On The Back Of A Hurricane, That Started Turning – BOC is 4!

We Are 4

I love a good anniversary. On 6th February 2015 I shut down How Did We Lose In Adelaide, and started up Being Outside Cricket. Within four years we have established ourselves as part of the cricket blogging furniture, given opportunities for others to use our blog to get their messages across, been a blog that tried to allow the malcontents a voice, and I think we did that, and most of all, to convey how much cricket did mean to us, and to an extent still does.

While HDWLIA is still where I thought I did my best work, because it was visceral and because at the time life was massively tumultuous, both in terms of work and the strain the blog was putting me under, I am immensely proud of Being Outside Cricket. Within three months of BOC starting, Chris came on board, and we’ve never looked back. Sean started guesting in 2016, then came fully on board later that year, with Danny following in 2017. As a foursome, we try to keep up with the blog while holding down very busy jobs. Even last week, I was wondering how much I could continue to commit to the blog going forward.

KP Birthday

While we won’t ever really reach the hits heights of 2015, there is a steady flow when we write. Great commenters have come and gone. People have got bored with us, and with cricket. It is inevitable, but it is also a great sense of joy when those test matches come around and the blog gets a stack load of comments. For we know this is a test match blog. Our regulars are appreciated, and the passion of debate is well known. I have loved being part of it. Four years on, with some trials and tribulations, Being Outside Cricket is still one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’m sure my co-writers think exactly the same.

In those four years I’ve seen the standards slip elsewhere. Too many writers seem to want to make professions out of it. It’s the way it is. Friends of the past are now no longer interested in us, and in turn, we’ve tired of some of their antics. This isn’t about recrimination, but it is about my blogging ethos. In my “angry” posts, you sense the frustration and I’m not going to sugar coat it. In my longform writing, you must sense what love I had for the sport. In the brilliant wordsmithery of Chris, you see the passion for the game, and the clear sense of what frustrates him, while keeping it measured, but real. In Sean, there’s passion and anger, with Danny, clarity and precision. They are all tremendous colleagues. Without all of them, this blog would not have made 4 years.

Harrison Birthday

So what for the future. Year 5 looks to be a really busy one. We get a little downtime while the IPL bores us senseless, but then we have the lead up to, and the playing of, a World Cup in England. No matter what we feel about 50 over cricket, this is a time to rejoice in the game in this country. We kicked off the 4 years with a World Cup, and that launched BOC.

Then we have the Ashes. It is going to be a really interesting series, shunted to the back of the summer. We have been a very Ashes focused blog because it draws the traffic. In turn that inspires us. If time is on our side, we’ll continue the live blogging, the daily reports and perhaps some new ideas. Who knows. The end of the year has two more test series. Oh, and not forgetting England v Ireland, which has banana skin written all over it.

Somehow, through it all, I doubt the ECB will deny us material, and nor will this England team.

I wanted to write a cricket blog, because I wanted to write. I wanted Chris, and Nonoxcol, along with me because I loved their comments on the varying newspapers, and so 1 out of 2 wasn’t bad. I then wanted to be a voice for those angry at the ECB and in turn the media. It then got a bit too big for me. It became my life. I obsessed over critics. I took some stuff far too personally. Now I am in a better place. I feel a lot stronger, more valued in my real life, and in turn it brings me to a better environment to write. I am so proud of this place, so protective, so amazed at what we’ve done, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. On this, our 4th birthday, we are as relevant as we have ever been, in my view, even if the flow isn’t as strong. We’ve been proved right a lot more than we’ve been proved wrong. We will prove that this was never a pro-KP blog, or an anti-Cook blog. It is a vessel to write what we feel about cricket. And in many ways, we are just getting started.

To more years…

Dmitri (Peter)

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Brains Retrained By a 24 Inch Remote

This will be a pretty short post, I promise. By my standards.

Something has caught my eye on Twitter the past couple of days – a post from Football 365 on the so-called Sky Revolution of football in England, via the behemoth that is the Premier League:

https://www.football365.com/news/the-future-of-premier-league-football-on-tv-part-one

We, in Outside Cricket land, are not going to be strangers to this argument. The fact that the game has been hidden from view on pay TV is a common thread of comment over the past four years – five if you include HDWLIA. The sheer fact that in the new deal for the Hundred (and other associated packages) that the ECB has felt compelled to put some of the sport on so-called Free-to-Air is an admission of error. The sport left that medium in 2005, and has paid dearly for it. It isn’t the only reason we are in the mess we are in with the game – envy, greed, stupidity, stubbornness, short-termism have manifested themselves in other ways over the years. But there is no doubt that keeping cricket locked away on Sky has been a real problem. They are prepared to pay the big bucks, but for how long? Viewing figures don’t seem to justify it, even for football. For instance, when Millwall played Blackburn on Sky, who outside of the fan-bases of those two clubs would have given a stuff about it? I can’t imagine viewing figures were much above 20000. Yet the deal pays the clubs quite a bit of cash. I don’t bet, so all those adverts are a total waste of time for me.

Cricket is not a visible. There’s a great part in Ali Martin’s piece last August which sums up where we are…

On the Friday before England’s defeat at Trent Bridge the BBC staged a smiley and slapstick Twenty20 match between Test Match Special and the Tailenders Podcast, with a few famous faces thrown in. Though fun, it was barely benefit-match standard. But it drew 5,000 to Derbyshire’s County Ground and, more eye-catchingly, a television audience of around 400,000 via the red button.

The BBC had similar numbers for the first TMS match in Leeds last year, too – 400k plus another 100k via the iPlayer (around as many as watched the last day of the first Ashes Test in 2015 live) – such that the comedian Miles Jupp in his speech at the Wisden dinner in April quipped about the “frightening statistic” that more people had seen him play cricket on terrestrial TV than Joe Root.

And make that Alastair Cook, who’s entire career was played behind a paywall. If you did not watch the highlights, or the Sky live coverage, Kevin Pietersen probably still has that badger haircut and bad teeth!

At the weekend the US played its most prominent sporting event, the Superbowl. Each weekend during the season a game is played live on CBS, Fox and NBC. An additional game is played on ESPN which most, not all, cable households have in the US. NFL Network also has a game, but it’s not always a top drawer and each team can only play live on it once a season. The thought the whole sport could be stuffed onto a pay TV network would be seen as ridiculous. Unless you do what MLB does, which is offer a brilliant, almost total online package for £100 for the season, and you can watch what you like when you like (with very few exceptions, and with local black-out rules for local TV).

I have heard people like Selvey moan at the likes of us for saying that the return to FTA would not be the cure-all we suggest. Well he’s sticking up more strawmen than a Wizard of Oz rehearsal in that sort of argument. It’s a bit like a smoker who has given up for a week moaning about a lung cancer diagnosis because he’s quit. The long-term damage has been done, and while packing in was a good idea, it’s not going to cure the sins of the past. The audience for cricket has moved on, while the audience for live sport has still got legs, as proved by the ratings for the Six Nations – wisely kept largely on FTA for the duration.

If there were a vision, and if there were a way, the 2019 World Cup would be on FTA. Sky should open it up to all, all the time if they give a crap about the sport, and want to keep their superior production values that everyone bangs on about (hey, didn’t Channel 4 do a really good job too?). We spoke with a journo before Christmas who asked whether we thought if England made a great run to the World Cup Final, if it would capture the nation. While we (Chris and I) both thought it would not do any harm, we were doubtful that the nation (outside of cricket fans) would care. Because they would not be able to see it. I’d love Sky to announce that if England make the semi-final, that they would broadcast their remaining games to all.

I am not a fan of the Sky Sports Cricket Channel. I’ve seen the re-run of that T20 Final and Carlos Brathwaite an inordinate amount of times. They have cut the number of countries they are taking cricket from instead of increasing them. They have endless loops of repeats. If the ECB won’t give up all the old England highlights, then they are more myopic than I give them credit for. Same with any board not wanting to give the game cheap, free publicity from the derring-do of the past. There’s not a market to watch re-runs of Lara and Tendulkar, Warne and Murali, Curtly or Hadlee? Really? Better than that Legends of Cricket stuff of nonsense.

Cricket needs all the help it can get, and while the Premier League is cited as the example of the success of Pay TV, it remains to be seen how successful that has been in terms of engagement. The playing fields near my house certainly have a lot fewer games on them than when I saw as a kid.

This is just a think-piece at this point, but it also gives me another opportunity to plug one of our great guest pieces by Andy, who took the viewing figures apart in a post two years ago. It has not aged badly for the passage of time. His conclusion is utterly relevant now we see the Hundred and its proposed TV regimen:

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

(From – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/18/viewing-figures-a-ramble-through-facts/)

They want both. Good luck with that.

We’ll be busy this week. The early part of February is always a key one for us. A few things to commemorate.

