England vs Australia: 4th ODI Open Thread

After the demolition of the Australian bowling that was either magnificent or an illustration of the continuing descent of bowlers into batsman fodder, depending on perspective, it’s off to Chester-le-Street for the fourth match of a series England have already won.

As so often with cricket, as much interest can be found in what is happening off the field, and the release of the Future Tours Programme for 2018-23 (having left it a mite late) is something to which we’ll return.  Much of the content has been trailed heavily – the creation of a World Test Championship and an ODI League for example, but perhaps the most striking thing is how for England, Australia and India, playing each other will take up around half of their entire Test playing programmes.  It appears familiarity and boredom with the same opponents is not a factor to be considered.

Comments on today’s ODI and whatever else takes your fancy below.

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Wallcharts at the Ready

If ever there was a day for multi-screening, yesterday was it. Four World Cup matches, a succession of rugby internationals, the US Open golf, a Test match in the Caribbean, and the small matter of an ODI.

At the end of it, Australian sport had suffered the kind of day that England fans tend to be grimly accustomed to, with defeat to France at the World Cup, defeat to Ireland in the rugby, and defeat to England in the cricket. Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive character trait, but amusement was both widespread and frankly enjoyable.

Enthusiasm for this series against Australia appears limited, not least among those buying tickets. As much as it was claimed the game was sold out, there were plenty of empty seats on show in Cardiff. Either the Welsh have an awful lot of money to throw away, or someone is gilding the lily. Still, disappointing crowds are not that unusual for internationals at that venue, and it was hardly deserted. But the sense of going through the motions is unsurprising given both the timing of the series and the sense that this nothing other than a financial obligation tour.

England are 2-0 up without giving the impression they are remotely playing at their best, and with Australia missing so many key players there is little to engender a feeling of this being much more than practice for either side. Those players who look dangerous in the short form continue to do so, those who appear to be struggling show little sign of answering the questions about them.

A football World Cup always dominates the sporting environment, and a Test series during it would struggle for attention too, but despite being as relatively inaccessible (pay TV) as the cricket, the rugby summer tours have a greater sense of occasion to them. The sarcastic description of one day games as JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One Day International) has rarely felt as apposite as here. The pretence that this is about the build up to next year’s cricket World Cup doesn’t cut it, especially given the absence of Pakistan from the schedule despite being here for two Tests.

With 13 white ball matches across the heart of the summer before the Tests get underway again, we have barely got going. This becomes troubling for a number of reasons – the press themselves in unguarded moments will confess to struggling to write anything new about them, and while that isn’t especially an issue in itself, the translated ennui among cricket followers is. Andrew Strauss obliquely referenced the lack of context with his concept of a points system, which while widely derided does at least draw attention to the fundamental problem.

Ironically, cricket had its solution to this in the past, by making the ODIs part of the build up to what most still consider the main event. The last but one England tour of New Zealand comprised three T20s, then three ODIs, then three Tests. The sense of a build up towards a sporting climax was inescapable, and provided that much needed balance and importance. The same applied to the 2005 Ashes series, where there was certainly no shortage of white ball cricket scheduled, but it felt like part of a wider whole, and by the time the first Test came around, anticipation was at fever pitch.

The problem with this Australian tour is that winning or losing is instantly forgettable for both sets of fans and success or failure doesn’t matter – except to make Malcolm Conn look an idiot, and he doesn’t usually need help with that.

The more dramatic cricket news has still happened in the Test arena, firstly with Afghanistan’s debut, and secondly with the ball tampering allegations concerning the Sri Lankan team in the West Indies. In the former heavy defeat inside two days matters little in the wider sense of welcoming a new team to the Test game, and if the cricket boards show little inclination to support expansion, the same can’t be said of the Indian team. They conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, showing every indication of being fully aware what an extraordinary achievement it was for Afghanistan to have reached this point. They deserve credit for recognising it in such a classy manner.

In contrast, the refusal of the Sri Lankan team to take the field after being accused of changing the condition of the ball offered up plenty of reminders of Pakistan’s similar action at the Oval in the forfeited Test. The problem here is the failure to support the umpires in their decision-making. Already whispers of legal action have begun, which is precisely why umpires are so reluctant to take action in the first place. Whether they are ultimately right or wrong is beside the point, if officials aren’t allowed to make decisions and receive support, then they won’t make them. Darrell Hair’s ostracism and belittling remains a stain on the game whatever his character flaws. The umpire’s decision is not final, and it should be.

England’s next match takes place on Tuesday, the day after their football counterparts open their World Cup campaign. Whatever the result, it is undoubtedly the case that the football will be all that receives extensive coverage. Of course, a World Cup is truly special, but it’s also on free to air television, making it a community event. The audience figures for the Spain-Portugal match are simply astonishing, reaching a peak of over 10 million across TV and online. Cricket may not be able to match that kind of reach, but it highlights for the umpteenth time the absurdity of claiming that free to air doesn’t matter.

