West Indies vs. England, Third Test – Day 3

If Day 2 was a very enjoyable day of Test cricket, with first of all England collapsing in a heap once again and then the West Indian team following suit mainly down to the fiery spell by Mark Wood, then Day 3 was the complete antithesis of this. The West Indian side despite taking a wicket with the first ball of the day, looked weary and disinterested especially with Keemo Paul injured and unable to bowl. This unfortunately happens often in a dead rubber game, the series winners can’t seem to find the oomph to drive the final nail in the coffin home and usually what follows is a pretty insipid performance, after all England are no strangers to this, though we would naturally take a poor English performance in this Test for a series win in hindsight.

The opening pair of the tourists were once again in the spotlight, with Rory Burns looking to trying to cement his place in the side for the summer ahead and Keaton Jennings playing in what should be his last Test for a very long while. Therefore it must have been doubly disappointing for Burns hit a loosener from Paul straight down the throat of square leg to depart first ball of the day. Burns has looked compact and in control of his game in this series much as he did in Sri Lanka but the lack of a significant score must be playing both on his mind and those of the selectors. In retrospect, he can be seen as quite fortunate that Jennings at the other end has looked like he has never picked up a cricket bat before. Jennings ironically looked better than he has for the whole series, almost if he was resigned to losing his place after this Test, but having moved to a score of 23, he then managed to miss a ball going down the leg side, which then flicked his stumps and removed the bails. It was a sorry way to go for the soon to depart England opener, but equally rather sums up his unfortunate time at the top of the order. It’s sad to say that Jennings, much like Gary Ballance before him, found his technique wanting at the highest level, but instead of working on his flaws like many used to when they were discarded from the Test team and sent back to county cricket to fix these. He has found himself back in the side without making any significant changes to his technique due to the lack of talent in the ranks. Sadly the result of this was always going to be inevitable failure.

Joe Denly came in and chanced his arm somewhat but also played some good shots on his way to making 69, even if he will be horribly upset by his dismissal which was a lose waft at a wide delivery from Gabriel, when a century was on the cards. Denly has looked far better this game than he did on his debut, though that couldn’t have been too hard and has at least given the selectors a bit of food for thought. One thing I would say is that this is not the motivated West Indian attack of the first two Tests and he still didn’t inspire a lot of confidence at the crease whilst he was batting, so continuing to pick him on one decent Test Innings should be regarded as a rather rash state of affairs (see Mark Wood also). One would think that Denly needs to score a mountain of runs in the first division this summer to keep his name in the frame, something that his average of 34 in first class cricket suggests he might not be able to do. Still England’s complete lack of options at the top of the order may save him for the First Test of the Ashes, though equally I’m sure the selectors are desperate to select James Vince again after a few pretty half centuries.

The rest of the session before tea was very much after the lord’s mayor’s show with Root who has been seriously out of touch all series trying to graft himself into some sort of form and Buttler, who quietly has been the most impressive of England’s batsmen over the past 12 months, milking a tired and under-strength West Indian attack. If watching 2 part-time spinners (though one of them still managed to skittle our batting line up in the First Test) lobbing pies as the English batsmen is your thing then you were in for the treat, most I suspect turned the channel over, another pitfall of the dead-rubber. The only slight panic was when Buttler was given out caught by Rod Tucker when the ball was nowhere close to the bat and thankfully is the sort of howler that DRS was originally bought in to try and eliminate. Root quickly reached his half-century after tea with Buttler reaching his 50 not too long after.

The snooze fest was briefly livened up with the introduction of the 2ndnew ball with Buttler bowled by a cracker of a delivery by Kemar Roach; however at 375 ahead with 6 wickets remaining a huge collapse was going to be necessary to interest even the most ardent of Test Cricket fans. Both Roach and Gabriel bowled very well with the new ball and made the ball talk, indicating once again that the effective use of the new ball is key on this pitch, but Root and Stokes survived the onslaught to put England in a commanding position. After surviving a testing new ball period, Root finally went on to make his 16th Test century which would have been a blessed relief as he has looked as ‘out of nick’ on this tour as I’ve seen him in a long time, though no doubt tinged with regret as he could only make a significant score when the series was already gone.

England now with their bowlers health in mind and wanting to give the West Indies a taste of their own medicine by keeping them out on the field and bowling on a hot and humid day, should have more than enough to win this Test from here. One would imagine that they will try and bat until lunch tomorrow and gain a lead of around 550 before re-inserting the West Indians. Not that this at all matters because we have already lost the series and this only saves a modicum of embarrassment. I’ll be interested if this is reflected in the final thoughts from the England camp at the end of the series.

Judging from the inertia from today’s play, I’m not expecting a load of comments, so those who read the blog but aren’t inclined to comment, why not take 2 minutes to introduce yourself to your fellow community?  Especially as you’re currently reading this after today’s turgid affair! How about name/nom de guerre, how you found the blog, favourite county team (if applicable) and favourite English cricket moment from the past? I’ll Start:

Name: Sean

How did I find the blog: A latecomer to HWDLIA who then transferred over to BOC once Dmitri set up the new site. A few guest posts later and suddenly I find myself writing for the blog.

Favourite County: Middlesex (cue the outrage and inevitable abuse, probably mainly from Danny)

Favourite English Cricket moment: Alastair Cook being hit in the balls…Oh and the 2005 Ashes.

Anyone else game??

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West Indies vs England: 3rd Test, Day One

A day of cricket that most of all resembled the outbreak of a Test match occurred in St Lucia today. It involved England grafting having been put into bat, and finishing the day in a half reasonable position.

It could certainly be argued that the hosts, having won the series, had lost a little intensity, for they didn’t bowl anything like as well as they had in either of the first two Tests, while the absence of the suspended captain may also have had an impact. Whatever it was, the direction and accuracy was a notch down on where it has been up to now, particularly as the day wore on and the frustration began to rise.

It was still good enough to account for the England top order, the perennial problems England have in losing early wickets much to the fore. The selection of Keaton Jennings was bizarre in the first place, and he should have been given out once and was also dropped before eventually being put out of his misery by Holder’s replacement Keemo Paul.

It is hard not to feel anything other than sympathy for Jennings’ predicament. He’s hopelessly out of form, has significant technical flaws in his game, and was on a hiding to nothing being called into this one. It is not in any way surprising he failed, his head cannot be in a good cricketing place right now. Quite what those responsible expected to have dramatically changed is unknown, for this was trying the same thing again and expecting a different result. That’s known as the definition of something or other.

Rory Burns managed to play around a straight one, as did Joe Denly, while an out of sorts Root had an ugly old waft outside off stump. There is a lot of talk about his form, but it is only this winter that he was scoring centuries and being praised for showing signs of overcoming his conversion “problem”. Root is a fine player, and of all of the problems the England batting line up might have, he is the least of them, whatever the low return from this tour might be, and however out of touch he might be at present. He is the one genuinely class batsman in the team.

After that it was the Buttler and Stokes show. Both had a little luck, certainly, but Stokes probably has the purest technique of any of the England players, and has shown before he has the mental aptitude for a rearguard action. He was hardly slow of course, but he wasn’t over-aggressive, and he looked the most comfortable at the crease of any England batsman this series.

His dismissal off a no ball, leaving the field of play, left all but a remarkably smug few non-plussed, the law having changed to allow a batsman to be recalled at any point up to the next delivery to be bowled. Was I aware? Nope. First time I’ve seen that.

Although there was a little rain before lunch, the over rate was once again abysmal, in fact marginally worse than at Antigua. It may be that another West Indies captain is going to be on the sidelines for the start of the ODI series. If nothing else, it quite pointedly thumbed a nose at the ICC, but if there was sympathy in some quarters for Jason Holder, there’s likely to be far less for Brathwaite this time around given a second team offence.

By the end of play the West Indies were looking a little weary, and a four wicket return having put England into bat represents far less than they would ever have hoped or anticipated. This was without doubt England’s best day of the series. Far too late, but a decent one in the end even so.

Even when losing early wickets, England had shown a much greater level of discipline in their approach, and perhaps something can be taken from that for the Ashes, though given how far away that is, the chances are a belated learned lesson here will have no effect. But what it did do was lay at least some kind of platform for the middle order, and that was a first this series.

For tomorrow, this could still go two ways. The pitch is certainly more even than at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and there is no reason why 300 shouldn’t be considered par. England still have a way to go to get to that, and with their propensity for spectacular collapses, it shouldn’t be assumed this is certain to be reached.

