3 years, 900 posts and a million views: Happy Birthday to Us

Writing a blog is a funny thing: you forget what you’ve done, time goes by, and eventually one of the team says something along the lines of “Hang on, isn’t our birthday in February?”.  So it is, although I must confess I initially thought it was our fourth rather than our third, which just goes to show how much attention we pay to such things.  Nevertheless, allow us to be all self-congratulatory for once, as the very idea of lasting more than a month or two seemed fairly daft back then.  It wasn’t really the start, for Dmitri Old’s How Did We Lose in Adelaide blog was the reason so many of us got in contact with each other in the first place, but his opening lines to this particular site are wryly amusing to look back on:

Let’s see how this one goes

The fallout from the Australia tour, the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the shambolic reign of Paul Downton, the failure of the press to scrutinise rather than regurgitate the inner thoughts of Andy Flower and Giles Clarke – it all seems so distant, yet so recent in other ways.  The schism those events triggered hasn’t healed; if anything positions have become even more entrenched, even if some of the actors have now left the stage.  But when the ECB not only refuse to “clarify”, let alone apologise for the “Outside Cricket” jibe that gave this blog its name (that press release is still up on the PCA’s site), perhaps that no matter how things change they remain the same shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  They meant it then, and they still do now.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the posts on here, and some have been very vocal about it.  Fair enough too, we have several points of view that people can agree with, disagree with, or ignore, but perhaps the volume of hits for an obscure little blog that’s been pathetically useless in promoting itself (we only got round to using the Twitter address properly recently) suggests it’s not a totally out there line to have taken.

Dmitri’s blog swiftly became a two handed site, then three, and now four.  We professionalised it by buying a real domain name rather than using a WordPress one, and apart from a small issue where some idiot on the team accidentally thought the renewal was a fraudulent payment (now you know why the site disappeared for a couple of days) and cancelled it, it’s been that ever since. With hindsight, outsidecricket.com might have been a better name than beingoutsidecricket.com, but you can blame that same idiot for that as well.

That first year it was all about Strauss, Pietersen, the press, books and subterfuge.  The two posts that attracted the highest volumes were A Matter of Life and Trust and Statement of the Oblivious, both about the sheer duplicitousness of the ECB attempting to pretend their chairman hadn’t said what he really had, and that going back on his word was in no way utterly deceitful and treating people like idiots.  Oddly enough, in the years since, Mr Graves has barely said a word, and could well be gagged and chained in a distant dungeon for all we know.  The most enthralling thing looking back on the first of those is how the focus on trust hasn’t gone away – is there actually anyone who believes anything they say?  Why would they when they are so often caught out fibbing?  Even for matters as small as player injuries the statements range from implausible to outright falsehood.

Both of those posts stand up pretty well in terms of the sentiments expressed, and it should be alarming (but it’s not surprising) that the objections raised have still never been answered.  The joke that the most recent hammering in Australia was probably also Kevin Pietersen’s fault remains as sharp a barb now as then.

Andrew Strauss’s announcement that Pietersen was persona non grata persuaded us to do our first ever live blog – something we’ve fiddled with from time to time since.  The tweets embedded in that particular piece are striking in retrospect – mostly because they’re every bit as true today.  Various of the We Need to Talk About Kevin brigade never did come up with any kind of decent defence, beyond the “Pietersen is a tosser” line.  Unless, that is, we count the marvellously pathetic leaked dossier that was swiftly disavowed once it became clear it was an object of derision.  Note that a real one never did appear – how could it?  That was the actual depth of the evidence against him.

Two other sackings that year also got plenty of attention, firstly that of Paul Downton, with the beautifully titled post Aplomb highlighting the absurdity of all those in the media who backed their mate as someone special despite it being blindingly obvious to everyone else he was utterly out of his depth.  The other sacking was of course Peter Moores, a man who didn’t succeed on either occasion as England coach, but who is a rarity in ECB circles as someone on more than nodding terms with the concept of integrity.  His shabby sacking – leaked to the media as he watched his England team play a one day match, caused BOC to get all angry on his behalf about his treatment.  For all that plenty of people may dislike a Pietersen, always remember this happened to someone who no one thought could possibly deserve such underhanded and unpalatable conduct from his bosses.  The ECB have the sheer cheek to still claim (lie) that they don’t leak.

If 2015’s posts were dominated by the seemingly daily dose of ECB ineptitude, 2016 saw many of the most popular posts being about actual, real life cricket.  The tours of Bangladesh and India towards the end of the year in particular gained a lot of attention, and probably gave rise to the inside joke that this is the Bad News Blog, where readership rises in proportion to England’s cricketing woes.  It’s not quite true, the reality is that Test cricket is what gets the attention, whether England win or lose.  That we prefer watching and writing about Test cricket suggests there may be a hint of self-fulfilling prophecy about it, but it does mirror the newspapers, who also see traffic drop off for the more disposable versions of the game.  This of course makes it thoroughly intriguing how T20 in particular is seen as the future, when attention is so limited, at least in the written media.  This place isn’t representative of anything at all of course, but when it’s widespread across all media, it becomes notable.  The interest is unquestionably there of course, but it’s shallow.

Outside of the cricket itself, by far the most popular (in the strictest sense of numbers that is – it was deeply unpopular with many of the targets) post was the collective effort that was the Outside Cricket(er) List, a riposte to the gloriously pompous Power List published by The Cricketer Magazine, the one where its editor (Simon Hughes, just in case you’ve forgotten) decided to include himself – presumably 39th place was as high as he dared and well ahead of the editor of Wisden, for example.  Our own list probably caused more internal discussion than anything else we’ve ever done, mostly involving debates as to whether any of the entries were too nasty.  A few probably were, though in at least one case the response by the victim magnificently made a debatable hatchet job turn out to be nail on head.  Mind you, it was a few days later that someone asked why we’d left out Piers Morgan, followed by the horrified realisation that we really had somehow forgotten the most obvious subject of all.  He may consider that particularly wounding.

It’s long been considered that county cricket is death in terms of attracting attention, but Sean’s post  about the climax to the season, player availability and, that old favourite, the ECB shooting themselves in the foot provoked plenty of comment.  Perhaps there is life in the old dog beyond the Guardian county clique blog.

2017 of course was all about the Ashes, and the spike in hits across that period reflected the way that however hard the cricketing authorities try to undermine the game, certain things still resonate with anyone who loves the game of cricket.  That the series turned out to be once again a mess from an England perspective didn’t alter that, except that both posts and comments tended to range from furious, via despair to withering contempt.  Still, there was always l’affaire Stokes to keep everyone entertained, as writers and commenters worked out the best ways of talking about a subject that couldn’t be talked about.  Some of the Tangled Web didn’t age terribly well, but that’s blogging, and anyone who wants to go back over the output of the last three years and point out where we got it completely wrong is more than welcome to do so.  No need to tell us though – life’s too short.

Alastair Cook is a perennial favourite on here – partly because there’s just so much to say about him (and often very positive, contrary to popular belief), but the day he stood down as England captain (what, you didn’t realise?) was unquestionably a big one, not least because of the length of time he’d held the job.  I’ve always felt Dmitri’s assessment of him that day was one of the best things he’s written, weaving a tale of a flawed captain propped up by an adoring media who wouldn’t brook any criticism of the Chosen One.  The prescience of that piece was highlighted perfectly by the astoundingly over the top media response to what certainly was a fine innings in Melbourne, just not a visitation from the Almighty.

Last year also saw the completion of the Gang of Four (presumably, execution isn’t on the cards for this one) with Danny joining up and posting his analysis of All Stars Cricket, the latest wheeze from the ECB that pays lip service to grassroots cricket and generates lots of positive headlines when announcing it, before anyone has time to really start looking at it properly.

Of course, it’s not just been the four of us, the guest posts have been without exception outstanding – in one instance a journalist got in touch to expressly mention how good it was (they don’t do that for me, damn them) and how well researched.  Furthermore, the comments are always what makes a place like this worthwhile, whether agreeing or disagreeing, praising or hostile.  Like any community, it’s only ever as good as those who make it up, and from a personal perspective, it’s involved meeting a lot of terrific people, and in the case of a few, firm friendships have been forged. I did think about individually thanking everyone who has posted a comment on here, but then I realised how long it would take, blanched and bailed out. Sorry.

