England vs South Africa: 3rd Test, Day Three – Wet

The forecast wet weather duly arrived not too long after lunch, and that was that for the day. South Africa had managed to save the follow on, and given the rain that may yet prove to be vital in going to the final match of the series all square. Temba Bavuma deserves all the plaudits for getting his team into a position whereby with some help from on high, it’s just about possible to see a potential escape. He was helped in adding 50 to the team’s overnight score by Vernon Philander, fresh out of hospital, but clearly far from recovered given his repeated trips off the field during England’s second innings. He’s plainly still not well at all. 

Toby Roland-Jones was the man to take the final wicket, and in doing so completed a five wicket haul. Cricket history is littered with examples of players who shone brightly at the start only to fade, and while nothing should be read into his achievement in terms of his international career, if nothing else he will have this match. But he’s bowled well, and certainly added to the potency of the England attack in helpful conditions. 

With no follow on option, it was for England to follow the pattern of the first two Tests and go out in the third innings and build a lead. The overhead cloud still assisted the bowlers and Morne Morkel in particular made life especially difficult, accounting for Cook for the 11th time with a good one that left him and clattered into off stump. At the other end Keaton Jennings was struggling badly against Philander, escaping being caught in the slips via a cordon that couldn’t react in time as the ball flew off the edge. 

That he’s struggled this series is obvious, but all players need a bit of luck, and perhaps that was just what he needed. He also escaped being given lbw on review, but towards the end of the possible play he was starting to look more fluent and more assured. Should he go on tomorrow, on such fine margins can sporting careers be made. 

Tom Westley in contrast has looked like he’s been waiting to bat in a Test match for years. Both in the first innings and today, his stroke making has been notable, his ease at the crease remarkable. Once again, it means little in terms of the longer term, but on brief evidence, he does at least appear at home in the environment. 

With England 252 ahead, a better forecast for the next two days and a pitch still offering some assistance to  the seamers, it’s hard to see much other than England creating a huge lead and then asking South Africa to bat the best part of four sessions to try and save it.  As so often, it might be best if England were bowled out removing the need for a decision, but even if South Africa were to have a great morning, the chances are the target won’t be below 350.

The people most pleased with today will be those with tickets for tomorrow.

England vs South Africa: 3rd Test, day two – rampant

There’s a strange contradiction in being the Grumpy Old Men of the cricket blogging world. At the time England were being well beaten in India there appeared to be some kind of denial in many circles about the weaknesses of the team and the personnel. Excuses were made, post facto predictions were changed to meet the reality rather than how it had been seen in advance. Yet with really bad defeats (such as in the last Test) the press piled in, slating all and sundry for an abject display and questioning the very ability of the team to play the game.

Mild observations that sides are never as good or bad in defeat or victory as they seem to be never quite fit the zeitgeist, with kneejerk responses always a more fitting way to meet events. Yet with England today having an exceptional time of it, doubtless the same overreactions will apply, despite little of material fact changing.

England have played well here, but in a similar manner to how they have done so when succeeding over the last few years. Cook batted beautifully yesterday, and drew the sting from some fine bowling. He didn’t carry on for too long today, but can count himself unlucky to say the least to be on the rough end of a marginal lbw call. He deserved a hundred, but as has been pointed out, context free discussion of Root’s conversion problem can apply equally well to an unlucky Cook.

With his removal, Stokes and Bairstow went on the attack. Ah, now there’s a thing. It came off. Both players took some chances, played their shots and changed the context of the day, South Africa unable to contain them as the runs flowed at 5 an over. Outcome is all, for had that calculated risk not succeeded, it really isn’t hard to imagine the plethora of comment about being unable to play at a Test match tempo, preferably blaming current shibboleth, T20. The point there is that those critics aren’t wrong, but nor are they right just to point it out when it goes wrong. Responding to every move on the basis of whether it works or not is no way of assessing whether the strategy is a sound one, it’s a far deeper question than that.

That Stokes batted beautifully is not the point, it’s a matter of whether he (and the rest of the middle order) are given the latitude to fail as well as succeed playing this way. Forgetting the bad days just because today was a good one is as flawed as the other way around. England haven’t changed, nor has that middle order, it’s just that today they batted well in a similar style to when they did badly, and not just when failing spectacularly to save a match.

That’s not to downplay how good today was for a moment, for 353 always looked above par, even before what followed. There were decent contributions most of the way down, it was – as often – a surprise that Bairstow got out, while Moeen Ali took his controversial dismissal on review remarkably well. Toby Roland-Jones will think Test cricket is easy given he scored his runs at a healthy lick before having something of a party in his primary role.  He may or may not succeed as a Test cricketer, but not every player gets to have days like this.

Stokes certainly knows how to be the showman, and the three consecutive sixes that raced him through the nineties to a well deserved century were simply marvellous to watch. Some players simply make you smile or gasp when you watch them. It is those who make the game special, even if the less eye catching tend to be the ones who are more consistent.

South Africa, who had bowled so well on day one, were certainly hampered by the absence of Vernon Philander, off the field to much amusement due to tummy trouble, only for that to die away as it transpired he’d ended up in hospital for tests. His absence was keenly felt on a day where his bowling seemed ideal for the conditions.

If runs and wickets are the obvious measures of success, Joe Root had a good day as captain too. It wasn’t just that every bowling change he made seemed to work, it was also that he appeared to assert his authority as captain. The new ball was being wasted, a succession of pleasant, swinging deliveries from Anderson harmlessly passing outside the off stump. Good for the economy rate, not so much for taking wickets. It’s an observation that has been made before, and all too often considered heresy given it concerns England’s leading wicket taker. It’s curious how some, and only some players are considered beyond criticism. An observation may be right or wrong, but it doesn’t dismiss an entire terrific career either way. Still, Root’s response was to remove him from the attack after just three overs, something Anderson didn’t seem overjoyed about looking at his body language.

But here’s the thing: when he returned later in the innings he was right on the money; hostile, threatening the stumps and the edge, and every inch the bowler any England fan loves watching torment opponents with his skill. Captain and senior bowler could be an interesting dynamic to watch over the coming months, but it seemed here to get the best from him.

It was of course Toby Roland-Jones’ day. The merits of an old fashioned England seamer are often overlooked (yet curiously someone like Philander is lauded for showing exactly the same kinds of skills, albeit at a very high level), and here was someone who, after initial nerves, pitched it up, made the batsmen play and did a bit off the seam. Where he led, others followed, and at 61-7, and with the absence of Philander effectively 61-8, the only question, and surely not a serious one, was whether England would enforce the follow on.

Temba Bavuma has shown himself to be a batsman with good temperament before, and the task of extracting his side from the wreckage was one he seemed to relish. In company with Rabada he at least stopped the rot, a partnership of 53 not enough to change the direction of the match, but one at least to narrow the gap from catastrophic to merely disastrous.

It’s possible Philander will be fit to bat tomorrow, but it will take something truly remarkable to move this game away from what appears an inevitable England win. With some inclement weather around, saving the follow on has to be the first and only aim, but only two days have gone, it’s hard to see how it can delay England long enough to prevent victory.

