New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 5 – Inevitability

It only took me around 2 overs last night to realise there was more chance of Colin Graves turning into a forward thinking and pragmatic administrator than there was in seeing some sort of positive of result in the 2nd Test. Some may rue the early missed opportunities on the morning of Day 5 with Ollie Pope putting down what would be a regulation catch for a full time wicketkeeper (which he is not and should never have been put in that position) and then Joe Denly dropping a sitter off Jofra Archer, but in all reality it wouldn’t have mattered. The pitch was the type of pudding that makes those cricket administrators that actually value the Test game have sleepless nights and of course England’s decision not to play a frontline spinner was made to look just as stupid as we all thought it would.

It’s difficult to know what England have got out of such a small Test series, other than another defeat and it drives me mad that we had 5 games of hit and giggle when a 3rd Test would have been far preferable but that’s what we get these days, a load of pointless white ball games to try and make the tours profitable. It’s a sad indictment of the health of the game. The main headline is naturally that England have failed to win a Test series in 2019 for the first time in 20 years. Again this should be a damning indictment on the ECB, as a so called member of the Big 3; however the ECB have made it plainly clear that they simply don’t care about the longer format of the game, they’d rather con fans into attending a white elephant of a competition that will make a small few richer and many more much poorer. In reality this series was simply a carbon copy of the New Zealand tour of 2018 with the hosts dominating a rather feeble touring team who have yet to work out how to take 20 wickets away from home (hint – dropping your frontline spinner isn’t the answer) and a batting unit that is both inexperienced and shorn of confidence. There may have been talk before the series about learning to bat properly in Test’s again instead of playing an aggressive brand of cricket which can be best described as reckless, but in the end the results have been the same. The best batsmen in the world know how to time their innings in Test cricket and know when to attack and when to defend, but unfortunately England don’t have very many of these, hence the need for the coaches to come up with sweeping statements in how they should approach their innings.

If this seems overly gloomy then I apologise, but I do feel as I did with the Ashes which resulted in another defeat, that the glass is half empty with this team rather than half full. Sure, there were positives that can be taken out of this series such as Joe Root finally regaining the hunger and application to make big runs in Test Cricket. Rory Burns has also cemented his spot at the top of the order and is beginning to look like a proper Test opener, even if he does seem prone to the odd brain fart at times. It was also good to see Ollie Pope make some runs in Test cricket as I do believe he has the talent to be one of our best batsmen in the future, though I would naturally prefer it if the selectors didn’t try and make it even harder for him to succeed by giving him the gloves or moving him up the order away from his natural position. C’est plus change! I can’t though buy into the captain’s statements after the Test series mind, with Root commenting after the 2nd consecutive defeat this year:

I feel like we’re a more rounded team for being out here, we got ourselves in a position in that first game where we could have gone on and put them under huge amounts of pressure, made a big first-innings score just like we did this week.

“It could have looked very different. But one thing I’m really proud of is the way we learned the lessons quickly from that.”

I personally don’t buy into being proud of a team that has just lost another series unless you were running the 1980’s West Indian team or the early 2000’s Australian team close. New Zealand are a good side with a decent bowling attack, 1 world class batsman and a couple of other international class batsmen, but certainly not a team I’d be proud to lose against. Sure, Root has got to say the right things on camera, but I’d have preferred him to look at what they didn’t do well and commit to do these better. Indeed, there were a number of weaknesses that this team displayed and areas that they can improve on. We still can’t perform with the Kookaburra ball away from home, with the England quicks (probably excluding Stuart Broad) looking less than potent; Jofra Archer has in particular had a poor tour and I do wonder whether Root’s overuse of him during the Ashes has led to the fact that his pace has been down all series. England also need to decide on a frontline spinner and to stick with him. I have no problem at all with it being Jack Leach as he is a tidy bowler with the ability to keep things tight and pick up the odd wicket. He isn’t going to run through a team at Test level, but then again, I’m not sure whether we have one of those spinners in the English setup, but we simply can’t be picking 5 seamers in future. There has to be questions around Sibley, Buttler and Denly, whilst the former should be given the rest of the winter despite his struggles in this series, Buttler definitely needs some competition as his statistics don’t smack of Test Match batsman (Ed – Pick a bloody reserve wicket keeper for South Africa for the love of god!) and whilst the latter is improving in the Test format of the game, he is 34 and needs to turn these 60’s and 70’s into a big century to fully justify his inclusion above a younger talent.

So, we head to South Africa and whilst their board are doing the best impression of the ECB, the cricket on the field isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, this winter schedule seems to have been designed to break some of our cricketers especially Ben Stokes (who was asked to do his best impression of David Saker’s bowling manual at times last night), so there is a good chance things could get worse rather than better.

Another series and another defeat is not what we wanted or hoped for to start the winter with; however, it could easily be argued that ECB have got exactly what they deserved. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling for fans of the national team mind.

Feel free to share any thoughts on the series below.

Curating a Better Egg

Barring a collapse from New Zealand of the kind that England have so often managed to conjure up in these circumstances, this match will probably end in a draw, not least because the weather forecast isn’t overly promising.  The hard facts will then be that England have lost a second successive series in New Zealand, albeit with only two Test in each instance the term “series” is barely justified.

The surface in Hamilton is slow to the point of being turgid, and England have demonstrated they can definitely bat on such pitches, so assuming this game to be a benchmark for the future would be unwise to the point of recklessness.  But it is also the case that in both matches England have at least tried to play more like a Test team with the bat, and if that went rather badly wrong in the first match, it was at least an attempt.  As Dr Johnson once said about a dog walking on his hind legs, it’s not that it is done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.  Perhaps this is a new approach, perhaps it is indicative that England are taking Test match batting more seriously and without the carefree approach that has seen them fall in a heap all too often.  Or perhaps it’s just a very slow pitch with minimal movement that has allowed them to plod to big total.  Whether the glass is half full or half empty probably depends on how many times someone has cursed at the television over recent years when England are playing away from home.

