“The Grabbing Hands, Grab All They Can, All For Themselves, After All” Martin Gore
It seems to me that most sport now seems to exist to relieve the public at large of their money. There does not seem to be that sense of getting things right, striking a balance between the need to fund and the need to maintain the history of where the sport came from. There does not seem to be any real priority in making sport, in totality, for all. It doesn’t seek to inspire through context, it doesn’t seek to exhilarate through tradition. It doesn’t so much as seek context these days, rather than to create it. It looks at the past and turns up its nose. Evolve, change or stagnate.
Tomorrow the third test of what is England’s largest money-spinning series will begin in the last week of August – you could even laugh at the fact that this is a Bank Holiday weekend, yet given England’s batting form, the chances of two of those three days having cricket is slim, unless, weather. Definitely no chance of Bank Holiday finale action. The circus will be on to the Oval for the non-final test of the summer, because, well, reasons for that too. Can’t have a non-working day with test cricket, can we?
There are still two test matches to go, with the series concluding on 14 September. While not quite in Autumn’s full blast, we are not far away. That, in itself, is slightly maddening, with five tests crammed into around 6 or so weeks. Sure, in the past, we played India in three test series – indeed in 1986 and 2007 India won those events – but now money means five test series are back for the mightiest financial foe. Let’s see how many the World Champion test team gets the next time they come over. Put it this way, when India came over in 2018, total ECB turnover for the year was £172m. In 2019, with an Ashes summer and a World Cup it was £227m. The last year without either, 2017 it was £125m and the year before that, £112m. Sorry New Zealand. Big Three and ICC only matter here. Money talks louder than Maces.
To wail against this is to be shaking a fist at a cloud. It doesn’t matter to those up there. It doesn’t even matter really to the players. I have sympathy with top players who cite major hardships in long tours, and especially in this climate of bubbles and Covid. I am not fully aware of the financial consequences of this at this stage – views are that players took a pay cut last year – but that has most certainly not been the direction of travel. Players get a lot more than they used to, and the IPL and increasing TV contract values are major contributors. Top test players in this country are very well rewarded, and to a degree, so they should be. But spare me the “short career” cobblers I hear for the justification. They earn more for providing us with the same content, but we have to pay for it. I am not doubting that they all love test cricket, this England team, and they are all trying their hardest. But for some, failure isn’t quite the disaster it might have been. For Sibley, being dropped, with the voices heard behind him, is a calamity. For KP, being sacked allowed him to become a T20 gun for hire – not deniable – and while being excluded stung, it wasn’t a career, or money-earner, ending decision. Two different talents, two different environment. An even further cry from the days of 2005. The AD of English Cricket.
Let’s take my usual trip to the Oval Test back in the day – ended because the fan experience was too expensive, too uncomfortable and I didn’t fancy doing an impression of a beer towel. Now if memory serves, my Ashes ticket for the Oval in 2005 was somewhere around £50. I could dig it out, but let’s go with that. India used to be considerably less than that – around £35-40 for my seats. Now those prices have, at least, doubled up until now. With inflation bobbing below 3% for all of that 15 year interlude, and sometimes a fair way below that, the cost has increased in real terms. So have the value of TV contracts. Both of these are what we pay for, prices set by the powers that be.
So I’ll get my little moan in first with the players. You have sources of income at the very highest level that were only dreams back in the day. Get an IPL contract and it can be very lucrative. Get on the T20 train, and you can accumulate some nice amounts. Be a red-ball star seems too much like hard work, with only the very top getting the really big amounts. Players, with their short careers, aren’t going to be human if they don’t want to take the shorter route. Why play in tests? The danger is not that they don’t see the value and history – clearly players like Kohli, for all his sins, most certainly do – but that the authorities, our authority patently by their actions, don’t give the first toss about it. Joe Root still hankers after T20 status, while being England’s greatest player in a generation in tests. Why? He’s so good at batting they made him captain!
