World Cup Matches 8 and 9 – India v South Africa & Bangladesh v New Zealand

So enter the giants. Bring on the gladiators. Bow down to the titans. India belatedly join the “party that is gripping a nation”, and in front of them is a team that if it loses, might as well ensure they are on that flight to Johannesburg prior to July 14. The stakes are high.

You’ll be thankful that this isn’t a 1000 word epic. There are two games scheduled for 5th of June, and India are on first in Southampton. Highly favoured, they won’t be overly concerned that they have had to wait, or really what they’ve seen from their opponents. Their’s will be a more intense campaign, but not that much. A tournament where there is still four weeks of the qualifying competition to run allows such indulgences like waiting a week to start!

The second game puts together two unbeaten teams up against each other. Bangladesh return to the scene of their triumph on Sunday with a hope to repeat the formula. New Zealand blew Sri Lanka away on a lovely green surface in Cardiff and look a formidable unit. While you have to favour the Black Caps, Bangladesh aren’t to be taken for granted. One of my favourite cricketers, Mushfiqur Rahim, is always a key man for the Tigers, and his lovely knock on Sunday got a little overshadowed by Shakib, but was utterly valuable (going to a country like Bangladesh makes me want them to do well. I loved my time there). By all reports their fans were brilliant on Sunday and brought a great sense of occasion to the match. Good on them.

The match between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan was the first one that was weather affected, and yet there was still a pretty gripping contest (due to disruption in London, I had to work from home, but I’m not going to watch cricket, sadly, if I have to work – honestly). Sri Lanka got off to a great start, collapsed in a heap, eked out something competitive, and then Afghanistan got off to a half decent start, collapsed in a heap, rebuilt a little, but then fell short. The bowling attack may sneak them a game during the tournament, but the batting looked a little short for Afghanistan today. They are by no means outclassed. I am watching the highlights and what a really good comms team they had on today. Doull, Smith, Mitchell, Sanga and even Pommie was OK today too. Nothing pants on fire enthusiasm, no screaming and hollering, just adult commentators treating their audience as adults. It will never catch on.

As we have seven games under our belt we have two hundreds. One suspects India might add to that total today. Let’s see if they are for real. South Africa are in turmoil, and it will be a huge upset if they win. It is especially sad, though sadly not unexpected, to see Dale Steyn won’t be playing a part. I saw him in his first series back in 2004/5, and he had an action and pace to die for. He’s been an amazing player, but time stands still for no-one, not even a warrior like Dale Steyn. It’s terribly disappointing.

Comments below.

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World Cup Match 7: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

Today sees the game which might, just might, sort out who finishes 10th in the competition. Yes, it’s a bit early to say that, but given their performances on Saturday, worthy though Afghanistan’s was, there is a sense that neither of these two teams will be in the shake up when the group phase ends in about a month or two’s time. The game is being played at Cardiff, and the rain radar looks less than great, so it may be that this is all for nought in anyway. Let’s hope not. Afghanistan look a particularly intriguing team, and in many ways are the poster child for all those, very vociferous, advocates of a larger World Cup (in terms of participants, not games).

Comments, as always, below.

As for yesterday’s events in Nottingham, it was always going to be interesting to see how England fans and media (and soon to see also how the players) would react to the first reverse. It was always going to happen, but maybe it was envisaged that it wouldn’t be this early in the competition, and that the early loss, if there was to be one, would be against South Africa (who may also be scrapping for 10th place if their form is maintained!). The immediate response, judging by Sky and some of Twitter, is that this was a freakishly bad fielding performance, that England will need to improve, but we really are very good at this format and so no worries fellow travelers.

As Lee Corsey on College Game Day (obscure US reference) would say “Not so fast”. Now I know a fellow writer is more sanguine about the loss, but I didn’t get to this point in my blogging life without knowingly under-reacting, and in truth I genuinely don’t think I am. I think the ability of this England team is under question because it has not won the massive game. That’s because they have, really, only had one, which was a semi-final against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. I might let you have Australia in the opening game of that tournament, if Australia were ever that bothered about the Champions Trophy, which they hadn’t been much previously. I thought, last night, about England football team’s qualifying performance in the lead up the 2010 World Cup, and how we won 4-1 and 5-1 against Croatia, and dropped points in a game that really didn’t matter because we’s already qualified. We then made a horlicks of the main tournament.

It’s always a bit arrogant to say England try their hardest in routine ODIs, and other teams don’t really care that much, but maybe there is a small case to say this is true here. After all, the pressure was put on in 2015 when Andrew Strauss said we would focus more on white ball cricket, and that has certainly been the case – other nations don’t make it so blindingly obvious. The media have, by and large, got on board with this, and perhaps explaining away or excusing some issues with the test team as if there is a trade off for the white ball team’s success. And it has been successful. England have been an entertaining batting side to watch, while the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, if ever the team plays to a less than full audience on these shores, some of the key media figures exhort the host to lose fixtures because they won’t pay exorbitant prices to watch “the greatest England ODI team ever” (a title I will not anoint them to until they match what the 1992 team did).