The upside is that Joe Root will unquestionably be better for a long innings and a big hundred.  Sure, conditions for batting were benign, even if upping the tempo was difficult, but Root’s relatively poor run in recent times appeared less down to a technique that couldn’t cope with faster tracks than someone who appeared to have lost his patience to play long form cricket.  To what degree this was down to his pursuit of T20 contracts is a matter for debate, but it certainly can’t have hurt to be reminded of what it felt like to play a long Test innings and make the kind of personal score almost forgotten by English batsmen.

In the same spirit, Ollie Pope’s 75 is also highly welcome, especially so given his additional role this match as emergency wicketkeeper.  He is a player of promise, and at such a young age there is no reason to assume he won’t learn and develop, meaning his occasional extravagant shots can be forgiven at the present time.

The new coaching set up had insisted that England were going to bat properly in Tests and these two matches have at least shown a willingness to try.  That doesn’t mean the first Test collapses aren’t indicative of pre-existing faults, but at such an early stage, perhaps a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt towards the intention is worthwhile.

What it doesn’t fix is England’s ongoing problems using the Kookaburra ball overseas, but then there are many reasons behind it that are unlikely to be fixed in a couple of Tests in New Zealand, even if there was a firm intention to fix them at all, which remains doubtful.

Slow, low pitches provide the least entertaining conditions for watching cricket, and if the setting is stunning, the cricket has not been.  The game can ever surprise, but anything other than a draw after tonight will be a major one.  Test series should never really be just about learning for the future, but neither should it just be a case of looking at outcome and ignoring at least the possibility of progress, however limited that might be.

The problem is invariably a complete lack of faith in the ECB to truly mean any of what is needed to provide a genuine pathway, but if the ECB’s duplicity in talking up Test cricket while acting at every stage to undermine it, at least they’re not alone in that.  Cricket South Africa have provided an object lesson in Dennis Healey’s first law of holes – having removed the accreditation of cricket journalists for the crime of daring to criticise a highly dysfunctional governing body, they have subsequently tried to justify it, apologised for it while justifying it, mentioned that cricket journalists should only be talking about events on the field, and even got in the ECB favourite of thanking the stakeholders.  They haven’t so much backtracked as crabbed sideways before flipping over and waving their legs in the air in a vain attempt to get back upright.  It remains endlessly fascinating how cricket administration is so appallingly inept that it even fails to reach the limbo level low bar of sports administration generally.

With England due to arrive in South Africa in a fortnight, it offers up the enticing prospect of playing against a team whose governing body is even more crassly incompetent than their own, although in their favour they haven’t yet come up with an entirely new but unnecessary playing format.

Still, first things first – England do have a match to win this evening, and unlikely as it may be, the old favourite of a couple of quick wickets making it interesting will certainly apply.

Hey Rainmaker, Come Away From That Man – 2nd Test, Day 3

Dmitri here, as a late stand-in to write today’s little piece. And for once, I promise it will be short!

England started the day in an awkward position, but the theory was/is that England would have the best of the batting conditions on Day 3. With Rory Burns and Joe Root, who had built a decent partnership at Old Trafford back in September against the Aussies, at the crease, it was clear that a lot of responsibility was on their shoulders. They started quite fluently, and Burns reached 50 first as Wagner tested whether he could play the short ball or not (he could, and when he middled it, the ball fairly flew to the boundary). Joe Root was much more circumspect, cutting out some of the more risky shots in his repertoire, but relying more on the the nudges and flicks.

At lunch, and with me flicking back and forth between this and the Iron Bowl (War Eagle!), I decided, after an hour failing to get to sleep, to stay up until Rory Burns made his century, or fail trying. Post-lunch the play was very sedate – good for England to get some time at the crease, play proper test cricket and get a sound base, but not wonderful if you are actually trying to win the game (and I believe that ship sailed once New Zealand passed 300).

The pace slowed, England facing the bowling dry ethic, some funky field settings and some thoughtful, if not penetrating bowling, and had to remain patient. Burns had some release shots, most notably when he seemed a little stuck on 94, when he got a nice wide gift, and then a few balls later he made it to his second ton with a flick off the hips. I said before this test that Rory is a AAAA player in baseball parlance, and I still think he is to a degree. But what he is at the moment is the best opener in England, so he’s certain of his place for a while now.

A brain fart did for him, just as Athers was commenting that this was a time for a big ton, Burns pushed for two, wasn’t the quickest on the first run, and was one frame short for the return. Having survived almost being sawn off by Joe Root earlier (Matt Henry missing the throw in from the outfield), it seemed a particularly careless dismissal. One suspects that this innings will turn out to be more important to Rory than it will be for England.

Joe Root got stuck in, didn’t give it away, accumulated and made a confidence building hundred. While I am most worried about the captaincy’s effect on Joe Root’s average, and production for the team, this doesn’t answer the questions about his ability to lead in the field that are getting louder and louder. This was a vital innings, and to be very fair, Root has tons in his last three overseas tours, so he’s not failing to produce away from home. But again, the innings also was one that didn’t advance the game in any way, and probably betrayed the lack of confidence he might have in this team. It would look a good innings if we were trying to save the series. In terms of winning it, it maybe wasn’t the best policy. For our long term future, it might be the most valuable for the team. Cricket is funny like that.

Root made his slowest century in terms of balls faced (I’m getting a Matthew Hayden at the Oval vibe) but he’s still there, and while he is, England can contemplate getting up to New Zealand’s total. The dimissals of Stokes, who nicked to first slip after a fluent cameo, and Crawley, who might have blown his one chance for a while by nicking off to Wagner for 1, set England back. Ollie Pope came in and stabilised the innings with Root to take England to 269 for 5 – 106 behind but with a chance, if only a slim one – before the remainder of the day was rained off. The forecast isn’t crash hot for the rest of the game either. All pointers are for a second successive 1-0 win for New Zealand in a two test series. This pitch is a slow pudding, and it’s hard to see England bowling New Zealand out with time to chase down a winning total.

Thought for the day(s) – Doesn’t the way Warner has got nearly 500 runs, for once out, in two digs on flat Aussie wickets with the Kookaburra ball speak absolute volumes for the quality of some test cricket. Pakistan will enjoy it in England, if we put up the same conditions as we have in the past few years. It’s mad. Also, Yasir Shah made a test hundred. The game is in a pretty old shape, ain’t it?