Nevertheless, at long last England have been competitive. In itself, that represents a minor victory. As long as it is considered that and no more, they can be relatively content with their efforts.

But tomorrow? Well tomorrow is another day.

West Indies vs England: 3rd Test Preview

It’s been a busy old week for the site, and Sean’s piece about the ECB, the Test team and the county set up has attracted lots of deserved attention.  For those yet to read it, it can be found here .

For England, there is the small matter of a Test match in St Lucia to deal with.  Having been comprehensively walloped in the first two Tests, England will go to St Lucia knowing it is likely to be the quickest pitch of the series, as the hosts finally appear to have realised that playing to their strengths reaps dividends, especially against teams who have shown a marked dislike for pace and bounce.  Whether it is as uneven as the Antigua surface is to some extent beside the point, England have struggled badly on perfectly flat quick, bouncy pitches in recent times, and the insistence of the ECB on producing slow, low tracks at home, allied with the pushing to the margins of the red ball county game mean it is hardly surprising that England batsmen react as if stung by a wasp when they come across bounce and pace.  Still, that’s no kind of excuse, given it’s entirely of their own doing in the first place, and the lack of preparation – or more specifically the apparent preparation and selection for the kinds of pitches seen in years past are a failure of planning that hasn’t attracted as much attention as it should have.  England’s first Test selection was utterly wrong, and how they got it that wrong should receive more scrutiny, beyond simply blaming captain and coach.

This time around, they at least don’t have to deal with trying to bowl to Jason Holder for a day at a time, banned as he is from the match for a slow over rate.  There has been much sympathy for him, but in principle the decision is fair enough – it is the lack of consistency that is the problem.  However, it needs to be said that much noise concerning slow over rates comes from the likes of us, while anecdotally, it can’t be said that it is a pressing concern for most, which perhaps puts us as outliers.

To replace him, the West Indies have called up an all rounder in Keemo Paul as a direct replacement, and another fast bowler in Oshane Thomas.  Which they go with will say a lot about how fragile they believe England to be after their previous drubbings.

For England, unless injury forces a change from Stokes and Foakes, if they do change anything it is most likely to be to bring in Mark Wood, who whatever his shortcomings in his career to date, and injury has plagued him, is certainly the only member of the squad who might have the pace to match the West Indians.  It really is like being back in 1985 – all we need is for someone to talk about meeting fire with fire.  If this is what England go with, the player at most risk is Sam Curran, keeping up the fine tradition of England replacing a bowler when the batsmen fail.  Wood himself directly commented on that, in a delightfully off message observation that will not have endeared him to the England hierarchy.

“I think I’ve got a chance. It’s very harsh to leave a bowler out when it’s the batting that’s failed but that always seems to be the case, doesn’t it?”

Optimism is in short supply, but it is always possible that England will have learned some lessons from the series to date.  Perhaps they’ll bat more responsibly, and not assume they are in a one day international.  Perhaps they’ll consider occupation of the crease to be a valid aim.  Perhaps they’ll bowl to do more than try and invite the kinds of reckless shots that England batsmen make.  But the evidence to date suggests it unlikely.  Still, that’s the beauty of sport.

The absence of Holder would make any England win slightly hollow, and it could be argued that for England to really look properly at what has happened on this tour and why they need to be resoundingly beaten so no one can try and look for the positives.  Yet the ECB in recent years seem to care not a jot for reverses (away Ashes whitewashes are brushed off as being of little consequence, especially when they can’t blame the same person again) , content to win mostly at home and occasionally away if playing an understrength opponent.  This tour will be forgotten quickly when the World Cup comes around, though that does highlight the importance of England winning it to remotely justify the sidelining of the Test team, and the selection of a near on one day batting line up in the Test arena.  2019 does have the potential for the ECB to claim all is well and pat themselves on the back for their brilliance, but there will undoubtedly now be a few nervous glances over a shoulder or two at Lord’s, and so there should be.  It’s been a high stakes gamble, one which requires everything for the remainder of this year to go right .  The problem is that their concern is on the basis of how it reflects on their strategy, not a care about the game of cricket as a reason in itself.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone.  It still isn’t that England are an awful team – faced with friendly conditions they are a match for anyone.  But they have been found out away from home, and their limited approach does not serve them well in alien surrounds.  Whoever would have predicted that?

 

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

Whilst Sky are intent on portraying the English cricket team as pariahs entering a brave new era with their white ball team, they do have advertising slots to sell for the World Cup this year after all, many of us are not feeling quite the same bonhomie with this English cricket team. Chris’ review of the 2nd Test was as great as it was cuttingly brutal, quite simply this England team is the weakest team we have had in living memory and one that is arguably not fit for the Test arena. This is not a surprise to any of us as those who have followed the Test arena for a long time and we know that the spin that is trying to be spun by the powers that be are simply empty words from a clueless board and those that are in cahoots with them; words to try and dupe the public this is a but a mere blip and those in-power do know best. After all, who can forget the insightful words from our so-called Managing Director, that winning or losing doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely about attracting a new ‘audience to the game’

The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this. “Joe Root and [one-day and Twenty20 captain] Eoin Morgan understand their responsibility to be playing exciting cricket for future generations to connect with and for fans of the game to get behind us. It’s a very deliberate strategy. It doesn’t work every time you go out on the park. But we understand that it’s more likely you’re going to be forgiven for having a bad day if you’re doing everything to try to win a game, as opposed to not trying to lose it, which is a very key difference in positioning.”

So that’s that then. The whole art of playing Test Cricket, which has been successful for over 100 years has been deemed not good enough and then redesigned by a clown in an expensive suit who is desperate to embrace the whole hit and giggle side of cricket to make some more cash for himself. Get beaten by an innings, no worries it was an entertaining collapse. Play for the draw, I’m afraid Tom has said no way. This is the new and best ever approach to this format now as prescribed by the ECB. No wonder the England coaches seem even more confused and clueless than ever before.

PHOTO-2019-02-06-22-05-05
Tom Harrison’s new outfit – copyright Danny Frankland

I must admit that I watched very little of the 2nd Test as the result seemed to be beyond doubt after Day 1 when England once again hopelessly collapsed on a pitch doing something. I did turn on to see the late rites being issued by the West Indian bowlers but I admit I was more interested in the post match response than seeing another cravenly poor display from our batsmen and bowlers. Will they try to say it was a one-off incident though they did that last week? Will they admit that they are a poor team playing poor cricket (unlikely)? Will they call out Tom Harrison for being an incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be meddling in the Test Team (hopefully but not going to happen)? Or will they do what they always do and mutter something about working harder and a determination to turn it around in the next Test (of course that’s what they did). Joe Root’s speech was naturally non-committal but the reflections from Nasser & Mike Atherton were the ones that really did get me to giggle, especially when Nasser insightfully exclaimed:

There is a real problem in county cricket, where there is no real depth of top-quality, top-order batsmen. The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke’s ball.

“If anything, people are hiding away from batting in the top three. If you look at someone like Jason Roy, who some say is the next cab off the rank, he bats at five for Surrey. England have to go and see Surrey and Alec Stewart and say ‘we’re looking at him for the top of the order, can you get him up to three?’ Why would you want to move up to three in county cricket when it’s moving around? James Vince at Hampshire is slowly sliding down the order where it’s easier to bat.

I can’t have been the only one who laughed in slight disbelief that Nasser had only just grasped this now. Surely the succession of failed openers might have given it away? Or maybe the fact that most of the batsmen are averaging low 30’s with the bat? Or even the fact that England has been trying to cover their batting vulnerabilities by selecting as many all-rounders as they can possibly fit in the team? The fact that Nasser finally pointed out that there is an inherent weakness in our structure is something that most people with any knowledge of the red ball game have been banging on about for years and hardly puts his ‘insight’ in a good shade. We all know that the county cricket is something the ECB would very much like to get rid of, in fact if Test cricket didn’t make them so much money in London, they’d probably like to get rid of that too for some ridiculous bastardization of the game featuring beach balls and unicorns. What was particularly amusing about the interview is that he managed to say all of this without once suggesting that this is the fault of the ECB and Tom Harrison’s ‘let’s all have a slog, it doesn’t matter if we lose’ mentality. The reason why we struggle to find quality players in the county system these days is that access to the game is at an all time low, cricket remains hidden away from the public like some kind of deformed cousin and those that do make it to the county game are being forced to play red ball cricket out of season and are no longer given the time or coaching to hone their skills if they can’t hit the ball out of the park. So why is it again that we struggle to find quality Test batsmen Nasser? The answer is staring you in the face in the form of Tom Harrison and his rest of his not-so merry men, but then again they pay the bills of the Sky commentators, so naturally one can’t go and bite the hand that feeds you. Nasser though wasn’t quite done in making himself look like a prize turnip:

“We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies.”