 

Hey There, You, With The Sad Face – Australia and Me (Part 2 of a few)

“We were all wrong, of course, and when Gatting played that shot, and the ball ballooned up and over to Dyer, there was a cathartic roar that had wrapped in it all the injustices suffered by the good Bengali: The Raj itself, the transfer of the capital (political) to Delhi, Partition and the flight of capital (financial) out of Bengal, maybe even a premonition of Ganguly being axed.” ESPN Cricinfo

In a routine increasingly, and annoyingly, used by many films these days, let’s start at the end. Let’s give a taster of what’s to come by embracing the epilogue. The Cricket World Cup of 1987 coincided with my leaving home and running off to Liverpool University to study, in the loosest sense, and to actually grow up as an individual. I was the one member of my floor in the Halls of Residence to have a colour portable TV, and so immediately gained many friends. The first month of my “study” coincided with the first World Cup outside these shores, and England, somehow, someway, managed to make the Final. A final against Australia. How could we lose? We’d defeated India in their own backyard, with a majestic, sweep-fest hundred by Graham Gooch. We’d won ODI competitions for fun against the same Aussie team just 10 months before – the Perth Challenge and then the World Series Cup. Sure, 1987 wasn’t the best domestic summer on record, but we’d still won the highly charged ODI series against Pakistan. How could we lose? So they had won in Pakistan to clinch their place in the Final? So what?

Inflection Point – a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

We left the last piece after the heroics of Headingley. A slog gone right, a pitch gone bad, a win for the ages, a DVD and TV repeat for many a rainy day. Up there with Edgbaston 2005, and if it had been played when we were awake, a test to follow around 18 months later – but we’ll get to that. At the time England won that game, the direction of the series seemed to turn, but then we had Edgbaston 1981. This was a very curious test match in more ways than one. Botham with the bat was largely anonymous, but to be fair, so were most others. The stat Richie Benaud seemed most keen on was that no-one, on either side, managed a half-century in the match. England made 189 first up – Brearley top scoring with 48, Botham next best with 26 – but on what looked a good surface, this was inadequate. Or so we thought. Australia took a first innings lead with a score of 258, with Hughes (47) and Martin Kent (46) making the largest contributions. John Emburey, in the side for this game took four wickets. England made 219 in their second innings, and it would have been a lot worse but for John Emburey scratching out 37 from number 10. But 151 runs to win. Lightning could not strike twice.

This test match had Sunday play, and what I distinctly remember from an early part of the day was Peter Walker, who used to get the first 20 overs of the Sunday League coverage that BBC had in those days, got a short commentary slot. It was enough for him to get a wicket – well Willis probably did, but who is complaining? It was the important one of Kim Hughes. However, Australia never really looked out of control, and again England needed to get out both Hughes and Border for me to believe they had a shout. Border had been promoted to number 3 and looked solid. He and Yallop put on a 50 partnership for the 4th wicket before the former captain was caught by Botham off Emburey. Martin Kent took the score to 100, and slightly beyond, but then Border went. There’s a great photo of the appeal, I recall. So 40 odd to win, Benaud saying that no-one would now make a 50. And then, if my memory doesn’t betray me, BBC went off to another event – looking up on Wikipedia, the German Grand Prix was on.

After an interlude the BBC came back, and I believe they were midway through “the spell”. So we were treated to a catch-up (please forgive me Beeb if I’ve got this wrong). ooooh. Marsh bowled by Botham. We’re into the tail, I thought. Wait a minute, he’s got Ray Bright too, first ball pinged LBW. Game on. Hang about, they are showing ANOTHER Botham episode, what happened here? Blimey, Dennis Lillee has nicked it, Bob Taylor’s doing a juggling act, but held onto it, wait, why isn’t Constant giving this out, oh yes he has? Bloody hell. And then they went live….

Or I’ve just made this nonsense up. Sunday Grandstand was possibly in its first year – I don’t know, look it up (I did, it was) – and they were doing it because things like the Wimbledon Final were moving to that date (but didn’t that year, because that was the last Saturday final) and Grand Prix were also on Sundays.

Anyway, the denouement was live. Botham steaming in, and cleaning up Martin Kent. Steaming in, and cleaning up Terry Alderman. Stump plucked out at both ends, Botham charging. Me just loving it. You don’t get better than that.

On to Old Trafford. Don’t remember much about the first day, and also recall knowing sod all squared about Paul Allott, who was making his debut. Tavare was also in, and his batting became a watchword for slow – he went into childhood cricket vernacular. Play defensively and you were called a Tavare. Which was worse than being a Boycott. Anyway, it was Allott’s batting the following day that I remember.

When I was a kid, mum and dad used to go shopping at the very fancy, at the time, Riverdale Centre in Lewisham. This Friday morning we were dragged along for the ride, with the promise of something nice from the new world of Sainsbury’s. However, I do recall, while my parents were somewhere else, sticking myself infront of an electrical store that had the TV on. It had England on. I caught the end of Paul Allott’s riotous debut half century. The last two wickets, one of which was Tavare who had batted nigh on five hours for 60 odd, put on nearly a hundred. Returning to the TV store a little later, I watched Australia collapse in a heap. Hilarious. Richie Benaud moaning about Australia batting for a ridiculously small amount of overs (30.2). Once Australia were dismissed, England set about adding to their unexpected lead, and we were treated to epic Boycott and Tavare. I went out and did something less boring instead. Why don’t you?

The following morning I think we scored around 28 runs in the entire session, losing wickets. Except Tavare. No, he stuck to it. No attack, shotless, dull. This was Saturday Grandstand on the Beeb, and this meant horseracing, so the afternoon session was broken up by whatever meeting was on at the time. So we missed the start of the Ian Botham fusillade.

Now several innings throughout the time I’ve watched cricket have stuck with me for their brilliance. Viv in the 1979 World Cup Final, Viv’s hundred against Surrey in the B&H Final, KP at The Oval, Thorpe’s Barbados knock, to name a few. But this Botham hundred is up there. As a 12 year-old I was transfixed. The sixes swatted off his eyelashes with no helmet on. The utter carnage as the mighty DF bat smashed shot after shot. People stopped to watch. This was the way to entertain. Match in the balance, play massive innings, match no longer in the balance. We lived in different times then, but people talked about it. My mates who I played cricket in the street with wanted to talk about it, to play like it. It was great because it was exceptional, and because there were fewer avenues of entertainment to pursue, but we are not comparing like with like. It was important because this was Australia. This was Dennis Lillee, the scourge of 1974-5. This was an Australian side there for the taking. Little did I know, then, that such joy against the old enemy would be so rare. If I did, I’d have appreciated it more.

But what to appreciate? I remember Mike Whitney being plucked from county cricket on one of those sponsorship programmes (and had been on TV a week or two before in the Sunday League playing for Gloucestershire) and being the poor sod under a steepling shot from Botham. It went miles up in the air. He circled around, hopelessly clutching, and it went down. I also remember, with that pedantic picking-up of any error, Jim Laker saying for the shot that got Botham to a hundred that it was a marvellous way “to get to a six”. Or was it wonderful? But other than that, it was the smashing Lillee to the scoreboard without actually looking at the ball when he hit it. And then there was Tavare. At the other end for the entire innings, unfurling a wonderful cover drive, then hibernating again. And as if that wasn’t enough, recalled Alan Knott made a fifty, and it was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “that’s a good hand” in terms of a batting performance. Another Benaud-ism. All this and we were packing to go away (Portugal this time).

I went on holiday the following day, and had a long wave radio. We found out on the Monday that the game had been extended, but that we finally won – Rodney Marsh had me nervous on the one spell I caught on the World Service – but the Ashes were ours. No big deal, we were used to beating them. The sixth test was memorable for a couple of reasons. Paul Parker made his debut, Dirk Welham made a hundred which Kim Hughes almost certainly delayed the declaration for (and for which I experienced, for the first time, Aussies tut-tutting about a personal achievement over team goals – more of that to come), and then using the whizz-bang Sanyo Music Centre to record my own commentary of the final day, which I soon got bored with.

And that’s the point of the detailed recollection of 1981. I played a poor standard of school cricket, we were a lousy team, but I had got a reputation as a doughty, boring, opening bat. Watching your heroes, those stars of the screen, play made you love the game more as you strived to succeed in your own performances. It gave you something to love. County cricket, in the form of the Sunday League and the Gillette/NatWest Cup and the B&H also raised profiles, and gave visibility to other talent. But England v Australia seemed to captivate those older than me, and you sort of wondered why. There was no sign of Aussie self-confidence. That would come soon, though. Australia contributed, but they were nice because they were beatable, and England beat them. Nothing more, nothing less in this 12 year-old eye.

1982-3 was the next series. Let’s skirt through the first three games. England got on top at Perth, but couldn’t win. I remember it only for the radio commentary on Terry Alderman’s injury, and the outrage that poured out. I also remember being completely turned off by Alan McGilivray’s commentary, in a way subsequent Australian commentators haven’t done. We lost in Brisbane because South African Kepler Wessels made a century on debut. Now this was funny. I remember the news showing the 30 second clip, and me thinking “hang about, he’s an Aussie? Didn’t he play for Sussex?” Remember him, Malcolm Conn, remember him? Then we lost in Adelaide, and were 2-0 down, a test match I only recall because Greg “only play at home now” Chappell made a century. So to the Boxing Day test.

