Burning Bridges Light My Way

“This is not what you wanted, not what you had in mind.” – Moderat (Bad Kingdom)

The last 26 months have made a huge difference to me. I remember how angry I was when we coughed up the Champions Trophy on that dull Sunday June afternoon in 2013, as all our mental failings were laid bare in front of us. I cared, passionately, about how our team got on. I remember 2004, when Browne and Bradshaw won a low scoring encounter in the early Autumn gloom to win the Champions Trophy for the West Indies in 2004 at The Oval. I was gobsmacked. Unexpected, our team that had won all its tests looked nailed on once they’d taken care of the World Champions in the Semis.

We have a way of losing. We have a way about us when we lose. In football competitions there’s usually a hard luck story. Cricket – I still remember Adelaide, of course. But that might be the best/worst yet. A freak ending, and I should feel crushed. But the thing is, when you’ve been so angry at the people running the sport here and in the world game (especially the former), you’ve only so much to give. Despite the constant exhortations that these are a “great bunch of lads” and that people can’t understand why we can’t give this team our all, the sheer fact that newspaper columnists and the useful idiots were lining up to polish Andrew Strauss’s clock (that’s clock), shows what the real power wants. It’s all about the management baby. The palpable sense of articles being re-written and the eulogies put on hold was prevalent. Everyone with a vested interest in pumping up their tyres were ready to give it “all that”. And we know what would have been included in “all that”. We all know.

That management today nearly had it all. It nearly won a major ICC tournament overseas. It nearly had a trophy to ram down the KP fanboys’ throats. It nearly had a load of endorsement opportunities, a boost to their T20 Blast, a load of heroes to parade before an adoring public, and it nearly had their total justification after an Ashes win and a success in South Africa. A T20 win in India? Beyond comprehension. Think of the plaudits, think of the bragging. See you lot on BOC – what do you know?

Let’s be honest. Don’t buy the inexperienced team stuff. There’s a lot of experience in that team, but it is on the young side. It’s fit, it’s enthusiastic and it has room to improve. Saying we are inexperienced is getting your excuses in first.

This England T20 team showed signs of progress before Bayliss. Many of us do not forget the care-free, ambitious, gleeful win of Eoin Morgan’s England against India in the match at Edgbaston in 2014. This had come in stunning contrast to the often staid, dull approach of Alastair Cook’s 50 over side. It really didn’t take rocket scientist levels of deduction to draw the conclusion from a World Cup of nearly all out aggression, that sitting in and making nice handy totals wasn’t the way forward. We’re not exactly talking out of the box thinking. But there they were, giving it all up to Strauss. We are a funny nation.

A major England defeat in many major sports comes with some ready-made controversy or “bad thing” to hang our hats on. Last night it was the classless WIndies. But wait a minute. I know, for one, that I have a go at Australia a lot for their conduct on the field, but that’s what we do. We’re aggressive, and we’re not backward in letting people know we want to “mentally disintegrate” them. While England have, in some ways, “re-connected” with the public who wanted to “re-connect” by a more open approach to fans they previously treated with a little contempt, their conduct on the field hasn’t been without blemish. So let us stop pretending that it is. Ben Stokes, who, as I’ve said, isn’t my favourite player in the team, had been gobbing off to all and sundry this summer, including, it seems to his own coach (according to Cook, half-jokingly, he says Stokes and Bayliss communicate by swearing at each other). I don’t know about you, but if you dish it out, you should expect to take it when the you know what hits the fan. While I will defend Ben to the hilt over his bowling the last over – that Ben Chokes headline is an utter disgrace – he isn’t, outside these shores, a sympathetic character.  But those berating him for his final over yesterday have quickly forgotten that Stokes’s final over against Sri Lanka, when defending less, was absolutely magnificent.

We cannot, simply cannot, have a go at the West Indies for their celebrations. My least favourite player in the England team, David Willey, is not someone who I’d employ in the diplomatic service. Stokes we know. Root’s a chippy little sod. There have been outlandish celebrations throughout, and no doubt we’ve been giving players little send-offs throughout. But for the likes of Newman to turn all maiden aunt on us about the West Indies’ celebrations, and therefore lack of class, as if that matters, is laughable. Watch when we clinch the match against Sri Lanka. The game was over before the last ball, yet when it was concluded, all but one player rushed to engulf Stokes in the huddle. Jos Buttler, to his great credit, went over and shook Angelo Mathews hand. I saw it. I doubt Newman did. It reflected well on Jos, and increased my affection for this terrific talent, and less so on his team-mates. West Indies, their players largely hated by their board, not, by any means, without fault or iffy personalities, had clinched a world title. You might not like their celebrations, but STFU about them when your team do pretty much the same.