We’re three years old, we intend to carry on.  There’ll be hiatuses no doubt, and nothing ever stays quite the same.  We’re never going to monetise it, we’re never going to accept “sponsorship” from a betting company.  We (and I mean all of us, readers, writers, commenters) do it for the love of the game and the burning anger at how it’s being systematically wrecked by those who care for filthy lucre rather than the sport.

Onwards and upwards, and if you can, forgive this one piece of chronic navel-gazing.  So happy birthday to us – all of us.  To answer Dmitri from February 6th 2015, it’s gone pretty well.

Oh one last thing – on the million views claim.  We’re actually 30,000 short.  But as exaggeration goes, we’re not remotely close to newspaper levels.  And it won’t get us a profile in the Cricket Paper either.

Advertisements

A Blatant Holding Post

It’s been one of those weeks when any one of us has been away (Dmitri, who is currently doing a deal with the Medellin cartel), busy at work (all of us) or can’t think of anything to write that might prove to be somewhat of interest (certainly me, but it may also apply to TLG and Danny). So please bear with us in this slight dip in activity.

I see that England got beaten in the first T20 game without actually having the time or urge to watch it and that South Africa were once again put to the sword by the Indian wrist spinners in another white ball series going on. I’ve never really hidden my lack of appetite for the white ball game and know many on here have exactly the same feelings. Meanwhile Bangladesh and Sri Lanka fought out an utterly compelling (not) match in Chittagong where 600 odd played 700 odd on a road of a pitch, on the type of pitch I believe is killing the game not to mention the careers of a many a fast bowler. I might try and do a piece around that sometime next week.

Indeed news has been so slow this week that ESPN Cricinfo have had to lead on a story that Ben Stokes won’t be allowed to enter and leave court through the backdoor next week, which is my opinion is a complete non-story but might get them a few clicks.

However never fear. As many of our readers on the blog might be aware, we are celebrating our 3rd birthday on the blog this week, some 900 blog posts later. Not too shabby for a few ‘bilious inadequate’ and ‘social media zealots’ I’m sure you will all agree. TLG has been tasked with writing a special piece to celebrate our 3rd birthday, so there will be that to look forward to towards the end of the week/weekend.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, writing for the blog does take up a lot of time for 4 part timers with real jobs, so we will always have peaks and troughs of activity. I’m sure we’ll be back on song once the New Zealand Tests come around or when someone from the ECB inadvertently shouts his mouth off, but in the meantime please excuse the lack of regular posts. As ever, if you have a burning desire to write something or just to start a conversation, feel free to either comment below or drop us a guest piece.

Have a good rest of the week.

Guest Post: What Chance Have You Got Against A Tie And A Crest?

Whilst that annoying little thing called work has got in the way of writing this week, one of our resident commenters, Topshelf, has kindly written a piece around the lack of appeal and meritocracy that is so ingrained in English cricket.

As always, we are extremely grateful for people putting the time and effort in to write for us, especially on a subject the other editors don’t have personal experience of. As with all of our guest posts, please bear in mind that for many of our guest writers, publishing on the blog is a new experience for them, so please afford a bit more respect than some of our usual rants.

Over to you Topshelf…..

On the 5th of January, David Hopps commented on Twitter:

“There are 8 private schoolboys in this England XI, some from overseas, even including Yorkshire who like to feel they spread the net wide. Well, well done the private sector for backing cricket. But the net is narrow. That’s all you need to know.”

Lizzie Ammon replied :

“Don’t get me started on county age cricket. The least meritocratic system on earth.”

On the 7th of January, on the way home from the first borough training session of the year, my county age-group son said: “Dad, I reckon I’m the only state-school boy at training now.”

Given that pretty much every conversation I’d just had with other parents had begun “So where’s X going to school?” it seemed he was probably right. (One of my simple pleasures in life is enjoying the moment of blinking panic as other parents try to work out why they haven’t heard of my son’s minor public school, before I put them out of their misery – “It’s just a state school, it’s 5 minutes from my house.”)

Of course, on the 8th of January, England’s 8 private schoolboys finally succumbed 4-0 to Australia.  The predictable blame-game began, and the usual suspects took aim at the county system, bemoaning the lack of true quick bowlers, the emphasis on white-ball cricket, the scheduling of championship cricket, all of which no doubt have a detrimental effect. George Dobell aimed wider, saying:

“The talent pool on which the game relies has grown shallow and is absurdly over-reliant upon the private schools, Asian and ex-pat communities.”

As if to rub it in, we’ve just seen another 10 public schoolboys in England kit capitulate dismally against Australia and a very good leg-spinner, Lloyd Pope’s extraordinary 8-35 sending them spiralling out of the U19 World Cup.

So, putting on my best Peter Moores hat, I thought I’d have a look at the data.

Firstly, a quick comparison. The last time England won the U19 World Cup – in 1998 – only 3 squad members attended fee-paying schools, compared to the 11 Daryl Cullinans this time. England’s best Ashes team of recent times, the 2005 squad, contained just 4 “posh nobs”, while even the 2011 3-1 team only had 6 by the final test. Of course, as is the way with data-mining, things soon expanded. I’ve now looked at every Test debutant since 1990, and every currently contracted county player. I know far more than I ever expected to about the sports scholarship system, and will probably be getting ads for private schools on my laptop until the end of time.

It will surprise no-one that cricket is a sport that favours the public schoolboy. Of 141 players to make their debuts since 1990, 48 (34%) attended at least a private 6th form. For context, 18% of pupils in England do the same, so a recent Test cricketer is almost twice as likely to be privately educated. As you would expect, given the number of state playing fields sold off by successive governments since 1979, the trend is definitely upwards. The 90’s saw 14 private school debuts of 59 (24%), the 00’s 14 of 44 (32%), while this decade has seen 20 out of 38 (53%) so far.

So far, so predictable. Cricket is an expensive sport that requires open spaces to play, and a big sacrifice of parental time. It is hidden behind a paywall, and rarely played in state schools. Much like rugby union – where, amazingly, around 60% of English Premiership players are ex public schoolboys – its appeal to the “working class” is diminishing. It’s little wonder that it risks becoming a niche sport for the privileged few. That is borne out by the fact that of 313 currently contracted and English qualified county players, 138 were privately educated, which is 42%, well over twice what demographics would predict. (Worth noting also that there are another 86 players who are out of the England picture, which is nearly 22% of the total. But that’s another story.)  Many of these schools are more sporting academy than traditional educational establishment, although no doubt they would stress their academic credentials as well. The school that provides the most cricketers, Millfield (with 10), not only has great cricket facilities, it has a golf course and equestrian centre. The school claimed in 2015 to have around 50 former pupils playing international sport every year. Like many others, it has an extensive sports scholarship system in place, and is able to hoover up a great deal of promising talent.

The first thing you notice when looking at recent England test players is a truism. Batsmen go to public school. Bowlers, especially quick bowlers, don’t. It’s the modern-day equivalent of Gentlemen and Players. Of the 46 batsmen to make debuts since the 1990, 26 (57%) were educated privately. Conversely, of the 62 fast bowlers and fast-bowling all-rounders, only 13 (21%) went to private schools. This makes a sort of sense; more and more public schools are recruiting cricketers using sports scholarships, which aren’t cheap, for school or pupil. Often counties are involved in referring promising players, and it’s a lot easier to pick a batsman, whose numbers are usually pretty clear. For a start, they’re allowed to bat long enough to get big scores, while young bowlers are ham-strung by ECB guidelines restricting the overs they can bowl. Bowlers also mature later, and are prone to injury. Very few schools (and counties, who are known to contribute as well) are going to commit tens of thousands of pounds to a promising bowler who might stop growing or develop stress fractures. And I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about how counties treat the attrition rate of their young fast bowlers anyway – one county reportedly considers it a success if 1 in 6 of their late teen quicks makes it to adulthood unscathed.

It also becomes clear that going to a private school gets you a longer Test career as a batsman. Of those 46 batsmen, the private school players get on average 37.3 Tests, with half playing over 15, while the state school boys get only 27.6, with half playing under 7. At this point it would be easy to cry foul, and assume that the likes of Downton (Sevenoaks), Whitaker (Uppingham) and Strauss (Radley) favour their own. However, the truth is probably simpler. A public school batsman has very likely already been selected for his ability – for example Joe Root and his Yorkshire-arranged scholarship to Worksop College – at an early age. He will have had access to years of high-class coaching, bowling machines, and, most importantly, many many more matches than his state counterpart. It’s no surprise that they perform better overall. And having had a good look, I can’t find anything that suggests worse players get more of a go if they come from the right sort of family. Albeit a bowler, the final word on obvious bias should be Mark Wood, alumnus of Ashington High School, who is apparently still in the Test reckoning after 26 wickets in 10 tests at an average of 40.65.