England needed to win both games to retain the Ashes. I remember only snippets of Day 1 from the news reports. I used to stay around my Aunt’s pub for Christmas, so play took place over Christmas night, and so when I woke up in the morning, the score was announced on Radio 2. No Ceefax in that house. Listening to the match reports, and then catching those ever so wonderful highlights, it appeared as though Tavare had gone, by his standards, berserk, and Allan Lamb joined him for the ride. We scored 280-odd. I remember nothing of the Aussie first innings, except, I think, they scored 280-odd. Same again with the 3rd innings, where England scored, if I recall, 280-odd. Setting Australia 280-odd to win. Actual scores 284. 287, 294 setting 292 to win. Not bad if I say so myself. It has been 36 years!

The fourth day was one of those legendary radio listening under the bedclothes nights – given it was school holidays – and trying to sleep in between. In no real order I recall Norman Cowans getting Greg Chappell caught in the covers by a sub fielder who was our reserve wicket-keeper. Yep, checked it up and it was Ian Gould. I remember hearing a wicket after a bit of a partnership where Bob Taylor took a phenomenal catch off a bat-body combo. It looked to be Kim Hughes. I heard England get to 8 down and settled down for some sleep. When I woke up, and heard the news that Australia had lost their 9th wicket soon after, but that the game was not over, because Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had put on 40 of the 75 or so they needed to win, I thought uh-oh. Because Border had been in no sort of form that series, and it appeared as though we had played him into it.

So we remember the next day. There was no live TV coverage, so radios at midnight it would have to be. Mum and Dad even put it on the main “Music Centre” for us all to listen, except my brother who went to sleep. He wasn’t a cricket fan. It was unbearable. And the runs ticked off. I got more upset that we were throwing this away. Hardly a hint of anything. And the runs ticked off. Thomson not looking like getting out, Border being his dogged self, taking the target down. Cowans, so great the day before, getting no joy. And the runs ticked down. 10, 5, 4.

Willis was the skipper, and there was much cursing under my breath. Certainly no swearing. They’d let the crowd in for nothing, could only have got a ball. In modern ECB world, that behaviour would be laughed at.

Then. Nick, Smack, time stood still, Miller, catch, what the hell happened. We’ve won. Bloody hell. What happened. Botham bowled, it was nicked, Tavare dropped it but Miller caught it. Pictures painted in my head. Australia would have to wait. Damn them. Then you had to wait until the following day’s LUNCHTIME news to see the dismissal. Kids, you don’t know you were born. Imagine watching Kenneth Kendall for 25 minutes, to catch the sport at the end. Yet that less, was more. Hanging on a 30 second clip. Now I sensed what Australia v England really meant. How those fragile muppets from 1981 would scrap. How they would not give in. Allan Border became a nemesis. That, people, is what test cricket is all about. The greatest game I had heard about. The most tense I’d been at listening to cricket.

There is a common misconception that the first time that overseas cricket was covered live in the UK was by Sky in the West Indies in 1990. That’s not right. The fourth day of the final test at Sydney, if I recall, certainly had some live coverage on the BBC. But what this match will always stick in my memory for, and why January 2nd was on my old cricket calendars “Mel Johnson” day was the run out of John Dyson early on the first day. He was out by a yard, yard and a half. Mel never gave it. It’s in here… https://de-visions.com/detail/top-10-worst-umpire-decisions-in-cricket-39N4eE-Rqj4.html

I’m not saying it was important, but Dyson went on to make a few, and any chance at a really quick start went. The first few days had some inclement weather around, Kim Hughes and Allan Border put the game out of reach on Day 4, and Eddie Hemmings made a 90-odd as nightwatchman. But Australia had the Ashes, and we would need to wait until 1985 to have a chance at getting them back.

It was possibly 1985 that truly got the Ashes ingrained into me, and Australia as primary foe. Because until a controversial decision saw off an obdurate partnership at Edgbaston, it was quite possible that a poor Australian side might retain the Ashes, and that would have been a travesty.

In between those two series Australia had had their tough times. First, in 1983, at the World Cup they failed to make the semi-finals – losing to Zimbabwe and also to a West Indies team where Winston Davis took seven wickets. There then followed a winter (for England) where they played 10 tests against the mighty West Indies. After the big three retired in the home summer (Lillee, Marsh and G Chappell),  Kim Hughes took his squad to the West Indies and lost 3-0 in five matches. Competitive at Guyana until a declaration setting the West Indies 300+ to win saw Greenidge and Haynes make an unbroken partnership of 250, and threaten an unlikely win in just over 4 hours. The 2nd Test was drawn too, with Border’s unbeaten 98 in the first innings, and 100 in the second got Australia to safety. Tests 3, 4 and 5 were routs. A competitive 420 in the 1st innings in Bridgetown was followed by 97 in the second and a 10 wicket defeat; an innings defeat in the 4th test at Antigua, where Border was resistant, but no match for Richards and Richardson; and another 10 wicket defeat in the final game in Jamaica meant a 3-0 defeat. They had not taken a single West Indies second innings wicket in the entire series. But one man came out with his chin up, chest out, and reputation intact, and in fact enhanced. He would become more prominent, and a key Australian figure for years to come.

The winter of 1984-5 saw the West Indies visit Australia. Having just annihilated England in the first of their two Blackwashes, the West Indies were on top of the world, and people were openly talking about changing the rules for them. Australia may have laughed at England’s plight, but they were soon to get a taste of the medicine. At Perth, in the 1st Test, West Indies made 416, and then Australia responded with 76. It was a hammering. 228 runs after following on, and the Aussies had succumbed by an innings again. At Brisbane, the visitors won by 8 wickets, losing their first second innings wickets against Australia in 7 tests chasing 26 to win. The match is probably most memorable for Kim Hughes resigning in tears. In an era where men crying left people very uncomfortable it was painful to watch, but sympathy was in scant supply. Some of us asked “what did Australia expect?” for they were playing generational greats. At this point we got the view that the Aussies didn’t exactly live in the real world, every bit as much as the English media.

The new captain was Allan Border, who reportedly wasn’t overly enamoured by the task facing him. From the other side of the world he looked the only choice. His first test in charge was another heavy defeat at Adelaide, and an Aussie blackwash looked on. But at Melbourne there was an unlikely hero. It looked bleak – Viv making 208 in a first innings of 479. However, recalled Andrew Hilditch (70) and Kepler Wessels (90) set a foundation, and then another shocking partnership for the 10th wicket between Murray Bennett and Rodney Hogg, took the Aussies from 27 runs short of the follow-on to 16 runs past it. West Indies still set the Aussies all but the first 25 minutes of Day 5 to survive, which they did only just, losing 8 wickets, but with the new hero, Hilditch making a legendary century. The West Indies winning run came to an end. To everyone’s shock, on a spinning pitch at Sydney, the unbeaten run ended as well. Kepler Wessels made 173, the West Indies made 163 and 253 and beat the mighty visitors by an innings in the final test. Bob Holland, a leg-spinner, took 10 wickets in the match, Murray Bennett 6, both getting on the plane to England as a result, and with someone like me from the other side of the world thinking, simply, that a 3-1 home defeat was a lot better than our 5-0 smashing.

1985 was eagerly awaited. By this time I was our school’s scorer, so was in the scorebox, with my radio, listening to the test matches while watching my school team. It was a lovely summer once the O Levels were out of the way. There was now something alluring about playing the Aussies. Maybe Botham would lift himself, as he always did. The apartheid tourists would be returning after bans, so that meant Gooch for definite, but who else? And then there was the India issues. England had won a tremendous series in India the preceding winter, coming from 1-0 down. As Gooch was coming back, someone would have to make way as an opener, where Graeme Fowler and Tim Robinson had had excellent tours. Mike Gatting had come of age as an England batsman, with a super hundred in defeat in Bombay (Mumbai) and then a double hundred in the amazing win in Madras (Chennai). He was nailed on a place. Allan Lamb was ensconced at 5. Botham at 6. Downton was the keeper. The bowling had places up for grabs.

The ODI series set some ominous messages. Allan Border was going to be a right royal pain in the derriere that summer. There are always those players that seem to have an air of invincibility about them, and he was that in 1985. His 59 was a key element in the run chase at Old Trafford – Botham having made his return after missing India with a 72 and a reverse sweep SNAFU – and then at Edgbaston in the second game his 85 not out covered Gooch’s return century to see the Aussies home. The pressure was on Gower who was now struggling for runs, but he and Gooch made hundreds at Lord’s as England won the third game comfortably. All set for the opening test.

Having started the piece intending to get it to 1987 and the World Cup Final, I know it’s going to be 10000 words long before I get there, so let me put this first part up now, and pick up the 1985 series in the next one.

But before I do, this era, from 81 to 85 was slim pickings for England, and going into the Ashes the win in India, not as coveted as it is now, was still a mighty achievement when England went into it without Ian Botham, The preceding four years without the talents of Gooch had been frustrating as the Essex opener pummelled county attacks but could not play for England. As a young kid, I had no comprehension of precisely what South Africa meant. Why would I? It was a vastly different world and newspapers at the time, especially at the one my dad printed, were telling me it wasn’t a bad thing. It was truly like that. Of course as I matured and learned, I felt that the decisions were absolutely correct, but at the time it felt like we were harming ourselves. Then the Aussies had it happen to them. So while 1981 was a triumph, a series we all recall if we are old enough, 1982-3 was a series where overnight listening on small radios wasn’t a cliche, but actually was what I did, and awaiting those half hour highlights programmes on BBC 2 was something exotic, and had that Melbourne test match, the 1985 Ashes looked like two quite evenly matched, if not brilliant quality compared to the West Indies, and the season whet the appetite. Six test matches, a summer of Ashes cricket. It felt like it had meaning.