Comments on Day 4 below.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 1 review – Highway to Hell

I’m going to admit that I haven’t even watched a single ball of this Test Match so far. As soon as I saw the sorry excuse for a team that Ed Smith and his merry bunch of idiots had put together, I simply felt that there was no point and decided to watch the NFL. I’m thankful for my choice on reflection.

It’s difficult to know where to start really, although the decision not to bring a back up wicketkeeper in case of injury is probably the most calamitous. Wicketkeepers and decent wicketkeeper batsmen at that, are England’s strongest suit at the moment, hell we could probably field a half decent team of purely wicketkeepers, but you know what, Ed Smith doesn’t abide by sane decisions. He likes to look like a maverick after all. I’m still waiting for Stuart Broad to open the batting in some sort of bizarre cricketing masterstroke by Ed. It’s all good and fun except when your sole wicketkeeper gets injured and you have throw in a young, inexperienced batsman who is trying to navigate his way in Test Cricket behind the stumps. Well bloody done Ed! Also, what does it say to the various other excellent wicketkeepers in the country? Ben Foakes might have had a slight slip in standards with the bat last year, but he is still the best wicketkeeper in the country, so what he has he said or done to offend clever Ed so much? Bairstow although lacking the technique to score big runs in Test cricket right now was out in New Zealand, so why send him back home? The mind just boggles. So, as a result of this tremendous forward planning England had to completely reshuffle the batting unit resulting in players batting out of position again. Incompetence par excellence by the selectors, this was fuck up number 1.

Fuck up number 2 then came when England decided they didn’t need to play a spinner. If you have the West Indian fast bowling attack of the 1980’s, then it might just be forgivable. Unfortunately, England don’t. Jack Leach hasn’t set Test cricket on fire with his bowling (his batting is another matter), but he has been tidy, hasn’t conceded too many runs and chipped in with the odd wicket, so why the hell would we drop him for another military medium pace bowler? Who decision was this? Was it the captain? Was it the coach? Was it Father Christmas? Whoever it was deserves to be made to listen to Simon Hughes podcasts every day for the rest of their life!

That leads to fuck up number 3. Without a spin bowler, England had to bowl first whether they really wanted to deep in the hearts or not. Yes, I believe there was some long grass on the wicket, but the pitches in New Zealand have generally been fairly flat for the last couple of years, certainly not green seamers with wild swing for the quick bowlers. So, having elected to play 5 quick bowlers with no spinner and to bowl first at New Zealand then they needed to have an exceptional day with the ball and to make deep inroads into the New Zealand batting line up. Narrator: ‘They did not’. I haven’t seen any of the game so I’m really not sure how well England bowled or didn’t, but the fact remains that on a day curtailed by rain, New Zealand are only 3 down with Tom Latham scoring a decent century to put the hosts right in the box seat.

So, onto today’s play, England once again will need to make early inroads if they want to make a game of this at all. If New Zealand score 450/500 then it’s quite likely that they will have batted England out of the game, especially with a number of batsmen playing in different positions than they’re used to. Oh, and Ben Stokes is injured too, so things keep getting better and better.

I might watch some of the game tonight, but then I might not. For those that do, feel free to comment or laugh at England’s ineptitude below.

Now I Can’t Protect, A Paid Off Defect – The Second Test Preview

I’ve discovered a new art form. Actually, to be fair, it found me. It comes from the well respected, reserved mouth of the man they call, on here, Lovejoy. I’ll be interspersing this preview (such as this is a preview of a test match) with his bon mots. They are incisive, well thought through, and Betfair needs to be very, very proud.

The aftermath of the first test defeat has been every bit as predictable as the manner of the demise. There’s precious little praise for New Zealand. I plead guilty for not giving them as much praise as they deserved as well. They restricted England, played on their insecurities, batted themselves out of a sticky situation and then took the wickets needed to seal the deal. It was a perfectly executed final three and a half days, and something England should aspire to. I sense most of the England supporting base would have a composite team of the two nations being almost 50/50. At the moment only Stokes would be a certainty from the England team. This…..speaks…..volumes.

“I know Chris “Spoons” Silverwood well, and he’s the right man for the England job”

Ah, nothing spells even-handed thorough analysis than referring to the subject of your article by a nickname and claiming you are mates with them. But the initial reaction in some quarters to a dismal first test has been fascinating. If you are already calling for his head, you are a muppet. Pure and simple (oh dear, I’ve used a Shiny Toy-ism). Of course, we are reminded this week that sport takes a back seat to personal bereavement, and Silverwood will be returning home during this game. It’s something that happens to us all, we can empathise, and send only our best wishes to the coach and his family. A bad result is put into context by these things.

So while we can look at the first test and say Silverwood isn’t off to an auspicious start as coach, and I don’t think anyone is denying that, to snap at his “holistic view” comment from press men who let every bit of nonsense through from past coaches, and threw players under the bus before anyone else, seems a bit, well, premature. Which means, of course, that the laser focus isn’t going to be on “Spoons” but on the other members of the leadership group. Step forward, Joe Root.

“I want to see him enjoy his batting again and play with that cheeky, annoying-little-brother smile that he used to have.”

Now Lovejoy doubted Root’s appointment at the very start for the same reasons. It is true that even the most annoying, horrific individuals say correct things. But this is something that simplifies the issue – and no, I’m not clicking on a Betfair site to read the full horror. Joe Root’s batting malaise is worse than any perceived issues with his captaincy. A tweeter I do like has been saying that most of what is being written about him is rubbish. He’s playing on 250-par wickets in England, and it’s going to be tough to average 40. They are not all like that, and 250 appears to be par when you have crap batting line-ups. It’s a bit chicken and egg. But what we had was a reference point. Pre-captaincy Root was in the Big Four. Now he isn’t. He’s dropped down the batting rankings alarmingly. He is getting out in ways we never really saw. It may be a law of averages, better bowling, iffier wickets, but it’s also of bad messages. Never wanting to bat at 3, then us being told he is fine with it. The obsession with his conversion rate.