All of which leads back to the beginning. England have had a great day, but just as the fourth day at Trent Bridge didn’t alter the known strengths in the team, nor does this cover up the multiple flaws. Today went well, and they should win this game. It hasn’t re-written the book.

The Third Test – Day 1

Before play started it was widely circulated that the injured Wood and Ballance would be replaced by Roland-Jones and Westley. Less certain was the fate of Liam Dawson, who had failed to impress with bat or ball in the previous two games despite being notionally considered England’s “number one spin bowler”. On one hand, the Oval has generally been considered helpful to spinners this season. On the other hand, Lord’s was very helpful to spinners and Dawson didn’t really justify his place in the team there.

That mystery was quickly resolved as Dawid Malan was handed his Test cap by Phil Tufnell in the pre-match huddle. England won the toss and chose to bat first, bringing Cook and Jennings to the crease. Cook started well against Morne Morkel but Keaton Jennings seemed hopelessly out of his depth whilst facing Vernon Philander at the other end. After managing to survive the previous 8 balls, Jennings inevitably edged his ninth ball to Elgar at third slip for a duck.

This brought out the first of England’s three debutants, Tom Westley. He appeared to be more confident and composed than Jennings, perhaps helped by Philander having to leave the field soon after with a “stomach bug”. Content to punish deliveries straying onto his legs, Westley and Cook built a partnership of 52 before a rain shower brought a premature end to the morning session.

Unfortunately after his promising start, Westley fell 4 balls into the session after edging a swinging ball by Chris Morris to du Plessis at second slip. This wicket brought together England’s two most experienced batsmen, Cook and Root. Together they fought against a very strong South African bowling spell, riding their luck at times until Root edged another swinging ball (this was very much the theme of the day) from Philander to de Kock.

England’s second debutant, Dawid Malan, did not seem as confident as Westley did earlier in the day. Malan batted out 14 dot balls before managing a single. Two balls later, he was bowled by a vicious inswinging yorker from Rabada which left Malan sprawled on the floor. Ben Stokes came in at 6, ahead of Jonny Bairstow, and together with Cook managed to last until tea. The tea break was extended due to another rain shower, and after that Cook and Stokes batted out 7 overs before dark clouds and rain brought an end to the day.

So the day ended with England at 171/4 and Alastair Cook unbeaten on 82*, in a prime position to score a vital century for England. Elsewhere in the team, things are looking less rosy. Jennings, Westley and Malan all failed to make decent scores, and will have to bat well in their next three innings to be confident of selection against the West Indies in August. Tomorrow England will hope that Cook, Stokes, Bairstow and Ali can wrest control of the match and take the total over 300, but this was very much South Africa’s day.

As always, please comment below.

The Third Test – Preview And Day 1 Comments

Dmitri (dangerously referring to himself in the third person) goes a little nostalgic and you will all pay…

England v South Africa at The Oval. It wasn’t that long ago that the day before the Oval test started would be a frantic one. Tidying up loose ends in the office, arranging the meeting places for the ticket collection, determining who was bringing what to eat. The day(s) at The Oval were one of the highlights of the year for me – the Oval test put on the calendar, leave booked early, anticipation rising.

But it was England v South Africa in 2012 that was the final straw – my angst pre-dating the Difficult Winter. I had missed the first day, as prices had increased and the purchasing power of my salary had diminished, so it was Friday and Saturday for me. I saw England collapse on the Friday and watched South Africa lose two wickets in the ensuing five sessions. I’d also left my camera battery in the charger for the Saturday, and was, how can I put it, “in a bit of a mood”. It wasn’t helped by England being smashed, feeling terribly uncomfortable all day in the Ryanair seating, and being surrounded in front and behind by people who annoyed the hell out of me, spilled beer over me, and just plain got on my nerves. With 30 minutes to go, and I never left early unless it was heatstroke, I got up and said to my mates #!k this, I’m off home. And I doubt I’ll ever come back. And I flounced. But I’ve never been back for a test match. The prices appear to have risen greatly, the amount of tickets members could purchase has been curtailed (some might think that a good thing) and the customer experience, piled on top of each other, is a joke. Harrumph!

That day, the last I saw, was memorable for the batting of Hashim Amla, who made 311. He never really looked flustered, and the fear is, linking into the upcoming battle, is that Trent Bridge has put him back into the groove. The partnerships between Amla and Smith, and Amla and Kallis were not thrill a minute joyrides, but 12 or so hours of grinding England into paste. They were there to make 380 odd, or whatever it was, look totally inadequate. It almost seems like a different era of test cricket. That ability to bat long in England seems from a bygone age. In fact, presented with a 637 for 2 wicket, in a game completed in 4 and a bit days remember, we’d probably see a ton of complaints about nothing in it for the bowlers.

From that test in 2012 there are precious few survivors. The rigours of international cricket took many a career, inflicted or decided by themselves. But key cogs remain. Amla is there with Morne Morkel, Cook is there with Broad and Anderson. It says a lot about their staying power that they are all very important parts of the teams, maybe even the most important. Cook made a hundred in that match, which is easily forgotten. While Kallis, through retirement, maybe the seminal figure lacking from the team that won, the Oval 2012 should always be about how Dale Steyn tore us apart on a dead wicket. International cricket well served then, and how Steyn has paid for it through injury.

Tomorrow England need to fight back from a defeat every bit as demoralising as the 2012 reverse at the home of English Cricket (the Original venue….), after the mauling they received at Trent Bridge 10 days or so ago. England have been given a thorough beating before, but this time this one seemed to encourage, if that is the word, the scything criticism lacking from more recent defeats. There seems to be more of an open season on the captain, and especially the coach, than before. This reaction, which should not be a surprise, has actually been one. It is as if the media community has found its voice, its teeth. It didn’t seem to give a steaming pile of crap like Chennai as hard a time as they did the Trent Bridge performance. You know I’m not going to get over Karun Nair getting a triple hundred don’t you?

England go into this match with a lot of questions, and now with two debutants. Mark Wood has failed his fitness test and Toby Roland-Jones is going to play instead. Given there’s been other confirmation that Liam Dawson will play, and boy that’s a lightning rod stuck up, right there, it looks very unlikely that Dawid Malan will make his debut (I think that was an odd choice in the first place). Tom Westley will take his place at number 3 (there you are son, bang in the hotseat for you, good luck). While the Essex media are certainly in paroxysms of delight over Tom finally getting the nod, I have to say that I don’t quite know why he was the slam-dunk selection (and no, I’m not carrying a torch for Stoneman either), but there is no harm in trying, and you never know. I will certainly be watching certain journos for double standards reporting on him.