At this point it would be easy to shrug – how could any state school compete? –  and hope that the holy grail of the City T20 being intermittently on free-to-air will miraculously enthuse a new generation of kids. Who’ll still have nowhere to play, and lack the money for kit and coaching. The lucky few will still get a cheap ride through a private 6th form, assuming they start, or, more importantly, keep playing in the first place. Perhaps they can consult The Cricketer’s helpful Top 100 Schools Guide – state schools up to 9 this year…

But state-school participation matters, massively, not only for the obvious social and participation reasons, but also for the future success of the England team. Put simply, if state-school cricketers don’t make it to the top, England’s Test team will be a team of batsmen only.

In county cricket, public school batsmen make up 53% of their total, while quicks are only 30%, the smallest proportion. Nowhere is this disparity clearest than at Middlesex, which has 5 of 7 privately educated batsmen, but only 1 bowler of 8 who’s familiar with an apple-pie bed. Nor is stacking your team with posh boys any predictor of success. Essex won the Championship with only 3 players from the private sector (none bowlers, shock, and the fewest in the division) and a core of locally educated boys. Middlesex were relegated with 13 of 24 posh boys, while Sussex languish in Division 2 with a staggering 15 of 17 privately educated English players. God only knows what Tymal Mills must make of that dressing room.

The England U19 squad’s stand-out bowler has been Dillon Pennington (Wrekin College and Worcestershire), who lets it go at about 83mph. He looks a very decent cricketer, but compared to the Indian opening pair, who both touched 90mph, is a bit pedestrian. No doubt he has been very well coached, but one wonders how much progression he has left in him. If I were a county coach I’d much rather see a raw state-school bowler who has not had his opportunities, and probably has a much greater upside. But therein lies the problem. If state-school cricket continues to decline, and counties continue to outsource the training of their top youth cricketers to the private schools, how will a promising quick bowler ever make it far enough to be spotted? And how will England’s batsmen ever face high class bowling growing up if they all head off to private school to play each other? Does it really matter to the counties if long-form bowling standards drop as long as they drop uniformly? After all, the likes of Tom Curran, with plenty of T20 “skills”, are much more useful in white-ball cricket, where he doesn’t need the raw pace he’ll never have. And we all know that T20 is where the money and the future lies. The men’s Test team clearly struggled against real pace, while the U19s seemed never to have seen high-class leg-spin before. Which, to be fair, they probably never had. I know that Mason Crane exists as a product of the private system; he is an outlier though, lucky enough to be coached at Lancing College by Rajesh Maru, a proper spinner in his day.

So is there hope? The charity Chance to Shine has shown cricket to over a million primary school kids, and Sukhjit Singh, a left-arm spinner at Warwickshire, is the first boy to have been discovered by the programme to make it to a professional contract. The ECB’s All Stars programme is trying to attract the young primary pupil. And in researching this, I discovered the existence of The MCC Foundation Hubs, another charity which aims to provide free coaching to promising state secondary children not yet in the county system. There are already 54 of them, and they have ambitious plans to roll out all over the country. Sadly, I’d never heard of them, and nor had my club, which is something of a worry. And their promotional video has a representative of Eastbourne College proudly talking about the children they have picked up from the scheme as sports scholars!

I occasionally play cricket in a local park early on a Sunday morning. When we arrive the pitch is usually being used by local Afghan families playing a break-neck version of T20 they’ve started at dawn. Everybody from 14 to 50 bowls as fast as they can, spins it as hard as they can, and hits it as far as they can. Maybe if we can get these kids into club cricket through the likes of the MCC Hubs we’ll be able to tap a fabulous resource, and we’ll get our own Rashid Khan, or at least Shapoor Zadran, one day. If we don’t make the effort soon, I really fear for the future of test bowling in this country.

As for my son, well, he’s a bowling all-rounder, with plenty of growth left in him. No private school is going to be coming for him yet. So we’ll continue with club cricket, probably playing more adult matches, hope to keep his place in the county system, and carry on saving up for 6th form…

Once again, many thanks to Topshelf for putting this piece together for what is our 900th post in just under 3 years. As always, if you fancy writing a guest post, please send it to any or all of us. Our email addresses are listed in the ‘contact us’ section.

Simon Hughes Ate My Hamster

Clickbait. It’s a wonderful thing isn’t it, normally bought out at the time of year when news is slow or the journo’s are feeling particularly lazy. Normally the clickbait piece consists of the ‘5 things were learned’ or ‘Self important ex-cricketer assigns marks for the series performance’ or if you are the Daily Mail, Kevin Pietersen said something that they didn’t agree with. Clickbait  is designed to lure the reader in with the hope that they might get some juicy snippet of information or controversy whilst allowing the journo’s to tick views over when there is very little to write about.

As you may have seen this week, The Cricketer has decided to take this one step further with the ultimate display of clickbait:  “Cricketers, pot bellied, balding little Englanders who are only fit enough to stand in a field all day” in an interview with that well known and respected (haha) pundit Stan Collymore. The exact quote from the tiny bit that I bothered to scan from this was equally as ridiculous

‘I’m pointing out that cricket, in my opinion, gets more column and TV/radio coverage in the UK than its popularity, entertainment and commercial reality deserve. Cricket gets more TV coverage, more coverage on radio sports bulletins (why is Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe more relevant than Brazil v Argentina in a bulletin? The norm for decades!) and papers than the quality or support of the sport earns. Why?” He called cricketers “pot bellied, balding little Englanders who are only fit enough to stand in a field all day…”

The Cricketer then proceeds to write a long article explaining why ‘Dear Stan’ is indeed wrong, as if any of us need telling that it’s not wise to listen to the views of a thin-skinned, washed up, ex footballer. I’m amazed they didn’t just write in large letters ‘IT’S STAN COLLYMORE FFS, MOVE ALONG’. Yet I saw a number of tweets appear on my timeline from various county cricketers expressing their amazement and anger at such incendiary comments coming from Mr. Collymore, an empty headed idiot who made his fame on TalkSport by making incendiary comments at every possible moment and then generally shouting as loudly as he could. When I saw this and even in the age of social media and the advent of z-list celebrities, I genuinely didn’t understand why anyone would quite frankly give a shit about it, let alone get upset by it. However the one thing that did strike me, is why on earth The Cricketer would want to publish what Stan Collymore has to say in the first place. I know their editor is one sandwich short of a lunchbox and probably spends more time stroking his enormous ego than actually bothering to edit the magazine, but still, there wasn’t any way that this wasn’t going to reflect badly on said magazine. I personally haven’t read the Cricketer since Andrew Miller left as Editor and the current content confirms my initial thoughts that this was indeed a sensible thing on my behalf, but it still saddens me that a magazine I so used to enjoy has plummeted to the depths of a tabloid newspaper. We as fans are now left with virtually nothing to give us a quality insight into the game. Much has been written about the demise of the national newspapers, the fact that their own journalists pump their own agendas, the fact that most of their articles on cricket now are mainly filled from freelancers trying to sell their services to multiple papers (I’m looking at you Chris Stocks), the fact that County Cricket has virtually disappeared from view and the fact that the mantra that ‘Alastair Cook is god’ must be repeated time and time again. Then we get to the cricket specialists and it’s equally ugly. The Cricket Paper is where ex-journo’s go to see off their retirement and to spout the same old bitter bile that they have been spewing their whole career. As for All Out Cricket, newly renamed Wisden Cricket Monthly, though quite why Wisden would allow that shower of shite to use their name, unless they’re getting pocketfuls of cash, is beyond me. It may as well be titled ‘Alastair Cook’s Great Monthly’ such are the editors unashamed deification of the former captain. Indeed you are more likely to see a more critical piece of the North Korean regime on North Korean national state television than you would see an article on WCM criticizing the ECB.

