A Wisden Almanack Fan Writes…..

Why I Love The Wisden Cricketers Almanack

And no, it has very little to do with this blog being mentioned this year and How Did We Lose In Adelaide last year. Actually, while it is nice being mentioned again, the actual prose accompanying it is a little odd. Most people who I left behind on HDWLIA caught up with me in the next week or so. So “Old” hadn’t disappeared, if you count the three hours between shutting down HDWLIA and starting up Being Outside Cricket as a disappearance.  But as Michael O’Leary said “bad publicity is better than no publicity”, I have to say that whatever is written is a recognition of what we do. That’s no bad thing. But to write even a snippet on the blog and not recognise it is more than a one man job (Chris, and lets not also forget Phil and Sean’s contributions too) shows how rigorous it is (I have to say, I’ve not seen the full article, so if there is more in it, then I will correct).

It’s also not the first time both your editors have been in there. I filled in the schools piece for my educational establishment for a few years in the 1980s and TLG has his school record in there slightly later than that, the handsome, more able, young devil that he is.

I am, by my nature, quite a traditionalist, and yes, that is odd when you consider my attitude to the ECB and to Kevin Pietersen, for instance. Wisden dates back 150 or so years, and I have a collection of sorts, as I try to nab as many of the 1970s ones as I can. I think I’m complete from 1980 onwards. Indeed, I have a spare, bought in error, 1979 one so if you don’t have that, and might like it, let me know! It’s not a passion to get all of them that I can, but when I see one I don’t have, reasonably priced, I’ll get it. I also don’t go for the new release straight away, often waiting until Autumn to secure one at a reduced price. These are tough economic times and all that!

My love for it is in the numbers, not so much the written parts. Indeed, in the past, I’d probably have skipped the section on bloggers, or cricket on the internet. I sometimes read the book reviews. But to me it has always been the scorecards. I had a 1987 copy with me for the last few weeks, mainly to assist in “Blackwash” articles, but you look at the scorecards and follow Graeme Hick’s 2000 runs season and immerse yourself in the sheer lunacy of 3 day cricket. Hick made 227 not out against a fully in form Richard Hadlee at Worcester, and just taking myself back to those days is what the Almanack does to me. Yes, it is nerdy, but it triggers memories.

Before I bought a single Almanack, when I was part of the Cricket Book Club, I got, as my free gift, The Wisden Anthology 1963-82 by Benny Green. I remember taking it on my cricket tour to the Netherlands in 1984 and finding Nolan Clarke’s name in it on the day I met the great man (it was, if my memory serves, a Barbados v Australia game). Again, though, it was the scorecards. The match reports were great, but it was the numbers accompanying them. Record partnerships, massive innings, freak matches. Wisden and the Anthology were my cricketing education.

To a degree, even in the internet age, that is still the case for me, albeit less so. Like all things time moves on and in the tiresome mantra of the modern age, we have to “innovate or die”. The scorecards are on Cricinfo, and I can find what I want when I want, so maybe I’m not the business model they need to continue. Statsguru has long since taken Wisden’s place for looking that sort of information up. But there was always something about reading a scorecard at total random flipping open the book.

There are additional awards, which I have to say I find tiresome, but know others don’t, but what I have never minded, and understood fully why it’s there, is the Five Cricketers of the Year. It’s always been clear to me – Wisden is an English publication, and it has been tried in Australia (I have one) and India – that it is primarily focused on the English summer, has always had an eye on English players throughout the year, recognises the great performers from other countries when they tour, as long as they perform here (Jacques Kallis, for instance, had a huge wait to get in) and you are named just the once. It’s that last bit, and the nonsense spouted about it, that gets on my nerves.

I like Dennis a lot, but his article today would have had me fisking it a couple of years ago. Dennis prods and pokes, and I think he’s still a friend of this blog, as I am a friend of his! But he is one voice among a number that do this – and it really peeves me. This award has always been different, it has seen some tweaks when some domestic cases were particularly weak, but it has been the same type of award pretty much throughout. I have absolutely zero problem with that. See it as a “I was good enough to get it once” award rather than “I deserve it every year”. Treat it like the stars on Hollywood’s street. If you are good enough to get on there once, that’s all.

