New Zealand vs. England, 1st Test, Day 2 – Open Thread

It’s always frustrating when work and other bits get in the way of watching cricket, but that’s where we are currently. Due to a rather nasty sickness bug, I only managed to watch the first half hour of the match and haven’t seen the highlights yet and no doubt the other editors are in similar positions.

241-4 at the end of a full days play is a very unusual score for this England side, we’re more used to them either scoring at 4 runs an over or being blown away for under a 100, but from the sounds of it, the English batting unit used their nouse on a good, but slow pitch. Whether this is the sign of things to come I’m not too sure, but as someone who loves Test Match cricket, then I have no problems with the top order being slightly attritional and taking the shine off the ball whilst putting miles into the bowlers legs. This used to be the hallmark of Test Match batting after all.

The key question is whether they can now go on and make some big runs on Day 2 to put some real pressure on the New Zealand batting line up. Stokes looks like he has continued his rich vein of form with the bat, despite offering a couple of chances late on to a tiring Kiwi fielding unit, whilst Pope is there alongside him hoping he can make a statement about his role in the England Test side for the foreseeable future.

If England survive the first hour relatively unscathed then 450 should be a minimum, though from past experience, this can be a very big if with this England team.

As ever, please leave any thoughts and comments on the day’s play below:

New Zealand v. England, 1st Test – Preview

So after an intense summer of cricket, where England won the World Cup finally but still managed to lose the Ashes and I’m not personally sure whether I would still swap the results given a chance, we now head to the first part of a rather epic winter tour. Thankfully the white ball nonsense has now come and gone (though I’d still like to hear why we needed 5 T20 games instead of an extra Test Match, but hey that’s just me.)

So we come to the Test series, which sadly only consists of two matches and for some strange reason no Test championship points are on offer. Personally I don’t understand having a test championship if every game doesn’t contribute to the final points tally, but hey ho there’s a lot about international cricket that still baffles me.

England have rejigged their Test line up for this series with Dominic Sibley finally getting a chance to open the batting with Rory Burns. Joe Denly actually performed a decent job during the summer as a makeshift opener; however it is good to see England finally picking two proper openers to open the batting. With Denly likely to bat at three, then Joe Root will take his natural position up as a number four in the batting unit. Whilst having Root batting at number three seems like a good idea in theory, in practice it simply hasn’t worked out with his average markedly lower than when he bats in his favourite position. Personally I would much prefer England’s best batsmen to bat at the position where he feels he can score most runs rather than trying to plug gaps up the order.

It is also heartening to see that England have not been tempted to go back to Jonny Bairstow, who still has a myriad of technical issues in red ball cricket and instead have backed Ollie Pope to score the runs we know he is capable of at 6. Pope without doubt is a major talent and one who was fast tracked too quickly into the England team, in a batting position he was unfamiliar with; hence it should not be surprising that he didn’t perform to expectations first time around. Pope for me is one of the players that England that England should be building their line up around and I genuinely hope he has a good series in New Zealand. The only other question in the build-up to the first Test was whether Chris Woakes or Sam Curran should take the third seamers spot. Personally I’m happy that England have decided to go with Curran as I think his bowling skill set adds a different dimension to the England attack; however I do also understand the thinking that Woakes is the more threatening bowler despite his poor average with the ball overseas. This is something that none of the editors on the blog agree about, so it’s clear it’s a close-run thing.

As for New Zealand, they should come into the test series as favourites. Kane Williamson continues to be both an amazing batsmen and an amazing captain and will no doubt be the prize wicket that England need to take early to be successful on this tour. However in my opinion it will be how England deal with the New Zealand fast bowlers that will decide whether this Test series is won or lost. The combination of Southee and Boult, with Neil Wagner backing them up ably has proved to be the bedrock of the New Zealand’s success in home conditions and without doubt they will look at the England batting unit as an inexperienced one who can be rattled in slightly foreign condition. If England somehow manage to repel the new ball with wickets intact then they may be able to set the platform to score the runs needed to put pressure on the Kiwis; however if Boult or Southee reduce England to 3 or 4 down with the new ball, then once again it will be difficult for the middle and lower orders to dig England out of another hole.

From the first view of the pitch a couple of days ago, it certainly looks like it’s going to suit the seamers with more than a green tinge to it and I’ll personally be extremely interested to see if England adopt a less gung ho approach to batting as both Root and Giles have suggested or if once again they repeat the failings of summer and try to impose their will on the opposition bowlers. Equally if England bowl first then it will be just as interesting to see if the likes of Broad and Archer take the same approach as they did against Australia and keep the ball pitched up rather than banging it down halfway in the hope of intimidating the opposition batsmen.

I personally hope that it’s an even series with some good cricket played on both sides especially as I’m such a sucker for New Zealand Test venues. The time difference and the fact that we’re all the flat-out with work will mean it’s a bit of a challenge for us to cover the series in as much depth as we like, but we’ll certainly try to cover as much of it as we can.

As ever, any thoughts or comments are welcome below:

I Forgot A Title….

A tweet last night got me thinking. Well, it got me a little more than just thinking. It got me a little angry. Except that’s the point of the tweet. To make me, and people like me, feel as though we should not get angry.

This is going to be, by my standards, a short post, but one I think I need to write. It does hark back to the days of How Did We Lose In Adelaide, when I had to plough what felt a fairly lonely furrow (even with TFT doing their thing) as I set about the ECB, the media and the acolytes who chose to accept that the people running our game could do what the hell they liked and you, as a fan, as a customer, hell, as a stakeholder, had to STFU and leave it to those in power. A power they had due to money, connections, and hell, they may have liked the sport every bit as much as we do. If we’d followed the line of some, we would never have questioned Sepp Blatter, let the IOC just take bribe after bribe, and let the cricket authorities install a new format of the sport in this country and risk the marginalisation of the existing game. Oh. That’s right. The last one is happening.

To the tweet. I’m not going to put the name of the person who wrote it on here. That individual clearly loves the sport, and the point is not to attack them, but the message. There is a massive difference.

A couple of people I know have written well thought out articles in the last week or so with some arguments for how #TheHundred may be beneficial and I’ve never seen such vitriol from sections of cricket twitter over anything. It’s honestly ridiculous.

Oppose the Hundred crew – you are making it harder and harder for people to have any meaningful discussion on the topic. All I have seen is yelling. If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.

You are perfectly entitled to have a view that supports the Hundred. I cannot be entirely sure of the article the individual has in mind, but I’m thinking it might be the one in the Cricketer in particular that had some interesting, if somewhat odd (in my view) points on how attractive the sport in its current format in the UK is to South Asian background fans in this country. One could have taken it that by supporting the current county structure you were enhancing the current in-grained anti-minority stance evidenced by the lack of non-white cricketers in the first class game. Could being the operative word.

That piece, as it was intended to do, provoked debate. Great. That’s what strongly-held views are going to do. You are also, as I know, going to be very protective of your position and fight it hard. I wouldn’t have made an impact back in the day with HDWLIA (and I did, I know I did) if I’d been backward in coming forward, polite and delicate in my approach and backing down when the first wash came over me. I had a really strong view, some called it obsessive, bilious, boring, that KP’s sacking was bad, that the people who did it were worse, that the people in the media who defended it were possibly even worse, and that the people who wouldn’t see my view were merely misunderstanding what that view was! Yes, I know the last part seems arrogant.

The “Oppose The Hundred” crew, whatever that may be, seemed to be some people absolutely afraid that the county structure, which never gets the praise when things go well, but always gets the blame when it goes badly, which they hold dear, is being jeopardised by an ego trip, with little to no consultation or on-boarding of supporters. These supporters, when confronted with this monstrosity, and the absolutely appalling marketing and leaking of information on the competition, voiced strong disapproval. If you believe in something dearly, I’m afraid strong disapproval is what you get. It comes with the territory. I can point to those who were big fans of Alastair Cook. Because I’m not, I got a ton of attacks back. I can’t say I dealt with them all well, but I had to deal with them. Melbourne was almost the last straw. I almost packed the whole game in. But I know people, lots of people, like Cook. You have to get on with it.

