People Don’t Ask The Price, But It’s Sold

 

wp-1500550214873.jpg
20 Overs. Too Long. Too Complicated.  Anyway, also, well batted today Olly Pope….

In their classic hit “Fight the Power”, after the bit where they call Elvis and John Wayne rude names, Public Enemy then bring up a popular song of the time to outline their attitude:

“Don’t worry be happy was a Number One jam…Damn if I say it, you can slap me right here”

Yep, I’m shoe-horning this nonsense in, but after a week like the ECB have had, like English cricket has had, like we, the loyal cricket fan at our wits end has had, slapping me round the face to bring me to a state of calm seems one of the more sensible ideas. Don’t worry, be happy. Be happy that a half-baked idea, put forward by #39, who even thinks it isn’t that great a shakes now, has been adopted, put out there, and given to the plebs who follow the game to ruminate on its genius. Don’t worry, they’ve got this. The brilliant ECB are in charge. Be Happy!

This post is going to be short by my standards. Chris has laid down two magnificent pieces of work that raise the bar for us, the competition out there, and for all of us going forward. He has taken a surgical instrument to the stupidity and made it look it what it is. I’m afraid I’m not up to that. The old blunt instrument needs to be applied.

Firstly Ed Smith. Hey, forget the plagiarism, that’s no problem. He’s written a bit about baseball stats. He’s edgy. He’s left-field. Please! Beneath the smokescreen of “analytics” and “Moneyball” (and good grief that raises the old anger in me, that), the ECB have appointed a man as Chief Selector who is straight out of Central Casting. Jarrod Kimber defenestrated the nonsensical process, which was enough to get Selvey laying down the proverbial cape over the puddle for the ECB, to the surprised of no-one. No, Jarrod had it wrong when he said that if they wanted analytical sort, inviting Selfey and Muppet Pringle to interview was the cricket version of filling out the selection board member’s time, given they’d never shown any inclination to analyse stats in the past. The subject matter for the board was supposedly “Selection, Art or Science”. I’ve got a bruised head from banging it against my keyboard/wall/bat. It’s an art. That can be helped by analytics. Any other answer comes from an idiot. When humans become androids, then maybe it is science. Until then, stop this drivel.

One also noted that while Jarrod was being “pathetic”, Selvey never bothered to tell us the actual process that they went through. Nothing stopping him. Well, other than the usual.

Then there is the 100. Chris said most of it, but Strauss today has put fuel on the flame and lit the match. It’s for the mums and the kids. Harking back to a day when Ron Noades once launched a rival to the football pools and reportedly said it was “so simple, even a woman could do it”, Andrew Strauss thinks the game needs to be babied so kids, and women not interested in cricket so far, can understand it. So to do that, we reduce it from 20 overs to 100 balls, with some oddity of a 10 ball over somewhere or other. We’re all confused why, but according to the brains of the outfit, and their are plenty of those on show, this isn’t “aimed at you”.

This is the point of this post. The whole chimera that as a cricket fan, no matter for how long, or how much you have watched cricket, this competition isn’t aimed at you, you are blind to the benefits, so run along and be the oddball county follower you know you are. It’s a genius marketing technique that tells its existing customers, you know, the people who are the lovers of the game, can extol its virtues, of all forms, that you don’t need to bother, to alienate, and borderline insult them. We know you are aiming at new customers, new devotees. Great. Here’s a tip, don’t treat the existing ones like idiots. How about bringing them into the decision making process, the development, the ideas lab as it were? No, it’s the same old same old, no doubt aided and abetted by a management consultancy firm charging exorbitant amounts and moving on to the next mug.

Lizzy Ammon sums it up in her tweet this evening:

The ECB are telling you, them, us, that they know better and you, frankly, know nothing. We warned, well I warned, people about this a long while ago. We are now in the hands of zealots at the ECB, convinced of their own genius, high on their own supply of great ideas and importance, and paying total lip service to good governance, pretending consultation is in action when it’s paralysis by moron behaviour, and most of all showing all the co-ordination and sense of direction of a marathon runner with heatstroke. Graves is acting like a two bit dictator, Harrison is his marketing genius with a touch of zeal and evangelism, and Strauss is the face of the farce. It’s the ECB going downhill. It’s cricket in it’s death throes. It’s the abandonment of sense, of rational thinking and reason. It’s jobs for the boys and the “consumers” can just put up with it. Even the younger journo crowd, the MacPherson’s, Stocks’ etc. were disbelieveing. How has it come to this?

I don’t want to say I told you so…..

Advertisements

The Fox Without a Tail

There’s something particularly special about a new concept that requires those announcing it on social media to feel compelled to add variations on the phrase “this is not a joke”.  And certainly the double take across the cricket world was genuine – scrapping T20 cricket (at least in terms of one competition in the English summer) in favour of an outlined 100 ball one is, at the very least, an example of a new and unusual approach.

Equally, it’s certainly the case that trying to come up with any new idea is going to generate a negative response from many – it was pointed out that a lot of people derided the idea of T20 cricket when first mooted, and social media is no barometer for anything except itself.  Yet there are a few differences here:  20 over cricket was not a new thing, at least not for those who play the game. Clubs had run midweek competitions along those lines for decades, and everyone who played as a child had their first introduction to formal matches in a 20 over format.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that pretty much every cricketer who had ever picked up a bat or a ball would have played the general format.  Thus, although the media excitedly talked about T20 as being fresh and new, it was anything but for actual cricketers, a fact often overlooked in the rush to dismiss the views of those critical.  There was a template, there was experience of it, and it was easy to grasp what was going to be involved.  That’s not to say that all welcomed it, but those opposed did so on the grounds of what it would mean for the rest of the game, not because 20 overs was in itself completely radical.

In this case, T16.66, T16.4, S16.4, the 100 – or whatever anyone wishes to call it (and the fact there is no name in place indicates this is hardly a deeply thought through proposal) is something unprecedented, with no obvious rationale, or even a clearly visible latent demand.  There’s nothing wrong with fresh thinking though, and nothing that makes a format as comparatively new as T20 sacrosanct.  The question has to be what is meant to be achieved by the new competition, and whether such changes have value in those terms, rather than as a purely cricketing notion. After the initial derision – and it ought to be concerning that the response wasn’t outrage, but merriment and mocking  – came the fightback.  Contrarians suggested that those who dismissed it were the same people who opposed T20, coloured clothing, and anything else that’s now taken root in the sport.  Perhaps so, but it’s a very lazy response, as it could equally be mentioned plenty of people also pointed out the stupidity in substitutions being permitted as well – a new idea isn’t justifiable on the grounds of solely being new, and objections can’t be dismissed on the grounds of sepia tinted nostalgia or conservatism.