Also, imagine an England player who would stand up to his board as Sammy did, deliver that speech, excoriating the suits surviving one minute as an international player in his future career. Imagine how the media in this country would react, the sides they’d take, the understanding they’d show. Yeah. Picture it.

I understand people having issues with Gayle, Bravo and Samuels. But don’t imagine our players are universally loved overseas.

Then there is the ICC. They got a tournament they did not deserve. I’m not having a pop at India’s cricket fans for anything. The ICC and the host board, increasingly, in financial terms, one and the same, treated all fans like crap. You have the new jewel in your crown, and you treated it like a pre-season tournament at times. Crap ticketing, arguments over hosting grounds, switching locations (remember India v England got switched in 2011), an awful format. Despite the ICC they got a Final they did not deserve. They got a semi-final in Mumbai they did not deserve. Those who split the cricket from the governing body, claiming that all sports are poorly run, are being wilfully negligent. FIFA may be inherently corrupt, but the World Cup is treated like the sporting treasure it is when it comes to earning revenue and growing the game (because growing the game earns more revenue). Host stadia are known ages in advance, the draw takes place six months before the event and you know where every game is being played. It draws massive audiences around the globe regardless who is playing. The ICC, as this blog, and the commenters point out constantly, treat the major events as if they are personal fiefdoms, treat fans with contempt, constrain the playing field, ensure major teams get at least four matches, and yet no-one outside of what is rapidly appearing to be labelled as an “evangelical sect” seems to care. Those England folk raging against the ICC don’t share the entire portion of the Venn Diagram with the “KP fanboys”, but there’s a decent correlation. Chris, in his piece later this week on the press and the WT20, may reflect further. Watch those “evangelicals” get marginalised further. As one journo once said, and as I was reminded today “I report on men in boots, not men in suits”. Or something like that.

England made remarkable progress, are clearly on the right lines, need a little think on their strategy perhaps (I’m still really keen to see Jos in at four, or three if the openers have lasted until the 6th or 7th over), but are a team on the rise if they don’t let this heartbreaking loss get to them. They can leave India with the knowledge that they’ve made our limited overs cricket respectable, they’ve developed a number of players in the white heat of international competition and that they have done a lot to rehabilitate “Team England” in some people’s eyes.

Have a great rest of the day.

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The World T20 Final – England v West Indies

Who you got?

The winner of the toss – D’Arthez? 🙂

England have played pretty well since that opening game against their final opponents. I’ll bet if you asked the experts which group might produce both finalists, you’d have said it might have been the one with India and Australia in, but it didn’t. Now the question might be are England over the mental scars they might have picked up from the first meeting in Mumbai?

Both teams had shockers in one form or other against Afghanistan. England won their match while the WIndies had little to play for and got caught out. The WIndies saw off the remainder of their opposition in better style than we managed, so on form, it has to be the West Indies, doesn’t it?

England, though, put it all together against our almost perennial ICC tournament nemesis New Zealand, in a complete display. The form of Roy, the clinical bowling, the coolness under pressure all augur well.

You cannot argue. England have taken many strides forward in the limited overs formats, and bat all the way down, with the bowling improving game by game. To argue against that isn’t going to have evidence on your side. This really appears to be Bayliss’s strength, and made the selection of him as coach quite a prescient one (oh dear, another knock on Downton). I think bringing in Strauss as some guru is stretching it a bit – after all, I don’t remember the hosannahs for Hugh Morris when we won the same competition on 2010 – but the philosophy appears the right one. If it is still within your heart to forgive the ECB and all that surrounds it, and cheer on this England team with all your might and heart, things look really rosy. Enjoy the game.

Me? You know where I stand. I wish Jason and Jos, Alex and Joe, Chris and Moeen, good finals. I like these guys. They embody the new England. They seem decent guys. I don’t wish them ill. I just can’t stand their employer. Not quite Teddy playing for Manchester United but not far off it!

Personally, I think England will win. I think they are on a roll, qualifying comfortably through their semi, rather than the fraught, but awesome run chase the WIndies had to pull off. Bit like 2010 – we (relatively) cruised through the knock-out games, the other finalist pulled off an escapology act in the semi – we pulled things together.