We are of course blessed with ESPN Cricinfo, which despite it’s awful rebrand and terrible functionality coupled with the fact that they used to have FICJAM write for them, is still the best cricket news and analysis site out there covering English and World Cricket. George Dobbell (although not universally liked on here) has written some great pieces and is one of the few journalists to openly question the modus operandi of the ECB. The Cricket Monthly has also published some really good long read pieces although I must admit the output has gone down slightly in my own opinion recently. The main thing is that there are very few sites and magazines where English cricket fans can actually read good and thoughtful content.

This of course brings me back to the Cricketer. I personally can’t wait for the next tranche of stories to come out:

  • Rogert Mugabe shares his thoughts on growing the game, whilst balancing the books
  • Pol Pot discusses how to create a healthy team spirit within the camp
  • Craig Overton talks about the importance of respecting ethnic diversity on the field of play
  • Michael Vaughan discusses how to appear on every cricket news feed, every 10 minutes (wait that has already happened).

I mean the possibilities are just endless. Still looking back on it, I’ve lured you into reading this blatant filler post, on the back of a click-bait headline, so I guess it afflicts us all from time to time.

On a serious note, we do have the NZ series coming up once the hit and giggle stuff ends, we might well do something special for our 900th post (this so-called post was our 899th post) and we have our 3 year anniversary coming up early in February, so I am sure there will plenty to tune into in the coming weeks.

Sleepwalking into the Slaughterhouse

If you’ve read any of the cricketing press or numerous posts on Twitter recently, you may have mistakenly believed that England are the best run and most innovative cricket side in the world. No mention of the 4-0 Test defeat, just praise of England’s white ball cricket hero’s in destroying the Australian white ball team. Everything is now rosy again. Operation sweep ‘the Test side and everything that is wrong with English cricket’ under the carpet is in full swing. I’m sure that Messer’s Graves and Harrison couldn’t be happier after all it was the white ball focus that led England to hire Bayliss as Coach and prioritize ahead of all other forms! All is going to plan for our glorious ascent to World Cup winners in 2019. Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Cricket’s coming home!

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not feeling as full of the joys of spring as some of the above people. Sure it has been a great performance by our white ball team, but it’s all ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ for me, a tepid rice pudding after a main course of old manure that we had served to us during the Test series. Now of course, I’m not aiming to denigrate the skill of our white ball team as England have finally produced a team of extremely talented players. The likes of Roy, Buttler, Stokes, Woakes and Bairstow could probably walk into any ODI team now and will likely be in line for deserved financial rewards in the IPL, which is great for them and for those that are a fan of ODI cricket. Except that I’m not. There is nothing the white ball team can do to erase the pain and embarrassment of watching England implode again away from home in Test Cricket. The ODI team could hit 400 each innings and then bowl Australia out for 10 and yet it would still only raise the smallest of smiles knowing that all it does is to provide our greedy administrators with a mandate that they know best and that cricket has never been in better health under their watch. Call me cynical, call me outdated, call me wrong, but I’m only describing how I feel about English cricket at the moment. England winning the One Day Series is like putting a plaster on a severed leg as far as I’m concerned; indeed this analogy also seems to work in terms of what our friends at the ECB are currently doing.

Oh and on another note, you may well have noticed who’s back, back again. Downton’s back, tell a friend. As much as I would enjoy writing another article based on the absolute incompetence of Paul Downton, I’m not sure I could add too much that hasn’t been said before. An individual so ingrained with the ECB’s modus operandi that he had decided the fate of a certain South African born batsmen before he had even got on the plane, failed to produce the so-called dossier of misdemeanors that said player has been sacked for and then went on to blame this individual’s book, which had been written a number of months later as the core reason that Mr. Pietersen had to be sacked. Downton then went on to lay all his eggs in the Peter Moore’s camp, a genuine man but one who was never cut out for International Cricket, but also a man who would never pick Pietersen nor question the ECB’s stance. We then had all of the gaffes, the disastrous defeat to Sri Lanka (which was some of the worst Test Cricket I’ve ever seen) and the culmination of a pathetic and embarrassing World Cup performance in 2015. Simon Hughes might defend his mate to the hills and who knows, he might be a decent man in real life, but purely looking at his CV from a cricketing point of view, then there should be no way that this guy ever runs a cricketing side again. Except no-one told this to Kent.

Equally, we can look at the hire of Rob Andrew at Sussex, a man who hardly covered himself in glory in his reign as leader of the RFU, yet finds himself in another CEO position. Andrew was the establishment’s master of survival: changing titles, moving sideways, losing influence, but still there on the sidelines grimly holding on to power. Indeed, Andrew mentioned in his book:

“The game I played in the closing decade of the amateur era was completely different from the one we watch and marvel at today,” Yet despite that, we continue to demand more of the players; more rugby at ever-higher velocity, at ever greater risk to life and limb.”

“The reason? No-one wants to cut back on the number of matches because matches mean money. Where rugby finds itself now is in the early stages of a conflict over the nature of the compromise – a scrap for viability.”

There are many individuals out there who know more than me about the game of rugby; however the mantra has always seemed to focus on delivering short term profit, irrespective of the quality of the game, nor the health of the players or focusing on a long term increase in demand. I wonder if anyone else finds this strangely familiar to the position that cricket in the UK finds itself in.

It would be fair to ask, why I have waffled on about these two in particular, but for me these 2 individuals symbolize the malaise of English cricket, the very essence of ‘jobs for the boys’. It doesn’t matter if you have failed miserably in the past, as long as you spout the right buzzwords and can tap into your friends at the ECB, then come on down and make yourself comfortable, perhaps take a six figure salary at the same time. Yet in my own opinion, counties such as Kent and Sussex (and there are plenty more out there) have simply signed their own death warrant. They’ve not noticed the wolves at the door, the wolves that are most keen in furthering their own career rather than doing what’s best for their counties or players and are very happy to cozy up to their mates at the ECB to ensure that they are rewarded. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the ECB views the counties as cannon fodder for when the red ball game goes badly, a nice diversionary scapegoat. It is also clear that the ECB and Tom Harrison in particular really doesn’t give much of a hoot about the red-ball game at all. It’s there to scrape in television money whilst it still can, whilst Harrison tries to find the next big thing – T20, T10, Franchise Cricket, Underwater Cricket or whatever else he can think of that might make a quick buck or two. So let’s guess how Harrison feels about county championship cricket without its’ so called big crowds, interest from Sky and razzmatazz? Well of course, it’s been relegated to the very margins of the English season, there to appease the traditionalists, whilst he tramples all over them by trying to shoe-horn what he feels is the savior of English Cricket – the city based T20.

Yet, what can we expect from this beast that the counties are only belatedly seeing as a real threat to their existence? Whilst Harrison might have made a pretty penny out of Sky, is this really going to be savior of English cricket? In my opinion, this is an emphatic no. We don’t just need to look at our own competition, which is heavily reliant and weighted to those who want to go and throw 10 pints of ridiculously expensive Fosters down their throat on a Friday night; we can look at other ‘franchise’ competitions that are hardly setting the world alight. 5 of the 6 teams in the PSL are struggling to make their sponsorship targets and are looking for financial bail outs, the Big Bash league attendances are down by over 150,000 year on year and the South African franchise cricket never even got off the ground, when the television companies rightly thought they were massively overvaluing it. It would also be fair to mention that the above countries haven’t hidden their cricket away on pay-per-view for the past 12 years either and yet they are still struggling, so why on earth does the ECB think that this is the goose that lays the golden egg? That this new competition is suddenly going to turn around years of disinterest from an audience who hasn’t been able to access to live cricket on TV without owning Sky? That the huge costs in implementing this and paying off the counties is actually going generate long term interest and revenue? This seems to be a huge white elephant which is growing by the day, yet Harrison and Graves are willing to bet the future of English cricket on a hunch and a whim. Even worse, the counties through a mixture of self-interest and incompetent hires such as Downton and Andrew have been complicit in their demise from Day 1.

There it is, whilst Graves, Harrison and Downton ride off into the sunset on the gravy train, the rest of English cricket will look back with regret on the day they unwittingly slumbered into the slaughterhouse. Even worse, they’ll reflect that they could and should have done something about it, but hey, that’s just not cricket is it?