Tomorrow England go into the 3rd Test with half a squad injured, replacements having had little, if any, first class, red-ball cricket since before England had played the Euro 2020/21 Final (and that seems a lifetime ago) and yet they make no statement to tell the world just how they’ve cocked up this schedule except Covid. How that has meant no red-ball cricket this year, you tell me. If anyone is buying this crap, then don’t open your e-mail account, and certainly not that one from a retired General who can’t get his money out of his homeland. Harrison hid behind this ludicrous fig-leaf while being marginally threatened in an interview with Atherton – I will come to that when I do a full review of it, soon – as if it explained everything. Covid devastated finances last year, and will affect this years to a lesser degree. There is some sympathy there, even gratitude for some cricket last year But don’t push it. Because, as you mentioned back in 2015 old pal, you have serious trust issues with yours truly, your humble scribe, and many others out there. And I really think you need to rebuild that trust with us obsessives before crying in front of us. One might even start to believe there is an ounce of humility in your soul.
And then, Ali Martin dropped the bombshell last night. As part of some cooked-up little earner back in the day, around “six or seven” ECB senior staff are going to share around £2.1m between themselves. It appears to be contractual, so has to be paid. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house to hear that Tom Harrison had taken a pay cut to just over half a million quid (double what Downton was paid, for example) from his astronomical £700k which he got in the 2018/19 accounts. Presumably this was a “reward” for getting Sky to bid against themselves and raise the TV cash. Sky get to keep all the crown jewels safely away from the hoi polloi, and ECB get to tell the world that they are saving the game, and women’s cricket, and disabled cricket and so on.
(Note – According to the 2018 accounts, the highest paid employee received £604k. In 2019 they received £719k. In 2020 they received £582k. 2021 accounts are not due until 31/10 – they can be earlier – and he is reported, it seems to be receiving a basic salary of £512k). In Harrison’s first two years the highest earner was on £341k and £360k. In Paul Downton’s last year, that number for the highest earner was £290k – if interested here is a link to it all – https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/03251364/filing-history?page=1).
Since the high water mark, Harrison has set about county cricket in the same way Liam Gallagher sets about peacemaking with his brother. Making the turkeys vote for Christmas, he and Graves pulled recalcitrant counties into line with bribery and threats. It amazes me, oh well, no it doesn’t that the ECB’s Articles of Association STILL refer to a new Twenty20 tournament to start in 2020, but we’ve been down this line before about how the Hundred was a formatting solution in search of a problem. In doing so, and you know the story, the ECB, guided on this sensitive path by a man with all the subtlety of your average road-builder, various representatives when selling this Hundred revolution insulted county fans as “obsessives”, mums and children as too thick to understand the game in its current form, and promising family friendly fun for 6 hours while the bars will still open. In doing so he created new teams with no roots, players who came from the system he apparantly wants to marginalise, and also laid waste to a schedule so that the current World 50 over champions don’t play it at domestic level, the test team is a sick joke, and all the eggs are in a T20 World Cup basket in alien conditions where a bad half hour can render all planning meaningless.
Since then we have had pundits falling over themselves to call the thing a success, when before the competition, when the ECB were bricking it there was only mention of developing a product, a brand, and the age old scammer’s charter of “long-term engagement” and “raising awareness” with undefined results in public that the old con merchants will set later and meet. Most of these, including pundits long-since bereft of credibility, commentators who appeared to binge on ecstasy before screaming at the populace to be awestruck at another hit-and-giggle fest, paid stooges, laughable social media “influencers”, tweeters we’ll only hear about this time next year, and possibly worst of all, paid “analytical” firms who see this nonsense as a potential entry to flogging their stat-gobbledegook to the IPL.
And boy, there’s a post coming about that lot, so I’m keeping my powder dry there. You are supposedly analysing, not acting as the Hundred’s PR company. The computer-geek equivalent of the know-nothing asking you “who’s winning”. No more.