Peter Della Penna tweeted that the BBC had made an offer to Sky to broadcast the Scotland-Pakistan T20 on the red button which was declined, as Sky didn’t want it distracting from the England Women’s ODI they were showing. To begin with, the realisation that the Scotland matches were under the umbrella of the ECB contract came as a surprise – in return for England playing them, it had been outsourced. As a result, Scotland’s match wasn’t shown anywhere in the UK when it could have been. Yet it makes explicit the position that a low key international not involving England could be more popular with the viewers, even when online or interactive TV, than a pay TV one that does. The very importance of that can’t be overstated, given it is exactly what is repeatedly denied by those who propound the pay TV model.

Assuming no more shenanigans, there will be Test cricket on later. But let’s be honest, we’re going to be watching the World Cup.

England vs. Australia – 2nd ODI open thread

I’m not going to lie, none of the writers are particularly enthused by this ODI series. It feels like the ECB are punishing us once again, for the many that love Test Cricket, with as much white ball stuff as you can shake a stick at (sorry Sri). There is a ready made excuse that these are vital games in the build up to the 2019 World Cup, but many of us see this as a ruse to make some more money by advertising the fact that the ‘cheating’ Aussies are in town. Mind you, they do seem to have suddenly got very thin skinned over the course of the winter.

Still, whilst Malcolm Conn gloated his way in advance of the first ODI, Australia performed like the Scottish 2nd XI with the bat, only for England to do their best to try and grab defeat from the jaws of victory. A 3 wicket victory might well have pleased the English management but it was hardly a performance to write home about, my favourite moment being Moeen trying to launch the bowler into the Thames and majestically failing when a run a ball would’ve been easy enough to secure victory. Brave new England and all of that malarkey.

I doubt I’m going to see much of the game tomorrow, but for those that are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and better at coming up with bad analogies than me, then please do comment below…

Ridiculous to the Sublime

The dust has settled somewhat on England’s Test series with Pakistan, but at the end of it, few are any wiser as to where England stand. For Pakistan, their tour to Ireland and England must count as a reasonable success – victory in Malahide was expected, certainly, but the quality of the Test and the occasion itself lent a real shine to their participation. That Test match reminded all who love the game, and this form of it in particular, just why they have so much affection for it.

A 1-1 series draw with England, after fielding an inexperienced side, must also be deemed a fine result. In the discussions around how to help away sides compete, with ideas such as the abandonment of the toss (swiftly shot down by the ICC), it has perhaps been overlooked just what a good overall performance this has been. If there is fragility in this Pakistan side, it is to be expected at this stage of their development, better Pakistan teams than this edition have been equally prone to meltdown.

For England, the curate’s egg applies. Victory in the second Test spared their blushes somewhat, but shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the dire display at Lord’s, nor the previous nine months that left Headingley being celebrated as their first win in eight matches.

Jos Buttler did well, even in the first Test to some degree, and if the concept of a frontline batsman playing at seven remains a peculiar longer term strategy, he did all that could have been asked of him. It doesn’t make him a long term success at this stage, but that he has talent is not in question. How he performs later in the summer will be intriguing to watch.

Placing a frontline batsman in an allrounder’s spot is reflective of the brittleness of England’s top order, yet ironically Buttler would be a devastating player to have in the locker were there a strong batting line up before him. To that extent he is a luxury, and it is to his credit that he performed in a rescue role as well.

Cook and Root both batted well at times without either going on to a really big score, though this remains a consistent England problem throughout the team, and the endless focus on Root’s conversion rate rather overlooks the small matter that even with that issue, no one has more centuries than him over the last couple of years. Still, for England to compete, let alone win against India, these two are going to need a strong series.

On the bowling side, Broad and Anderson still led the way, and both are in a similar position to Cook, in that they may be past their best, but are also still comfortably the best available in their positions. Neither of them bowled badly at Lord’s, yet received the usual criticism bowlers seem to when failing to contain opposition batsman after a miserable England batting display. To put that into context, few criticised Pakistan’s bowlers after Headingley, and they found themselves in a similar predicament.

Broad himself has talked about working hard on his wrist position, and both bowled among the fullest spells of their careers in the second Test. The problem with the discussions around them tends to stem from the determination of some to bracket them in an all time great list. They are unquestionably the best England bowlers in many years, and when leaving it at that, or even in arguing they are modern England greats, it is so much easier to give them the credit they deserve, rather than focusing on their weaker elements.

Behind them, it is less certain. Wood played the first Test and was discarded, again, without it being clear why he was dropped, or indeed why he was called up in the first place. Woakes did what he always does, which is to look a handful in English conditions, while Sam Curran remains what he was before his selection – promising.

This determination to label every new young player as the coming thing on debut is rather strange. Haseeb Hameed went through the same process (and may come again) and should surely be illustrative of the lack of wisdom in rushing to judgement. Dom Bess too has had plenty of column inches, but his success came rather more with the bat than the ball, and England spinners have been coming and going for a fair old while since Swann’s retirement. He may be different, and let’s hope so, but he is still merely a young player who may or may not prove worthy. Patience and realism is a better approach than gushing over the latest bright new thing.