It’s not Wisden’s fault that other awards might lack gravitas. I think the Cricketer of the Year has the required gravitas, but doesn’t constrain itself to a “Tendulkar, Lara, Kallis, Warne, Murali” and repeat load of old crap year in year out. So people with freak years, like Tim Robinson in 1985 or James Whitaker’s Gary Ballance in 2014 can stand alongside Don Bradman and Jeetan Patel to pick out two diverse names. Keep it as it is, Wisden. Ben Stokes role in the Lord’s test against New Zealand transcended the match. His century was brilliant, his first innings 90-odd even better in my opinion, and his slaying of the New Zealand titan on Day 5 was arguably one of the moments of the season. He had a reasonable Ashes, not spectacular, but again provided moments. As much as a stat nerd as i can be, you have to recognise what the game can be about. No problem with Stokes. At all.

One of the other complaints raised is the presence of convicted match-fixers in the list of Cricketers of the Year, but Mohammad Amir was not put in when he qualified. Again, erasing history is a difficult thing to do. The 1991 edition, should you come across it in the shops, isn’t going to have Azharuddin’s pages ripped out, is it? I am not sure what a futile gesture like that is going to achieve, to be honest. And where do you draw the line. Shane Warne is a convicted drug cheat. Should he be in?

Now, of course, some of you might think this blogger’s friendly relations with the Editor of Wisden plays some part in my little defence. It probably does, although we do not converse on Twitter anywhere near as much as used to, and I still shake my fists at the screen when I read something of his I do not agree with. But I think Lawrence has done a pretty damn good job of editing Wisden (except handing anything KP related to Patrick Collins!), I suspect it’s a hell of a task for him and his team, and that he has, in my opinion, raised the profile of the Almanack in his time in charge does him a lot of credit. This is one pillar of the establishment that needs to remain pretty much true to its soul. Whether that stands the tests of time is up to the consumers. But in the digital age, I still love that little big book. That’s why even getting a mention in it makes me proud of what we have all achieved. You don’t quite realise how proud I am.

Long may Wisden Almanack continue. I come to praise. I leave the sniffiness to these kinds of reviews – I think the first paragraph is so amusing…..

Wisden Selvey

Remember…the new open thread is below.

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Wisden 2016

The Wisden dinner is this evening (no, I’m not going – so we’ll have to wait to hear how The Odious Giles Clarke will disgrace himself this year) in advance of the Almanack’s publication tomorrow.  Snippets have been released to the media already, such as the announcement of the five Cricketers of the Year, namely Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Steve Smith, Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson.  As ever, players can only be listed once as has always been the case, which doesn’t stop the annual complaints about the exclusion of someone who has been awarded it before.

The Telegraph appears to have the exclusive extracts in advance of publication (no favouritism to the Mail it seems) including Stuart Broad talking about his Trent Bridge spell to demolish Australia and the piece about Steve Smith being named as one of the five.

The main editorial calls England’s transformation “the most uplifting story in international cricket of the year” while noting that it began with “Forget leather on willow. The sound of the English game in early 2015 was palm on forehead.”

There is also a note that the Big Three influence on world cricket may be waning, well let’s see about that – there is some good news there certainly but it is far too early to celebrate.

I know some on here eagerly go out and buy a copy the instant it is available, so more will be added as we find out about it.

A small aside for housekeeping. This blog went through half a million hits this morning. Not too shabby for a bunch of outsiders.

Blackwash II – Part 3

“Barbadians come not to see if the West Indies win but, rather like the informed spectators around the Madrid bullring, to judge the style and efficiency with which it is done”

Robin Marlar – Sunday Times

I rummaged around the detritus in the spare room to see if I had any back issues of WCM to refer to. I knew I had a lot of late 80s stuff, but not so sure about this season. I found one. And what a cover.

I’m never one to belabour a point! But imagine if the front cover of the prominent cricket magazine pictured your best player in friendly pose with the opposition’s iconic captain were reproduced today. Lord almighty there would be vapours. Especially if that best player was surrounded by acrimony, salacious stories and accusations of a poor attitude.

Wisden Cover

There are a couple of things about this cover. I think any lip reader out there recognises what the word is that’s just about to come out of Botham’s mouth. Second, good job there weren’t mobiles around and Strauss/Flower weren’t running the show.

Anyway, we left the gallant English team 2-0 down, battered and bruised, but not without some fight after a 7 wicket defeat in Trinidad. Thirty years ago we didn’t have large amounts of rest and recovery. Two days after the test finished, England left Trinidad, flew to Barbados, and commenced a fixture against the island. Not surprisingly, England were knocked over for 171. More symbolically, and man alive we were clutching at straws, was the return of Mike Gatting. He’d come back to the team from the UK, having sorted out his nose, and he took his place in the batting line-up. There was hope…. until he broke his thumb in this game and his tour was over. It was probably a good tour to miss out on! (Only it wasn’t the end).