And then, these people in charge are getting their huge salaries, and they are huge, increased. Having sacked the grunts last year. Having alienated a ton of the core support. Having cast any non-believer into the wilderness and told them to ignore the hundred elephants in the room because it is “not for them”. Having refused to speak to some of the cricket media, because, and I roughly quote “we have given up hope of being given fair coverage by certain media outlets”. They said that to Paul effing Hayward. Hardly a rabble rousing, tabloid lunatic.
These people have crashed and burned, set the fans against each other, claimed that they are the victims of some mad fringe, and then, rewarded themselves with lots of cash to tell them that they were all on the side of right and ability in the end. If I were the new Chairman of the ECB, and having had his experience of consultants and free-loading loudmouths in the procurement arena of the civil service, I wouldn’t just fire this lot, I’d put them in a cannon and fire them into space. Following Clarke and Graves isn’t just going to grant him a honeymoon period – coming on stage after those two should be the definition of an easy ride – but you wouldn’t put it past the head hunted ECB honcho to cock it up. It’s what they do.
Because not only have they done all this sterling groundwork, which Borat couldn’t have scripted, and thought they have been brilliant and innovative in doing so, they then throw out the implied threat, in that charlatan, mealy-mouthed word of “Retention”, that if you don’t pay these magnificent specimens what they deserve, they’ll leave, and their undoubted skills will travel with them, never to be replaced by mere mortals who might actually be able to conduct an interview that isn’t softball and not look like they are confessing to the Great Train Robbery, or not get a quote that they won’t deal with you because you are just so beastly to a magazine edited by a buffoon who once appointed himself number 39 in England’s most important power figures. I like my CEO at work. He turned around a team that were beaten down by an appalling prior regime. I know him well, get on well with him, he respects me, it would be terrible if he left. But leave he will. They all do. And someone takes their place. That is the way of the world. You aren’t paying them to retain them – if the Premier League offered anyone of them a much higher paying role, they’d be gone in a heartbeat. Retention implies a lack of loyalty. A lack of commitment. A lack of long-term thinking. It takes those paying for it, and directly and indirectly, it is us, for mugs. But in the nearly 8 years now since that ill-fated Ashes tour, the ECB have been doing precisely that. We want to retain these people? Can someone give me a good reason why?
At the moment the ECB, the so-called guardian of the game in all its guises, is presiding over a racism case that it seems steadfastly unable, or unwilling, to chivvy along so that the giant ball of poison that it appears to contain can be addressed. Azeem Rafiq is finding out that justice delayed, isn’t simply justice denied, but humanity erased, as Yorkshire get set to hold its first test v India since 2007. Danny is following this a lot more closely and may well add more to this when he does the match report on Thursday (currently according to our schedule) but as someone not as clued up, I see an accused prevaricating and kicking things into the longest grass they can, an accuser being held out to dry, and a governing body earning its bonus by hiding behind the couch, when real leadership would be, frankly, kicking Yorkshire CCC’s heads in. And they moan that someone might not think the Hundred is being reported on fairly, but stay silent over this horror? That’s leadership for you.
Oh, before I forget, to ameliorate some of the more mealy-mouthed in the reporting establishment. Of course a load of people at the ECB do a good job. A lot of them are totally committed, and possibly chronically underpaid and undervalued. Many of them, after last year, are also out of jobs. They deserve our support when necessary, our sympathy when appropriate, We all know who I am talking about. Those at the top who have sold themselves as cricket’s saviours, the heroes and heroines dragging us into the 21st century and beyond, engaging new fans as if the decisions of the past were made by some other body to take the sport, lock, stock and live barrels, off “free to air”, the single most catastrophic mistake made by the body in causing the current participation malaise. They make themselves sound like Red Adair, but they tap dance around the truth like Lionel Blair (other people with that surname, possibly available), scream nonsense like Ric Flair, and have all the moral fortitude of Yogi Bear (was he a coward? or was that Scooby Doo – well they appear not to have a Scooby*, so that works)?