The main criticisms coming out of Trent Bridge was that England had not shown enough respect to the test format, but quite frankly, by the end of it, I’ve no idea what Shiny Toy was up to, and Geoffrey, is well, Geoffrey. This was met by quite fierce return fire by the England team, and Stokes has relit that fuse with his comments. I’m not sure it’s respect for the format that’s the problem, but rather, funnily enough, ability. This just doesn’t look like a very good England team. So if you are going to go down, go down playing your shots, eh? I’m not sure this team can block it out, they certainly couldn’t when they’ve been asked to do it in recent years, and probably with better teams than this. We’ve tried to compensate for lack of true star power in depth (reading Trott’s book at the moment, and we went through a golden spell then with players, so we could accommodate Collingwood, by and large) with the bat. Stokes is a classic. All the talent, inconsistent delivery. I think that’s the message (if you had present day Stokes, and 2005 Freddie, who would you select?). I mean, Shiny Toy thinks this is one of the most talented England teams ever. I don’t.

So if the players are a bit of a moving target, what with all that talent and such, it therefore must be someone else, and now we come to Trevor Bayliss. We interrupt this message to point out that losing at home to South Africa is something Andy Flower did, Peter Moores did, Duncan Fletcher didn’t, David Lloyd didn’t and Ray Illingworth didn’t. Bayliss can be questioned, of course he can. Is he getting the most out of the team? Is he doing enough to find talent, if, indeed, that is in his job description? Can he do more? Can he do something different? Yes. They can all be answered and there can be critical evaluation of it. But in my view, and that’s where this could be really fun, any criticism of Bayliss draws a direct line to the man who appointed him, sets his job spec and acts as his line manager. After all, Comma, shouldn’t be above reproach and if you look at cold, hard, results the 2017 team plays with a lot more verve, but the 2013 team actually got to World Number 1 (Trott mentions this a fair bit in his book). Also, as we are never shy to point out, Farby seems exempt from all this. Good old Farby.

So 1-1. Perfectly poised for the 100th test match at The Oval. I went to quite a few, from 1997 to 2012 I went to at least one day of each test there, and as with the days you select to attend you do hit and miss. Here are five of my favourite days (a bit biased towards England)…

2003, Day 3 – England v South Africa. Thorpe makes a century on his return to the team. Emotional. Trescothick makes his highest test score of 219. Alec Stewart plays what would turn out to be his last innings in an England shirt. And so did Ed Smith! A terrific day from start to finish.

2005, Day 1 – England v Australia. Andrew Strauss plays one of the best innings no-one really remembers. Without him we would have been toast. Flintoff also plays a terrific hand and England finish the day relatively even. It was just the pure tension, the weight of expectation and anticipation of the match that made it a great day.

2011 Day 2 – England v India. Watching a 300 partnership is special, and I’ve seen two. You know who was the common denominator. His 175 was overshadowed by Ian Bell’s career best (completed the following day) but it was total domination against a poor attack. Still great fun to watch.

2009 Day 2 – England v Australia. Days 3 and 4 weren’t bad, but watching Stuart Broad demolish the Australians in one of those spells he is capable of was magnificent entertainment. I still recall, with us 3 down at the end of the 2nd day that we were still talking of how we could lose even though we were nigh on 300 in front.

1997 Day 2 – England v Australia – Nothing like your first day at test cricket. I saw lots of wickets (Tuffers took 7) and a tense battle as England tried to recover from a first day collapse. The atmosphere, the tension, the battle, the action was like no other cricket I had watched in the flesh. Oh to go back to the 1997 me.

 

Just missed out included a glorious Shiny Toy ton in 2002, the infamous walk-off by Pakistan in 2006, Herschelle Gibbs on day 1 of the 2003 test, Steve Waugh’s hundred on one leg in 2001 (just to prove a point), my brief glimpses of Murali and Jayasuriya in 1998 on Day 2, the rain-affected tension of Day 3 in 2000 against the West Indies.

Happy century of tests for the Oval, and as usual, after 1500+ words of waffle, comments below if you have any on the points raised, views on great Oval moments (you have been to, or witnessed – could have popped off another 1000 words) and more importantly on the action tomorrow.

Fixing Cricket – Slow Over Rates

We all love cricket here at Being Outside Cricket. Writers and readers, we’re united by our love for the sport. But just because we love something, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t change some things if we could. Modern cricket is filled with anachronisms, compromises, and petty self-interest which often leaves fans feeling annoyed and shortchanged. The most frustrating thing is that many of these issues can easily be addressed, it just requires The Powers That Be to spend a tiny amount of time and money on fixing them.

Recently I’ve noticed quite a few overs lost in Tests, or innings overrunning in ODIs. In the two matches so far of the Basil D’Oliveira series between England and South Africa there have been 11 missing overs. This is despite the extra half hour teams have, lowering the required over rate from 15 to roughly 13.8 per hour. Even so, there was no punishment for either team because the game ended within five days and there are generous allowances for the time taken with reviews, wickets, and even boundaries. In the Champions Trophy there were three cases of punishment for slow over rates, even with the ICC’s lax enforcement of the rules.

Does It Matter?

It could be said that slow over rates rarely have an impact on the result. England’s last two Test matches ended with over a day left, even with the lost overs. The Champions Trophy games with slow over rates all had results. Fundamentally, little would have changed if these games finished on time. It’s not about the integrity of the game, it’s about the fans.

Cricket supporters get shafted on an unfortunately regular basis, particularly if they go to see Test matches. They buy overpriced tickets for what usually aren’t great seats, where they can buy overpriced food, washing it down with overpriced beer. On top of all that, due to cricket’s almost unique inability to play in the rain, they often see a lot less than a full game or day’s play without any kind of refund. A quick look at the ECB’s refund policy shows that spectators only get a full refund if 15 overs or less are bowled in a day, and half is refunded is between 15 and 30 overs are played in a day. There aren’t many places where, if you buy something and only get half of what you paid for, you don’t get a full refund. If you pay for a day’s play and only see 45 overs, you get nothing. By almost any measure, that’s poor value.

So it is with slow over rates. If someone pays to see 90 innings and they only see 85, they’re being cheated out of what they are owed. If they’re still queueing for their incredibly expensive food and drink while the second innings starts because the ODI mid-innings interval was cut to 30 minutes, they’re missing out on what they paid for. This has a real long-term impact, spectators who feel ill-treated will go to cricket games less often or stop completely.

Arguably the more important issue is the enjoyment of the game. It is the perception of people who aren’t cricket fans that it is a slow and boring sport where almost nothing happens. When a fielding team are bowling at 12-13 overs per hour, I feel quite a bit of sympathy with that viewpoint.

My Solution

Clearly the current system isn’t working. The umpires have a massive amount of latitude when it comes to excusing slow over rates, and clearly do everything in their power to avoid banning captains. Particularly, if you were being cynical, captains from the ‘Big 3’ nations who largely control world cricket. Even so, 4 captains have received bans in the past year (Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Masrafe Mortaza and Upal Tharanga), and it still hasn’t in any way acted as a deterrent.

What I believe cricket needs is a clear, strict, unambiguous rule with a punishment which is significant enough to discourage fielding teams from slowing down but also not disproportionate. My suggestion is this: Sessions always finish at their scheduled time (with some leniency for truly unavoidable delays), and the batting team receive 6 penalty runs for every ball lost.