They Made These Feelings Go Away, A Model Citizen In Every Way

It was 10:55 am. In a sleet storm that would freeze the warmest of souls, I sat in the car park at Costco, Croydon, and felt a little different. I’m not sure why it happened, whether there was some epiphany as I saw the line of people poised for the Sunday opening of the bulk buying behemoth, but this was something that had not happened for a long, long time. I actually cared whether England would win the ODI I was listening to. I actually, actively, really wanted them to finish this one on the winning team. Listening as the Australians took a single, when boundaries were required, was met with an imperceptible “come on”. As Rashid got through those two overs without carnage, when only carnage would really do, I even shrugged off the Anderson bon mots about him being less expensive than usual (as pointed out by one of our commenters in the previous post).

While I struggle listening to Norcross and Dagnall commentating, but immediately pointing out that they are much more preferable than Lovejoy Swann, there was a feeling of something being achieved. Not only were we defending a target, we were strangling the Aussies to death in it. The bowlers, a very key man down, executed their plans, to quote that horrible management phrase, and were exceptionally captained by Eoin Morgan. There were specially set fields, well thought through plans, balls “put in the right areas” and England held down destructive players like Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis. While Smith and Marsh were going, the game was a gimme. Keep at that pace, accelerate in the last ten overs. They couldn’t.

This isn’t about the game though, it is about an England team that wins, that does it with flair and a little bit of luck, and the inevitability that this won’t last, that this is still a team with a howler in it, and a howler at the wrong time in a world tournament gets you knocked out (see the Champions Trophy), but it is a likeable team, Root seems so more at ease within it, Morgan appears a terrific captain, you can fail three times as long as you deliver once, and when you do, make it count, and it has guts. Joe Root had to bowl nearly 9 overs against a team delivered to you out of the Big Bash. That sporting phenomenon that we all aspire to imitate. Joe Root did not let the side down, he stepped up. Rashid nicked key wickets, Mark Wood bowled with energy and vigour, Woakes with calmness and calculation to add to his amazing partnership with Buttler.

ODI cricket is now bemoaned every bit as much as county cricket. It is international cricket’s dull uncle, without the gravitas of test match cricket, and lacking the testosterone of the T20 twaddle. It is neither here nor there. England have got good at it just as other nations treat it as the bit in the middle of most tours, or the subject of a completely displaced visit to play three or five match series, and the overseas tourists come and go in a fortnight. England pick exciting players like Roy and Hales, Buttler and Wood, and keep some of the more uptempo or classy test players. It took us 9 years to figure out it wasn’t the game for Alastair Cook, and when we did, things got better. That’s just a fact of life. How much Bayliss and Farbrace are responsible, who knows?

I’ve been out of the loop for three or so weeks now. Not writing has been a release. It may be that this is all you get from me going forward. The odd thing here or there. I might get the writing bug back, but at this time, it isn’t cricket. The nonsense of the 244 was the last straw, the cynical, contemptuous response to a 4 nil defeat, pinning it on county cricket in particular, was a disgrace. I have no words for the test team, its acolytes in the media, and the people governing the sport allowing it to be marginalised that haven’t been said, or can add to the weight already placed upon the pile of prose. The 2014 Ashes loss and the repercussions invoked fury, anger and passion. This loss provoked apathy, antagonism and atrophy.

But then, there came a spark. Maybe there is life yet.

PS – A terrible signal on EE in Costco. Terrible delay in getting the scores in the last two overs.

Toil and Trouble

The announcement that Ben Stokes would now be available for the New Zealand leg of this winter’s tours caught most people on the hop, and it’s not too surprising as to why.  The ECB have tied themselves in knots consistently on this subject, and perhaps it was always going to be inevitable that they would do so.  As an employer of a high profile public figure, they could not afford to appear prejudicial to any trial, a problem that simply doesn’t apply to most employers in the same position, or people who never appear in the media.

Yet having followed a line of selecting him for tours at the same time as stating he was suspended for them, to then announce his return once the CPS has laid charges inevitably looks messy, and a contradiction of the previous line taken.  The ECB board was clearly split on what to do, and if nothing else that probably reflects public opinion rather neatly.  There are few easy answers here.

It’s most likely that one way or the other, they had hoped this would have been resolved by now and they could deal with that, but instead it remains a live issue, and one where everyone with the remotest degree of sense is tip-toeing around the subject.  The legal process can take a long time – though it tends to be quicker in the UK than many comparable countries – and perhaps that in itself was a factor, given nearly half a year has gone by since the story first broke.  Even so, two Tests and five ODIs is hardly a major forthcoming series (whether it should have been is a different question) and to take the decision now rather than at the start of the English domestic season could be seen to have made a rod for their own backs.  Would it have made a material difference to have delayed it?  There’s an argument that by doing so might be perceived as a judgement on guilt or innocence, which rather neatly makes the point about the difficulty of handling a situation where even the smallest indication may have significant ramifications.

That England are a stronger side with him than they are without is beyond question.  Missing the Ashes certainly unbalanced the side, and if it can’t be said that it was the reason for the thrashing England received, it can be said that his absence unquestionably weakened them, as it would any side.  To that extent, his presence in New Zealand will increase England’s prospects of salvaging something from a shambles of a winter, if he is able to focus properly on his game.  The more low key nature of the tour may too have been a factor compared to the cauldron of the Ashes.

The wider issues have yet to play out.  The ECB and its predecessor have never been particularly good at maintaining a consistent line on players around whom there is controversy, though they’ve never had a situation quite like this one to deal with.  Yet the criticism of expediency is one that regularly is thrown at them, and especially so when a player is considered vitally important.  Previous instances of rapid forgiveness for those who went to apartheid South Africa on rebel tours seemed far more forthcoming when they happened to be particularly good players for example, something that rankles still when compared to the treatment of players who did nothing so contentious.  Over the years, individual decisions and instances tend to be compared to others, highlighting inconsistency and flat out hypocrisy.  But in this one, it’s a little hard to be certain that any different actionsor decisions would have been clearly and inarguably better.  The ECB were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, which might not excuse previous treatment meted out, but does in isolation illustrate the genuine dilemma they will have faced.

Perhaps above all else, the most delicious irony of the situation is that finally, at long last, circumstances have arisen that raise so many different and difficult ethical questions that it’s possible to have some sympathy for the ECB.  It’s a new and unusual feeling for many, and probably not one to be repeated too often.  But as an illustration of the complexity of the issues at hand, perhaps it can’t be bettered – Being Outside Cricket feeling a degree of empathy for the England and Wales Cricket Board is a first.

 

Housekeeping Note:

As ever, please be circumspect with comments on this matter, and don’t post anything that could be viewed as in any way prejudicial, or we’ll have to remove it.

Picking over the Bones: Final Ashes Panel

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, the One Day series between Australia and England will get underway.  For all the protestations about how vitally important the short form of the game is, it’s hard to believe many will remotely care about the outcome.  Even mischievously using the women’s Ashes rules, England are currently 18-2 down, which does at least make the point that winning the ODIs and T20 by a landslide still doesn’t make up for the thrashing received thus far.  Should England do reasonably, doubtless that will considered evidence that all is well; should they do badly, then England will finish the four year cycle exactly where they started it in the one day rankings.  Exceptional work all round.

With that in mind, we have the final Ashes panel drawn from the members of the blog.  Our contributors are Gareth, a long time supporter of English players, but not necessarily the England team – being from Edinburgh may explain that.  He can be reached on Twitter @G_Funk81.  Joining him is CricketJon, and Silk who also contributes frequently in the comments section.

So gents, I have some questions:

  • How do you feel about the outcome of the series? Did you expect it, or has it surprised you?

Gareth: The outcome itself did not surprise me, I had predicted 5-0, however the manner of the defeat was not what I expected. If I think back on the series, with the possible exception of the evening session in Brisbane (I think) when Root and Stoneman were given a working over, and perhaps England bowling under lights (albeit with the game gone) I cannot really think of a gripping period of play that really had that edge-of-the-seat Ashes feel. Rather than being blown away (as is often the case) it was more a case of being ground down, inexorably and inevitably, at the hands of Steve Smith. Death by a thousand depressing, tedious cuts, drives, pulls and whips through midwicket.

Silk:  Please. I’ve blanked it out of my mind already. I’m sure the NZ series, with a refreshed squad and a new vision will do fine.

CricketJon: I saved this question until last. The outcome of the series fills me with sadness. Not because a team lost 4-0 because that can happen in sport. Its life. No…..its the missed opportunities, the promises made after the last Ashes tour and the sheer lack of self awareness from the people running the English game. In other sports and business (and never the twain shall they meet…ah wait) the buck stops at the top.