England kept the game competitive but ended up losing on the final day by three wickets. Ian Botham bowled just three and a half overs in the match, but was to be declared fit for the upcoming test. The island of Barbados would go down in infamy for our all rounder, as the location for the most salacious story of the winter.

Barbados test
I see Boycott, Cozier and Engel….. The media at Kensington

Before the third test was the third ODI at the Kensington Oval and with the series level at 1-1, an interesting diversion from the test trauma. It was normal order restored – West Indies made 249 on the back of a pair of 62s from Sorcerer (Viv) and Apprentice (Richie), and then England collapsed in a heap from 42 for 1 to 89 for 9, with only a little cameo 10th wicket partnership getting us into three figures. WCM suggests Botham bowled as impressively as he had all series. That wasn’t saying much. Joel Garner’s bowling figures were 6-2-6-1; Malcolm Marshall 6-2-14-3. You don’t get to win with figures like that.

The edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly I managed to locate covered the second and third tests (so apologies it wasn’t included in the last piece), but David Frith’s match report and editorial are worth their weight in gold.

“Like fools, many of us thought England were back in the series after the second day’s play in Bridgetown.”

We’ll come to that in the process of this post.

England won the toss and put the West Indies in. After a solid start, Neil Foster, in the team by popular demand it seemed, struck in his first over to remove Gordon Greenidge (for 21). I’ll let David Frith take up the story:

“…..and Richardson played and missed at his second ball, from Foster. Botham then let him have a ball which in line and length was perfect…for the hook. The Antiguan was on his way. Capless and with hair-parting and slitted eyes of an Everton Weekes [not sure you could write that now], he carved into England’s toilers with the dash that reminded some of the late Collie Smith, driving assuredly and raking his characteristic cut to anything the slightest bit short.”

The day’s play ended with the hosts on 269 for 2. The English fought back very well on Day 2, with the last 8 wickets falling for 132. Richardson made 160, Dessie Haynes a patient 84 and Viv a typically aggressive 51. Greg Thomas took 4/74, Neil Foster 3/76.

Barbados test - 2
Down, but definitely not out. Richie Richardson makes 160

So with 418 on the board, every pessimist around was looking at 219 as the magic number to at least extend the game. But the clue here is in Frith’s pre-amble… things actually went well, for a while. Sure, Tim Robinson’s desperate tour continued with another cheap dismissal at the hands of Malcolm Marshall, but that would be the Windies’ only success on the second day.

“That blissful evening we went back over the scores. West Indies, an ominous 269 for 2, had crashed to 418 all out, and England were not 66 for 3, as might have been anticipated, but 110 for 1. Gower 51, Gooch 46. Clearly England’s best day of this uncomfortable tour.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Got to love 1980’s writing. Can’t see Newman writing this (perhaps Bunkers), but a certain journo may appreciate the commas…. I love it, by the way!

The captain had survived one particularly torrid over from Patterson, flashing a no-ball to the third man boundary and swishing at the next, standing meditatively, guiltily, not, in the time-honoured imagery, like a boy caught stealing jam, but rather like a marksman whose own ear had just blushingly been clipped by a bullet.

I actually remember my feelings of optimism, but then recalled one day’s play in particular. I thought of the Saturday in 1984 at Headingley. England had held the West Indies to a lead of 32, and their main man, Malcolm Marshall had a broken hand. We lost two early wickets but Fowler and Gower took us to 100 for 2 and all seemed great. We were in a car going to Rotterdam for a cricket tour at the time (and not getting in to our first choice camp site) and as we pitched the tents ready for the second party in the minibuses we then heard the wickets fall. 104 for 3, 106 for 4, 107 for 5, 135 for 6. Close of play and our dreams ruined. England would subside further on the Monday, Marshall took 7 wickets. Positions of strength were ephemeral against this team. They were more positions from which England would collapse. It was just a question of degree.

And collapse we did.

“Next morning grim reality returned. In the fifth over, Gower took four off Marshall with that same hook stroke he executed to his first ball in test cricket, nearly eight years ago. But then he felt for the next ball and was caught behind, his stand with Gooch worth 120….”

“Gooch went to a lifter four overs later. Willey to a static response three overs after that, giving Dujon a hat-trick of catches in seven overs.”