The 8 team franchise idea has been hamstrung from the start by the insistence on retaining the T20 Blast competition as well.  Whereas the IPL, Big Bash League, or all the other imitators around the world are the principal short form focus in each geographical area, in England it is a second one, to be layered on top of the first and forced to seek a new audience to justify its very existence.  Without the T20 Blast remaining in place, it is highly unlikely anyone would have remotely suggested making changes to differentiate it, it wouldn’t have been necessary, and more than that no-one would have desired it.  No matter how much the ECB might try to protest they are merely being innovative, it stems entirely from that single decision that they have to keep a separate T20 as well.  There is no other rationale or requirement beyond needing to distinguish the two.

So let us dismiss any suggestion that this is needed in itself.  Shortening the game by 3.4 overs has no pressing cricketing justification in and of itself.  Competitions as short as 10 overs a side do exist, certainly; but they do so for monetary reasons not cricketing ones, and whatever the flaws of the ECB, there does need to be a short form competition for cricketing reasons as well as financial ones.  Likewise, the super-deca-over at the end is not a radically new way of looking at the game, it’s merely something forced on them by the awkward mathematics of 100 not being divisible by 6.  Furthermore, the entire competition idea is not one of cricketing essentials, but the contradictions of a need for a wider television audience, having to satisfy the counties, and the horror of losing existing revenue streams.

This is not, fresh, new and exciting, it is the logical culmination of the initial starting position:  keeping the existing tournament, wanting an 8 team competition, and needing to draw a distinction between the two, thus the changes are inherently artificial, and a marketing tool first and foremost.  Post-facto justifications are a consistent element of any plan that is forced upon those putting it together, whereby all involved highlight how wonderful it all is, and no one dares mention that it would be an awful lot better if they hadn’t got into this mess in the first place.

The broadcasters are certainly part of this, the shortening of the game to fit into a two and a half hour time slot is important, yet the slight surprise from those who will be showing the tournament suggests that although they were asked if it worked for them, they weren’t the prime motivator behind the suggestion.  They signed up to a T20 tournament, and this change has come subsequent to that agreement.  It’s not surprising that they are fine with it, as a televised product with a defined length of that nature is certainly appealing, yet there were other ways to keep the timetable tight without such a radical departure, even fifteen eight-ball overs (something many clubs, faced with approaching darkness adopt) would have retained the game length while making things quicker.  Perhaps the most damning implication is that the ECB feel they are unable to make successful the most popular cricket format in the world without tinkering with it, a situation without precedent anywhere else in the world.  The basic product not being in itself good enough is what should be ringing alarm bells.

Perhaps the best illustration of the artificial attempts at differentiation was the reported discussion about whether to scrap the lbw rule for the new competition.  As an example of sheer stupidity, this one can’t be beaten.  That it wasn’t approved isn’t the point, it takes a special kind of mind to even float an idea so idiotic that it ought to disqualify anyone doing so from being allowed remotely near the game of cricket.  That there are issues such as a complete absence of any statistical context for a tournament different to anywhere else on the planet is a minor thing in the great scheme of things.

While the ECB have tied themselves in knots trying to retain two T20 competitions for the men, the same can’t be said for the women.  The Kia Super League is to be scrapped at the end of this season in order to make way for the new competition.  When the plan was for it to be a normal T20 tournament this was perfectly sensible, but the changed format now means that there will be no women’s T20 cricket played at any kind of level in this country.  It is deeply impressive to be so thoughtless as to manage to hamstring the one area of success the ECB have managed in the last few years, but they’ve done it.

Among the various explanations for the changes is that this is aimed at the young, rather than the existing cricket fan.  It’s an easy, trite and rather meaningless aspiration to trot out – everyone wants that – and were it the case that there was a strong reason to believe so, then that would be worthy of consideration, but there is no evidence that these proposals will do any such thing.  The focus on just eight sides, artificially constructed and with no in-built support, automatically removes many from the equation by virtue of distance and tribalism, and while the other T20 competitions are equally artificial, they don’t also have the competition of another tournament that does have all those things.  Even the schedule counters the idea that it’s for the young, with matches being played in the evening primarily.  Shortening the game doesn’t in itself make it less appealing, except to those coming from far away, but nor is there the slightest reason to assume this makes it more attractive than a normal T20 match.  The ECB’s media release detailed that they had spoken to broadcasters and players (though it seems it was only three players rather than a wide consultation) but there was no mention of supporters.  Existing cricket fans would probably react negatively, certainly, but if the aim is for new ones, then it would be hoped that extensive market research had been carried out to find just what would be appealing and what wouldn’t.  Perhaps it has been done, but if so then surely the ECB would have mentioned that.

The claim that this was backed widely within the game was somewhat questioned by the Surrey Chief Executive tweeting that the first they knew about it was an hour before the public announcement, adding to the impression that this was a set of ideas cooked up late on and presented without too much further thought.  It is the absence of anything like coherent planning that is the hallmark of this whole affair; and indicative of an organisation that has descended ever deeper into a murky mess of its own making.  The sidelining of the county championship is one thing, and immensely damaging for the Test game in this country, but to then create a shambles around their own centrepiece focus on T20 cricket as well is highly impressive in its own way.

Some of this competition will be on terrestrial television, and that is to be welcomed, but there is no reason to assume that without these changes it wouldn’t have been, nor that its presence was conditional upon it.  The BBC had already announced their delight at covering the competition, this was not an either/or if it didn’t go ahead in this form.

Winning new converts to a sport is a worthy aim, and one that every sport needs to achieve.  But it is also the case in sport as in business that new customers are much harder to acquire than existing ones.  Male participation levels have collapsed in recent years, while the game becomes ever more invisible to the wider public.  The choice to put some of this on free to air television was a tacit acceptance in the first place that the ECB’s policies have wrecked the foundation of cricket support, yet the lack of faith in their own core product is clear, and the attempt to pacify the counties at the same time has no impact other than to destroy the core game both at first class level and ultimately at Test level.

Playing around at the edges of this competition is neither here nor there when set against the wider context of having supervised the diminution of the game’s importance to the  public at large.  It isn’t that people are angry at this, it’s that they’re laughing about it, that they see it as just the latest desperate wheeze to try to arrest a spiral of decline that the ECB’s own policies have created.  The boast when T20 was created was that it could be the financial saviour of the game of cricket, and you know what, it absolutely could have been.  Instead it became a crutch on which to lean, to the point that an additional layer needed to be created, and then amended in order to be considered relevant.

There is nothing so obvious as a governing body systematically destroying the asset that they began with.  Fans are no longer angry, they are in despair about the game they love.  For if there’s one certainty about this announcement, it’s that if the ECB hadn’t lost its tail, it wouldn’t be telling everyone how wonderful it is to live without one.