There’s always a problem commenting on a game I haven’t watched. But I knew from the outset of the run chase that chasing 349 to win in a World Cup isn’t like chasing it down in the 3rd ODI of a tedious five match series where each squad is chopping and changing its players. The jeopardy of defeat is much, much higher. If you are thinking you can lose just three games to be certain to qualify, England will need to beat two out of India, Australia, New Zealand, and I am going to throw our kryptonite, West Indies, into that mix. And that’s taking for granted Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which may be foolish. This isn’t a bump in the road, but a clear warning sign. England played tightly against South Africa, but had enough to beat them. They got lured into a pace attack and bouncer strategy by Pakistan’s atrocious first game. By the time the messages appeared to get through, Pakistan were off to a decent start, and 348 was possibly reining them in a bit. There’s a lot of positives taken from Root and Buttler making hundreds, but the supporting cast did not step up and that’s a concern. Given the nature of pitches and boundaries, this won’t be the last time we could be chasing 350. It’s not easy, and perhaps the sin of this team is that they’ve made it look like it during the cricket equivalent of the “qualifying campaign”.

Pakistan are a walking cliche for unpredictability, and so losing 11 in a row and then beating the “World Champion Elect” seems like a Ruiz felling Joshua. But it really shouldn’t be. They have talented batting, and the bowling can never be taken for granted. Sometimes they lose their minds, sometimes they put it together. It makes them eminently watchable, and a dangerous foe. For all the beatings England have administered to them in bilateral series, they’ve now played them, as New White Ball England, twice in major competitions and lost. It’s when the game is played that really matters.

So yes, I am concerned for England. Contrary to the views of people who hate this format, this loss does matter. With ten teams, a 5-4 win loss record could be recorded by the 5th and 6th place teams if one or two of the countries fail to raise themselves if they know elimination is certain. England have Bangladesh up next, on Saturday at Cardiff, and then face the West Indies the following Friday in Southampton. We will have a feel for how the qualification is going by then, and if England sit at 2-2 in the win-loss column (and let’s definitely not take Bangladesh for granted) then the alarm bells will be ringing.

One last note. I have to say it. While I’ve made most of my peace with England’s cricket team (as if they give a stuff), the whole long-term problem with what happened in 2014, and what Harrison is doing now, is that these defeats don’t sting like they used to. An England football defeat stings much more, especially under this Southgate team. This doesn’t. They seem decent players, hell, I like quite a few of them. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. We had a word with a media guy a few months ago who thought that if England got on a roll, the country would go mad for this tournament. I said that how could they? They won’t be able to watch it if they don’t have Sky. And some cricket fans like me are so cheesed off with the suits who pick the boots, that we’ll see any victory marred by the ECB patting themselves on the back for coming to the conclusion that the 2015 World Cup was a bit embarrassing. Because we know that this would give Citizen Kane Harrison even more fuel for his ego-driven campaign to destroy English domestic cricket as it exists now. (Oh yes, we saw the Standard article, where Harrison is bathing in overwhelming support none of us have noticed). So while Buttler makes hundreds, Joe Root plays the anchor as the others hit around him (a run a ball hundred is an anchor role these days), and the entertainment is there, the suits have ruined it.

Actually, while I am here, I have one last note. Notice how Australia have seamlessly assimilated Smith and Warner back into the fold, with the media it appears massively behind them, despite them “shaming the nation” and in the case of Warner, reports that he’d been “ostracised” and “made to dine alone by the team” and being the outcast blamed for the sandpaper incident. Notice how prime outlets like ABC are confident enough to have articles using these two to have a pop at England fans for understandable wind-ups (and calling England fans boorish). Notice how the “abuse” is seen as a positive for Warner, that it will make him play better. Notice that picture of Warner taking selfies with Aussie fans? I have. Perhaps our suits, perhaps our hierarchy should stop babbling on about culture and trust, and pick our best players on every occasions. It seems other nations just try harder and don’t hang themselves on managerial and coaching gods, but on players. Who play. And yes, I am talking about Pietersen. Of course I am.

OK, enough from me. Comments below on today’s action…..

England vs Pakistan: World Cup Match 6

At the fifth time of asking, we finally got a good game in the shape of Bangladesh versus South Africa.  It’s been an interesting response to it from some quarters, Bangladesh’s victory treated as a major shock, which it surely isn’t.  A small surprise perhaps, and maybe a hangover from the view of Bangladesh from years past.  They’re a reasonable enough side, and more recent quarter finalists than England for a start.  But it was an entertaining, enjoyable game throughout, and one that the tournament needed.  South Africa were rather poor, and are now in a bit of trouble.

England and Pakistan start their second round of matches with India still yet to play, having apparently negotiated a three week gap between the end of the IPL and the start of their World Cup campaign.  It’s a remarkable thing that the World Cup can be manipulated according to the needs of another tournament and constituent country, and while in itself it doesn’t overly matter, it’s indicative of the weight of power that can be brought to bear.  Equally, India have five matches at the weekend to England’s two, which makes no sense whatever in terms of promoting the competition in the host country, but perfect sense financially and in terms of the TV audience.  Strictly speaking, in purely ticket selling terms, it is logical (if counter-intuitive) to have the less attractive games at the weekend, given England matches will likely sell out whenever they’re being played, and others might not.  But it isn’t how it would be done if thinking from a promotional or public relations perspective, to generate momentum within a tournament location.  As ever, there’s the choice between imagining this things happen by accident, or being deliberately planned.  Given how India and Pakistan amazingly always manage to draw each other even if there are groups, there can’t be many who think it’s the former.

As for today’s game, England’s domination over Pakistan in the warm up series (“It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup” – Tom Harrison) means that sod’s law suggests this is the one that England will stuff up, naturally.  But Pakistan opening game was not remotely reminiscent of the weaker, but competitive side that managed to score heavy runs against England only to have to concede to a stronger batting line up, it was one that was timid and fell apart in the face of hostile West Indies bowling (1983 says hello).  Assuming England play Jofra Archer, and maybe even Mark Wood having seen the West Indies game, it can surely be imagined that they’ll be facing more of the same today.