We now have a long break before the next Test in August, the core of the summer given over to an interminable series of white ball matches that, however England perform, will be instantly forgettable. Who remembers the one day results last summer? Who remembers the one day results in New Zealand for that matter?

The ECB’s continual claim to place Test cricket at the heart of what they do rings as hollow as ever, as not just county championship cricket, but also the Tests are pushed to the margins of the season. The justification this year is the World Cup next, but few imagine that this will revert to the previous normal, and the number of Tests per season is in any case being reduced to six. This would be reasonable were it the case that it was to ease the burden on the players, but let’s be clear, it will be considered a gap, and a gap that will be filled by one day matches and T20.

Of those six Tests, three will take place in London, with Lord’s guaranteed two per year. Half of English Test cricket will take place in the capital, meaning the Midlands and North are scrapping for the remainder. English cricket continues to narrow its horizons.

There has been talk of Ireland playing a Test at Lord’s next year, and naturally enough, the ECB decided this was the perfect opportunity to push the concept of a four day Test. If there is one certainty about this organisation, it is that no opportunity to use the game of cricket to push their financial agenda should be missed. What could have been a glorious welcoming of Irish cricket to this side of the water will instead be an experiment for the ECB’s preferred financial model of play. Trying things out is fair enough, pushing an agenda irrespective of cricketing need is not.

This weekend England will play Scotland in an ODI. Thus it begins. Before the First Test against India, England will play 13 white ball matches of one kind or another. They are of course lucrative, and they are entertaining enough. England are a strong side, Australia and India the key draw in international cricket in this country. But the feeling that the battle for the soul of the game has been lost does not go away. Financial health is important, but the game of cricket does not exist purely in order to create that financial return, and there seems little doubt this is now the abiding priority.

There is no doubt that Test cricket is the core interest/readership of most of the blogs, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is similar in the newspapers as well. Perhaps that shows the priorities of England cricket fans, or perhaps it merely shows the priorities of a sub-set of cricket fans, the obsessives, as the ECB once put it. Either way, the absence of Tests, and indeed most of the county championship, during the peak summer months smacks of the future. The white ball is now king.

England v Pakistan – 2nd Test – Respectable

As Mel & Kim once sang so presciently back in the late 1980s, explanations are complications, and they didn’t really need to know the wheres or whys. God rest young Mel’s soul, but she would never have been our target audience, and so we, or I will ignore her advice for this short session to comment on the conclusion of the 2nd Test, won convincingly by an innings by the England team.

Over the 50 plus months I thought I’d seen it all from the critics of this blog, its modus  operandi, it’s “brand” so to speak. But we were gobsmacked last night by a reaction in particular. I decided that the blog is established enough, is given the air time enough by those we feel are important not to react last night. This is not someone of the capability of our previous foes to really bother with. But as with all criticism, I do give it thought. Was I being overly negative last night? Or does the convincing nature of this victory indicate a real green shoot sign of recovery and was the somewhat churlish attitude wrong? Or do I take Mel and Kim’s view that conversation is interrogation, and I just don’t have the time.

I’m even more convinced from the way Jos Buttler made 80 not out on that wicket that I was right. This wicket had something, but Jos Buttler stayed there well enough. I shrug my shoulders at people who genuinely think this is a blueprint for success. Sustained success. It may be we only give a stuff about home test cricket, and winning at home is really all that matters, but we’ve drawn this series again. Pakistan showed their limitations in this match – when key players like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq didn’t perform here, it was difficult to see the others really coming through – but England also played pretty well, certainly with the ball. England frequently lose their minds at Headingley, but not this time.

The early assault with 60 odd runs at nearly a run a ball was just the ticket. The early wickets from Anderson and Broad undermined the foundations of the Pakistan innings, and then a mixture of persistence and some tremendous shots for a Sunday 3rd XI meant the game was over before the rescheduled tea interval. England losing at Lord’s, and getting hammered at Lord’s to be truthful puts this into perspective. As we’ve seen many times before, a good result begets a bad one. A bad result can, certainly at home, kick then up the arse for the next one. England can’t seem to string form together.

I maintain, and will until I go blue in the face, that without big hundreds, the opportunity to make massive scores to insure them against flat wickets and insufficient power bowling, England need people to be regularly scoring big centuries. Jos showed it wasn’t impossible – and he’s going to have to get used to being stranded if he keeps this form up – and yet our top batsmen have now got one ton between them in the last five test matches. I’m worried. Sorry, that’s just a bloody fact. While we might get a wicket we can bowl teams out on in this green and pleasant land, it’s not going to get us much further if we can’t string big innings together.

There are no easy answers and we (I) am not pretending there are. There is no solution easily to hand, so that’s why maybe I’m a little more down on this team than others who seem to suspend critical thinking on the basis of an upward tick in a single test. The fundamental issues apply still.