Take for example England’s game against New Zealand in the recent Champions Trophy. England were batting in the first inning and scored a good total of 310 in their 50 overs, but it overran by 28 minutes (or to put it another way, by 7 overs). After some ‘careful consideration’ by the match umpires, this was reduced to only being 8 minutes (2 overs) slow and the New Zealand players received fines but no suspension. I’m not aware of any significant delays in the game which took 20 minutes out of the game, but clearly the officials decided otherwise. If the ICC followed my suggestion, then England would have amassed a total of over 500 runs and the New Zealand players wouldn’t have been fined or at risk of suspension. As for people watching in the stands or at home, they would have had a full hour to enjoy their lunch rather than just 32 minutes.

Which isn’t to say that this would be without problems. I’ve posted my suggestion here in the comments a few times and have had some flaws highlighted. D’Arthez pointed out that ball boys (and possibly the crowd) might delay throwing the ball back to the fielders when the away team is bowling. Certainly there’s also a considerable incentive for batsmen to waste as much time as possible, acting like Stuart Broad trying to bat for a draw. Pulling out of their batting stance, tying their laces, redoing their pads and gloves, feigning cramps, moving the sightscreens, all the old pro’s tricks. Of course this could be prevented by firm umpiring, but if we had that then there wouldn’t be any reason to change from the current rules. But despite this, and other wrinkles that would need ironing out, I think it’s an improvement on the current system.

So that’s my idea. If you have any comments on this, your own solutions, or just general comments on over rates please leave them below.

Dmitri Old and the Real T20 Experience (and an American’s first game of cricket)

You know I’m not a fan of T20 cricket. It’s like those 30 second clips you get on Amazon of songs off an album (no, I don’t like streaming, kiddies(. Sometimes you get the important part, the chorus, the hook, the key verse. Sometimes you get the boring guitar solo or nothingness of an instrumental. You rarely get the full picture of a sport not meant to be played like this. To give the potential opportunity to bat for hours, days in pursuit of the undetermined. The variation in conditions, grounds and weather interventions, that form part of the tapestry of the long-form are eliminated more or less from the T20 genre. It’s not what got me into cricket, test matches did, and prominently Viv Richards in 1976 with his double hundreds, but it is still cricket. At least I think it is.

So off I trotted to Surrey v Essex on Wednesday night. Before some might carp, these tickets were bought well before Kevin Pietersen announced he was going to play for Surrey, but the primary purchase was to take my American colleague, we’ll call him Stan, to his first cricket match. It would be his entry point to the sport I bang on about. He also has kindly written his comments on the occasion in a quintessentially American way for us. I hope you find them interesting. His last paragraph is particularly interesting – “even the brash version of the game was unassuming” – didn’t exactly resonate with my experience.

I have been to Surrey T20 matches before, but the last few have been in the Pavilion. This time I was in Block 9. I was in among the legendary Surrey T20 evening crowd. The reputation was of hard drinking, abusive support, and a disregard for the game in front of them. I am a Millwall fan. I’ve been home and away, in fact my 20s and early 30s saw me travel the country watching them. A Surrey home game in the T20 would be a walk in the park. Hardly the razor’s edge.

First of all, getting to the Oval from anywhere in rush hour is an total pain. The Northern Line is a horror, and we had to walk from Kennington Station, which isn’t a massive problem, but symptomatic of some of the sporting difficulties we encounter when a venue has no parking. There’s little point in expanding the Oval to 30,000 if the transport can’t cope with 20,000. But we put up with it. The contrast with my visits to baseball in the States is stark. Once at The Oval the bag search was laughable. I mistakenly left a half-full bottle of water in the bag. She ignored it (it was 1.5 litres so couldn’t be missed), and now I’m sad there wasn’t alcohol in it! Already the concourses were rammed, the queues for beer lengthy, the extortionately priced food less congested but doing (un)healthy business. There is a definite buzz, but not the one you get before a football match. There seems little investment in what is about to unfold. It’s ultimate entertainment. People want to be entertained, far and above caring about the result. Sure, there are Surrey diehards there, like me, but do I care if we lose? Not really. Do you really care if you win the competition?

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Surrey won the toss and batted. This I understood from being told by John, who had bought the tickets and had met his son. In common with most of the night, I didn’t glean this from the public address system which was hopeless. Or it could be that someone sabotaged it because Colin Murray was on the mic. My suspicion is that Jonathan Liew might have done that. He likes Colin Murray. The teams were put up on the scoreboard, and when Ollie Pope was shown, I went “who”? They didn’t have his name and I couldn’t hear the announcer!

Surrey came out with their fearsome looking opening partnership of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy. Essex opened with a spinner. It didn’t work as Finch tucked in to him. I advised Stan that 10 an over through the powerplay (I also explained the 6 over restrictions on the field, after explaining what an over was) was probably a minimum given the high scoring games seen at the venue thus far. Progress was good until Jason Roy somehow hit his own wicket (I couldn’t really see how it happened on the replay) and while expecting Kumar Sangakkara to come in at number 3, we soon realised it wasn’t that maestro.

I have to say that the pervading noise around me was booing. Now I cannot tell how many of them were Essex fans, but I’ll wager they weren’t all from Essex. Now as you know, and as I once wrote at length on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, this thing absolutely pisses me off. Pietersen may be a hate figure, but you pricks wouldn’t have been cheering the parade, rejoicing in 2005 without him. None of your current heroes has done anything near that. Comma has. Freddie has. Ashley Giles has. They haven’t. How dare you boo one of our all-time greats? I wouldn’t boo Cook, and I’ll bet I feel like a lot of the anti-KP mob when it comes to him. It still “boils my piss” as Stan found out!

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KP and Finch dropped the pace a little as the former tried to get into his groove. Finch still let loose a drive or two, but then went himself. So to join 8181 test runs at the crease would be a man with nearly 27000 international runs to his credit. I tweeted about what a privilege it was to see them both at the crease at the same time. T20 in England still has its moments, and both these characters, for differing reasons, are irreplaceable.

Neither player could get into a rhythm and indeed Pietersen was dropped on the boundary when trying to cart Zaidi over mid-wicket. This seemed to galvanise Pietersen afterwards, and I have to say a couple of moments made the evening worthwhile. Simon Harmer came on to bowl, and Pietersen hit four sixes in the over. I’m trying hard and can’t remember ever having seen someone do that at a game I’ve been present at. What’s more, two of them flew straight over my head at long-on. I am a Pietersen fan as a batsman, as a cricketer (more about the lack of fielding later) and to think this might be my last chance to see him play in England made it more special. Even when a little over the hill, a lot out of practice, and seemingly at war with much of English cricket (who, never forget, started the fight), Kevin Pietersen still can surprise and delight with the bat. You’ve seen some of the pics.