Enjoy the game.

World T20 Semi-Final – England v New Zealand

Tomorrow an England cricket team will play a major World Semi-Final and it provides us with a chance to move towards a second world title in this format. It will be played out, the drama, the big hits, the slower balls, the yorkers, the running between the wickets behind a pay TV wall. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to share the coverage with those not in possession of a Sky subscription. Oh well. Internet highlights it is.

Has this game registered on the public conscience here? Has anyone outside your normal cricket circle expressed any sort of interest? Not with me it hasn’t and all my colleagues and friends know I’m that blogger.

But there’s not a problem.

New Zealand are unbeaten in the competition, have a game plan, or several plans, and yet if we could choose a team to play at this stage of a competition, we’d probably be grateful to be playing the Black Caps rather than Kohlishire. But again, they are not to be underestimated.

From a misery guts point of view, England are probably playing with house money now for the powers that be. They’ve reached the semi-final so even if they go out here, the ECB have some tangible progress to report. In many ways they have, but this still looks a flaky team to me. It could chase down pretty much anything, but it could also be chasing pretty much anything. It definitely looks more comfortable chasing rather than setting.

Comments on the match below.

T20 World Cup – England v Sri Lanka

Given the appalling weather forecast for tomorrow, it looks as though I’ll be going to be able to sit down and watch an England game in this tournament. For England the point could not be any clearer. Win and they are through. Lose and they are out (I’m not sure there is any mathematical calculation that keeps us in the competition). England’s performances in this tournament have been patchy. The batting was OK, but the bowling wretched against the West Indies. The bowling went beyond wretched against South Africa, albeit on a batting dreamscape, but the batting got them out of it. Then the converse applied against Afghanistan. So, we will either put it all together tomorrow, or all fall apart! Well, that’s what is due.

This isn’t a Sri Lanka to fear, without three of their key men in the 2014 triumph, and yet we know that underestimating them is not a thing we should be doing. It will be a trial by spin in all likelihood, although we shouldn’t be taking the seamers for granted either. However, they had a bit of a shocker against the West Indies, and there’s always the chance that will happen here. Also, although we can remember some scars over the 50 over format in ICC competitions with Sri Lanka, we were the only team to defeat them in the 2014 World Cup (thanks to Alex Hales once in a lifetime knock – I think!). Hales missed the last game, and may return for this one, but one wonders if the scars inflicted on England at Delhi by Afghanistan might carry over.

Elsewhere, I’d like to thank you all for your comments on the piece called “The Exiled”. This is a blog to talk about cricketing matters, so although I like Mark’s idea about commenting on other sports, I think that would dilute the content here to a degree. However, I’m not discounting that entirely. I do believe there needs to be something to focus on in the next few weeks, as the blog does go a lot quieter during England international breaks. I do like the idea of open threads as well – they work elsewhere. Maybe that will be in the mix. As always, would love ideas as to what to write about.

For example, I’m not going to be in the UK for the first and second tests against Sri Lanka, so I’d love someone to help Chris out in writing up pieces on them, whether you’ve seen the game or not. I know I have Blackwash to finish. I know that I owe Russell Degnan a response to his magnificent comment on Schleswig Holsteinshire. There is also the small matter of getting hold of Pringle’s article in The Cricket Paper (if anyone can get a copy to me, e-mail me on dmitriold@hotmail.co.uk) as I don’t usually find one on a Saturday. That’s the article on trolling, in case you are wondering.

One other point. I know I’ve been a critic of Stephen Brenkley, or Bunkers as he’s known on here. Mr Aplomb was one of those guilty men who drip fed us some crumbs of information but never really told us what went wrong on that Ashes tour. I will remember the salt in the tea analogy as a particular Bunkers piece. Today he took to Twitter to say that he’s written his last piece as The Independent’s Cricket Correspondent, and that’s sad. He also said he has two weeks more to go and he’d write for the I if they wanted him to. I’m not rejoicing. Brenkley’s loss to the media coverage of cricket should be a bloody beacon of woe for the game. I’m not sure who will be taking over at the I, but I’ll bet it won’t be a full time correspondent. Let’s see. It didn’t seem the departure of a retiring man, but one of a paper cutting costs. Maybe things will become clearer.

Finally, other than comments below, I’d like to wish you all a happy Easter weekend. Enjoy the break and hope all close to you do too.