For England, it’s all pretty serene.  A second win today, and they’re well on their way to the semi-finals.

Comments below!

Day 3 – New Zealand v Sri Lanka & Afghanistan v Australia

It’s quite strange when you think about it. By the end of today eight teams would have commenced their World Cup campaign. Tomorrow the ninth does. India do not start until Wednesday. Why is that?

I have to say that there is a sneaking suspicion that Occam’s razor applies here. Because I am beginning to get a little fed up that any one-sided fixture in this competition is greeted with the usual tweets by those who wish to see more countries at this competition. Point the ire at sport, across the world’s, relationship with television. For the sake of TV entertainment, and therefore the vast revenues, games are rescheduled, tournaments are “seeded”, certain teams are kept apart, certain teams have to play each other, and it is you, the public’s, fault for wanting more sport, more live sport, when it is more commercially convenient for you to watch it. India have the most clout, there’s no surprise in that, no controversy, and for that reason a repeat of 2007 must never happen again. It simply can’t. So I suppose TV is behind India not starting until Wednesday. So those bemoaning the format, bemoaning the one-sided game that is always possible, those bemoaning the contraction of the game, point the ire at the authorities who need India TV money to make money. They want more India matches. It’s commercial reality. Sport be damned.

So to today, and the second of the qualifiers, because it is easy to forget that West Indies had to, makes their first appearance with a tough opener against Australia. While the Aussies have been wearing hair shirts for the last year, it has been easy to take their poor form, until recently, as an indicator that they may not be the force they were. The abrasive Warner, and the rough Steve Smith join the team, and they look stronger. The bowling looks dangerous, the warm-up win has given them a bit of swagger, and there’s a not so quiet confidence coming from the Australians. I have called them the cockroaches quite a few time – you might think you’ve killed them off, that the pest has been removed, but they always bloody come back (there’s a life experience from my early years in a tower block). It’s what makes them such great pantomime villains in our rivalry. Pundits sit back, laugh at their misfortune, and even, as in 2013, wondered why he had to just get out of second gear to win. Then the little rascals kick our arses. Then come back and kick it some more. They’ll be there in the shake-up. Trust me.

This game is taking place in Bristol. The weather is set fair in England (and Wales) for today, so we could have some runs, especially if Australia bat first. I do wonder if this is as one-sided as I fear it might be, whether the same tweeters moaning about yesterday’s game will be so vociferous.

(Look, I like this World Cup format. Sorry to disappoint anyone. I would, as in any sporting endeavour, like to see all countries have to qualify for the tournament (maybe not the holders and hosts) but I’m living in a dreamworld if I believe anyone would allow the Big 3 to be up for elimination)

The first game today, from Cardiff, is New Zealand v Sri Lanka. I’m hoping for a good day for my work colleague, Simon, who is travelling down there this morning. New Zealand got a bit of a pasting in a warm up game, at the hands of the West Indies, and that might have knocked confidence, but this is a dangerous team, capable of beating anyone and should not be underestimated. Sri Lanka have been largely discounted as contenders, and the team lacks star quality, but until we see them play, there’s always the element of mystery.

I didn’t get to see yesterday’s nonsense from Trent Bridge. I would point out that on the Cricket Debate on Thursday night, when they weren’t talking about greatest ever catches (Bob Willis was having none of that nonsense), Charles Colvile actually mentioned that 500 was possible. Well that lasted well (honestly, we worry that these guys know more than you and I?) as Pakistan subsided to 105, and the West Indies knocked them off in five minutes. I think the West Indies are a sneaky decent team and they can often be kryptonite to England, while Pakistan are a walking cliche (and twitter loves a cliche).

So the World Cup is now up and running, and it’s a game a day for the next month. We’ll endeavour to keep up, and hope you stick with us for the entire competition. The event has certainly stirred up emotions behind the scenes, the media is in overdrive, everyone has an opinion, and people are talking about the sport, even if it is still a limited number. But it feels like there’s an event going on, and that has to be good.

Any comments on today, feel free to let them go. Also we are on Twitter – @OutsideCricket – where we promise not to be as up our own rear ends as others! Well, we don’t think we are.

Have a good day. With the Champions League Final and the Derby, there’s a lot on. (Not quite 14th July – World Cup Final, Wimbledon Mens Final and British Grand Prix). If you get the chance, enjoy them all as much as you can. If you want.

West Indies v Pakistan – World Cup Match Two Open Thread

England’s rather impressive opening day win over South Africa has the tournament up and running, and for the sake of the competition, Ben Stokes’ extraordinary catch has created a moment that can be played across the news broadcasters. It’s a small thing, and pales in comparison to the obvious equivalent had the wider public seen it as it happened. But to have such a moment on day one can’t but help. A bit.

The second match on the schedule is the one at Trent Bridge between the West Indies and Pakistan. Pakistan come into the game on a superb losing streak which has now extended to their last 10 completed official matches. Yet in many quarters they are still deemed favourites for this one. The West Indies racked up 421 against New Zealand and their batting potency makes them both unpredictable and exciting. In essence, this is one where really anything could happen. That’s a good thing, right?

Feel free to join the conversation below!

World, Shut your Mouth: The 2019 World Cup

Thursday morning will see the start of the 12th cricket World Cup, as hosts England take on South Africa. The tournament remains below the radar in the country in which it is held, with tickets available for most of the matches and as ever coverage only on pay television. It has been heavily criticised for being just about the only supposedly global tournament to reduce the number of finalists by eliminating smaller countries before it starts, and it still goes on for the better part of two months before unveiling the winner. It’s for that reason many find it hard to get excited in advance – when the end is so far away, the beginning seems barely part of the whole.