Did I expect it? Well I wasn’t surprised. I would now class this team as a group I would be happy to idle away a summers day on (on the telly) but gone are the days of losing several hours sleep (and the consequences of doing so) to watch an away Ashes series.

  • Who is to blame, primarily?

Gareth: I predicted 5-0 the moment I saw the squad. Therefore I would say it is the fault of the selectors. Now, that being said, I do not think there was a squad they could have named that would have won the Ashes, but I’m sure there were several  possible squads that could have been less predictably dire. Any follower of English cricket could have predicted James Vince’s batting average and modes of dismissal before he got on the plane. Why couldn’t the selectors?

I notice in the aftermath of (and often during) the series that county cricket took a lot of stick from pundits and journalists. Certainly those top-performing county cricketers such as Leach, Robson, Northeast, Porter, Collingwood et al should be ashamed of the fact that the circumstances of their upbringing, choice of county or “character” (the go-to word when they just don’t like someone) led to them combining for a disappointing total of no runs and no wickets in the series. Moeen Ali exceeded that on his own (barely)!

Silk: I don’t really want to think about that. It’s just too depressing.

CricketJon: To answer this objectively one has to look at selection, coaching and the gap between the four day county championship and test cricket.

The selections raised eyebrows for me not for the first time because of the public endorsements of players by Michael Vaughan and his “interest in ISM”. The press, such as they, are do very little to entertain the myth regarding conflict of interest on this matter. It suggests that Whittaker listens to so called pundits, some of whom change their mind far too frequently or make it up as they go along. This may be a generational shift in how the press operates but I cannot see why that should apply to selectors.

The coaching set up at Bluffborough is more concerning. We hear stories of great athletes at the input stage (Bunbury week) and observe over coached bowling dry partially injured players unfit for 5 day cricket at the output stage. [ Maybe that’s why they want to reduce to 4 day Test cricket? The gap would be less exposed. ] The sheer lack of upcoming talent to replace Broad and Anderson is stunning given the huge financial resources. I do not know if the volume of inputs has reduced substantially because fewer teenagers watch cricket now (and we all know why that is) but the output is unequivocally poor.

The four day county championship now suffers from an identity crisis. Once a fiercely fought  competition for over 100 years in the pre-digital era to that of a feeder to the Test team  (2000-c2015) it has now become a background element shunted into disparate fragmented components of the season that would be imaginable in the days when Richard Hadlee and John Lever would take 110 wickets a season. It is not difficult to see how this fails to prepare players for Test matches even in English conditions.

The governing body are responsible for all three aspects.

  • Which players did better than you expected, and who did worse?

Gareth: Dawid Malan managed to do something that the other batsmen all singularly failed to do and adapted his batting to suit the circumstances. I’ll be honest and admit that I really didn’t think he had it in him, but I take my hat off to him and really hope he can kick on from here and establish himself as a fixture in the middle-order. He seems a phlegmatic sort of fellow, and I like the cut of his jib (and the flow of his cover drive). I’m already hearing talk of moving him to three, so I look forward to our collective suicide by face-palm in five Tests time.

The list doesn’t so much taper at this point as combust into flames and hurl itself into an abyss screaming “bring back Martin McCague”. I had high hopes that Chris Woakes would cement a long-term spot but he was ineffectual. I don’t think eight and nine-over spells did him many favours though.

I’m continually perplexed by pundits who express surprise at Broad and Cook’s lack of effectiveness. Had they not been watching for the last twelve months?

I know we should be getting stuck into James Vince, but he really didn’t perform worse than expectations, and an average of 26, with two half centuries, is actually a lot higher than I expected. He should never have been picked in the first place, and probably wouldn’t have made my own personal squad if I was purely picking a squad of sixteen English cricketers called James.

But Vince’s tour’s is akin to a silver feather run lovingly down the brow of a sleeping Baby Jesus when compared to the catastrophe that was Moeen Ali’s tour. An absolute disaster, but he’ll survive because he’s “a free spirit” and English cricket has invested too much in him, and spent too much time besmirching alternatives (Leach is a chucker and soft, Rashid bowls too slowly and is soft etc) to drop him.

Silk: You don’t really want me to answer that, do you?

CricketJon: Malan did better than I expected and Bairstow did worse than I expected. It was a struggle for Moeen but the inflexibility of the Master Strategists made provision for him to be picked even when injured. How ridiculous. If someone is unfit such as he was in the first two Tests then someone should replace him. Alas there was no Plan B.

  • Which players should be moved on, and who should replace them?

Gareth: If Broad is going to bowl cross-seam, then take the new ball off him. Too valuable, especially abroad, to waste. If he’s not happy being first-change, bin him. I’d give Woakes a go with the new ball in NZ. Toby Roland-Jones will hopefully be available to fill that vacant “fourteenth right-arm FM bowler” slot.

I’d personally take Moeen out of the firing line for his own good. If they want the (conservative) batsman-who-bowls option, I think Samit Patel would have done no worse. Adil Rashid took thirty wickets last winter, which I thought would have been enough to say “let’s work with him and try to build him up” but his time may have passed. I think Crane may have to wait until Stokes returns to provide that balance England crave. If they think Patel is too fat and Adil is too Rashid, there’s always Scott Borthwick for the batting part-timer role.

In terms of batting, I think they should tell Root to bat three, Bairstow to go to four and drop the gloves, and tell the pair of them that England are now in the business of winning Test matches, not Making Sure Joe And Jonny Get To Do What They Like Best.

Bairstow is probably the second most likely batsman to make a hundred. You diminish his chances of doing that by batting him at 6/7 and making him keep for two days. Foakes seems like a real blue-chip prospect, so let’s see what he can do.

As for Root – get him in at a 12-1 stumble rather than a 30-2 crisis.

My team for NZ – Cook, Stoneman, Root, Bairstow, Malan, Livingstone, Foakes, Woakes, Broad, Anderson, Crane

Livingstone makes it purely because he can turn his arm over (as can Root and Malan to be fair) a bit. I’m keen on Joe Clarke also, I’d take him as spare batsman. With Hameed and Gubbins in the wings, Stoneman needs a score. I’d tell Crane not to worry about the first innings – he’s there to mop up the tail, get overs and hopefully bowl well on days 4 and 5.

Silk: I almost think we are all of us ghosts. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that ‘walks’ in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we cannot shake them off.

CricketJon: Vince is not a number 3 and given his selection for NZ I direct you to part of my answer to question 2. I do not know who should replace them because I have a full time job and do not have the time to analyse talent. I should point out however that Mr Bayliss does have a full time job but he, by his own admission, knows very little about county cricket. We therefore, in light of this worrying news, defer to Mr Whittaker and his line of engagement with pundits who change their mind (“it’s just an opinion, Mr Vaughan?”) too regularly. This does not have the molecular structure of a successful operating model. If there were shareholders involved in this as a private enterprise, then action would be taken. It does not apply here which I shall detail in the last question.

  • How did BT do with the coverage?

Gareth: If I never hear Graeme Swann again it will be far too soon. You can just tell he thinks Tim Lovejoy’s stint on Soccer A.M was the cultural highlight of all mankind’s achievements. Boycs was awful too.

Silk: No idea. I was listening on Radio 4 LW.

CricketJon: Whilst it made a refreshing change not to have to listen to Sir Horseshit talking about golf, alcohol, bbq’s, DK Lillee and how the best road in London is the one that leads out of it, it was significantly more toe curling listening to Graeme Swann constantly rehearsing for some hitherto unknown stand up. The Australians, Gilchrist and Ponting were unsurprisingly erudite and generally factual and objective (something which is only possible if they don’t work for Channel 9) whereas Boycott either became a bore or I had forgotten just how boring and dogmatic he was. Alison Mitchell was very credible and Matt Smith was an ok frontman. No material problems with Damien Fleming. I despise Michael Vaughan on the grounds that he simply makes it up as he goes along and caveats this M.O. with “it’s just an opinion”. He is nothing more than a 2017/18 lounge lizard. Cant believe I once adored him.

  • Were England that bad, or were Australia really good? 

Gareth: I thought Australia’s bowling was as good as we expected. Smith was outstanding, and most of their batsmen chipped in at key times. As I said previously, there was a grim inevitability about the way they ground England’s attack to dust. You cannot help but respect their preparation – they clearly saw what happened in the sub-continent last year where you can patiently accumulate 600 plus against England’s attack.