Really Nasser, I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks for insight like that and in other news the world is still round and the sun continues to heat the earth. One bonus from Nasser’s groundbreaking news though was that this did facilitate one of the best come backs on Twitter ever by a certain Nick Compton, which is worth dealing with the hassle of Twitter on its’ own:

 

Yes that man who was routinely vilified by our friends in the media (and sometimes Alastair Cook when he wanted to get rid of any heat after a poor series) as some kind of weirdo who didn’t fit in with the team nor fit the ethos of the English mentality. How dare he try and bat himself in when some mothers and kids might be watching? A word to the wise Nick, lose the defence and try and slog a quick bowler over cow corner, after all this is Tom’s new vision of English Test cricket. Now I’m not saying that Compton was the answer, but it would have been nice for the media to give him a chance, especially after a match winning knock in Durban second time around, before they decided that his card was marked and that he was ‘not one of us’. Not that this is the first or will be the last time that this has happened.

Mr Harrison mind you hadn’t finished making himself a laughing stock. In his interview with Ian Ward which was aired on Sky during the First Test and I do use interview in the loosest possible sense, Harrison managed to confuse and contradict his own statements in classic fashion. Mind you, Ward’s interview technique more resembled that of a craven apology and could only have been more accommodating if he had been fellating Harrison during the whole interview. I genuinely don’t know how anyone with even a remote sense of cricketing knowledge would have been able to stand there with a straight face when Harrison said:

We have got fantastic county competitions in this country, we’ve got a thriving international game, but what the ECB and I have to do is ensure we’re keeping an eye on the future and making sure we are doing as much as we can to make the game as open, available, and accessible as it can be to wider audiences. “There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that while we have been doing very well with our county competitions, there is much more we can do to get those wider audiences in the game, which are going to be important in the future for this game to thrive throughout this country.

Sure that ‘fantastic’ county competition that you are trying your best to destroy, the one that has been pushed to the very margins of the game so that it is almost impossible for the counties to prepare players with the technique and skill set to thrive at Test Level. Ah yes, the county game that you and your associates are continue to take a knife to in the hope it finally keels over. It’s like praising an Olympic sprinter then sticking a bullet in both his knees, well he still has hands to stumble to the finish line on after all.

We also had the wonderfully timed piece by Ali Martin warning of the creation of Super Counties whilst England were thrashing away to another humiliating defeat – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/02/pca-hundred-super-counties. I genuinely am not too sure about which thing to be most worried about, firstly that Ali felt he needed to post a piece that was so stunningly obvious to most cricket and county fans or the fact that the PCA has only just woken up to this fact despite the huge red flags. Daryl Mitchell, who is the Chair of the PCA or as it’s known, the ECB’s subservient lapdog, explained:

“You run the risk of the game going towards eight super-counties and end up with a situation where it leads to player bias in terms of recruitment.”

Now what Daryl has said is completely correct, the franchises will no doubt hog their key franchise players to the detriment of other cricket going on concurrently; however my real concern is that the body who are supposed to represent the interests of all English players has only just realised that this competition will no doubt alienate those players who are not picked for the hundred and consequently make all other cricket going on at this time into a 2nd rate competition. Now I may be an old cynic, but surely this is not rocket science to anyone in or outside the current system. The rich will get rich, the poor will get poorer and those counties who are not identified as a ‘franchise’ will be left with a 2nd rate product that no-one wants to watch, all for the hope of  a promised cash windfall of £1.3 million, which will likely get reduced when the Hundred flops horrendously. Certainly, it’s not enough to sell your soul and local team down the river for. The only way that the counties had a chance to stop this unwanted juggernaut then and to a lesser extent now was to stand together and reject the ECB’s model out of hand, yet the only 2 counties who decided to vote against the ECB’s blood money were the unlikely duo of Rod Bransgrove of Hampshire and my own beloved Middlesex. I may support Middlesex but even I wouldn’t trust the Middlesex board to boil an egg let alone lead the fight against the ECB especially as they are so thin skinned that they make Mike Selvey look like he is impervious to criticism. Even now, with the wolves at the door, many of the county chairmen are still convinced that sticking their head in the sand is the best way to approach this threat. Take the Chairman of Somerset, who by all means are extremely competently run county, but equally are the exact model that the ECB would like to rid itself of and his so-called thoughts on the upcoming challenges:

“Like it or not, some counties need the £1.3m a year,” Cornish was quoted as saying by the Somerset County Gazette of the money each club will receive once The Hundred is up and running.”

“We feel working with the ECB is the best way to drive growth in cricket. It is important to remember that it will be the Chairmen of the 18 First Class Counties who take the vote on the subject of the Hundred. “What matters more than anything is the future of the game as a whole. Getting young people to participate, and then nurturing that love of the game is what is key here.”

This is stupidity of another order, like having cattle walk voluntarily into the abattoir to be killed in the hope of receiving some greener grass just beforehand. Somerset are likely to be one of the major losers in this battle and their Chairman is rolling around hoping for his belly to be tickled by his paymasters? It’s quite frankly unbelievable. Once the Hundred is implemented, these counties won’t just be phased into feeder clubs for the so called Big 8, they will simply wound down until they no longer exist anymore. The ECB cares not for the county model especially in the red ball game, which is not making them enough money and doesn’t attract the right sort of cricket fan. All in all, this format is quite frankly an annoyance to the paymasters of English cricket even if the format still remains popular with many of the olders fans. What better ruse than to gradually make them as inaccessible as possible so they eventually are made redundant, so they can change the name of those counties who have a Test Match ground to the ‘Nottingham Ninja’s” or “North London Lions”. This is the new marketing game according to Harrison and his lackeys, after all who doesn’t want to a watch a game where there might be ninjas or lions in it? Talking of Somerset and people associated with the club, I have been an interested spectator following the posts of Andy Nash, who has turned from ex ECB Director and corporate man to social media pariah. Now there is no doubt that Andy is a very intelligent man and that many of his Twitter posts are absolutely spot on, but there is the cynic in me that asks:

  • Why did you not do anything to fight this as a Director of the ECB?
  • Why did Somerset vote for the additional short ball competition if you knew it would irrevocably damage the red ball competition?

Now there might be a very straight forward answer to this, but without knowing the background it seems more than a little hypocritical to take it upon yourself to act as the ‘mouthpiece for change’ even if what you are saying is correct, a bit like an armed robber lecturing a kid who has been caught stealing penny sweets. I have asked this question of Andy more than once on social media without response, so perhaps we can all gather together to ask him this the next time he tweets about the subject. Naturally Andy is very welcome to come onto this platform to share his views and experiences, but I won’t be holding my breath on this.

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely with this post. The English cricket team may resemble the worst team we have had in Test Cricket in living memory, the future for the majority of our domestic game and for the production of Test Players looks darker than it ever has been before and that the fans of the game have been relegated to nothing more than an occasional annoyance and not the right sort of consumer for their product, but all is good and healthy in the English camp. After all, a few pithy marketing campaigns and demanding that the players go out and have a slog (sorry play an aggressive brand of cricket) to keep little Gregory entertained is what our game really needs in the minds of the ECB.

Cricket is staring down the precipice, the only question is will those who have the power to drag it back from the edge, finally wake up before it’s all too late. I’m unfortunately not very hopeful.

 

On The Back Of A Hurricane, That Started Turning – BOC is 4!

We Are 4

I love a good anniversary. On 6th February 2015 I shut down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, and started up Being Outside Cricket. Within four years we have established ourselves as part of the cricket blogging furniture, given opportunities for others to use our blog to get their messages across, been a blog that tried to allow the malcontents a voice, and I think we did that, and most of all, to convey how much cricket did mean to us, and to an extent still does.

While HDWLIA is still where I thought I did my best work, because it was visceral and because at the time life was massively tumultuous, both in terms of work and the strain the blog was putting me under, I am immensely proud of Being Outside Cricket. Within three months of BOC starting, Chris came on board, and we’ve never looked back. Sean started guesting in 2016, then came fully on board later that year, with Danny following in 2017. As a foursome, we try to keep up with the blog while holding down very busy jobs. Even last week, I was wondering how much I could continue to commit to the blog going forward.

KP Birthday

While we won’t ever really reach the hits heights of 2015, there is a steady flow when we write. Great commenters have come and gone. People have got bored with us, and with cricket. It is inevitable, but it is also a great sense of joy when those test matches come around and the blog gets a stack load of comments. For we know this is a test match blog. Our regulars are appreciated, and the passion of debate is well known. I have loved being part of it. Four years on, with some trials and tribulations, Being Outside Cricket is still one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m sure my co-writers think exactly the same.

In those four years I’ve seen the standards slip elsewhere. Too many writers seem to want to make professions out of it. It’s the way it is. Friends of the past are now no longer interested in us, and in turn, we’ve tired of some of their antics. This isn’t about recrimination, but it is about my blogging ethos. In my “angry” posts, you sense the frustration and I’m not going to sugar coat it. In my longform writing, you must sense what love I had for the sport. In the brilliant wordsmithery of Chris, you see the passion for the game, and the clear sense of what frustrates him, while keeping it measured, but real. In Sean, there’s passion and anger, with Danny, clarity and precision. They are all tremendous colleagues. Without all of them, this blog would not have made 4 years.

Harrison Birthday

So what for the future. Year 5 looks to be a really busy one. We get a little downtime while the IPL bores us senseless, but then we have the lead up to, and the playing of, a World Cup in England. No matter what we feel about 50 over cricket, this is a time to rejoice in the game in this country. We kicked off the 4 years with a World Cup, and that launched BOC.

Then we have the Ashes. It is going to be a really interesting series, shunted to the back of the summer. We have been a very Ashes focused blog because it draws the traffic. In turn that inspires us. If time is on our side, we’ll continue the live blogging, the daily reports and perhaps some new ideas. Who knows. The end of the year has two more test series. Oh, and not forgetting England v Ireland, which has banana skin written all over it.

Somehow, through it all, I doubt the ECB will deny us material, and nor will this England team.

I wanted to write a cricket blog, because I wanted to write. I wanted Chris, and Nonoxcol, along with me because I loved their comments on the varying newspapers, and so 1 out of 2 wasn’t bad. I then wanted to be a voice for those angry at the ECB and in turn the media. It then got a bit too big for me. It became my life. I obsessed over critics. I took some stuff far too personally. Now I am in a better place. I feel a lot stronger, more valued in my real life, and in turn it brings me to a better environment to write. I am so proud of this place, so protective, so amazed at what we’ve done, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. On this, our 4th birthday, we are as relevant as we have ever been, in my view, even if the flow isn’t as strong. We’ve been proved right a lot more than we’ve been proved wrong. We will prove that this was never a pro-KP blog, or an anti-Cook blog. It is a vessel to write what we feel about cricket. And in many ways, we are just getting started.

To more years…

Dmitri (Peter)

Brains Retrained By a 24 Inch Remote

This will be a pretty short post, I promise. By my standards.

Something has caught my eye on Twitter the past couple of days – a post from Football 365 on the so-called Sky Revolution of football in England, via the behemoth that is the Premier League:

https://www.football365.com/news/the-future-of-premier-league-football-on-tv-part-one

We, in Outside Cricket land, are not going to be strangers to this argument. The fact that the game has been hidden from view on pay TV is a common thread of comment over the past four years – five if you include HDWLIA. The sheer fact that in the new deal for the Hundred (and other associated packages) that the ECB has felt compelled to put some of the sport on so-called Free-to-Air is an admission of error. The sport left that medium in 2005, and has paid dearly for it. It isn’t the only reason we are in the mess we are in with the game – envy, greed, stupidity, stubbornness, short-termism have manifested themselves in other ways over the years. But there is no doubt that keeping cricket locked away on Sky has been a real problem. They are prepared to pay the big bucks, but for how long? Viewing figures don’t seem to justify it, even for football. For instance, when Millwall played Blackburn on Sky, who outside of the fan-bases of those two clubs would have given a stuff about it? I can’t imagine viewing figures were much above 20000. Yet the deal pays the clubs quite a bit of cash. I don’t bet, so all those adverts are a total waste of time for me.

Cricket is not a visible. There’s a great part in Ali Martin’s piece last August which sums up where we are…

On the Friday before England’s defeat at Trent Bridge the BBC staged a smiley and slapstick Twenty20 match between Test Match Special and the Tailenders Podcast, with a few famous faces thrown in. Though fun, it was barely benefit-match standard. But it drew 5,000 to Derbyshire’s County Ground and, more eye-catchingly, a television audience of around 400,000 via the red button.

The BBC had similar numbers for the first TMS match in Leeds last year, too – 400k plus another 100k via the iPlayer (around as many as watched the last day of the first Ashes Test in 2015 live) – such that the comedian Miles Jupp in his speech at the Wisden dinner in April quipped about the “frightening statistic” that more people had seen him play cricket on terrestrial TV than Joe Root.

And make that Alastair Cook, who’s entire career was played behind a paywall. If you did not watch the highlights, or the Sky live coverage, Kevin Pietersen probably still has that badger haircut and bad teeth!

At the weekend the US played its most prominent sporting event, the Superbowl. Each weekend during the season a game is played live on CBS, Fox and NBC. An additional game is played on ESPN which most, not all, cable households have in the US. NFL Network also has a game, but it’s not always a top drawer and each team can only play live on it once a season. The thought the whole sport could be stuffed onto a pay TV network would be seen as ridiculous. Unless you do what MLB does, which is offer a brilliant, almost total online package for £100 for the season, and you can watch what you like when you like (with very few exceptions, and with local black-out rules for local TV).

I have heard people like Selvey moan at the likes of us for saying that the return to FTA would not be the cure-all we suggest. Well he’s sticking up more strawmen than a Wizard of Oz rehearsal in that sort of argument. It’s a bit like a smoker who has given up for a week moaning about a lung cancer diagnosis because he’s quit. The long-term damage has been done, and while packing in was a good idea, it’s not going to cure the sins of the past. The audience for cricket has moved on, while the audience for live sport has still got legs, as proved by the ratings for the Six Nations – wisely kept largely on FTA for the duration.

If there were a vision, and if there were a way, the 2019 World Cup would be on FTA. Sky should open it up to all, all the time if they give a crap about the sport, and want to keep their superior production values that everyone bangs on about (hey, didn’t Channel 4 do a really good job too?). We spoke with a journo before Christmas who asked whether we thought if England made a great run to the World Cup Final, if it would capture the nation. While we (Chris and I) both thought it would not do any harm, we were doubtful that the nation (outside of cricket fans) would care. Because they would not be able to see it. I’d love Sky to announce that if England make the semi-final, that they would broadcast their remaining games to all.

I am not a fan of the Sky Sports Cricket Channel. I’ve seen the re-run of that T20 Final and Carlos Brathwaite an inordinate amount of times. They have cut the number of countries they are taking cricket from instead of increasing them. They have endless loops of repeats. If the ECB won’t give up all the old England highlights, then they are more myopic than I give them credit for. Same with any board not wanting to give the game cheap, free publicity from the derring-do of the past. There’s not a market to watch re-runs of Lara and Tendulkar, Warne and Murali, Curtly or Hadlee? Really? Better than that Legends of Cricket stuff of nonsense.

Cricket needs all the help it can get, and while the Premier League is cited as the example of the success of Pay TV, it remains to be seen how successful that has been in terms of engagement. The playing fields near my house certainly have a lot fewer games on them than when I saw as a kid.

This is just a think-piece at this point, but it also gives me another opportunity to plug one of our great guest pieces by Andy, who took the viewing figures apart in a post two years ago. It has not aged badly for the passage of time. His conclusion is utterly relevant now we see the Hundred and its proposed TV regimen:

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

(From – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/18/viewing-figures-a-ramble-through-facts/)

They want both. Good luck with that.

We’ll be busy this week. The early part of February is always a key one for us. A few things to commemorate.

 

My Brain Hurt Like A Warehouse – Five Years On From The Sacking Of Kevin Pietersen

4 February 2014. Chinbrook Road bus-stop. The news came through. England were sacking Kevin Pietersen. It had been trailed. It had been hinted. It had been whispered. The behind the scenes briefing. The hints, the allegations, the rumoured bust-ups, the spurious rumours, the aftermath of a tour that will live in infamy. The world leading team falling apart at the seams, and to make sure the ruins were complete, the decision was to sack the top run scorer on the tour.

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Left To Play Silly Cricket – At Least I Saw The Last 50

So what?