Root gives off some peculiar vibes. He appears to want to play all forms, where in T20 he’s now a dinosaur, and even feels like an anachronism in ODI matches where his real worth seems to be if he can bale us out after a dodgy start. He is still very worthy of a place in that team, but he always was, and always should be a test player.

The captaincy is a red herring at this point. Is it bringing him down? Why should it? He was fine for a couple of years, added some decent scores if not always getting to hundred, and only now we seem to think it is the captaincy doing it. Is it bad form, a permanent decline, perhaps a skewed early career on more docile wickets, or is it the whole international grind rather than captaincy doing it?

As a captain he’s no more than passable, from this untrained eye. He’s got a duff team, a mad scientific experiment by Ed Smith most of the time, but his use of Jofra Archer is frightening. He has a fast bowling asset and he’s running him into the ground. That concerns me. We drift in the field, we don’t seem to have inspiration, and we get on the end of some life-altering performances far too often. No-one seemed to care when Cook was captain, but we should now Root is?

Must Do Better is my simple assessment of England’s performance in the first Test. They need to put some fizz back into their game.

Magnificent. Imagine the number of tests you need to have played to come up with the simple assessment that England will need to play better. The main problem was the lack of fizz, that indeterminate article missing from all great performances. Does Lovejoy mean he wants to see England play with more attacking abandon, or like the stubborn test batting team they attempted to be for a day and an hour before they reverted to type? Does he mean abandoning the bowling dry tactics that saw Stuart Broad throw down medium pacers most of the time? What does he mean? I have no idea at all.

So do we fight last week’s battle, or do we start afresh and play a different way. England will not face Trent Boult or Colin de Grandhomme, so it’s a different bowling attack confronting them. Coming into the team are Daryl Mitchell, an all rounder and nothing whatsoever to do with the Worcestershire opener who appears in the Power List. Looking at his stats, he’s never taken a first class five wicket haul, so he’s got to be fancying his chances here. Look how we played Mitchell Marsh at The Oval just a short two months ago. Cricinfo believes Matt Henry will be preferred to Lockie Ferguson, which as replacement stocks go, isn’t too bad at all. It’s good to be prepared with some international ready talent should injuries happen. Especially if you have a board where the international team should be going forward with all thoughts and bases covered.

Like having a proper reserve keeper available should your frontline one go down. Hey, maybe you might cover the gap with someone who made a hundred on his test debut and is widely recognised as one of, if not the, best technicians in the country. But that’s just too vanilla thinking, and instead if Jos Buttler doesn’t make it, Ollie Pope will keep wicket in a test match – not sure he’s done it in a county championship fixture yet. It’s as dense as mercury, and sorry, it can mean only one thing. We genuinely think this test series isn’t important and is a warm up for other matters. Someone should take a damn good hard look at themselves. Ollie Pope is paper covering over a gaping crack. I thought the days of parachuting in someone nowhere near the test team in the role intended had gone years ago. I remember Tony Pigott in 1983, at Christchurch. That went well. They hoped they could get away with it, and now Pope, who copped some criticism for his shot selection in dismissal last time out now has something else piled on top of him. Let’s hope things work out.

The wicket is tempting England to drop their spinner. I wonder when that has ever gone wrong? There’s a chance Zak Crawley (Phoenix) will make his debut if Jos doesn’t make a recovery from his back spasm, in which case heaven only knows where he’ll bat (6?). There is a chance of Chris Woakes playing, there is all sorts of jumbled up thinking going on. Or is there?

George Dobell writes this (bold parts – my emphasis):

While Pope is a relatively inexperienced keeper, England dismissed the idea of calling-up a last-minute replacement; Ben Cox of Worcestershire, for example, who is currently playing Grade cricket in Adelaide. Not only would it have proved tricky to get someone to New Zealand in time, it would have been asking a lot of them to acclimatise to the conditions and the unique team environment. It might also have undermined the position of Pope who was selected as reserve keeper in the original tour party.

“We knew that this was a possibility when we selected the squad,” Root said. “I’m quite happy that Popey’s got the capability of doing a good job for us.”

George! What is this twaddle? Unique team environment? That sounds good that you can’t bring anyone in from outside because they can’t fit in immediately. Great message that sends. What’s different about it that makes it so difficult to acclimatise, given we gave Sibley a debut last time out, brought Pope back in, have a new coach etc. etc. This is the reddest of red flags. What a pile of nonsense.

Undermined Pope. That’s funny. Pope is undermining himself with his batting. He’s a prodigious talent and at county level looks the utter part. But his test career, whether in his best batting position or not, has played expansively and has an early question over his shot selection. What better way to not undermine him is to play him in a position he will not be selected for in future. Do we really want this to ruin his batting potential when we have a perfectly good, temperamentally sound, debut test centurion who would fit nicely into this team if we weren’t so damn obsessed with Jos Buttler (or YJB) becoming our version of Adam Gilchrist.

And Popey? Oh dear.

The test starts tonight, and who knows what it will bring? But this appears not to be England’s finest hour and the mood music, despite New Zealand being without two key players, is not good. But if we have the attitude Lovejoy has, we are in trouble:

With all due respect, New Zealand are not as talented, batting-wise, as some of the England boys. But they ground England into the dirt. BJ Watling’s way of batting will never dominate a game in the same that Steve Smith or Joe Root could. His method is to hang around for a long time and he did it beautifully. He showed the English batsmen how to do it.

We are literally falling over ourselves for people with talent who can bat for nearly two days for double hundreds. We’ve had that talent on tap. The moron.

Comments, should you wish, below. Happy Thanksgiving. Anyone fancy some turkey. I’ve got enough!

Title contains lyric from Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy – of course.

Road to nowhere – NZ v England, 1st Test, day three

Days like these are the ones where the very occasional pang of sympathy extends in the direction of the cricket journalist. After all, what is there to say about three sessions where the bowling lacks penetration, but the batting plods on at a modest pace?

The lack of excitement is grist to the mill of those who laud short form cricket, or indeed go on about the “exciting brand” of Test cricket played by England at various times. And they have something of a point in that being skittled out to a succession of hopeful thrashes outside off stump certainly lends a frisson to the day.

