so keen for his views to be heard, and to have influence over the game, he should have gone up against a man who could hardly be seen to be on the same hymn sheet as Vaughan. Michael made it known how he wanted talent to run free, to play positively, to attack, to “fight fire with fire”. Strauss was a man of process, of management theory, of team-building through bonding and stability, buy-in and culture. There was bowling dry, team ethics, winning with pressure applied, and when the team made runs on the board, they were formidable. The ultimate company man, the man who would eschew public opinion and do things his way against a so-called “man of the people”. Process against charisma. Stability against Invention. Bowling dry against pedal to the metal.

Vaughan may have read the runes and said to himself that the ECB would never go for him, but he retreated with caution. There were whispers, most notably from the key domestic cricket writer on ESPN Cricinfo that Vaughan had serious conflicts of interest he would have to divest, which were providing him with a nice little sideline to his commentary and writing gigs. Most notably, and the one which has us wondering quite what we have now is his involvement in ISM.

This is a trick played by all the celebs who claim to love the “bantz” but when it is directed at them, it’s “only opinions”. As if Michael Vaughan’s opinions have absolutely no weighting on any decisions made. I could spend months trawling his twitter feed for examples of this opinion forming manifested itself into team selections. For example, Jonathan Trott, after his first absence from the team made a double hundred for England Lions in South Africa. Off he went on the bandwagon that Trott should return as opener for the West Indies tour coming up. Sam Robson had been dumped and in came Trott. A couple of iffy innings later and Vaughan is saying there’s no way Trott can play in the Ashes, and lo and behold, Adam Lyth is his successor, and he gets the nod. Lyth has a tough time, and Vaughan, yet again gets it right..

Moeen Ali doesn’t have a great tour in the Emirates and Alex Hales comes in. Lo and behold, Vaughan was again in favour…

Vaughan echoed Hussain’s sentiments when he selected his ideal England XI to line-up against South Africa in Durban on Boxing Day.

“(Hales) deserves the chance to open the batting,” Vaughan wrote in The Telegraph.

“It will not be easy to face Steyn and Morkel on his first tour as Test opener but he will have plenty of opportunity in warm up games to find form and a bit of confidence.

Don’t you think we can all do this? Listen to the leaks, report on them, “back” them, because all pundits need to “back” decisions and then repent at leisure. Because, as we know, Hales kept his place for the early part of the 2016 summer and Vaughan had his own focus… James Vince.

This is the issue with Vaughan. Even if he believes James Vince is the answer to our Ashes issues now, or the next taxi on the rank back in 2016, there is, below the surface, the conflict of interest Jonathan Trott went to town on in his book. Vince is in the ISM gang, and that causes a problem with the smell test.

Methinks he protests too much…What Vaughan does not get, and seems to bristle at whenever it is mentioned is that he put himself in this position. He has not exactly been quiet when evaluating James Vince’s early performances. As I say, I remember him bigging up Vince’s fielding when he was in the early days of his test career, more than I’ve ever really heard from him before. It just seemed like an additional promo for “his man”. Now he denies this furiously wherever he goes, even threatening to take legal action against Jonathan Trott and, I presume, his co-writer George Dobell, for making that contention. It’s a dead cert to get you blocked should you try it on on Twitter. The reaction to Vince being touted as an Ashes batsman was greeted with incredulity by those who give much of their time up following it, but were quickly dismissed as “outside the game” by Swann in a pairing with Vaughan. But, presumably as an exercise in thinking who should go to the Ashes tour, rather than who would be going, Vaughan showed that telepathy with the selectors for which he is renowned.

Just had my final Ashes selection meeting with myself … and this is what I have come up with … #Ashes …

A post shared by Michael vaughan (@michaelvaughan) on

Ignore the bowlers, no-one really cares about them! The thing about this is I don’t know anyone suggesting Vince prior to the weekend before selection and yet an ISM client is put in an ISM client’s list is just happenstance? It came together with the ready packed line to take (he may have the technique for Australia – which is interesting because Vaughan bemoaned Vince’s “hard hands” a year ago and was frustrated that he wasn’t showing the required temperament – presumably these disappear in Brisbane) and off we ran.

But perhaps the single thing that cheeses me off with Vaughan is his unquenchable thirst to promote four day test matches. I’ll go into this more when I do a piece on this risible nonsense, and look at the pros and cons put in the article in the Cricketer (Tim, Tim, why have you let us down on this one). He just does not listen to the arguments against. Imagine how you would have felt, Michael, on the Saturday of the Old Trafford test in 2005. We put 400 on the board, Australia had avoided the follow-on on a rain ruined Day 3. That test would simply have had nowhere to go. England 180 in front, Australia with three wickets left. Day 4 a total irrelevance. Your 166 in the first innings in total vain. A nice bon mot in a game that died. Even with an additional ten overs each day, you aren’t really in a better position. Then we would not have had that wonderful Day 5 drama, played in front of a packed house, watched by millions on TV, entertainment at its best, drama at its best, evolving in the natural flow of the game. 4 day cricket will only get the same results by contrivance. Doctoring pitches, and yes, I’ve heard it all about bowler-friendly wickets being more exciting, but they can also be more of a lottery, forced declarations. But the other thing it could do is make the home team going 1-0 up in a major series prepare roads that would not have to last that long. I can go on.

None of this matters to Vaughan. Test cricket is “dying” (no-one bothering to work out how or why it is being “killed”) and needs to be saved. The only way to do so is to shorten it. But you aren’t really because you’d bowl more overs in the day (stop laughing at the flaw in that argument), so all those exciting five day games would have been finished within his timeline… Anyone who isn’t on board is not with the program. Is prepared to see test cricket die. And if you dare mention it is to squeeze in more money opportunities for the top players that might just be hooked up to ISM, well, there you have it. A block for you.

Back in 2002, when I saw a man take it to the Aussies, in person, in front of my eyes, I would have given anything to be like him. The brilliant shots, the amazing tempo, the courage of his batting convictions. When he captained us in 2005, before my eyes, with control, with verve, with a desire to fight toe to toe with a mighty foe, he could have taken over English cricket at that time and I would have been a fervent fan. Fast forward and I see a man who has gone beyond disappointing me, to being a man I actually loathe hearing from. Sadly, as a cricket fan, I can hardly avoid him. He’s everywhere. He doesn’t pass the honesty smell test, no matter how much he protests. He sways with the wind, pretending, yes, in my view pretending, he’s in with the common fan, but he doesn’t half have a way of being in step with what the powers that be want. It’s almost uncanny. Of course he wants a new T20 competition in England and to hell with the consequences. Of course he wants 4 day test matches, and to hell with whether it will work, only we have to try. Of course he has his fingers on the pulse, because he’s so rarely off the air, I’m surprised anyone else has a chance to get a word in. Laugh at that Power List as we do, there’s a reason he’s that high up on it. There’s a special place in my little list for those who I thought were on our side, but are as inside cricket as can be and act like it when challenged. Number 39, for all his sins, and there are many, makes few bones about it. Hell, he named his podcast Inside Cricket. Vaughan pretended to be for the common fan. He’s nowhere near it. The Shiny Toy with the Mr Green Acca, the Ashes winning captain with the media platform.The faux man of the people. It’s only an opinion Shiny Toy.

I’m not a fan.

https://twitter.com/MichaelVaughan/status/918725486536138752
Give me a reason why it’s better. 