There’s a test match starting tomorrow. You might not know because you were blown away by a tedious couple of Lord’s finals. Mark Nicholas marvelled at Liam Livingstone you know. Anyway, your guess at the line-up for England is as good as mine. Haseeb to open with Burns, Malan at three? Pope at six? Sam Curran keeps his place because everyone else has fallen over. Saqib Mahmood to debut? Don’t get me on the Mark Wood injury – another winner from the medical marvels. Will Joe Root continue to carry more passengers that the Staten Island Ferry? Are India going to change their team. Will they look for another fight, have another few rows, with the England peace corps? Who knows. It’s test cricket, and no-one will be raving about the DJs or other guff.
This has been a rant and a half, and I don’t think I’ve covered half of it. I haven’t mentioned how Chris Silverwood must be thanking his lucky stars all this is going on, because otherwise we might be asking questions about him and his new all-powerful role. Or how Thorpe is doing a great job as batting coach. Or Kohli being an utter arse in the last test. Or bad light. Or how Lord’s makes People’s Monday a great thing and yet still revels in its exclusivity the rest of the time. And that it is treated as a laugh. Or commentary selection. Or how Vaughan appears to be in two Management teams now, so we can double his conflict of interest accusations. Or how BBC promised a new, invigorating approach to the Hundred and gave us Duffers and Torn. Or how Sibley and Crawley have been cast to the wind in favour of magic beans. Or Jos Buttler giving off warning signs. Ben Stokes being out of cricket. The Royal London fighting for survival and being really really good and the charlatans who strangled it want credit for not killing it. The list just bloody goes on.
Oh. I forgot. The Hundred was marvelous for women’s cricket. You have to say that. First because it is true. And second because if you don’t, you clearly have an agenda.
So enjoy the test match, held at the ground of a club suppressing a potentially devastating report into wrongdoing, governed by a board that rewards its senior staff and wants to keep them because clearly they’ve not done enough damage yet, and watched by us. The poor punter who no-one actually, really, gives a flying f*ck about unless they really, really need your money. Pay up and shut up. Flick on the TV, Click on approved social media.
“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” David Byrne
*For some readers this is even more gibberish than the rest of this. Scooby Doo = Clue. So not a Scooby means Clueless. Also known as being Alicia. As in the star of the film Clueless.
PS – Not even read the Ali Martin piece today about the players being unhappy. How about sacked staff or current employees. Anyone going to tell their story?
Oh, and I did forget. Comments below on the first day’s play. On a Wednesday. Just because.
The Cricketer Magazine has decided to do another Power List, of the great and the good in the game of cricket and ranking them in order of said power. Once again we appear to have been sadly overlooked on the entirely spurious grounds of being completely irrelevant to anyone of importance. Lists matter particularly to those who think they might have a chance of being included, as they scan desperately up and down upon publication and react with feigned indifference as they realise their name is missing. The magazine has approached it differently this year, by inviting people not completely barking mad to judge it, which is extremely disappointing from our perspective, given that The Cricketer Editor putting himself at number 39 a few years ago (doesn’t time fly) provoked us into doing our own – once we’d recovered from laughing.
So here’s our own Power Cut List, comprised of those who genuinely have influence and have made a monumental balls of everything, those who just annoyed us, and those we really like and have desperately tried to find something to have a go at them about just to be contrary. If you’re on this list, sorry. If you’re not on this list, not sorry. Or maybe the other way around. It’s completely capricious, and is very much a team effort – so you won’t know who to blame except us as a collective.
There is no particular order to this list, just whoever the editors decided to have a crack at first. As before, we fully expect return fire – that is after all the point of it.
This year’s recipients:
Jonathan Agnew – Currently (but for how much longer?) the mainstay of the BBC’s Test Match Special coverage. Has skin thinner than rice paper and is known to respond to any criticism by chucking his toys so far out his pram that they reach orbit. Has an extraordinary command of basic Anglo-Saxon that has yet to reach the airwaves, placing him behind Andrew Strauss and David Gower in the Inadvertent Public Broadcast Swearing league table – though miles ahead in the Twitter DM equivalent. Still has legions of adoring followers who can’t quite bring themselves to believe that delightful Aggers may not be as charming as first appears. Best friends with Jonathan Liew.