You can’t complain if a provocative article evokes a passionate response. You can’t moan if the view you put forward is controversial that those challenged won’t respond. You also don’t get attention in this modern world if you are dull and boring. A journo said to me when he pointed out that I got too prickly about some commenters “why do you bother with them. No-one knows who they are in the game. People know Being Outside Cricket” to which I said they were cricket fans too, and that their view, even if I thought it was horribly wrong, had to be addressed.

The problem with meaningful discussions is that you don’t get to define what it is. You don’t control it. You can only control your own contribution to it. If you set out to defend something that, on the face of it, is unpopular, then you are going to get responses you don’t like. It’s not easy to take lots of the time, but you have to take it, thick, or as in my case, thin skinned as you may be. It can over-step the mark – I’ve had a death threat, I’ve had someone threaten my dog, I’ve had a couple of people threaten to dox me, other threatening me with a legal action – but those events are rare. They aren’t the norm. For every idiot who accuses me of being a Piers Morgan stooge (when I actively loathe the man) there are people I can have passionate disagreements with while remaining friends, and in some cases, when it comes to politics, spouses.

People see a massive threat to the life they love, the sport they care about, and the future of the game. They have, like me, an in built distrust of the ECB. They are going to get angry. They are going to put up passionate, steadfast defences, and, yes, attack the arguments put up against them. And while we will be ultimately unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean we have to get on board. I didn’t feel anywhere near the same passion for an England team post-2014, because of the events after that Ashes tour. I’m not going to go the Hundred just because it needs me to go to “save the game” because “we can’t afford it to fail”.

This wasn’t that short, really. I just wanted to get things off my chest a little. Cricket engenders passionate support, and we love it dearly. We fight for what we love dearly, maybe even crossing a mythical line. But don’t moan (yeah, rich coming from me) if you get stick back when you are doling it out, or threatening what we hold dear. I would expect the opposite side of the argument to come at me, and I can choose whether to engage or not. I have muted a couple of people on Twitter after a long debate on the Hundred because it wasn’t going anywhere, and they started interjecting in conversations I wasn’t having with them (and not leaving me out of other streams when I asked them to do so, politely). It’s the way you want to conduct your own business that matters. We have been forthright, angry, even downright rude, but I hope most of the time it is those in authority, and that’s where the anger should lie.

“If you want to exist in a vacuum where only your opinions matter then go ahead. Stop attacking people for writing an article.”

I found my critics’anger as an energy. I wanted the anger to fire me up. If I had packed it in for writing an article that got an angry response, I wouldn’t be here. If you are firm enough in your views, believe in something, you should respond. That’s not a vacuum. It’s a discussion. A debate. An argument. And it isn’t always defined by the writer.

Have a great day, and speak soon.

Dmitri (Peter)

UPDATE – Harry Gurney, Bumble and Topley. Oh my lord.

Topley’s tweet is right up there for most idiotic of the year. Me Me Me. I want to be attacked. Please.

I omitted above that one of the chief villains, and one of the reasons that we should be strident are people like Harry Gurney – he of the more Twitter followers than you, I or our humble website. You are to know your place because you are just a mere spectator. How can you be polite to an attitude like that?

 

Is It Down To The Lake I Fear?

The third T20 international is tonight, I think….. This post doesn’t really want to talk about it, but I suppose I must. It’s being held in Nelson. Ironic. Our cricket board is most definitely one-eyed, the sport plays with one arm tied behind its back (I know, I know, he lost his arm), and for all they care about the punters, the ECB would stick us up on top of a 50m column and tell us to obsess about watching our 2nd XI in the middle of summer play for half points. For the record, I think it is a daft idea.

Admit it, you are hooked, aren’t you? You’ve stayed up these long Autumnal nights to watch the enthralling T20 series between England and New Zealand. The two games, played with two teams at ultimate full strength, battling it out is everything cricket should be. Played to packed houses, and enraptured crowds, it’s the ultimate in cricket entertainment. Indeed, Matthew Hayden himself tried to copyright Cricktainment (or something like that) and I’ll bet he had the games at Hagley and the Cake Tin in mind.

There’s a World Cup next year, and I’ll bet it’s inked in on Harry Gurney’s calendar. The only hope, of course, is that it doesn’t clash with a Sunday fixture or two (unlikely as it starts in October, but it might clash with the County Championship) as we’ll be too busy letting down the bouncy castle, putting away the sound system, and clearing up the litter from the barbecue. That this World Cup is still pretty much a year away renders a five game T20 series rather meaningless, but there’s money to be made, and that always takes priority. Maybe the doyen of the Hundred, Don Topley, can explain why this format, being played five times, is a great use of our international time. He seems to love all this sort of stuff. While we are battling it out with the Black Caps, India and Bangladesh are trying to get rid of the stench of match-fixing that accompanied Shakib-al-Hasan’s ban, and the smog of Delhi in their own T20 drama, and David Warner is teeing off on Sri Lanka, because they don’t have Stuart Broad in a T20 series that passed all of us by, save for Glen Maxwell falling off the treadmill with another canary in the goldmine moment for the international game. In the top echelon of international cricket, there’s not a lot to love at the moment.

As Chris said in his piece last week, we are all in that time of the year when work can cause us to let the blog slip, there’s a paucity of England test cricket which we know is what gets the punters interested here, and the motivation to do those sort of long think pieces that get the tweets and retweets which feel very rewarding, is languishing. There is no shortage of ECB nonsense to bash, as always, but I feel as though it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at the moment. When I was on the KP treadmill a few years back, some absolute dickhead from the Guardian BTL commented that I had it in for the ECB, and that it would be hard to read my stuff through the bile on screen. That useful idiot may have indelibly entered himself, and it was a him, into my Book Of Bastards, but there is a point, perhaps, now. I was slagging off the ECB when it wasn’t fashionable, when the media thought I was an unhinged idiot, when some of the people out there thought I was a Piers Morgan stooge. Now everyone seems to be doing it over the Hundred, my contrary nature makes me want to defend them. Yes, seriously. It’s really nice of the punditocracy to finally see it my way – that the ECB are impervious to criticism, they leak like the Titanic after iceberg encounter, that they are so self-assured they make the ERG look diffident (only political point on this post) and in Tom Harrison and Colin Graves, they have the most worrying duo at the steering wheel since Oliver Reed and George Best.

So let’s start defending the ECB. Let’s start with their sterling defence of the Hundred, and the encouragement to you all to get on board with the show. After an auction that underwhelmed and produced teams that look marginally stronger than some of the best Blast outfits, it was time to get the fans behind their local team. Let’s have a little pep piece to get the blood coursing through the veins, the credit card number itching to be conveyed online for those tickets, the calendar purchased just to put next year’s home Oval fixtures in to make sure the beloved doesn’t book a holiday that would prevent her going. One for each of the eight inspirational franchises here to shake up domestic cricket, with a new format, new TV coverage and new everything. How can you resist. Let’s start with the team selected to be the one I am supposed to support. Previously the Oval Greats, we went from Great to Invincible. Come On! Inspire me.

“Belong to something bigger, with Oval Invincibles. Vibrant, expressive, and free to play their own way, this team leaves a lasting impression long after the last ball.”

“Belong to something bigger”. Fuck me. They know inspiration. What is this, Extinction Rebellion? One Direction Fan Club? GBBO?

Something bigger? Bigger than what? The home venue has a county cricket club that outside of the North, has won more titles than anyone else. That has supplied numerous England players. That plays in a venue that gets filled for nearly all Blast games even though the team has been rubbish. What is this nonsense bigger than?