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Pietersen was the only one who could get going, while for Essex the sight of Mohammad Amir was also something to behold. He seemed to be the main man to control the scoring as the runs seemed targeted off other weaker bowlers. Surrey kept losing wickets. Kumar holing out to square leg off a sweep shot; Sibley bowled by Zaidi, Pope caught off Walter. KP moved past 50, including 5 sixes, before himself teeing off and getting underneath a Walter delivery, seeing it caught by new England selection Tom Westley on the long-on boundary. The applause going off wasn’t deafening – too many people didn’t have a clue – but this writer appreciated seeing him play. Sitting underneath towering sixes reminded me of the sheer genius that the bloke possessed. Perhaps he still does. Off the golf course, no proper T20 play since the PSL, and he can do that. Yes, he was dropped early, but he capitalised. Only after the match with the next best score being 28, did you realise quite how good a knock it was.

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Surrey’s total was 150, after some stops and starts and no real fluency. You have no idea at the game how the wicket is playing, and although not lightning fast due to the storms the night before, the outfield was not slow. Boundaries were at a premium though. Sibley, Pope, the two Currans did their thing, but other than provide me with a spectacular pic (Sam’s Stumps Splattered), there were few fireworks. I tweeted at half-time that it looked a wholly inadequate score, but doing that I was basing it on the previous two T20 games played there. Where 200 wasn’t enough.

Before getting on to the second innings of the game, I thought I’d make my observations on the client base. I did not move from my seat for the whole game, which was cheeky as beers were being bought, and thus did not circulate. It’s bloody noisy – not that test match buzz which I sort of miss, the low hum of conversations around the ground, but something a level, several levels up. It’s not football match chanting but it is increasingly “weather-worn” folk shouting at each other from the seat next to their recipient of vocal intercourse. As usual, because I’m a grumpy so and so, I was getting more and more irate with the muppets behind me, and I’ll go into that more as the article progresses. But of more interest was to the right of Stan. It was a father with two young kids. Not a great guesser of age, but I’d say 11 and 8 years old. Now remember, this is the target audience for the new T20 competition. They are our future. It was good to see them there.

However, they were kids, and what they saw on the field did not captivate them one bit. First of all, the little blighters couldn’t sit still. We had to let them through on numerous occasions. Dad hadn’t taught them the etiquette that you don’t do it until the end of the over, but he was far from alone in that. When one did sit down he played with his Nintendo portable system for most of the game, while the other played on his tablet. They didn’t “engage” with the onfield action at all, as far as I could tell. It’s a small sample size, I know, but didn’t fill me with hope. Not sure if the Surrey Lions or whatever we might be called will be any different from a super franchise team (and Surrey have a lot of name talent in their squad), but the suspicion is that a new product needs more to win hearts and minds.

After a short interlude, and Stan relates what he thought of the T-shirt shooter, where I couldn’t hear Colin Murray, Essex came out to bat and got off to a decent start. It seemed very much to be a “new ball” wicket, where the batsmen had to make hay early on in the innings. I like Dan Lawrence, and think he has a big future, and he and Chopra set about the total. Sam went for a few in his opening spell, which meant that idiot behind had something to shout when he came down to where we were sitting. Sam had to take the most god-awful, stupid abuse from a tanked up imbecile who clearly was a lot less clever than he thought he was. Unrelated boundaries hit by an Essex batsman were met with “you’ve cost them the game, Curran” or “that’s your fault Curran” even when they went to the opposite part of the ground.

It was also dawning on us (as if it had been announced on the tannoy we’d never would have heard it) that KP wasn’t fielding. The murmurs went round that this was a classic case of “pulling up the ladder! We used to call this a HABAFO (Have a bat and….well work the rest out). He was replaced by Rory Burns. By and large Surrey were hungry in the field. They nicked out the two openers, and then felt they had to get the two real danger-men, Ravi Bopara (who nearly won Essex the game in the first contest) and Ryan ten Doeschate. Also, there was new test selection, Tom Westley, who didn’t stay for the duration. The run rate crept up, the wickets kept falling, with Batty very impressive. Ravi went, Ryan couldn’t hit the boundaries, and Surrey pulled the noose tighter and tighter. They ended up restricting Essex quite comfortably, with Tom Curran being particularly impressive at the death again.

And then 24000 tried to go home. At the same time.

Walking out of the ground is a chastening experience, Very drunk, very noisy and I’m not convinced that many gave a damn about the game or the result. It just seems like a chance to get on the lash, and Surrey are not ashamed to enable this. Service at the bars is efficient. You don’t wait long to get served at all. What I found slightly soul-destroying was the sight of grown adults scouring all parts of the ground for empty beer glasses to earn a pound a pop for returning them. It felt a bit tawdry. Maybe I’m just an old stick in the mud, in fact, I know I am.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not a massive T20 fan, and the experience was not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I didn’t see beer thrown, there were no Mexican waves, and the people standing up mid-over had to be excused). You can always get the idiot sat with you (he wasn’t in the league of the Indian fella at an ODI in the early 2000s. It was a miracle I didn’t clock him) but even he just made me mad because his abuse wasn’t funny, clever or, in fact, related to the truth in any conceivable way. Plus, you always have the feeling that he might have been you before. There were some mouthy cricket know nothings on the bus back to London Bridge, but again, I’ve been to so many football matches and met people like this, and it never compared to some of the plankton at the Adelaide Oval. I didn’t take an age to get home, either, but got lucky. I never saw a programmes seller, so never got one. I like that sort of thing. This ground is the exemplar in getting people to part with their money. £5.20 a pint was remarked upon on Twitter as being some horrific price. Do these people drink in Central London pubs? The £1 to return your cup is to deter beer snakes, but instead encourages other forms…. The beer isn’t undrinkable, but not far short, but I can handle Yardbird if it’s on offer. The leg room is garbage, and is why I don’t go to tests there any more.

Did I enjoy it? It’s not as bad as I may have portrayed. I found the cricket enthralling, and isn’t that the point? When Surrey scored 150 I thought this was 30 light, but they bowled and fielded hard. They made Essex work, and they couldn’t keep up the momentum. A game the following Friday followed a similar pattern. My colleague (not Stan) at work said he found both games boring, but they were both contests. The cricket on show more than made up for the duff stuff off it, but not for the reasons the ECB or TV want.

The star of the show, whether you liked it or not, was Kevin Pietersen. The murmurs and outright accusations that he was faking injury not to field were probably put into context by Friday night’s antics. KP is a divisive character, more so since retirement from the test and international arena, and he can say some obnoxious and stupid things. He can also be incredibly prescient. I saw a lot of rust in his play, but then he hit Simon Harmer for 4 sixes in an over. That’s Pietersen. Box Office. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t say T20 doesn’t matter, that it’s just entertainment, and then get huffy when he acts like a diva, but plays shots out of heaven. It was amazing the Twitter response to both matches – the plaudits, the hatred, the defenders, the vitriol. I like him. You know that. For what he does on the field.

It was also a real pleasure to see two quicker bowlers on the top of their game – Mohammad Amir and Tom Curran. This game was not a batting parade, but a chance to see the skills of pacemen in a batsman’s game. Their ability, pace and cunning were on show. Amir tied KP up, as well as not providing the width or length to allow Roy and Finch to really get the game off to the flyer (although they went quickly enough). Curran, T has come on as a death bowler and although I hate that “routine” celebration, preferring spontaneity to something over a prep piece for #39’s lamentable advert, he has real nous now. Jade may well be a very good teacher for all we know. I have to be nice to Jade, he blocked me on Twitter ages ago.

We also got to see two legendary keepers. James Foster is a joy to watch behind the stumps. Utterly capable, smooth, no rough edges. Surrey had Kumar in the gauntlets. Hell, if you are going to retire from a sport that punishes your knees, finish them off with a spell of keeping. Still, he completed a stumping in the game.

Chris, Sean and I have purchased tickets for the 4th August match against Glamorgan. If you are there, or in the vicinity, please let us know and we’ll try to catch a drink or chat with you. T20 isn’t for everyone, but a bad day at cricket is better than a great day at work, and if Surrey are still in the running to make it through, as they should be, and if Colin Ingram is in form like he has been, it could be a really nice night out. If you can put up with the others around you.

And so, to Stan…..

Hey, where’re the Surrey City Dancers?

By Stan

Wednesday I attended my first cricket match ever. More accurately, I attended my first British sporting event ever. I’m an American. Having lived in London for a year now, I had yet to immerse myself into local sport, preferring to keep track of sports across the pond. Fortunately, I work with one of the authors of this blog and I was invited to The Oval. Although I had months of warning, I made a conscious decision to not learn about cricket in advance. I knew that even the most exciting description of a sport would pale in comparison to the experience. (They call it a bat, right?) I wanted a raw first impression. The event, the T-20 Blast, sounds like something pulled from a Red Bull commercial. The name should be partnered with EXTREME! and IN YOUR FACE! and things that are neon and shooting flames. This event was decidedly not that. (Though there was fire, which was cool.) For an EXTREME sporting event, I was expecting more music, and noise, and three jumbotrons, and a team of dancing girls. Nope. To belay the point, even the t-shirt cannon, which is normally designed to knock out the person in the back of the top deck – WHOMP! – barely got past the 6th row – pfft...

However, I learned that the name was not completely inappropriate. This was as IN YOUR FACE! as cricket gets. The T-20 matches are designed to be fast and furious.  The teams are allotted one inning each, with 20 overs, curtailing the game to 3 hours. If you’re reading this blog, this is not news. It was to me. But, realising this, I began to appreciate this sport. This was not a showy sport, and trying to turn it into one could only go so far. This was a restrained game. There were exciting moments, to be sure. There were plenty of sixes hit. (Not home runs?) It was a close game, going down to the last few bowls. However, the ratcheted down environment encouraged fans to appreciate the game for what it was: an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world up close without the extraneous frill that other sports peddle. (He now knows Kevin Pietersen’s back story, as told by Old, D. – Ed)

The stands were filled with business types in rumpled suits drinking beer after a day at the office. Many seemed only casually interested in the match. I was informed that these were not fans that would be at a proper test match. The guy behind was eager to show off his knowledge of the game, taking Sam Curran’s proximity to us as an opportunity to repeatedly critique him with, “Hey, Curran, you suuuuck!”.

In short, this was a less than pure cricket experience, and I liked it. I like that even the brash version of this game was unassuming. In a world that is overcome with a barrage of noise, it is a pleasure to find a sport that is not given to excesses. I hope to see more.

England vs India: Women’s World Cup Final

Pressure. It’s all about pressure. Some people thrive on it, others don’t. When it came down to it, amid the carnage of a frenetic and ever more panicky run chase, it was Anya Shrubsole who held her nerve, bowled straight and stole a win for England that they had no right to claim. What a time to produce career best ODI bowling figures of 6-46.

England’s total of 228-7 was competitive, just – but better than it looked like it was going to be when they slumped to 164-6 with the dismissal of Natalie Sciver for a well made 51. Jenny Gunn’s coolness with the bat helped England into the final, and here alongside Katherine Brunt she got her team to at least a defendable total, if not one that left anyone with a great deal of certainty that they could do so.

A couple of early wickets were just what was needed and the crazy run out of Mithali Raj probably gave notice of what was to come. Yet India after that point were serene. If Kaur didn’t provide the explosiveness of her semi final innings, she instead batted responsibly and with the outstanding Punam Raut took her side most of the way to victory.

191-3, a required rate well below 6 an over, just 38 needed. In print it looks a doddle but even at the time the tension was there, and the feeling that India weren’t totally confident of getting there prevalent. Perhaps it’s not surprising, reaching the World Cup final was a huge achievement for them and one that will stand women’s cricket in India in good stead for the future, however it feels this evening.

The Indian collapse was extraordinary. Seven wickets for 28 runs in under six overs, and they will unquestionably feel they threw the game away. They weren’t alone in feeling the tension, Jenny Gunn of all people dropped a sitter just before the coup de grace, fielders made errors, and even the third umpire had to adjudicate on the tightest of stumping decisions as the game was in the balance.

Some of the shots played were dire, a reflection of the tenseness of the situation rather than anything else. Anyone who has played will know the feeling of desperation that can afflict a side who aren’t certain of their ability to get over the line. No matter how many times the players might say to each other that knocking the ball about is all that’s needed, it doesn’t happen, and each batter plays the kind of shot that leaves them aghast afterwards, and unable to explain why they did it.

Yet it only happens if the opposition are gutsy enough to stay in a game that they’re losing, that keeps it tight, waiting for the one mistake that lets them back in. Shrubsole gave little away in her final spell, creating the feeling among the batting side that the shackles needed to be broken. Laura Marsh had gone wicketless, but she was the one who started to claw the match back, the necessary precursor to allow her team mate to seize the moment.

It may be thought afterwards that there was a inevitability about the way England won, but Deepti Sharma nearly got her team there, and the manner of her dismissal, having played so calmly, came as something of a surprise. It was the last hope gone.

As for what it means for women’s cricket, this final had more attention than any previous edition, and the sell out crowd at Lords were perhaps more animated than is normally the case. It was a match that deserved a sellout and the reasonable pricing for tickets allowed that to happen, although given the ECB and Lords track record on this, doubtless next time it will be seen as an opportunity to increase them substantially. But it seems a reasonable bet that there will be more demand, and as posted yesterday this had the feel of women’s cricket coming of age.

It was flawed, but it was thrilling. Congratulations to England and for India, it may well just be the start.

England v India: Women’s World Cup Final – Preview

Women’s cricket has come a huge way over the last decade or so, and those pioneers of the game can reflect on a job so well done that this World Cup has gained more attention, and sold more tickets, than any previous edition. The final at Lords tomorrow is sold out, a state of affairs scarcely imaginable only a few short years ago.

The fact that England, who have been strong in the women’s game for many years, are facing India adds to the global appeal, and for the first time this tournament has been broadcast live there. There is little doubt, women’s cricket is on the march, and the BCCI have announced significant bonuses for their players for reaching the final.

It’s also true that as far as England is concerned, the ECB can take satisfaction in the increase in both profile and the levels of participation, which have shown significant rises in recent years. Indeed, such has been the progress that overall participation figures would look truly grim were it not for the female half making up for the decline in recreational cricket.

Many clubs now have a women’s section, indeed some are pushing towards having 2nd XIs, a tribute to the hard work put in creating it from scratch. As ever, the silent heroes and heroines are the ones who do this unpaid for no other reason than that they think it’s worth doing.

When I first started playing there were some women and girls who played, but they could only do so in the men’s teams and there was unquestionably a patronising attitude towards them. Being bowled by a girl would be grounds for mirth and teasing, something those playing couldn’t have been unaware of, but who still wanted to go out and enjoy a sport that they loved.  For those who did so, the current attention must feel like vindication.  Those battles aren’t over by any means – having been slightly involved with the creation of a women’s team, I can recall the fight to ensure the team was called the Women’s 1st XI not the Ladies.

With the development of the sport, so have standards risen. Any club side can see how much better all the players are from starting out as novices, and at the highest levels the quality of play is infinitely higher than it was. If they aren’t household names, then there is a degree of player recognition that wasn’t present until very recently. Sarah Taylor is recognised as not just an outstanding wicketkeeper in women’s cricket, but one who is very likely every bit as good as most male professionals, and arguably better than a couple of international keepers too. She is genuinely superb behind the stumps. For India, Harmanpreet Kaur played an innings in the semi-final that was breathtakingly audacious, and there will be a buzz when she gets to the crease tomorrow.

And that sentence still needs saying, for it is still the case that some patronising views remain prevalent, although the players involved are significantly better than those who tend to adopt such positions. And equally, unintentional condescension – the pat on the head for doing very well – is too often seen. For this is a side of the game that should be celebrated, and is being celebrated.

Sporting occasions are often described as seminal, but this does have the feel of a breakthrough moment. The recent TV deal which included free to air coverage for the England teams notably included the women, and given the more limited scale of female international cricket, that might well raise the profile significantly.

As for the match, England are the favourites, but not overwhelmingly so. They have shown signs of nerves when chasing, not least against South Africa in the semi-final, when a comfortable chase became a tense affair that went right to the wire. Jenny Gunn in particular demonstrated a calm mind at just the right time.

This is the first post from this blog specifically about a women’s match, and there was discussion in the team about whether that would be seen as jumping on a bandwagon. But it feels like the right time, and it won’t be the last.

Good luck to both teams tomorrow.

The Blame Game

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It’s been less than a week since what can only be described as a disastrous Test match for England. This coupled with the fact that England have now lost 6 of their last 8 Test Matches has seen the once compliant media turn into circling vultures around the team. Dmitri came in off his long run on Tuesday and covered many of these points with deadly precision, so naturally I don’t want to cover old ground; however once the dust has settled and people have regained their decorum, it does need to be examined why England are in a continuous cycle of mediocrity.

As we have covered in previous posts, the condemnation came quick and fast, after all this is no longer an Alastair Cook team so it’s game on for the hacks, but the two that particularly caught my eye were the reactions of Nasser Hussain and George Dobell, with 2 thoughts on completely different sides of the spectrum.

Hussain was quick to put the boot into county cricket, which is not too much of a surprise considering he probably rarely watches it, stating:

The lads that are coming in aren’t doing anything for them – they won at Lord’s because of Joe Root, not Jennings, Dawson or Ballance.

“You name some lads who have come in – [James] Vince, [Ben] Duckett, [Gareth] Batty, [Zafar] Ansari, [Alex] Hales, Ballance – there is no-one coming in and doing well. “It is a sad indictment in county cricket that they are getting runs there and not for England.” 

Dobell took another line and was keen to understand what Bayliss was actually doing to address these problems:

Bayliss has clearly pushed an ‘aggressive’ mindset (remember his comments about wanting two “attacking-style batters in the top three”?) but, without knowing the red-ball ability of his options – he admits he has never seen Mark Stoneman, outstanding candidate for top-order promotion, bat in the flesh – he has instead tried to turn limited-overs talents into Test players. Jos Buttler was recalled to the Test team despite having played one first-class game in a year and, as a result, being given no chance to correct the faults that led to him being dropped; Alex Hales was promoted to Test opener and Liam Dawson has been selected largely on the grounds of being a ‘good bloke’. By such criteria, Nelson Mandela would have opened the batting for South Africa for 50 years.

Bayliss isn’t much of a technical coach, either. The players refer to him as “a man of few words” who leaves the technical work to others and is more interested in creating a positive, settled environment in which the players are able to perform to their optimum.

That’s important, of course. But if he doesn’t have much say in selection and he doesn’t have much say in coaching, it does rather beg the question: what does he do? If he’s just creating a relaxed environment, he could be replaced by a couple of scented candles, a yucca plant and a CD of ambient whale noises.

 It’s not that I wholly disagree with either of these quotes, it’s just that I think they fail to see the long term issues that England have glaringly had and have been swept under the carpet for so long now. It is easy to have a knee jerk reaction after another England collapse, but it’s far more positive to take a step back at properly look at the underlying causes rather than throwing mud at anybody not named Alastair Cook.

If I look at Hussain’s comments around County Cricket, I feel that he has taken the easy route of assigning blame without doing much research. We all know that County Cricket isn’t perfect, but then show me any national set up that has the quality of domestic league to keep churning out Test quality players (the Australian Shield Cricket in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was the exception rather than the rule). We are also in an era where cricket has become a marginal sport, so to try and find circa 540 professional players across the counties who all play at a high level is mission impossible. Of course it could be argued that by merging counties or introducing 3 divisions (the latter of which I’m actually in favour of) to increase the quality on offer is a nice idea, but even the counties aren’t stupid enough to vote themselves out of existence. This is verging on Mission Impossible. Hussain also argues that players coming through the counties should have had their techniques honed by playing County Cricket, and whilst it is a lovely idea, it is not exactly practical. The County coaches are under as much pressure to win as with any other professional game, so they’re not exactly going to take Ballance or Vince aside when they are plundering county attacks to work on their technique on the off chance that they may get recalled. It would be lovely if they did, but that is purely a pipe dream. It is also worth remembering that the counties often work on a shoestring budget, so they’re not exactly in a place to be able to employ the best coaches in the system and if they did so, then they would probably have to sacrifice players, robbing Peter to pay Paul in other words. Whilst we can all agree that County Cricket isn’t without fault, to lay the full blame on it’s doorstep is lazy journalism in my opinion.