And yet. For England in particular, this is what they have been building towards since the omnishambles of four years ago. Test matches, so long the priority for the ECB, were unceremoniously shunted aside in a clear desire to capture the 50 over crown. To a fair extent, the re-prioritising has been successful, as England enter the tournament as favourites and at the top of the rankings, while playing a style of the game that is utterly irresistible much of the time, and falls flat on its face occasionally.

Lifting the trophy on 14th July would represent a justification of sorts, even if controversial in and of itself among England supporters. It is therefore hugely ironic on the one hand, and indicative of the muddled approach at the top of the game, that England’s last warm up before the competition took place at the same time as the last 50 over domestic final as a mainstream cricket event.

That the ECB scheduled an England match at the same time as the Royal London One Day Cup final is one thing – given the way county cricket has been repeatedly scheduled to make it as hard as possible for supporters to attend, suggesting it might be deliberately spiteful is no longer an extreme viewpoint – but scrapping top level 50 over cricket domestically entirely, and because of a new, untried format, is astonishing, even by ECB standards. Some argue that T20 skills translate so directly to 50 over cricket that it will matter little, but any tail off in England performances over the coming years will be linked directly to this decision.  It is of course all about ensuring the Hundred takes priority, and if you haven’t read Danny’s piece transcribing and responding to Three Quarters Of a Million Pounds a Year Man Tom Harrison’s interview on BBC Radio, then please do click here:  Dissecting the Hundred

The ten team tournament does at least have one positive, in that the round robin nature means everyone plays everyone else, but most important is the lack of quarter finals, which have the effect of rendering the whole group stage largely pointless. To move straight to the semi-finals means that there is peril and jeopardy in each game – every defeat is damaging, every win vital. Whether that is worth the justification for removing what were once associate members is a different question.

England’s form coming into the World Cup has been quite remarkable, a 70% win rate in the 2 years before bettering by some distance any of the winners in the last three editions.  Yet even with the addition of Jofra Archer, it is predicated heavily on the power of the batting line up.  England don’t appear to be one of those sides boasting prowess in all facets of the game, albeit the high rate at which they leak runs does need to be placed in context:  it is a function of England racking up huge scores themselves to at least some extent.  England might be favourites, but they have a slight sense of vulnerability about them that will need to be answered in the semi-final and final stage.   India will feel they are equivalent, while Australia and New Zealand in particular might feel they have a puncher’s chance – particularly in the former case now that Smith and Warner have returned. On which subject, the bleating about the two of them being booed yesterday was remarkable. Of all the things to become annoyed about currently, this is surely an awfully long way down the list.

Afghanistan are probably the second favourite team in the tournament for most, given both the political background, and the way the ICC so often actively work against the game being taken to new outposts.  They continue to get stronger, and if they can pick up a scalp or two, it will be celebrated by all bar the teams they beat.  Their bowling attack is potent enough to cause problems that’s for sure.  Of the rest, it’s South Africa who have been in the best form without causing many to suggest they’ll go and win it, while Pakistan….who the hell knows and the West Indies may, just may, have turned a bit of a corner.

Of the individual players, Jos Buttler and Virat Kohli are the two most obviously box office.  But a World Cup can bring to the fore someone less heralded.  That it will probably be a batsman is just where the game is now, and all the insistence that 270 makes for a more interesting game is so much humbug.  Close games make for the interest, not the score.  Low scoring matches tend to be the most tense because every single ball matters – the same reason a tight Test match is riveting – but to suggest 270 is the optimum scoring level is to ignore decades of everyone drifting off to sleep in the middle overs of an innings when the batsmen just took the singles on offer and the bowlers were content to let them. The balance between bat and ball has always been an issue in limited overs matches of whatever duration, but let’s not pretend there was a golden period where it was perfection.

Ticket prices have always been a factor in World Cups, the empty stadiums in the West Indies in 2007 being the nadir both in terms of unaffordability and the resultant depressingly empty grounds.  England this time around should be rather better, though it appears few are sold out at this stage.

As for us on here, we will be trying to cover each game, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs to lead into it, and who knows, we might even live blog one or two as well.

Test Match Sanctimony

Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 year old whipper snapper, I ended up getting a job at a garden centre during my university summer holidays. Naturally the pay back then was quite frankly pitiful and I normally responded by turning up half cut after a big night out the night before, especially at the weekends. It was a pretty uneventful and dull job, which tidied me over and gave me some money to throw at cheap booze during the next semester. The one and only perk (so to be speak) was that often on a Thursday and a Monday, I was often tasked with helping out the main delivery driver with his delivery runs throughout the whole of Sussex. This was ideal for me, I could basically sit in the van all day, occasionally getting out to deliver some garden furniture at some remote place in rural Sussex, whilst discovering every road side café within the boundaries of the A27 (my delivery man was not a small gentleman). The best thing for me however, was that the main man was a massive cricket fan himself and so whilst I got to discover some new quaint and wonderful places in Sussex from the comfort of my passenger seat, I was also able to enjoy a summer of listening to Test Match Special on the radio. The travel to rural locations alongside conversations about cricket with the dulcet tones of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Vic Marks, Simon Mann and Blowers made what was a pretty crappy job into a summer I actually look back with fondness on. I bet there are a number of us with similar stories, who remember traveling by road or listening on holiday to the TMS team cover the often travails of the English cricket team in good humoured fashion. This was long before the ECB turned into a despicable, money grabbing, old boys club; sure they were an old boys club back then, but back then they were far more interested in what Port was being served at lunch, rather than trying to squeeze every penny out of their dwindling fan base.