The best way to judge these pithy statements is to use Antonyms. “Apathetic, lifeless and bound to play by rigid rule and rote, this collection of individuals are instantly forgettable.” Yeah. That sounds better.

Hey. We can watch Sunil Narine ping it. We can watch the Curran brothers in a different shirts. We can long for Blake and Billings to bring that Kent magic. And we can wonder that in a tournament that is going to capture the imagination, their own site couldn’t capture a picture of a man who made an amazing century in the World Cup held in this country. I suppose they were too busy watching Rihanna.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/oval-invincibles/squad

Let’s look at our natural rivals, the London Spirit. I mean the name just jumps out at you, with the only spirit normally seen at the fake Home of Cricket being too expensive for you mere plebs to purchase.

London Spirit is an iconic team for an iconic city, rooted in tradition and lighting the way to the future, with a unique ability to conjure something special.

Woah! Iconic team. When you wrote this garbage down you didn’t even know who was playing for you, outside your iconic test player, Rory Burns, who probably won’t be playing and is only there because Middlesex can’t produce anyone with charisma who is in our test team these days.

What’s with the rooted in tradition? I thought tradition was a bad word? I thought it was something that we are to put our noses up to, and throw caution to the wind. Oh, you mean rooted in a private members club, so up its own backside that the head is tickling the Adam’s Apple.

Lighting the way to the future? Do they have the local St John’s Wood neighbourhood on board for this? They are notoriously not chuffed at lights or anything at Lord’s. What does this mean anyway. What are they lighting? Themselves? The Hundred? What does this mean.

Uh-Oh. UNIQUE! I hate that word. Utterly despise it. You are one of eight built for an event franchises. You are about as un-unique as you can be. A sausage machine cricket team, for a butchery of a competition. They have the “ability to conjure something special”. Have they reincarnated Paul Daniels. Put David Blaine in at pinch-hitter? Challenged Derren Brown to count down from a hundred. This is not going well.

We must head south. To Bransgrove World, where relegations are avoided, Ashes tests not awarded, and a franchise is gifted. To the Brave People of the South…

Follow Southern Brave, and go boldly where others shy away. Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure, what’s over the horizon?

Go boldly to a field somewhere outside Southampton, where others, most notably public bloody transport shy away. Who are these bold people they are seeking? People who want to go to cricket out in the wilds, and not get home until midnight? Go boldly to a hotel attached to a cricket ground, to watch David Warner and Andre Russell (how have they not got a picture of David Warner to append to the generic body…) ply their trade, and in the case of the former, not cause ructions and the latter not fail a drug test.

The next part of this blurb is wonderful “Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure” reads like something in a singles column, apparently. Endlessly curious means you want to sleep with your friend’s best mate, while insatiable appetite for adventure means kicked out of every home they’ve been in. I have absolutely no idea what is over the horizon other than the M26, which is beyond that queue out of the car park.

The logo is absolutely appalling. It makes my eyes go funny.

https://www.thehundred.com/teams/southern-brave/squad

As the Village People once sang, and was covered by both the Pet Shop Boys, and Arsenal fans when winning the Cup Winners Cup Final, it is time to Go West. This time, bypassing two successful limited over counties of the recent and middle past, to a test venue, which was usually notable for being mostly empty unless we played Australia there. It is, the Welsh Fire.

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Keith Flint, god rest his soul, has missed an opening. This collection of words, assembled with no thought or comprehension, sums up this exercise beautifully. We are given to believe our beloved Welsh colleagues are full of passion and excitement, but we are already going on about people hating them. As a colleague of mine noted when seeing the team, are the haters the public in Wales?

Cardiff is not exactly known for sultry weather, so heat might be a problem. The relentless energy will be needed to persuade the counties overlooked in favour of them as a host venue to trek across the Severn, all mums and kids together, and watch a team who already think that No-One Like Them, and they evidently care because they want to prove them wrong. What are they trying to prove wrong? They shouldn’t get a franchise? Danny shouldn’t be mean to them? That they should not be given test cricket? That they haven’t a man of Wales in their team? What’s with the defeatist surly attitude. You looking at teenage kids to come along and fit the concept?

Steve Smith, Mitchell Star and Ryan ten Doeschate star, with YJB bringing the fire when he’s not playing for England, which he might not. They’ll be hula hooping in the valleys at this.

Having seen and looked a team about as Welsh as Pat van den Hauwe (one for you old football fans out there), it’s time to cross Offa’s Dyke, ramble north east, to England’s second city (and Manchester still thinks it’s the first) to Birmingham, where Edgbaston will host the Birmingham, checks website, Phoenix. Is Brian Potter the MD?

Rise with Birmingham Phoenix, and thrive together as one. Bigger, brighter and better united, this team is a celebration of the strength in diversity. Because different is good.

phoenix (/ˈfiːnɪks/; Ancient Greek: φοῖνιξ, phoînix) is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Interesting concept and the Birmingham Bears must be really thrilled to hear this concept, let alone what it says about Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Rise with the dead bird, and thrive together as one. As inspirational statements go, this isn’t exactly we’ll fight them in the bull ring, massacre them on the M42, Vanquish them at the Villa.

Bigger, brighter and better united – you what? What is this random collection of words strung together. Bigger than what. It’s a dead bird coming back larger than before (no sexist jokes about bad nights out please). Brighter than what? I have no idea, and I hope you don’t either. Oh, it’s being united that makes you these things? Oh, I get you. Because when I think of the Hundred, a united force is just the first thing that trips into mind.

Celebration in diversity, different is good. This is cricket, not a office training course paying lip service to equal opportunities. It’s the usual mix of Aussies, Pakistanis, local talent and Ravi Bopara. You’d be forgiven for being uninspired, but nothing says raging fires, ashes arisen from, being united and better, than having Butterkist on your shirt. I must away…up the M6 to England’s fifth city, Manchester, and the marketing genius that is the Manchester Originals.

Manchester Originals. Pioneers. Revolutionaries. Celebrating a global city of firsts. Laughing in the face of limits. Raising the bar forever higher.

First up, Manchester has a logo that quite frankly, the designer of should be sacked for. It’s a squiggle in a circle. Like a bad art project. It exists to make the blurb look somewhat reasonable. Although it isn’t.

Pioneers. Of what, when? Two hundred years ago? Failing to be big enough to win the Olympics until a proper city won it for the UK. Host of two mega-dull football empires. When did Manchester last have a revolution? Peterloo? 1815? Good grief. This is a cricket team in a mickey mouse format, not Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. A global city of firsts, but hardly in London’s league, eh? And Liverpool must be thrilled.

But the next bit is beautiful “laughing in the face of limits”. You are called the Originals. It’s about as revolutionary and limiting as the packet of sweets we suspect you were named after. What have you got to laugh at, anyway? It’s cold. The weather is miserable. Your football clubs are either American asset stripper’s cash cow, or a sportwashing Middle Eastern plaything (don’t call it a sovereign wealth fund) with all the soul stripped out of it. Your music scene has been dead on arrival for decades. Last time I went there, it took you a mile to cross the road because there was a whacking great tunnel being dug in the middle of it.

Raising the bar forever higher. Tell that to United fans. They must love this bar, what with Thursday night European adventures and mid-table anonymity. Forever is a bloody long time.

I think it’s time we got out of Manchester and headed east over the Pennines to the real Northern Powerhouse. Yorkshire. Except a brand like Yorkshire ain’t going to mean a thing to the mums and kids. It’s going to be Northern

Step aside for Northern Superchargers, a team whose drive and determination is matched only by their desire to win. Powered by positivity and people who get stuff done when every ball counts.

Except the badge makes it look like they are Super northern Chargers. Another logo made in a focus group and with all the natural appeal of a scaffolding outside your house.