But Test cricket remains the highest form of the game because of the variety it offers, and New Zealand slowly turning the screw on the England team has its own particular beauty – particularly in the way the pressure begins to transfer from one side to the other. There’s plenty of comment about the nature of the pitch, certainly, but we’re barely half way through this match, there’s plenty of time for one side or the other to fold on it, and England are going to be the ones facing the likelihood that they’re going to have to bat long to save the game.

There’s a wider issue here about the ball used, certainly, but it’s far from the first time England have looked toothless away from home when using it, and the tactics of containment adopted early suggests their limited potency is something they are only too well aware about. But irrespective of that, endless praise should be showered on a New Zealand middle order that played with discipline and plenty of skill. BJ Watling has long been one of those players to quietly go about his business without too many mentions of him whenever lists of the best keeper/batsmen around are compiled.

So it was a holding day – one side toiling, the other quietly placing themselves in a position of strength. It’s far too soon to start complaining about the surface, but England now have a job on their hands to get out of this in one piece. An uneventful day in Test is infinitely more important than the quiet middle overs of an ODI, for it directs the pattern for the remainder in a greater way.

Jofra Archer continues to attract comment, partly because his pace is so often believed to be the answer when the rest of the seam attack fails to penetrate. He’s only in his fifth Test, and learning his trade. It is an odd thing where people can be so quick to jump on a young player for failing (in this match) to be the answer to many prayers. Singling him out seems peculiar.

The fourth day should define where this match is going, but while New Zealand are favourites, there’s no reason whatever England should be feeling in particular trouble. But the game is played in the mind, and seeing how they approach things will be indicative of whether any major changes are in process or not.

If that’s not a definitive post, it’s fair comment to point that out. But the wonder of Test cricket is that a match can be a slow burner and explode into life, or it can remain a turgid bore. Either way, we’re yet to find out, and after three days of play, that in itself is to be appreciated.

“And Liberty She Pirouette” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 3rd Day Open Thread

Well this game is very nicely poised. There is something for everyone in this game. There’s defensive and attacking batting, moments of calm serenity when nothing much happens, followed by a crescendo of wickets falling, because, well, this is England we are talking about after all. There’s fast bowling, medium paced bowling, spin bowling. There are great catches, and massive errors. Debutants mixed with experience. Players making their way, against players nearing the end, fighting against the dying of the light. The venue looks brilliant, a festival approach to test cricket in a market that while it still clearly loves the format, wants to bring it to the people in a slightly different way – taking it from the impersonal multi-sport stadium to the park like atmosphere at Hagley and Bay Oval.

In short, it makes you glow for test cricket. Hell, I even like the graphics bug at the bottom which my colleagues feel is too obtrusive. It looks quite classy, if you ask me. Surely you don’t need to be middle-aged to love this? Surely there’s something here for every cricket lover. You get to watch Kane Williamson, a modern great, against Jofra Archer, a phenom who will either hold England together, or flame out. You get to admire the sheer struggle and effort that Joe Denly is applying to his test career. You get to watch Tim Southee, with Lockie Ferguson breathing down his neck, rip out our lower middle order and bring England to heel, just when it looked like the game was being ground down.

There is, as always, a problem. Life. That’s the issue isn’t it. It’s not because I don’t want to devote the time to the game, to watch more of the action, but it’s because I can’t. Boiler issues, work issues, lawyer meetings (they go on for longer than a cricket match and are much less exciting) and an airport run this morning means I’m not going to be able to give you the match report. I watched the first hour last night. I watched as the commentators built up Ollie Pope, only to be made look a little silly when he flashed at a wide one and nicked off. There was Ben Stokes, playing shots of amazing authority, getting out when a hundred beckoned. Sam Curran, in because we presume he can bat, getting out for a golden. Jofra showing he’s no clue as a test batsman. Then Leach and Buttler restoring some honour and taking the score to something that means there is a game on. 350 doesn’t daunt great teams, but it certainly keeps those just below top level on their toes that errors mean danger, and Raval and Taylor will look at their dismissals and think, that’s giving it away (and yes, I know, we’ve gone on about attacking shots not working being more tut tutted than having your defensive technique defenestrated). Raval, from the highlights, tried to hit out against Leach and barely succeeded, so it appeared he wanted to keep trying until he failed.

With the wicket of Williamson towards the end of play, England hold the advantage. New Zealand are 200 behind but without their two major run producers (Williamson and Taylor – Latham has also had some good form in the past twelve months), but there is plenty of batting to come and that lead is by no means safe. It does appear that the Black Caps should not bat England out of the game, but that there is a good game to be had. It was also funny that Sam Curran got the wicket with a surprise short ball at “only 126 kph”. David Lloyd appears not to be a fan.

I’ll get to watch a bit tonight, so hopefully I might even be able to live blog some of it (absolutely no promises).

Since I last wrote a fair bit has happened. Three of us had an interesting evening with Nick Hoult and Izzy Westbury on Tuesday, in which I spoke more bollocks about blogging than usual. It was certainly interesting to be in the minority of one in not being amazed by Ian Smith’s commentary at the end of the World Cup Final (too screamy for me), while still liking Smith’s overall work. We had the T20 series, and Shiny Toy Vaughan overlooking the Malan hundred, and calling me a muppet for alluding to his management loyalties (the point being if Vince had scored Malan’s ton, he’d be singing from the rooftops).

It was lovely to see, and yet he’s not blocked me. Wonder why we call him Shiny Toy?

David Warner has proven his brilliance on flat decks against a ball that is softer than England’s lower middle order. Simon Hughes kept his job despite a faux pas that spoke volumes about his sheer lack of self-awareness, and for many to jump on someone for a mistake that wasn’t malevolent, but dumb.

India are dominating, playing a day night test, seeing Agarwal make a double hundred, making Shaw feel even worse for his doping violation. Each batsman has appeared to fill their boots against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, India are almost certainly in the WTC final already, and this day night test might work well, and thus we’ll see more of them, and India might even believe they created them!

