1st Test Review – Things Fall Into Place

There I was, last night, Friday in a pub after work. Every two minutes looking at the score on my phone. Every time saying to the disinterested mates around me “we’ve got to get Kohli out. He’s still there.” A wicket fell and it wasn’t Kohli. It didn’t seem to count as a full wicket while Kohli was there. “He’s still there, bloody hell” I’d mutter. I wonder why I’m running out of social partners these days.

In their 1980 hit, Blancmange summed up how I felt about the past four days. England have kept me running round and round, and that’s been alright with me. I’ve been up the wall, I’ve been up the bloody tree. They’ve raised us, and then they’ve let us fall. Living on the ceiling indeed. If you’re (un)lucky and ever catch the band I sing for, this is one of our numbers!

So after a crappy grandad pop reference, let’s get down to the nitty gritty (there’s your Public Enemy lyric) and the last four days. This was a really good test match. It ebbed, it flowed, it had star performances, it had new players and test match regulars playing well and playing not so well. The ball did move, the bowling was certainly better than the batting, and England dug themselves out of an almighty hole to claw up to a defensible total and then, well, defended it. We had a taut 90 minutes or so as England took the wickets they needed to take a 1-0 lead and everyone came together at the end to say “what a thoroughly enjoyable game of cricket”. And guess what, I agree with them. Because not to do so would be silly.

But, and you know with me there is always a but, there’s a few things nagging away at me and of course I’m going to mention them. First of all the last two series in England where India have visited these shores, the test series fell apart after the first loss by the visitors. I was there for the 5th day – remember that kiddies when we get the 4 day test muppets out again as they have been – in 2011 at Lord’s, another test that was a rollercoaster, as England looked in danger until Prior rescued Day 4 to set up a tense Day 5 and India fighting hard for a draw. It was a great day’s cricket, but once England had taken the match, they weathered early storms in the second test and routed India the rest of the way. 2014 saw India win at Lord’s and then put on the sandals and chill out for the rest of the summer too. I don’t think this will happen with this India team and this captain, because there is too much class in the opposition, but we thought that in 2014 and 2011, and they became depressingly one-sided matches. What we need is more of this. Test cricket needs more of this.

Secondly, there’s the brittle England batting. Yet again our top order failed miserably with one or two exceptions. The blueprint for long-term success is not to ask numbers 8,9,10 and 11 to add 100 on to your score in a tight match. When England were 87 for 7 and just about 100 in front, India had this. They let the match slip, as Curran grabbed it. Sam has a defining performance in just his second test, but the rest of the batting looked frail, and it’s a common theme, whether my critics like it or not. We’ve had one test hundred in the last six test matches. You would think these batsmen are too good to let that happen for much longer, but you just don’t know.

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India will be pleased with their bowling efforts, and especially the effectiveness of Ravi Ashwin, but they need these seamers to last the whole course. They are without Kumar at the moment, but Shami, Sharma and Yadav are decent performers and they looked to keep England in check. Sharma is just a strange cricketer, with performances varying from insipid to inspired and no way of telling what will be coming.

Which brings us to the greatest Surrey player to have never played for us. Kohli has an aura like few others in my life-time. It’s like Lara with the West Indies, Viv maybe back in the day, Mohammed Yousuf when he saw an England shirt. He just looks a million dollars. He gave chances but with force of will and supreme ability made a magnificent first innings hundred and you knew we had to get him soon this morning not to lose this one. I am an unabashed fan of Virat Kohli and most of what he brings to the game. In many ways he is the most important cricketer for many a year. If Virat Kohli didn’t passionately care about test cricket, the existential crisis (I hate that phrase, by the way) test cricket finds itself in would be very much worse. It appears, unless he’s a magnificent liar, that Kohli values the long game, the ability to shape games over longer periods of time, and to not rest on his laurels. He’s eloquent, a little abrasive, but a superstar playing super cricket. Many will remember his contributions to the game – the run out, the hundred, the keeping his team in the game, and his comments afterwards. Cricket is incredibly lucky to have him. Warts and all.

The worry for India is that the other batsman did not shine. Leaving out Pujara raised eyebrows with Michael Holding, for instance, but he’s been woeful for Yorkshire this year. Dhawan had a horror in 2014, and this didn’t inspire confidence. Vijay has been a solid performer, made a hundred on that road at Trent Bridge four years ago, but again never looked solid. Rahul is a talent that needs to learn, in perhaps the same way Virat did. Rahane made that great hundred at Lord’s on a tricky wicket in 2014 so he has game. I don’t think they’ll fail every time, but England will certainly feel more hopeful that there are cracks to exploit.

England’s bowlers worked well as a team. Anderson might have been a little overbowled but without him we would have been floundering. Golden arm Stokes took the wickets today, and the key one of Kohli was the clincher, and as we know he will need to be replaced at Lord’s for reasons of seeing m’learned friends. Broad was under the weather, remains a frustrating cricketer, but again, his opening spell in the second innings when I thought Sam Curran should have been given the new ball, was important. The Dukes ball is given a lot of credit, and there was swift lobbying from many of the usual suspects that it should be used worldwide (do you know how that sounds to those outside of England?), but cloud conditions and an Edgbaston pitch that rewards good play also helped. Holding was spot on saying you need pitches that allow good bowlers to get wickets, and not reward mediocre bowling, while not having pitches too flat to allow ordinary players to make big scores. Fair enough, but he better not be having a go at my main man Karun Nair!

This test match started among a cacophony of nonsense over Adil Rashid, who had a more than fair game and bowled well when given his limited opportunities, and also batted sensibly. It finished as an England win always does. Greatest evers being thrown about, an enthusiasm ignoring the past, a euphoria that feels misplaced. I will be honest, this wasn’t in the same galaxy as Edgbaston 2005, and the tension there. It wasn’t in the same universe as the morning of Trent Bridge 2013, the test match this most closely resembled in my recent memory, when Brad Haddin threatened to take the game away from us. Nor Melbourne 1998, Jo’burg 2005, Cardiff 2009. That may be me, or it may be our need to make everything now something that is the greatest ever. It may be I am throwing a straw man in there, and maybe that’s not what they are saying. But given the sheer insecurities we feel at how the test game is being handled both here and abroad, we need to clutch to matches like this and tell the naysayers “see, this is really great stuff”. We know it is, the players do too. We hope.

I’ve been down on England for a while. Old wounds take a long time to heal. But there are players in this team I really like. I have so much time for Jos Buttler. I really like Joe Root, just wish he wasn’t captain. I’d love Adil Rashid to throw the nonsense back down the likes of Selvey’s throat (if his tweets this morning constituted getting behind Adil, as the phrase goes, I’d want him in front of me so I could see him). And then there is Sam Curran. I remember a couple of years ago sitting at the Oval in a game against Lancashire and he was chatting away to a spectator, happy to be playing, enjoying the game, interacting with the public in an uninhibited way. He still had to strengthen up, but the talent was there. We could all see it. He made runs, he looked good doing so, and I just hoped he wasn’t a Ben Hollioake, a player praised up too soon, disrespected when things didn’t go his way, and then the suspicion that he wasn’t quite good enough in either discipline to nail down an international place. Sam has already made an impact, in fact more than an impact. Without him there was no tense run chase. Without him there wasn’t a 194 target. Without him we might have seen the Indian top order settle in on Day 2. He’s a star. But he’s not the finished article, but what you saw there was temperament. Big game temperament. That’s precious and as a Surrey fan, yep, I’m bloody proud of the guy.

We move on to Lord’s on Thursday. Between then and now we have an excellent guest post on county cricket from a writer who we hope will contribute more for us on the issues in domestic cricket. We’ll do the honours for that tomorrow or Monday. Then we’ll have a preview for the second test and here is hoping for a game somewhere near as good as this. Because it was great test cricket, and in cricket, there is nothing better.

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England vs India: Day Four, Live Blog

Morning everyone…

Well isn’t this fun?  We’ve got about a session at most today, and three results are possible.  After a terrific couple of days of play  India need another 84 runs, with 5 wickets remaining.  That Mr Kohli is still in, and as long as he is, India may be favourites.

We’re going to live blog the play, and as ever, we will remind you that this isn’t the BBC, you have to hit the refresh button for updates.  One day we might even work out a way to auto-refresh, but that day ain’t today.

10:30 – Half an hour to go, and there’s the sense of anticipation that only Tests can provide.

10:41 – People accuse us of banging on about some things, but can you imagine how big the anticipation for today would be if this was on free to air television?

10:51 – What I’d really love to see here is this come down to the last run or wicket.  Whoever wins in the end.  For it to be tense throughout.