In this world of meaningless claptrap, this might just be the most insipid. It’s about as edgy as a Steve Smith masterclass on an Aussie road. It’s about as uplifting as a funeral march. It’s about as energetic as me at 7am. Step aside for someone with drive and determination. Jesus wept. Is this a cricket competition or an episode of the Apprentice?

You’ll be pleased to know, Northerners (for me that description starts at Tower Bridge) will be no doubt reassured that they have a desire to win that matches their determination, and that, quite unlike a team in Yorkshire, they’ll be powered by positivity and people who get stuff done. I presume Colin Graves is describing himself here. No mediocrity up North. I mean, it’s not as if Yorkshire, I mean Northern, have ever had a reputation for arguing the toss, sticking to the point and open minded.

Every ball counts. Sounds like a game show. A supercharged Northern Game Show. A bit like 3-2-1 for all you old timers out there. Instead of Ted Rogers, you’ll be getting the usual T20 Aussies, a little bit of local flavour, a relocated Ben Foakes, and other Kolpaks and Adil Rashid. It says less Supercharger, and more an overcharger. They couldn’t call it Leeds, they couldn’t call it Yorkshire, but they are called Northern. And not only that, they are brought to you by Popchips. Popchips. POPCHIPS.

What the hell is a Supercharger anyway? I’m hooking my wagon down the M1 and pronto, in a flash. Or like a rocket. To the Trent Rockets. What’s more inspiring than naming yourself after a river?

Join Trent Rockets for the biggest party in the country. Everyone’s invited – so long as you don’t mind having the most fun. Volume up, ready for launch.

The biggest party in the country. Please god. Life is waning in me reading this. What the hell does this even mean. Everyone’s invited brings me neatly to the attitude the ECB have shown to everyone who may actually be supporting the game now. This isn’t for you. You aren’t the people we are aiming at. You are obsessives. You are obstructive. You are resistant to change (nice one that from Vaughan). Gurney thinks we are irrelevant, because we have fewer Twitter followers than him. This isn’t for county fans, they can remain the oddballs. This is for Mum and Kids (c). This is for players to earn more money, commentators to have more gainful employment, the BBC to get a fig leaf of cricket on the TV. Volume up. Ready for Launch. Kill the counties. Extract six weeks peak cricket season for a party no-one seems to really want.

You can come as long as you don’t mind having their version of fun. That’s the ECB and the Hundred in a nutshell. A bloody nutshell. YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

The ultimate in sport brings you a team with Harry Gurney, the poster child of fan alienation and arrogant dismissiveness to the people who, yes, pay his wages. It brings you world superstar Darcy Short, who definitely isn’t Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma. It brings you non-playing Joe Root, who seems desperate for the additional cash, because being England captain doesn’t pay enough. It brings you Luke Fletcher, a worthy pro, Alex Hales, an exile and rebel, and Rashid Khan who you could have seen playing for Sussex, but it isn’t sexy enough. It’s the biggest party in town, you will have fun, and it’s brought to you by Skips crisps. I mean, really. This is the brave new world?

So no, ECB. This isn’t a bright future. This isn’t an exciting launch. It’s distilling the talent down a little, to bring you a competition that there seems little demand for, just to satisfy your egos. So while it would be nice to be contrary, and maybe even stick up for these cretins, one read of the eight teams’ overviews, these mantras of the morons, these invocations of the insipid, this ocean going mediocrity of management buzz phrases parading as inspirational missives to the massive, has you gouging out your eyes and wondering. What the hell do they think they are up to?

My apologies for ignoring the Women’s Hundred, although their players are included in the squads on the website – which confusingly makes it look like it is a mixed gender team competition – because the act of vandalism on their game is even worse.

Someone stop these people. They are mad. They have overdosed on Blue Smarties. They are drunk on their own power, high on their own supply of conceived brilliance. Only they know how to save us. Only they know what is best. The ECB will bring us all to the promised land and…

YOU WILL ENJOY IT.

Count me out.

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It’s been a bit of a strange time over the last month or so – the conclusion of the domestic cricket season caused a fair bit of retrospective comment about how successful the summer had been – the World Cup victory being the clear stand out, with the scraped draw in the Ashes being recast as something of a success by too many people who ought to know better.

Much of the recent cricketing action in this country has been off the field – the ongoing Hundred debacle most central to that, including the hearing at the DCMS committee. It’s particularly notable the way the ECB have pushed their entire tournament to the media has shifted slightly, almost a tacit admission of the horrendous balls up they’ve made of it to date, while at the same time continuing to block any direct questioning, even by MPs. Yesterday Ashley Giles talked about the Hundred being played alongside the County Championship, raising a fair few issues in the process.  Giles has tended to be rather more thoughtful and honest than most in the ECB, and while that’s not saying a lot, if ever anyone was going to acknowledge, even obliquely, the problems raised, it was always likely to be him.  The ECB have decided that the domestic professional game will go in a certain direction, and the consequences of that are more or less impossible to avoid – as such this is perhaps the first time anyone has even publicly considered how to mitigate them.

The main problem with the Hundred has never been the format itself – it might have attracted scorn and derision, and deservedly so, but it remains a short game of cricket, even if the added funkiness does little to further it.  The impact on the rest of the season however is far more pertinent and permanent – even were the Hundred itself to fail and be turned back into T20, as some hope, it wouldn’t alter the general balance of the season the ECB have determined.

The initial response to Ashley Giles’ comments about running the Championship concurrently is interesting, partly because it’s been almost universally negative. So perhaps it’s time to challenge that somewhat, albeit a rather lukewarm challenge and a thought experiment as much as anything. But it could be argued that given where we are now it’s as good an idea as is practicable. The impact on Test techniques of short form cricket has been a concern for a while but there has also been some divergence, especially in batting and spin bowling, between those players who prioritise white ball cricket and those who aim to be long form players.

There is always the balance to be struck between insisting on purity in the response (“Hundred bad, sack them all”), and thinking about what might be feasible as mitigation, given stopping it at all appears out of the question.  The call to get behind the new competition may be nonsensical, but equally opposing the Hundred to the point that any and all suggestions made around it are automatically dismissed isn’t hugely helpful either.  If there were a genuine prospect of changing the direction of travel, that might be a different thing, but this seems desperately unlikely.  This is how it is going to be for a number of years at minimum, whether people like it or not.  Since that is the case, it bears examination whether Giles’ idea might then represent a better outcome than a normal county championship pushed ever more to the margins of the season? It’s an open question, but one worthy of consideration. There are serious downsides to Giles’ idea, but whether the upsides improve the overall position compared to doing nothing should be considered properly, without a knee jerk “no” as a response to everything.

The suggestion that only half points should be awarded for the championship games played during the Hundred window is particularly controversial, but it does also offer up the intriguing prospect that even with half points, counties might need to balance their squads rather better than they do under next year’s regime where it makes no difference. Essex and Somerset for example might be especially weak if 2020 was repeated, but under Giles’ thinking then rather than necessarily being a bad thing, it might encourage them to ensure they have sufficient red ball specialists in the leftovers to prevent them being repeatedly crushed.

Such a proposal would also have the knock on effect of requiring some of the matches to be played at the outgrounds rather than the eight stadia where the Hundred matches will take place. This too is a mixed blessing – certainly such venues tend to be popular with spectators, but there is a considerable cost involved in making them ready for Championship cricket, and the quality of pitches can be variable. There is also the matter of the value for money involved in county membership, given some matches would be rather distant from the main ground, yet a proposal that offers an unclear picture as to whether something is good or ill rather represents progress – such is the reality of ECB planning.