 

My Brain Hurt Like A Warehouse – Five Years On From The Sacking Of Kevin Pietersen

4 February 2014. Chinbrook Road bus-stop. The news came through. England were sacking Kevin Pietersen. It had been trailed. It had been hinted. It had been whispered. The behind the scenes briefing. The hints, the allegations, the rumoured bust-ups, the spurious rumours, the aftermath of a tour that will live in infamy. The world leading team falling apart at the seams, and to make sure the ruins were complete, the decision was to sack the top run scorer on the tour.

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Left To Play Silly Cricket – At Least I Saw The Last 50

So what?

Let me take you back to the How Did We Lose In Adelaide post (to those new(ish) on here, this was my (Dmitri) site before Being Outside Cricket). My reaction was initially meant only as a diary entry, expecting only my friends to read it. And they did at first. Then it caught on, and then it got attention, and linked, and more attention and before I knew it, I had a “thing” going. But the post on the day of the sacking is worth re-reading (the old blog still exists out there, but is password protected).

What The Hell Are We Thinking?

It was a rainy night. I’d had a pretty asthmatic couple of days and was wending my way home. The commute was as lousy as usual. The trains were packed as the Tube strike beckoned. I saw a tweet from Mike Selvey of the Guardian saying a decision on KP was expected within an hour. I then tried to access BBC sport, Cricinfo et al on my crowded train. That tweet was well over an hour old. The news was out, and so I wanted it confirmed. You don’t prep a news story like that unless it’s the controversial outcome on the way. But my smartphone wasn’t playing ball. No internet. Nada.

I got off the train at my stop and still no joy. I rebooted it and walked out towards my bus stop. It was raining, I was wheezing. I got to the stop, got under cover and switched on BBC Sport. KP had been sacked. “You are having a laugh” I exhorted.

And that’s how I will remember it. Where I was, the date (Trevor’s birthday) and the poxy weather.

Since that announcement much has been said and written. I’ve been prolific on Twitter, which is where you can catch my ill conceived views on a more regular basis. So you know the following:

  • This is an idiotic decision.
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it
  • If there is an excuse for this idiotic decision, no-one seems to know it, why aren’t we being told, as paying punters, why our best batsman, and he is, despite people saying Cook or Bell is, being excluded.
  • Has he breached his contract – well, evidently not as they are supposedly settling it.
  • Someone has been talking out of school, because Pringle, Hoult and Selvey in particular have been privy to some information and Paul Newman of the Mail has been calling for KP to be dropped since January.
  • I have never been convinced that sacking your best player is a recipe for future success.
  • The cricket authorities have treated the public with barely-concealed contempt. Did they expect a pat on the back for this stupidity?
  • The meme that we should wait until we know more before we pass judgment is an insult to all our intelligence. Iain O’Brien, the former New Zealand bowler re-tweeted Alan Tyer’s response to that.

Alan Tyers

@alantyers

What is more insulting to the reader than “don’t have an opinion because you don’t know the facts. I do, but I’m not telling you plebs”?

  • The awkward squad of ex-pros are united, almost, in their agreement. Boycott has been vociferous, in an example of such craven hypocrisy I’ve failed to see equaled. A man who never voluntarily left any team at the end of his career other than to benefit himself, saying KP should go for “daft shots” or whatever. Lord. Willis chimed in, and what respect for him I had went out of the window. Tufnell on 5 Live seemed to agree, another treated abominably by the suits in power. Only Aspergers [Ian Botham] has come out with all guns blazing from an England perspective.
  • No-one, but no-one, is asking for KP to be liked by his comrades. Michael Clarke was openly despised by a number of his team-mates, got stuffed 4-0 in his first full series on the road in 2013, and yet now is a hero and I never, ever, heard the Aussies call for him to be dropped.
  • Brian Lara was always a solo impresario in a team, and was actively undermining the captain at times. But, he went out on his own terms. While they had some success without him, who could deny he wasn’t deserving of a place?
  • Australian teams famously never got on that well off the field. Warne despised Buchanan, his team manager, yet was never seriously in the frame to be dropped.

This is a country where a quality player was left out of a team because the selectors adhered to a view “what does he bring to the table, except runs?” That was Graham Thorpe. We’re idiots.

There will be more, much more. But read utter fuckwittery like this and then ask yourself, is this a case of the toff tendency in the officer class putting the riff raff infantry in their place? It contains absolute up your own arse shite like this…

As every sensible medieval king figured out, the way to deal with a rival king in exile is to govern well at home. Then the appeals of the exile’s advocates fall on deaf ears.

I’ll translate that for you out there. You plebs will soon forget KP when those new charges come in and score all those runs that he might have. Why you have to put it into some sort of highfalutin old keg-meg like this, only Ed “I’m really very clever, just ask me” Smith knows. But then, it’s his kind of people making the decision.

This Tweet made me smile…

Sir Jacques Hobbs@TheReverseSweep

We lose the Ashes 5-0, the Captain stays and our best player is fired. You’re not working in the City now Downton

This will be yesterday’s chip paper soon enough. That was proved by the Twitter Top Trends in London an hour later:

Dmitri Old@DmitriOld

To see how far cricket has fallen in the public eye, London trends on Twitter have Laudrup and Swansea, and no KP.

We look at the team we are sending to Bangladesh for the World T20s and the ODIs in West Indies and we see someone like Jade Dernbach rewarded for perennial failure (and a massive gob when we lose), and yet somehow our team ethic is enhanced by him and not KP?

There’s a lot more, I know, and I will be commenting soon. Take this as my opening gambit. I’m not impressed.

I always commemorate this date, as I do Outside Cricket Day (the 9th), because the fact is that the attitudes surrounding this decision are still as relevant today as they were then. You don’t think so? Look at the media strategy, the interaction with punters, the paying heed to the paying customer that Tom Harrison has when talking about the Hundred. You don’t matter. You don’t have the right to an open dialogue. You don’t have a veto on my decision making. You don’t have to be consulted. You sit there, you pay your ticket prices, you pay your subscriptions, you sit down, you shut up. You are the means to me, Tom, getting paid. You are not entitled to be in the loop. You are not MY STRATEGIC PARTNER.

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Easily Replaceable….

Yes, I know KP would probably be on board with some new T20 competition. That really isn’t the point. This site has not, and never will be, a KP Fan Site for all he does, for all he did, for all he entertained me and many others. Did I love him as a batsman? Well of course I did – but I’m not judging his opinions on the game, like some have always wanted me to do in their vainglorious search to justify what was done by Downton, Clarke, Cook and Flower back five years ago. While all we have had to say to the form issue is that he still scored the most runs for England on that tour – a terribly inconvenient FACT no matter how badly we performed – it has had to be something else. 

At the time he was in our best XI, and we picked on something other than that. That we weren’t told may be all fine with idiots like Ed Smith (as linked in the article above – the link in bold), but the one thing he did say that was correct is that we’d be ok with the decision if we found a great replacement. We are still looking. What we have now is a load of flotsam, threatening good stuff, while producing fitfully. Remember how Whitaker latched on to a few centuries by Ballance as if he’d found “the one”. Just as they latched on to that, they clung to the raft of Cook’s captaincy as it collapsed in a heap as we lost at home to Sri Lanka, all to help themselves be convinced about the dropping of KP. Let me put it this way, there was no shortage of information and ammunition for How Did We Lose In Adelaide to write about. 

As evidenced by wrote another piece in the immediate aftermath..

That’s what is getting to the general England cricket supporting public. The latest dispatches from Mike Selvey and Muppet Pringle are lacking in any journalistic insight at all. Selvey rambles on about a blank canvas and Cook’s steely determination, as if we should not really bother ourselves with what happened, but be excited about what is about to take place. Selvey gives the game away in this paragraph:

In addition, how will he be considered by the cricket-watching public who, deprived for whatever reason of information, see only the ECB outmanoeuvred in terms of public relations by Pietersen’s acolytes and sympathisers. In this, a distraction as it may be from the main debate, Cook through no fault of his own has been done no favours.

The cricket-watching public, conservatively, are 70% in the KP camp judging by retorts on Twitter and comments pages on newspaper sites. They haven’t waited for ECB statements, nor have they been influenced by these so-called “acolytes and sympathisers” as if such a pejorative term is appropriate for Piers Morgan and a neatly timed interjection or two by the people operating KP’s Twitter and Facebook feeds (or KP’s wife, who tore Dominic Cork a new arsehole).

There’s more excusing of Cook:

This, though, is genuinely the start of a new era. Cook may have been Test captain for 18 months but it has largely been Andrew Strauss’s team he has been leading.

Rubbish. The reason Australia were so successful in that golden era was because it didn’t really matter who captained them. Captaincy was a seamless transition from Border to Taylor to Waugh to Ponting. All four were very different captains in style and substance, but all kept their team on a winning trajectory until the top players retired. There were no “blank canvases”. There were no “Border Teams” or “Waugh Teams”. It’s a red herring. What is important to note here is how certain players regressed alarmingly over the past two years, and how even our best batsmen lost what they had in 2009-2012 – the big hundred. That’s not as a result of this being “Strauss’s Team”.