10:52 – Atherton raises the point that Test cricket is a far better game with the Duke than the Kookaburra.  He’s right too.  Bowlers are what make Test matches, not batsmen.   If the bowlers are flogged into the ground and can get no movement at all, then Test cricket is a very dull game indeed.  The best innings, the most memorable innings, are when faced with a challenge, not pummeling everyone around on a flattie.  Yet another area where cricket doesn’t help itself unfortunately.  Tests in England have become shorter, partly as a result of the style of play.  But this three and a bit day Test is utterly thrilling.  And that’s surely the point?

11:00 – Here we go.  Atmosphere sounds great

11:02 – Holding talking about there being no third man, and sure enough England leak one down there.  The whole no third man in Tests is fascinating, you’d have to think that the stats men in the teams have worked out everything as far as where runs are scored, but it does seem counterintuitive.  Ian Bell was a master at making captains look foolish.

11:03 – WICKET!!  Karthik gone.  Anderson seams the ball away a touch, and Dawid Malan, who hasn’t had the best of times in the slip cordon, takes a good one low down.  A couple of replays and the third umpire confirms it.  Great start for England.

11:05 – India are 113-6 and that target is looking distant.  But there’s a certain Virat Kohli still at the crease…

11:07 – Look I’ll admit it.  I love Stuart Broad.  I love his grumpy him-against-the-world-schtick, I love his sense of burning injustice, I love how he properly sticks it to the Australians.  And he’s a bloody good bowler who for some reason rubs people up the wrong way to the point they call for his dropping despite even in his quiet times still being highly effective.

11:10 – And on that point, we aren’t that far from the end of Anderson and Broad.  And what then?  Said it before, that this is the Walsh and Ambrose of the England team, and what is behind them gives cause for concern.  They are magnificent, and it’s not their fault people go over the top in their assessments of them.   We will miss them when they’re gone.

11:15 – Interesting to see the different approaches of the two bowlers.  Anderson is trying to lure the batsmen into playing outside the off stump, while Broad is targeting the stumps and making them play (nearly) every ball.

11:19 – At the sight of a giant panda in the stands, I often wonder what other nationalities make of the English predilection for going to the cricket in fancy dress.

11:26 – this is excellent bowling this morning.  Kohli is determined to get forward, and Broad nearly sconed him with a terrific short ball, and followed that up with one that swung in significantly the ball after.

11:30 – 121-6.  India inching their way forward…

11:33 – First shot in anger, a gorgeous straight drive down the ground from Pandya off Broad.  Fifteen runs this morning, and one wicket.  It’s extremely tense, as Broad answers back with one snaking past the outside edge.

11:38 – Runs starting to flow a touch…Kohli reaches his half century almost unnoticed.

11:41 – Another beautiful straight drive from Pandya.  Might be time for a change.  The reality is that Rashid is unlikely to get a bowl though, but England are leaking here, two boundaries in the over from Broad.  England don’t have enough to play with to afford this, so Stokes and Curran are now on the agenda.

11:44 – Ah, England are whining about the ball.  Some things never change.

11:45 – Stokes into the attack

11:47 – WICKET!!  Stokes get Kohli lbw, but immediately reviewed…it’s tight on the leg stump, but it’s out.  Huge wicket.

11:50 – WICKET!!  Stokes does it again.  Gets some extra bounce and Shami edges through to Bairstow.  Two in the over, the crowd go mad.  Outstanding over from Stokes, looking lethal every ball. 141-8 and England are looking firm favourites.

11:53 – 53 runs needed, and Curran comes in to the attack.  It’s all resting on Pandya now, who has looked aggressive this morning.  He trusts his partner and takes a single…suspect a lot of India fans are now praying Ishant Sharma shows hitherto unseen depths of batting skill.

11:55 – Sharma has surely hit that straight into the ground?  Yes, clearly so.  Nonsense that the umpires sent that upstairs, pure arse covering.

11:58 – The point needs saying over and over and over.  You can have gimmicks, you can target a particular market.  But when cricket is good, and Test cricket in particular, it’s very, very good.  This is thrilling stuff.

11:59 – Sharma errrr….”guides” the ball down to the third man for four.  Target is now under 50 away.  At this point it only takes a few slogs to cause panic.  Which is exactly why it’s so exciting.

12:01 – Verbals in the middle between the Indian batsmen and Stokes (obviously).

12:03 – 42 needed…The question to put out there, is at what point do England fans start crapping themselves?

12:06 – Adil Rashid on!  Mildly surprising and rather pleasing.  But it has to be with enough runs on the board for him to have a chance.  A brave decision from Root, for few of the journalists would have beaten him up had he not bowled him.  But he got Sharma in the first innings, so why the hell not?  It’s what he’s there for.

12:10 – ReviewWICKET!! Rashid hits the pads and Gaffney gives it not out.  It’s quite close…And it’s out!  Terrific delivery from Adil Rashid, who pays Root’s faith back with a fine over, and a wicket.  And with that one, he superbly sticks two fingers up at those who decided to attack Rashid for the crime of answering his country’s call.

12:13 – Rashid showing his mental fragility yet again with a superb over.  Now then, what does Pandya do here?  Field is spread as England look to try to bowl to Yadav.  This tactic can backfire sometimes, as it starts to look as they’re only trying to get one player out.  But it also puts Pandya under pressure to try to score enough runs to bring his team close without exposing his partner.

12:17 – And there’s an answer.  A magnificent shot over extra cover for four.  But it leaves Yadav to face Rashid.  Tough situation for Pandya, he has to score runs, he can’t just fiddle around getting a single at the end of the over.

12:19 – Rashid has bowled 10 overs and has 3-37 in this Test…  36 runs needed now.

12:21 – Field spread again for Stokes with Pandya on strike.

12:28 – Interestingly, England appear content to concede the single on the fifth ball of the over, leaving just one at Yadav.

12:30 – WICKET!!  Stokes does the trick, getting the outside edge of Pandya’s bat, and Cook, who hasn’t been totally reliable in the slips recently, does the rest.  ENGLAND WIN BY 31 RUNS

12:31 – Being greedy, it would have been particularly fantastic if this had got down to single figures, but the two wickets in an over from Stokes really broke the back of India’s batting, particularly when one of them was Kohli.  Kohli himself was superb this Test, and may well be in with a shout of man of the match despite being on the losing side.  But Stokes with the ball was quite outstanding this morning, as indeed was Public Enemy Number One Adil Rashid.  He can be very proud of his performances, and those who decided to pick on him rather than the selectors, can frankly get stuffed.

12:34 – England’s 1000th Test match turned out to be a very fine one indeed.  There’s plenty to criticise about the performances of both of the sides, and that England won doesn’t shut down debate about the weaknesses they’ve demonstrated here again.  Stokes will be missing from the second Test too (at the least), meaning England will certainly be weaker than they are here.  For India, their bowling looked highly effective, their batting too looked fragile, Kohli apart.  But it’s one match, and one match only.  You’d think that by now people would have learned not to extrapolate a single match over a series, but it’s nailed on that a fair few will do.

12:41 – Returning to the subject of Adil Rashid; apart from his first, solitary over before lunch on day two, he bowled very, very well.  And he batted well too, both innings.  Whatever the future may hold, he can be pleased with his performances here, and more to the point, an awful lot of people should be ashamed of how they specifically targeted him in the build up to the Test.  Sure, it was controversial that he was selected, but that wasn’t down to him, all he did was accept the request to play for his country.  Instead, he was slated, slagged off and abused.  It was disgusting and despicable.  They won’t be ashamed about it, because that’s the kind of people they are.  But they should be.  Not going to forgive that.  Cricket is a game of opinions, and whether he should or shouldn’t be playing in this England Test team is an open question, with honestly held views.  Having a go at Rashid himself is not.  And never will be.  Your cards have been marked.

12:52 – The presentations now.  Man of the Match goes to Sam Curran.  That’s ok, he was outstanding in this game, and his innings yesterday was probably the difference between the sides.  Kohli would have been every bit as good a call, but there’s something about young Mr Curran that is rather exciting.  Hopefully he won’t be over-showered with praise, for we’ve seen that far too often in recent years.  But he was a breath of fresh air.

12:58 – So there we have it.  England go 1-0 up, but there’s a long way to go.  Thanks for your company on here, there’ll doubtless be a review up at some point later, and comments below are always welcome of course.  But that was all really rather fun.

 

Day Three: A love letter to Test Cricket

For most of the summer we’ve been fed a diet of white ball cricket, of limited interest and importance, and giving rise to a sense of frustration that the best part of the summer was being wasted on cricketing frippery.  In some ways it was unfair, the white ball build up to this series was perfectly reasonable, but the insertion of the five matches against Australia undoubtedly led to ennui amongst those weird extremists called cricket fans.  And then the Tests began.

T20s and ODIs are an essential part of the cricket framework.  It may be largely a financial matter, but nevertheless they are, and they always should be.  But nothing, absolutely nothing at all, reminds everyone that Test matches are the apogee of the game more than a genuine thriller, twisting one way and then the other, despair and delight alternating between the fans and players as a battle is played out over days in varying conditions.  Individual players can turn a game in a manner beyond the raw figures of runs scored or wickets taken; the crowd can become an additional player on the field, as they roar their chosen heroes on, and the sense of tension can be palpable thousands of miles away as every single ball desperately matters.

The ECB may argue that the Hundred is a financial imperative, that the funding of the game (the professional part, anyway) is reliant on them introducing yet another competition, and yet another variation on the rules and laws of a sport in desperate trouble.  But above all else, they have given off the stench of an organisation that not only doesn’t care for the game, but one that doesn’t even like it, that constantly apologises for it, and tries desperately to make cricket less crickety wherever possible in order to sell it to a mythical hidden audience.

Sit them down.  Put them in front of this match from start to finish (whoever comes out on top), and remind them that cricket at its best remains a stunning game, a brilliant sport.  And Test cricket is the one.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with ODIs or T20s, but not a thing can approach a truly titanic Test match, being wrestled one way and then the other; with brilliance, errors, mental resilience and yes, mental fragility too.  Test matches have always been beautifully named, the stress of sporting combat writ large over several days, and when they are at their absolute best, as has been the case here, there is nothing to touch them.  Nothing in cricket, and not much in other sports either.

Cricket is not a game that doesn’t appeal to people.  Cricket isn’t a game that has to be ripped asunder and re-constructed for a 21st century audience.  It is a sport that offers its own cadences and rhythms, but can offer nerve-shredding tension like little else.  It’s not like this is unknown either – the 2005 Ashes became a national obsession not because of the detailed knowledge of the millions watching, but because the basic principles were simple and universally understood.  The intensity and fascination derived from that, not from gimmickry.  This is not to say that the answer to cricket’s woes lie in the Test arena, but it is to repeat the bleeding obvious that the ECB appears to have forgotten.  Cricket is brilliant.  Cricket is fantastic.  Cricket needs to sell itself as cricket, and the highest level is the one that is the most enthralling, most memorable, and needs to be seen by the widest possible audience.  For that is how a game succeeds, by inspiring others through showing the best of itself.  Cricket can be dull, Test matches can be dull. T20s can be exciting.  It can be every iteration within that too.  It is a sport in the round that offers a vast amount to anyone with even a passing interest should anyone care to reach out to them.

Stop apologising for it.  Embrace the sport, because it is capable of extraordinary heights, as with both yesterday and today.  For this has been a sensational match, a low scoring one (as the best ones so often are), where the batsmen have had to work hard and where the bowlers have been hunting, rather than being ground into the dust.  That is why Sam Curran’s innings today, only 63 runs that might merit barely a footnote in other circumstances became a hat to hang hopes upon as the England innings disintegrated around him.  It’s why Virat Kohli, all at sea in the early stages of his first innings knock, defied the England bowlers in the final session of the day to give his side every chance of knocking off the further 84 runs needed for victory, with half his side already in the hutch.

Tomorrow’s play will be brief – a session at best – yet it is evenly poised, with small errors on either side, or brilliance from an individual the difference between victory and defeat.  Two hours.  Less than a match in the putative Hundred, yet with a Test like this, it will cause players and supporters on both sides nervous flutters this evening about what is to come.

For today had an abject England collapse, of the kind that has become endlessly familiar recently, but it also had an Indian collapse, as Broad threatened to bowl one of “those” spells, and Anderson dredged up from the past his uncanny ability to make even very fine players look totally out of their depth.  The subplot of Adil Rashid providing sterling support for Curran, of Ishant Sharma ripping the heart out of England’s batting with skilled swing and seam.  The dropped catches of a player beginning to come under pressure for his place, among a slip cordon suddenly brittle.  And at the end of it all, seesawing one way, then the other, the teams remain evenly locked, just as they were at the start of play.

Details, details, details.  At one stage, with a crushing England defeat imminent, tonight’s post might have been a lament to the repeated failures inherent in this England team that haven’t gone away.

But sod it.  And sod the chronological blow by blow account of the day too.  This is bloody marvellous.  Go well tomorrow, you twenty two in white.  The worries about the game can wait another day.

England vs India, 1st Test, Day 2

I’ve written this on my phone because my computer is apparently taking a few hours to update, so please excuse the brevity.

It’s been an up and down day for England. If you had offered Root a 13 run first innings lead this morning, he would almost certainly have snatched it gratefully. As it is, he is likely disappointed that England aren’t at least 100 runs ahead.

There are three broad themes for the day. The first was England’s very good bowling performance. Surprisingly good, in all honesty. Whilst the first spell by Anderson and Broad was a bit tame, Sam Curran soon changed that and took 3 wickets in quick succession. Stokes continued this after Lunch, and India were on the ropes at 100-5.

Which brings us to the second theme of the day: missed chances. Cook and Malan both dropped fairly simple slip chances, including one from Kohli when he was on just 22. Hardik and Kohli steadied the ship and, although wickets kept falling at the other end, Kohli guided India’s tail until they were almost level with England.

The third the of the day was Kohli’s brilliance. Particularly at the end of the day, when the ball had stopped swinging, Kohli dominated the English bowlers who were utterly unable to keep him off strike. Much has been written about Root’s conversion rate ”problems”, but one genuine weakness is his (and the other England batsmen’) inability to bat with the tail. They either fail to shield the tailenders from the strike, or play so aggressively that they throw their wickets away. Kohli did neither, and so India scored another 124 runs for their last four wickets.

With a slight lead and almost half an hour left, England will have wanted to just see out the day without losing any wickets. Cook unfortunately couldn’t manage that, falling to an almost exact copy of the ball which dismissed him in the first innings. On one hand, it was a very good ball. On the other, Cook is (by reputation at least) England’s best player of spin, so him getting out in this way is pretty troubling for the rest of the team.

The umpires didn’t have a great day either. There were several successful reviews, plus another two decisions which would have been overturned if they had been referred. In all honesty, I can’t think of any day I’ve seen with more overturned decisions.

As always, feel free to comment about today and tomorrow’s play below.

England vs India, 1st Test, Day 1

Today marks the 1st August and England are only playing their 3rd Test match of the summer, which not only feels wrong but also feels insanely weird. One could almost say that the ECB are not prioritising Test Cricket anymore, but of course only a money grabbing, incompetent and quite frankly insane administrator would do that surely? Answers on a postcard please..

As Dmitri pointed out yesterday in his piece, this Test series has hardly caught the eye of the fans despite India’s large following in the UK. It could be indifference, it could be that the ECB has tried to milk the magic cow too often or it could well be the people are bored of shelling out top dollar to see an ordinary team that has had the same issues for the past few years playing the same brand of cricket that has hardly led to sustained success. This of course augurs badly for the rest of the series and potentially for series to come, with only Lords potentially guaranteed to sell out, and we all know that most of the individuals who do choose to go Lords are not that fussed about what happens on the cricket pitch as long as the Chablis is chilled and the lamb is pink! The ECB are already committed to holding 50% of all Test Matches in London over the coming years and certainly with the lack of advance ticket sales for Edgbaston for a series against one of the big 3 in an area that has a large Indian population, then we might be seeing that percentage increase in the coming years. After all, I would suggest many of the members of the ECB haven’t yet made it past the Watford Star.

There of course could be another reason why Joe Public has stayed away and the blame can be squarely aimed at Mr Graves and Mr Harrison, who have handled this T100 catastrophe with all the PR elegance of a drunken rhino. Those with a vested interest know that this is going to be a catastrophic balls up and have done from Day 1, but interestingly I feel that this has filtered through to the more occasional fan who might switch the cricket on at the weekend or might turn up to a game if they are invited. The absolute classless arrogance combined with the total incompetence that the ECB has displayed in trying to push through the 100 has not only alienated the loyal cricket fan but also those who might not have realized what a shit pit of self-serving incompetence that the ECB is. The alienation of those fans who love cricket but don’t quite fit the fancy ‘mothers and children demographic’ which some overpaid and under talented PR company has sold to the ECB, have been insulted with ’10 ball overs’, ’15 mans squads’ and ‘it’s not for you’ since day 1 and quite frankly they are f*cking sick of it. Naturally not everybody is in the same position, as Sky having paid massive overly the odds for the TV rights, keep sending out their resident clown to drum up support:

Anyone believe this village idiot? Nope thought not. Even the most one-eyed ECB supporter will be able to tell you that this has nothing about safeguarding red ball cricket, but a ruse to try to exploit their last big TV deal whilst cricket has some kind of an audience and for those at the ECB to rake in the cash whilst informing the players that they will not be eligible for a price rise. Sorry Bumble, you’ve shown your true colours to the world as an overpaid ECB stooge. Would the village that has lost their idiot kindly reclaim him please?

So after all this idiocy and counter-idiocy, we then get to the first Test against India and guess what, it’s the ex-pro and journo’s that decide to buy a big gun and promptly shot themselves in both feet. Both Chris and Dmitri have spoken about the treatment of Adil Rashid in more depth than I will, but I not only find the comments against him distasteful but quite frankly I find it pretty disgusting. I know Rashid ‘has had his card marked’ by some members of the written press, but some of the vile diatribe that has been spouted at him for the ‘heinous crime’ of accepting a call up to the England team, should have the perpetrators writhing in embarrassment. Of course these ‘broadcasters’ and I use that term extremely loosely will no doubt state that they should be allowed to publish their opinions; however I am certainly of the opinion that this should not be allowed to be printed in any of the national press. Leave them to the snake pit that is Twitter. In fact as normal, it was left to Michael Atherton to act as the only adult in town when speaking about the Rashid situation:

I certainly know from experience that there is nothing like unfair criticism and alienation to make a player ready and confident for their next game. Personally I hope Rashid stuffs their opinions down their throats but in reality, he can never win. The moment he bowls poorly, drops a catch or does anything else that the written press don’t approve of, then there will be howls of derision and the words ‘mentally weak’ bounded around for anyone that will care. Once the press have decided that you are not an ‘Alastair Cook type’, then your fair game for flack. Just ask Nick Compton.

Anyway, apologies about the slight rant and now onto the actual play today. England won what looked like it could be an important toss and chose to bat first on a pitch that doesn’t look like it will have any demons in it for the first 3 days. Indeed looking at England’s slightly makeshift bowling attack, I absolutely felt that England needed to make hay whilst the sun shines and put some serious runs on the board, which with hindsight looks again like hope over reality. Naturally England’s openers had a bit of trouble with the new ball swinging around and Jennings was lucky to dropped by Rahane from a decent ball from Ishant; however after England looked to have seen off the new ball, then Cook got a good nut from Ashwin, who perhaps unfairly has been cast as a home track bully, that beat him all ends up. I know it has been mentioned around a million times before, but it now more than ever seems to be feast or famine with Cook, with his last few scores of 13, 46, 1, 70, 14, 2, 2, 5, 10, 39, 244*, 14, 7, 16, 37, 2, 17, 10, 23, 11, 243 highlighting this fact that his game has been wildly inconsistent over the past few years (though one could argue that he has been very consistent and that the big scores are getting fewer and fewer). Dmitri also pointed out that Cook is now 11 days older than Ian Bell was when he was jettisoned from the England team after months of whispers that his eyes and hunger had gone and after a period of diminishing returns, despite there being no obvious candidate to replace him. Now I’m not suggesting England jettison Cook at this point in time, but it always amuses me how certain individuals are totally immune from criticism even when presented with hard facts.

England batted well for the rest of the session and went to lunch with relatively few scares and with Root and Jennings settled it did look like for a brief moment that England might be able to put a score on the board. Unfortunately that hope soon disappeared after lunch with the dismissals of Jennings, who can count himself mightily unlucky and then Malan who is looking less and less as the batsman that scored that century in Perth. I have been happy that the England team have given Malan a longer leash than some of his predecessors but we are now getting to the time where Malan now has to get a score in the next couple of innings or it’s likely he will playing county cricket before the end of the season. With England now 3 down with not much more than a 100 on the board, it was once again left to Messer’s Root and Bairstow to do their wine from water trick and again for a while, it looked like these 2 might have saved England’s bacon again. All was going well until both got out to completely needless dismissals with Root unnecessarily run out going for a 2nd run that was never there and then Bairstow chopping onto his stumps from a delivery that was never there to cut. I could easily mention the failure to once again convert a 50 into a match winning 100, but quite frankly it’s beginning to get a little boring now and something that the management needs to effect a change of mindset and quickly! Once Buttler and then Stokes were quickly dismissed by the Indian bowlers and despite a battling red inker for Curran, at 285-9, England are in the mire and well short of the 400 they needed to be competitive on what will remain a decent batting pitch for the next couple of days.

A word too for the Indian bowlers, who were all effective in different parts of the innings but also more importantly didn’t let England get away at any part of the innings. I felt before the series began that on paper the Indian bowling attack looked more potent than the English attack, especially with the dry weather neutering England’s normal tactic against India of producing green seamers. Ravi Ashwin in my opinion was the most threatening of all of the Indian bowlers today, using his guile and changes of pace and angle to befuddle many of the English batting attack. As I mentioned above, many have potentially seen Ashwin as a home-track bully, but based on his performances today, he is going to be a massive handful for the English batsmen for the rest of the series.

Day 1 has not been a good day for England and they desperately need a better Day 2 from the bowling attack; otherwise India could be out of sight by the time England bat again. Oh and just as a side point the paying public lost another 2 overs of action today. I wonder how many we’ll manage to lose over the whole series!

As ever thoughts are welcome on the game below:

1st Test Intro – England v India: “Some Writers I Know Are Damn Devils”

England v India

Two of cricket’s “Big Three” meet in a five test series played over six weeks to determine who holds the Pataudi Trophy.

This is what the pinnacle of the game should look like. World Ranked number 1, against the sleeping giant waiting to give the top team a bloody nose. A contest in the offing.

There are many sub-plots to the ensuing drama, tempting, tantalising, invigorating and fascinating.

  • How will Virat Kohli cope after the failure in the tests of 2014 when one could be forgiven for thinking that he was out of his depth?
  • How will the old stagers of Anderson and Broad cope with the furious pace of this series with tests coming on top of each other with little chance of recuperation?
  • How will England’s batting cope with the Indian spin bowling, and seam too, after years of low output?
  • How will India’s batting cope with alien conditions, but potentially less alien given the summer we’ve had?

It should be great. Not only for the ECB coffers, for which this is a bumper year with the Indian TV money, but for the fans. They should be lapping it up.

But yet again there is a hollow feeling. A feeling that it might not just be the players going through the motions at the end of this series. A feeling that test cricket, shunted, like the county championship, to the end of the summer (and May), is going through the motions. And as I’ve said many times on this blog, a sense I am going through the motions too. There is only so much anger left to give. This series might epitomise all that is great in test cricket, but we’ve been let down before. This series might garner huge support for the game, but this is the ECB we are talking about, and while they say test cricket is the pinnacle and the long-form fans are their lifeblood, this doesn’t look like it to me. It’s August before this starts.

In their critique of the US emergency services, Public Enemy could well have been talking of the upper echelons of the England and Wales Cricket Board in this part of 911 is a Joke (which, believe it or not, was once covered by Duran Duran);

They don’t care cause they stay paid anyway
They treat you like an ace they can’t be betrayed

 

Well, the morgue truck, to quote the same song, is getting ready to “embalm the goner” if the stories emanating from the ticket sales outside London are to be believed. It appears as though the English cricket public is not exactly enthused with the test match upcoming and is voting with its feet. It may be prices, it may be an England team that appears in the doldrums, it may be the customer experience isn’t what they want, it may be the barmy scheduling, but there appears to be a serious issue if the world’s best test team, and a home team with a decent chance of beating them, can’t draw in the crowds. Remember when appointment to view was an important concept, you know with certainty of start dates? Good luck Edgbaston, with Days 4 and 5 at the weekend. Good luck all. Edgbaston on Wednesday, Lord’s on Thursday, Trent Bridge on Saturday, Southampton on Thursday, The Oval on Friday. These are your Day 1s. The Oval starts when the kids are back at school, which is terrific (I know it is not unprecedented). It’s little wonder the cricket fan is confused. We know who this schedule caters for, and it isn’t the punter at the gate.

But then, how can I exhort the punter to turn up and keep test cricket alive and so on, when I’ve not been myself. Well, after six years away from the Oval Test, which I attended every year for 15 years, many for multiple days (but not Day 5 in 2005), I am due to be attending the first day of the game, weather permitting, on 7 September. Any BOC’ers there that day, please let me know. This is a decision I’ve made because I’ve just not had the chance to see much cricket this year, and I need to stock up on my photo pool! That I’ve not gone has been due to the lack of comfort at The Oval, the exorbitant prices for food and drink, the increase in test prices (and restrictions on how many can be bought) and that instead of enjoyment, it became an ordeal. The ECB and the hosting grounds would do well to pay attention. Sure, you’ll sell out the Ashes if you held it in a car park, but you are seeing what happens with the other teams. Even India.

But that’s enough of that. You’ll probably get more when I can be bothered with my India series memories.

(Please note that piece was written before the team was announced. The perils of being a blogger writ large)

Focusing on tomorrow and the rest of the summer, this series is, as many are, key for a number of reasons. India do not look like a team that needs the endorsement of others to keep it’s inner assurance, and even a defeat here in England will not shake that. There’s a swagger they have which is in many ways something we should aspire to. There’s too much being the “nice guy” which the English media and many who watch want us to be while still winning.  To me this most manifested itself in the disparaging of the 2013 Ashes performance. Australia, if genuine, are going to find it tough balancing these two objectives.

The swagger, for want of a better word (confidence?), is embodied by Virat Kohli, their captain, but others have it too – Ashwin, Rahane, Dhawan, Rahul, Vijay and even Ishant. This is a really good team playing, possibly, in really alien circumstances. Pitted against English seam they will soon prove if they are the 1986 model, that came here in early summer and tore us apart, or the 2011 model, that disintegrated once the first test was concluded (Rahul Dravid magnificently excepted). The most recent series in England promised much after India’s sensational Lord’s win, but petered out in exhaustion and possibly lack of commitment. India are driven so hard internationally, that it really can’t be reasonable to expect them to have unbridled enthusiasm and unlimited energy for every series. This is what is holding test cricket back. Fresh teams bring fresh cricket. But it’s pile ’em high for boards around the world and damn the quality. The mug punters will still pay.

Back to the contest itself. From England’s standpoint it’s the batting. The bowling will have its question marks, of course, but it’s the batting that worries me. Starting with the captain. Joe Root is now in the land of needing to score centuries, and big centuries, to ward off the critics. We’ve been waiting quite a while, but then you look at Cricinfo and it was the first test of last summer’s series when he made 190. It was two years ago he made 254. There was a 136 in the West Indies series in 2017. Prior to that he made a 124 in India. He’s making a century in nearly every series, just going a couple without one over the winter, and never going more than three innings without making a 50, dating back to the end of the Pakistan series in 2016 and the start of the Bangladesh one that Autumn. Root knows and the pressure is on. But should it be?

England welcome back Ben Stokes for this test match having missed the Pakistan series, but, of course, he’s not going to be around next week for other reasons. Stokes is a key component in this team and will be welcomed back for cricketing needs, but his role also matters in that he will influence both ends of the card in terms of team make-up. Could he be the trusted third seamer to allow England to play two spinners, or do we need to add another seam bowler, possibly at the expense of a batsman.

Keaton Jennings, after the magic beans of the last test where all the pundits sagely nodded to confirm that his technical difficulties were a thing of the past, is the second opener, aka, The Hot Seat. Jennings has good memories of India, where he made a hundred on debut replacing Hameed, but has done precious little since. Another run of failures, and a few more scores for Burns if he gets a chance to play any cricket, might ramp up the pressure some more. I wish him well, if only so that Rory gets to lead Surrey to the championship!

Dawid Malan is the subject of whispers, as he’s not had a prolific summer. It would seem harsh to jettison him but I can’t help get the feeling is that he’s not quite up to it. I’d love to be proved wrong, because Perth didn’t appear a fluke, but there’s the cloud over him. Another century would be welcome.

Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler give the team exciting potential. It’s nice to have some buzz. Buttler was the star of the first series this summer, but he still has a lot to prove in the test game. Bairstow is about as near a thing there is to being a nailed on selection.

Which brings me to Alastair Cook. Now I have to admit, the reaction to anything this guy does now is one of the reasons I have gone off blogging. Cook is the sort of individual player that attracts a reaction far beyond what he manages on the field. Cook should be opening the batting for England until he’s not the best opener there. Be it through bad form, or two others make a compelling case to leave him out, a la KP and Bell forcing out Thorpe. Anything I say on Cook now that isn’t part of the party line is jumped on. There is the Anti-Cook blog nonsense, the failure to recognise that 244 in a less than live rubber isn’t anywhere near the achievement of a 235* in the first test of the series, the back to his best when he isn’t. Cook needs to have a series where he makes more than one century, and the rest aren’t below 40. Cook and Root have a similar hundred problem, remember the former going the best part of two years without one, but Root strings scores together. Cook is still England’s number one opening bat. But me saying that will never be good enough because of how I reacted after Kevin Pietersen. Because I pointed out how long he was going without scores. That he wasn’t back to his best. That he wasn’t a terrific captain. It’s wearing on the soul, but I’m not going to back down.

I have no real comments on the bowling. Anderson and Broad are permanent fixtures until they either get injured or retire, and a third seamer in the absence of Woakes until he’s fit (certainly in England) has hardly put their hand up. Sam Curran might play, but I think it’s too soon. Jamie Porter might play, but isn’t he just another fast-medium home team bowler? If the wickets do something, or we revert to a proper English summer again, then all might be dandy. That’s to be seen.

So what do I want from the five tests? A really competitive series would be great. If this was 2-2 going into the Oval it would be brilliant. India can win overseas against teams stacking pitches in their favour, and Kohli seems right up for this one. Pujara has to have a decent series, and he’s in horrendous form. Dhawan might be too flaky for tests, while it would be great to see what Rahul can do. Then there is my main man, Mr 303, MTTTT (more test triples than Tendulkar), Karun Nair waiting in the wings. Love to see him get a game. The Indian bowlers need to stay fit and bowl well, something they haven’t done on the previous two tours for the duration. Then again, England’s rickety batting may keep India in all the games, and if it comes down to a battle on good surfaces, I think India are well in it. Last time we met at Edgbaston in a test, England posted 700, Sehwag got a king pair, and Pringle criticised Cook for being too slow in his 294, even though we won with a day to spare. We’ve moved on, but we haven’t.

england-v-india-august-2007-3rd-test-038-02.jpeg.jpeg
England v India – Symbolised by The Wall

Comments on Day 1 and the test preview below but for some fun, perhaps you’d like to respond to a few questions below in the comments to get your views. I’m not saying “Have Your Say” because I hate that.

  1. Who wins the series, what score (and why)?
  2. How many hundreds for Virat Kohli?
  3. How many hundreds for Joe Root?
  4. Key player for each team
  5. How many total centuries for England over the five tests?

Finally, Adil Rashid. He may not even play. I have been utterly appalled by the treatment of Rashid this last week. As I see it Ed Smith took the leap, asked Rashid if he wanted to play test matches, Adil said yes and Smith picked him. The county cricket impacts are on Smith, not Rashid. The moaning about Yorkshire is on Smith, not Rashid. The whingeing about stabbing county cricket in the heart are about Ed Smith, not Adil Rashid. You could have fucking fooled me.

The one thing that gets me with our media and pundits is that they never learn. The one thing that riles me is that they bully players, they have their favourites (not many pieces calling for Cook to be sacked, were there, yet Cook believes the media is against him), yet this is following yet another line. Look at who has been sorted out recently – Nick Compton for one. Kevin Pietersen polarised opinion but the media had made up their mind. Now Rashid, who has been in the cross-hairs for two years at least. This has been turned from Rashid picked by a selection committee to play for England when perhaps they shouldn’t have to Adil being a mouthy, mercenary, not all that cricketer who needs to shut up and know his place. By people in houses made very much of glass. I don’t absolve those now who latch on to the Fitzwilliam Foghorn’s piece and say that’s not what THEY mean. Leave off. It’s precisely what you mean, and you know it. Ed Smith has gone out of his way for Adil Rashid. Not good enough to do that, not respectful enough, speaks out when mouth on legs have a go at him, and worst of all, disrespects Yorkshire. It seems strange for Adil to be the hill that Ed Smith dies on, so let’s pick on Adil for a change. 

And he might not even play. (STOP PRESS – HE IS. AS THE ONLY SPINNER)

Comments below.

Crashing by Design – the Adil Rashid Controversy

In the age of social media, outrage is never too far away. Sometimes it’s over a big issue, but very often it’s not, as people work themselves into a frenzy over a matter that no one had considered before to any great degree, let alone got themselves into a moral fury. In such circumstances the usual approach is to shout ever louder, and certainly never consider that someone with a different opinion might have a valid reason for feeling that way. Debate goes out of the window in a cacophony of noise and tempestuousness, and a subject that all told has limited importance suddenly becomes a cause celebre entirely out of proportion to its significance.

So it is with the curious case of Adil Rashid’s recall to the Test team for the first match against India next week. It is perhaps a slightly surprising decision, but it’s not the first slightly surprising decision, and Ed Smith has probably raised more than a few eyebrows with his inclination to think beyond the narrow parameters employed by England selectors over the last couple of years. Certainly, if some of those currently screaming are to believed, he seems to have discarded the “good bloke” (in the opinion of the ECB hierarchy) qualification in England selection that has caused no end of rancour since 2014 and seemed to defy the natural conditions of every workplace in the land. To that end, it has to be said that Smith hasn’t made a bad start. Whether individual selections are agreed with or not is entirely beside the point, his refusal to follow the path of least resistance thus far is actually rather refreshing. Given the criticism Smith has had for his past troubles with other people’s work (and rightly so – the attempted ignoring of that issue is precisely why it keeps cropping up), it isn’t always easy to give credit where it might be due and, in this case as with any selection, no one knows whether it is inspired or destined to fail. But the point is that he has shown himself prepared to take that risk. And you know what? Well done Ed Smith.

Picking a nice safe England side is easy – we can all do it, who the hell needs selectors if that’s the intention? And if the results aren’t good, well, dump a couple and bring in the latest flavour of the month on the county circuit and see if he sinks or swims. Not the selectors fault if the team isn’t good enough, they’ve all had a crack at it. See? It’s easy.

That’s why the selection of first Jos Buttler and now Adil Rashid is in itself something to be praised. Not necessarily in terms of the players themselves, for that is an arguable point, but because it implies a willingness to do more than be confined by the exceptionally messy structure of the English professional game. And herein lies the rub. For the protestations about the supposed “integrity” of the County Championship are laughable when they come from those who have agreed to, and indeed supported, every diminution in importance of what is supposed to be the proving ground for the Test team. Over the last few years red ball cricket has been pushed ever more to the margins, to the point where the bulk of it is played in April, May and September, a situation only likely to deteriorate further once the heart of the summer is given over to whatever format the Hundred ends up with, alongside the T20 Blast that also too must be given priority.

With that being the case, the role of the selectors has become either extremely easy or extremely difficult, depending on which route they go down. If they choose to only select those players who commit to the County Championship, then they lose those who disappear to the IPL (as was the case with Buttler) because that’s when most of the county matches are played until September. Complaining about players doing that is senseless. Cricketers will go where their opportunities are, and this is particularly the case for those who aren’t central to the Test team for whatever reason. If it’s a Ben Stokes, his position is sufficiently secure that it doesn’t matter – he’s in, subject to Her Majesty’s Courts And Tribunals Service – but if it’s a Jos Buttler, by no means safe in Test selection terms, it is an opportunity to maximise the income from a short career given no security in a full central contract. What on earth do people expect? A player to plod along for a relative pittance in the county game in the vague hope of a call up? Perhaps that’s exactly what they expect, yet it is always the case that the expectations of prominent sportsmen and women among the wider public jar utterly with the way they live their own lives. Offer someone a job paying twice the money, and their own loyalty vanishes in a puff of air, with few suggesting they ought to have paid more attention to the social dimension or their responsibility to a wider group.

Thus, the selectors have a dilemma. Choose who they believe to be the best players, and they are open to the accusation of ignoring the County Championship. Fail to do so, and the side they select may not be the best one available. In the case of Buttler, selecting him worked spectacularly well, his batting proving to be a highlight in both Tests against Pakistan, which certainly set him apart from anyone else. Furthermore, his selection was welcomed by the great and the good, despite barely any first class cricket over a couple of years, and with little success on the rare occasions that he did so. Indeed, since 2015, Buttler had played only six Championship matches before his Test call up, yet this was considered more than sufficient to be selected for the England team – or rather, it wasn’t, but he was called up anyway. There was plenty of scepticism about that too, but he did well, and whatever happens with him in the future, Ed Smith can feel pleased and vindicated about his decision. And rightly so too. But here’s the point: Some were uneasy with what that said about the County Championship and those players involved in it, or more pertinently not involved in it. They were subsequently drowned out by the acclaim Buttler received but they weren’t wrong to raise that question, and when they do so about Rashid they aren’t wrong now either. The debate about the merits and indeed existence of the County Championship as constituted are entirely valid matters for discussion, particularly given the concerns over the future of Test cricket, but it needs to be done from a position of consistency and not a scattergun approach based on who the latest shiny toy is.

The ones who really are wrong, the ones who invite irritation and contempt, are those who cheered to the rafters the choice of Buttler as being creative thinking, while raging about the selection of Adil Rashid now on the basis that it undermines county cricket. This is preposterous cognitive dissonance, made worse by their inability to remember what they said the previous week. In that period when Buttler has played six Championship matches, Rashid has played twenty-four, and the last time both played a Championship match was at the same juncture. It is nothing but sheer hypocrisy to approve of one and decry the other. Ah, but Rashid gave up red ball cricket they say, that’s the difference. But is it? If Buttler isn’t playing County Championship matches, then what actually is the difference? Gary Lineker has retired from international football and I haven’t, but we’ve both played the same number of games in the last few years. It isn’t a matter of what people say, but what they do.

To add to that, the structure of the County Championship itself strongly discriminates against spin bowlers anyway. The early and late season fixtures tend to help the medium-pacers who do a bit with the ball (much as Darren Stevens is a legend, it’s not perhaps his particular skills we should be seeking to emphasise) , meaning that the likes of a Rashid are of limited value, and perhaps more importantly, may not even be selected. Why have a potentially expensive leg spinner in the side in a match where the seamers are going to do the bulk of the bowling? In the Division One bowling averages this season, you have to go down to 32nd place before you find a possible England spinner (Amar Virdi) who has bowled more than 100 overs this season. Given the structure of the County Championship now, spin as a choice is thoroughly marginalised, and Rashid is far from the only one pointing this out. English cricket has not been brilliant at producing top quality spin for a very long time – Graeme Swann was a wonderful anomaly – and the endless search for one who can measure up is only made harder by playing the game in conditions alien to spinners until it comes to the main Test matches where they are called upon to perform miracles, and then criticised when they don’t.

It is here important to note what Rashid himself said when he announced his sabbatical earlier this year:

“That [lack of high summer red ball cricket] was a big part of it. Early season, I may not bowl much. A couple of overs here and there. Doing that, I wouldn’t get my rhythm — two overs before lunch, a few overs before tea. That wouldn’t help my confidence. At the stage, I’d just be going through the motions.

“It’s not a permanent thing. It’s for this season, to see how it goes, how it unfolds and what happens. See what my mind says and what my heart feels. If it changes I could be going back to red ball cricket next season.”

Very, very little of the discussion around Rashid’s selection has focused on this issue, at least until today when Jason Gillespie wrote in the Guardian about the matter, implying there was far more going on here than the narrative about a player who simply didn’t want to play red ball cricket any more. What the truth of that is, is going to be a matter of perspective, but it is at least refreshing to read an alternate take on the character of Rashid, and from someone who is in a strong position to reject the lines of those who insist they know more than anyone else, always, just because.

This doesn’t exempt Rashid from blame, for his decision to quit red ball cricket was clearly a disappointment to Yorkshire, and explains some of their misgivings over his call up, with the proviso that as Gillespie says, this is not a straightforward matter. But it does provide a degree of context, as does the at times weird treatment of him by England. He has undoubtedly shown exceptional ability at carrying the drinks, and as a result England appeared to choose him for that role on a repeated basis. When he did play a full Test series, in India, the opprobrium heaped upon him for failing to win the series bordered on the bizarre, and caused more than one or two to question why he was singled out so specifically, particularly when even some members of the media have confirmed that there was a whispering campaign against him. Attacks on his character were many, in a way few others have received recently, and that too must have contributed to his decision to stand down from red ball cricket. There will be some who consider this confirmation of the supposed character flaws but there is little quite so distasteful as the feeding frenzy among certain quarters of the press with someone either they don’t like, or they have been briefed not to like. Casting aspersions as to the motivation behind such behaviour is easy, lazy and dangerous, but it didn’t need that for many to find the persecution of Rashid far beyond what was acceptable from supposedly professional observers.

Selvey is of course one of those – never slow to remind people of his in-depth knowledge, even of golf, and back in 2016 he wrote:

“Rashid, though, is sailing close to the wind with his club and career: there are sceptics about, some with a greater depth of knowledge than most, and his card has been marked.”

This is classic Selvey, the statement that he is far brighter than everyone else, and that he has the inside track. It is highlighted not because it is wrong, but because of how the repeated nature of the attacks are principally on character, with the cricketing ability being secondary to that. Players must fit into the prescribed format defined by others, or suffer public vilification on a repeated basis, and lest anyone try to pretend it’s just about Rashid, it’s been seen far too often with far too many “difficult” players to be coincidental. Naturally, if the player answers back, this is then considered further evidence of the character flaw, as has happened with Rashid for daring to respond to Michael Vaughan’s comments. This is the justice of witch dunking.

The worst part of this is that his selection has been the excuse for this to start again. There is not the slightest thing wrong with considering Rashid of insufficient standard to play for the England Test team, but the highly personal flavour of some of the comment betrays a personal antipathy that is startling to see. Few will believe that Rashid represents the second coming of leg spin in this country, but most will accept that whether it is him or someone else, the cupboard isn’t exactly well stocked with alternatives. His tour of India has been portrayed in many quarters as an unmitigated disaster, which is a curious reading of events. Sure, he was a long way from being outstanding, but he did take more than twice as many wickets as anyone else. To put it into further context, Rashid’s 23 wickets in that series came at the cost of 37.43 per wicket. Not brilliant by any measure, yet the 17 wickets taken by every other spinner combined that England selected came at an average of 62.53. Not only is that a huge difference, but it’s also entirely symptomatic of likely England spinners’ performances in India with the exception of a single tour.

When considering the performances of England spinners in India this century it is hardly a tale of derring do. Rashid’s wicket-taking measures up perfectly well against most others, and his average is certainly not out of kilter with what should be expected. It appears – as with Moeen Ali all too often – that Rashid is berated for failing to perform above and beyond the level that should be expected of England spinners overseas not called Swann.

This still doesn’t mean that he’s the answer, and it absolutely doesn’t exempt him from debate over whether he is sufficiently good to be in the team. Nor does it mean that his selection having given up red ball cricket shouldn’t be worthy of scrutiny, but it does mean a few other things: Praising the left field selection of Buttler and screaming about the one of Rashid is nothing but rank hypocrisy. Failing to consider how we got to the point where a player who plainly wants to play Test cricket gave up the red ball version of the game is an abrogation of thinking and in a parallel universe, Adil Rashid is being praised for answering his country’s call. Lamenting the loss of integrity of the County Championship while simultaneously applauding every move the ECB makes to sideline it even further is both stupid and taking everyone else for a fool too.

Adil Rashid may be a successful pick. He may not. He may not even play, which would be an entertaining irony. Either way, Ed Smith has certainly stayed true to his expressed determination to bring a fresh approach to his role. And the ever lamentable section of the press corps have stayed equally true to their own lack of principles. Only one of those things is a pleasant surprise.

Guest Post: The County Game

Many of you will know Annie Chave from Twitter (and if you don’t, give her a follow – @AnnieChave) and here’s her thinking about how to change county cricket.  She would welcome comments, suggestions, criticisms and disagreement, but as we always say with guest posts, be nice – it’s a nervy experience to put your first article up.

A Saturday in July in one of the hottest and driest summers in living memory and there is one T20 game in the whole of the first-class cricket calendar and no Test Cricket.  This has prompted me to think how we can rescue County Cricket in our country and restore it to its former glory.  The ECB in its wisdom has negated the importance of the county championship and has relegated it to the fringes of the season, playing most games in April/early May and then finishing off the season at the fag end of the summer in August/September.  They have cashed in on the hype and the glamour of T20 cricket and given some limited importance to The Royal London Cup and the unpredictability of 50-over cricket.

Looking at the problem of planning fixtures, I can see that there is a real dilemma in accommodating three different formats in a sensible and cohesive way.  I’m not claiming to solve all problems, but I’d like to see the three existing alongside each other in a way that can work for each format.  Mine is a suggestion that lifts county cricket into the status it should have if it is to feed into the pinnacle of Test Cricket and gives T20 prime viewing time whilst giving it a lesser importance.

The obvious idea would be to shorten the county game back to 3 days, but this wouldn’t make for great games.  The pitches probably wouldn’t wear enough to bring in the spinners, and they wouldn’t therefore prepare the players for five-day Test Cricket. Games would more than likely end up with no result or, worse still, produce either an artificial one or a declaration ‘bash’, not dissimilar to T20.  I don’t think that playing on uncovered pitches is a viable option.  They bring their own problems.  So, working with what we have, I would keep the county format as it is: i.e. four-day matches, two divisions with two teams going up and two going down.   With an emphasis on consistency, we could play the games over the 22 week season (with rest weeks for The Royal London Cup to be played at different grounds) throughout the whole summer, with 16 weeks (Division 1 with 9 teams and Division 2 with 9) dedicated to the county championship and the T20 competition playing alongside each other.  The T20s could be played on the Friday nights.  The winning team of the T20 Friday game is deemed to have won the toss for the County game that starts the following day – Saturday – and runs until Tuesday, using the same squad.  This way makes the toss less a matter of luck, gives the teams practice for T20 and Test Cricket and restores the importance of the County Championship.  But perhaps the two most important things are, firstly, it will provide the T20 crowd with a link to the following championship match, heightened by a familiarity with the players who feature in both formats, and, secondly, counties will be able to develop a squad that can play all formats, thereby encouraging them not to abandon red-ball cricket.

I know that currently there is a North/South divide for T20 cricket separate from the divisions of the County Championship, but this proposal is that the T20 should mirror the Championship.  The consistency of a weekly T20 games would be massively better for TV rights, and I think home support for T20 matches is strong enough to provide sell-out games.  There would still be a finals day for T20 and for The Royal London Cup to complete their own separate competitions.

The main aim for this suggestion is that we have cricket consistently throughout the summer and not random blocks of various formats punctuated by cricket voids.  I know my alternative programme needs ironing out and that it has its problems, but it’s a suggestion I’m happy to argue over.

Annie.

Desecrated While The Coroner Waited

Walking to work this morning, and the same old thoughts came through my head. I’ve not written a piece for Being Outside Cricket since the farcical reaction to the 2nd Test of the Pakistan series. More importantly, I’ve been wondering what I could write. So the thought rumbled on as a site I obviously care deeply about, and a collection of writers and commenters, or as they are known to me “friends” (well, nearly all of you), falls further from the top of my things to do, what can I do? What can I write?

Chris is doing the business on the shenanigans surrounding the 100 competition. It beggars belief that anyone, and I mean anyone, can endorse the way this consultancy exercise is being conducted. The starkest of all, and probably most stupidly, is the “it’s not aimed at you” mantra which is just amazing. You have a load of people who want to help, who want cricket to grow, and yes are ultra protective of the long form because that’s what they see as the pinnacle. Many a first class cricket fan can also see the attraction of the T20 stuff, just as we did 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 over stuff.  A lot don’t, but instead of insulting them, or dismissing them, the ECB is an equal opportunities idiot and slags them all off. Without demeaning anyone, or any age, mobile phone companies push off smart phones and every new bell and whistle each year for the customers who they want to attract, but those older, or less tech inspired folk, who just want a simple mobile with no real complexities are still catered for. Companies see them as important customers. They provide steady income. They provide regular business. The do not leave, the churn rate is low. They cost next to nothing to keep on their books. It’s not their big business, it’s not the big winning, but it’s steady. That way when disaster releases come the company’s way, they have something to fall back on. They don’t go out of their way to anger long-term customers just to attract the new. The ECB might understand that if they weren’t too busy being the smartest guys in the room.

I’ve not a lot more to add to Chris’s pieces – he’s a bit kind about the we’ve all been too busy and the World Cup has been on as an excuse. For me it’s a total lack of inspiration. I’ve watched Selvey doing his Walter Raleigh act for the ECB and it continues to depress me (oh and how I laughed at him moaning about what happened to his Open golf reporting a week or so ago), but it doesn’t surprise me. In fact the one thing that ceases to happen now is anything that surprises me, both in the reporting and the administration of the game. The sides are entrenched, the game has yet another schism, and the whole think makes me sad. As I have said frequently on Twitter, I really have no anger left to give. And as you people know on here, and in the words of Public Image Limited, anger is an energy.

As I walked to work the Public Enemy track “Harder Than You Think” came on the Ipod shuffle (the old Ipod 164gb is a magnificent piece of tech, but that idiot company doesn’t make them any more. Hence I don’t buy their stuff – alienating customers). This was the soundtrack to the Channel 4 Paralympics coverage in 2012 (I was abroad when they went on). It’s Chuck D in brilliant form, railing against the superficiality of the modern rap scene, talking about bitches, snitches and drugs, as against the pioneers who had messages. It goes on about how Chuck delivers his message, how it is relevant today, and how it is hard to have to keep on keeping on. Chuck is one of the great rap artists ever, and so nothing in common with me, but after 4 years of constant anger, constant delivering of messages on here, it sort of spoke to me a little. This blog loves test cricket – the hits prove it – barely tolerates ODIs unless they have meaning via a competition – again the hits prove it – and doesn’t have T20 on its radar because no-one gives a stuff. We recognise that we can’t compete on county cricket, so we don’t. Delivering our messages has been wearing on the soul, corrosive on the mind, destructive on the health. It is good to care, it is not good to care too much. It is harder than you think.

You know my posts are more personal, more also about the conduct and business of blogging than others. That’s good. We have a diversity of output, certainly in terms of style, that resonates. I was thinking about how my love of cricket, the real passion behind me has evolved, and possibly revolved in the past ten or fifteen years. Going back to my first Ashes tour in 2002, getting to see Brisbane and Adelaide with some stops in between, cemented the love of test cricket. I was watching a world legend team play an England team scrabbling to get to the summit. In almost a diametrically opposite trend, that England team started badly, but improved, so that by the end we’d scared them a little in the 4th Test and won the 5th. There was no quit, they were driven on. Then there was England improving under Vaughan, winning in 2005, proving their fallibility in Pakistan straight after and then going on my second Ashes tour in 2006 when I saw the Adelaide and Perth tests.