Along with one or two political matters that Will Not Be Talked About Under Any Circumstances, the polarisation caused by the advent of the Hundred makes a nuanced response difficult to maintain. Without question, the ECB are culpable for this – it’s not just the principle behind the Hundred that can be criticised, but also that the ability of the ECB to make the worst of things is genuinely impressive. Purely from a business perspective, they are an extraordinarily incompetent organisation. The continual omnishambolic leaking, the genuinely dreadful marketing (as an aside, it’s endlessly amusing reading former cricketers who know nothing at all about such things defending the ECB to the great unwashed, many of whom might actually know a bit about the subject) all points to an organisation that is amazingly amateurish. This is then always the problem with those who say that the fact that it is coming is sufficient reason to get behind it – they don’t deserve anyone getting behind them and haven’t done for many years. An acceptance of the reality that it’s going to happen is not approval, and certainly not support, and pointing out the inherent flaws and idiocies remains perfectly appropriate.  Andrew Strauss once talked about the Kevin Pietersen issue being a matter of trust, but the ECB have long since burned any residual trust they had with those who love the game of cricket, which is why their pleas forever fall on deaf ears. Sporting governing bodies might not be popular, but only the ECB is at war with its own supporters.  It is therefore particularly irritating to be told to pipe down by those who stand to benefit directly, and speaks to the consistent failing in all circles of professional cricket in conflating what is in their own interests with the general interests of the sport itself.

It’s long been my contention that “the game” doesn’t mean the wider game, only their small part of it, but it is equally beholden on those of us on the outside not to oppose just for the sake of opposition. The Hundred might well drive a coach and horses through traditional cricket, and provide little to no benefit further down. But there is little merit in screaming into the void at every single suggestion ever made and assuming it can only make things worse, even if scepticism about the rationale behind their latest wheeze is perfectly reasonable. Giles’ suggestion would also return the 50 over competition to being a first team one rather than a development tournament, albeit early in the season, and to that end would undo some of the crass stupidity of the ECB abandoning the format domestically in which England have become World Champions – often at the expense of the Test side.

The County Championship would certainly be diminished by playing it at the same time as the Hundred. But the problem is that it’s diminished anyway, and if next year’s schedule was repeated, that diminution is only going to continue and get worse. Rugby provides some interesting comparisons with cricket in many ways – far more so than football. And rugby does cope with players disappearing from their club sides to play internationals at the same time as the domestic championship takes place. Perhaps it can be said that is no different to how cricket has always been, but this Rugby World Cup is a good case in point of radically weakened sides still competing in the main domestic tournament, and making use of that by bringing in younger players and developing them. Perhaps the lesson there is that it is possible for such things to be a net positive. In this case that is a highly contentious proposition, but it does at the very least deserve a fair hearing.

Of course, rugby has also been notably different to cricket in terms of the exposure it seeks. This morning’s World Cup final will doubtless have been watched by many millions of people (albeit a lot might have turned off with 10 minutes to go), but the contrast in that is not just with the ECB. World Rugby specifically have a policy that the World Cup should be free to air wherever possible – it’s written into their mission statement for the entire tournament. Japanese TV coverage was an interesting example, where they had to negotiate to ensure some matches were free to air. This is antithetical to the ICC, who sell off the rights to the highest bidder and have no interest in who they are sold on to, and whether people then have to pay to watch. It’s a stunning, startlingly huge difference in approach by the two sports, and it’s hard to dispute that rugby has done a better job of promoting itself. Even the presence of rugby sevens in the Olympics while cricket continues to show ambivalence about T20’s involvement demonstrates that, while if ever a difference could be identified in profile, it could be seen in the way on the eve of the Rugby World Cup final, it was the number one item on the BBC Six O’Clock News. The number one item.

For us as a group, the post summer period tends to be our quiet time of the year, partly because we take a bit of a break, and partly because those people who pay us to work do expect us to turn up and do it. We’re fortunate that our really chaotic periods tend not to often coincide with each other, if ever there’s a gap when cricket is on, that’s what’s happened. So it’s a pleasure to note when we make our return that we still have plenty to talk about. The winter tours (three of them) have begun, with a T20 against New Zealand that rather passed everyone by,  but we are back, and we are as annoyed as ever.

The Ministry of Public Enlightenment

I came across a peculiar article this week, one that wasn’t in the mainstream media and one which as far as I could see hadn’t been published on Twitter or any of the other main social media sites. It was an article on LinkedIn by Sanjay Patel, MD of The Hundred, that someone had liked (hence why it came to my attention). It’s mainly word soup as you would come to expect from a senior executive of the ECB, but some of the claims are rather interesting to say the least:

It’s been a busy few weeks for The Hundred. We’ve been introduced to the teams, the brands and the kits. And following Sunday’s fascinating The Hundred Draft, we have the final piece in the jigsaw – the players. Fans of the eight new men’s teams have been poring over the selections, while media experts have worked out who are the favourites and the outsiders. It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

Because there is one big question that needs to be asked at the end of the astonishing summer of 2019: What’s next? How do you follow England’s impossibly thrilling World Cup win? Ben Stokes’s innings of a lifetime at Headingley? The excitement of T20 finals day and the conclusion of the County Championship? No sport can afford to stand still, and there is a tremendous opportunity to raise even further cricket’s profile, which has been boosted so encouragingly this year.

More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts. So the appetite and opportunity are there. In 2020 the ECB launches its five-year Inspiring Generations strategy. As the name suggests, the vision is to attract and excite the next generation of cricket fans as part of a push to grow the game for men, women, boys and girls in our schools and clubs.

The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales. The new tournament is a central part of that drive to get more and more people watching and playing the game in the next five years. The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport. It will be fast, furious and fantastic – and feature most of the best home-grown and overseas players in the world, including members of England’s men’s and women’s World Cup-winning sides. The Hundred also sees live cricket return to free-to-air TV for the first time in 15 years as the BBC screens matches from both the men’s and women’s competitions, alongside prolific support from Sky.

Cricket has always been a sport of innovation. In recent decades we have seen the emergence and acceptance of one-day internationals, coloured uniforms, day-night matches, the white ball game and new formats such as T20. Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before.  

Cricket’s doors are well and truly open and we’re looking forward to welcoming in a new generation of people who love the game. 

I haven’t got the time or energy to go into the full article in depth, plus I’m nowhere near as good as Dmitri in fisking a particular piece of fiction, which this is; however it did naturally leave me with a few questions as to what this article was trying to achieve apart from a back slap from a fellow corporate crowd:

  • It’s great to see cricket engaging the minds of sports fans so far in advance of next summer. That is further evidence of the huge impact cricket made on the sporting consciousness of the nation this year.

I will give this to Sanjay as there has been increased focus on the sport, mainly through people wondering why a sport is trying to perform it’s own version of hari-kari after regaining a morsel of interest from the wider UK public. We are the current World Cup holders yet a 50 over competition won’t be played by those who are most likely to be the next cab up for the national side. They will of course be playing for the teams of the Hundred. So there is a massive chance that players who are called up to represent England in the 50 over competition in the future may well have never played a game of 50 over cricket in their professional lives. Hardly a firm basis for creating a successful inter white ball team, if that’s what the aim is. Whatever the result of the Rugby World Cup Final this weekend, I very much doubt they will abandon the 15-a-side game to play 10-a-side game over 55 minutes with a beach ball. They at least have a sane administration.

  • More people than ever before attended professional cricket in 2019. At the heart of this statistic was the men’s World Cup and its record-breaking total for ticket sales at a global cricket event, almost 900,000. More than 1.2 million children engaged with cricket, with over 500,000 playing the game in schools. Meanwhile, 62% of clubs saw an increase in junior members, while 464,000 new followers were added to the ECB’s social media accounts.