Now Cook is charged with the responsibility of helping to rebuild the Test team, if not in his image, then according to his strategies and ethos. He, and the team director, have a blank canvas with which to work, the process already starting perhaps with the decision of Eoin Morgan to withdraw from the Indian Premier League auction.

He’s been running this team for 18 months, and if he hasn’t input his strategies and ethos already, then he is not the man for the job. Pure and simple. This is puff pastry journalism. Plus, aren’t you all thrilled about Eoin Morgan replacing KP in the test team. That’s going to work. (Filed under, we’ve tried that already).

This all builds up to Selvey’s conclusion:

That Cook is a cricketer of the highest calibre brooks no argument. Nor does the fact that he is as mentally strong as any who have taken the field for England. The challenge in Australia was the first to which he failed to rise either as batsman or leader. He has been learning and, while cricket education never ceases, he cannot hide behind that any longer. Cook held up well in Australia in spite of everything thrown at him. He is held in the highest esteem by those left, respected both as a single-minded, driven player and as an individual, the most important elements.

I said when he was appointed captain, with the same lack of captaincy experience that is totally held against Ian Bell, that we may live to regret this, as Cook was young enough to be given the captaincy later in his career, that all England captain’s batting seems to fall off a cliff when under pressure, and that we were risking a prize asset with a career already littered with some real losses of form. As much as this is hindsight, I’d have given the captaincy to Graeme Swann. Selvey’s piece is hokum. Cook mentally disintegrated with ridiculous dismissals – if this was holding up well, the bar was set incredibly low. His batting certainly didn’t making it 10 Ashes test without a ton. His captaincy, by general consensus, was poor. He showed extreme lack of faith in players (a trait he shares with another dour opener to captain his country, Mike Atherton). As for the held in high esteem comment, we only have Selvey’s word for that. The amount deserting the sinking ship seem to indicate otherwise. Do you think Panesar, and most criminally, Steven Finn hold Cook in high regard?

So if we move on from Selvey, to the laugh that is Muppet Pringle, the PR man for the Essex Mafia (Marlon Brando (Gooch), Al Pacino (Flower), Robert DeNiro (Cook)) who has come down off his party weekend to give his backing to the Chelmsford Cosa Nostra.

Alastair Cook has been widely criticised for being too meek in the face of Australia’s onslaught this winter but once the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed it wanted him to continue as captain he responded by making the most ruthless decision of his career.

Who said Cook made a decison, had an input or whatever? Someone been telling Muppet things out of school? It’s Cook who pulled the trigger, eh?

Cook is unworldly despite his travelling the globe these past nine years so he may not have considered the potential effect his decision to deselect Kevin Pietersen will have on his popularity as captain. If a poll conducted by Sky Sports this week was accurate, an overwhelming majority (88 per cent) felt it was wrong that Pietersen should have his contract terminated, an execution Cook had the power to stay.

Once Flower had shown his hand, as he did, indiscreetly in January (don’t you just laugh at the inference that KP is a serial leaker breaching the trust of the inner sanctum – ho ho ho) reported by Paul Newman which seems very true to life now, Cook was in no position to say he wanted him if he wanted to keep his job. Flower may have been moved from Team Director role, but he still has clout. Gooch still has clout. Pringle seems to know a lot about this process. One wonders how….

Others will have baulked at the prospect at facing the boo boys who will inevitably greet him next summer, but Cook is so steeped in his belief of the primacy of the team that he would not have considered his personal wellbeing for one moment.

He might look like a wide-eyed innocent but Cook is tough. You do not score more than 8,000 Test runs as an opener without being able to cope with brickbats and bouncers. With his faithful team-mates beside him he should be fine.

A few digs at KP without the courage to say he isn’t a team man. The last line seems to indicate an individual leading a team who need to bolster him up. Isn’t it the other way around. How can these faithful teammates help when they fear speaking out against him, or playing their natural game to the chagrin of automatons like Gooch, and make everything fine. Are you really saying, Pringle, that KP brought this team to its knees? Really?

The best antidote to any woe in sport is winning and England have managed that before without Pietersen. Indeed, the batsman in possession of the highest average in England victories over the past 10 years is not the departing swank but Ian Bell.

They call this stat-mining. Please don’t take this as an anti-Ian Bell rant, but I’ll wager there’s a lot of narrowing of any gap in these averages when you take into account their contrasting records against Bangladesh, who we’ve beaten every time. Bell averages 158 against them, KP 68. Someone re-evaluate this after taking that nonsense out of the equation. And, again not belittling Bell, but there was always that stat attributed to him that he never scored a ton unless someone else did in an innings for quite a time. In addition, we rarely won tests when Collingwood got a ton. Anyone having a pop at him, while we’re at it? Garbage stat. Mumbai and Colombo just passed Pringle by, didn’t they?

Whether or not you agree with Cook’s decision to end Pietersen’s association with England it remains a courageous one even if he did not speak to him during the fateful meeting in London that decided the latter’s future eight days ago.

How you contradict yourself in the space of one sentence. Sack someone by press release. Really courageous.

While not against the outcome…..,

Understatement of the century.

….my only dispute is whether England’s captain was thinking clearly when he made his conclusions. Cook had been back home less than a week when the meeting was held. Emotions from a tour in which Australia pounded England in all forms of the game would have still been raw. Far better, surely, for him to have taken his decision after a month’s rest on his farm. That way he would have at least known that head and not heart had made it.

One, you aren’t a player in this. At least I hope you are not. So your dispute should be irrelevant. Also timing forced people’s hands with two squads to be announced, so Cook wasn’t master of his own destiny even if this codswallop is to be believed. Third, Cook really is getting a free pass for all he did wrong on this tour, isn’t he?

It is a gamble by Cook. Australia was his first Test series defeat as captain but the feeble nature of the loss means this will be his final chance to make his leadership work. To take it on without your best batsman, albeit one who appears in decline, shows that he prizes team unity more than individual brilliance, though that does tend to be the English way.

Why is KP the only one deemed to be surplus requirements AND in decline. Who the hell performed on that tour? Anyone sacking Prior (not that I want that to happen) and Anderson? What about the regression of Root, is he in decline? Ian Bell had a poor series, is he on the way out? And what about the captain himself. Ten Ashes tests with no hint of a hundred. Is he over the hill. No, KP is in decline. And is Cook not responsible for the feeble nature of the loss in any way? His supposed treatment of Compton without giving him the chance to open against Australia? What about his captaincy when Australia were chasing 200-odd to win which had seasoned captains despairing at how he treated his bowlers and field placings? How about how we got the top boys out, but could never kill off the lower order? What more evidence do you need? Scoring runs, and even winning against the relative pop-gun test attacks he’ll face this year is no proof he’s the man to lead us into the challenging 2015 series, with lots of tough teams to play. England used to be desperately hard to beat. We’ve lost that.

Even so, Cook must still have felt betrayed by Pietsersen, especially after he had been the one who had pushed hardest for his reintegration following the messaging scandal with South Africa in 2012.

He’s been leaked something, but ain’t telling. This is pissing everyone off. The comments to this article say it all. There’s no smoking gun but there’s talk of betrayal. His reintegration should not have meant that KP should be mute, grateful for forgiveness. His big ton in Mumbai did all the talking. Without that, we may go 2-0 down. You can thank him later.

Pietersen repaid his new captain’s faith then with a brilliant innings in Mumbai but not this winter in Australia where a combination of soft dismissals on the pitch and hard words off it against the leadership trio of Cook, Andy Flower and Matt Prior, were considered destabilising.

So his dissent is the key here. Blind obedience. You owe me one. All nonsense. Like all should be sweetness and light when you’re being humped 4-0 on the way to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. Did this not happen on Cook, Flower and Prior’s watch?

This is where a more worldy man than Cook might have sorted it out.

Flight not fight is not the sign of a good leader. And Pringle goes on about dressing room enforcers as if physical battles are all that matter. If I’m KP, where I’ve been rightly destroyed after what I did in Perth, and played like I did in Melbourne to see my supposedly morally superior teammates balls it right up, and not get the level of abuse KP did, I think I’d blow a gasket and I defy any human to think otherwise.

The proliferation of coaches and management in modern teams means that players have become used to seeking solutions to their problems from others and not themselves. In the past, the team member with the biggest muscles would have pinned Pietersen up against the nearest wall and told him to behave. It used to be surprisingly effective and nearly every team possessed such an enforcer.

No-one ever accuses KP of not working hard on his game, and often he needs to seek solutions from others, as does Cook with Gooch, for technical issues. I really haven’t got a scooby what this idiot is on about other than that. You wanted someone to hit him? Cook hardly held the moral high ground, and nor did Flower, after their abomination of a tour.

It is too late now and perhaps such a direct fix would not have worked on Pietersen anyway. His departure has meant the creation of a vacancy, one Eoin Morgan is eyeing following his withdrawal from the Indian Premier League auction which begins on Wednesday.

There is a neat irony about Morgan’s decision. Morgan knows, as Pietersen once did, that Tests are the format where legacies are made.