Test Match Special has it’s place as an institution of English cricket, something that has been cherished by the English cricketing public for a number of years and what the BBC would probably like to term ‘Auntie’s favourite’ in the fact it was highly inoffensive but much admired due to some of the quirky conversations between a number of the commentators. This so called institution though is beginning to fade and quickly, with the advent of Sky (for those that can afford it) as well as streaming sites and the advent of social media, which negates having to listen to long swathes of cricket should that not be your wish and can inform in a moment when a wicket has fallen or when England have collapsed in a heap again. There is also competition now, with TalkSport winning the rights to the winter tours for the next few years. Now I must admit that I haven’t actually listened to any commentary from TalkSport, but from the feedback from those who have, many have said it is a competent operation and compares favourably to TMS. One also has to look at the make up of Test Match special, especially around those who commentate for the show, and it soon becomes clear that ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Boycott is a casual hypocrite who has been banging on about the same stuff for years, Graeme Swann is a legend only in his lunch hour and makes Jay from the InBetweeners look modest, whilst Vaughan is too busy shamelessly promoting his own clients and jumping on any bandwagon that the ECB care to peddle out. It seems like an old boys club, with the emphasis on ‘In Jokes” and ‘banter’ rather than any serious attempt to describe what is going on with the game and so this leads us straight to the door of the ‘so-called face of the TMS’ Jonathan Agnew.

Agnew likes to paint himself as a whiter than white and a real patriarch of the game, but someone who is also approachable and jovial. He is a favourite of the ‘blue rinse brigade’ who can’t get enough of that lovable Mr. Agnew and the BBC paints a picture that TMS under Agnew’s watch harks back to a simpler and purer time. This is a lovely picture in an ideal world, but one that forgets that Agnew is a thin-skinned, foul-mouthed media luvvie, who is likely to snap the moment anyone dares to question his expertise or the way he goes about his business as ‘Chief Correspondent of the BBC’. The lovable Mr. Agnew that he likes to paint a picture around is actually an insecure, paranoid individual who is likely to lose his temper the moment the adoration stops and funnily enough, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. Agnew has kept being told during his time at the BBC that he is doing a great job, that the public love him, that he is right about all things cricket by the army of cricket fans who follow his social media feeds (well not Kicca) and anyone who dares criticize him will face the wrath of the pearl clutching brigade who will jump on anyone at the merest hint of insubordination. This clearly has inflated his ego somewhat, so much so that he saw it fit to criticize Gary Lineker on social media for expressing his political views:

So when a fellow journalist, a TV presenter or one of us ‘little bloggers’ dares to stick our head over the parapet and disagree with Agnew, the man himself is almost disbelieving that anyone on this planet could have the audacity to disagree with him. If was just Agnew’s thin skinned approach or pinch nosed approach to the public, then it really wouldn’t be a big deal as many in the media view the general public as the ‘great unwashed who are there to be preached at’; unfortunately for Agnew this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It has always been fairly easy to be sceptical about Agnew, especially after the Pietersen affair, where he like many others in the media seemed to turn into ECB mouthpieces overnight. I remember the interview the Full Toss blog did with him not long after the infamous sacking of a certain individual from the ‘aplomb one’ and Agnew came across as incredibly dismissive of what were pretty fair questions (I’m sure Maxie can add some insight into this). It also became clear that the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC had struck up a friendship with Alastair Cook, much like he has a friendship with Stuart Broad, whose father was a regular in a pub that Agnew used to visit regularly. Now I don’t have any problem whatsoever with commentators and media hacks having members of the England that they both admire and sometimes are friendly with, but there has to a be line somewhere when admiration has to be put aside in order to produce fair and concise judgements on any turn of events. This hasn’t seemed to bother Agnew one bit, who not only stoutly defended Cook at every turn, but also demanded an apology from the ‘hoi polloi’ on the back of an interview with guess who, Alastair Cook, who was hardly likely to take a ‘mea culpa’ approach to the situation

This is bad enough, but Agnew always seemed to ‘raise his game’ whenever Cook did well in a game and who revelled in the fact that Cook had ended his England career by scoring a century in his final Test. He subsequently used it as an opportunity to take pot-shots at those who might not have quite shared his delight:

Now I really am no Piers Morgan fan, but on this occasion Morgan had been gracious about the end of Cook’s international career, and yet Agnew decided to show everybody who would listen how he was right and how wrong Morgan had been. Except this wasn’t just a pot-shot at Morgan, it was far more than that; it was a pot-shot at any of us who had dared not to buy into the cult of Alastair Cook. It was an us vs. the rest moment, either your inside cricket and rightly bow down to the greatest player who has ever worn the England shirt or you are ‘outside cricket’, someone to be mocked and sneered at by those ‘who really know cricket’. It was all rather typical Jonathan Agnew really, a triumphalist ‘stuff you’ aimed at those who dared criticize him or dared to question ‘his wonderful friend’. This is not what we should expect from anyone who purports to report on the game, let alone from someone with a ‘Chief Correspondent’ job title as this is skewed journalism at best and a downright hagiography at its worst. The fact that Agnew either doesn’t realise how this looks or even worse, doesn’t really care, shows his complete lack of respect to the English cricketing public and that impartiality is something he is quite simply unable to deliver on. It is people like Agnew, Mike Selvey and Paul Newman, who were so quick to peddle the ECB line as Cook being the saviour of English cricket in the hope of garnering favour, which may have actually contributed to the intense dislike some English fans have for Cook himself. Writing or commentating about the game with a neutral outlook seems to be something this is a ‘nice to have’ for the 3 gentlemen above, but not one that necessarily pays in the long term, for that you have plug whatever propaganda the ECB is purporting at the time and Agnew through his loyal friendship with Cook was more than happy to do so.