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I Fought the Law – the Law Definitely Won

Regular contributor Andy Oliver with his take on the recent law changes:

Why are we here?

For some reason, known only to the cricket gods, I decided to have a look at the just happened changes to the good old Laws (never rules – unless you want to wind up an umpire / stickler) of cricket.

The changes came into force internationally on the 1st October 2017, and seem to bring the worldwide game more into line with the playing conditions associated with International cricket (within reason obviously).

This has been a three year process by the MCC involving no one that I had ever heard of, except for Simon Taufel (ex-Aus umpire) so hopefully there has been an element of sense and improvement in the changes.

Some of the changes have the potential to create a greater impact on the overall game, and some are tweaks to existing laws.  I think there are some that will cause a good few arguments on the village green – so advise any umpires / clubs to have a copy of the updated laws with them on the field, or at the least, at the ground!  But that assumes the batsmen/bowlers actually know the Laws in the first place…

Dismissals

You will no longer be able to collect your honorary Graham Gooch award and be given out for handling the ball.  This mode of dismissal has been removed; however if a batsman were to handle the ball, they can instead be given out for obstructing the field – so don’t go willy-nilly handling your balls without invitation…

So there are now nine modes of dismissal, can you name them (no Googling at the back)?  I’ve been out to five of them I think.

Law 5

Everyone who has played club cricket will know that one batsman who has a ridiculous, massive, too heavy bat which they can only just lift, but when they do make contact the ball disappears (it’s just all too infrequent).  Well now the MCC have decided that batsmen have been riding their luck with too many top edges for six.

Now the batsmen must have a bat that fits within a certain size range – however it can still be as heavy as they want, so I don’t know what impact that might have as there will still be heavy bats that impart significant energy onto the ball (equal and opposite reaction and all that).  They will just be made with denser willow.

I believe they had a panel that reviewed the impact bat size made on scores etc.  How they did this I don’t know given there are many other variables in play at the same time.

I personally think too many dead wickets are to blame, as well as too many fielding restrictions and the whole two balls in play at once (for ODIs).  You could also make an argument for the increased protection of batsmen (better pads/helmets etc) as well as fitter batsmen also impacting on higher scores.

Batsmen are still going to hit big sixes, and they are still going to get lucky edges that fly away to the boundary.

Law 8.3.4

This is an interesting one.

This law allows for the placement of a tether between the bails and stumps.  I guess this is to try and prevent eye injuries to wicketkeepers (or slip fielders?).

It does not appear to be a mandatory law, just allowing for the provision subject to the relevant Governing Body.  I doubt we will see this filtering into general play, but I could foresee it in the professional game county game, but perhaps not in international cricket.  Although would it reduce the spectacle of ‘bails flying’?

My guess is that a lawyer somewhere said that the MCC have a liability because the previous law prohibited any tether/3rd component and without this law they would actually be restricting a potentially injury preventing system.

Law 21

This one has been amended to state that the ball may only bounce once (before it reaches the opposite popping crease) after being bowled.

It’s a simple change that is standard in professional cricket.  The update makes a comment about ‘competent recreational cricket’, they have obviously not seen me playing in the seconds –  I might need to practice my bowling a bit more if I want to avoid racking up those no balls!

It could cause a few arguments for those who don’t know about the change and have always ‘got away with it’, or it may just bring a couple of umpires I know of into line with the Laws rather than their interpretation of them…

Law 24

A substitute fielder can now keep wicket if needed.  I guess this is a result of the role being seen as a specialist position that could lead to injury if a non-keeper took up the gloves.

While not relevant to village cricket (we struggle to get ten, let alone having a twelfth man who is an expert wicket keeper), I can see this on the international stage for sure (if the ICC playing regulations bring it in).

I don’t know how this affects the batting order, but I assume that whomever was named in the original starting 11 would be expected to bat and if incapable, you only have nine wickets.

Again, it may be a liability thing, (someone who is not a keeper getting injured because the MCC not allowing a specialist substitute) but it would keep the big game spectacle because you are not having to ‘make do’ with a part timer.

Law 30

One for the TV more than the village green I think.

A running or diving batsman who grounds his bat, but it then bounces up will not be given out.  The key is it has to be a diving/forward momentum (i.e. you could still be stumped if you ‘wobble’ forward, but if running in you are fine).

On the flip side, if a batsman has grounded his bat but lifts (and comes out of his crease) it to take ‘evasive action’ he is not out.

This brings to mind Cooks only Test run out.  India, 3rd day at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in 2012.

Cook, only just out of his ground, took evasive action to avoid a throw at the stumps by Kohli.  The problem was that he had not grounded his bat in the first place before moving.  If he had just allowed himself to be hit, he would be fine (as he did not make a deliberate attempt to block the ball), If he had grounded his bat, and then moved – he would have been fine as well.

As it was, it was his only run out dismissal apparently.

Law 41

There have been a number of changes to Law 41, mostly tweaks but some good/bigger ones.  This law deals with fair and unfair play. 

Law 41.8

Check your betting slips…

This law make it an offense to bowl deliberate front foot no balls (good job Kieron Pollard did it already….).  If caught, then you will be suspended from bowling.

I doubt we will ever see this in a live game.  What umpire is going to know if a no ball is deliberate or not?

I’ve seen some doosies just from regular village play!!

Law 41.15

Batsmen cannot “take a stance where they will inevitably encroach on the protected area.”

I assume this means they cannot bat 4ft out of their crease (the protected area starting 5ft in front of the popping crease).  I guess that when a batsman runs down the wicket to a spinner, it’s still ok though as they are going through the motion of taking a shot.

I know what some of our (my village that is) bowlers would do if they saw someone batting that far out!

Law 41.16

This is a good one and bound to cause a few arguments.

Ever heard of “Mankading”?  Yup, the one that causes all the arguments.  The one where Butler was run out for leaving his crease early (correctly, under the previous law 41.15).

There, my cards are on the table.

Well, Law 41.16 explicitly deals with this and I present the full law below;

If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one in the over.

 If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal Dead ball as soon as possible.

The ball ‘comes into play’ as the bowler begins his run up, so the bowler can remove the bails at any point up to delivering the ball and if the non-striker is out his ground, then he is gone.

Previously the ‘run out’ had to be performed prior to the bowler entering his delivery stride, but it was basically the same, they can just pull out before delivering

In other words, get back into the crease you cheating batsman, or I’ll have ya!

I expect many arguments to ensue over how this is against the spirit of the game, while ignoring the batsman stealing yards being against the ‘spirit’ instead.

Law 42

This law is the meaty new one (and thus is also the largest explanation).  While there were 42 Laws previously, the juggling has made room for a new law to be made, while keeping it at 42.

This Law is a conduct Law, and allows for in-match consequences for poor behaviour.  It’s probably also the one that will cause most arguments if attempted on the village green – so I don’t expect to see much of it happening.

There are 4 ‘levels’ of offence and it is the umpires’ discretion as to which level the offence falls into.  First the penalties:

Level 1: Warning (first offence) then 5 penalty runs to the opposition for a repeat offence.

Level 2: 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 3: Offending player is suspended for a number of overs (10 overs in normal cricket, 1/5th of the innings overs in limited overs cricket), depending on the length of the match, plus 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 4: Offending player is removed from the field for the rest of the match, plus 5 Penalty runs to the opposition.

Level 1 offences:

– Wilfully mistreating any part of the cricket ground, equipment or implements used in the match (Broad kicking a lump out of the Headingley wicket anyone?)