 

 

One of the Boys

There are some things that are beyond all abilities. One of those is trying to put up a blog when there’s a power cut that takes out both normal power and also the mobile phone towers meaning a complete absence of online access. This was a piece that was written this morning, but couldn’t be uploaded during a frustrating day, that involved also a total absence of work. As a result, some observations have been changed…

Cricket is an elitest sport. It doesn’t have to be, but it is. Equipment is expensive, certainly, which is why for the young in particular cricket clubs have always strived to provide kit for those making their way in the game. But like tennis, it has the public perception of being a game that is for the elite, the posh, the wealthy – reinforced by only being accessible to view for those prepared to pay a subscription. There’s a disconnect in that, for the clubs themselves are not, in general terms. They are comprised of people from all backgrounds, and all walks of life from the affluent to the impoverished, the public schools to the inner cities – albeit decreasingly so in the latter case. Yet in the administration of the game, and in the opportunities for those coming up through the ranks, this is anything but the case, and an England team comprised mostly of those from fee paying school backgrounds is illustrative of that.

Thus it is that the appointment of Ed Smith as the new national selector is utterly unsurprising at all levels. He fits all the proper metrics – public schoolboy (not a compulsory requirement as much as good evidence of being worthy of consideration), a Thoroughly Good Chap and thus reflective of the kind of Good Chap the other Good Chaps want to see. The apogee of this attitude was the Odious Giles Clarke’s comment about how Alastair Cook “and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be”. Note the “we” involved there, this is a pervasive attitude throughout the echelons of the ECB, not just one man’s view. It’s not even deliberate, it’s merely that they consistently go for the same people who reflect their own backgrounds and their own values, and therefore they represent exactly the kind of people they would want in the roles. Thus it is no surprise that someone like Andrew Strauss would consider him ideal, nor that someone like Andrew Strauss would be considered ideal himself. A virtuous circle of a small group of self-appointed officers and gentlemen – Flashman at the Charge.

It’s not to say that Smith is necessarily a terrible choice. He spent most of his career on the county circuit, and it’s perfectly possible that he’s sufficiently in touch with the game at that level to be effective. But it is another instance of jobs for the boys, as long as they’re the right sort of boys. Smith of course has been thoroughly forgiven by those Inside Cricket for his unfortunate episode whereby he was caught out first by Krishna Murali and then the Cricket Couch for being very free and easy with the contents of an Economist article which he passed off as his own work. His employers at Cricinfo tried desperately hard to ignore it, and then eventually pulled the article, offering up a mealy mouthed defence by Sambit Bal to justify their ignoring of the whole affair. What was striking was the total absence of any of his writing colleagues defending him, or commenting on the various snide tweets and posts about the whole affair from the proletariat (see “fans, amateur players and supporters”). Even this morning with the news, it was as if it never happened. Johan Hari must desperately wonder how he ended up in the wrong sector.

The others supposedly in the frame for the role were Andy Flower, Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey – men of differing backgrounds certainly, but who still fit into that “right sort of chap” mentality that infests the ECB as an organisation and the cricketing establishment generally. The jobs move around among the same group of people; doing the same thing, with the same views, and perhaps above all else it’s notable that all those in the frame have sided with the ECB wherever possible in any kind of discussion about cricket and governance. To take one item of note, when the film Death of a Gentleman came out, Smith was critical of it, Selvey and Pringle completely silent (Flower as an ECB employee couldn’t be expected to say anything, so for that one he’s excluded), refusing to even mention its release. In Selvey’s case given his senior role at the Guardian, it was nothing but a complete abrogation of his responsibilities as a journalist. It was, and remains, disgraceful, both in terms of his pathetic sycophancy to Giles Clarke and the ECB generally, and the Guardian’s weak refusal to consider the subject then and since. That the Daily Telegraph became the bastion of the English cricket resistance remains deeply ironic. It is unsurprising that this collection of men from the same background, who have proved their loyalty to the cricket establishment in the most testing of circumstances, are exactly the people who would be considered for a role with them; nor that English cricket, so forgiving of those who go on rebel tours to South Africa but not those who stare out of windows, would worry little about such minor things as the integrity of journalism or the integrity of the game. Indeed, they have recently gone even further than merely supporting those who buttress their own worldview by specifically attacking those who dare to ask awkward questions, to the point a non-compliant journalist in the form of George Dobell is being threatened with legal action by the ECB, presumably for the crime of reporting on them without due deference.

Whatever the legal merits, the money to do this derives from supporters, clubs, players, counties and all who have an interest in the game. It is not the ECB’s, no matter how much they might like to think it is, and no matter how much they behave as though that is the case. The ECB is not the game – a simple, obvious point that bears stating simply because it’s not how they appear to see it, and strikes at the very heart of so much of the fury with and loathing of them: that they consider themselves an end in itself, not a facilitator, promoter and protector of the game of cricket. The appointment of Ed Smith and those others considered is not objectionable because he is incapable of the job, nor because it’s remotely the most important thing this month, but because it so beautifully encapsulates the mentality of the people to whom the care of the game was entrusted. No accountability, no democracy, no say in what they do or how they do it, and best of all, they wouldn’t begin to understand why so many object to them. Bringing the game into disrepute is a charge beloved of sporting authorities everywhere, but when thinking about those words: there is no better example of a sporting organisation in this country that manages that repeatedly than the ECB.

Separately, Talksport announced that they had won the rights to the overseas tours to Sri Lanka and the West Indies next winter. The response was resoundingly negative, to the shock of no one. Their coverage will doubtless be professional enough, yet the presence of endless betting adverts and advertorials will be enough to put many off. The one thing that must be said here is that for once this is nothing to do with the ECB, any more than the Ashes on BT Sport was. This is within the gift of the host boards, not the visitors, though it will be interesting to see whether the ECB behave as contemptibly with TalkSport (owned by their friends at Sky) as they did with BT when throwing them under a Twitter bus last winter.

On the other side of the world, rumours surfaced that Justin Langer will be appointed Australia’s new coach, swiftly denied as a done deal, but still likely. Langer is a coach in the same style as Flower to a fair degree, a martinet who demands total adherence to his methods, which may or may not be a good thing for them right now, depending on just what kind of standards are demanded. Perhaps it might work out, though it remains notable that they appear to be looking to choose someone before the two month review into Australian on field conduct is completed.

Lastly for now, today was the day when this blog reached the landmark of one million views. To do so in little more than three years is something we are proud of, particularly given our position on the naughty step in the world of English cricket. There are a small group of journalists who have encouraged us (and Wisden have generally), and have met with us – a common liking for beer proving apparent. It has been almost entirely below the radar which perhaps best reflects the prevailing view that our particular attitude is considered unwelcome by the cricketing establishment. They know who they are, and that they wouldn’t welcome being named and shamed thanked illustrates the point. Nevertheless, they are appreciated. Internally, we’ve had our crises, and it is those who contribute, read, argue with and correct us who are the main reason for keeping us going. Highlighting the readers and commenters has always been a trite observance in many instances, yet sometimes it’s heartfelt and honest. When we say we couldn’t do it without you, it is nothing but the truth. Continue to challenge us daily please.