M&K had a lot to say, and like them I think we owe it, well I owe it, to the readership that like us, hate us, but you’ll never change us. If I think the team is something we should worry about then I am going to say it. Chris is going to say it. Danny is going to say it. Sean is going to say it. You, the readership, are going to say it.

Over the 50 or so months I’ve been running, or co-running, or flouncing off, a cricket blog I’ve learned to ignore a lot of the criticism. But by my very nature there’s that insecurity of knowing, as I do, that I’m not the font of all knowledge, and am frequently wrong. I approach much of the blog as logically as I can, but personal favourites and opinions will always come into it. That’s the essence of sport. If you aren’t passionate about it, or you don’t care, you could tell it a mile off. People wouldn’t read you. People wouldn’t react to you. You can dislike this blog – great, well done. We don’t cater to all. But the one thing that grinds my gears is that people think I prefer complaining to cheering the team on. That somehow I am not a cricket fan. Such accusations shouldn’t bother me, but they do. I never question my critics for their love of the game. Ever. Don’t ever fucking question mine.

Well done for a very good performance, England. You did what you had to do and did it well. There is plenty of room for improvement, this isn’t a long-term sustainable method for consistent winning, but everything has to start somewhere. I want to see big hundreds. I want to see them from Root. I want to see Cook do it too if it didn’t come with the baggage it does. Believe it or not. But I will be pleased if a newbie, or a current player strings together scores and establishes the position even more. The future looms. The old guard is getting older.

Finally, Pakistan got four tests last time, and it was an entertaining series. A two test series is always difficult. The series is over in 11 days. The party is over. A wider issue I know but I feel a little empty at the series ending here. I enjoyed watching their bowling in particular. It’s a pleasure to see their skills on display and how they stick a competitive team out there with all the obstacles they face. Mohammed Abbas walked away with the man of the series. Well deserved. We’ll see you around sometime Pakistan. It’s a fact that it is a series that doesn’t bring in the enormous revenues that India will do, but the later summer series will do well to match some of what we have seen, especially in terms of seam bowling, that Pakistan has brought here.

I’m sure one of my colleagues will go into the series in more detail in the week. For me I’m off overseas again…. got to do the day job!

England v Pakistan – 2nd Test, Day 2

In their late 80’s “hit” MC Rob Base (together with DJ EZ Rock) said it took two to make a thing go right. This England team eschew the two batting partners making big tons together, and instead make an absolute art of getting in and then getting out. Yesterday we had the reincarnation of Keaton Jennings, who did just what all other auditioning openers have done and got in and got out before getting the big score that might cement their place. Jennings, a debutant centurion, has been cleared better now by the doctors on Sky, until he fails to go on and make the big hundreds he failed to last time.

I won’t comment on Cook.

But Mr Base made many outrageous statements in his “hit” and other than saying he preferred Whoppers to Big Macs, he also said “Bro, I got an ego.” and that’s something this team is not short of. If they were anywhere near as good as they think they are, and that some of the media believe they are if they play up to form, then we’d be up there with India in the rankings. The second day’s play shows why. With a chance to bury the opposition we get flowery 40s, teasing twenties, and a nightwatchman really showing top order batsmen what to do. I’m not buying the “there’s one with your name on it” twaddle Sky Pravda puts out, but there’s some rubbish dismissals out there. Bairstow, let off an appalling leave which was going over nicks off to the last ball before the new ball is due. Root nicks off early on. Malan gets in, gets out. Bess got one that did something out of the ordinary. Botham tells Bess to enjoy the reaction he gets, while I sit there going “good on him for looking cheesed off for getting out for 49”.

It’s been a day where there hasn’t been a lot to say. Rain delayed the start until 2:45 which allowed me to catch up with the ironing – a life of glamour in the blogging world – and while I understand Nasser when he said people toss about in getting the ground ready, we all know the high regard the spectator is held in by the England Cricket Board (It’s not Wales’s fault). So before getting the hump with the ICC and the umpires, spare some rage for a board who seem to love the bottom line so much they are proposing a four day test v Ireland next July. Hey Ireland, you are second rate. Have four days. And have it at Lord’s, where half the ground is set aside for a private members club.

Back to today, England finish the day in a very good position, well ahead, in control, and should level the series with a fair wind and a half decent bowling performance. I still want my batsmen to destroy opposition, but those days seem a long long time ago now. Unless something odd happens, we’ll be nine completed test innings with just one individual century, and that was a 101. That’s not a recipe for success. One other score of 80+ and two more of 70+.

I suppose I am being harsh, because there is something in the wicket and it’s good balls getting the players out, and that’s always been much more acceptable to the cognoscenti out there. England didn’t collapse so we can be semi-happy. And two youngsters don’t look overawed.

302 for 7, a lead of 128. England in a good position. Let Broad and Shiny Toy have a bust up. This is England.