This sickens me –  the phrase “as Pietersen once did”. It seems to go from Cook got rid of KP to KP wanted to go to play in the IPL. Jesus. How clear has he been that he wanted to play for England, get to 10000 runs, score a ton in South Africa. How clear? Yet you throw out the “he wanted the IPL money”. Morgan, who chose to play in the IPL rather than fight for a test place, that is done something KP NEVER did, is held up now as a moral beacon. This is odious stuff.

The comments are magnificent. Not that the likes of Selvey and Pringle care a jot. They, and Agnew, all get really uppity when they are called Embedded at the ECB, or not journalists. By their action should they be judged. Be a journalist and tell us the whole story, not “we know more than you, and you have to believe us when we say the ECB is right”. That’s just not washing at the moment with the public, the ex-players and those outside the loop.

More to follow, especially on the ECB and their hideously ridiculous excoriating of KP for breaching the inner sanctum.

 

I said on Twitter last night that I don’t want to fight the war before last, and I mean that. But there are always battles to fight which have their gestation in the treatment of others. England, and its cricket in general faces a crisis of focus. In its prioritisation of this year’s World Cup, it is in danger of rendering test cricket a poor second party. It is diminishing the county championship – sticking it to the margins, then blaming it when it doesn’t produce the oven ready players. And then, on top of that, it wants another trinket, gazing in envy as it did at the Big Bash, and wanting that, here, in August. Instead of just that, they had to try to be too clever. We are now just over one year away from it, and we are all pretty much none the wiser. It’s a deliberate strategy, and yet outside of some vociferous noises on Twitter, the odd broadsheet broadside, it’s all quiet. All of this is a symptom of how we were treated over KP’s sacking. I hope the useful idiots at the time, who put their hatred of KP over the sheer vileness of the decision and what it meant, and who now loathe the Hundred realise we are on their side, and always have been.

The Fantastic Four
Any Regrets At All? 

The 4th of February should be a significant day. We might call it KP Sacking Day, but it should really be ECB Think We Are Worthless Day. Because that is what it meant. KP wasn’t the illness, he was the symptom. And we have not, by any stretch of the imagination been cured. We had the supine media doing the bidding. We had them use people’s animus towards a player to justify their own malfeasance. We saw who was on the cricket-public’s side, not the ECB’s side. We got to know more about the class-ridden, snobbery inherent in the game. We got to know ECB’s mouthpieces.

For me as a blogger, it was the launchpad. I often look back at those times as the glory days, but they really weren’t. They were hard graft, at a difficult time, and the blog was a vent for my anger. Five years on and I’m, sort of, still here. We have a great blog, maybe not quite up to the levels of anger from that time, but still definitely capable. To those who have supported me along the way, thanks.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Review – Hubris

If the first Test was one sided, England were quick to say that such underperformance wouldn’t be repeated in Antigua, and they would be a side transformed. Perhaps it was the necessary self-confidence any team ought to have in itself, their ability to match and exceed the opponent. But perhaps instead it spoke of a wider hubris about where they sit in the cricket hierarchy, an inability to accept that they were being outplayed by a team who, in these conditions at least, were simply better than them.

Certainly England didn’t appear to have learned anything, nor did they change their approach with the bat. The same carefree certainty that they could dominate from the off, the same puzzled confusion that it didn’t just fail to work, but instead actually got worse, as scrambled minds struggled to deal with what was happening to them. If one thing has marked England out over recent years, it is an inability to think on their feet and respond to changing circumstances and a different challenge in front of them. Their difficulties faced with pace have become clear, their technical limitations dealing with a quick pitch that bounces even more so.

To a considerable extent it shouldn’t be surprising. The first class game is confined to the margins of the season with tracks that are either green or tired, the home Tests are played all too often on turgid surfaces where the ball rarely gets above knee level without additional effort, while the bowlers focus on getting swing rather than seam, and high pace is neutralised. The lack of genuine quick bowlers in the domestic game isn’t a coincidence, it is a product of the system and the conditions. It always, without exception, is that way. And they have become adept at playing in the conditions created at home for them, while appearing lost when faced with something different.

The misreading of the first Test selection smacked of a structure that expected the pitches in the Caribbean to be as they had been on previous tours – a failure of intelligence gathering if nothing else, as well as one of judgement. The second Test put that right to an extent, but the West Indies smelled blood by that point. No longer was it a case of sneaking a 1-0 lead and preparing dead pitches to hold on to it. This team had England on toast, and were going to demonstrate it again. From here, 3-0 looks far more likely than 2-1.

The selection of Keaton Jennings alone indicated England’s expectations, a player who has had modest success on slow surfaces, and looks technically short on anything else. That was changed here for Joe Denly, but expecting him to put right the problems in the England batting order was always optimistic to say the least.

The quartet of West Indies bowlers tore into England from the start, and it was abundantly obvious that England couldn’t cope with it. Certainly the pitch wasn’t the best, but it’s not hard to imagine previous generations of England batting line ups handling that rather better, and even the much maligned late 1990s version would have attempted to graft rather than hit their way out of trouble.

The folly of the approach was shown by how the West Indies batted in reply. Stuart Broad is one of the more thoughtful observers on the game in the England ranks, but while he was correct that England didn’t have a great deal of luck, there was unquestionably a difference in the chosen line of attack and how they were trying to get the batsmen out. The home team targeted the stumps, England bowled in the channel outside, passing the bat repeatedly for sure, but also limiting the kinds of dismissals possible.

Broad, by far the most impressive of the England bowlers, slightly gave the game away after day two, suggesting that the batsmen had indicated fuller deliveries were easier to score off, but that he felt they should have pushed it up further anyway. Once again, it’s about run prevention rather than wicket-taking as the central mindset, and while Broad is often guilty of that too, with him at least it feels that his mentality is to want to bowl people out. The spell on the second day had all the feeling of being on the cusp of one of those irrestible ones, and that the West Indies survived it is deeply to their credit. That’s not to say for a second that bowlers with 1,000 Test wickets between them don’t know what they’re doing, but there is a default to fall back on, and England do it repeatedly, and when it doesn’t work, it’s striking.

Jonny Bairstow had explained his first innings thrash by saying he never felt in on the pitch. Understandable perhaps given it was the first, early sighter. It was far less so second time around after Darren Bravo had provided such an object lesson in crease occupation. But here again, England were guilty of millionaire shots – expansive drives to straight, good length balls, flailing furiously at anything outside off stump.

Of the top order only Root could be said to have been got out, making him doubly unlucky after the unplayable one he got in the first innings. The others were all guilty of playing T20 shots in a Test match, or leaving a straight one – another indication of mental struggle.

England were certainly beaten by the better team, and there is no disgrace in that. There is in the manner of doing so. Hidebound, narrow minded and incapable of either considering or applying a different method. If they refuse to do so, that is poor. If they are incapable of doing so, that is worse. For it speaks to the very structure of the game the ECB have administered, with few obvious alternatives out there. Cause and effect. Always cause and effect.

As for the West Indies, if this is to prove the start of some kind of revival, however modest, that is cause for celebration. Cricket has too few teams to be casual about losing any more (ICC take note), and the manner of their victory and their style of play spoke to a deep pride in who they are and how they play. The clear burning anger at the perceived lack of respect given to them suggests as much. They have been a joy to behold, and if nothing else, the genuine and slightly bewildered delight of the locals is heart warming.

England have it all, money, a system that could be honed to produce the best that is possible. A deliberate strategy of sidelining that in pursuit of filthy lucre brings us to where we are now. It isn’t that England are a terrible team, but they are a one dimensional one, and one incapable of adapting. The express strategy of focusing on the one day forms of cricket is bearing fruit there, but at the expense of Tests. And when Anderson and Broad call it a day, the naked exposure is going to be even more obvious.

Results like this aren’t catastrophic in themselves, but they are the canary in the mine. The ECB approach has been to euthanise the canary rather than investigate the gas. And that’s why things won’t improve. Get used to it.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three Live Blog

Preamble: After being chivvied by Trevor in the comments for being late on parade, I’ve now had coffee and arrived at my spot in the ground. Square of the wicket in the Mound area by the way, though wandering around is permitted which is wonderful.

Stuart Broad said England need a batting hero today, and he’s probably right about that, but first up is the small matter of taking the last four wickets before the already significant deficit becomes a chasm. The possibility that this is the final day of the Test does loom large, for if England don’t bat extremely well later, this Test and this series is done.

For later on, these are the kinds of decisions that are more important though:

The crowd appears to have thinned again today, albeit hopefully more locals will be in given its a weekend and their team is (to be blunt) winning.

0910: Weather report, the skies are mostly clear, with a few fluffy clouds. No rain this morning at all so far.

0920: Desperate news from the West Indies camp that Alzarri Joseph’s mother passed away this morning. Nothing more to be said, dreadful.

0922: I think what I like about this ground, and presumably the others in the region, is that it’s a no shits given kind of venue. Do whatever you like, no one is bothered what you are doing or where. It’s so refreshing.

0930: Wise words from Chris Tremlett

0936: England still playing football in the warm up.

It amazes me so much gets written about this. It’s a relaxing way to get loose, and injuries can happen whatever they do. And they do as well. Not a thing wrong with it, when exercising, muscles can ping, ankles can be turned. Scrapping football won’t change that.

0949: view from the other side of the ground. Nothing to do with going to get another coffee.