This wouldn’t be the first time either, as who can ever forget the infamous picture of Agnew cosily dining with Giles Clarke (and surprise Mike Selvey). Now Agnew gets very hot and bothered when this is posted and strongly maintains that he had just given Clarke both barrels (though I doubt he called him a c*nt), but in reality does anyone really believe this? It is far more likely that Agnew was making sure that he got a slice of whatever pie was on offer (figuratively not the literally obviously), by leaving whatever morals he had at the door in favour of personal gain. Naturally this wouldn’t fit with the jovial, whiter than white image that Agnew has tried to cultivate for himself, so Agnew has done whatever he can to both distance and disavow himself from that situation.

Giles-Clarke-and-Jonathan-001

Up until this point though, Agnew in the main had managed to keep his public persona as “Auntie’s face of English cricket’ in tact with some success, this was until last week when the mask slipped and boy did it slip big time. It seems that Agnew and Jonathan Liew have been engaged in a war of words for sometime, but things have been at least civil in the public eye. Agnew was first angered by an article by Liew around Jofra Archer and his perceived integration into the English cricket team, which Agnew believes was accusing him of racism.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cricket-world-cup-squad-jofra-archer-a8887246.html

Now I have read this article a few times, which is highly nuanced (other than that it’s a mightily good article) and I don’t believe Liew is accusing Agnew of racism in this piece as he is also critical of Michael Vaughan, though others are welcome to disagree. Then Liew wrote another piece Wisden, which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, which says of Agnew:

‘Besides, he’s under the wing of Aggers now, who barely bothers to conceal his disdain for the great unwashed of the written press, like a French aristo pinching his nostrils as he strolls through a peasant market, lest he get an unwanted whiff of rotting chicken giblets.’

Now having never been invited into in any commentary box or media briefing, I have no idea whether this is true or not; however the response from Agnew was first one of outrage and then one of pure unabridged anger:

Boom, I certainly didn’t expect that top pop up on my timeline last Saturday, and what of the pearl clutching ‘Agnew luvvies,’ I bet one or two of them nearly went into cardiac arrest when they saw this. Now I understand that Agnew feels wronged and that alcohol consumption may have played a part, but this is completely out of order and can easily be classed as bullying, with Agnew throwing both his weight about and the toys out of his pram too. This ‘colourful language’ is the type I’d expect on a Friday night out in Croydon, not from the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC, a 59 old year man who has made his living from being the squeaky clean face of the BBC’s cricket coverage.

Now I’m not saying that Liew is faultless here, not at all. Liew is a very marmite character and writer, with a number of this parish disagreeing about some of the content of his articles and he is known in certain circles as a ‘wind up merchant’. Liew for me is capable of writing some superb pieces, but also some total dross, where he decides to show everyone how clever he is, with an air of smugness to boot; a bit like Barney Ronay (who coincidentally was also called a ‘wanker’ by Jonathan Agnew). Liew knew very well what he was doing in both those articles and it is clear that there has been some kind of vendetta gathering pace under the carpet between the two of them, which feels rather undignified considering one is the Chief Sports Writer for the Independent and the other the Chief Cricket Reporter of the BBC. It all feels a bit like two 7 year olds fighting for the last bit of cake; however both clearly have enormous egos and are morally sure they are in the right. The main mistake Agnew made was by not being too bright and picking a slanging match against Liew, who is incredibly bright and cocksure and doesn’t mind burning a few bridges in the process. Once those direct messages were out in the open, there was always only going to be one winner, if indeed you would class that there is a winner out of this whole charade.

Agnew on the other hand, is quite lucky that the BBC took a fairly lenient approach despite the ‘bollocking’ that he may have received on the back of this. Memories often fade quickly when someone in the limelight who on the whole is incredibly popular with this English cricketing public and I’m sure Agnew will quickly be forgiven for his indiscretions here (though I’m very sure Liew won’t benefit from the same level of forgiveness). The interesting thing for me is whether Agnew actually learns anything from this event and decides to be a little more humble and to get off the high horse that he has perched himself on. Often it goes either way, so it will be interesting to see what happens when Agnew comes back online.

Either way it seems that irony had developed a sense of humour last weekend and a similar indiscretion from the now chastened Agnew, may result in a far harsher sentence. As one former newspaper Chief Cricket Correspondent once wrote ‘his card has been marked’. It now falls at the feet of Agnew to lay down the cronyism and to actually be a neutral, incisive correspondent for the BBC, which he once was. Whether he is still capable of that though, is most certainly a moot point.

 

England v Pakistan – 2019 ODI Series, a (late) preview of sorts

We were unable to write a preview of the series before the first game on the Wednesday, due to our various workloads etc, but in the end it didn’t matter too much as the rain gods intervened before the match could seriously get going. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t been active, Danny’s dissection of The Hundred here if you haven’t managed to read it, is a work of art and has got some great traction on various social media outlets. It’s a long post, but a very insightful one and it has upset Simon Hughes a hell of a lot, which is always the sign of a great article…

So we now approach a slightly shorter warm up series comprised of 4 games against a streaky Pakistan team with the series seemingly of interest only to those players who are on the fringes of each team. I personally don’t blame the schedulers wanting to get some ODI practice in before the World Cup, especially with places up to grab, but I must admit that it really hasn’t struck any particular interest with me, it’s all a little bit before the Lord Mayor Show.