Here’s to two million, and the absolute certainty that we’ll still never be invited to any ECB events (nor would we accept), we’ll still never try to monetise this place, and we’ll still do it because we love and care about the game we grew up with, played, watched and paid for. It doesn’t make us right, but it does make us a voice, even if from the margins.

Two Eyes Staring Cold And Silent

Public Enemy, in their landmark album “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back” were not talking about the IPL, nor even the breakage of total free to air domestic coverage in Australia. In the excellent album track “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” the lyrical poet Chuck D could have been summing up my attitude to the cricket writing establishment, and authority in general when he said:

“They wanted me for their army or whatever, picture me giving a damn, I said never”.

Being a cricket blogger is a funny old thing. I sense you can go a number of ways. You can be the oppositional defiant type, railing against decisions, being the contrarian, sometimes for being contrary’s sake. You can rail against the establishment, any approach by them is treated with utter contempt, any approach to them would be treated the same. It’s been a summary of my last four years, if truth be told. I’ve not wanted to like the ECB or the press, or the TV coverage, and they’ve given me little reason to change my mind. Some have, those that engaged, but not many.

Others have come with us some of the way, then turned inward and in many cases matched up with the cricket writing establishment. It’s not for me, has never been for me, never will be for me. I blogged because I could put my opinion. Opinions make the world go round, but as you may have noted since Alastair Cook’s 244 not out, those opinions have been much more muted. What’s the point? For some, though, that 244 was among the most important innings ever played. Really, yes it was. It stuffed everything back down our throats. We were WRONG. I was WRONG. Take it, sucker.

Then there is another breed of blogger / writer. Those that indulged us when it was trendy to do so, and may still think that we (and when I say we, I really mean me) have a voice that is worth reading, but only things that they are comfortable with. I really don’t care now what people make of what I write. It’s gone well beyond that point (and Chris, to his due credit got me out of a lot of that) where I have to not go off the reservation to prevent offence to the neighbours, or be the man to make the attacks when I really don’t feel like it. At the moment, on matters like Dobell v Graves, I really, really don’t feel like doing it AGAIN. In case you out there in the writing world haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing this for ages, time for others to take the shot and shell.

So, Dmitri, you don’t care, but you cared about the Cook 244? True. They may not be positions that match, but the sheer paucity of logic behind the buffing up of that innings was too much even for me. What the hell was the point? Those that loved him, love him more. Those that had pointed out his world was of peaks and long troughs thought ignoring the past few years was a sign of madness. I then thought the mad one was me.

I’m writing this late on a Saturday night. I’m watching the NBA Play-Offs, I’m keeping up with the Red Sox and their great start to the season, and I’m marvelling at Millwall’s run at the Championship play-offs with a squad that cost £800k to buy. In short, with a job that is now all consuming and recovering from an injury caused by getting out of my loft (I will never have a go at bowlers with side strain, ever), what is there to write about cricket? What is there that fuels my passion to write about the game? I don’t care about the IPL, I just don’t. You can’t make me care. I watch the scores and see close game after close game, and think, this is rigged. That’s how cynical I am. Like Jason Roy wafting at three harmless balls to get to the last ball to win it today. If Jason Roy were an Indian or a Pakistani we’d be calling foul. We’d be wrong, but that’s the world we live in.

The County Championship is upon us, in freezing cold April. I’d dearly love to go on Friday, but I can only slip out for one day this week, and as the 12th anniversary of my father’s passing is on Thursday that takes precedence (it was my late mum’s birthday on Friday, which still is a gut wrenching day at the best of times). I have a week off in May, but it’s when there’s garbage Royal London nonsense on. I might be able to nick off a week in June, but then the World Cup football is on. I may get to the T20. I do have a day at the Test this year, but that’s not really by plan. Cricket is getting relegated to the edges of my life, and not even this blog can raise the enthusiasm. You’ve read that before, and yet something fires me up. But what can do this now.

I’m so proud of the work Sean, Chris and Danny have done. I can only think of a couple of other things that have meant that much to me as this blog and this community outside of friends and family. I think we’ve kept things real, we’ve never been fake, we write from the heart, and we write with our souls. The blog has never been a job, and it never should be. It should be what we all want to do. I know, from experience, that it can cause and add to immense stress. I know it can turn you slightly mad. I know it can be harmful as well as rewarding.

In a week when Chris gets the accolades he so richly deserves, for being that commenter back in the day who I said to myself “I want this bloke to write with me”, I look forward to the summer. I genuinely hope it is filled with plenty to write, plenty to comment upon, plenty to get us happy, plenty to get us mad. I hope to see great cricket, I hope to see new talent develop and given the chance to flourish. I want it to be great. I don’t like not caring. The sport, through school years, through playing bad club cricket, through watching at home, and overseas, for giving me life experiences a working class kid, from working class parents, raised in a tower block in Deptford, could never have dreamed of. A bat, a ball, a decent sized playing area, and four or five people and we could play the game in the street, or on the fields, or in the playground. Love nurtured, and sadly, now taken for granted. Our generation, who had the game in our hearts see the authorities, and increasingly the writing community turn away from us. We are the dying of the light. The rage that doesn’t matter any more. The obsessives utterly taken for granted. “They won’t desert the sport, they love it too much”.

Don’t count on it. I don’t like being told what to write. I don’t like being told what SHOULD annoy me. I write in my increasingly limited spare time, and it’s likely to become even more limited. Being taken for granted is not an option.

In Rebel Without A Pause, Chuck D said:

“Playin’ the role I got soul too
Voice my opinion with volume
Smooth, no what I am
Rough, ’cause I’m the man”

I’m the man is a bit strong – I’m seriously not that self-centered, but you could never call me smooth, and I’ve been a bit rough around the edges. But we voice an opinion with volume while being in touch with the soul of the game. I’ve just burned off all the winter’s cricket on to hard drive I could record. I’ve suddenly become fascinated with the career of Tom Hayward. I’ve been thinking about a really long piece on the career of Alastair Cook, because he’s a massively important cricketer, arguably the most important of the last 10 years for reasons that may not be obvious, or obvious only to me. But to do it justice it’s going to be really long, and it will bury the annoying lie that this is an blog that made it’s way by being Anti-Cook. And I need to sit down, get the Wisdens and videos out, and getting stuck in. Maybe in a month’s time.

There’s not a huge amount of comment on here, and please feel free to comment on any cricket below (treat this as an open thread), but one thing I’ve always written about is how I feel, about cricket, about life, and about the blogging world. I think it is a real trough at the moment. Too cosy. Too many people not doing what they should, seeking affirmation from others for their opinions, seeking to ingratiate rather than inform. If you read this and think I am talking about you, I probably am, but it shouldn’t matter. No-one needs my opinion, however rough around the edges. I just see an attempt to be the voice, rather than concentration on the message. There’s a softness now, including me. Maybe it will change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it won’t be the lack of coverage that kills the interest, it will be apathy. Apathy is the incurable illness of sport. You have to care. The canary is struggling in the goldmine. No decent T20 sales, or close IPL finishes are going to change that yet.