0958: Out come the teams:

PS, the decent photographer on these pages is Dmitri. Me? I take as many as possible on the phone and pick the one that’s vaguely acceptable. My total lack of interest puzzles him.

1050: That nasty blow for Bravo is a sign of things to come for England. As was the Holder wicket. As the lead stretches, and with England needing to score a minimum of 250 to have any kind of realistic chance, this Test looks to be going only one way.

1057: Alzarri Joseph got a wonderful reception from the crowd as he walked out. But the PA isn’t very clear here, so most around me didn’t know and were asking why people were standing and applauding.

1119: It’s probably gone as well as it could have for England this morning. The real business of seeing how England bat is to come.

1134: That is a big lead on this.

1204: Being conditioned to expect the worst is a terrible thing. But getting to lunch without losing a wicket is mildly surprising all in all. Seeing England duck and weave though is a fantastic reminder of how Test cricket was at times in the past, before pitches became placid, slow and uniform, existing only to break the hearts of fast bowlers. So it’s a bit uneven. So what?

1244: I actually hate it when the press publish photos of their lunches that are provided for them, but since I queued and paid for this, I’ll mention the goat curry was excellent.

1258: Fancy an opener playing a risky pull shot in a crisis situation. Would never have happened a few years ago.

1322: It looked a terrible shot live. It looked worse on replay from Burns. A late cut (of sorts) straight to the slips is, well, brave.

1342: Still 52 overs scheduled today. So England should be significantly ahead assuming they’re still in by the close. One way or another, we’ll be a fair way to knowing the outcome.

1348: that’s another ridiculously ambitious shot. Bairstow said in the first innings that he didn’t feel ever in, hence attacking everything. Seems the second innings was to be the same.

1410: Don’t worry, they’ll learn from this. It’s just an aberration, right?

The atmosphere in the ground is great now though, the locals are climbing into this England team with relish and gusto. Who can blame them?

1419: this is shambolic. Again.

1420: Alzarri Joseph being the catalyst for it though, that’s pretty special.

1425: Just a brilliant atmosphere. Though just heard the England fans next to me say “bollocks to going to South Africa to watch this shit”.

Oh England are winning the rugby at least.

1432: Meet Michael, who has provided plenty of entertainment to the crowd all around the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. He’s currently offering all the sad England fans a free flight home tonight and not to cry too much.

1441: Dominant session from the West Indies. And every chance they’ll wrap up the series after tea.

1450: My legs are burning. I await your sympathy.

1521: England are playing a positive, exciting brand of cricket, remember. Are you not entertained?

1530: Six down, four of them bowled. This aiming at the stumps lark is clearly overrated.

1543: Just to emphasise that no one cares what you do in this ground, there’s an enormous reefer being passed around just to my left. Lord’s next.

1556: Ironic cheers all round as England make the West Indies bat again. What a hiding this is.

1559: Seven wickets this innings have been bowled or lbw. England did that once when they bowled.

1610: “The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this.” – Tom Harrison.

That’s alright then.

1614: So. Beach tomorrow then.

1628: Just trying to get a few different photos of the finish, I’ll then pop them up with a few words. It’s not like anyone is on tenterhooks about the outcome!

1633: West Indies sneak it, in the end.

1641: On my way out of the ground now. Some photos and some video of the winning runs…edit: why the hell this is upside down is beyond me.

And a last farewell to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium:

Two Tests played, two thumping victories for the home team. And my goodness did they deserve it. They outbatted and outbowled England by a distance, pretty much from start to finish. England have made a point when they lose matches of saying they haven’t executed their skills or some such guff. It’s nonsense, they’ve just been outplayed by a better team in these conditions.

The inability of the England team to graft and show fight is quite striking. Rabbits in the headlights when faced with the revolutionary tactic of a team bowling straight at them. It was a pleasure to witness the West Indies play, and to see the amazed pleasure of the locals who have watched their team struggle for too many years. And if a sporting success can bring a small crumb of comfort to a young man in distress, so be that too.

But some of the English media appear to be in disbelief that such a thing could happen, so convinced by the ECB mantra that all is going swimmingly that rational analysis has gone by the wayside. England are brittle they have been for some years. Doesn’t mean they can’t win, doesn’t mean they won’t win. But faced with challenging circumstances, they wilt more often than not and appear to struggle to cope with needing to change their method. That a player as free scoring as Darren Bravo gave them a lesson in Test match batting ought to ring alarm bells. But alas of course, it will not.

Have a good rest of the evening folks, been a pleasure to share the Test with you. TLG.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day Two Live Blog

Preamble: The West Indies have probably won all bar two sessions in this series so far, and while the story and expectation of the series has been that of the plucky underdogs taking a surprise lead, if they win the first two sessions today, that needs to change to recognising the dominant team. For yesterday was another grim one for England and another fine one for the hosts, and finished with Campbell and Brathwaite providing an object lesson to their English counterparts in how to leave the ball alone.

England failing to make the batsmen play is hardly new, and perhaps judging opposition standards by their own is almost understandable. But today they’re going to have to tighten up considerably to make any inroads, and the new ball is now not so new at all.

Still, all things are possible on a surface that has looked lively, acaseEngland must be confident that if they bowl well, they can get back into what would then become a rather short game. But the West Indies bowlers are considerably quicker than England’s – that looked like it made a difference in Barbados, and may well make the difference here. In which case, from a cricketing perspective, this is a very, very good thing indeed. Pace should be rewarded, not nullified.

In advance of the series, my personal fear was that Antigua would be a tourist board pitch. This is not the case at all. And that’s because the West Indies smell blood.

As ever, hit refresh for updates.

0805: Off to the ground!

0829: The skies are a bit clearer than yesterday at this time, much less overcast. Not what England wanted to see.

0923: Funny how you feel at home so quickly in a ground. Day 2, know where everything is. Also striking how much quieter it was on the way, how much less traffic there was.

Day three tickets bought too.

First photo of the day is England warming up. I’m sure they have many cunning plans.

0955: Definitely quieter today than yesterday, markedly so. There were a decent number of people in on the cruise ships yesterday, that’s probably the difference.

0957: Teams out and here we go.

1013: Broad seems to be bowling with a bit more oomph this morning. Can TV viewers confirm?

1050: fair to say Broad hasn’t had a huge amount of luck this morning. Oh look, a visitor:

1100: Broad is stalking around the outfield like a man wanting to murder the world. Those overthrows just about topped it off.

1109: England have bowled pretty well this morning, especially Broad, but dropping catches doesn’t exactly help. Stokes’ wicket was the first England had taken in 100 overs.

1140: Looks suspiciously like England may have shot their bolt here. Runs are now starting to flow and the sense of threat has disappeared. And with a lead rapidly shrinking the time to say they are in deep trouble is approaching.

1156: elsewhere, how’s this for a catch from Jason Roy:

1205: and that’s lunch. England bowled well early on, and really should have taken a few more wickets. But they didn’t, and the last hour has been pretty untroubled from a West Indies perspective. The run rate isn’t too high, and the second new ball is 30 overs away, meaning if England can take two or three this afternoon then the deficit might not be too big. But there’s the rub, it’s already turning to damage limitation, and there’s little evidence the West Indies will be as accommodating as England’s batsmen.

1254: wait, a wicket? OMG etc.

1313: The trouble is, there’s not a huge amount to say. Broad has looked head and shoulders above everyone else today, but the West Indies are just two down, and nearing parity. They’ve batted beautifully, without risk and maintaining their wickets. That England are trying hard is without doubt, but once again expecting the bowlers to bale the team out when they’ve been skittled again is not reasonable.

1325: look I don’t want to boast or anything, oh sod that, I trust you all appreciate my brilliance?

1417: Hiatus for lunch, sorry. West Indies in the lead, and England have the new ball in the next 7 overs. 50 as a deficit is manageable I suppose, and would represent a fine bowling performance. But then it needs the batsmen to go well.

1446: and that’s tea. And a fine over before the break from Nick Denly…

New ball now due.

The Sir Andy Roberts stand looking rather good today.

1529: I’ve always felt a high dropped catch ratio is more a symptom than a cause.

1532: There’s a certain irony that after not bowling at the stumps, an lbw decision is overturned because it wasn’t hitting the stumps.

1543: Mark the time – the Barmy Army have started.

1552: As the sixth wicket goes down, this is all set up for England to have to bat the last 10 overs of the day. Oh dear.

1611: maybe not, given they’ve taken no more since. England really haven’t bowled too badly, albeit the age old complaint about bowling dry rather than making the opposition play still applies – especially on a surface where bounce is variable. But there’s still nothing so wrong with it that isn’t exaggerated by being bowled out cheaply again. Dropped catches just make it worse.

1633: It’s meandering again really. Not that the West Indies will remotely care, as they continue to build a lead that’s now more than useful. But England don’t especially look like wrapping this up any time soon.

On the plus side, the crowd has been doing a fine job of entertaining itself, largely through the locals taking the piss out of the England team, which is fair enough too.

1642: I would consider lying back, putting the hat over my face and having a kip, were it not that it is nailed on the best way to end up on Sky Sports and be faced with relentless abuse forever and a day.

1655: The West Indies have really shown England how to bat here. Bravo is 31 not out off 144 balls. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine any of the England players managing that. Stokes perhaps but not many others. It’s almost as though application and patience is important in Test cricket, especially on difficult pitches.