– showing dissent at an umpire’s decision by word or action (most of my team when I’m umpiring)

– using language that, in the circumstances, is obscene, offensive or insulting (me when I’m umpiring)

– making an obscene gesture

– appealing excessively (Shamsi in the CPL final anyone – if you have not seen it look it up)

– advancing towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing any other misconduct, the nature of which is, in the opinion of the umpires, equivalent to a Level 1 offence.

Level 2 offences

Showing serious dissent at an umpire’s decision by word or action

– making inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with another player

– throwing the ball at a player, umpire or another person in an inappropriate and dangerous manner

– using language or gesture to another player, umpire, team official or spectator that, in the circumstances, is obscene or of a serious insulting nature

– or any other misconduct, the nature of which is, in the opinion of the umpires, equivalent to a Level 2 offence.

Level 3 offences

– intimidating an umpire by language or gesture

– threatening to assault a player or any other person except an umpire. See Law 42.5.1.

Level 4 offences

– threatening to assault an umpire

– making inappropriate and deliberate physical contact with an umpire

– physically assaulting a player or any other person

– committing any other act of violence.

No substitutes are allowed, and if the fielder is removed before batting (or a batsman removed) under a level 4 offence, then they are deemed ‘retired – out’.  So a double punishment if you are that naughty while fielding in the first innings.

I do look forward to amateur umpires kicking people out of games.  I can see that going really well.

Summary

So broadly speaking I think the changes to the laws make things more comparable to the professional/international game.

Some changes are logical and won’t cause any arguments, however other ones have the potential to wind up some batsmen/fielders who aren’t up to speed with the changes.

There are plenty of other smaller tweaks and amendments that I’ve not got to so I heartily recommend having a read of the Laws and the accompanying ‘explanation’ booklet – if you want something that is just a confusing self-referential nightmare to read that is.  I mean seriously, who needs to offer a second document to actually explain the first one.  Just make the first one easier to read.

Follow Andy on Twitter:  @oshodisa or add your comments below as he’ll be around from time to time to answer any queries!

 

 

 

 

Interview with a Vampire

Cricket has an interesting reputation in the minds of many followers of the game – somehow the saying “it’s not cricket” seems to speak to a kind of wishful thinking about the way the game was, and what it is today.   In some ways, the association of modern cricket with gambling, both legal and illegal is viewed as being new, when it is anything but given the origins of the sport.  Some of the older English clubs have records detailing huge crowds attending matches played by the leading performers of the time with details of the stakes involved, and the pressure to create fixed laws derived as much as anything from a desire to ensure that the gambling was run according to proper rules rather than anything else.  To that end, there is an irony about the horror at the gambling promotion associated with modern cricket.  There are a number of issues here, the corruption and match fixing that blights the sport today would be entirely familiar to the pioneers of the game, as would the volume of it from spectators and observers.  What has changed is that with the rise of the internet it is immediately accessible to millions, and the promotion of it therein has dramatically increased.

On that basis, an article about gambling and cricket seemed to be one that might be quite interesting.  Only there’s a problem.

I don’t gamble.

I don’t have a moral crusade against it or anything, it’s just that I’m not terribly interested.  A recent work trip to Macau – the Las Vegas of the east – realised a grand total of 0 minutes spent gambling.  It’s just not my thing.  Therefore attempting to write an article on a subject about which I know absolutely nothing could prove somewhat challenging.  What to do?  Fortunately, there’s a well known Twitter account run by a cricket fan who is also a professional gambler, and thus, following a bit of discussion and claims that he’s a numbers and not a words man, Innocent Bystander agreed to have a bit of a chat.  The outcome was that of a series of extremely naïve questions, and very knowledgeable answers.  I began by asking him him what impact gambling has on the game of cricket – does it help drive the game or is it incidental?

“Cricket wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for gambling, the first laws were laid down to try to legislate a game that was entirely driven by gambling.  Today I would say that in a lot of jurisdictions gambling is the prime reason an event exists.  Often you will find at some matches the ‘crowd’ consists solely of gamblers as huge sums are traded on the game.  T20 is a bigger draw for the general cricket fan, but it’s also a prime vehicle for gambling.  In fact I’d say 20 overs a side is too long, and I would expect to see 10 over a side games appear over the next few years (as is happening in Dubai this winter) – more games, more opportunities to punt, and the appeal to the cricket fan is a side issue, which is why ideas like this that seem pointless to you take off.

“That’s why One Day Internationals became so popular in the subcontinent.  If India were to lose, so what – there’s always another game tomorrow or the day after.  Lose a Test match on the other hand and it’s a week or two before the next.  Can you imagine how quickly a 10 over or 5 over match would be forgotten if the next one starts in 20 minutes time?”

A fairly depressing answer, but one that has a horrible ring of truth to it.  There’s also the implication that cricket gambling has reached a point where it’s so big it can materially affect not just the volume but the format of the game.  Which made me curious how big cricket gambling had become:

“Well, the individual markets are huge, but there are a relatively small number of games – which makes it different from sports such as football, racing or tennis.  Some of the biggest markets on Betfair have been cricket matches though, for example the New Zealand – South Africa World Cup semi-final.  This summer the Champions Trophy matches had over £100 million matched on Betfair, and Betfair is fraction of the world market, and that’s before you even consider the illegal betting in South Asia, which dwarfs that many times over”

The scale of the illegal betting market in cricket really came to the fore with the Hansie Cronje affair, and corruption in cricket has been a live issue ever since.  Players get banned, and the ICC’s anti-corruption unit have, shall we say, been rather busy over the years, with their efficacy in combating it very much in question.  To that end, would that be noticeable to someone who does it legally for a living?

“Hugely so.  If it wasn’t for the illegal betting the volumes put through Betfair would be miniscule on cricket.  Money flows from the subcontinent to Dubai and into Betfair.  It’s impossible to trace but fully washed, ironed and hung out to dry.  The average man on the street in India might bet 10 rupees with his local bookie and he then hedges those bets through the illegal bigger bookies who then push their money into the sub accounts of large Betfair account holders.  That money flows both ways using the Hawala networks”.

In mentioning Betfair, it brought to mind Ed Hawkins book, “Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy”, which detailed the underground betting markets in India and how the operate.  With something like this, the general readership tend to swallow whole what is written, because it’s outside their experience.  So how true does Innocent Bystander think it is?

“I’d say there are elements of truth, but the Indian bookies do tend to ‘big up’ their part to make them look more important than they actually are.  Ed does have a book to sell after all. So if there’s no story, there’s no sales. Let’s call it ‘Vaughaning’ it up a bit…”

Ouch.

So what form of cricket would make the most money I wondered, might it be T20 or ODIs, or even domestic cricket…?

“The weather!”

Ask a silly question.

On these pages, the cricket supporters tend to be Test match ones, the site traffic plummets when the one dayers come along, and since gambling appears to be directly influencing the game, is Test match gambling the weak link?

“No, I wouldn’t say that.  All formats are increasing, betting on tests is a long game, with the markets ebbing and flowing rather than violently gyrating in the space of a ball.  Personally, I would say betting on tests is, like the game itself, the purest form of betting”

If there’s one indication about the scale of sports gambling these days, it has to be the amount of TV advertising about it.  It’s seemingly constant, every break represents another opportunity to offer up some special odds, and encourage people to do more than enjoy the sport for its own sake.  To that end, and given it’s his business, it might be expected that there would be no objection to it.  Far from it:

“It’s pretty poor isn’t it?  My wife loves tennis and watches a lot, and every advert on tennis is for gambling.  She does rather wonder why she is deemed to be a target market!  But it’s important to remember that adverts on TV aren’t looking for the professional punter at all, they’re marketing to the casual gambler, which then leads to problem gambling, and despite all their guff about protecting the customer these are exactly the mugs the bookies want, as they will give them all their money.”