We also have a T20 competition starting in South Africa where all the game’s greats are in action and as far as I am aware, no-one really seems to care, except the TV networks who love this stuff. Oh and Harry Gurney has decided this competition is too long and is playing in the T10 jamboree in the Middle East. Liam Livingstone has withdrawn his name from the IPL auction, which had literally millions of Indian cricket fans in tears at the news, to concentrate on something else. Which is about as relevant as me withdrawing from my bid to become Prime Minister. No more politics than that.

So Day 3 beckons. I hope you are following it, enjoying it, and loving it for what it is. A good game of cricket, in a lovely location, with plenty of meaning without it being World Test Championship. It’s the start of the Silverwood era, there are players not established, and players with something to prove. It’s well poised. It’s good sport. It’s fun.

Comments below…..

New Zealand v. England, 1st Test – Preview

So after an intense summer of cricket, where England won the World Cup finally but still managed to lose the Ashes and I’m not personally sure whether I would still swap the results given a chance, we now head to the first part of a rather epic winter tour. Thankfully the white ball nonsense has now come and gone (though I’d still like to hear why we needed 5 T20 games instead of an extra Test Match, but hey that’s just me.)

So we come to the Test series, which sadly only consists of two matches and for some strange reason no Test championship points are on offer. Personally I don’t understand having a test championship if every game doesn’t contribute to the final points tally, but hey ho there’s a lot about international cricket that still baffles me.

England have rejigged their Test line up for this series with Dominic Sibley finally getting a chance to open the batting with Rory Burns. Joe Denly actually performed a decent job during the summer as a makeshift opener; however it is good to see England finally picking two proper openers to open the batting. With Denly likely to bat at three, then Joe Root will take his natural position up as a number four in the batting unit. Whilst having Root batting at number three seems like a good idea in theory, in practice it simply hasn’t worked out with his average markedly lower than when he bats in his favourite position. Personally I would much prefer England’s best batsmen to bat at the position where he feels he can score most runs rather than trying to plug gaps up the order.

It is also heartening to see that England have not been tempted to go back to Jonny Bairstow, who still has a myriad of technical issues in red ball cricket and instead have backed Ollie Pope to score the runs we know he is capable of at 6. Pope without doubt is a major talent and one who was fast tracked too quickly into the England team, in a batting position he was unfamiliar with; hence it should not be surprising that he didn’t perform to expectations first time around. Pope for me is one of the players that England that England should be building their line up around and I genuinely hope he has a good series in New Zealand. The only other question in the build-up to the first Test was whether Chris Woakes or Sam Curran should take the third seamers spot. Personally I’m happy that England have decided to go with Curran as I think his bowling skill set adds a different dimension to the England attack; however I do also understand the thinking that Woakes is the more threatening bowler despite his poor average with the ball overseas. This is something that none of the editors on the blog agree about, so it’s clear it’s a close-run thing.

As for New Zealand, they should come into the test series as favourites. Kane Williamson continues to be both an amazing batsmen and an amazing captain and will no doubt be the prize wicket that England need to take early to be successful on this tour. However in my opinion it will be how England deal with the New Zealand fast bowlers that will decide whether this Test series is won or lost. The combination of Southee and Boult, with Neil Wagner backing them up ably has proved to be the bedrock of the New Zealand’s success in home conditions and without doubt they will look at the England batting unit as an inexperienced one who can be rattled in slightly foreign condition. If England somehow manage to repel the new ball with wickets intact then they may be able to set the platform to score the runs needed to put pressure on the Kiwis; however if Boult or Southee reduce England to 3 or 4 down with the new ball, then once again it will be difficult for the middle and lower orders to dig England out of another hole.

From the first view of the pitch a couple of days ago, it certainly looks like it’s going to suit the seamers with more than a green tinge to it and I’ll personally be extremely interested to see if England adopt a less gung ho approach to batting as both Root and Giles have suggested or if once again they repeat the failings of summer and try to impose their will on the opposition bowlers. Equally if England bowl first then it will be just as interesting to see if the likes of Broad and Archer take the same approach as they did against Australia and keep the ball pitched up rather than banging it down halfway in the hope of intimidating the opposition batsmen.

I personally hope that it’s an even series with some good cricket played on both sides especially as I’m such a sucker for New Zealand Test venues. The time difference and the fact that we’re all the flat-out with work will mean it’s a bit of a challenge for us to cover the series in as much depth as we like, but we’ll certainly try to cover as much of it as we can.

As ever, any thoughts or comments are welcome below:

I Forgot A Title….

A tweet last night got me thinking. Well, it got me a little more than just thinking. It got me a little angry. Except that’s the point of the tweet. To make me, and people like me, feel as though we should not get angry.

This is going to be, by my standards, a short post, but one I think I need to write. It does hark back to the days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, when I had to plough what felt a fairly lonely furrow (even with TFT doing their thing) as I set about the ECB, the media and the acolytes who chose to accept that the people running our game could do what the hell they liked and you, as a fan, as a customer, hell, as a stakeholder, had to STFU and leave it to those in power. A power they had due to money, connections, and hell, they may have liked the sport every bit as much as we do. If we’d followed the line of some, we would never have questioned Sepp Blatter, let the IOC just take bribe after bribe, and let the cricket authorities install a new format of the sport in this country and risk the marginalisation of the existing game. Oh. That’s right. The last one is happening.

To the tweet. I’m not going to put the name of the person who wrote it on here. That individual clearly loves the sport, and the point is not to attack them, but the message. There is a massive difference.

A couple of people I know have written well thought out articles in the last week or so with some arguments for how #TheHundred may be beneficial and I’ve never seen such vitriol from sections of cricket twitter over anything. It’s honestly ridiculous.

Oppose the Hundred crew – you are making it harder and harder for people to have any meaningful discussion on the topic. All I have seen is yelling. If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.

You are perfectly entitled to have a view that supports the Hundred. I cannot be entirely sure of the article the individual has in mind, but I’m thinking it might be the one in the Cricketer in particular that had some interesting, if somewhat odd (in my view) points on how attractive the sport in its current format in the UK is to South Asian background fans in this country. One could have taken it that by supporting the current county structure you were enhancing the current in-grained anti-minority stance evidenced by the lack of non-white cricketers in the first class game. Could being the operative word.