But in between those Ashes series it was the chance to go to Newlands, it was the chance to go to the Wanderers, it was also the chance to walk on Kensington Oval’s square, that brought my love for the game even further up – talking cricket to friends and locals. Yes it was also great to watch the England batting line-up when it fired, the England bowling as well, but the game had great global competitiveness at a time now when we are seeing teams collapse on tours. I would stay up to watch test matches, and hang on their outcomes. I would look forward to my days at the Oval Test, hope I might get into the odd Lord’s test too, and I was a county member at Surrey. While personal circumstances changed drastically in 2005 and 2006, and then again on a more positive note in 2008, cricket remained a passion. Test cricket felt better, in my view was better, and although T20 was around, it was seen as it’s more lively cousin, rather than a predator about to swallow the game whole.

I still loved the game through the England team of 2009-2013, which had a great batting style about them, and a bowling unit that was effective and delivered what was needed. I didn’t feel as down about 2013 as many others did – we won the key moments in tests, the weather saved us in one, the other was boo-hoo as if a day being rained out was our fault. But the 2013-14 series was something else. And I could tell early it was something else. Here’s why. I’m an obsessive when it comes to recording cricket, and I have the whole of 2010-11 Ashes on disc. All of it. Every ball. So to the 2013 series. I didn’t even bother for that series. Not at the start. Could not be arsed. I just about managed to keep the highlights. I know, I know, the question is “why?” but I just did. I still sit down, when reading a book, or thinking what to write with the last two days of Brisbane 2010 playing, or KP’s double at Adelaide. It’s nice. When I feel a bit more involved in watching, the morning session of the Boxing Day test is nice too. I didn’t bother with 2015.  For some reason I did with the last series, but have no idea why. Perhaps I can watch Cook’s double ton at Melbourne? You can insert your own punchlines.

What this piece is failing to nail down is why I don’t feel the same way. Were the signs early? Well post that series and the nonsense that followed it, I’ve been at journos and administration. I’ve been going on, and on, and on, about that. I felt it was a thing missing in the cosy, back-slapping world of cricket writing. Someone who had an anger and a passion to point out what I saw as their stupidity and ignorance. I did it in a style you see rarely in cricket and people loved it and loathed it. It was driven by a dying love, and an anger that these people were applying the morphine while stabbing me in vital organs as I declined. The ECB are utterly craven, the heads I’ve gone at in the past four and half years have all been garbage. Yet the cricket press, many of them, seem to want to laud them before they even prove they are able. Yesterday a creature by the name of Gordon Hollis crawled out to respond to the Cricketer’s survey, and spouted off the same pathetic, management speak drivel we are used to. Graves may not come from a speak your consultant machine, but he’s just the sort of despotic, do as I say or do one individual the world seems to be adept at producing this stage, confusing leadership with power. Downton should be scarred on each and every one of the individuals who thought he was a good appointment, but is he really much worse than Harrison, an Empty Suit strangely silent recently as the 100 debacle collapses around the ECB, who have their fingers in their ears and their heads up their arses – a neat anatomical trick.

And do you know what has made me angry? Ish? Jonathan Liew’s piece in the Independent on the 100. I’m not a Liew fan, but it was a good piece, written in his own, waspish, style. It grates on some, but not on others. I liked it. But wasn’t it saying what we have been saying all along? Why do the press boys pretend as if this is some new phenomenon just because a daily paper, albeit on line (doesn’t that make it a really big blog?) had a reporter write it while they seem strangely reticent to give Dobell much credit, let along pathetic 250k hit per year blogs like this sorry effort. It only matters when the press write it. A circular firing squad of self regard. No wonder I lost my marbles over the KP business.

As I got to the station this morning, and PE’s masterpiece finished, on came 1980s house anthem “Let It Roll” by Doug Lazy. Maybe I should just let it roll. Maybe blogging is just shouting into the wind, heard only by those prescient enough to keep their ears to the window, ignored by those who want peace and quiet by the fire. The 100 is not designing a horse by committee, but it is throwing ideas and hoping one might stick. People wantonly confuse the T20 launch with this one. That T20 Blast was launched tentatively, with not a lot of games, played on out grounds (Richmond Park anyone?) to see if it worked. They would have pulled the plug in a heartbeat if it hadn’t. It had done market research to see what punters wanted and published it – even Giles’s ECB did some things right – while this market research is hidden from view.  It was surprised by the public who liked it. They have no idea what the public wants here. And the one question I’ve never heard answered to any degree is why won’t the same people who go to the Blast be the core audience for the 100? Because let’s not be fooled, the ECB have seen the IPL and Big Bash and figure there’s room for one more big market T20 jamboree in the calendar and they want to make money. They have the base TV deal to work from. This is all about money, and little about growing the game. In my view.

So for someone not angry, who doesn’t really care, I’ve written 2000+ hastily written words to convey some muddled thoughts. That’s where I am folks. Lost the mojo. Not quite on form. Losing the love. Feeling the lack of enthusiasm. It has been a dull white ball season for me because you can’t force me to care. The worry is that I might be forced to care about this test series coming up. Because if I’m forced to care about test cricket, I am seeing the game desecrated while my own cricketing coroner is waiting.

Thanks to Chris in particular for keeping the show on the road. It is much harder than you think.

Dog days

We’ve been rather quiet on here the last month or so. It’s for a number of reasons: the diet of white ball cricket in the heart of the summer allied with a football World Cup (and England’s progress to the latter stages) inevitably dominates attention. No matter what, it would be the sporting centre-piece, but it can’t be denied that cricket seemed less relevant than ever, a summer afterthought to the main events. Summoning the motivation to write pieces that were only going to echo one another has proved rather hard to do for all of us.

Fortunately, we are now beginning to approach the meat of the cricketing summer, with five Tests in six weeks that will restore somewhat the rhythm and cadence to a season. Yet the future is clearly that the Tests are to be an August feature, and a September one too, given the Ashes schedule for next year takes it well into the autumn. It’s not that this is inherently wrong, and nor is it unprecedented, but the intended sidelining of Test cricket for lucrative white ball cricket, international or domestic, few overs or many, is abundantly clear. This is the future as the ECB see it.

The sheer drivel around the Hundred continues apace. The 10 ball final over idea appears to have been nixed by the players, but now the revised “plan” appears to be something along the lines of 20×5 ball overs, but with the freedom to bowl consecutively, or even all from the same end.

It should be remembered that this was initially sold as being a simple concept, one that would attract non-cricket fans rather than the apparently detested lovers of the game. Yet we’re now in the position that even those eccentrics are helplessly confused about what on earth is going on, what the rules will be and how it helps anything. Even a bank balance. Cricket really isn’t that complicated a game yet if you listen to the ECB you’d be under the impression it was far to the north of quantum physics. But having pushed the myth of this, they now seem intent on making it even more complex in order to apparently make it simpler. This is insanity, a full on Catch 22 approach to the sport.

Of course, the fundamental point here is that they aren’t promoting cricket. They have totally lost sight, by accident or design, of what their role is meant to be – financial rewards are supposed to be there in order to support the game of cricket, not to be an end in themselves. We now have a future summer schedule where red ball county cricket is pushed ever more to the margins, a T20 Blast that is proving highly successful, 50 over competitions, white ball cricket internationally in the heart of the summer, plus a new competition that appears to be being designed to fit into the initial name with no regard for anything else.

Add to that Cricinfo reporting that the ECB are tying up a deal for 10 over cricket, and the flippant comment that what the ECB would really like is to be able to remove cricket from the equation entirely looks prescient rather than amusing. For perhaps the first time in history, a sporting body seems to loathe the game they administer, and to try to avoid it wherever possible. It would surprise no one if the word cricket was deleted from the Hundred, such is the terror of the sport by the administrators. At no point in recent years have they backed the sport, shouted about how amazing it is, how everyone should want to watch and play one of the finest games ever invented. It is all apology, all excuses.

At some point, the question of whether the ECB are fit for purpose to run cricket in this country is going to come up. It’s not there yet, but there are the beginnings of rumblings. Even the press have started to be more critical, although notably it is either those at Cricinfo, or those who are general sports reporters rather than beholden to the ECB access rules. It isn’t much, but it is growing slightly. A governing body that has no faith in its own game really ought to be disqualified from running it on those grounds alone. It is failing from the start.

For let’s be clear: if there’s one thing that anyone who loves cricket wants is that those running the game share that most basic belief. And who really thinks the ECB does any more?