Malcolm Conn – Australian “journalist” (stroll on, that’s stretching it) about as likely to be fair to England as the ECB are to invite us over for a cup of tea. Constantly banging on about England players born overseas while going very quiet when Australian examples are quoted back to him. Still in therapy after England won the World Cup but known for upholding his role as a fearless interrogator of Australian cricket through consoling Australian cricketers caught cheating, to the point there was genuine confusion over whether he’d been appointed as Cricket Australia’s media liaison officer / press conference bouncer in the wake of Sandpaper-gate.
Michael Vaughan – Some people are born to lead. Some people are born to follow. Michael Vaughan is one of those rare individuals who manages to achieve both, often at the same time. Frequently speaking on any topic, bravely ignoring any questions about a lack knowledge or forethought. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Sir Geoffrey Boycott – I’ll be the first to say that the honours system is archaic, random and illogical. Even so, the ennoblement of such an objectionable individual as Boycott really sticks in the craw. Rebel tourist, violent convict, and utterly without empathy for other people. An all-round terrible human being. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Phil Tufnell – He turned being a mediocre spinner (having a worse Test bowling average than Moeen Ali, Jack Leach, Monty Panesar, James Tredwell to name a few) into being famous. Lacks any kind of insight in cricket commentary outside of possibly how a spin bowler should try to be economical. His bosses apparently overlook this tragic lack of talent, and he will almost certainly be a big part of the BBC’s TV plans next year due to his celebrity status. Despite this, somehow not the most annoying commentator on TMS.
Graeme Swann – The most annoying commentator on TMS, which is saying something. The nonstop stream of forced banter is like an ice pick being stabbed in my ears. No doubt a big part of the BBC’s big plans for their TV coverage next year, which could see Swann become the new Danny Morrison. I do not mean that as a compliment.
Jonathan Liew – One day there will be two people left in a press centre and one taxi. At that point maybe Jonathan will contemplate the bridges he burns. While he’s up there in the talent stakes when it comes to writing, he lapses into Ronay-isms, being more in love with his own work than the job he has to do – in search of THE angle. While picking fights (and yes, having them picked back) with the doyen of the blue rinse set is possibly a public duty, appearing to be a dick doesn’t help. But that’s the place he’s chosen to be, and in some ways its admirable because he does hold truth to power. I wonder, though. If you write for an online-only publication, aren’t you really a blogger in disguise?
Eoin Morgan – England’s World Cup winning captain who happens to share his disdain of red ball cricket and the County Championship as much as his paymasters at the ECB. Led the revolution in the ‘new brand of white ball’ cricket that has proved far more successful than any other previous brand in England’s history but has still remained loyal to the ECB’s ‘dressing room harmony’ mantra. Likely to become a T20 gun for sale in the near future, which is fine unless you want him to perform with the bat in any big game. Former pen-pals with Oliver Holt, who has seemed to go a little quieter now that Morgan is demonstrating his true worth by parroting the ECB’s line in support of the Hundred.
Paul Newman – Being chief cricket writer of the Daily Mail is an interesting place to be – he’s been there a while and shows no signs of moving on. Head of an establishment sport at a snarling outlet like the Mail is going to be tough for a chap who by all reports we hear is a pretty decent fellow – a consistent line we hear from his colleagues. That is until you have a pop at one of his talking points, when he can snarl and spit like, I don’t know, an irate blogger. He’s been less of pest recently, but retains his place on our list for works past. The anti-KP, pro-ECB, Cook fanboy stuff. I have no idea why that rubbed me up the wrong way. He’s on Mount Cricketmore for a reason. Then I realised he isn’t. Oh well.