Mmmm.  This is why I don’t gamble.  Some years ago I had our club’s overseas cricketer living with me for the summer.  He was a professional gambler too, and used to play late at night in particular, because it was easy to take the cash off those who would come online when they’d had a few drinks. I didn’t blame him then and I don’t now, but it rather reinforced the image of professionals lying in wait to fleece me.  Presumably given the degree of promotion it must still be growing as an industry?

“It’s growing faster and faster and will continue to do so until the government has the balls to actually legislate properly.  As it is, if betting is legalised in India and USA we haven’t even begun seen the potential explosion that will come.”

Of course, the other element of the advertising is the sheer number of ex-pros or media types being involved.  Is that a problem?

“It’s about as insidious as the relationship between ex players and the media!”

Interesting point that.  The question over self-interest of the ex-players in the media, especially those who have player management companies with whom they are associated has long been criticised, not least by us.  It may be worth watching closely for any apparently innocent gambling related comments from summarisers and commentators.

Given the old saying about people being prepared to gamble on two flies climbing up a wall, is there no end to this?  Will even fantasy sports end up with a sizeable market?  It seems to have a foothold in the US.

 “I’m not so sure on that.  But interestingly  I had a chat with an ACSU chap [Anti-Corruption and Security Unit].  He was in Dubai for the pre-season T20 hitarounds they have out there and he gave the usual speech about corruption and approaches.  Over the next day or so he was approached by a dozen or more county players panicking about approaches they had received from social media.  Fearful about an epidemic of potential fixing, the ACSU delved more deeply only to discover all the approaches were related to Fantasy Sports Leagues!!!  Is this a danger? No, but there is money punted on this”.

This was the point at which my postage stamp knowledge of gambling expired.  So casting around for one final question, I finally hit on a brainwave:

Why don’t you like Alastair Cook?

“Because he is such a handsome devil…”

Follow  @InnoBystander for betting observations, pithy comments and getting into arguments with Indian cricket fans.  My thanks to him for answering my silly questions and not objecting to the rather cruel title I gave this piece.

 

The Tangled Web

Guess what everyone?  Today is the fifth and final ODI, and the last international cricket of the summer.  Yes, it’s still summer – did you not get the memo?  You may think it’s nearly October, but there’s still money to be made, and if that means January is henceforth to be considered balmy high summer, then you’ll just have to lump it.

Of course, the usual lack of interest in a non-descript dead rubber of an ODI (apart from those with tickets, obviously – but they don’t count for anything these days) is compounded by (note capitalisation now required) The Ben Stokes Affair.  As Sean wrote so eloquently yesterday  the ECB’s track record when players go rogue is anything but a consistent one, and the importance of Stokes to the team (but not Hales remember) means they are now in a tricky spot with regards to the upcoming Ashes.  Doubtless, they’d rather like the whole thing to go away, but it has to be said that this is rather more serious than the usual transgressions and the suspension of both Stokes and Hales was probably the minimum they could get away with doing.

There’s been a whole heap of discussion around the rights and wrongs of those events, but there are a couple of considerations for a blog like this:  first of all, none of us are lawyers and the term “sub judice” tends to strike a degree of fear into the team.  Worth noting that for the comments too by the way, so please be circumspect. Reporting what has been said is fair game, but there are plenty of places that’s discussed and rote repetition of what’s elsewhere seems a bit pointless.  We do from time to time get information about various subjects and have refused to post them (you might say we skip them) because there’s no evidence and none of us want to land in court.   We’re not so obscure we can say what we like.

The cricketing fall out is a bit different, which is why so many of the comment pieces in the press have focused on that.  Stokes’ status as the talismanic all rounder makes this something of a nightmare for the ECB to negotiate, as they balance the needs of the team with their public role as the face of cricket (stop sniggering at the back).  Were Stokes not so integral, it seems hard to believe that they would do anything but drop him from the Ashes squad, highlighting both the double/triple standards involved, and the line of least resistance so often taken.  What that means is that they are now in a real bind – they can weaken the side substantially by not taking him, or if they do then they will be accused of placing results above all other considerations – something of an irony given their predilection for placing revenue above cricket most of the time.

That the two of them were out so late has been a topic of some debate, but sportsmen have often partied as hard as they play, and often go out late and yes, spend that time drinking.  As much as some would like them to be monastic in their behaviour, it’s simply not going to happen with everyone – or more specifically, it’s not going to happen all the time.  How often they do that is a slightly different question, but it’s certainly true that players in the youth England sides are kept on an extremely tight leash, possibly excessively so.  It’s also true that many of the very best in all sports do look after themselves to an extent that the average person would find very hard to live with.  What that ultimately means is that going out to clubs is not in itself evidence of too much, it is a matter of degree, and on that subject we do not know how prevalent that is with him, or with anyone else in the squad.  And actually, nor should we – it’s a matter for management to, well, manage.  Some nasty minds have asked the question as to whether if Stokes is convicted he would then be eligible for Australia or not.

Since the Pietersen fall out, there has been the question about how they would manage Stokes.  In reality, something as serious as this wasn’t part of the discussion, since it’s actually possible to feel a degree of sympathy with the ECB’s dilemma here.  But it’s likely to be the case that Stokes is most of all reliant on being an essential player, because the moment he isn’t, or suffers a drop in form, he is vulnerable to being properly briefed against as disruptive.  This stuff almost writes itself these days, given the duplicitousness that is commonplace at the highest echelons of the English administration.  Whatever the outcome of the current difficulty, the likelihood of a drip feed of negative stories about him in the future is one to watch out for in future – which is a separate question to how currently the media are posting stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day to cast him in a negative light.  Already examples of poor taste comments on social media are being used against him – though when it comes to matters of conscience, the morality of someone who screenshots a private conversation with the intent of selling it to the tabloid press rarely gets mentioned.

Of one thing there’s no doubt at all – England without Stokes are a much weaker side than they are with him.  The truly Machiavellian approach would be to consider this the perfect excuse for defeat, and the entire responsibility should it transpire can then be safely loaded onto one person with no awkward questions being asked about anything else.  An “escape goat”, as it were.  But of course, that degree of Humphrey Appleby scheming is well beyond any of those who like to sit comfortably in their jobs at Lords…

Oh yeah, fifth ODI.  Will Billings play? Will it be Jake Ball or David Willey?  If a cricket ball falls and no one sees it, did it really happen?  Comments on the game below if you really want to – on anything else because you do really want to.

Trust – it’s a two way street Mr. Director

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We are in middle of an ODI series between England and the West Indies with all the fun and joy that entails (clue, it doesn’t), but if you don’t mind, I will skip over today’s proceedings as there are one or two other things that take precedence in my mind. If I may, I would like to take everyone back to the heady days of the February 2014, when a certain well known ex-captain was asked about a certain well-known soon to be ex-player about his role in the team:

“Without trust, the team environment is stillborn, It is for this reason that Kevin Pietersen’s international career had to be brought to an end. The media have been searching for a ‘smoking gun’. Everyone is looking for disciplinary problems, bust-ups and character clashes, but they are looking for the wrong thing. The smoking gun is the total absence of trust.”

“What happened in Australia from November onwards, when the heat of the furnace was fixed on the embattled side, was that old grievances came back to the surface. Past history weighed too heavily. Trust still did not exist. His relationship with English cricket has been like an illicit affair. Full of thrills and excitement, but destined to end in tears.”

To the surprise of no-one this well known ex-captain was made Director, England Cricket in May 2015, formally ending the disastrous reign of Paul Downton. As a brilliant subtext to all of this, the well-known player that Director Comma had referred to was told to score runs and lots of them to have a chance to force himself back into England contention and of course, as we know, he scored 355* of them in one innings. This was not enough to sway the new Director though, who once again took the fold to confirm that trust rather than talent was the thing that was the most important thing to him:

“He [Pietersen] been phenomenal for England over a long period of time and he should be very proud of that record. But over a period of months and years, the trust between himself and the ECB has eroded. There’s a massive trust issue between Kevin and I. Because of that, we’ve told him it’s not in the best short-term interests of the side for him to be in the team. I’ve let him know he’s not part of our plans for the future, and I can’t give him any guarantees beyond that, but he’s not banned from the side, no one knows what’s going to happen in the future.”

There have been many words and many articles about Kevin Pietersen in the last few years (many by us) and I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t been said previously without being jumped on the by the ‘pearly gates brigade’ who like to think of Alastair Cook as a god and KP as the devil with no room for any opinion in between and quite frankly I cannot be bothered to rehash an old weeping sore. For me it is the lack of heat that Director Comma has received that is of most interest to me. Those that have got to know Strauss both as a player for Middlesex & England and now with his role with the ECB (although please don’t ask me exactly what it is as I have no idea what he does – more of that a little bit later on), know that Strauss is the ultimate pragmatist, happy to spew out words about ‘trust’ & ‘team bonding’, but also happy to cozy up to the dark side when it suits him and provides him with an opportunity to further his own career. There have been a number of instances where Director Comma has not just turned the other cheek (rooming with KP in the build up to the 2010 Ashes or making lots of unfulfilled promises to Owais Shah after he picked up the Middlesex captaincy from the poisonous Ed Smith) but also happily thrown his teammates under the bus (see Strauss’ backing and then quick turn of face with KP over the Peter Moores affair). To say that Andrew Strauss is a trustworthy individual is like saying Tom Harrison has cricket’s best interests at heart, which as we know is utter jackanory, yet the media have bought this and so have the one-eyed ‘inside cricket’ fans. Strauss goooood, other people baaad (sorry, a poor Animal Farm reference) seems to have been the memo leaked by the ECB and by god, his associates have thoroughly embraced this mantra. This makes it even more laughable when Strauss portrays himself as a bastion of society, a man bound by his virtue rather than being portrayed correctly as a man bound purely by his hypocrisy.

So why bring this up now some may ask, well the Ben Stokes ‘BristolGate’ has quite rightly opened up this so called Trust debate. As we all know, Stokes whilst being a wonderful player, has had a fair few colourful incidents away from the cricket field, with the latest one surely being more serious than looking out of a window, whistling when getting out or falling out of a pedalo after more than a few sherberts. Here was a chance for Director Comma to pin his colours to the wall, that trust is more important than on the field success (no-one could argue that England were weaker without their supremely talented number 4) and that they would rigidly stick to the ‘no dickhead’ rule when it comes to England selection. To say that the Director, England Cricket fluffed his lines on this is an understatement on a massive scale – no punishment, no criticism, instead ‘Stokes needs our support during this difficult time’ and that ‘selection will be made on form and fitness grounds only’:

http://www.bbc.com/sport/cricket/41416692

Well this is certainly a change in tack from previous years isn’t it? Perhaps if KP or those others who’s face didn’t quite fit such as Compton, Carberry and Robson had been given the ECB’s support, then things might have turned out rather differently perhaps. Now I want to be perfectly clear, I do not care what Stokes gets up to in his own spare time, nor do I think he should be dropped or have the vice-captaincy stripped (it’s a nothing role in any case); however the ECB have made their bed through the treatment of other England players whose offence is arguably not as grave as Stokes, yet poor old Ben seems to have had endured nothing but a slapped wrist. This is what grinds my gears, Strauss is doing precisely what he has done throughout his career yet no-one has called him out on it, he is providing one rule for one and another rule for another. Basically if you can provide Director Comma with the opportunity to further his career then he is happy to turn his cheek, however once you have ceased being useful to him then expect to be classed as an outsider and tossed on the heap like everyone else that has outlived their use. Now I don’t know the in’s and out’s of this case nor that much detail in the other mis-demeanours that Stokes has supposedly committed; however what I do know is that apart from a few mumblings from the media about how he has been stupid and needs to learn his lessons, there hasn’t been a whiff of an over-reaction. Where is the smoking gun? Where is the often mentioned and quietly compiled ‘dossier of mis-demeanours’ that is leaked to the media? Where is the whisper campaign saying that Stokes is a bad egg and not a team player? Of course, there isn’t one, the ECB never leaks when it suits their own purposes and having Ben Stokes as an integral part of the England team is the number one priority for the ECB’s paymasters.

You see we all know that Director Comma, despite having a grandiose title and being pushed out in front of the media to spout general hyperbole about ‘trust’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘exciting’, is a figurehead and nothing more. The ECB have in essence their perfect glove puppet, someone who believes he has the power, someone who has been built up to be important in his eyes and someone who will of course tow the company line (after all the ECB has never had an issue with doing a u-turn when it might help them out of a tight spot or enhance them financially). This whole trust thing is a façade, something to keep the chuntering masses away from digging a little further down the rabbit hole, and Strauss is the perfect foil for it! A well spoken, well dressed ex England Captain, who has no issue with being ruthless and isn’t likely to make the type of media gaffes that Paul Downton was prone to making with hilarious regularity ticks every box in the ECB’s eyes. This is the perfect ruse for the real power holders at the ECB, you know the chaps who have their hands in the till and appear once or twice a year with Aggers to utter something meaningless that they have scripted beforehand which fits in with their objectives (lets face it Aggers is hardly Jeremy Paxman and isn’t going to be asking them the difficult questions that England cricket fans actually want to hear).

It is Graves and Harrison that are calling the shots behind the closed door, I can’t work out whether Graves is some kind of evil mastermind or just some bumbling old fool who has bitten off more than he chew; however Harrison is the money man, he is the one calling the shots and anyone or anything that jeopardises the TV deal or the flow of sponsors money will be eradicated. Strauss is the go-between, something that he is perfectly suited too, but Harrison is the Mafia boss, he is the one that says what will happen and what won’t happen to the England cricket team. So back to Ben Stokes, lets make no bones about it, Stokes is absolutely vital for the ECB moving forward, not just through his performances on the pitch but also through his exposure and pulling power across multiple markets, i.e. those markets that can make the ECB more money. Harrison isn’t about to kill the golden goose, so you’ll quietly see this brushed under the carpet whilst Director, England Cricket makes noises about supporting his players and the trust they’ve built up over the past few years. Welcome to the New England, same as the old England.

So lets just revisit this whole trust piece once again shall we? When I first got into cricket I trusted the England board (no matter how archaic it was back then) to at least do the right thing. To ensure that we had a team that was picked on merit, to ensure that we were a fair and proper contributor to the game via the ICC, ensuring that we could grow this game that we all love, to ensure fair and proper access to the sport and too invest it’s money back into the game to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. Instead what have we got, a board that despises its own fans, a board some obsessed with making money that they will happily destroy the Test arena to make a quick buck through some more T20’s, a board that has massively reduced the access that the every day fan has to the sport by charging huge prices for entry to the ground and has all it’s live coverage behind a paywall. Finally a board, where talent doesn’t count anymore as long as you come from the right family, can prove to be a good marketing asset or have some high profile ex-captain who just happens to run a sporting agency, start calling the shots (more on that in a later post). Trust and loyalty aren’t in the vocabulary of Graves, Harrison and Strauss, so surely there must be others apart from us that are willing to call them out before they bury the game for good? Sadly I feel that we are in the minority and will be until it’s too late.

So the next time an ECB Director tells you its all about trust, let’s take it, tell them where to stick it and run a mile, as after all trust is earned both ways and the ECB have shown time and time again that what they say and what they do are two completely different things altogether. Incompetence I can live with, down right lies, I cannot. The ECB has somehow in its infinite wisdom managed to become a master of both.

As a side note, England have won the 4th ODI through the Duckworth Lewis Stern calculations and go into an unassailable lead in the series. Not that anyone apart from the ECB bigwigs remotely cares.
UPDATE: I wrote this before the Stokes video appeared online – https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/cricket/4563431/ben-stokes-england-axe-shocking-video-street-punch. From first view, it looks like the first guy launches at Stokes with a bottle; however the 2nd incident really doesn’t look great at all. The be all and end all is that Stokes really shouldn’t be putting himself in this sort of situation in the first place.

Let Me Tell You About A Little Situation, It’s Been Testing My Patience

Sport is emotional. I am pretty emotional. Warning – this is a bit of a rant, jotted down in one take, with a duff keyboard and a lagging laptop. By the end, I’ve had enough of all of it. So just a head’s up. My laptop is still intact, although the swear box has been filled nicely. So take it away…..

Lyrics from a song I like this year (well a remix of) but sums up where I am. I’m not writing about an ODI that followed a well-trodden path, even if it contained the sort of century that you can only dream about. Moeen is rightly popular among many – a throwback cricketer in many ways, and someone England should be proud to have. To play an innings like that should dominate my thinking, my prose, my match report. But in truth I barely watched the game. Things to do, places to go, other sports intruding on my time, other chores needing to be done. Devoting a whole day to sitting in front of a screen, commenting on the cricket is a luxury I can have on only so many occasions. Obviously this means you miss hundreds like today.

But the lyrics in the title (from a song called Tearing Me Up) are directed more at the contents of the article by Nick Hoult regarding the ECB contemplating ending the five day test and shrinking the matches into 4. Graves, at about the same time he was talking to KP and then denying he said what he said, mentioned this sack of garbage a couple of years ago, and most of us put it down to the witless ramblings of another useless administrator who might have money, but had no idea. Empty Suit, presumably because two people at the top of the ECB can’t really be disagreeing with each other, backed up this tosh, but no-one else seemed really serious. Distinct hums came into our airspace when Shiny Toy and #39 started to really float this out in the open. Shiny Toy kept the myth going that all five day tests that reside in our memories as classics could all have been the same with 4 days. Because he is floating it out there that there will be 8 hour days at the test to bowl 100+ overs. Good grief. As Jimmy said on commentary today, they struggle to bowl 90 now so “not sure how that would work”.

Then, this week, we heard that South Africa were trying to make the four day match planned for Boxing Day against Zimbabwe a “test match”. You know how these minds work, it’s as clear as day. “Hello, there’s an opportunity out there, if South Africa get this in the books, maybe we can do it.” The reasons are that they will save seven days play a year, that Day 5 being removed will save substantial costs, and it will make the game more consumer friendly. Have they asked those consumers if that’s something they actually want? The ones they care about. Don’t bother. Specious arseholes.

I am, by my very nature, a traditionalist. I don’t care that much for T20. I’m not that massive a fan of 50 over cricket, but can recognise there’s a bit more nuance to it than spinners bowling darts, small boundaries, big bats, and yes, the skill involved is high. But to me the one thing that T20 does that is anathema to me in cricket, is that it makes the sport about individuals and not about teams. A great T20 player, someone who can bat for an hour and a half smashing it everywhere, is fun the first three or four times I see it. It then gets dull. It normalises the amazing. After a T20 hundred, where has that person to go? Make another for another team somewhere around the world? There’s no team allegiance, but rather have bat will travel. A constant complaint about test matches are there is no context. Where’s the context of playing for Surrey, Port Elizabeth, St Lucia, Quetta, Melbourne, Kwazulu-Natal, Delhi, Bangalore, et al. Lord almighty. Hired guns, performing at a cricket ground near you, and hang about, he’ll be playing for someone else soon. Many team sports you know do this? You are one step away from Exhibition Cricket where the result does not matter. A jot.

Test cricket matters to the players. Sadly not to the spectators it seems as they don’t seem to turn up around the world. But five day test cricket works as a sporting endeavour. 4 day test cricket, now we have been used to five days for pretty much all my cricketing life, is another concession to money. That ship sailed years ago and only the collapse of mighty sporting TV institutions is going to reverse it. The five day game works. If players are not going to bowl 90 overs in a day now, I can’t see how it’s going to work in four days. The players are going to be against it. We here are quite zealous about the lack of penalty for slow play, and yet in four day cricket the games could be much more vulnerable to such nonsense. To me, that’s the key problem with four day tests – it is utterly vulnerable to losing a full day’s play. If we get a rain out on Day 1, we have three days to construct a result. The team batting first could be badly punished for batting well – 350 for 2 after the second day and what are they to do? Pull out stupid early and then the game hinges on whether the team batting second makes the follow-on total. If they do, we might as well pack up and go home. Day 4s mean that you can set up a Game 5. Losing a day’s play on Day 2 would mean the same sort of farce, and Day 3 would ruin pretty much most games. You could have a thrilling test where England score 300 on the first day, the opponents could makes 280 on the second and England are 40 for 1 at the end of Day 2. A beautifully balanced test that could finish on Day 3, but looks destined for a Day 4 finish. Then we have a rained out day and…. England are 60 ahead and are going to have to make a daring declaration to win or bat out the day and try again. I think the third day rain out will kill many a test match. What you going to do, make them bowl 130 overs on Day 4?

That was quite long-winded, but test cricket has adapted to five days and the game is brilliant for it. There are many bad ODIs and T20 games. But a bad test has everyone clutching the pearls. But bad tests still have meaningful performances and five days can draw out thrillers from nowhere. Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, for instance. Four dull days, great performances by Malik and Cook, and then a nervy collapse and we have a chase down. Four days and that test match will be condemned. Five days and pressure brought a top finish. I don’t even need to go down the Adelaide 2006 route. Adelaide 2010 would have been a draw due to the rain. India’s magnificent win there a few years before 2006 would have been a bore draw. Test matches, 90 overs a day fit 5 days well. I see no problem to be solved.

Except we don’t believe in tests any more. Youngsters are not interested (we are doing bad jobs as parents and sellers of the game if this is the case) we are told. Keep telling someone the problem is test matches and then you believe it. The ECB wan more T20 because they want more money. Players aren’t going to be giving cash up any time soon, so the powers that be will need them to play more – and charge us more to watch.

I’m packing this in for tonight – will return to it tomorrow as my keyboard is giving me the hump more than the ECB. You get my drift. I’ll be back tomorrow to rant some more if there is time. Four day test matches will be the end for me. It’s change to accommodate an inferior format, in my view, and like any punter I can choose to watch or choose not to. And I am now about to throw this accursed laptop across the room.

Good night.

UPDATE – A non-denial, denial. Let’s gird our loins for the consultation..

In a statement, a spokesman said: “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.”

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.

“Above all, ECB is committed to a healthy and competitive future for Test match cricket, here and around the world.”

The ‘is this damn series still going on’ preview

For those of you expecting a long and detailed preview of the next ODI between England and the West Indies, then as the title may suggest, you’d probably be better off searching elsewhere. I fully admit that I haven’t seen a single ball of the white ball series as I have been manic at work, having to travel to glamorous places like Frankfurt for dull financial conferences alongside the fact that I really couldn’t care less who wins. Dmitri has done a fine job of manning the fort whilst TLG gambles all his money away in Macau and whilst I have also been unavailable and hence I don’t want to cover the same points that he has made; however this is proving quite difficult as all I can think is ‘why hold a sodding one day series in late September?’. The fans don’t care, the players probably don’t care, all they want is to try and preserve their health ahead of a manic winter schedule (more on that a little later) yet the ECB mandate remains that you MUST enjoy the wonderful battle between two heavyweights that they have put on. As we know, they’re kidding nobody.

The fact that I haven’t seen a single ball of the series so far along with my complete and utter lack of interest makes writing a preview of the game a slightly difficult affair. I believe Jonny Bairstow scored a great century in the first ODI meaning Jason Roy will have to wait his turn this time, Chris Gayle is more than likely out of the series through injury, the West Indies can no longer automatically qualify for the World Cup, oh and it rained a lot last week (who would’ve thought that would happen in late September in England??.) I’m not aware of the current England squad for this series but one would hope that the England management team might have one iota of intelligence and rest Root, Stokes & Ali for the engagements in the upcoming winter; however this is the England management team, so no doubt they’ll all play and one of them will get a serious injury ruling them out of the Ashes. It’s a familiar tale that has a habit of repeating itself time and time again.

Speaking of injuries and our ‘world class’ medical team, I was particularly sad to see that Toby Roland Jones has suffered a season ending injury which will likely rule him out of the Ashes. I fully admit that I’m a diehard Middlesex fan and hence my views may well be somewhat biased, but I think it’s a massive blow not just to TRJ but also for England. I have seen people elsewhere question on how useful TRJ might have been on hard Australian wickets and he was far from a shoo-in for the final XI; however people tend to forget that you don’t always have to bowl at 90+ MPH to be effective in Test Cricket. Glenn McGrath bowled around the early 80’s for most of his career and no-one doubted his success in these conditions, so does Vernan Philander, who is probably a bit slower than McGrath but also has a good record in Australia. Now I’m not saying that TRJ is in the same league as these two, but I did find it rather puzzling that certain parts of the media were questioning his potential effectiveness on these wickets. I guess what we need a 4 tall fast bowlers who can bowl at 85+ MPH as that tactic served us so well on the last tour over there. So with TRJ probably ruled out and Mark Wood also struggling with injury, then England look like turning back to one of their ex’s that they know they should move on from but can’t properly say goodbye to. I would love to be able to write a piece on how Finn has regained his potency, but I just don’t think he will ever find that again at Test Level. No matter how well Finn bowls in the County Championship, and he has bowled very well over the past month, I always believe that he lacks the mental fortitude to be successful at Test Level; sure he can still be very good on his day, but as soon as he loses a bit of confidence, then his head drops, his pace goes down and he looks like a pretty average county bowler. Finn should have been the find of the century and should have more than 300 Test wickets under his belt by now, the fact that he hasn’t still rests at the shoes of the god-awful David Saker, a man so tactically inept that Donald Trump is thinking about hiring him.

On another point, the County Championship winds up this week and whilst not everyone on here is a massive fan, it looks like it’s going to be a dogfight to see who stays up in Division 1. I’m just glad we have a dedicated cricket channel that can cover this as it goes to the wire. Oh wait, hang on, our dedicated cricket channel is instead showing another AB De Villiers master class and how the World T20 was won instead of showing any live cricket. The thinking behind this is absolutely mind boggling, I mean imagine if Sky showed the 1995 Premier League years instead of the North London derby for instance, there would be an absolute uproar; yet for cricket, the county game is viewed as a mere annoyance, something that can be quickly glossed over for another meaningless ODI series. The fact that Sky has also lost the Ashes this winter means their so-called Cricket channel is becoming more of a white elephant by the day.

For those of you who to choose to watch the ODI tomorrow, then please feel free to comment below, I’m off to watch the NFL at Wembley instead….

To Our Voices Nobody’s Listening

15006 people paid to watch that in person. I hope they enjoyed the meaningless delay in play. Glad to see no-one tore an ACL.

If you are expecting a match report, then good luck. No-one seems bothered by the ODIs on here. When you get games like this, I’m not surprised. Gayle got out and the West Indies innings died. England chased it with a fortnight remaining. Jonny Bairstow made his first ODI 100. Glad he’s happy.

On to Nottingham. Sky Sports Cricket needs more than Cricket Greatest and Masterclass. And a sport moves more into the realms of irrelevance.

It’s all about context.

 

Now Everybody’s Under Somebody’s Spell, Unless They’ve Already Gone To Hell

T20. The future of the sport globally. The thing we all want to see. The most exciting format of the game. Crash, bang, wallop, ramp shots, big hits, spin on top, great fielding, intensity. What’s not to love?

I’ve been to two T20s this year – Surrey v Essex, which, was, of course, the last time KP batted for any length of time in this country. Surrey v Glamorgan, a game which came down to the last ball with Surrey possibly nicking a tie having been behind the curve for much of the match. Both games were acceptable as cricket matches. The Essex game for the skill Surrey showed in strangling the life out of the Essex innings and stopping our perennial nemeses Bopara and ten Doeschate from taking the game from us (should have brought the other pain, Napier, back for that one match). The Glamorgan game for Surrey scrapped to get near a really decent total. Instead both were marred for me by the idiots surrounding me in the stands. I’ve only ever to been to T20s at two other grounds – Lord’s and Beckenham (and that was in the first year) – and I know the Oval has a reputation for being a rowdy venue, but I find the whole thing a little unsettling. I’m no angel – you don’t follow Millwall home and away for decades without seeing a bit of naughtiness – but this was acceptable conduct. When the football fan wants a beer at his/her sport, there are myriad rules you have to abide by. When the cricket fan wants one, it is how quick can we pour the watered down piss, and see you in another quarter of an hour.

The result is that most of the people don’t seem to have a clue about the skill levels in the game. I’m not exaggerating. At the Glamorgan game there were a load of city workers out for the night, and I will not get over the lot in front having a bingo card with ludicrous cliches which I suppose someone was supposed to cross off when someone / anyone said them. Why, on a Friday evening, nice and dry, would someone say “sticky wicket” I have no idea. Maybe I needed to be in it to understand it. I saw them before the game, never saw them again. It was symptomatic of the level of “bantz” around me. Still, they paid for their tickets and they take their choice. I can shake my fist and tell them to get off my lawn, but they are staying.