126 for 1, 126 for 2, 134 for 3, 141 for 4, 151 for 5, 168 for 6, 172 for 7, 181 for 8, 185 for 9, 189 all out. 63 runs for 9 wickets. You’ll be delighted to know Aplomb got 11. Marshall claimed four top order wickets, Patterson brushed up three lower middle order scalps. It was painfully familiar. All hope had gone. Looking to get on terms at the start of the day, England were batting for the second time after lunch, and six down at stumps. If Day 2 had been the day of miracles, day 3 was the day of misery.

“Lamb edged to second slip.”

“Botham, having staggered from the crease gasping for breath after a crack in the ribs from Holding, skyed an attempted hook off Patterson to give Dujon his fourth pre-lunch catch while becoming England’s fifth casualty of a disastrous session.”

The second innings started promisingly. An opening stand of 48 between Robinson and Gooch gave fleeting hope. But it was always only that. Gooch played on for 11 and Robinson for 43, both off Patterson, but then the resistance, such as it was, disintegrated in what Frith called a range of “one day strokes or reactions”.

“Botham’s kamikaze approach would have been extraordinary in any other batsman. His aim in this hopeless crisis seemed to be to smash a rapid 149 not out and let Thomas or somebody – his desperate self? – follow up with 8 for 43. We all continue to suppose this to be an impossibility. Ironically Botham died feebly with an offside waft after having thumped 21 off 4 balls.”

In researching this post I came across an excerpt from Botham’s autobiography – I have no idea which one as he’s written three to my knowledge – in which he revealed his mental state. There’s the infamous incidents that I might deal with later (or in the next post on this) but he comes into the dressing room after a dismissal and is absolutely livid. He screams out something along the lines of “how the hell are you supposed to play on a wicket like that? It’s dangerous” which would have done wonders for all that followed. According to his book, Gatting, who presumably had stayed on (he did, he played the 5th test) took him to one side (he was the vice-captain) and told him he was bang out of order and should not have done it. One of the commenters on the second part had a recall that Botham had had a poor attitude throughout. In my eyes, at that time, he was our superstar and people were out to get him. There was that feeling, in your logical self, that he was simply not a good enough batsman against extreme pace, but you tried not to think that. This was our hero.

“In the evening session, they had succumbed to their own low morale as anything else. Botham had come to the wicket with 20 minutes remaining, the score 108 for 4, and a rest day beckoning, but he played an innings totally out of context with that situation. It left the impression that the ship was rudderless, a view that was enhanced by the lack of demand on players to practice. ” B&H Yearbook

“The Way I Play” anyone?

It rained on the rest day. Aplomb and Embers batted a while, but it was a hopeless mission. England were finally dismissed for 199 and losing by an innings and 30 runs. It was 3-0. But if people thought the storm was over, it was only just beginning.

In the next part, I’ll deal with aftermath of the defeat, and the next test. I hope people are enjoying it. I think the quote below summed up how we all felt playing the WIndies….

“A gloom several shades deeper than the overcast sky itself descended over the England camp and its several thousand holidaymaking supporters. The pattern of West Indian dominance which had driven British writers and spectators to the edge of despair had reasserted itself, with no realistic prospect of its ever being lifted for more than the odd estatic hour”

Infamy

In an act of self-indulgence, I am commenting on the mention of this blog in Wisden. I have a copy of the article, from the editor himself, and I’ll have to say it’s an interesting take on the blog.

One topic dominated the agenda of the English cricket media in 2014.
England’s brutal and irrevocable decision to dispense with Kevin Pietersen, and its deeply unsatisfactory aftermath, prompted serious attention from some of the blogosphere’s best writers. In terms of quantity and passion, Dmitri Old at cricketbydmitri.wordpress.com stood out.

Old wrote thousands upon thousands of words, mostly excoriating the
ECB. While at times the effect was like being repeatedly hit over the head with one of Pietersen’s bats, his blog acted as a valuable conduit for deep resentment at the ECB’s administration of English cricket. This was exemplified by their reference in a press release to people “outside cricket”, intended as a response to one of Piers Morgan’s many incursions into the saga – but which was latched on to by Old as evidence of the board’s lack of empathy with the fans.

First up, thanks to Brian Carpenter for including me in his review. It is interesting to see how your blog is viewed by those outside my usual comment client base. I actually grinned when I read the bit about “repeatedly hit over the head”, but at the time when this blogger was that mad about things, there was always gold in them there hills in which we could pick apart the arguments. I could repeat and repeat, because the press and the ECB repeatedly gave us the ammunition.