David Gower – Now ex-presenter of International Cricket on Sky who is keen to blame ageism rather than the fact that he has been mailing it in for the past few years. On his day, Gower is still a joy to listen to and it was a little bit of a tear-jerker watching his final exit on Sky. Why have Sky got rid of him? Well maybe, in his own words, he “hasn’t got a fucking clue”. May be a safe pair of hands to anchor TMS if the BBC tire of Jonathan Agnew’s late night tirades, certainly unlikely to call anyone a c*nt in public. Has a penchant for fine wine, light aircraft and the odd shocking apartheid comment.
The Hundred – The behemoth which is casting a shadow across the next year in English cricket. People seem to be either of the opinion that it will solve all of the game’s endemic problems or destroy half of the professional teams in the country. The truth is probably more bland, but still damning: It’s going to be a bit shit. The level of play will be marginally above that of the better county T20 teams, the coverage will be nauseatingly bad, and the expenditure by the ECB on largely pointless things like fireworks and other gimmicks would make Croesus blush.
Elizabeth Ammon – Let’s be clear here, being a woman in such a historically male dominated world as sports reporting isn’t going to be easy, nor should she have to put up with the pretty vile abuse she receives from all too many just because she’s a woman and therefore in their tiny minds incapable of understanding or commenting on cricket. It’s idiotic, moronic and says far more about those knuckledraggers than anything else. But it does not mean there is a general immunity from any kind of criticism whatever, nor that there is much moral high ground in being utterly outraged that other people might hold different opinions to her, especially on county cricket. Has blocked us on Twitter, for something so minor we couldn’t remember what it was, but it’s her right to do that, and was met with a shrug.
The IPL – Seen as the original evil curse in the eyes of the England management team, it has now become ‘the learning place’ for England’s white ball specialists. Somehow the answer to all of English cricket’s ills despite the fact that the tournament has mainly been designed to make MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli look amazing in the eyes of the Indian public. Expect at some point soon for another 10 teams to be added and for the tournament to last almost half a year before the Chennai Super Kings win it again. Known as a haven for some of the most cringeworthy cricket commentators around. Has a propensity to have “exciting” final over finishes on command. You wouldn’t bet on that every day, would you?
Barney Ronay – There is a trend in cricket writing, actually sports writing, where the author is actually writing to be told how dashed clever he is – if they were ice creams, not only would they lick themselves, they’d smear themselves with chocolate sauce before doing it. There are plenty in that genre, but Barney is among the best/worst exponents of this craft. If craft it is. The point of his articles, and his tweets, aren’t to inform, to report, to entertain you, to perhaps give you something to think about. It’s about “how damn good am I” and “look what angle this pseud has come up with”. It’s the over-weening self confidence and attitude that gets me – it’s snarking at those who disagree, bemoaning those who don’t worship his brilliance, and yes, annoying the hell out of a recreational writer who knows a charlatan when he sees one. Have a nice day Barney.
David Lloyd AKA Bumble: The main reason for why the mute button was invented. Bumble likes to cast himself as the man of the people and he has proved his case, if that means endlessly parroting the ECB’s agenda and refusing to answer any questions on anything that remotely matters to cricket fans. Establishment through and through, despite his protestations, and very happy to leave his morals at the door in favour of still clinging onto his Sky gig even if he somehow makes Shane Warne sound lucid in comparison. Desperately trying to appear hip with all the success of a 70 year old heading over to Ibiza in skinny jeans, a glow stick and an LP of Andy Williams. His mascot races, books and Bumble specials (see the Kings Road video if you fancy trying to rip your eyes out of their sockets) are about as funny as genital warts but far more painful.
Andy Bull – Guardian journalist/writer who popped up on our comments this year after some mild comments from one of our number, and it being helpfully pointed out to him by someone. Thanks for coming Andy. It was nice to hear from you. You spent ages on your little self-justifying tome, links and all, but impressions count, and I don’t remember you sticking it to the ECB when they needed it being stuck to. Then we might just have avoided this Hundred nonsense if you, and the rest of the press, had opened their eyes and seen it as the preview for ECB treating the hoi polloi like shit. But you live in your reality and I’ll live in mine. What MFing Side You On?