There’s a song by Yotto, a Finnish musician, that I’m playing a lot:

I’ve been wondering,
Would you watch me slip away?
Would you watch me fall in silence?
Would you watch me fall in silence?

Now we finally realize,
To shine ahead of time.
You know it won’t last forever.
You know it won’t last forever.

There’s something to be said about that. Nothing does last forever. Both blogging and first class cricket at ends of the sport’s scale.

Especially when you see that one of the Wisden Cricket Photos of the Year didn’t even get the ball in shot. I did!

P1080219

Have a great weekend, and speak when I have something to say!

Dmitri (Peter)

His Son Is Working For The Daily Mail, It’s A Steady Job…..

It was Public Enemy, in their seminal hit “Fight The Power” that they issued the line “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp”. Given Danny loved my Eminem reference last time, I thought I had to do another rap lyric to get the piece started. I’m a bit dense like that. But there is a point. If just a weak one.

Public Enemy clearly had civil rights and black empowerment in mind in their song, but we have our own more sedate versions (and I’m tearing this link apart too much, I know). When it comes to cricket, the game we play(ed), there are plenty of heroes, unsung ones from club life around the country. Those that give up their time, play into old age, keeping clubs going. They don’t appear on the major stage, nor would they want it. It’s the love of the game.

From my perspective, my club had one in particular who passed away in 2014. A terrific man, a terrific inspiration and a great recipient of the humour that came his way. He’s still missed.

However those of you on Twitter, who follow our feeds may well know where this is leading. Chris is going to be too modest to shout this out, but his piece written a year to the day tomorrow has been included in the Blog Review in this year’s Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. The piece “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” was an amazing one that resonated far and wide, proved, if proof were needed that this blog is not a one trick pony, and that one of the best writers out there gets the due credit his effort and ability deserves. Yes, it’s a bit Smashy and Nicey, but well done sir.

Three years out of four for this blog and it’s predecessor in Wisden. Not bad for bilious inadequates. Whereas the last two were for hammering a message, this one is for the brilliant handling of the subject matter, and catching the mood in a game completely insecure in its standing in the country, nervous at the future. Looking back to the past reminds us of what we probably need to do. Remembering who went before is essential. They are inspirational.

Top stuff, Chris.

New Zealand v England: 2nd Test, Day four

Probably the most notable event of the fourth day was losing the best part of a session to bad light, something distinctly likely to happen again on the final day.  It’s autumn, there is cloud cover, it’s just in the nature of things.  Aside from that, the day played out more or less as expected, with England declaring and New Zealand faced with attempting to bat out the remainder of the game.  They’ll fancy their chances of doing so, particularly if the weather comes to their rescue tomorrow.

England are anything but a confident team given a miserable winter, and indeed a pretty dire couple of years, especially away from home; so perhaps the criticism they’ve received for failing to press on early enough should be seen in that light.  Equally, the last time Root made a bold declaration, the West Indies chased down the target. Whatever Root’s protestations about not being affected by that (and that declaration was no mistake, West Indies and Shai Hope  especially just batted brilliantly.  Well done) he’d be less than human not to have it in the back of his mind.

Still, 1-0 or 2-0 as a series defeat doesn’t especially matter, though that New Zealand survived unscathed during the curtailed evening suggests a slight degree of conservatism wasn’t entirely unreasonable.  Inevitably, those watching call for an earlier declaration than those playing, and although in a totally different series position, at time of writing South Africa are well past 500 and still batting long past when they had enough runs.

One thing to note with England though, and that is that maximising the number of overs they can bowl does require they score enough runs to exceed how many New Zealand would have to face to win the game.  If a target of 300 is set, it doesn’t matter if there are 100 overs remaining or 200 overs remaining, the game isn’t going to go beyond 100 overs or so.

Thus, while England could have pushed on a little earlier and a little faster, it ultimately makes very little difference to how long New Zealand would have had to bat.  England declared midway through the afternoon session.  Even with trying to smash the ball to all parts, it’s unlikely England could have declared a great deal earlier, and nor is it realistically possible to factor in how much bad light there might be.

Root scored another fifty, without going on, though in these circumstances a century was a big ask anyway.  For all his issues with converting fifties into hundreds, it would be more of a concern if he wasn’t scoring runs at all.  Of him and Cook, he is less of a worry.  It’s in his head at the moment, but there’s no reason to assume it always will be.

Malan too scored a pleasant half century while Bairstow provided some late innings biffing to raise the prospective target further.

It can’t be said that Latham and Raval survived without alarms, for Broad and Anderson certainly looked dangerous, but survive they did, and with ten wickets in hand they will fancy their chances of batting out for a series win.

98 overs are scheduled to be bowled, and if light is a similar factor, that may be reduced to around 80.  That is ample time to give England a decent enough shot at winning, and importantly means that they should get a second new ball late on.

Sometimes it seems a little harsh to nitpick when they’ve done ok.

“Taking Full Responsibility” – Day 2 at Hagley, Day 7 of Haggling

It was a good day.

Ice Cube probably had slightly better than a recovery from 30 odd for 5 in mind when talking about a decent 24 hours in Los Angeles, but given what England have been through this winter, having the opposition in strife has to qualify as the best of times. The early inroads after Bairstow had completed his hundred put England really in charge, and with the two men, it seemed, really capable of taking the game away from England by going long (Taylor and Williamson) back in the pavilion, England had visions of a substantial lead, of well over 150 runs. Stuart Broad had made the main inroads, pitching the ball up, getting the edges, and as he said, beating both sides of the bat.

I have to say I’ve not seen a lot, despite suffering from a bit of insomnia. I’m too busy trying to shut my brain off than watch England. The bits I did see were wicketless. I saw Mark Wood bang it in short, and when he didn’t get any wickets with it, carried on banging it in short, at one time hitting BJ Watling. I’d seen de Grandhomme latch on to early short stuff and get his innings going. I feared the worst. I tweeted that I was going to sleep (and I was successful) and wondered how we would let the hosts off the hook. When I woke up I was just grateful to see we had got one of them out.

At this point you have to tip your hat to BJ Watling. He’s a bloody good cricketer. In amongst all the hoopla of 2015, the Ashes, the Cook hundred, the Stokes performance at Lord’s, the wicket-keeper batsman’s feisty, energetic second innings century at Headingley set the visitors up for a famous victory. He has participated in two mammoth sixth wicket stands in his time as well. He is under-rated, overlooked and bleedin’ pesky. When the bigwigs of world cricket talk about great keeper-batsmen, he’s never mentioned. He’s a little diamond, and well worth a place at number 6. He’s 77 not out. He averages more with the bat than Ben Stokes, He’s pulled New Zealand away from out of sight to in with a sniff. These are big runs.