That piece, as it was intended to do, provoked debate. Great. That’s what strongly-held views are going to do. You are also, as I know, going to be very protective of your position and fight it hard. I wouldn’t have made an impact back in the day with HDWLIA (and I did, I know I did) if I’d been backward in coming forward, polite and delicate in my approach and backing down when the first wash came over me. I had a really strong view, some called it obsessive, bilious, boring, that KP’s sacking was bad, that the people who did it were worse, that the people in the media who defended it were possibly even worse, and that the people who wouldn’t see my view were merely misunderstanding what that view was! Yes, I know the last part seems arrogant.

The “Oppose The Hundred” crew, whatever that may be, seemed to be some people absolutely afraid that the county structure, which never gets the praise when things go well, but always gets the blame when it goes badly, which they hold dear, is being jeopardised by an ego trip, with little to no consultation or on-boarding of supporters. These supporters, when confronted with this monstrosity, and the absolutely appalling marketing and leaking of information on the competition, voiced strong disapproval. If you believe in something dearly, I’m afraid strong disapproval is what you get. It comes with the territory. I can point to those who were big fans of Alastair Cook. Because I’m not, I got a ton of attacks back. I can’t say I dealt with them all well, but I had to deal with them. Melbourne was almost the last straw. I almost packed the whole game in. But I know people, lots of people, like Cook. You have to get on with it.

You can’t complain if a provocative article evokes a passionate response. You can’t moan if the view you put forward is controversial that those challenged won’t respond. You also don’t get attention in this modern world if you are dull and boring. A journo said to me when he pointed out that I got too prickly about some commenters “why do you bother with them. No-one knows who they are in the game. People know Being Outside Cricket” to which I said they were cricket fans too, and that their view, even if I thought it was horribly wrong, had to be addressed.

The problem with meaningful discussions is that you don’t get to define what it is. You don’t control it. You can only control your own contribution to it. If you set out to defend something that, on the face of it, is unpopular, then you are going to get responses you don’t like. It’s not easy to take lots of the time, but you have to take it, thick, or as in my case, thin skinned as you may be. It can over-step the mark – I’ve had a death threat, I’ve had someone threaten my dog, I’ve had a couple of people threaten to dox me, other threatening me with a legal action – but those events are rare. They aren’t the norm. For every idiot who accuses me of being a Piers Morgan stooge (when I actively loathe the man) there are people I can have passionate disagreements with while remaining friends, and in some cases, when it comes to politics, spouses.

People see a massive threat to the life they love, the sport they care about, and the future of the game. They have, like me, an in built distrust of the ECB. They are going to get angry. They are going to put up passionate, steadfast defences, and, yes, attack the arguments put up against them. And while we will be ultimately unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean we have to get on board. I didn’t feel anywhere near the same passion for an England team post-2014, because of the events after that Ashes tour. I’m not going to go the Hundred just because it needs me to go to “save the game” because “we can’t afford it to fail”.

This wasn’t that short, really. I just wanted to get things off my chest a little. Cricket engenders passionate support, and we love it dearly. We fight for what we love dearly, maybe even crossing a mythical line. But don’t moan (yeah, rich coming from me) if you get stick back when you are doling it out, or threatening what we hold dear. I would expect the opposite side of the argument to come at me, and I can choose whether to engage or not. I have muted a couple of people on Twitter after a long debate on the Hundred because it wasn’t going anywhere, and they started interjecting in conversations I wasn’t having with them (and not leaving me out of other streams when I asked them to do so, politely). It’s the way you want to conduct your own business that matters. We have been forthright, angry, even downright rude, but I hope most of the time it is those in authority, and that’s where the anger should lie.

“If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.”

I found my critics’anger as an energy. I wanted the anger to fire me up. If I had packed it in for writing an article that got an angry response, I wouldn’t be here. If you are firm enough in your views, believe in something, you should respond. That’s not a vacuum. It’s a discussion. A debate. An argument. And it isn’t always defined by the writer.

Have a great day, and speak soon.

Dmitri (Peter)

UPDATE – Harry Gurney, Bumble and Topley. Oh my lord.

Topley’s tweet is right up there for most idiotic of the year. Me Me Me. I want to be attacked. Please.

I omitted above that one of the chief villains, and one of the reasons that we should be strident are people like Harry Gurney – he of the more Twitter followers than you, I or our humble website. You are to know your place because you are just a mere spectator. How can you be polite to an attitude like that?

 

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s been a bit of a strange time over the last month or so – the conclusion of the domestic cricket season caused a fair bit of retrospective comment about how successful the summer had been – the World Cup victory being the clear stand out, with the scraped draw in the Ashes being recast as something of a success by too many people who ought to know better.

Much of the recent cricketing action in this country has been off the field – the ongoing Hundred debacle most central to that, including the hearing at the DCMS committee. It’s particularly notable the way the ECB have pushed their entire tournament to the media has shifted slightly, almost a tacit admission of the horrendous balls up they’ve made of it to date, while at the same time continuing to block any direct questioning, even by MPs. Yesterday Ashley Giles talked about the Hundred being played alongside the County Championship, raising a fair few issues in the process.  Giles has tended to be rather more thoughtful and honest than most in the ECB, and while that’s not saying a lot, if ever anyone was going to acknowledge, even obliquely, the problems raised, it was always likely to be him.  The ECB have decided that the domestic professional game will go in a certain direction, and the consequences of that are more or less impossible to avoid – as such this is perhaps the first time anyone has even publicly considered how to mitigate them.

The main problem with the Hundred has never been the format itself – it might have attracted scorn and derision, and deservedly so, but it remains a short game of cricket, even if the added funkiness does little to further it.  The impact on the rest of the season however is far more pertinent and permanent – even were the Hundred itself to fail and be turned back into T20, as some hope, it wouldn’t alter the general balance of the season the ECB have determined.

The initial response to Ashley Giles’ comments about running the Championship concurrently is interesting, partly because it’s been almost universally negative. So perhaps it’s time to challenge that somewhat, albeit a rather lukewarm challenge and a thought experiment as much as anything. But it could be argued that given where we are now it’s as good an idea as is practicable. The impact on Test techniques of short form cricket has been a concern for a while but there has also been some divergence, especially in batting and spin bowling, between those players who prioritise white ball cricket and those who aim to be long form players.