Silk: Stop asking me these questions. Why do you torture me so?

CricketJon: When Shaun Marsh spooned the ball to mid off at Brisbane, I was chuffed with just how well England stayed with Australia bearing in mind this was quite a few guys first tour. Brisbane isn’t easy. Its 30 years since anyone won there. It was the high point of the tour in terms of the outcome of the series. The rest of the match is history.

What really boils my piss is that two guys with 2.6m Test wickets between them were entrusted by a young captain upon winning the toss to take advantage of the conditions in Adelaide. The correct decision. Root was let down. They bowled the wrong length and if any proof was necessary look what happened throughout the match when they altered the length. We keep being told they are experienced warhorses and similar claptrap. Where does this rainbow end? I can understand human error, it happens, they are not robots but lack of concentration and application? The match was lost there and it was galling to see when Malan and Root batted so well in the fourth innings on the fourth evening just what might have been possible.

We have 4000 backroom staff or whatever the current number is. With the amount of time that gets forever lost in Test cricket (what other sport are you allowed to just piss off after 83 overs and short change the punters?) there was ample time for someone to send a message to the bowlers in the first half hour. Maybe they did and the bowlers weren’t listening? As David Brent would say “They wont remember”. I do.

  • How do England make sure it doesn’t happen again in four years’ time?

Gareth: Sack KP again?

I think they have to identify what was lacking and look at a group of about 8-10 players that they feel, in 4 years time, will, with careful nurturing and gradual integration into the side, provide the necessary tools to overcome Australian conditions. And look at skill levels alone, not what a nice bloke Liam Dawson is in the dressing room or claptrap like that. The skills? Pace bowling, reverse swing, skilful spin bowling and nous, ability to bat and concentrate for long periods and adapt.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But isn’t that what selection is about?

Some of the short-termism of some selections made by England in the last 18 months (hello Liam Dawson!) shows just how non-existent the planning process was. Dawson (and Ansari before him) was never going to make the Ashes. Was he just there to have a dig at Rashid?

Silk: There is no health left within me. I am bereft.

CricketJon: Tear up the operating model and bring in people that have no conflicts of interest, are not obsessed with 20 or 10 over cricket and the money it brings and sadly bring it down to 3 Tests which is where it is eventually heading anyway.

  • What about the home Ashes? Who will win that?

Gareth: I have it too close to call. It really does depend on if James Anderson maintains his standards – England have little else but Jimmy remains a master of his craft. If Aussie can keep those three quicks fit they will be a handful on any surface (bar Melbourne!).

Silk: Please, make it stop.

CricketJon: Much rests on the pitches and overhead conditions. Please note that in 2015 the two tracks that were most like Australian conditions resulted in Australian victories.

  • England have a tour of New Zealand next, should they be worried?

Gareth: Very much so; they’re not Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood but Southee, Boult and Wagner are no pushovers, and if I were any of those three I’d be looking forward to getting stuck into Vince. New Zealand also have their own superstar batsman, and a good settled team ethos. They are consistently more than the sum of their parts.

Silk: ARGH. <thud>

CricketJon: Yes without a doubt.

  • Any Other Business?

Gareth: I know we give Peter Moores absolute pelters and rightly so. But he did identify Liam Plunkett as someone who could bowl bouncers with an old ball on garbage surfaces (Headingley 2014 etc). I was thinking about that as I watched Tom Curran run in. Using the old ball is a skill in itself, and one which England have lost sight of.

Silk: I would very much like to thank everyone at BOC who have put some much effort into following this crap, and writing about it. To write so well, and with such effort, about such crap is a magnificent effort. The long-suffering England support deserves you, but those Inside Cricket do not. More power to you.

CricketJon; Yes. I have said it already on this website. The debate should be opened as to precisely who the game belongs to. Furthermore the following (and previously written) questions need considering. It applies to any form of democracy and governance and the source of the five questions is the late and remarkable Tony Benn:

1, What power have you got?
2, Where did you get it from?
3, In whose interests do you use it?
4, To whom are you accountable?
5, How do we get rid of you?

Any difficulties arising from answering those questions raises an enormous red flag.

My thanks to all for their time and effort in answering my questions, and as always, comment below is very welcome.

See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something!

I doubt that it would have escaped many of our eagle eyed readers that the squad for the tour of New Zealand was announced on Wednesday, nor would it escape many that it was another tremendous let down. Indeed it smacked of the fact that it had been cobbled together in 5 minutes over a pint of Fosters in a dingy bar in Sydney. Toothless bowling attack – check, flimsy batting attack which is likely to collapse at any moment – check, lack of spin options – check, well that’s that then, all good to go. It almost seems that the selectors decided to totally ignore the failures of the last series and just stick with jobs for the boys, no matter how they perform. Of course there were some casualties, Gary Ballance paid the price for carrying the drinks in such a disengaged manner that he had to be dropped. Jake Ball and Tom Curran also paid the price for not being able to bowl at 90mph or for not being Jimmy and Broady. England on the other hand have decided to injure Mark Wood again and also call up Ben Stokes (yep remember him) and also Liam Livingstone, no doubt for when Stokes is ruled out of the tour on the grounds that there is still a criminal investigation going on!

The thing that really gets me though is the complete lack of imagination of our selectors. Anyone in their right mind can see that James Vince doesn’t have the technique for County Cricket Division One, let alone for batting at number 3 in Test cricket against a world class swing attack. Vince may have shiny toy locked in his corner, but one feels that he must also have some explicit pictures of someone at the ECB to account for his continued inclusion in the squad. Likewise Moeen Ali, who is a rotten trot of form at the moment both with the bat and with the ball. I wrote before the Ashes series that I felt Moeen had to decide whether he was going to become a batsman or a bowler and not be the jack of all trades and master of none if he was to make a success of Test Cricket. It would be fair to say that to most seasoned cricket viewers that this experiment has failed dramatically, yet here we are again, heading to another away series with a part time bowler likely to lead our spin bowling attack because he can bat a bit at 7. I also feel that Messer’s Broad and Woakes are incredibly lucky to keep their respective places. Broad has looked weary and jaded for the past year and Woakes is the epitome of a home track bully – brilliant in English conditions, but truly terrible when the ball doesn’t swing away from home. To be honest, very few of the team with exceptions around Anderson, Root, Malan and to an extent Bairstow could’ve put together a cohesive argument at their treatment should they have been dropped for the upcoming series.

So what are we actually paying the selectors for? The continued reward to failure is simply breathtaking. Do they actually watch any cricket? I agree that whilst being an England selector is not an easy job at the moment, such is the paucity of the talent waiting in the wings; however, surely English cricket deserves more than sticking with a plan that is pretty much doomed to failure. What do they say about the definition of madness again? Now I’m certainly not advocating that England blows the whole thing up and starts again, but surely there is merit in trying to invest in players with the right mental fortitude than players who look nice and then get out edging to first slip EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Dawid Malan is an example of this, as was Marcus Trescothick as was Michael Vaughan, players that didn’t have outstanding county careers but had the mentality that they deserved to be on the biggest stage. What we would give for another Trescothick or even a Vaughan (the batsman and not the man obviously). Whilst I’m in agreement that there is a general paucity of talent around, England is not totally without some talented players and I would prefer them to test that on the biggest stage than settle for a mediocre 22 or 1-150 from a Test player that has proved that they are not talented enough to play Test Cricket time and time again. Some individuals who have not been capped or been capped briefly, that I feel worthy at looking at are:

  • Dan Lawrence
  • Haseeb Hamed
  • Sam Robson
  • Nick Browne
  • Daniel Bell-Drummond
  • Sam Northeast
  • Joe Clarke
  • Ben Coad
  • George Garton
  • Jack Leach
  • Olly Stone
  • Tom Helm

Now I’m not saying that any of these are guaranteed to have success in an England Test Shirt and I’m certainly not advocating the hire and fire culture of the 90’s, but I’d certainly have been a little more excited about the NZ tour than watching Cook fiddle about on anything but a flat pitch, Vince edge another delivery after a breezy 20, Moeen going for 4 an over and Woakes looking completely toothless. After all we have just been stuffed 4-0 for the second consecutive winter, surely alarm bells should be ringing somewhere in the selectors heads?