Stuart Broad was the pick of the bowlers with his four wickets, and that’s to be celebrated. It’s clear the bowler himself is pleased with the results of going back to basics and putting in a ton of effort to right what he saw were his technical issues. As the point is raised often, there is no-one kicking the door down to take his or Jimmy’s place. Broad is a positive thinker, given his interview answers, and if this builds his confidence, then great. I saw none of the wickets. I’ve not seen the highlights yet. I suppose I need to take his, and the pundits’, words for it.

Now, and you can turn off if the Australian business is too much, what I was awake for was the David Warner interview. You may, or may not, know that in the past week the Being Outside Cricket feed on Twitter has, as the saying goes, been “going off”. We get a ton of looks, responses, and a boost in new followers. It started with a crap joke, but now we get lots of interesting comments. Chris was all over it last night, at the same time as I was making less of an impression on my own – that’s showbiz! What we were both on the same page with was how this is getting silly. That there seems little way that any of this is confined just to the three bad apples who have sniffled their way through press conferences.

wp-1522517353506.jpg

Do you know who that is, with Cricket Australia merchandise on, holding the door open? Unless I’m very much mistaken that is our friend, and everyone else’s, Malcolm Conn. A supposed hardened journalist, who praised all those scribes in attendance at Smiffy’s Sniffles, acting as doorman and enforcer when the press got a little out of line, trying to commit the heinous crime of following up a question that David Warner thought could be answered by “I take full responsibility”. Conn, as you may know, is a personal favourite of mine. He accuses everyone outside of Australia of all sorts, while never seeing a single sin in his own nation. The one where he accused us of pitch doctoring in a test where three of the four innings were over 300, and his team saw a very dry pitch and decided not to pick Nathan Hauritz (and from a home team in 1999 that produced THAT Sydney wicket, picked three spinners, one of who opened the bowling, and told us that we should produce better spinners). The one who went mad over urinating on the wicket in the dark. The whole problem those outside Australia see with their cricket, and their attitude to it is their sanctimony. They are holier than thou. They talk down to the rest while not mending the roof at home. They put this man, Malcolm Conn, the poster child for the sort of attitude we despise in charge of the press arrangements? Are they ever going to learn?

Warner said nothing of note. He omitted something of note, as Alison Mitchell just pointed out on the Debate. He never once said it was just those three. It was just culpability for his own mistakes. At one point I wondered if Cricket Australia was holding his kids hostage until afterwards. Managing Warner is going to be Australia’s biggest test, but from the perspective of containment, last night worked. Any ranting and raging from now on and it’ll be “well he had the chance to say it earlier so why believe him now”. LBJ’s famous urination linked to camping quote comes to mind!

In other news, Australia are getting buried in Johannesburg. South Africa making just short of 500, with Bavuma stranded on 95, and Australia on 110 for 6. Those wags pointing out there was not much reverse swing going on today will be forced to speak with Malcolm Conn and the Integrity Unit.

Alex Hales is replacing David Warner at Sunrisers Hyderabad. That’s good news for his bank account and the white ball practice he will get. I’m not entirely sure why he wasn’t picked up in the initial bidding, but he will be relieved to get a chance. As with many teams, though, there’s no certainty he’ll be regular. Here’s their squad.

The Australian women won the T20 triangular series in India, beating England handily. Malcolm was really mad on that. He’s tweeted more about women’s cricket this week than addressing the incident on Saturday. Not that I’m beating him with a stick.

Zimbabwe have sacked their captain after the World Cup Qualifying campaign came up short. It’s been hard to feel sympathy for Zimbabwe in the past, given their hiding under test status, but now it’s the opposite. Would the World Cup really suffer from the presence of any of the Super Six contenders? Would Sikander Raza not shine on the top stage? I don’t know.

Then there is the ECB and their potential legal action against George Dobell and ESPN Cricinfo, as reported by Charlie Sale in the Mail. Obviously we have to be careful, but if this is Colin Graves taking a comment at him and taking umbrage, I have to say that the optics are “mediocre” to say the least.

No promises, but I might try to live blog some of this evening. Given I’ve slept most of the afternoon, I think I might be awake tonight! A key day, with New Zealand aiming to get up to England’s total. The thought is that the third day will be the best for batting, and the new ball is 31 deliveries away. BJ Watling is the key, and yet we know, from Mark Wood, that once in, there are runs in the hills. Then it will be the turn of the faltering England batting line-up to set up a total. It is time for the big men to stand up. Jonny Bairstow’s century has pulled us out of the mire. We know that we can put ourselves in it very easily.

Comments below, of course. My thanks to all of you participating on Twitter and below the line in the past few weeks. You may have noticed the counter is now over 990k. We’re closing in folks!

UPDATE – LIVE BLOGGING

11:30 – The final ball of last night’s unfinished over is seen off, and it’s Stokes opening from the other end. Southee takes two off the second ball. Eyes on the BBC feed from Joshua v Parker. As I say that Stokes serves up a long hop, Southee clatters it for 6. Nice of England to play him in. 200 for 6.

11:35 – 11th seed Loyola Chicago have closed the gap on Michigan in the Final Four. Meanwhile Mark Wood, he of the 42 bowling average is on, and BJ scampers a single off the second ball of the over. They say Wood offers something different and becomes a much better bowler when he doesn’t play. Joshua v Parker is into the last round. Southee crunches a four straight back at Wood to move on to 25. He pulls the next ball for 4, and it’s 209 for 6.

11:38 – Stokes back on to play the batsmen in some more. Red Sox up 1-0 in the top of the third innings. Joshua v Parker has gone to points, and Ben Stokes is bowling up around 75-80 mph, and bowls a maiden. Remains 209 for 6.

11:42 – Jack Leach is on, and bowling to Tim Southee. Say your prayers. Joshua won, by the way. Sounded dull. Southee smashes the second ball for 4, straight back, and not a million miles from Leach (who might have touched it). Leach floats the next one up, which is brave, it gets clattered but straight to mid on. Floats the next one which Southee belts straight to mid on and takes a single. Shouldn’t have been one there. Last ball to Watling is also a single. 215 for 6.

11:46 – Stokes ambles in, and doing a tight job at the moment, that clatter from Southee aside. Soon as I say that Watling gets a four through third man. That’s the only runs from the over, and it is 219 for 6. The new ball is due.

11:50 – The working assumption is that the new ball is going to end the innings. The first ball from Anderson swings away from Southee’s bat. The problem with the assumption is England haven’t been adept at blowing away tails. Southee wafts at another outswinger second up. Southee pokes a single into the offside off the fourth ball. Alan Butcher tells us to “move on” on Twitter, which is a red rag to this particular bull! Watling gets a single off the 5th, through the gully. Southee straight drives the last ball, gets four, and England heads start to drop. 225 for 6.

11:54 – Broad on. Hello Santiago! Broad bowling at 134 kph, which is Stokes’ speed. 226 for 6. Did I miss a run when I checked in on the Red Sox (still 1-0 but Porcello has put two on in the third). Yes, looks like Watling got a single.