1721: Last over of the day

Stumps: West Indies in control, and worse, looking entirely comfortable in doing so. It’s always possible England will come out skittle the remaining wickets in short order, but on a pitch the West Indies attack have looked far better than England (Broad perhaps excepted), it’s already a sizeable lead, if not a decisive one. England will have to bat exceptionally to even set a decent target, and while they certainly can do, the evidence thus far suggests it’s unlikely.

As for the hosts, they gave an object lesson in how to bat on a difficult surface, playing close to the body and not committing to extravagant shots. Sure, they had a degree of good fortune as well, but they rather earned that good fortune through their application. It has been deeply impressive to watch.

To put it another way, the West Indies are completely outplaying England in every department, and for all the protestations about how England’s displays have been aberrations, it looks more and more a difference in ability between the sides in these conditions.

And with that, I bid you good evening and will see you tomorrow. TLG.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day One Blog

As most of you know, I’m at the Test this week, so will do a live blog for at least today and then see how it goes. Much depends on the quality of the mobile signal and if I can steal a WiFi password if it’s poor. Oh and it’s not the BBC. You’ll need to hit refresh.

First up, the weather this morning. On my side of the island at least it’s cloudy and showery but nothing to worry about. Everyone in this hotel is going to the cricket, so breakfast is done and heading over to the ground now.

Joe Denly is due to make his debut today, and here I have to confess I have a real problem with him playing. It’s not that he’s done a thing wrong, it’s not that I don’t like him as a player. It’s that I remember playing against his Dad Nick and seeing Joe playing cricket on the boundary as a kid. Dear God.

0821: Pissing down at present.

0926: Finally got into the ground. I knew it was a bit isolated, but it really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s like holding a Test match in the middle of Dartmoor or something. You’ll never complain about the Rosebowl again. The contrast with the ARG – basically at the end of the High Street in St John’s is stark.

Still, it’s an attractive ground alright, it’s just that it robs any chance of casual local spectators and that’s a real shame.

The weather has improved somewhat though.

0930: second bit of good news. By getting the cheapest tickets around, we appear to be by all the bars. Result!

0938: oh England are batting. Right you are. On the plus side, this could be exciting. Brief, but exciting. Nah, my bet is they’ll do ok this time around.

0954: Delighted to announce that some Brits stood for the national anthem and the rest resolutely stayed seated. Fantastically, contrarily British. I’ll leave you to guess which was me.

1010: Unsurprising, I know, but the crowd is almost entirely English. It’s a work day of course, and anecdotally quite a few Antiguans say they’re planning on coming in the afternoon. Hopefully they do.

Panoramic view of the ground:

1027: Be nice if they would actually show the review for those of us at the ground.

1049: This is going well. Again.

1102: Was told to post at drinks, so I will.

1112: This chap is providing plenty of entertainment taking the piss out of the England team. How good his local tours are, I’ve no idea – but I do admire clever marketing.

1121: Aside from that one going through the top and exploding off a length (best of luck out there, batsmen), the most entertaining thing so far is meeting an American chap called Dan. He’s here on his honeymoon having fallen in love with cricket. He told his new wife there was a Test match on this morning. Apparently she’s ok now she’s had some beer and rum.

1140: Dan’s new wife must think these things called wickets happen every few minutes.

1156: Ben Stokes has the best technique of any England batsman. Discuss.

1203: Lunch the lobster smells amazing.

1215: The lunchtime PA blasting out Earth, Wind and Fire is a lot more fun than Lords. And it’s not even September.

1255: No luck on the Dan front yet by the way. Stokes and Moeen at the crease could be fun. And saying that, you just know what’s going to happen next…

1304: Told ya.

1344: Drinks, and a pretty low key last 40 minutes or so. Probably not such a bad thing for England, but that was very nearly like Test cricket. Remember that?

1423: Pretty decent recovery stand between Foakes and (especially) Moeen. Hard to know what a decent total here is, though England are some way short at present of what you’d think was.

1427: In any potential list of things unlikely to garner too much sympathy, having to move in order to get out of the sun and into the shade is probably fairly high. But it is extremely hot, and one rather nice thing about this ground is a complete absence of anyone greatly caring where you wander to.

Which means I can give a nice new view of the ground:

1439: Just for Trevor

1441: And that’s tea. Something of a recovery, though given there are 39 over yet to be bowled in the final session, we’re going to be very, very short.

Moeen though. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to cover it with him, he fails repeatedly, but when he’s good there are very few better players to watch.

1520: not sure if that stopped on him or if it was just a poor shot. Either way, the end is probably nigh. So here’s some video, which won’t turn up the right way. Sigh.

1539: Is it bad to be really, really looking forward to watching Stuart Broad bat on this?

1553: this could be a very interesting last couple of hours or so, just to see if England get anything out of the pitch or not. If not, this could get very painful.

1623: Concerning the above, there are definite twinges.

1643: This has not been the most threatening of opening spells from these two. And it’s mostly being played on the back foot.

1703: Innocuous stuff really.

1741: The West Indies batted really well in that final session, and while England might claim that they didn’t have much luck, nor did they really create much in the way of chances. Unless they have a great morning tomorrow they’ll again be in serious trouble. But that is for then.

From a spectator perspective, the isolation of the ground is a problem, but the experience when there is simply delightful. No one particularly cares where you wander, meaning the ground is there to explore and get different perspectives. The food stalls are individual, cheap and put the horrific money pits at English grounds to shame.

It’s now back to the hotel, relax, have dinner and do it all again in the morning. See you then.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Preview

Playing catchup in a series, especially a short one, does tend to rather focus minds somewhat, and while it is not in the make up of anyone even remotely associated with the ECB to admit to an error, the 12 announced for tomorrow’s match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (let’s be honest, we all miss the Antigua Recreation Ground) by England are as much a tacit recognition of a first Test balls up as is ever likely to be the case. Broad is back in and seems certain to play, Jennings is out in favour of Joe Denly as the revolving door of England openers shows no sign of slowing down. More notable is the dropping of Adil Rashid, a player who might not be the Shane Warne standard that he appears he has to be in order to get any credit, but isn’t the clueless ingenue he gets all to often painted as either. More strikingly with him is the clear lack of any clue as to how to use him, either from the captain or the coaching team. If he’s not going to bowl more than a handful of overs, there’s little point playing him.

As ever, there are cases to be made both for and against any individual instance, but the inability of English sport across the board to be able to handle flair and individuality, whether on or off the field is a constant. It isn’t that Rashid in this instance deserves defending for his performance in the last Test, it’s that it’s impossible to ever know with such players how good they might be, so determined is the sporting culture to force them down narrow channels. This happens at elite youth level all too frequently to begin with, discipline too often coming to mean an insistence on conformity.

There is a consistent focus on what players can’t do rather than what they can. The idea that Rashid can be a stock bowler in Tests is absurd, yet so much of the criticism aimed at him consists of complaints about his accuracy and economy – it’s such a very English thing to do. None of this means that he is the answer to all our prayers, nor that his on field performances shouldn’t be criticised, but the pre-disposition in so many quarters to hold him to a standard he could never possibly achieve is simply bizarre, while the lack of scrutiny over how he is used is a failure of analysis.

Still, Denly can bowl a few leggies if asked, while Rashid can focus on more important personal matters.

For Jennings, there must now be serious questions over his future. He probably does have the aptitude for it, but his technical problems have become a major barrier for him. He has time to go and put that right, but it could be a long haul.

For Stuart Broad, with his new, more economical run up and work on his action, much will be expected. Not because of anything much more than that his omission was deemed in some quarters more culpable for defeat than the abysmal batting display in the first innings and the in some ways worse in the second. Being out of a losing side is one of the best ways to improve a reputation after all.

In the West Indies camp all is serene, the victory in Kensington most obviously allowing the clear anger at a perceived lack of respect to be vented from a position of strength. And why not either.

The weather for tomorrow seems similar to today, cloudy with showers. The dash from the beach to the room in a downpour will have earned me all the sympathy I’m expecting.

Tomorrow morning I daresay I might liveblog it and see how that goes down.

West Indies vs England: Send the Word, Send the Word Over There

It’s hardly surprising that the Caribbean is a popular place to come and watch England play: what isn’t there to like, warm weather during the depths of winter while watching cricket has a certain allure to begin with. Then there is the romance of the West Indies in cricketing terms to add to that.

Spending the day on a tube at 35,000 feet for 8 hours is a small price to pay, though with my travel industry head on, it remains endlessly amazing that places reliant on tourism often don’t seem to grasp that condemning arrivals to a wait of well over an hour to get through immigration is rarely the best first impression. These are the kinds of things that people comment on to friends and acquaintances.

No matter. The welcome is exceptionally friendly as might be expected, and the volume of people coming for the cricket comprised the majority of the flight, meaning if nothing else there is clear demand to come and mix a holiday with seeing the game.

From a ridiculously small sample of two people, there also appears to be a good level of interest locally, on the back of the West Indies’ dominant display in Barbados, which is surely a healthy state of affairs if it comes to pass in terms of the crowd.

A brief post this evening then, a more detailed one tomorrow, as the blog attempts not to become too much of a travel related one, and with a proper preview tomorrow.