Comments on Day 3 below. I’m off to watch something entertaining this evening.

England vs Pakistan: 2nd Test, day one

A far better day for England than they’ve had in Test cricket in a fair while, and one where they have the chance tomorrow to take a hold on this game and get in a position to win their first Test in nine matches. What it doesn’t do is change any of the issues England have, and nor should it be deemed as evidence that all is suddenly rosy in the garden of English cricket once again. To do that would be to ignore the mounting evidence in favour of living purely in the moment and excusing the structural problems that have been there for some time, and were merely brought into focus last week.

That England bowled well, given conditions in which the ball swings should be no surprise to anyone. That when dismissing the opposition for a small total batting seems much easier should also be something to be expected, for the game has not changed so much that the fundamentals no longer apply.

Perhaps it is reading too much into things to see Vaughan’s suggestion that Broad be dropped as providing a kick up the backside, for it would suggest that a player who has been England”s best performer even on tours where the rest of the team has been abject has been coasting, which although a barb aimed at him regularly, doesn’t always accord with his overall record. Broad himself wasn’t having any of it, suggesting after play that the criticism was as much about people promoting their newspaper columns as anything else. One thing that can be said for Broad, he often eschews the anodyne media speak and says what he thinks – it’s sufficiently rare these days to be notable.

Nevertheless, today he was excellent, pitching the ball up, as he does when he is at his very best, and looking the lethal predator he so often appears to be in such conditions. Anderson too, although often tidy outside off stump rather than threatening, showed his ability in helpful conditions once more. There is nothing in what happened today to change the view that when circumstances allow, they are as good as anyone. That is not damning with faint praise, but a reflection of their very considerable skills.

Sam Curran was given his debut after Ben Stokes failed a fitness test, while Mark Wood was the usual bowling sacrificial lamb in response to an abject batting display. This remains very odd, for Wood may not have been fantastic at Lord’s, but nor was he especially poor, particularly when the bowling attack as a whole was given little chance in defending such a poor score. Nor does the argument that he struggles with back to back Tests hold up given England’s seamers hardly were flogged into the ground over five days.

It’s not that none of the arguments are unreasonable, it’s that if they do why pick him to begin with? It seems what it always has done – muddled thinking. Brought in for a single Test, and then discarded. It’s hard to escape the cynical feeling that perhaps his best avenue would be to improve his batting.

Curran himself picked up one wicket to close out the innings, and bowled tidily enough for the most part without looking especially threatening or especially quick, which shouldn’t be so shocking from a 19 year old, and nor should he be judged upon it. That will be on the selectors, for he is a promising cricketer who needs to be nurtured.

Wisdom after the event might dictate that choosing to bat first was the wrong decision, but few expected the degree of movement that transpired, certainly not the commentators, nor it seemed the England team who would have chosen to bat as well. Sometimes it just happens that way.

At 79-7 Pakistan were really staring down the barrel, but Shadab Khan and Hasab Ali at least provided some respectability with a counterattack, that as normal left the bowlers looking somewhat bereft of ideas. Lower order hitting remains one of the more pleasurable sights on the Test cricket field.

In reply, England looked generally comfortable. Keaton Jennings made a decent contribution without going on, Alastair Cook looked in good touch – his late dismissal being down to being too early on the pull rather than too late – while Joe Root looked like Joe Root does. The evening session had some playing and missing, but no more than might be expected from a Headingley Test, and concluding 68 behind and with 8 wickets in hand, England look very well placed to take control.

Cook himself was setting a record with his 154th consecutive Test. It is to be hoped that someone, somewhere one day breaks his record – not for a second because he doesn’t deserve to enjoy a remarkable feat, but because it would mean that Test cricket remains healthy in the future. But it appears distinctly likely that this will remain his for all time. In which case, it remains remarkable, though perhaps not quite so much as Dave Nourse who played every Test of South Africa’s first 22 years in the game. Cook’s achievement is outstanding, Nourse’s is extraordinary.

And yet. The one thing that typifies England’s batting is its brittleness, and should tomorrow be a bowling day, as the forecast perhaps suggests, then Pakistan are anything but out of it.

England’s day by a significant margin, but they’re not there yet.

England vs. Pakistan, 2nd Test – The Ostrich Preview

Being the following act after such a strong and on the money piece that was written by Chris a couple of days ago is never an easy act to follow (we all grudgingly congratulated him in the pub last night with the rest of us wishing we had written it). It is also doubly hard when he has basically commented on everything I planned to say alongside the fact that this is simply a Test Match preview. So after the Lord Mayor’s show so to speak…

Whatever the heat Messer’s Graves and Harrison felt before the last Test with their half-arsed 100 ball plan and the ridicule that has rightly come with it, that heat has now turned into a furnace after the debacle of England’s performance in the first test. I didn’t actually get to watch most of the game but it would not be too strong to suggest that absolutely no positive came out of that game, bar the fact that none of our players got a catastrophic injury. It was a farce from start to finish, from Root’s decision to bat first, to watching England’s top order collapse in a heap not once but twice, to watching Pakistan’s bowlers who had very limited experience in these conditions completely embarrass England’s so called ‘best new ball attack of all time’. I would say I felt for the majority of the fans who paid the best bet of 100 quid for the privilege of watching such a spineless performance, but then I remember the game was held at Lords and most of the spectators are there for company networking and to be seen as part of the ‘old boys club, and to whom the cricket most definitely comes second, and then I happily remembered that I couldn’t care less!

This Test Match was the perfect riposte to the hollow words that have emerged out of the ECB over the past few years that Test cricket is the hallowed game (Graves, Harrison and Strauss have the unenviable reputation of making Hugh Morris, David Collier and David Morgan look not only competent but as the guardians of English cricket). The lack of investment in grass roots cricket, the wilful demolition of county cricket, the sheer corporate greed, treating the fans as commodities and then the obsession with T20/T100/dumbing down the sport lie squarely on the shoulders of the ECB. If this was a court then the ECB would have been tried and executed on the grounds of homicide. The gaping holes in the batting line, the over-reliance on two quick bowlers who are coming to the end of their career and the lack of a spinner, all of which were highlighted in our pathetic but unsurprising performance in the last Test is quite simply what the ECB (and not the fans) deserve for years of lip service and a criminal under investment in our red ball game. And guess what? This isn’t even close to the nadir yet! When Cook, Anderson and Broad finally retire in the next couple of years, the pipeline of talent behind them is completely desolate, a very real consequence of greed taking precedence over the health of the sport that they are supposedly the guardians of. It’s all very well for Shiny Toy to call for either Anderson or Broad to be dropped for the next game, but who exactly is going to replace them?? If Ed Smith didn’t think he was in for a challenge when he accepted the Chief Selector role then he has had a very rude awakening, this is the most poisonous of chalices. Of course, Smith could ban all players from social media from now on, but contrary to Simon Hughes’ hair brained and quite baffling declaration that it was this medium that has caused all of England’s travails, I’m afraid the problem is a little more terminal than that. Something the ‘rent-a-quote’ duo either don’t get or willfully choose to ignore.

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So off we head to Headingley, with little time for England to lick their wounds after the thrashing at Lords and for me, it will be interesting to see what type of appetite the natives have for the match, considering they had the rare the luxury of a late season Test last season. The current omens look good mainly down to the sensible pricing and promotion of the Test by Yorkshire and the fact that we won’t have a repeat of two teams in the North East fighting for spectator hearts and minds in concurrent Tests against teams that aren’t India or Australia. This is by no means to denigrate the appetite for cricket in the North East, who are some of the most passionate fans out there, nor to denigrate the level of opponent as Pakistan showed in the last Test, but concurrent Tests in the same geographic region was just madness (I certainly know one individual, who will be netting the profits from the advertising around the ground that will be happy at the lack of the competition).

As for the game itself, then Pakistan should surely be in the unusual situation of being favourites away from home. Certainly if they can bat and bowl like they did in the first test, then a very weak England batting line up and an egotistical, old and inconsistent bowling department could be in trouble once again. England have done the merciful thing by dropping a completely out of touch Mark Stoneman, who has looked like he has been batting with a matchstick this season, with the fairly uninspiring choice of Keaton Jennings. Whilst Jennings has scored some runs this season for Lancashire with one century, he still only has a batting average of 43 this season compared to 26 last season, which hardly suggests that he is pulling up trees in county cricket. It will be interesting to see if Jennings has made any tweaks to his technique after being ruthlessly exposed by the South African pace trio last season or whether we will see much of the same – mind you the black cab rank is pretty much empty at the moment. It is also likely that we will see Woakes replace Mark Wood as I would imagine that the England ‘brains trust’ see Headingley as a pitch where you need to pitch it up more and combined with the pitiful contributions from the tail all winter and in the last game. Woakes at least should give them a little bit of stability at 8. Without watching any of the last Test, it is hard for me to properly asses Mark Wood’s performance though I have had heard that his pace has consistently dropped in the 2nd and 3rd spells of the game. It is hard to know whether this is a fitness thing or a confidence thing, but it surely can’t be good for Wood to be bouncing in and out of the team on the whim of the selectors. I think England either have to stick with him all summer or let him go back to the county game (when it eventually starts again) to try and rebuild his fitness, but thinking about it, when has the good of the player ever been on the radar of the English coaches.

This is also an important Test for Joe Root as it has been pointed out that if England lose the series, then they slip down to number 7 in the Test rankings. Root has looked like he is carrying the world on his shoulders over the past 6 months, rather than the happy, cheeky chap he was before he was lumbered with the captaincy. Without doubt, this has not only affected his batting but all the current firefighting has quite possibly carried over to the rest of the team, who have looked anything but a team over the last few months. If England were to lose this game, I like many, am of the opinion that we need to find another captain within the squad. Root scoring runs is by far the most important thing we can ask of him and if the captaincy is wearing him down, then we need to find an interim captain for the next 18 months. Trevor Bayliss will also probably be sweating on the outcome of this Test, as whilst he has done a great job with the ODI side, the Test side smacks of staleness with the Test team knowing that Bayliss will be gone after 2019; after all we have seen in other sports what happens when a manager is pretty much dead man walking, the players stop giving that an extra 10% and often rely on their judgements rather than the instructions of the coaching staff. Still after the few months that the ECB’s have just had, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think they will bungle it? I look forward to Nick Knight being given the Test coaching job in the near future!

For those that have the inclination, please do share your thoughts below:

Till The Rivers All Run Dry

Whenever England suffer a defeat, the response is invariably as illuminating as the match itself. It is as though each must be taken in isolation, and never, ever must it be viewed as being part of a pattern. Even more specifically, cause and effect should not be considered, for then it might require thinking about how we got to this point and whether those decisions were wise ones or not. This becomes particularly important to ignore if those doing the analysis either failed to talk about potential pitfalls at the time, or if they instead happily supported them, in which case pretending that all current woes have nothing to do with any of it is by far the best course.

There are exceptions of course, George Dobell wrote a scathing article expressing surprise at the surprise, given the sidelining of first class cricket in this country and the decline in results in recent years. Yet he also implied that not only did the ECB not particularly care, but that this is deliberate – his description of the talent pool becoming a talent puddle being spot on it its brutal assessment of the point we’ve reached. In the follow up to the article on Twitter, he stated that the truth was that the ECB cared more for white ball cricket than red ball, and in one particular reply stated:

It is increasingly hard to take the counter view. When you stop being invited to briefings etc…It’s been an interesting few weeks. I’ll say more about that one day.

For a long time there has been a strong suspicion that the ECB have a real problem with those who don’t toe the line, those who dare to criticise. The apparent legal action against him by Colin Graves received ridicule, but far more insidious and dangerous is the question of access denied, of preventing those who are deemed off message from doing their job as a journalist, which can be, and sometimes still is, a noble profession. This perhaps is at least part of the reason for the rise of blogs like this one and many others – that we have no access to begin with means there is nothing to take away from us for being difficult. We say what we like, and any dislike the ECB has for us is returned in spades. The fundamental belief that cricket is our game, not the ECB’s is simply a view they do not share, but one (irrespective of view on individual subjects) from which players, supporters and fans will not back down.

Self-censorship is by far the most dangerous state of affairs in any free press society, and while it isn’t an accusation that can be specifically levelled at anyone (precisely why it is so dangerous – it happens by omission), the treatment of those who fail to the toe the line is an issue of vital importance. To turn it around the other way, is there any evidence or belief that the ECB would treat those who dare to criticise in exactly the same way as those who slavishly support them? As they are so fond of saying, this is a question of trust, and there is none.

The fallout from the Hundred – or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week – was in many quarters focused on the format itself, rather than the rationale that created the circumstances for the kind of stupidity that thought any of it was a good idea in the first place. It is not, and never has been a matter of whether a ten ball final over is a good idea or not. It is instead entirely about the cretinous management of the English game that has created a situation where such a tournament is deemed necessary to try and undo some of the damage wrought over the last fifteen years by an organisation so malevolently incompetent it has brought the game itself to its knees. Trying to fix the stereo while the wheels have fallen off is the default position of the ECB these days, and none of the derision around losing three and a bit overs should ever forget that.

Simon Hughes, the self-styled analyst, not only thoroughly supported the concept of the Hundred, but went full Al Gore and claimed he’d invented it. It is therefore no surprise that he managed to pen an article that managed the impressive feat of being utterly bereft of analysis while incorporating a leap in logic of truly epic proportions.

It is entirely a given that England batsmen of recent vintage have poor averages, it is equally a given that of those in the side only Cook and Root have recently averaged over 40, albeit Bairstow can be placed in that category if stat mining to a certain cut off point. Yet in all the praise of Cook in that article (and however fawning the coverage of him for modest performances recently, even the lesser Cook is a God among batsmen in this mess of an England team) at no point does Hughes seem to recognise that Cook is a product of an era where the ECB focused on red ball cricket. When England hit the nadir of home defeat to New Zealand in 1999 to become semi-officially the worst team in the world, the response was swift and determined. A focus on red ball cricket, a replication as far as possible of the conditions of Test match play, a specific plan to create Test match cricketers with bat and ball and strong competition for places in a team that was a match for anyone.

The hundreds racked up by England batsmen in the 2000s were by players who benefitted from that policy, who knew how to bat to a situation and whose entire careers had been predicated on the kind of cricket required to do so. It wasn’t just the batsmen either, the bowlers, faced with improved batting standards had to raise their games as well, in the age old arms race between bat and ball.