This is a very bold statement, though if broken down it is fairly easy to see where the figures have been massaged. The Cricket World Cup which was heavily attended by Indian, Australian and Pakistani supporters alongside English cricket fans, so they will be included in these figures. The 900,000 is probably the overall number of tickets sold than people actually attending; however it is the statements that 1.2million children engaged in cricket and 500,000 played the game in schools that I’m most sceptical about. I’m not an expert on this (and perhaps Danny might be able to chime in) but how do you measure an engagement with cricket? Did someone accidentally flick over to the cricket channel by mistake? Did they look out of the window and see some cricket being played (a sackable offence of course)? Did they eat some KP snacks and thus must be completely engaged with the sport forever now? The mind does boggle somewhat as to how the ECB have come up with this engagement figure.

The 500,000 children supposedly playing in schools however is the statistic that seems particularly odd. Cricket has been phased out of state schools for years with many having no cricket facilities whatsover, so how many of these children are simply private schools who continue to have the means and wealth to play the sport? How many of these children got given a plastic bat or ball once as part of ‘chance to shine’ or the ‘World Cup’ and have never had the urge or opportunity to play again? This seems to be a case of lies, damned lies and statistics, which is something the ECB likes to try and hide behind (unless you ask them about the fall in participation after cricket was put solely as a pay to view sport

  • The Hundred was conceived as a direct result of detailed and extensive discussions across cricket and sport in England and Wales.

SHOW ME THIS RESEARCH, I KNOW NOBODY WHO HAS BEEN CONSULTED ABOUT THESE CHANGES

  • The Hundred will appeal strongly to the next generation of fans, as well as to existing lovers of the sport:

I reckon over 95% of existing fans of the sport have already shown their disgust at the format, which alienates most fans of the came (International and County) and seems to be a stealth approach to reducing the number of counties in the systems. Also how do they know that by bastardising the fairly simple rules of cricket that it is going to appeal to the next generation of fans? Most mothers and children of a certain age can quite easily count to both 6 and also to twenty, so why will they want to pay £25 for 20 less deliveries and a pointless farrago of a pretend ‘cricket game’ where the only new marketing messaging has been ‘look at the shiny kits’? I’m not sure anyone likes to be taken for an idiot.

  • Now there’s The Hundred, in which the men’s and women’s competitions will run side by side – something that has never happened in cricket before:

Yes they will be played together and the whole budget for the women’s hundred teams is under the annual salary of the Managing Director. Equality, I think not. Still box ticked and all that.

  • Cricket’s doors are well and truly open

Well they’re not though are they. If you’re not in the chosen demographic they’re not. If you’re a fan of the County Championship they’re not. If you’re a fan of Test Cricket, especially with having a competitive Test Side they’re not. If you are a fan of the T20 blast they’re not. If you have allegiances to a county especially those who are deemed surplus to requirements then they’re not. If you want to see a competitive 50 over side try and retain the World Cup they’re not.

This doesn’t leave us with many people who are able to enter these particular doors! Perhaps Sanjay wasn’t referring to the fans but instead those Execs, TV Presenters and other administrators who are due to cash in profitably from this tournament. The doors are naturally open to mothers and children, but most are too sensible to enter this bear trap despite the ECB’s deliberate dumbing down of this demographic.


This is just corporate drivel par excellence. They just needed to add some extra buzz phrases such as ‘low hanging fruit’, ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘connecting all sides of the circle’ to have made this a true PR masterpiece. Though it looks like they have already done this to the team descriptions already!

My main question though Sanjay is if you are so proud of these ‘so-called achievements’ then why hide away this article on a business networking site? why not open it up to the fans so they can join in with your adulation about cricket’s future? why not go on TV and be interviewed by ‘Wardy’, so you can comment on what a great question that was?

The answer is simple. Even those that stand to make the most out of this know it’s a giant white elephant designed to make them richer and they know the fans of the game can see right through their lies. This will irrevocably damage English cricket in the future and quite simply they don’t want to have justify their naked greed and ambition to the people that will lose the most – the fans. Expect the next press release from the ECB to come out in hieroglyphics or Minoan or something like that. Nothing surprises me with these charlatans anymore.

Into The Blue Again, After The Money’s Gone – Another Go

Happy near Halloween everyone. Dmitri here. It has been a long time. Time for a little ramble.

The end of the domestic international season has, recently, been greeted by your writing team with a shrug of the shoulders, and a time for rest. As time goes by, we become more time poor, and speaking from my experience, there is far too much else filling my day at the moment, and at this time of year, to give full attention to what is, now, very much a labour of love. I have admiration for those piling out the content, day in, day out. I just don’t have the time to do it any more.

Then the irony. As I pressed publish, so Sean published his at the same time. So I took this down and it has gone up two days later.

I have spent some of my spare time (a) buying loads of secondhand books and (b) actually reading some of them. I think the recent ones each bring a little bit to the party in terms of viewing cricket these days. “The Club” is about how a sport was “revived and saved” by brilliant marketeers who took a chance, woke up, and thought they could monetise the sport better – and now we have the Sportwashing, Money Laundering, Rich Man’s Plaything Premier League as a result. There’s a little bit of a blueprint for what Harrison and Co are trying to do with The Hundred in there. He may even see himself as the Rick Parry of cricket, you never know. Then there was Phoenix from the Ashes by Mike Brearley, about the 1981 series forever known as Botham’s Ashes. It’s a flowery old book, written in JMB’s standard purple prose, and yet it gives an insight into what is now very much a bygone era. I particularly liked the agonising as to whether to pick Geoff Cook as a test opener despite the fact he had a first class average under 30. That raised a smile.

I read Kieran Fallon’s book, which mirrors much of the KP story, if truth be told. All the things that went wrong in his life were never his fault – not on the horse racing side at least. Top Cees wasn’t stopped, Ballinger Ridge wasn’t sinister, he didn’t have an affair with Henry Cecil’s wife, and the authorities never liked him. Yet at the top of his game, few rivalled him. He could pull out brilliant rides, and annoy the owners of the horses he rode at the same time. A sporting maverick out of tune with many in the sport. Yep, that resonated. As did the fact the ghost author of the book was Oliver Holt.

I’m reading Chaos Monkeys, a supposed insider tell all on Facebook and the like. Loads of people convinced of their own brilliance, but subservient to the main man (in this case Zuckerburg). I am not far into it and I already loathe the author. Not sure how that will have an analogy to crickt. Then there’s the wealth of books on Trump, telling me how bad he is in so many different ways. Trump is The Hundred. There are some misguided people in hock to the cult, but most see it for what it is. A huge ego trip, We all hope it will go away, but we all know it won’t. It’s trouble, whether we like it or not.

I missed the auction – I had a business trip to South Korea which coincided with the world launch of Terminator Whatever in the shopping centre below my hotel, and a chance encounter with John Bolton no less – and the parliamentary sub-committee that grandstands as giving a toss about the game, but in fact is a toothless tiger that would do nothing to enforce anything on the game, because it can’t. So while it might have caused Graves, Harrison, Patel et al some minor discomfort, they aren’t about to turn around and see the light. This is their great idea, and no-one is going to change their course.

And then there is the cricket itself. South Africa being buried in India is somewhat sad, but indicative of how strong the Indian team is at home, and how weakened South Africa have become after England strips bare a lot of its talent for the county game that is so unbeloved we have had to introduce a new competition to counter that scorn. It might have been wonderful for Rohit Sharma to fill his boots, but one suspects this is even more the way of test cricket. India can’t be blamed for burying teams in their own backyard, why should they, but strength in depth isn’t test cricket’s watchword at the moment.

The World T20 pre-qualifying has been going on, but sadly I’ve not got to see a lot of it. It is great that Sky Sports Cricket Channel has actually decided to show some live cricket, and those that feel passionately about the world game can at least watch some decent T20 cricket. Whether a cricket channel should have been showing test cricket when it is on, is for you all to decide. The world loves T20 at the moment, so why not show it?