Let me take you back to the How Did We Lose In Adelaide post (to those new(ish) on here, this was my (Dmitri) site before Being Outside Cricket). My reaction was initially meant only as a diary entry, expecting only my friends to read it. And they did at first. Then it caught on, and then it got attention, and linked, and more attention and before I knew it, I had a “thing” going. But the post on the day of the sacking is worth re-reading (the old blog still exists out there, but is password protected).

What The Hell Are We Thinking?

It was a rainy night. I’d had a pretty asthmatic couple of days and was wending my way home. The commute was as lousy as usual. The trains were packed as the Tube strike beckoned. I saw a tweet from Mike Selvey of the Guardian saying a decision on KP was expected within an hour. I then tried to access BBC sport, Cricinfo et al on my crowded train. That tweet was well over an hour old. The news was out, and so I wanted it confirmed. You don’t prep a news story like that unless it’s the controversial outcome on the way. But my smartphone wasn’t playing ball. No internet. Nada.

I got off the train at my stop and still no joy. I rebooted it and walked out towards my bus stop. It was raining, I was wheezing. I got to the stop, got under cover and switched on BBC Sport. KP had been sacked. “You are having a laugh” I exhorted.

And that’s how I will remember it. Where I was, the date (Trevor’s birthday) and the poxy weather.

Since that announcement much has been said and written. I’ve been prolific on Twitter, which is where you can catch my ill conceived views on a more regular basis. So you know the following:

  • This is an idiotic decision.
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it, why aren’t we being told, as paying punters, why our best batsman, and he is, despite people saying Cook or Bell is, being excluded.
  • Has he breached his contract – well, evidently not as they are supposedly settling it.
  • Someone has been talking out of school, because Pringle, Hoult and Selvey in particular have been privy to some information and Paul Newman of the Mail has been calling for KP to be dropped since January.
  • I have never been convinced that sacking your best player is a recipe for future success.
  • The cricket authorities have treated the public with barely-concealed contempt. Did they expect a pat on the back for this stupidity?
  • The meme that we should wait until we know more before we pass judgment is an insult to all our intelligence. Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler re-tweeted Alan Tyer’s response to that.

Alan Tyers

@alantyers

What is more insulting to the reader than “don’t have an opinion because you don’t know the facts. I do, but I’m not telling you plebs”?

  • The awkward squad of ex-pros are united, almost, in their agreement. Boycott has been vociferous, in an example of such craven hypocrisy I’ve failed to see equaled. A man who never voluntarily left any team at the end of his career other than to benefit himself, saying KP should go for “daft shots” or whatever. Lord. Willis chimed in, and what respect for him I had went out of the window. Tufnell on 5 Live seemed to agree, another treated abominably by the suits in power. Only Aspergers [Ian Botham] has come out with all guns blazing from an England perspective.
  • No-one, but no-one, is asking for KP to be liked by his comrades. Michael Clarke was openly despised by a number of his team-mates, got stuffed 4-0 in his first full series on the road in 2013, and yet now is a hero and I never, ever, heard the Aussies call for him to be dropped.
  • Brian Lara was always a solo impresario in a team, and was actively undermining the captain at times. But, he went out on his own terms. While they had some success without him, who could deny he wasn’t deserving of a place?
  • Australian teams famously never got on that well off the field. Warne despised Buchanan, his team manager, yet was never seriously in the frame to be dropped.

This is a country where a quality player was left out of a team because the selectors adhered to a view “what does he bring to the table, except runs?” That was Graham Thorpe. We’re idiots.

There will be more, much more. But read utter fuckwittery like this and then ask yourself, is this a case of the toff tendency in the officer class putting the riff raff infantry in their place? It contains absolute up your own arse shite like this…

As every sensible medieval king figured out, the way to deal with a rival king in exile is to govern well at home. Then the appeals of the exile’s advocates fall on deaf ears.

I’ll translate that for you out there. You plebs will soon forget KP when those new charges come in and score all those runs that he might have. Why you have to put it into some sort of highfalutin old keg-meg like this, only Ed “I’m really very clever, just ask me” Smith knows. But then, it’s his kind of people making the decision.

This Tweet made me smile…

Sir Jacques Hobbs@TheReverseSweep

We lose the Ashes 5-0, the Captain stays and our best player is fired. You’re not working in the City now Downton

This will be yesterday’s chip paper soon enough. That was proved by the Twitter Top Trends in London an hour later:

Dmitri Old@DmitriOld

To see how far cricket has fallen in the public eye, London trends on Twitter have Laudrup and Swansea, and no KP.

We look at the team we are sending to Bangladesh for the World T20s and the ODIs in West Indies and we see someone like Jade Dernbach rewarded for perennial failure (and a massive gob when we lose), and yet somehow our team ethic is enhanced by him and not KP?

There’s a lot more, I know, and I will be commenting soon. Take this as my opening gambit. I’m not impressed.

I always commemorate this date, as I do Outside Cricket Day (the 9th), because the fact is that the attitudes surrounding this decision are still as relevant today as they were then. You don’t think so? Look at the media strategy, the interaction with punters, the paying heed to the paying customer that Tom Harrison has when talking about the Hundred. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to an open dialogue. You don’t have a veto on my decision making. You don’t have to be consulted. You sit there, you pay your ticket prices, you pay your subscriptions, you sit down, you shut up. You are the means to me, Tom, getting paid. You are not entitled to be in the loop. You are not MY STRATEGIC PARTNER.

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Easily Replaceable….

Yes, I know KP would probably be on board with some new T20 competition. That really isn’t the point. This site has not, and never will be, a KP Fan Site for all he does, for all he did, for all he entertained me and many others. Did I love him as a batsman? Well of course I did – but I’m not judging his opinions on the game, like some have always wanted me to do in their vainglorious search to justify what was done by Downton, Clarke, Cook and Flower back five years ago. While all we have had to say to the form issue is that he still scored the most runs for England on that tour – a terribly inconvenient FACT no matter how badly we performed – it has had to be something else. 

At the time he was in our best XI, and we picked on something other than that. That we weren’t told may be all fine with idiots like Ed Smith (as linked in the article above – the link in bold), but the one thing he did say that was correct is that we’d be ok with the decision if we found a great replacement. We are still looking. What we have now is a load of flotsam, threatening good stuff, while producing fitfully. Remember how Whitaker latched on to a few centuries by Ballance as if he’d found “the one”. Just as they latched on to that, they clung to the raft of Cook’s captaincy as it collapsed in a heap as we lost at home to Sri Lanka, all to help themselves be convinced about the dropping of KP. Let me put it this way, there was no shortage of information and ammunition for How Did We Lose In Adelaide to write about. 

As evidenced by wrote another piece in the immediate aftermath..

That’s what is getting to the general England cricket supporting public. The latest dispatches from Mike Selvey and Muppet Pringle are lacking in any journalistic insight at all. Selvey rambles on about a blank canvas and Cook’s steely determination, as if we should not really bother ourselves with what happened, but be excited about what is about to take place. Selvey gives the game away in this paragraph:

In addition, how will he be considered by the cricket-watching public who, deprived for whatever reason of information, see only the ECB outmanoeuvred in terms of public relations by Pietersen’s acolytes and sympathisers. In this, a distraction as it may be from the main debate, Cook through no fault of his own has been done no favours.

The cricket-watching public, conservatively, are 70% in the KP camp judging by retorts on Twitter and comments pages on newspaper sites. They haven’t waited for ECB statements, nor have they been influenced by these so-called “acolytes and sympathisers” as if such a pejorative term is appropriate for Piers Morgan and a neatly timed interjection or two by the people operating KP’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (or KP’s wife, who tore Dominic Cork a new arsehole).

There’s more excusing of Cook:

This, though, is genuinely the start of a new era. Cook may have been Test captain for 18 months but it has largely been Andrew Strauss’s team he has been leading.

Rubbish. The reason Australia were so successful in that golden era was because it didn’t really matter who captained them. Captaincy was a seamless transition from Border to Taylor to Waugh to Ponting. All four were very different captains in style and substance, but all kept their team on a winning trajectory until the top players retired. There were no “blank canvases”. There were no “Border Teams” or “Waugh Teams”. It’s a red herring. What is important to note here is how certain players regressed alarmingly over the past two years, and how even our best batsmen lost what they had in 2009-2012 – the big hundred. That’s not as a result of this being “Strauss’s Team”.

Now Cook is charged with the responsibility of helping to rebuild the Test team, if not in his image, then according to his strategies and ethos. He, and the team director, have a blank canvas with which to work, the process already starting perhaps with the decision of Eoin Morgan to withdraw from the Indian Premier League auction.

He’s been running this team for 18 months, and if he hasn’t input his strategies and ethos already, then he is not the man for the job. Pure and simple. This is puff pastry journalism. Plus, aren’t you all thrilled about Eoin Morgan replacing KP in the test team. That’s going to work. (Filed under, we’ve tried that already).

This all builds up to Selvey’s conclusion:

That Cook is a cricketer of the highest calibre brooks no argument. Nor does the fact that he is as mentally strong as any who have taken the field for England. The challenge in Australia was the first to which he failed to rise either as batsman or leader. He has been learning and, while cricket education never ceases, he cannot hide behind that any longer. Cook held up well in Australia in spite of everything thrown at him. He is held in the highest esteem by those left, respected both as a single-minded, driven player and as an individual, the most important elements.

I said when he was appointed captain, with the same lack of captaincy experience that is totally held against Ian Bell, that we may live to regret this, as Cook was young enough to be given the captaincy later in his career, that all England captain’s batting seems to fall off a cliff when under pressure, and that we were risking a prize asset with a career already littered with some real losses of form. As much as this is hindsight, I’d have given the captaincy to Graeme Swann. Selvey’s piece is hokum. Cook mentally disintegrated with ridiculous dismissals – if this was holding up well, the bar was set incredibly low. His batting certainly didn’t making it 10 Ashes test without a ton. His captaincy, by general consensus, was poor. He showed extreme lack of faith in players (a trait he shares with another dour opener to captain his country, Mike Atherton). As for the held in high esteem comment, we only have Selvey’s word for that. The amount deserting the sinking ship seem to indicate otherwise. Do you think Panesar, and most criminally, Steven Finn hold Cook in high regard?

So if we move on from Selvey, to the laugh that is Muppet Pringle, the PR man for the Essex Mafia (Marlon Brando (Gooch), Al Pacino (Flower), Robert DeNiro (Cook)) who has come down off his party weekend to give his backing to the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra.

Alastair Cook has been widely criticised for being too meek in the face of Australia’s onslaught this winter but once the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed it wanted him to continue as captain he responded by making the most ruthless decision of his career.

Who said Cook made a decison, had an input or whatever? Someone been telling Muppet things out of school? It’s Cook who pulled the trigger, eh?

Cook is unworldly despite his travelling the globe these past nine years so he may not have considered the potential effect his decision to deselect Kevin Pietersen will have on his popularity as captain. If a poll conducted by Sky Sports this week was accurate, an overwhelming majority (88 per cent) felt it was wrong that Pietersen should have his contract terminated, an execution Cook had the power to stay.

Once Flower had shown his hand, as he did, indiscreetly in January (don’t you just laugh at the inference that KP is a serial leaker breaching the trust of the inner sanctum – ho ho ho) reported by Paul Newman which seems very true to life now, Cook was in no position to say he wanted him if he wanted to keep his job. Flower may have been moved from Team Director role, but he still has clout. Gooch still has clout. Pringle seems to know a lot about this process. One wonders how….

Others will have baulked at the prospect at facing the boo boys who will inevitably greet him next summer, but Cook is so steeped in his belief of the primacy of the team that he would not have considered his personal wellbeing for one moment.

He might look like a wide-eyed innocent but Cook is tough. You do not score more than 8,000 Test runs as an opener without being able to cope with brickbats and bouncers. With his faithful team-mates beside him he should be fine.

A few digs at KP without the courage to say he isn’t a team man. The last line seems to indicate an individual leading a team who need to bolster him up. Isn’t it the other way around. How can these faithful teammates help when they fear speaking out against him, or playing their natural game to the chagrin of automatons like Gooch, and make everything fine. Are you really saying, Pringle, that KP brought this team to its knees? Really?

The best antidote to any woe in sport is winning and England have managed that before without Pietersen. Indeed, the batsman in possession of the highest average in England victories over the past 10 years is not the departing swank but Ian Bell.

They call this stat-mining. Please don’t take this as an anti-Ian Bell rant, but I’ll wager there’s a lot of narrowing of any gap in these averages when you take into account their contrasting records against Bangladesh, who we’ve beaten every time. Bell averages 158 against them, KP 68. Someone re-evaluate this after taking that nonsense out of the equation. And, again not belittling Bell, but there was always that stat attributed to him that he never scored a ton unless someone else did in an innings for quite a time. In addition, we rarely won tests when Collingwood got a ton. Anyone having a pop at him, while we’re at it? Garbage stat. Mumbai and Colombo just passed Pringle by, didn’t they?

Whether or not you agree with Cook’s decision to end Pietersen’s association with England it remains a courageous one even if he did not speak to him during the fateful meeting in London that decided the latter’s future eight days ago.

How you contradict yourself in the space of one sentence. Sack someone by press release. Really courageous.

While not against the outcome…..,

Understatement of the century.

….my only dispute is whether England’s captain was thinking clearly when he made his conclusions. Cook had been back home less than a week when the meeting was held. Emotions from a tour in which Australia pounded England in all forms of the game would have still been raw. Far better, surely, for him to have taken his decision after a month’s rest on his farm. That way he would have at least known that head and not heart had made it.

One, you aren’t a player in this. At least I hope you are not. So your dispute should be irrelevant. Also timing forced people’s hands with two squads to be announced, so Cook wasn’t master of his own destiny even if this codswallop is to be believed. Third, Cook really is getting a free pass for all he did wrong on this tour, isn’t he?

It is a gamble by Cook. Australia was his first Test series defeat as captain but the feeble nature of the loss means this will be his final chance to make his leadership work. To take it on without your best batsman, albeit one who appears in decline, shows that he prizes team unity more than individual brilliance, though that does tend to be the English way.

Why is KP the only one deemed to be surplus requirements AND in decline. Who the hell performed on that tour? Anyone sacking Prior (not that I want that to happen) and Anderson? What about the regression of Root, is he in decline? Ian Bell had a poor series, is he on the way out? And what about the captain himself. Ten Ashes tests with no hint of a hundred. Is he over the hill. No, KP is in decline. And is Cook not responsible for the feeble nature of the loss in any way? His supposed treatment of Compton without giving him the chance to open against Australia? What about his captaincy when Australia were chasing 200-odd to win which had seasoned captains despairing at how he treated his bowlers and field placings? How about how we got the top boys out, but could never kill off the lower order? What more evidence do you need? Scoring runs, and even winning against the relative pop-gun test attacks he’ll face this year is no proof he’s the man to lead us into the challenging 2015 series, with lots of tough teams to play. England used to be desperately hard to beat. We’ve lost that.

Even so, Cook must still have felt betrayed by Pietsersen, especially after he had been the one who had pushed hardest for his reintegration following the messaging scandal with South Africa in 2012.

He’s been leaked something, but ain’t telling. This is pissing everyone off. The comments to this article say it all. There’s no smoking gun but there’s talk of betrayal. His reintegration should not have meant that KP should be mute, grateful for forgiveness. His big ton in Mumbai did all the talking. Without that, we may go 2-0 down. You can thank him later.

Pietersen repaid his new captain’s faith then with a brilliant innings in Mumbai but not this winter in Australia where a combination of soft dismissals on the pitch and hard words off it against the leadership trio of Cook, Andy Flower and Matt Prior, were considered destabilising.

So his dissent is the key here. Blind obedience. You owe me one. All nonsense. Like all should be sweetness and light when you’re being humped 4-0 on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Did this not happen on Cook, Flower and Prior’s watch?

This is where a more worldy man than Cook might have sorted it out.

Flight not fight is not the sign of a good leader. And Pringle goes on about dressing room enforcers as if physical battles are all that matter. If I’m KP, where I’ve been rightly destroyed after what I did in Perth, and played like I did in Melbourne to see my supposedly morally superior teammates balls it right up, and not get the level of abuse KP did, I think I’d blow a gasket and I defy any human to think otherwise.

The proliferation of coaches and management in modern teams means that players have become used to seeking solutions to their problems from others and not themselves. In the past, the team member with the biggest muscles would have pinned Pietersen up against the nearest wall and told him to behave. It used to be surprisingly effective and nearly every team possessed such an enforcer.

No-one ever accuses KP of not working hard on his game, and often he needs to seek solutions from others, as does Cook with Gooch, for technical issues. I really haven’t got a scooby what this idiot is on about other than that. You wanted someone to hit him? Cook hardly held the moral high ground, and nor did Flower, after their abomination of a tour.

It is too late now and perhaps such a direct fix would not have worked on Pietersen anyway. His departure has meant the creation of a vacancy, one Eoin Morgan is eyeing following his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League auction which begins on Wednesday.

There is a neat irony about Morgan’s decision. Morgan knows, as Pietersen once did, that Tests are the format where legacies are made.

This sickens me –  the phrase “as Pietersen once did”. It seems to go from Cook got rid of KP to KP wanted to go to play in the IPL. Jesus. How clear has he been that he wanted to play for England, get to 10000 runs, score a ton in South Africa. How clear? Yet you throw out the “he wanted the IPL money”. Morgan, who chose to play in the IPL rather than fight for a test place, that is done something KP NEVER did, is held up now as a moral beacon. This is odious stuff.

The comments are magnificent. Not that the likes of Selvey and Pringle care a jot. They, and Agnew, all get really uppity when they are called Embedded at the ECB, or not journalists. By their action should they be judged. Be a journalist and tell us the whole story, not “we know more than you, and you have to believe us when we say the ECB is right”. That’s just not washing at the moment with the public, the ex-players and those outside the loop.

More to follow, especially on the ECB and their hideously ridiculous excoriating of KP for breaching the inner sanctum.

 

I said on Twitter last night that I don’t want to fight the war before last, and I mean that. But there are always battles to fight which have their gestation in the treatment of others. England, and its cricket in general faces a crisis of focus. In its prioritisation of this year’s World Cup, it is in danger of rendering test cricket a poor second party. It is diminishing the county championship – sticking it to the margins, then blaming it when it doesn’t produce the oven ready players. And then, on top of that, it wants another trinket, gazing in envy as it did at the Big Bash, and wanting that, here, in August. Instead of just that, they had to try to be too clever. We are now just over one year away from it, and we are all pretty much none the wiser. It’s a deliberate strategy, and yet outside of some vociferous noises on Twitter, the odd broadsheet broadside, it’s all quiet. All of this is a symptom of how we were treated over KP’s sacking. I hope the useful idiots at the time, who put their hatred of KP over the sheer vileness of the decision and what it meant, and who now loathe the Hundred realise we are on their side, and always have been.

The Fantastic Four
Any Regrets At All? 

The 4th of February should be a significant day. We might call it KP Sacking Day, but it should really be ECB Think We Are Worthless Day. Because that is what it meant. KP wasn’t the illness, he was the symptom. And we have not, by any stretch of the imagination been cured. We had the supine media doing the bidding. We had them use people’s animus towards a player to justify their own malfeasance. We saw who was on the cricket-public’s side, not the ECB’s side. We got to know more about the class-ridden, snobbery inherent in the game. We got to know ECB’s mouthpieces.

For me as a blogger, it was the launchpad. I often look back at those times as the glory days, but they really weren’t. They were hard graft, at a difficult time, and the blog was a vent for my anger. Five years on and I’m, sort of, still here. We have a great blog, maybe not quite up to the levels of anger from that time, but still definitely capable. To those who have supported me along the way, thanks.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Review – Hubris

If the first Test was one sided, England were quick to say that such underperformance wouldn’t be repeated in Antigua, and they would be a side transformed. Perhaps it was the necessary self-confidence any team ought to have in itself, their ability to match and exceed the opponent. But perhaps instead it spoke of a wider hubris about where they sit in the cricket hierarchy, an inability to accept that they were being outplayed by a team who, in these conditions at least, were simply better than them.

Certainly England didn’t appear to have learned anything, nor did they change their approach with the bat. The same carefree certainty that they could dominate from the off, the same puzzled confusion that it didn’t just fail to work, but instead actually got worse, as scrambled minds struggled to deal with what was happening to them. If one thing has marked England out over recent years, it is an inability to think on their feet and respond to changing circumstances and a different challenge in front of them. Their difficulties faced with pace have become clear, their technical limitations dealing with a quick pitch that bounces even more so.

To a considerable extent it shouldn’t be surprising. The first class game is confined to the margins of the season with tracks that are either green or tired, the home Tests are played all too often on turgid surfaces where the ball rarely gets above knee level without additional effort, while the bowlers focus on getting swing rather than seam, and high pace is neutralised. The lack of genuine quick bowlers in the domestic game isn’t a coincidence, it is a product of the system and the conditions. It always, without exception, is that way. And they have become adept at playing in the conditions created at home for them, while appearing lost when faced with something different.

The misreading of the first Test selection smacked of a structure that expected the pitches in the Caribbean to be as they had been on previous tours – a failure of intelligence gathering if nothing else, as well as one of judgement. The second Test put that right to an extent, but the West Indies smelled blood by that point. No longer was it a case of sneaking a 1-0 lead and preparing dead pitches to hold on to it. This team had England on toast, and were going to demonstrate it again. From here, 3-0 looks far more likely than 2-1.

The selection of Keaton Jennings alone indicated England’s expectations, a player who has had modest success on slow surfaces, and looks technically short on anything else. That was changed here for Joe Denly, but expecting him to put right the problems in the England batting order was always optimistic to say the least.

The quartet of West Indies bowlers tore into England from the start, and it was abundantly obvious that England couldn’t cope with it. Certainly the pitch wasn’t the best, but it’s not hard to imagine previous generations of England batting line ups handling that rather better, and even the much maligned late 1990s version would have attempted to graft rather than hit their way out of trouble.

The folly of the approach was shown by how the West Indies batted in reply. Stuart Broad is one of the more thoughtful observers on the game in the England ranks, but while he was correct that England didn’t have a great deal of luck, there was unquestionably a difference in the chosen line of attack and how they were trying to get the batsmen out. The home team targeted the stumps, England bowled in the channel outside, passing the bat repeatedly for sure, but also limiting the kinds of dismissals possible.

Broad, by far the most impressive of the England bowlers, slightly gave the game away after day two, suggesting that the batsmen had indicated fuller deliveries were easier to score off, but that he felt they should have pushed it up further anyway. Once again, it’s about run prevention rather than wicket-taking as the central mindset, and while Broad is often guilty of that too, with him at least it feels that his mentality is to want to bowl people out. The spell on the second day had all the feeling of being on the cusp of one of those irrestible ones, and that the West Indies survived it is deeply to their credit. That’s not to say for a second that bowlers with 1,000 Test wickets between them don’t know what they’re doing, but there is a default to fall back on, and England do it repeatedly, and when it doesn’t work, it’s striking.

Jonny Bairstow had explained his first innings thrash by saying he never felt in on the pitch. Understandable perhaps given it was the first, early sighter. It was far less so second time around after Darren Bravo had provided such an object lesson in crease occupation. But here again, England were guilty of millionaire shots – expansive drives to straight, good length balls, flailing furiously at anything outside off stump.

Of the top order only Root could be said to have been got out, making him doubly unlucky after the unplayable one he got in the first innings. The others were all guilty of playing T20 shots in a Test match, or leaving a straight one – another indication of mental struggle.

England were certainly beaten by the better team, and there is no disgrace in that. There is in the manner of doing so. Hidebound, narrow minded and incapable of either considering or applying a different method. If they refuse to do so, that is poor. If they are incapable of doing so, that is worse. For it speaks to the very structure of the game the ECB have administered, with few obvious alternatives out there. Cause and effect. Always cause and effect.

As for the West Indies, if this is to prove the start of some kind of revival, however modest, that is cause for celebration. Cricket has too few teams to be casual about losing any more (ICC take note), and the manner of their victory and their style of play spoke to a deep pride in who they are and how they play. The clear burning anger at the perceived lack of respect given to them suggests as much. They have been a joy to behold, and if nothing else, the genuine and slightly bewildered delight of the locals is heart warming.

England have it all, money, a system that could be honed to produce the best that is possible. A deliberate strategy of sidelining that in pursuit of filthy lucre brings us to where we are now. It isn’t that England are a terrible team, but they are a one dimensional one, and one incapable of adapting. The express strategy of focusing on the one day forms of cricket is bearing fruit there, but at the expense of Tests. And when Anderson and Broad call it a day, the naked exposure is going to be even more obvious.

Results like this aren’t catastrophic in themselves, but they are the canary in the mine. The ECB approach has been to euthanise the canary rather than investigate the gas. And that’s why things won’t improve. Get used to it.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three Live Blog

Preamble: After being chivvied by Trevor in the comments for being late on parade, I’ve now had coffee and arrived at my spot in the ground. Square of the wicket in the Mound area by the way, though wandering around is permitted which is wonderful.