11:58 – CASTLED. Beautiful outswinger does for Anderson, pitching it on middle and leg and hitting off with a beautiful shape. Off pole out of the ground. 226 for 7.

BJ Watling  Bowled Anderson 85

wp-1522537266288.jpg

00:01 – Ish Sodhi gets off the mark first ball. Southee then squirts one down to third man for four and moves on to 43. Cut in half with the fifth ball, Southee blocks the last and it is 231 for 7.

00:04 – Porcello got out of the third innings with no runs, so Red Sox still 1-0 up. Some of you may know that I’m a bit of a Red Sox fan. Well, a lot of one. But the cricket is on so I am at your service. No runs off the first three balls. Sodhi gets in a tangle with the fourth ball, but no harm done. Alan Butcher utters the magic words..

Move on. Talking of move on, Stuart Broad bowls a beauty, and Sodhi nicks it to Bairstow and we have our 8th wicket. Broad gets his 5th in this wicket maiden. 231 for 8

Sodhi  Caught Bairstow Bowled Broad  1

00:09 – Anderson back to bowl, to Tim Southee. Second ball he smashes a ball in the air, aimed at square leg, ended up at long stop. 4 more. Leg bye off ball number 3 puts Wagner on strike. Actually given as a run, so Southee goes to 48. Nice inswinger first up to Wagner, but he plays it well. Last ball he somehow plays and misses. 236 for 8. And here comes the vaguely dodgy Paddy Power advert.

00:12 – Southee moves on to 49 with a single from the first ball of Broad’s over. Wagner gets sconed on the fourth ball of Broad’s over just as the commentators were saying he was about to cop some short stuff. While Wagner takes a break, I see number 11 fairytale NCAA team Loyola are 7 points up at the interval having started really slowly. I love the NCAA March Madness. Wagner is back up and we should be rolling soon. Next one is short into the ribs, and Wagner fends it just part boot hill for a single. Southee clips the last ball to deep square for a single and his fourth test fifty in 45 balls.

00:21 – LBW appeal second ball, but England don’t review. Red Sox 2-0 up now. Conceded runs in just one innings so far. Anderson bowls a straight one, Southee goes for the fences and loses his middle stump.

Southee   Bowled Anderson 50

20180401_002357-01.jpeg

Trent Boult gets off the mark with a couple of runs, which I missed for a reason. Boult plays a ludicrous straight shot for another couple, clearing his left leg to clump it down the ground. End of the over and it is 243 for 9.

00:28 – Wagner gets a single off the first ball of Broad’s over. Lead down to 63. Not insignificant, but still not as good as England might have hoped. Another WTFWT shot from Boult… but no run. Can’t describe it on a live blog. Nor that one. Dancefloor moves. Needs a yorker. Nope, short, and Boult misses his attempted swat. Boult drives the last ball for two, its 246 for 9 and I’ll be back….

00:37 – Just got back from a natural break to see Wagner clatter a six over fine leg off Anderson. Lead being downgraded from good to useful. Not long before slight, and then negligible. Broad fumbles the ball when a run out looked on. 13 from 5 balls off this over. Now it’s 259 for 9.

00:40 – Broad carries on. So does Wagner, who cuts the ball for 4. Went a bit finer than I thought. Another two as Wagner smashes one into the air over point. You have to laugh. Or not. 265 for 9. No more runs from the over. Another betting advert.

00:46 – Wood on for Anderson who doesn’t look like he’ll get a five for now. Wood bowls a full one first up and Boult carves it over extra cover for 3. Not a million miles from the fielders. New Zealand not far away from England. Mood music not good. Talking of not good, Mark Wood has an appeal turned down against Wagner.

Pour encourager les autres. Wagner clips one through leg side for one, then Boult pulls his left leg away and wipes one through the covers for another 4. This is royally cocking things up. All those calling for the raw pace of Wood, please stand up. I referenced Ice Cube above and now I’m doing Eminem. 273 for 9.

00:52 – Let the carnival continue. Broad around the wicket to Wagner. A single off the third ball of the over to Wagner down to fine leg brings Boult on. Someone stick a sock in that effing trumpet.  Boult lofts Broad down the ground, for another couple. This is silly. Last ball he bowls straight and it is off the middle of Boult’s bat for no run. 276 for 9.

00:58 – Wood back, and Wagner cuffs his second ball down to long leg for another single. We are having a review for caught behind. Bairstow is the one driving this. It doesn’t look to be anything, to be honest, and nothing is registering on snicko. He was so far down legside he might have been outside the sound zone! Not out. I’m now pre-occupied with something else. It’s 278 for 9. All over, and so am I. Night all. Will Cook last to lunch?

278 all out.

 

NZ v England: 2nd Test, Day One

A couple of indications of where England are:

New Zealand chose to put them in on a perfectly good batting surface.

290-8 represents a pleasant surprise.

Of course, it’s about more than that – England wouldn’t have got close to such a score without a breezy batting contribution from Mark Wood, and New Zealand thoroughly justified their decision to bowl by reducing England to 94-5 before the recovery.  It’s one thing to have a weak team – and this is a weak team – but it’s another to give no indication of there being any kind of plan or strategy around making it better.  

Countries that know where they’re going and what they’re trying to achieve bring young players in to blend with the experienced cricketers, the path to the future being laid out.  England don’t even have the excuse of being a team in transition to a newer, brighter future – it’s merely one repeating the same things and hoping for a different outcome.

Thus it is that Mark Stoneman does ok, without threatening to look like a fully fledged Test cricketer, Dawid Malan continues to perform like a competent enough player (he does, at least, show bottle, which is why he’s the best of the new batsmen) but no more, and James Vince looks pretty and then gets out when he’s scored about 20.  This is exactly what should be expected of them, and exactly what they deliver.  It’s not their fault, it’s what they are.

And then we have Alastair Cook, a player who remains immune to criticism on the back of two huge scores in favourable conditions in recent times, and nothing else.  His double century in Melbourne looked exceptionally good, on a slow, low surface, but more than that, his technique appeared in good order.  It suggested that he’d sorted his technical demons to a fair extent, yet here again he looked all over the place, feet stuck in concrete, head miles across to the offside and falling over – which is why the ungainly shot for the ball that bowled him made it look a better delivery than it was.  It’s not that he needs to be dumped, for there’s not the remotest indication that any replacement would be better, it’s that there’s every sense that this is a player coming to the end.

Root looked good, as he always does, before making a basic error, as he so often does.  Sometimes it’s just one of those things that happens in cricket, but it may be that the pressure put on him by a misfiring team is causing those errors.  Or it may be him.  But it’s often the case when a team struggles that the best batsman makes silly mistakes, because concentrating on his own game isn’t sufficient.

Ben Stokes’ return hasn’t been a success.  Who knows, maybe his mind is on other things.