The same could be said about laying the blame fully at the door of England’s coaches; after all they can only work with those who have been selected to play for England. Whilst of course there can be a portion of blame assigned to Bayliss, who fully admits that he doesn’t have a working knowledge of County Cricket (though that doesn’t mean that he can’t watch videos of every English player) and appears to foster a culture whereby there is a lack of accountability amongst the players; it would be foolhardy to hump the blame completely onto his back. Could Bayliss be more forthright, yes certainly and could he stop using phrases such as ‘positive brand of cricket’ (up there with ‘difficult winter’) absolutely yes, but it does feel slightly that his Australian upbringing has upset one or two of the media corp. There are questions around his backroom staff, which Dmitri pointed out in his last post, such as what does Farbrace actually do and why would you employ a batting coach, who was known to freeze in the Test Cricket arena? These are valid questions, but my view is that the England coaches should only be there to tweak techniques and mindsets and not have to start from scratch with players who aren’t either ready or good enough for Test Cricket. My question would be why are we having to pick players with poor technique or subject temperament in the first place? Surely there is a failsafe within the system to guard against this? Yes is the answer; however it is failing in its very basic goal:

According to the Lords website:

Loughborough University has a long tradition and is world renowned for its role in the development of sporting excellence. It is a key site for the new English Institute of Sport – and the ECB’s National Academy. The MCCU allows additional support to be invested in a squad of elite young cricketers, who benefit from Loughborough’s expertise and provision for the development of sports performance.

The Cricket-specific facilities and services are reinforced by access to Loughborough’s wider provision of high-performance sport support services, including fitness testing and development, technical analysis of skill acquisition, physiological and biomechanical analysis, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and sports medicine services.

Loughborough has been a failure on an immense scale. It is the place where aspiring fast bowlers and batsmen go to have their technique ripped apart and changed to what the ECB coaching manual dictates and to be turned from exciting young cricketers into ECB corporate drones. After all, we know that as long as you say the right things and suck up to Mr. Flower, then a Test place is all but guaranteed (more on him a little later). The crux of the matter is that we are not producing enough players of a high enough quality to play Test Cricket; we’re not drilling into them the mindset of protecting your wicket, batting time or bowling line and length instead of promoting the so-called so-called ‘X Factor cricket’. The basics seemed to have been replaced with how fast can you bowl the ball and how far can you clear the boundary by, which is nice for hit and giggle cricket but leaves players totally ill-equipped for the longer form of the game; hence the phrase positive brand of cricket now being bandied about, which roughly translates as our batsman have no clue on how to defend against quality bowling.

So then we dig a little deeper and shine the light on the two individuals who have the keys to the England Development Programme, Andy Flower and David Parsons. There has been very little written about David Parsons, England’s National Spin Bowling Coach, and that’s just probably the way that he likes it. Parsons has been England’s spin coach since 2006 and how many international class spinners have we produced since that time, yes you guessed it, a big fat zero (Swann was playing County Cricket long before Parsons was appointed). This is a clear example about how the ECB rewards those that are ‘inside cricket’ irrespective of the aptitude of said individual. If I had been in a job where I had one task but failed to deliver on it, then I would have been out of a job an awfully long time ago, but there Parson’s is, clinging onto his position for 11 years whilst contributing virtually nothing during this time, no doubt he’ll be knighted soon. My thoughts on Andy Flower are well known, I wrote a piece last year about his tenure with the Lions – https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2016/11/23/englands-missing-lions/comment-page-1/ and very little has changed since then. Flower has never had a particular aptitude of bringing through young cricketers, with only Steven Finn bought into the England set up under the age of 27 (Trott and Bresnan were extremely experienced county operators by this time) and clearly values good personality rather than talent. England are still criminally under utilising the Lions in the red ball format, which is madness, considering this should be the very vehicle where England’s aspiring Test players iron out their techniques, test out their temperaments and play against high quality players. It would naturally be impossible to mimic the England set up, but surely it’s not past the administrators to organise 4/5 red ball games a year for those that have been identified as next off the cab rank?? Surely Director Comma understands that the very definition of madness is doing the same things again and expecting a different outcome? The fact that we have consistently seen white ball cricket favoured over red ball cricket constantly rankles with me but it appears that this decision has come from the top.

We could also easily blame the selectors, whom many of us believe should have been sacked straight after the India tour and some even before that. There have been too many selections where they have tried to put round objects into square holes or have completely misjudged an individual’s readiness for the Test arena. The balance of the side has looked completely wrong for a while now and they continue to jettison those who don’t fit their mould as personified by the media luvvies (see Rashid, Carberry, Compton etc). The fact that James Whitaker still has a job is like the ECB is playing one massive practical joke on the rest of England, hell I’d rather have John Whitaker making the selections.

It is clear that many elements could be blamed for England’s consistently poor decision making and massive inconsistency in the Test arena (though one could argue that losing 6 out of 8 Tests isn’t inconsistency and just the sign of a poor side); however there does seem to be one constant running through all of these gripes. Yes, our purported savior, the Director, England Cricket.

Now many might say that it is unfair to put the blame squarely at Strauss’ door and some will even go further and say that I am purporting an agenda against Strauss, and whilst it’s true that I have little time for Strauss, the one common element is that all roads lead to him. Graves is being kept in a cupboard under the stairs, only allowed out to wine and dine the County chairmen, Empty Suit is too concerned with the TV deals and the Cockroach is still trying to infiltrate the ICC, so that really only leaves us with Director Comma. When appointed, Strauss’ supposed remit was:

Strauss, will will be responsible for “the long-term strategy of the England men’s cricket team” and for developing “the right coaching and management structure to support it”.

Strauss knew that Bayliss was more of a white ball specialist when he appointed him and that he had very little knowledge of county cricket; however it still seems that the key to Strauss’ appointment was to push the white ball game and to ensure a certain South African born player wasn’t picked. If Strauss didn’t know that Bayliss was a hands-off coach, then that is a damning indictment of his research and judgment. Strauss is also in charge of the selectors, so why has there been no accountability with bust after bust coming from Whitaker and co? Any fool could see they’re not up to the job, hell I would make Peter Moores chief selector, he might not be able to coach at International level, but he was the most successful in bringing young cricketers through to the England set up. I would certainly remove Flower from any formal or informal position on the panel, a conflict of interest there most certainly is, but whether Director Comma actually has the cohones to do it, is another matter.

Another damning aspect of all this has been Strauss’ insistence that white ball cricket was more of a focus across all of the age groups, very much at the detriment to the red ball game. We can of course question the mindset and attitude of England’s Test batsmen, but when they and the next generation are not being given proper exposure to the red ball game early in their career against high quality players, then of course we leave ourselves open to being undercooked at this level. It is astoundingly incompetent to have the Lions playing 6 red ball games over a 3-year period, with an England Test line up crying out for new talent. Whilst it would be unfair to directly apportion blame to Strauss for Loughborough’s consistent failure, it doesn’t appear that he is too keen to do much about it, after all that’s Mr. Flowers remit and one doesn’t go about sticking his nose into Darth Mood Hoover’s ‘oeuvre d’art’.

So what have England actually achieved in Director Comma’s tenure, we have a white ball team that is better than it was but still hasn’t won anything, a Test team with the same glaring holes and lack of talent in the system as we had in 2014, which makes it impossible to make England a constantly competitive Test Team, oh and a new domestic T20 competition that nobody wants. It wouldn’t be unfair to surmise in my opinion, that in the three years since Strauss took over as Director, England Cricket, English cricket hasn’t moved forward an iota and that for me is the most damning statistic of them all.