Alas no. we’ll have more of the same please, lets give these players another 10 Tests to prove what we knew after 5 Tests, that they aren’t good enough to play Test Cricket. Where is the accountability though? Whittaker is joke no doubt who is actively stealing a living, and Messer’s Fraser and Newell hardly seem to be the dynamic duo that we need, whilst our own Head Coach who wants out after 2019, freely admits that he doesn’t have a clue about county cricket. Hardly the recipe for success is it? Still no doubt, they’ll still be here in the summer, still making the wrong decisions and still benefitting from a complete lack of accountability from a board that couldn’t care less about the results on the pitch. After all, if you stick your head in the sand for long enough, you can almost pretend to see the positives.

Fifth Ashes Test: Day Five – Humiliation

Defeat came as expected, and the scale of it was every bit as huge as anticipated, as England collapsed to lose by the small matter of an innings and 123 runs.  In some ways it offered the perfect conclusion to the series, for despite England being well beaten, indeed thrashed, there was also the smallest morsel for some to point to as the latest excuse – in this case the loss to illness of the captain, Joe Root, who at least deserves credit for trying to bat when clearly and visibly extremely poorly.  No doubt if he had been fully fit, England would have saved the Test and started the year on the same kind of high as they finished 2017…

Analysing the final day of the series is pointless, it went as expected, and with little fight beyond Root.  The series as a whole is a different matter, and as the dust settles somewhat, then the questions that won’t go away will come to the fore.  To some extent, Paul Farbrace was rowing against the tide when asking the kinds of questions that ought to be obvious, but which seemingly are buried beneath a wave of ever more desperate explanations.  It is striking that it was the first time anyone associated with the England set up even dared to say anything of the kind, and offered a marked contrast to Tom Harrison’s ridiculous collection of platitudes insisting that all was well.  How Farbrace’s call for “brutal honesty” goes down among his superiors remains to be seen, but the signs aren’t good.

The press certainly aren’t going out of their way to answer them, or even properly consider them.  Two elements immediately spring to mind, firstly that Alastair Cook is consistently highlighted as being one of the more successful elements of the series.  One genuinely superb innings in Melbourne on an officially poor pitch cannot be used to mask the remainder of the series where he scored just 132 runs in 8 attempts.  By all means salute that one knock, but rarely has a series average of 47 proved so misleading or irrelevant.  It isn’t dismissing him or belittling him to acknowledge that, and he’s openly expressed his frustration – why others make excuses that he doesn’t is exactly why some cricket journalists attract such contempt.

Secondly, the response to Mason Crane’s performance has been nothing short of extraordinary.  He’s a 20 year old kid, playing in his first Test, and to that extent expectations were entirely minimal, and his match figures of 1-193 aren’t terribly relevant.  First Test, dead rubber, let’s see what he can do, and he bowled nicely at times.  But it certainly can’t be considered a success, and to highlight him as being so is downright peculiar. No seam bowler would receive such plaudits for that kind of debut, and certainly no off spinner, no matter how young.  It isn’t about hammering him for not having a good match, it’s about being realistic about what it was, and acknowledging him for what he is – a young player learning his game, who may or may not go on to have a good career.  Adil Rashid must wonder just what it is about him that deserved such an entirely different set of headlines throughout his seemingly finished Test career.  On that point, what England would have given in Australia for a spinner who could bat and was capable of taking 23 wickets in India.

The parallel universe of cricket reporting and administration continues to amaze.  A 4-0 defeat is hailed as being better than the last attempt four years ago on the grounds that England managed to draw one on the flattest pitch ever seen in Australia.  Nominally, that’s true, but denial of the horror of this tour against an Australian side that hasn’t been particularly outstanding over the last couple of years is a remarkable exercise in putting heads as deep in the sand as possible.  One draw and four heavy defeats as progress isn’t the highest of bars at which to aim.  At that rate of improvement, a  flippant observer might think England could just possibly look forward to a very dull drawn series round 2034.

Any cricket supporter can acknowledge and accept being outplayed by a better team, but they also have the right to ask why that is, especially when it keeps happening.  This series defeat is worse than any of those in the 1990s, when Australia did have an exceptional side and England a poor one, yet at no point during that era was there such insouciance in the press and within the ECB about it.  Even the 2006 thrashing, while shocking, had some mitigation in being at the hands of a magnificent side bent on revenge.  2014 might well have been a disaster, but at the end of it the sole response was to kick out one player and insist that it wouldn’t happen again.  Well, it has done.  What the bloody hell have the ECB been doing for the last four years and why will so few in the media hold them to account for it?

The truth is that they don’t care.  The money is rolling in from TV deals and T20 cricket in particular, though they’d be wise to realise that catastrophic performances (and it’s only a year since the same thing happened in India) tend to kill interest quicker than anything else.  Cricket is in deep trouble in England, not because of one series defeat, but because of the policies adopted that have led to it.  Viewing figures are down, participation is down.  Sponsors tend not to align themselves with invisible sports that are failing, and kids most definitely don’t take up sports they don’t see and don’t have any heroes in.  Yet because finances look good at present, there is much backslapping at Lords, and those responsible will be long gone by the time the reality of the disaster they’ve overseen in the game manifests itself.

There are so many elements to this, and barely any of them are ever even acknowledged, let alone addressed.  The ECB have already stated that there won’t be major action taken over it, so just like last time around, the structure will remain the same – only this time there’s no obvious scapegoat to blame for everything.  The county championship will remain marginalised at each end of the season, limiting opportunities for fast bowlers and spinners, and continuing to ensure that medium pacers who do a bit off the seam can thrive – and be entirely unsuitable for higher levels.  Darren Stevens’ success last season was a beautiful thing, but the fact it could happen at all is not.

The fast bowling academy at Loughborough, which has been spectacularly unsuccessful will carry on as though nothing of import has taken place. The bowling attack will continue to be carried by two veterans who have done sterling service over the years, but who have so little behind them to challenge their positions.  The batsmen will carry on being drawn from the ranks of those averaging in the thirties in first class cricket, who may or may not be capable of making the jump to the top level.  The administrators will remain in position with no accountability whatever for what has transpired on the field.  The players will be developed from the tiny pool of the public schools which demonstrates a genuinely impressive level of wastage amongst the 93% who do not.  The people who care for the game will continue to be dismissed as “obsessives” in favour of those who wander along to a T20 match.

The worst part is that none of this is going to change.  None of it.  This is how it has been set up, in fact this disintegration of English Test cricket (it isn’t going to get better as things stand) is the exact outcome from the policies set in place over the last decade.  Removing all cricket from free to air television in favour of a financial drug fix was a disastrous decision.  It doesn’t mean that had they not done that all would be well, but it does mean that it set the game on a path of dwindling relevance and interest that the ECB then compounded with their other decisions.  To that extent, this is what they’ve achieved, and it was pointed out at the time.

The ECB consistently talked about the four year cycles, and did so after the last drubbing.  What have they achieved in that time?  The refocusing on short form cricket has delivered precisely zero titles, and the current team is mired in the middle rankings of the ICC tables, just as they were four years ago.  They approach it rather better than they did, and they’re certainly more exciting, but it’s hardly been an obvious road to success.  The Test team in that four year period has been “rebuilt” to the point where the only players secure in their places are the ones who have been there since then, and in most cases, years before.  Jonny Bairstow is the single exception to have come through and he was on the fringes then anyway.  England don’t even have the excuse of being  young side.  They arrived in Australia with doubts over three of the top five batting positions, the spinner in Australian conditions (and who openly regards himself primarily as a batsman anyway) and the entire seam bowling attack apart from two who have been around for a decade and more.

The biggest crisis the Test team face right now is the sheer poverty of what is behind the veterans, with very little sign of anything truly exciting coming through.  That this will get worse, not better.  When people say England will miss Cook, Anderson and Broad when they’re gone, they don’t realise just how right they are.  Home series against Pakistan and India may well paper over the cracks somewhat – though should England lose, as well they might, perhaps the alarm bells might finally penetrate the heads of the assorted establishment figures – but not to anyone paying close attention.

England have lost 9 of their last 12 away Tests – two thrashings in India and Australia, and a drawn series in Bangladesh that frankly, they got away with.  But it’s ok, Tom Harrison says all is well.

A small housekeeping note:  Sharp eyed visitors will have noted a new link at the top of the home page where you can contact any of us, to have a rant if you feel the need.  We will do a final Ashes panel over the next few days, so if you’re interested in being part of it, drop an email to tlg@beingoutsidecricket.com