I am, by my nature, quite a modest person. I really find praise and that sort of thing awkward. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but I don’t claim credit often. But I do think this blog (along with TFT of course) has done the most to put “outside cricket” front and centre over the last year. We’ve never let it go, even if it means I’m likened to a bludgeon. Repetition hammers home the message. I don’t apologise for it. I don’t think Brian means me to either, but there are a number who tell me to let it lie. Never. Not until I get the sense that the authorities do anything more than pay lip service to what this small, noisy band of cricket tragics say. This sport does not need to become more exclusive, more insular, more arrogant – it needs, to use their bloody horrible phrase, to reconnect with the public.

However, Old didn’t take aim merely at those in authority: he also trained his sights on the traditional press, some of whom he viewed as Establishment stooges. In one or two cases, he might have had a point. But the press coverage reflected, in part, the vulnerabilities of cricket journalists, who have a symbiotic relationship with administrators and players: the administrators grant access to the players, who provide interviews and quotes. Most bloggers have no such privileges, yet this very freedom from professional dependence means they can shoot from the hip.

This is a really interesting debating point, in my eyes. Let’s go back to when KP got dropped. There is a substantial section of the England fan base that said “good”. Fair enough. I have always said they are entitled to their opinion and I’d never want to shut that down. That part of the fan base, shall we say, was more than adequately represented in the journalist corps. We pick on Paul Newman a lot here, but he’d got the inside track, by hook or by leak, and there appeared glee in reporting the end of his career. The other big beasts, such as Pringle and Selvey, and I’d say Etheridge too, had nailed their colours to the mast.

Those of us who saw a batsman top of the run charts for his team, albeit, we know, not a stellar record, being the main man to pay the price as unfair, and in my case as a fan, antagonistic, weren’t the beneficiaries of much supportive press. KP split opinions. He still does. The main conclusions to be drawn, from totally outside, was that the press had either personal grudges they weren’t prepared to go into, or they were too close to members of the establishment. Selvey was possibly the worst case, with his piece supporting Downton on his appointment, his Cricketer love letter to Andy Flower, and then his praising of Moores. It’s easy to draw the conclusion we have.

Now, I will admit, that at some times I might have gone a bit wild. But as I’ve explained to the Editor, I come from the background of a football club’s message board. Nuance and reason didn’t work. They just didn’t. You needed to put your argument forcefully. If that’s shooting from the hip. then I’ll agree.

The main gripe, as Brian would know (and he’s limited to space) was our frustration with the journalists was the TTT – Tyers Twitter Tendency – which is “we know more than you, trust us, it was the right decision”. That intimated that there was something, but the proles couldn’t know. I still don’t. Innuendo, unattributable briefing and “I’m not going to comment” isn’t going to cut it in this day and age. And yes, I went on and on and on. I still do. But it is interesting to read these views.

Where Old sometimes fell short was in failing to recognise that journalists find themselves in a different position; in any case, the press as a whole weren’t quite the Establishment mouthpieces he felt them to be. But his obsessive refusal to let sleeping dogs lie – together with an urgent, punchy delivery and a nice line in song-lyric titles – was the most distinctive aspect of the blogosphere in 2014, even if it ultimately prompted the feeling that, at some point, he would need to let go. And in February 2015, he appeared to do just that, taking his blog down, his point eloquently made.

That is very kind of Brian, and while I disagree a bit (and I see the Establishment / Press relationship a little differently now to what I did – amazing what speaking to people does) it’s fair comment. I do listen to these things, and I recognise my style is not for all. I am clearing out the spare room at the moment and came across my old school reports. For English language (and my old English teacher follows me on Twitter) I was accused of all sorts of stylistic abominations. My history teacher called my writing style brutal. Maybe I’ve always been a blogger, and my “florid prose” isn’t to all tastes. But it gets the message across.

There is no secret that I was a nobody who no-one talked to 15 months ago, and now I’m a nobody that speaks to lots more people. I don’t over-estimate any influence I have, but I do know this blog resonates, because mainly the posts are backed up by salient, well honed arguments from many similarly angry commenters. It’s a bit raucous, very angry, and yes, we get things wrong. But it has made it’s mark.

I also see this blog as an extension of How Did We Lose In Adelaide (and Brian wasn’t to know that a new blog had taken its place) so excuse me if there is any confusion over which blog is which!

The conclusion to the article on the relationship between press and blogger is also worth a read, but I think that’s for another day. But it is an important discussion that I think I have a different view on.

My thanks to Lawrence Booth for allowing me to “fisk” the article. My thanks to Brian Carpenter for the review of this and other blogs, and my thanks to all who have supported, and all who hate what we say. It keeps the petrol flowing into the engine.

PS – Do you miss the song-titles?