The main talking point before the series was the cover up and then subsequent dropping of Alex Hales for drug related offence. Of course, the ECB being the ECB handled the affair with all the care and aplomb of an elephant trying to walk on stilts. It still amuses me that they thought that somehow they would be able to cover the whole thing up as ‘personal problems’, which for those cricketers (and those in general) who genuinely have had personal issues in the past, must feel like a slap in the face that the ECB decides to constitute drug problems as such. Yet as soon as Ali Martin revealed the reason why Hales had been dropped by Nottinghamshire, the ECB think tank went into overdrive and promptly kicked Hales out of the World Cup squad. Suddenly words such as ‘loss of trust’, ‘welfare of the team ethos’ and ‘letting down teammates’ started to appear with at an alarming rate. Ashley Giles and Eoin Morgan were wheeled out in front of the media to be the ECB’s Chief Executioner (well Morgan did owe the ECB big time for the skipping of the Bangladesh tour and the ECB cashed in that cheque big time’), never mind that this whole mess could have been avoided should the ECB have approached this with a modicum of good sense at the time they found out, but then that’s not what the ECB does.

Now I am not a big fan of Alex Hales, the bloke is a bit of a burke who clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson from his first failed drugs test nor from the fallout from Bristol and I don’t particularly have a strong opinion about him being suspended from the World Cup especially as he was likely a reserve player at best; However for the ECB to go holier than holy on this whole subject is hypocrisy of the highest order. I certainly wouldn’t trust the ECB to boil an egg unsupervised let alone run an international cricket board and as for the whole letting down teammates, the ECB having been letting down the fans and players for years, especially with the advent of the 100, a white elephant that nobody bar the ECB actually wants. Naturally the empty headed sycophant that is Michael Vaughan, leapt to the ECB’s defence to such an extent, one might surmise that garnering favour with the international board could benefit him directly:

“Eoin Morgan spoke brilliantly, very mature, great leadership, everything he said was to the point,” said Vaughan. 

“It is a message to Alex Hales that this England side isn’t going to mess around anymore. Bristol was a line in the sand moment, they all realise they have to be better role models. 

“Alex Hales was on a 12-month suspended sentence from his actions in Bristol. I don’t know how he comes back from this, he has lost the trust of the team.

“It’s not a great look for the game but I think the England team have dealt with it in the best way they can. The conversation with Hales would have been hard but easy in a way because he has let them down.

“If you’re a professional sports person not thinking clearly you are not in a position to represent your country in a World Cup.

So Hales is now on the naughty step for the foreseeable future and of course, Shiny Toy gets to benefit with one of his clients called up in Hales’ place. Who says blind and blatant obsequiousness doesn’t reap results in this world??

As for the series itself, it appears that most of the places area locked down now, especially on the batting front and the only real question is whether Jofra Archer can show the selectors that he merits a place. Personally I think England are a better team with Archer in it, despite protestations from those who appear most at risk, about team spirit etc. Archer has something that we are lacking in the pace department, which is both pace and control and added to his ability to ‘hit a long ball’ with the bat, then personally I think it’s a bit of a no brainer. Of course, someone is going to be unlucky to be left out with Curran or Wood being the prime candidates in my opinion (though I would laugh if it was Chris Woakes), but that is international cricket at it’s highest level and there’s always going to be someone that has to miss out. The only question mark with Archer is whether he can adapt his bowling to the longer 50 ball game where batsmen get a longer look at you compared to the 4 over stint in 20/20; however I would be quite surprised if Archer isn’t the most penetrating and hard to face bowler in this tournament. That being said, the ECB selectors are a funny bunch, so don’t be too surprised if they brains trust decided to pick Jake Ball in the end!

As ever, any comments on the game or wider thoughts are always welcome….

*UPDATE: England have dropped Jofra Archer for this game 🤦🏻‍♂️

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Sock it to me, Sock it to me)

Greetings pop pickers, and welcome to the hit parade of the best insults directed at cricket supporters by the cricket authorities and their media cheerleaders.  Call them supporters, cricketers, county members, amateurs – are they worth having a go at?  Not half!  Let’s get on with the countdown…

10) Ticket to Ride – The Beatles

Straight in to the top ten with Graeme Swann’s stirring anthem about Test match prices.  Not for him an awareness of the expense incurred by those paying his wages.  Not for him a sensible silence when not knowing how much a ticket costs.  Instead he piped up expressing surprise at the cost of attending, saying he was shocked to discover it was (then) almost £100 to go, and that he’d thought it was only “about £20”.  Derision swiftly followed.

9) Bills – Lunch Money Lewis

Hungry?  Feel like a nice meal?  Well, you’re out of luck.  You can spend an hour queueing up for soggy chips and a crappy burger and pay £15 for the privilege.  Don’t bother trying to around lunchtime though, that’ll take an hour or so.  If you want a beer as well, that’s a different queue.  Could be an hour there too, so that £100 you’ve spent on a ticket in London looks really good value when you miss the play you’ve paid for – you can even spend the time queueing working out the draining finances.  But fear not, for the Twitter account of Lords’ will be there to remind you of the fine dining options the players receive, and the equally delightful catering the press corps get.  It’s just what you want to see as you contemplate a diminishing wallet and a drooping excuse for a sandwich, comparing the image on your phone with the painful and largely inedible reality.