Stuart Broad said England need a batting hero today, and he’s probably right about that, but first up is the small matter of taking the last four wickets before the already significant deficit becomes a chasm. The possibility that this is the final day of the Test does loom large, for if England don’t bat extremely well later, this Test and this series is done.

For later on, these are the kinds of decisions that are more important though:

The crowd appears to have thinned again today, albeit hopefully more locals will be in given its a weekend and their team is (to be blunt) winning.

0910: Weather report, the skies are mostly clear, with a few fluffy clouds. No rain this morning at all so far.

0920: Desperate news from the West Indies camp that Alzarri Joseph’s mother passed away this morning. Nothing more to be said, dreadful.

0922: I think what I like about this ground, and presumably the others in the region, is that it’s a no shits given kind of venue. Do whatever you like, no one is bothered what you are doing or where. It’s so refreshing.

0930: Wise words from Chris Tremlett

0936: England still playing football in the warm up.

It amazes me so much gets written about this. It’s a relaxing way to get loose, and injuries can happen whatever they do. And they do as well. Not a thing wrong with it, when exercising, muscles can ping, ankles can be turned. Scrapping football won’t change that.

0949: view from the other side of the ground. Nothing to do with going to get another coffee.

0958: Out come the teams:

PS, the decent photographer on these pages is Dmitri. Me? I take as many as possible on the phone and pick the one that’s vaguely acceptable. My total lack of interest puzzles him.

1050: That nasty blow for Bravo is a sign of things to come for England. As was the Holder wicket. As the lead stretches, and with England needing to score a minimum of 250 to have any kind of realistic chance, this Test looks to be going only one way.

1057: Alzarri Joseph got a wonderful reception from the crowd as he walked out. But the PA isn’t very clear here, so most around me didn’t know and were asking why people were standing and applauding.

1119: It’s probably gone as well as it could have for England this morning. The real business of seeing how England bat is to come.

1134: That is a big lead on this.

1204: Being conditioned to expect the worst is a terrible thing. But getting to lunch without losing a wicket is mildly surprising all in all. Seeing England duck and weave though is a fantastic reminder of how Test cricket was at times in the past, before pitches became placid, slow and uniform, existing only to break the hearts of fast bowlers. So it’s a bit uneven. So what?

1244: I actually hate it when the press publish photos of their lunches that are provided for them, but since I queued and paid for this, I’ll mention the goat curry was excellent.

1258: Fancy an opener playing a risky pull shot in a crisis situation. Would never have happened a few years ago.

1322: It looked a terrible shot live. It looked worse on replay from Burns. A late cut (of sorts) straight to the slips is, well, brave.

1342: Still 52 overs scheduled today. So England should be significantly ahead assuming they’re still in by the close. One way or another, we’ll be a fair way to knowing the outcome.

1348: that’s another ridiculously ambitious shot. Bairstow said in the first innings that he didn’t feel ever in, hence attacking everything. Seems the second innings was to be the same.

1410: Don’t worry, they’ll learn from this. It’s just an aberration, right?

The atmosphere in the ground is great now though, the locals are climbing into this England team with relish and gusto. Who can blame them?

1419: this is shambolic. Again.

1420: Alzarri Joseph being the catalyst for it though, that’s pretty special.

1425: Just a brilliant atmosphere. Though just heard the England fans next to me say “bollocks to going to South Africa to watch this shit”.

Oh England are winning the rugby at least.

1432: Meet Michael, who has provided plenty of entertainment to the crowd all around the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. He’s currently offering all the sad England fans a free flight home tonight and not to cry too much.

1441: Dominant session from the West Indies. And every chance they’ll wrap up the series after tea.

1450: My legs are burning. I await your sympathy.

1521: England are playing a positive, exciting brand of cricket, remember. Are you not entertained?

1530: Six down, four of them bowled. This aiming at the stumps lark is clearly overrated.

1543: Just to emphasise that no one cares what you do in this ground, there’s an enormous reefer being passed around just to my left. Lord’s next.

1556: Ironic cheers all round as England make the West Indies bat again. What a hiding this is.

1559: Seven wickets this innings have been bowled or lbw. England did that once when they bowled.

1610: “The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this.” – Tom Harrison.

That’s alright then.

1614: So. Beach tomorrow then.

1628: Just trying to get a few different photos of the finish, I’ll then pop them up with a few words. It’s not like anyone is on tenterhooks about the outcome!

1633: West Indies sneak it, in the end.

1641: On my way out of the ground now. Some photos and some video of the winning runs…edit: why the hell this is upside down is beyond me.

And a last farewell to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium:

Two Tests played, two thumping victories for the home team. And my goodness did they deserve it. They outbatted and outbowled England by a distance, pretty much from start to finish. England have made a point when they lose matches of saying they haven’t executed their skills or some such guff. It’s nonsense, they’ve just been outplayed by a better team in these conditions.

The inability of the England team to graft and show fight is quite striking. Rabbits in the headlights when faced with the revolutionary tactic of a team bowling straight at them. It was a pleasure to witness the West Indies play, and to see the amazed pleasure of the locals who have watched their team struggle for too many years. And if a sporting success can bring a small crumb of comfort to a young man in distress, so be that too.

But some of the English media appear to be in disbelief that such a thing could happen, so convinced by the ECB mantra that all is going swimmingly that rational analysis has gone by the wayside. England are brittle they have been for some years. Doesn’t mean they can’t win, doesn’t mean they won’t win. But faced with challenging circumstances, they wilt more often than not and appear to struggle to cope with needing to change their method. That a player as free scoring as Darren Bravo gave them a lesson in Test match batting ought to ring alarm bells. But alas of course, it will not.

Have a good rest of the evening folks, been a pleasure to share the Test with you. TLG.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Preview

Playing catchup in a series, especially a short one, does tend to rather focus minds somewhat, and while it is not in the make up of anyone even remotely associated with the ECB to admit to an error, the 12 announced for tomorrow’s match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (let’s be honest, we all miss the Antigua Recreation Ground) by England are as much a tacit recognition of a first Test balls up as is ever likely to be the case. Broad is back in and seems certain to play, Jennings is out in favour of Joe Denly as the revolving door of England openers shows no sign of slowing down. More notable is the dropping of Adil Rashid, a player who might not be the Shane Warne standard that he appears he has to be in order to get any credit, but isn’t the clueless ingenue he gets all to often painted as either. More strikingly with him is the clear lack of any clue as to how to use him, either from the captain or the coaching team. If he’s not going to bowl more than a handful of overs, there’s little point playing him.

As ever, there are cases to be made both for and against any individual instance, but the inability of English sport across the board to be able to handle flair and individuality, whether on or off the field is a constant. It isn’t that Rashid in this instance deserves defending for his performance in the last Test, it’s that it’s impossible to ever know with such players how good they might be, so determined is the sporting culture to force them down narrow channels. This happens at elite youth level all too frequently to begin with, discipline too often coming to mean an insistence on conformity.

There is a consistent focus on what players can’t do rather than what they can. The idea that Rashid can be a stock bowler in Tests is absurd, yet so much of the criticism aimed at him consists of complaints about his accuracy and economy – it’s such a very English thing to do. None of this means that he is the answer to all our prayers, nor that his on field performances shouldn’t be criticised, but the pre-disposition in so many quarters to hold him to a standard he could never possibly achieve is simply bizarre, while the lack of scrutiny over how he is used is a failure of analysis.

Still, Denly can bowl a few leggies if asked, while Rashid can focus on more important personal matters.

For Jennings, there must now be serious questions over his future. He probably does have the aptitude for it, but his technical problems have become a major barrier for him. He has time to go and put that right, but it could be a long haul.

For Stuart Broad, with his new, more economical run up and work on his action, much will be expected. Not because of anything much more than that his omission was deemed in some quarters more culpable for defeat than the abysmal batting display in the first innings and the in some ways worse in the second. Being out of a losing side is one of the best ways to improve a reputation after all.

In the West Indies camp all is serene, the victory in Kensington most obviously allowing the clear anger at a perceived lack of respect to be vented from a position of strength. And why not either.

The weather for tomorrow seems similar to today, cloudy with showers. The dash from the beach to the room in a downpour will have earned me all the sympathy I’m expecting.

Tomorrow morning I daresay I might liveblog it and see how that goes down.