The best players in the English game are the older ones, who learned their art in that environment, with the arguable exception of Joe Root, who may be quite simply one of those exceptional players that comes along from time to time. Anderson and Broad were part of those England teams, Alastair Cook forced his way into a powerful side through sheer batting prowess to the point he was better than any of the other options. Hughes’ highlighting of Cook’s style of play being central to his career success is quite correct, what he fails to do is recognise that the circumstances in which he learned his game were conducive to that kind of play, and those circumstances no longer apply – which is why so few Cooks are now visible on the county scene.

Instead, Hughes focuses on social media as the reason behind England’s difficulties, drawing a logical parallel between Cook’s absence from it and his cricketing mindset. Apart from the sheer ignorance of apparently being unaware that social media is quite present in other countries whose batsmen have no problems racking up large scores against England, why single that out? Cook is the only one of the England team to raise lambs, perhaps that is the main reason instead? If only Haseeb Hameed had a farm, he would doubtless now be making double centuries in the England team rather than languishing in his county second team.

If Hughes at least recognises that England have a batting problem, Michael Vaughan in contrast highlights the bowlers, calling for Broad and Anderson to be dropped because they have been part of a losing England team for so long. As ever with Vaughan, there is a kernel of insight in what he says, for it is indeed the case that the side built around their bowling leadership is now on a downward spiral. Yet if England’s bowling has been unexceptional in recent times, it hasn’t been the main failing in a side crashing to calamitous defeat with ever greater regularity. Defending scores of 184 can be done on occasion, but not repeatedly, even for the very best. Opposition teams who have England on the rack after a risible score have an entirely different mentality, and bowlers simply cannot fix the unfixable, and nor can they escape the mental fatigue of being asked to so time and again. In this last Test, England didn’t bowl especially badly, dismissing Pakistan for a reasonably par score. The near 200 run deficit was not because of poor bowling.

Why Broad and Anderson? If a losing mentality is the problem, why not Cook? Why not Bairstow? Why not Stokes? In those cases at least there would be a semblance of recognition that the batting is the primary problem, rather than slating the bowling attack for failing to repeatedly perform miracles. It requires little cricketing genius to realise that the two of them, with excellent records, are most effective when they have runs to defend. Some might even say this has been true of every bowler who has ever played the game.

Broad and Anderson are reaching the end of the road, and Cook may not be too far behind them either. The critical problem this England side faces is not that they are past their best (because they probably are) but that they are still amongst the very best England have to offer. Criticism of them is often warranted, but an England team without them doesn’t just look weaker, it looks a disaster.

The ECB tried their best to deflect reality by talking about how to make away sides more competitive in Test matches, proposing the abolition of the toss to provide tourists with an advantage. Yet again, they are fiddling around the edges to distract from what is abundantly obvious to all. England were not thrashed in India because of the toss, they were not thrashed in Australia or New Zealand because of the toss. They were hammered because they aren’t very good, and the opposition, even opposition that isn’t that strong, are better. Home series have provided a figleaf of respectability in recent years, but even here results have been anything but dominant. The West Indies are no one’s idea of a top Test team, yet England barely sneaked a series win, losing a home Test to them for the first time in 17 years. England have not been inconsistent, they have been poor, and they are getting poorer, and there is little out there to suggest improvement is coming.

If England lose the second Test this week then they will slip to seventh in the Test rankings, above only Bangladesh (against whom they sneaked a largely undeserved series draw) and Zimbabwe in the table. Such a position may be indicative of the shambolic condition of the game, but it is unquestionably exactly where they deserve to be. Berating the players for the conditions that have led to this point is continuing to flog until morale improves.

The ECB have utterly sidelined county cricket as a preparation ground for Test matches. This is not new, the county championship has been pushed ever more to the margins for several years, and with successful bowlers being those medium pacers who bowl wicket to wicket, and successful batsmen those who chance their arm before they are undone by one with their name on it, these are the kinds of players England will produce. As Dobell said, “What did they expect?”.

The lack of care, the lack of any interest, was demonstrated by a glorious late May Bank Holiday Monday where there was no county cricket played anywhere, for the first time ever. That a Test was scheduled for its fifth day is no excuse whatever, to have failed to consider scheduling matches for a public holiday is entirely symptomatic of an organisation that simply doesn’t give a shit any more.

Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the coach. Do not try to tell people that the problems are with the application of the batsmen. And do not try to tell people that this is some transitory issue that will improve. This is the ECB reaping exactly what they have sown over the last fifteen years – handicapping the England Test team specifically, deliberately, and as part of a wider strategy. Late term panic about the invisibility of the sport from an organisation that continues to undermine its very essence not only fails to mitigate previous actions, it exacerbates them.

At every stage in this slow motion car crash there has been the opportunity to change direction. At every stage they could have listened to those who had the interests of cricket at their heart. And at every stage they have doubled down and pressed the accelerator pedal still further. Pathetic tinkering at the margins and pretending we haven’t got to this point by design is nothing other than fundamental dishonesty and contempt for everyone else.

You broke it ECB. And you don’t even care about fixing it.