8) My Generation – The Who

Those who have given their lives over to cricket might feel that they deserve a bit of credit.  Those who play a game for no other reason than they love it might believe they should be left alone.  Those who give up their time to prepare pitches, decorate and maintain pavilions, organise teams, create youth sections and do all the enormous quantities of work involved in club cricket could feel there’s nothing wrong with them also picking up a bat and wandering out to the middle.  But they’d be wrong and Nasser Hussain was quick to tell them so, in the usual manner of Sky and the ECB aligning their stars perfectly.  Such “old fogeys” need to get out of the game according to him, they’re blocking the young players.  That there wouldn’t actually be any club cricket without the old fogeys doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.  Nor that people outside the professional game play because they want to.  The Scots have a phrase that answers this kind of argument, and it starts “get tae…”.

7) Stupid Girl – Garbage

If coming up with an idea that those who love the game consider pretty stupid to begin with, it helps to have the message alongside it a good one.  It probably isn’t best practice to first tell all those who buy tickets that it isn’t for them, second patronise half the population with the phrase “mums and kids” and third go for the ultimate in telling that minority majority that they’re making it vastly more complex simplifying things just for them.  Andrew Strauss’s extraordinarily clumsy justification for ripping up the game of cricket in this country and replacing it with another format went down like a cup of warm sick with those being addressed.  Mums and kids might be too dense to understand cricket as it stands, but they weren’t so dim they couldn’t spot they were being talked down to.  Women – know your place!

6) We Are Family – Sister Sledge

You can’t be US President unless you’re born in the USA.  This is a restriction that bothers most people not at all, given few have such an aspiration, but even less knew that there is also a barrier to being England captain that doesn’t involve, you know, being good at cricket.  The Odious Giles Clarke was quick to raise the bar by stating that in Alastair Cook, “he and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be.”  Horrendous plebs like the vast majority of the English population need not apply.

5) The Flood – Take That

The ECB don’t leak.  You’ve been told, time and again.  By them, admittedly, and not by anyone else.  But they don’t leak, they don’t give primers to journalists, and they keep schtum at all times.  That the outcome of Kevin Pietersen’s meeting with Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss was being broadcast by Jonathan Agnew within minutes of it taking place must have happened by osmosis.  That the “South-African-born-middle-order-batsman” (unlike Strauss himself, naturally) also had his private letter to Hugh Morris released to the press can’t possibly have happened.  That then England coach Peter Moores had to sit and watch England play Ireland while everyone knew he was being sacked definitely wasn’t an example of a leak.  Because the ECB don’t leak.  Ever.

4) Don’t You Want Me – Human League

Tom Harrison is a kind of anti-thesaurus, whereby he considers all the possible words that could be used and resolutely chooses the wrong one.  A sillynym, if you like.  Most sports revel in their most dedicated acolytes, or at the very least pretend to pay them respect while counting the money that they pump in to the game to allow the administrators a decent supply of bourbon biscuits for their Very Important Meetings.  But not for him such lip service, not for the great man a recognition of the time and effort they put in to backing a game they adore.  No, no, they’re a barrier, a problem.  And thus can be safely termed “obsessives” instead.  Cricket is entirely unique in considering the game itself to be a problem, and those who love it most to be a big part of that problem rather than an important element to build upon.  It’s just one word, but once again it’s the wrong one, and once again cricket refuses to celebrate its own adherents but instead kicks them in the balls (women don’t count as we know) and screams at them not to get up again.

3) I Only Wanna Be With You – Dusty Springfield

Most sports have suffered from the rise of Marketing Speak – the unmitigated bollocks spouting from the executives in place of anything meaningful, and the endless use of the term “stakeholders” in cricket is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of anyone getting progressively more fed up with every hopeless pronouncement.  But the ECB, as is their wont, go a bit further, by forgetting the supporters and amateur players each time they offer it up.  Ashley Giles came up with a good example with “We should show we have pride in playing cricket for England, that we respect everyone: all our stakeholders, sponsors, the media”.  Ah yes, sponsors and the media.  They’re the ones to talk about.  Especially post a shambolic World T20 where England stank the place out and supporters went nuts at the displays on offer.  As ever with ECB people, it’s not just what they say, it’s when they choose to say it, and who they are talking to.  Those awful little people can be safely ignored.

2) Don’t Blame it on the Sunshine – The Jackson Five

You can always rely on Colin Graves to put his foot in it.  Whether it be calling England’s opposition “mediocre” right before they hand out a thrashing, threatening counties for not acknowledging his greatness, or leading players up the garden path and encouraging them to give up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts before delivering a slap; he manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time without exception.  So it was that he justified the impending Hundred with the immortal phrase “The younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket”.  It’s not that he’s entirely wrong, for everyone involved in the game has the same concerns, it’s the sheer chutzpah in refusing to recognise that the organisation he heads up is largely responsible for the damn thing in the first place – making the game entirely invisible to the wider public by hiding it behind a pay wall may not have been the best method of encouraging people to get involved.  To pipe up at exactly the same time as the ECB launched their latest All Stars Cricket aimed at the young was a superb example of telling everyone working hard at the lower levels that they were wasting their time doing so.

1) Let’s Go Outside – George Michael

It’s not all bad – after all it stopped us racking our brains for a name for this place.  But the ECB/PCA joint statement in the aftermath of the Kevin Pietersen sacking remains the high point in the long list of putting down the oiks who dare to object to the way the game is run.  It was two little words that did the damage, referring in parentheses to those “outside cricket” who had dared to be critical.  The defence made following the furious reaction to the statement was that it was clearly referring to Piers Morgan in particular, which remains a perfect example of how the professional game fails to get it.  Morgan is far from being everybody’s cup of tea, but the point was that since he goes to cricket and plays cricket at club level, if he is “outside cricket” then so is everyone else.  As a case study in how the professional game sneers at all those not in it, it has never been bettered.

Baby, I Got It.