Talking of T20, England are out in New Zealand for five of the damn things, with the test series still a month away. The first is on Friday, apparently. I’m not interested. If it’s on, it is on, and I’ll watch it. I don’t care about the outcome, a loss for the national team will be greeted by massive indifference, just as a win would, and the world will keep on turning. The sport is about revenue generation, not occasion. Got to keep the coffers flowing.

Finally in this short (for me) piece, let me turn to The Hundred. I am absolutely sick of it. Sick of what it is doing to the sport. Sick of seeing fans turn against fans. Sick of how the ECB have ballsed the whole thing up, but carry on regardless. But most of all, I am sick that the ECB, and the past pros, and those making money out of the thing by either playing in it, reporting on it, being an ex-officio member of a county supplying players to it or commentating on it are now switching their focus. Remembering that we were the reason cricket is in trouble, us white, 50 year olds, with some disposable income, mostly male are a massive barrier to entry (and not the other socio-economic factors, natch) and almost inhospitable to women and children (where’s the evidence), the worm has turned and now we HAVE to get behind the damn thing or the risky punt that the ECB has taken will fail, and that will do no-one any good. It’s like an arsonist setting fire to a house he is in, and it being the fire brigade’s fault if he gets burned.

The county cricket fan is still going to go to see his or her county if they (a) are still going and (b) have decent games to play. Asking us to fall into line to watch a competition that talks big, but doesn’t get the really big T20 stars to play in it is not it. The new teams, the new colours, the players mainly with little affinity to the region they are playing in, in a competition where 80 or so county cricketers will profit while their colleagues founder, with the damage this will do to county contracts, the incentives to play at county grounds where the Hundred is sited. There’s a ton of consequences that Harrison and co don’t give a shit about. I don’t want to read Joe Root exhort me to get behind it. I want Joe Root to score test centuries again. I don’t want Isa Guha to tell me that if the fans don’t back it, then the game is in trouble – we didn’t put it there. And most of all, I don’t want to see articles by people who love the game, finding bogeymen and women that aren’t there, and doing the ECB’s dirty work.

2019 was an excellent cricketing summer. It ended with someone thinking that this:

Spark the Welsh Fire. Burning bright with intense passion and relentless energy, their hunger will prove the haters wrong. Get ready to feel the heat.

Is something appropriate. How many of the Welsh Fire team are actually from Wales. Maybe the people who hate are Welsh cricketers?

From the heroics of Stokes and Archer, to meaningless blurbs for meaningless teams in a meaningless competition, without meaning except to raise money and put the counties in their place, is a tragedy. Hell, if England win the rugby union World Cup on Saturday, cricket might see the real power of free to air TV, as I would imagine that would pass the ODI team for the Team of the Year awards because rugby did not totally sell its soul to the highest bidder. That might be the biggest lesson yet, and ten or so meaningless hit and giggle cricket isn’t going to change it.

Until next time. Hopefully not as long.

The message is clear. The ECB is not your friend. The players are governed by self interest. You, the fan, must STFU, pay your entry fee, and pay homage to the great and the good. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. I was saying this in 2014. I don’t have the time to fight now.

Your Dream Could Be My Nightmare

Whilst there would have been some in the minority who woke up on Monday morning genuinely happy with the outcome of the Hundred draft the previous evening, there would have been far more who woke up in a far more somber mood as the enormity of what this huge white elephant will do to the landscape of county cricket finally hit home. If you were one of the few lucky English players who was picked in the draft ahead of the multiple Kolpaks and overseas ‘white ball specialists’ then you were probably feeling quite pleased for yourself, a minimum of £30k for 5 weeks worth of cricket and for some, much much more. The same goes for those commentators and presenters who are likely to emerge financially better off from this new competition with the pain and anger of the average fan a mere annoyance to be dismissed forthwith.

Those ‘lucky few’ are indeed few and far between though. The majority of players, fans and cricket aficionados are now on the outside looking in, which is ironic as this is the place we have found ourselves for years having been castigated by the ECB for daring to question their modus operandi. For those players who haven’t been picked for the Hundred, with the significant earnings on offer now but a mere dream for many an underpaid county cricketer, it must be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Instead they get to look around their dressing room knowing who of their colleagues has been paid £70k or £100k or whatever they indeed got paid to participate in a format that will hurt the county format forever and sharpen the pay divide in English cricket. They also have to face the fact that they will now be in the bottom tier of the priority of English cricket whose purpose is merely designed to make up the numbers in a developmental 50 over competition and a T20 competition that the ECB is desperate to kill off, despite both the popularity of the format and the financial success it has delivered.

Then we get to the real casualties – the counties and those members and supporters who have both grown up with and followed county cricket for years and now face a reduced programme with fewer of the players that they have grown accustomed in seeing being available to play for their county. Every single county has been hit, though those who have had the dubious pleasure of being awarded a franchise can at least console themselves that they will have money flowing in through the gates, probably more from a bung from the ECB to stop a catastrophic financial loss than actual fans attending mind; however it is again, those at the bottom of the food pile that have been hit the hardest. I may be a huge Middlesex fan, but one can only imagine the pain of supporters of the likes of Sussex, Somerset and Worcestershire, just to name three, who scanned which players they were going to lose for a period during the upcoming season and then realized that the successful team that they had put together despite their financial limitations, had been ransacked by the franchises. The 50 over competition isn’t going to be a developmental competition for them, it’s basically going to be second XI cricket and whilst I don’t doubt the strong support of the fanbases of each of these counties, it is still going to be incredibly tough to motivate yourself to watch a 2nd XI team play for over a month, especially against those who have been relatively untouched by the draft and are likely to have a far stronger squad than you. There is also the small matter of players like Tom Banton, Pat Brown, Dan Lawrence, George Garton and many others who might find that the counties who are hosting these new franchises would quite like a friendly word with them and maybe the promise of a large contract in time. Indeed they would be crazy not to. This is of course is the first stage of the slippery slope from where proud counties just become developmental squads for the bigger counties, not that anyone will admit to that though. Yet.

The message from those who are likely to benefit most from this competition has been unsurprisingly terse to those who might murmur an objection to this terrible format. Stop moaning, get with the programme, stop holding back cricket, think of the new fans and look at the shiny £1.3million hush money we’ve given you (though I would actually be amazed if the actual figure the counties receive is anywhere near that). A case in point comes from an individual who is definitely a winner from the formation of this competition:

Isa has had a meteoric rise through the commentary circles over the past years and now seems to be the face of both women’s cricket and the go to female commentator for men’s cricket. I have to say I have no problem with this as in the main, I think she is good, although nowhere near as good as Alison Mitchell but quite frankly I couldn’t care less whether the commentator is male or female as long as they speak sense. However this post is at best ill informed and at worst completely hypocritical from someone who should know much better. It is well known that Isa has been named as the lead for the BBC’s coverage of the Hundred and no doubt has received a hefty pay rise as part of this, so to therefore lecture those fans, who never wanted the format in the first place ‘to stop being so negative’ strikes of a massive self-serving agenda. It’s the sort of thing Michael Vaughan would do and you never want to go ‘full shiny toy’. It’s also an argument that you’re never to go win either. The stench that the Hundred has created by the complete and utter mismanagement by the ECB at every stage and what it means to the average county fan, who is fearful for the existence of his or her county, means that people are naturally going to be angry and upset.  Comments such as ‘it’s here now, therefore you need to get behind it’ are certainly not going to pacify a group of individuals who are seeing the game that they know and love massively transform for the worse overnight. Hell, even Tom Harrison’s favourite subservient – Gordon Hollins, has fled the ECB after a hugely successful 10 months as ‘Managing Director of county cricket’ doing important stuff such as…er, let me come back to you on this. More to the point, when the rats start fleeing the sinking ship then you know have a case to be seriously worried.

Without doubt this is the first step into carving county cricket firstly into a two tier establishment of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with the end game being a slimmed down county circuit of the ‘haves’; never mind the history and the county fans who there are many. This is the ‘digital transformation’ of cricket and if you happen to support a county team without a Test Match stadium, then sorry, you need to get with the programme, this is the new game whether you like it or not, Cricket 2020 is now upon us. Oh and if the new competition doesn’t work, then we’re all buggered anyway, well apart from those who managed to get paid big because of it.

Oh and don’t just take my word for it, feel free to read George Dobell’s submission to the DCMS committee about his take on what the Hundred will do for cricket. It is somewhat damning:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/the-future-of-english-cricket/written/106274.pdf

 

 

The Hundred Draft – Live

Sorry, only kidding, as if we’d live blog this white elephant. None of us can be bothered to watch this shower of shit, let alone write about the damn thing.

Feel free to tell us what you doing instead of watching the draft. Personally I’ll be watching NFL RedZone – #Sevenhoursofcommercialfreefootballstartshere..

Paradise (Not Quite) Regained – By Maxie Allen

I’ll get straight to it. Full disclosure. I’ve stopped hating England. I no longer support their opponents. Over the course of this summer, I even found myself wanting them to win, and was glad when they did.

At the grave risk of sounding self-regarding, I’ll quickly remind you of the backstory. I wrote a piece for this site a couple of years ago explaining my contempt for the England cricket team and why I both exulted in their defeats and cheered on their opposition. That was the position I’d found myself in after three decades of loyal support. It was because of Things That Happened in 2014 – which left me angry, alienated, and betrayed.

And then all of a sudden, early this summer, and after five years of that alienation, I began to feel differently. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Nor was it because of a specific performance, or player, or passage of play. It was before any of 2019’s standout stories unfolded. There was no fairy-tale epiphany after watching Stokes or Archer. It crept up on me. It was something I noticed and then realised must have been there for a while, like hair-loss or a suspicious lump.

What I do know is it began with the World Cup, even though I’ve never been wildly interested in white-ball cricket. But it wasn’t because of England winning the world cup. Success, in itself, didn’t win me round and never has done. No, it was because of England trying to win the World Cup. The distinction is important. England had lost three times in the final but never won the tournament. They were at home. They were favourites. Would they fulfil their elusive destiny? It was a good story. And that story slowly but inexorably reeled me in.

The thing I’ve always loved most about cricket is its narrative arcs. The twists and turns. The sub-plots. The drama with an unwritten script. And England’s World Cup campaign crafted itself into a narrative I found too seductive to quite resist. They started brightly, messed up, bounced back, and, well, you know the rest, but the point is, I began to sense I had personal equity in the outcome.

I found myself going out of my way to watch the final group games against India and New Zealand. I was on a family holiday abroad, but managed to get an iPad to hook up to Sky Go by the pool. I couldn’t face missing the games. What startled me – maybe even disappointed me – was that I realised I wanted England to win. I feared them losing. A feeling I hadn’t experienced for five years.

It was an unsavoury sensation, and hard to come to terms with. I didn’t want to want England to win, because I’d hated them so much, and for good reason. But there it was. And then came the final, with one of the greatest narratives of all, and when Buttler broke the stumps from Roy’s throw and I could see Guptill hadn’t made his ground, I yelled and screamed and leapt around the room. Which I almost felt ashamed of doing.

I suppose I’d never felt quite as much contempt for England’s white-ball side as their Test counterparts. They felt vaguely like a separate entity and less tarnished by what happened five years ago. So the ODI team were the soft underbelly of my enmity, a gateway drug which led me into the hard stuff. Because when the Ashes began a fortnight or so later, I still found myself not hating England. Found myself sucked into the narratives of the Edgbaston test. Found myself at the mercy of their fluctuating fortunes and having to admit to myself that I wanted them, not Australia, to prevail.

This persisted and consolidated itself through the course of the series. I was disappointed by their setbacks, pleased at their comebacks. Again, it was unconscious, and again, it wasn’t because of individual flashpoints. I didn’t warm to England because of good things the team did, because it wasn’t bad things the team itself had ever done which had put me off them in the first place. I had spent thirty years watching England lose and that had never made any difference then.

I categorically did not return to England because of Stokes and Headingley. But that match did have a significance. I spent the Saturday afternoon on parental duties at a splash park, but found myself compulsively checking my phone to monitor the Root-Denly partnership. I slipped back into my superstitious habits of old, such as deliberately not watching or checking for fear of triggering an England wicket.

When Stokes got England within fifty, I stopped looking at the score, for that specific reason, and just hoped my phone wouldn’t buzz with the dreaded wicket notification. When I caved in, checked, and saw just eight were needed, only then did I actually start watching again. Those reawakened neuroses, once more. A year ago I would have been enraged by England stealing an outrageous victory. But there I was, feeling the exact opposite. And at that moment, I knew that this was the way things were going to be. I had to give up the fight and accept that I wanted England to win again.

All of which is a bit like a Celtic fan waking up and thinking “You know what, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Rangers”. It was the reluctant acceptance of something I didn’t want and felt uncomfortable with. But the only alternative would be to force myself to hate England and pretend I still wanted them to lose, which even for me seemed a bit silly.

So what happened? I’ve already mentioned the stories, and the power of those. When the Tests began, the fact it was an Ashes series played a part. The history and heritage – the unique magic of the urn – proved seductive. More broadly, the sheer heft of my previous life as an England supporter exerted its gravitational pull. Perhaps it was inevitable that in the fullness of time that thirty years of good things would outweigh one year of very bad things.

The biggest factor, though, is that Alastair Cook has gone. That may sound petty and vindictive and bitter, but I don’t care. I would always hate England when he was in the side, captain or not. With Strauss also departed – for tragic reasons of course, but the fact remains that he left – virtually none of the culprits survive apart from Graves. The absence of Anderson also helped. Here was a new and relatively blameless generation.

Some things will never be as they once were. I can’t imagine supporting England in a patriotic way, if that makes sense. Supporting England purely because they’re England and I’m English and the other side happen to be from abroad. I still think of England as ‘they’ or ‘them’, not ‘we’ and ‘us’, and I doubt that will change.

I’ll never be remotely jingoistic about England, as I was before, or take pleasure in mocking and taunting their opponents, as I once did. Neither will I revel in an opponent’s failure or humiliation, or begrudge them success when deserved. I won’t hope that an opposition player will fail or embarrass themselves just for the sake of it. The last few years have taught me how ridiculous those attitudes really are. This summer, I enjoyed watching Josh Hazlewood bowl and admired Steve Smith for his achievements. In the past I would have loathed both those things.

I will never forget or accept what happened in 2014, because nothing has changed, or forgive those responsible, because they have no desire to be forgiven. That includes not just the administrators but also the large number of England supporters who displayed such ingratitude, ignorance and bigotry – and it was those “fans” who alienated me almost as much as anything else.

What I have done is something all my friends have told me to do for years, which is to suspend disbelief and separate, by a few degrees at least, the cricketers on the field from the governing body in whose name they play. Many splendid cricketing things have happened in England this year, and not one of them happened because of the ECB and how they operate. Whatever is good about English cricket is good despite them, not because of them.

And this is how I reconcile myself with a softening attitude to England. For five years I thought supporting England meant supporting the ECB. I saw it as an act of capitulation. I was wrong. It’s an act of defiance. I hated England because they’re the ECB’s team. I was wrong again. The ECB only claim it’s their team and to play along is to give them what they most want: ownership. And validation of their proprietorial sense of entitlement. They can degrade professional cricket, trash the fixture list, bully supporters, and lock cricket behind a paywall, but one thing they cannot do, however much the ECB crave it, is to steal the team or steal the game. They belong to everyone.