Sanjay Patel – Chief polisher of the turd that is The Hundred. Speaks like a politician, in that every statement seems to be a combination of wishful thinking, half-truths, and blatant lies. As such, probably the favourite to succeed Tom Harrison if any company would be prepared to offer the current ECB chief executive more than £700,000 per year.
Tom Harrison – I saw the other day someone who will remain nameless say Harrison deserves his £700k because it’s the going rate for snake oil salesman, lying three faced pricks, selling polished turds in Management Speak Bollox (MSB), while alienating pretty much most of the existing customer base, who just happen to be in charge of a sport. It’s especially worrying when that individual not only sticks his snout in the trough with incredible pay increases while his sport shrinks, he believes he’s been placed in this position to save us from ourselves and to save the sport. His modus operandi? 1. To blame and call names – the Obsessive County Cricket fan – they felt his misplaced ire. But if you are the architects of the dire problem…. not a bad word – Giles Clarke and the preceding shit show are not to be mentioned. 2. Think of an idea, run with it, sell it, ignore the peasants, secure patsy interviews and deny reality. Copious mentions of stakeholders, partners, pathways, culture and “the game” do not mean you. Love or loathe the incumbent at Number 10 but the PM gets paid 20% of this rate. Harrison is a liar, a dissembler, a fraud, a charlatan, a zealot, an idiot, a bully, a clown. But hey. £700k is the going rate. Downton must be sick. He would have been worth millions.
Colin Graves – AKA CostCutter Colin. He is still here as Chairman of the ECB somehow. I don’t think even Colin Graves can believe he is still here, but there he is still giving out Silver bats, awarding Ashes Test Matches to Headingley (no conflict of interest what so ever of course) and appearing on high profile presentations. Thankfully, it appears that his contract extension also contained a mute button, so he is unable to insult the counties or any other international opponent England might have to face in the near future. Will probably receive an OBE in the near future from our archaic class system as a forward thinking entrepreneur. Proud owner of a brand new cupboard under the stairs at the ECB’s HQ.
Paul Farbrace – If the sky darkens and one of the 30,000 evil characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows up to take over the world (honestly, I can’t be the only person to watch these things saying “Who the hell is that, then?” every ten minutes), good old Chuckles would seek out a camera, laugh a few times and tell everyone that Iron Man just needed to execute his skills a bit better. It’s not a bad approach to life, and given some of what he’s been through probably reflects well on him to point out the inherent unimportance of sport. Even so, just once in a while a serious answer would have been nice.
Dominic Cork – A marginal inclusion, which might upset him if he gave a crap. The former all-rounder who got on everyone’s nerves, and resident of Stoke City’s car park during transfer deadline day (until Stoke got relegated), his most notable achievements this year have been getting Derbyshire to T20 Finals Day, and a Verdict (sorry Cricket Debate) in the wake of the first Ashes test defeat, with Charles ‘n’ Bob where he acted as if Tom Harrison was holding his nearest and dearest hostage. And no, I’ve not forgiven him from his anti-KP outbursts, of course I haven’t.
Mike Selvey – Highly successful ex-International Bowler (with a grand total of 3 caps to his name) and ex-Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian before they finally saw sense and kicked him onto the street, not that he is bitter at all. Well known to have skin which is about as thick as water and a Twitter account in which he is now able to spout the same rubbish as he did when he was at the Guardian, with slightly less adulation than he feels is deserved. Currently enjoying a stellar campaign as President of Middlesex County Cricket Club, who are reversing backwards faster than a Michael Vaughan opinion. He doesn’t make decisions but acts like he does until called on them, and then says he doesn’t. Clear? A marker of cards and well versed in quoting unnamed sources, which naturally the public don’t deserve to have access to, because, well he is the Lord of the Manor and knows better than all you plebs. BOC still mourn the day he decided to abandon the construction of his blog, because it would have been bloody hilarious. Still sending love letters to David Saker when last checked.