And then we have Jonny Bairstow – one of very few bright spots in this side.  He’s been shunted up and down the order, and been left stranded time and again.  Here he was back at number seven, and again in danger of being left high and dry.  But here’s the point: number seven is an all rounder spot and always has been.  Moving him up because of those behind him reflected a total lack of confidence in anyone staying with him, and his positional change was a symptom, not a cause.  If the tail folds, that is the problem, and would be an issue for anyone left with them.  Broad at 8 these days looks terrifying for all the wrong reasons, a far cry from the days when he looked as good as many a batsman when he came in.

Presumably Mark Wood was selected for his bowling (it’s hard to tell with the England batting order these days) but he was the man to rescue the situation, specifically because instead of just holding up an end and leaving all the work to Bairstow, he went after the bowling, a display of aggression hugely welcome in a side that all too often appears to be trying to passively stave off defeat and stay in the game as long as possible.

If there was a welcome selection, it was that of Jack Leach, an actual, proper spin bowler.  Questions of how good a bloke he is don’t seem to have been the major factor in his inclusion.  Small victories.

New Zealand bowled well, with Boult and particularly Southee deserving their wickets.  It’s hard to believe that Southee is still only 29, he seems to have been around forever.  Yet the New Zealand attack looks to be in their prime, while England’s is long in the tooth. Anderson and Broad have been outstanding bowlers, but with an injury prone Mark Wood, a three man seam attack looks to be a big risk.  They will need a big day tomorrow, or England are going to be up against it yet again, but then the bowlers always seem to need a big day, and always seem to be castigated for failing to rescue the batsmen from their own disaster.  Speaking of which, it remains as notable as always that England’s response to batting calamity is to change the bowlers.

When 290-8 invites a sigh of relief, it says everything about where this team is.  When it’s that sigh rather than an explosion of rage at another struggle, it says more about where the fans are.  And when the ECB aren’t in crisis mode, it says it all about where the English game is.

Day two can make a fool out of any review of the first one, but who would want to bet on it?

And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

Above and Below that Radar

If England showed exquisite timing in being bowled out for 58 the week the Australian ball tampering episode blew up, the ECB must be exceedingly grateful for their own internal issues to pop up now as well.  For while the eyes of the world were focused on Johannesburg and Sydney, there was a second resignation from the ECB Board.  If there was one thing over which The Odious Giles Clarke was entirely correct about in Death of a Gentleman, it was that no one cares about administration – at least not until it reaches FIFA levels of nefariousness.  Thus, there will likely be little attention placed on the carelessness of losing not just one director, but two, in a matter of weeks.

This latest resignation has been painted by the ECB as being of no major consequence, given the reorganisation of the board in May, but it is striking that Richard Thompson of Surrey, someone thought a potential chairman in the future, felt the need to make such a strident point by talking about a lack of leadership and more damningly a lack of transparency in ECB policy.

“I’m saddened to have to stand down while still being a board member. I have been uncomfortable with recent decisions taken without full consultation and as such did not feel able to remain on the board,”

The catalyst appears to have been the payment of £2.5million to Glamorgan as compensation for no longer hosting Test cricket, and how that decision was taken, plus the issue of the ECB’s constitution supposedly being required to ensure all counties are treated equally, but it should also be noted that his county were one of those most vocal in initially opposing the forthcoming T20 franchise tournament.  That particular funding decision was a major reason behind the resignation of Somerset’s Andy Nash, given the awarding of the franchise for the region to Glamorgan on top of the payment for not bidding to host Tests.

The reconstitution of the board in May will remove the counties from direct oversight, something that isn’t in itself a bad thing given the way they have wagged the England dog so successfully for 150 years, but goes far beyond the requirements Sport England placed on them in return for maintaining that affluent relationship.

“I met with the board’s senior independent director and thereafter wrote to him giving detailing reasoning for my resignation. Further, I gave him my permission to share my letter with the full board.

“With two non-executive directors having now taken the ultimate sanction available to them to register their dissatisfaction, I agree with those who say the most appropriate course of action is for an independent external investigation to be set up to consider the matters raised.

“It is in the best interests of the game and the national governing body that the substantial matters raised by the non-executive directors and several counties are considered properly, openly and transparently.

“This is the best way for the game to be able to draw a line under the issues raised, to learn the lessons, unify and move on.”

Where this leaves Colin Graves is an open question; the counties are not exactly in open revolt, but resignations hardly suggests a great deal of confidence in him either.  On the plus side for them all, the board have awarded themselves a salary in future, with the chairman receiving up to £150,000 a year – Graves himself has nobly declined to take it – and for those angling for his job in the future, the appeal in voting it through is rather obvious.  There is no news as yet as to whether election to the board is open to all involved in cricket, but it’s probably just an oversight at this stage.

While the rumblings within the ECB may not be as remotely sexy as those on the other side of the world, it does reinforce the perception of an organisation in a fair degree of chaos, and one that has managed the fairly exceptional achievement of managing to annoy virtually everyone except themselves.

*Update: Barely 2 days after rejecting a review, the ECB have now agreed to one. Arse, meet elbow*

As far as events down under go, so much has been written about it that repeating the same story time and again is beginning to get boring, and not remotely as funny as the whole topic has been up to now.  The 12 month bans for Warner and Smith and 9 for Bancroft are objectively extremely harsh for the crime committed, but entirely expected given the response from the public, and perhaps more notably, the damage to the value of the broadcasting and sponsorship contracts held by Cricket Australia.  It is that damage that is by far the bigger issue in terms of the outrage.

It may not yet be the end of it.  Warner is believed to be incandescent with the verdict, and intending to appeal, and given the punishment, and the likely permanent exclusion from the Australian team, he has little to lose either by that appeal, or indeed by publicly challenging the conclusions in the future.  Inasmuch as this has echoes of the ECB and Pietersen, it is that once a player is hung out to dry, their inclination to remain silent disappears.  Given the exculpation of Darren Lehmann, this could get very interesting, for the narrative of Warner in particular being responsible  and Lehmann knowing nothing about it is something that has invited considerable scepticism.  Equally, the claim that this is the only time it’s happened is rather at odds with the apparently detailed descriptions of how Warner demonstrated the tampering to Bancroft.

Given the storm of outrage when the story first broke, Cricket Australia’s perfect outcome would have been that only the three players at the centre of it were responsible in any way, and everyone else was completely innocent and oblivious.  Imagine everyone’s surprise when the verdict showed that to be the case.  Australia’s bowlers must be remarkably uninterested in the condition of the ball to allow the batsmen to look after it and take no interest in what they’re doing, and the coaching staff amazingly relaxed about what the team are up to at all times.

As a final observation, and indicative of the Catch 22 scenario now in position is the highly amusing punishment dished out as the voluntary community service that’s so voluntary that the three players are compelled to do it.

Once in a while sporting governing bodies surprise.  This is not one of those times, either with Cricket Australia or the ECB.  Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.