T20 World Cup – England v South Africa

So here we are. A “must win”. They are all “must wins” from here on in. It’s gone from “we can beat anyone on our day” and “being young and exciting” to “a potentially disappointing early exit”. Hang about. Have we been here before?

It’s funny. The whole thing is funny. The press are just caught between two stools. Of course, we can win against South Africa, but then again, we are probably more likely to lose based on recent performances against them. Those five limited overs losses on the bounce seem to have some major significance now.

The key message for me from yesterday was how a loathed individual, pretty much slaughtered (rightly) for his antics in Australia, is still picked by the most dysfunctional board, arguably, in top level international cricket, and wins the game for the West Indies. He has the label “T20 gun for hire” attached as a disparaging description. He has a double hundred in a World Cup ODI, and cares so little for test cricket that he’s made the effort to make a triple century in Galle, of all places (as well as the one at St.John’s). He’s an individual talent, a genius, a matchwinner, a non-conformist, an arsehole, if you want. But he won his side a big World Cup match. Meanwhile, you fill in the rest.

If you want your team to be a corporate, well-drilled set of altar boys, I suggest you might get to wait a fair amount of time to win major awards. We treat our time as #1 in Test Cricket for a year as some sort of climbing of Mount Olympus. Australia, for one, must be laughing their heads off at that. Especially as in that time we lost 3-0 to Pakistan and 2-0 at home to South Africa. Now we have a bunch of lovely, likeable lads, that the whole of England should get behind or there is something wrong with you. The most major indiscretion is someone punching a locker room door, for heaven’s sake. There’s individual genius in there – we’ve seen it in Stokes, we’ve seen it in Buttler, and even seen a bit in Morgan. We have a world class player in all formats in Joe Root. But Stokes aside, I don’t see any bastard in them. They all seem to be perfectly delighted to be there, playing some good cricket at times, but would you put money on any of them playing an innings like Gayle in that scenario?

As I said, things can turn around. I’m not daft. But I’m not hopeful either. However it pans out, it won’t matter. An early group exit will be put down as another piece of experience for a young and improving team, and now we can put this distraction away and concentrate on 50 overs cricket. A semi-final placing will be “good progress” and the coaches will be lauded, and the ECB hierarchy quietly content. Anything more than that and the eg0-less Strauss will be given plenty to have an ego about. There will be more puffery than a pipe smokers club.

Meanwhile, and isn’t it still fun, that those who wish we’d all just shut up about Pietersen carry on going on about him. The poor lambs are now offended by his presence on Sky’s coverage. One person today said, and I quote…

“putting KP on for an England match is like putting Jimmy Saville in charge of a children’s party”

It really isn’t. I’d evaluate your life if you start writing tossery like that. But while I have time for some of those commenting on the issue on Twitter (it just amuses me that the likes of us are accused of “tenacity” when the same old lines are repeated on the other side of the argument) it’s this tendency to just ignore the underlying issue and hope it just goes away. It clearly isn’t. It clearly won’t. Going to safe spaces, purging BTL of the naysayers, isn’t going to work. It just isn’t. I have no hope of KP playing for England again – and you know that, and the others know it too if they take time out and read the blog. I have some hope that continuing to highlight the awful behaviour of our wonderful cricket board, and the assistance of a supine press, illustrated in the utmost clarity by the Guardian and it’s laughable cricket correspondent, but aided an abetted by our perennial favourites at the Mail, Indy and Sun, will one day make a change. Hope is all we have, because they know the storm has blown over, and the odd Gayle isn’t going to make a difference.

I will give one of the anti-KP crowd one thing. He’s right. I don’t get to watch much cricket at the moment. That’s because I have a job, and these matches are played in job hours. I also have friends and colleagues, and I like socialising and talking many things with them. Given the attitudes of the press and our governing body, in reverse order of importance, I’m not exactly making buttons to see the highlights. You lot keep me up to date.

So to tomorrow. Will we be moping at the end of another campaign, with our bowling not good enough and our batting not great enough? Another tournament sacrificed on the altar of expediency? Or will we be back blowing smoke up their arses again! That “we” is our media, not me.

I’m so sorry I won’t give in. I’m so sorry that I offend some of them. I’m so sorry that this blogger isn’t being nice and happy with Corporate Team England. I’ll live.

Comments below…..

UPDATE – This doesn’t look good. It’s The 12th Man’s company doing the copyright protection: