Four Sessions, 30 Degrees, Two Currans, One Sanga

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I used to be a Surrey member. I’ve been a supporter since the 1970s, when I followed my deceased grandfather’s teams rather than my Dad’s (Dad was Kent), and thus can’t be accused of the old “bandwagon” tag. But I did become a member for about six years from 2001 onwards, and spent some great days at The Oval, as well as going to Guildford and Whitgift over the years.

I had some leave to take and thought the Lancashire fixture looked like one to be at. For me Surrey v Lancashire will always bring me back to a magnificent tense Day 4 back in 2002, when Ramps took us home against a pretty decent Lancashire attack (Chapple, Flintoff and Hogg). This year’s match saw two teams looking up and down, as the table is very congested in the middle, with only Middlesex, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire really sure of their fate (safety/relegation). All eyes look at Hampshire and what one win might do to the competition, so although Surrey lay in third place, they had played more and could not afford a slip-up. A win would guarantee survival, more or less.

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Those Curious, Quiet Days

Good day to you all.

You don’t need to be as great an administrator as Paul Downton to note that output is down on here at the moment. That longer piece on Giles Clarke was written over a week ago, and I’ve not felt the urge, or had the time, to write anything else. TLG is also incredibly busy at this point. We’ll try to get some more stuff out, so keep checking in, but these are the dog-days of blogging and we don’t even have a tasty autobiography on the horizon to get enthused about!

Some points that aren’t worthy of an entire post, but caught my attention can be discussed here. What’s going on with Australia and Bangladesh? I have to say I am stunned that there are security issues that might prevent the matches going ahead. Clearly Pakistan is still a country too far for international teams, and I can’t see that really changing, but there’s never been a hint that Bangladesh shares the same problems, has there? I have a couple of benchmarks to go alongside here – India in 2008, when England returned after the Mumbai Hotel siege and played out two tests; and Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s, when bombings were reasonably frequent, and yet teams toured (I seem to recall New Zealand coming home from one series). This may be due to lack of coverage in the UK, but you don’t get that impression of Bangladesh.

No-one can say that Australia are wrong to do what they are doing because we don’t know the full facts. But you are really left wondering if this is worse than being in England during the 2005 bombings, or if this were India they were talking about, then there’d be this impasse. As I say, you just wonder.

To return to KP, I saw a quote where he supposedly says Strauss was right to drop him. The quote in the article says

“[Strauss] made his decision and it’s turned out absolutely fine. Absolutely it seems to be the right decision at the moment.

Notice how those last three words are left out of the headlines?

Sad to see the death of Frank Tyson, an England legend of days gone by, well before I was on this good Earth. Legends of his pace, of his winning exploits in Australia are passed down by those who saw him in action, who can tell of the greatness. In many ways, in this age where everything is covered on TV, and you can access pretty much anything, this air of mystery to someone like me adds so much. In the absence of personal experience, read the many tributes on the dedicated pages.

The County season drew to an end, with not too much drama in the first class game except relegation battles in the first division. Sussex went through the trap door, and that’s sad for a county that seem to do the right thing most of the time. Somerset and Hampshire had rocky seasons but survived, with Somerset’s last day win pulling them well away from the zone they had begun to flirt with. Hampshire stayed up by the skin of their teeth (2 points). Surrey won the 2nd Division with their summer surge finally catching and then passing Lancashire (and definitely having the better of their September match-up), who took second and looked nailed on for promotion from the start.

There was, of course, the One Day Cup Final, which was a great match, won by the unfashionable county over the flash boys. I could not help but regret that something like that, which Sky doesn’t really care about, couldn’t be held at a better time, and with more access. It had to compete with a crowded sporting calendar, and especially the start of the tedious Rugby World Cup (sorry folks, not my bag). Imagine if a wider audience could have seen the performances of old man Geraint Jones and the young tyro Sam Curran? That’s the sort of thing that inspires. But no. A great game, with great stories, passed the world by. No-one cares any more because the networks don’t care about it, and to a certain degree, players and counties don’t. I really think it needs to go to knockout format now. The group stages can be tainted when two or three counties lose early games and think it isn’t worth it and chuck out lower strength, unmotivated teams, which defeats some of its purpose. The same happens, to a lesser degree, in T20 (Middlesex, I’m looking at you) but it’s not as important. The crowds will still go, in much the same way as crowds turn up to those Premier League Darts things because the results don’t really matter, it’s the “entertainment”.

What is noticeable is the line-up of next year’s County Championship Division One. Surrey, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire (the original Big 6 test venues), Durham and Hampshire (two new test venues) and Somerset (the odd one out). One would suggest that if Tom The Empty Suit, and Graves the Gutless, could pick a county championship line-up this would be it, right down to Giles Clarke’s county being the odd one out in the line-up of 9!

Please do fill out the survey. I haven’t had too many responses so I’ll push the deadline back a bit. I suppose if you don’t want to do it all, then just do the best and worst journalist part, and the same for TV. After all, that’s all anyone is really interested in, isn’t it?

I’d also point out that I took up my annual ritual and purchased the 2015 Wisden from the Book People. I’m not paid to advertise them, but it’s worth looking. That Dmitri fella somehow ended up in it. Funny and all that.

I’m sure things will pick up with more international cricket on the horizon, so keep the comments and stuff coming. I have a piece on DoaG and the international scene to write…..

The Unenthusiasm Of The Oft Writing Blogger

In cricketing parlance, I feel like I am doing a bit of a Joe Root. I’m knackered after 18 months non-stop, and need a rest! I’ve come home from work this week and just not been bothered to blog. I am sorry, but it’s the way it is. I’m thoroughly bored with watching England playing Australia, I am more than a little disenchanted with the way things went after the Ashes, and, frankly, I wanted to do some other things. Catch up on some TV shows, update my music library, do a bit of reading. That sort of thing.

Yesterday (Friday) I went to Middlesex v Yorkshire. It was a remarkable game of cricket, but only if looked at outside of the context of the recovery the North Londoners effected. Yorkshire’s intensity yesterday was decidedly lacking. They had a lot of bad luck early as there was plenty of beating the bat with the new ball, but once the shine had gone off it, and the drive I suspect that plays a huge part in Yorkshire’s dominance waned with the title in the bag, Middlesex grew into the contest, then took it by the scruff of the neck. It’s really nice, and reminds you of what the game brings, when you see someone’s maiden hundred. I saw it when Toby Roland-Jones, batting at number 10, put on the afterburners in the late season sunshine, and clumped the remaining 20 or so he needed in three overs to get over the line (and then, having done so a couple of balls before the close, played perfect defence to keep it a nice “red-inker”). It was lovely to be there.

Toby Roland-Jones celebrates his century
Toby Roland-Jones celebrates his century

Earlier I’d watched Nick Compton make the last 60 or so of his 149. He’s a frustrating sort is Nick. He played and missed a lot, at times looked really vulnerable, but then he would unfurl a shot of the truest class, and you wondered why he’s not anywhere near the fold, it seems. It was also noticeable that he wasn’t best chuffed with the LBW decision he received, as he stayed at the crease for ages before wandering off. His was one of the three wickets to fall all day, so I suppose he might have been a bit miffed at missing out on a double hundred.

One nice side event from yesterday was meeting Chris from the blog The Declaration Game for a few minutes. Always good to speak to others who write about the game and he’s a charming, polite and really knowledgeable guy. The other nice thing was when we met he was talking to Tim Wigmore, of Cricinfo and The Second XI fame, and again, great to chat to him about what he does, how he goes about it, and his book. I said I do need to buy it, and he encouraged me to do so as he’s passionate about associate nations! My apologies to Tim – my mate was wearing an Ireland cricket shirt, not a Gaelic Football one (and he berated me all night about that mess up). Suffice to say, for someone like Tim, it ain’t all glamour in the job he does, but like all of us, he loves the game dearly. So great to meet up with them both.

So what now? Arron, of course, reminded me that today is the 10th anniversary of Kevin Pietersen’s Ashes saving knock at The Oval. Needless to say, that’s not about to be commemorated anywhere that I know of (not that I’ve looked) but it was one of the most audacious, and one would say un-English, innings you will ever see. Sure, he had some luck, but who begrudges that luck. The question that I’d love to be answered honestly by those who slag the bloke off is “do you wish that innings had never happened?”

Tomorrow there’s a deciding ODI against something that purports to represent an Australia ODI XI. We should win. Like the test team, though, major questions need to be asked about our team. Hales won’t be our opener in the UAE, as he needed an ODI launch-pad and instead he’s now being questioned, and please, please, please don’t think Roy could open. The opening bowling took wickets for the first time yesterday, but hasn’t before. Are we going to trust Willey anytime soon, as for some reason he appears to have a little bit of a knack? The batting is still not rock solid. I like the approach, I like some of the execution and we need to play with a youthful verve. But the acid test is 2017, not now.

Tim was interested in the journo poll – obviously not read the blog post in question – and I know that some of you are itching to participate. It won’t be long. The oft-promised Final Ashes Panel will be up too – I promise.

So, ten years to the day, we can all enjoy this. Can’t we? The last test hundred made live on terrestrial FTA TV.

Guest Post: County Cricket – The Tail That Wags The Dog

The County Championship.....
The County Championship…..Last Tuesday – Surrey v Derbyshire (Dmitri Pics)

We have another new writer for the blog, by way of a guest post to get the debate flowing. Sean B, a panel member for the Ashes summer, has put together a discussion piece on the potential for re-structuring county cricket.

As always, really grateful for people putting in the time and effort to write for us, and I’d always counsel people to think that this is a first time post, and therefore one to treat with a bit more respect than my repeated old diatribes.

Take it away, Sean…

So we’ve won back the Ashes in glorious fashion and repelled those dastardly Australians’, so all is rosy in the garden of English cricket, right?? I think we might all agree on here (being as we’re most definitely outside cricket) that whilst the MSM might want us to think this, this is about as far from reality as it comes. This English team lacks the consistency and players to become number one, so why is this the case and who is to blame? The ECB? County Cricket? Or is it simply a mixture of the two?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love county cricket. I’ve been bought up with it as a staple for the past 25 years and am a staunch Middlesex fan, but the hard truth is that it is no longer fit to do what it is designed to do, which is to produce test quality individuals ready to go straight into the England team and perform. There I said it and I do not expect this view to be universally popular (I’ve already had my view branded on Twitter by one of the more well known county cricket apologists as “utterly nonsense”); however the stark facts of the current county cricket regime is that we play too much cricket, lurching from one form to another on different days, and this has led to a noticeable drop in quality of the four day game compared to that of 10 years ago. I also feel that the reduction in Kolpak qualified players has adversely affected the standard across both divisions, as the pool of good English youngsters gets smaller each year (it is a well known fact that less kids are playing cricket competitively now compared to 10 years ago). Now I’m not advocating a return to the darker days of county cricket, when anyone who had a South African passport and a cricket bat could get a gig (yes Sven Koenig, I’m looking at you), but I don’t buy the line that these players are blocking young English talent from getting a game. The likes of Peterson, Prince, Hogan and to a lesser extent Franklin are very good players in their own right, have been picked on merit and can help mentor some of the younger members of the team. The bottom line should be if you are good enough you will play, English qualified or Kolpak.

If I take a look back at this year’s Ashes series, the reality is that Adam Lyth, who was really the only opener we could pick based on county cricket form, was nowhere up to the task technically or mentally. Johnny Bairstow, who has murdered county attacks all year wrong, looked all at sea against better bowling and we are currently placing our spin hopes on a batsman (and one I rate) who up until a couple of years ago was most definitely a part time spin bowler. The sad fact is that those cricketers who have genuinely been a success at International cricket (Root, Broad, Anderson, Cook, & Buttler to an extent) have generally been whipped out of county cricket and thrown into the international set up long before they have started to pick up bad habits. On the flip side, those that have had to genuinely make their way in county cricket before elevation to the England side, have more often than not failed (Matt Prior & Paul Collingwood are the two notable exceptions). So why is county cricket currently failing to produce cricketers that can cut it on the international stage? I believe there are two major points that need to be addressed here:

  • We play far too much County Cricket and even worse, we mix and match the formats sometimes from day to day
  • The pitches we play on are so alien to those that are played on the international arena that the first time many of these cricketers face a non-seaming, spinning pitch is on their international debut

These I believe go hand in hand, the current format means that we start the season in April when there is likely to be green tops (and nothing for the spinners) and then we flog our cricketers until late September, which means there aren’t going to be too many 90MPH bowlers left charging in at that stage.

In particular, the two areas that concern me most are that there are simply no incentives for an up and coming county cricketer to want to bowl fast or to bowl spin, as the counties are preparing pitches for 70MPH trundlers who can get the ball to nibble both ways (no offence to the individuals, but a little part of me dies every time I see a Jesse Ryder or a Darren Stevens 5 wicket haul). Indeed, this is my major bugbear and this is where the Counties are just as blameworthy as their paymasters. The fact that it is far easier to stick with an old pro bowling slow accurate seaming deliveries on a green pitch than to prepare a good track and to put faith in a raw quick or a young spin bowler, hence the lack of these talents available to the England team. It makes me so angry that Scott Borthwick has had to reinvent himself as a number 3 batsman to even get a game (I remember the first time I saw him bowl, I said that he would get at least 50 England caps) or that Will Beer and Max Waller can no longer get a game in the four day format. These were the bright young hopes of English spin and county cricket has ruined them.

No wonder Lyth et al failed to make it at international level, it was probably the first time they had probably ever faced a left armer bowling at 90MPH or a decent test level spinner. How can you attach blame to them for that? You simply can’t. The question should be why had they have never faced this type of bowling in the first place?

The simple answer is that the quantity of county cricket is directly of detriment to the quality being played. We need a mandate from the ECB that divides the season into:

  • 3 divisions of four day cricket playing 10 games a piece
  • A window for the England Lions to play against each of the touring teams thus exposing them to international cricket
  • A strictly enforced pitch inspection team encouraging a fair contest between bat and ball and not penalizing pitches that turn
  • A summer window for a T20 tournament, whatever the format
  • Two knockout 50 over tournaments at the start and end of the season

This is very much my opinion and many will disagree, but this is the only format in which I can see County cricket raising the quality of it’s top divisions whilst reducing the workload of our county players. Three divisions are absolutely necessary to do this, as it will strengthen the talent available for the top division and there will be less games but of a higher quality as a result (mostly the two teams that come up from Div2 normally go straight back down again), especially if the England management team only look to pick individuals from the top division. I appreciate that this will make it hard for teams in the third division as many of the top teams will hoover up their best talent; however the standard at the bottom of the current Division 2 is as poor as I can remember, which is another reason why the promoted teams struggle so much the following season. I would prefer a stronger Division one and Division two, comprised of 6 teams each, rather than keeping the status quo pandering to those teams who have hardly won a game of four day cricket in the past couple of years.

I would start the four day season in May (after the first 50 over cup), when hopefully the pitches would have dried out a bit from the winter with a window between the first and second games to allow a full strength Lions team to play the touring opposition. The four-day competition would potentially go on until the 20/20 window in late July/early August and would then wrap up in early September (I would imagine the last couple of games of four-day cricket would end up here as it’s impossible to schedule them elsewhere unless we start in April, which I am totally against). We would then wrap up the season with another 50 over knock out tournament. The other law I would like to bring in is that the pitch inspectors would have full power to dock points for overly green pitches or those that are not a fair contest between bat and ball. Although it is exhilarating to watch 16 wickets fall on a day (it has happened to me twice this year), it is not conducive to high quality cricket and encourages teams to pick medium pace dobbers, rather than players that can make things happen on a flatter pitch, which is the very thing I am trying to get away from.

So why are we still stuck with the status quo? Well that goes back to my point raised in the first paragraph about the way the ECB tippy toes around the problem.

Nick Hoult’s piece in the Telegraph last week showed how the ECB had again allowed the county chairmen to walk all over them in negotiations and had needed to water down their vision of reshaping county cricket to such an extent that is practically obsolete from the original version and achieves precisely nothing. So what are Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss actually doing apart from basking in the glory of a home series win and selling new commercial deals (Hydration breaks – please give me strength)? They are certainly not doing that which they should be doing, which is creating a platform that can allow England to produce high quality international players whatever the format.

I have the horrible feeling though, that I am simply being horribly naïve. Why bother to pick a fight with the county chairmen, when you can carve up international cricket in a way that allows you to make the most money? Why bother lowering the price of international cricket to engage fans or allow FTA coverage when you can sell out highly inflated hospitality boxes to high worth individuals? Why bother taking the time out to clearly set out a plan for the betterment of England team, when the MSM will buy any bullshit that’s on offer and tell you it’s gospel?

The stated aim to reach the pinnacle of International cricket by reshaping county cricket is simply a smoke and mirrors job to occupy the chuntering masses. It’s the money stupid and don’t you ever forget that.

@thegreatbucko