Last night, in the dark September evening in Chester-le-Street, the two teams that contested the World final 18 months ago met for the first time since we were told to “remember the name”. England showed how much they valued the game by resting Ben Stokes at his own home venue. The West Indies brought over their champion team – in the case of Carlos Brathwaite it was for this match only (clearly we can forget the name for ODI cricket) – and ended up winning quite comfortably. We pointed out last year that the schedule for the 2017 international summer was a sick joke. At the time Pakistan finished their test match tour here last year, West Indies would just about have arrived this. We still have two weeks to go. The last ODI is after the last County Championship game ends and if the CC had gone the distance like last year, Sky wouldn’t have been there because the ODIs take priority) which is mad. Utterly mad. When the English cricket season finishes on Friday week at BransgroveDome, we will be 28 hours from October. It’s the bloody future.

I wouldn’t have minded as much if last night’s game had provided any interest. But where’s the pain of defeat? Did it matter that much, if at all? I hope BigKev doesn’t mind, but I’ve used his tweet to sum up exactly how I feel.

And this is it. Should it matter. Should we treat T20 as a totally disposable sport, that a game doesn’t really linger. A tour de force to win a match, such as for someone of my vintage that means Viv’s 189, or Allan Lamb at MCG, is only memorable if it is a relative one off. If you keep seeing massive sixes, and 50 ball centuries, it’s great but given their relatively regular occurrences, not as long lasting on the memory. I will say now I will not remember one of the sixes from this game in a couple of weeks time. I will remember Chris Gayle’s schoolboy run out where, frankly, he couldn’t be arsed to dive. He was quite open about it during his interview and the Sky box thought it was all rather amusing. Gayle himself said he was ballwatching, while Sky seemed to care more that he had a standing ovation from the Durham crowd. You were more likely to see KP in an England shirt than any mention of “Universal God” and his past misdemeanors. When Universal God told the crew he fancied another shot at test cricket instead of saying “oh, that’s really good of you” it was like he’d given them all individual tickets to his pole dancing nights. Except Bumble. And we’ll come on to him in a minute.

The fact is that the West Indies T20 superstars are bigger, much bigger, than West Indian cricket. They are a good team, who prioritise T20 above all other formats. They are world champions for a reason. Narine bowled four overs for 15 runs, strangling the life out of England’s reply. It made for really dull cricket if you wanted the artificial stimulus of a close finish. By the later parts of the England reply I switched over and watched Millwall’s goal and near misses against Leeds. I took the dog for a walk. It was dull, in its own way. Even dull passages of test cricket, and there are many, are part of the story. You can recover from one, the game could pick up at any moment, it could be a key part of an intriguing contest. 2006, Adelaide Day 4. A dull day’s cricket, Australia accumulating, England striving, looked bad, and was not that exciting to be at. But without it, Day 5 would never have happened. Test cricket survives, can even thrive, on dull passages of play. T20 is killed by it. The West Indies won because, even with some of their players not putting it all in, they were still better than England. We had all the nonsense about how they are well drilled etc, but England came within a freak over of being world champions and many of the team that played that day were there. Not buying that.

Finally, to Sky’s coverage. Given I tried to do an over by over in the comments, I paid more attention than usual. David Lloyd had not had to pay for a ticket. David Lloyd is probably royally looked after. David Lloyd is becoming less a respected cricket commentator and more a crippling self-parody. When Ian Ward paired up with Robert Key for the second half of the West Indies innings we had enthusiasm, insight, good commentary, and most importantly it wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about “entertaining” the audience. They treated the watching public like adults. They didn’t need to evangelise, like Nasser does with T20 (he loses his mind in this format – he really is in need of the less is more mantra) but you get the impression that they liked being there and that came through. Lloyd’s bizarre wrapping himself up in a blanket and acting like a 5 year old in the second innings was embarrassing. We know it’s cold, but it’s because your channel needs content, and is prepared to pay for it, we get to see the spectacle of T20 international cricket in mid-September. You are moaning at your own company. Was anyone at Sky happy with one of their employees basically sticking their middle finger up at their own scheduling needs? I get the real hump with commentators moaning about their own conditions when they are getting paid royally to be looked after by all and sundry, while international cricket fans in the North East get a T20 match in Autumn as their only chance to see their team without a 150 mile round trip to a northern venue. They didn’t give this game to Taunton, and the Taunton one to CLS, did they? Those cricket fans turned up in droves, created some form of atmosphere, and yet a Sky commentator moans about being cold for the whole game.

The ODI series starts Tuesday. I have a week off work. We’ve got a couple of guest articles lined up, and I’m feeling a bit more in the groove. It could be fun. Well, for me at least.

UPDATE – It is Universe Boss. Not Universal God. Like it matters. I do have his book to read. Can’t wait.

From Northern Parts and Scottish Towns – Today’s T20

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Some Are Here and Some Are Missing…… I once went to a T20 international

As pointless posts go, this is up there. I’m doing an open post for a T20 international played in the middle of September at Chester-le-Street. If we have a poster game for how entirely messed up the current cricketing environment is, this is it. Context? Who gives a stuff about context? It’s a one-off game that doesn’t really count for anything other than a game on the day. This is cricket not as a sport, with results counting for something or other, rather a cricketing version of a comedy series Christmas Special. It stands out, it doesn’t need to fit in with a narrative in the series, and it’s rather bleeding unnecessary other than to make some money.

That’s modern sport. Fuck the competition. To hell with what matters. It’s entertainment. Honestly, if they thought it made more money, we’d have the game as a bloody film event. What’s the downside for the loser? International friendlies in football matter more, because if you lose them, you lose ranking points that cost you seedings when it comes to tournaments. Draws are rigged in the international cricket scene, so don’t compare apples and oranges.

Most of the headlines have been devoted to the third ranked England cricketer in the Power List being left out at his home ground to give him a rest. Number 1. Ben Stokes is the most powerful England cricketer and in my view, it isn’t even close. He’s the highest paid overseas player in the IPL. He won the MVP last year, I do believe. If Ben Stokes decides he fancies earning a million or so dollars every year rather than play an early summer series against Pakistan, then we are in dire straits. The two players above him in the list, Joe Root and Moeen Ali do not have that power because they are not in line to play in the IPL. Stokes is the key to our test team not falling on its arse. He’s been our player of the season. I can’t say I’d be starting up his fan club as I’m not overtly keen on the approach he takes on the field, but as a talent, he’s as good as we’ve had for a while. (I’ve not got a copy of the list yet, but seen Lizzie Ammon’s photo which ends at 44, and with last year’s #39 not on it so far. This year’s #39 is Ian Ward. I’m interested what power he wields!)

There’s no newbies on show for England, who have lost 4 of their last 5 games to the West Indies, so there is little curiosity in the event. Jason Roy and Alex Hales will probably open. Tom Curran is as near as we get to a new international in the line-up. West Indies, who are fast becoming the equivalent of Fiji in rugby, look a formidable team, with new talents like Evin Lewis in the ranks (not that new, he has two T20 centuries already) and captained by Carlos Brathwaite (I remembered his name, but not a lot of his performances since that night). I’m sure it will be super fun as the temperature is predicted to be around 52 degrees and possible showers. Power List #1, aka Empty Suit, is probably thrilled, making cricket an almost winter sport, but I can’t help but feel that this is a bridge too far.

Until you consider we have a FIVE game ODI series to follow.  It’s what the people want, after all. Take a thick coat, and enjoy the show.

Comments below.

UPDATE: Here is your top 50. And last year’s…