There is always the balance to be struck between insisting on purity in the response (“Hundred bad, sack them all”), and thinking about what might be feasible as mitigation, given stopping it at all appears out of the question.  The call to get behind the new competition may be nonsensical, but equally opposing the Hundred to the point that any and all suggestions made around it are automatically dismissed isn’t hugely helpful either.  If there were a genuine prospect of changing the direction of travel, that might be a different thing, but this seems desperately unlikely.  This is how it is going to be for a number of years at minimum, whether people like it or not.  Since that is the case, it bears examination whether Giles’ idea might then represent a better outcome than a normal county championship pushed ever more to the margins of the season? It’s an open question, but one worthy of consideration. There are serious downsides to Giles’ idea, but whether the upsides improve the overall position compared to doing nothing should be considered properly, without a knee jerk “no” as a response to everything.

The suggestion that only half points should be awarded for the championship games played during the Hundred window is particularly controversial, but it does also offer up the intriguing prospect that even with half points, counties might need to balance their squads rather better than they do under next year’s regime where it makes no difference. Essex and Somerset for example might be especially weak if 2020 was repeated, but under Giles’ thinking then rather than necessarily being a bad thing, it might encourage them to ensure they have sufficient red ball specialists in the leftovers to prevent them being repeatedly crushed.

Such a proposal would also have the knock on effect of requiring some of the matches to be played at the outgrounds rather than the eight stadia where the Hundred matches will take place. This too is a mixed blessing – certainly such venues tend to be popular with spectators, but there is a considerable cost involved in making them ready for Championship cricket, and the quality of pitches can be variable. There is also the matter of the value for money involved in county membership, given some matches would be rather distant from the main ground, yet a proposal that offers an unclear picture as to whether something is good or ill rather represents progress – such is the reality of ECB planning.

Along with one or two political matters that Will Not Be Talked About Under Any Circumstances, the polarisation caused by the advent of the Hundred makes a nuanced response difficult to maintain. Without question, the ECB are culpable for this – it’s not just the principle behind the Hundred that can be criticised, but also that the ability of the ECB to make the worst of things is genuinely impressive. Purely from a business perspective, they are an extraordinarily incompetent organisation. The continual omnishambolic leaking, the genuinely dreadful marketing (as an aside, it’s endlessly amusing reading former cricketers who know nothing at all about such things defending the ECB to the great unwashed, many of whom might actually know a bit about the subject) all points to an organisation that is amazingly amateurish. This is then always the problem with those who say that the fact that it is coming is sufficient reason to get behind it – they don’t deserve anyone getting behind them and haven’t done for many years. An acceptance of the reality that it’s going to happen is not approval, and certainly not support, and pointing out the inherent flaws and idiocies remains perfectly appropriate.  Andrew Strauss once talked about the Kevin Pietersen issue being a matter of trust, but the ECB have long since burned any residual trust they had with those who love the game of cricket, which is why their pleas forever fall on deaf ears. Sporting governing bodies might not be popular, but only the ECB is at war with its own supporters.  It is therefore particularly irritating to be told to pipe down by those who stand to benefit directly, and speaks to the consistent failing in all circles of professional cricket in conflating what is in their own interests with the general interests of the sport itself.

It’s long been my contention that “the game” doesn’t mean the wider game, only their small part of it, but it is equally beholden on those of us on the outside not to oppose just for the sake of opposition. The Hundred might well drive a coach and horses through traditional cricket, and provide little to no benefit further down. But there is little merit in screaming into the void at every single suggestion ever made and assuming it can only make things worse, even if scepticism about the rationale behind their latest wheeze is perfectly reasonable. Giles’ suggestion would also return the 50 over competition to being a first team one rather than a development tournament, albeit early in the season, and to that end would undo some of the crass stupidity of the ECB abandoning the format domestically in which England have become World Champions – often at the expense of the Test side.

The County Championship would certainly be diminished by playing it at the same time as the Hundred. But the problem is that it’s diminished anyway, and if next year’s schedule was repeated, that diminution is only going to continue and get worse. Rugby provides some interesting comparisons with cricket in many ways – far more so than football. And rugby does cope with players disappearing from their club sides to play internationals at the same time as the domestic championship takes place. Perhaps it can be said that is no different to how cricket has always been, but this Rugby World Cup is a good case in point of radically weakened sides still competing in the main domestic tournament, and making use of that by bringing in younger players and developing them. Perhaps the lesson there is that it is possible for such things to be a net positive. In this case that is a highly contentious proposition, but it does at the very least deserve a fair hearing.

Of course, rugby has also been notably different to cricket in terms of the exposure it seeks. This morning’s World Cup final will doubtless have been watched by many millions of people (albeit a lot might have turned off with 10 minutes to go), but the contrast in that is not just with the ECB. World Rugby specifically have a policy that the World Cup should be free to air wherever possible – it’s written into their mission statement for the entire tournament. Japanese TV coverage was an interesting example, where they had to negotiate to ensure some matches were free to air. This is antithetical to the ICC, who sell off the rights to the highest bidder and have no interest in who they are sold on to, and whether people then have to pay to watch. It’s a stunning, startlingly huge difference in approach by the two sports, and it’s hard to dispute that rugby has done a better job of promoting itself. Even the presence of rugby sevens in the Olympics while cricket continues to show ambivalence about T20’s involvement demonstrates that, while if ever a difference could be identified in profile, it could be seen in the way on the eve of the Rugby World Cup final, it was the number one item on the BBC Six O’Clock News. The number one item.

For us as a group, the post summer period tends to be our quiet time of the year, partly because we take a bit of a break, and partly because those people who pay us to work do expect us to turn up and do it. We’re fortunate that our really chaotic periods tend not to often coincide with each other, if ever there’s a gap when cricket is on, that’s what’s happened. So it’s a pleasure to note when we make our return that we still have plenty to talk about. The winter tours (three of them) have begun, with a T20 against New Zealand that rather passed everyone by,  but we are back, and we are as annoyed as ever.