Don Topley – Harry Gurney ideas, with a more human face. Not seen anything, ANYTHING, about the Hundred he doesn’t like. Doesn’t seem to contemplate that it will possibly be the death knell for the county he played for, and the county his son currently plays for. But we recognise the sacrifice, Don, and no doubt Tom will thank you someday. Maybe the ECB need your help. And yes, I do remember that catch at Lord’s. Those were the days.
Michael Henderson – There is, in every form of work, the example of someone who is there for reasons you can’t really understand – a totemic reminder of days past maybe? At the Cricketer Michael Henderson is still given writing gigs, still paid for his opinion, still earns from his contemptuous snobbery, and no-one seems to understand why. It is (for my good fortune) the only place I see his work these days, and its not pretty. Whether it’s barely concealed dislike of others (as the last one was), or snobbish references to the right kind of people in his eyes, or some stupid outdated cultural reference that has no bearing, no relevance, other than to act as some “upper being” spouting to the unwashed, it angers nearly every month. Yet it’s still printed. How did he get away with the September piece? If it hadn’t got mass objections, I guess it tells you a lot about the readership of the Cricketer. An anachronism in a world with pretty shitty people writing isn’t a good place to be. Go, in the name of God go, and take your poison pen with you. You can reference some opera singer as you push off out the door.
Simon Hughes – He’s always rubbed me the wrong way, from the first time I saw him on Channel 4, being referred to as ‘The Analyst’ when the insights he gave were about of the level I’d expect from club coaches. Still using the name about 14 years after he presumably last provided regular analysis on TV seems like taking the piss, quite frankly. He loves the sound of his own voice, is arrogant without much justification, and is hilariously poor (given his nom de plume) at offering even the vaguest analysis of any tripe the ECB sends him. His editorial policy is questionable to say the least, and his podcast is like being stuck in a lift with the three most boring people on the planet for an hour. Nice guy though.
Nasser Hussain – Ex-England captain and one of the most frustrating presenters in the game. There are times when he can be thoughtful or downright spiky which can really add to viewers enjoyment in watching the game, just look at his piece about Root’s technique with Ponting during the Fourth Test or his series about Cricket in Mumbai, which was fascinating. However there are other times he either feels compelled to spout the ECB’s prologue or is so banal that he makes Botham seem cutting edge. Having a Daily Mail column isn’t helping things much either. Supposedly has a big nose and is tight. Wow. The japes they have in the Sky commentary box are just wonderful.
Robert Key – In life it is all about being in the right place at the right time. As a T20 commentator, he’s tried to balance analysis and bantz. Recently the former has been pants, and the bantz has been rank. For this, it appears promotion as a junior David Lloyd for test duty beckons. I suppose someone has to, but is this really the best we can do? And yes, I am bitter that every time I saw Kent play Surrey, this man made my life a misery.
David Warner – For Australian cricket to make such a pig’s ear of the Sandpaper affair that it caused twinges of sympathy for Warner in this parish was quite exceptional. That he’s managed to make himself about as popular as an itch down below is rather beside the point. The mood lighting, arm around the shoulder (literally) poor ickle Steve and Cameron press conferences contrasted wildly with the way Warner was thrown in to a barely disguised hostile one. He then confounded expectations by refusing to dish the dirt (dammit) but instead acting contrite and providing the waterworks fully expected of Australian cricketers caught with their hands in the cookie jar. New gentle Davey didn’t last particularly long, though longer than all of his innings lasted in the recent Ashes series. Last seen trying to get out of Stuart Broad’s pocket.
Geoff Lemon – A number of things amaze me. Michael Henderson writes articles for the Cricketer. Martin Samuel thinks he can write about cricket. Today’s rap artists compared to Public Enemy. Jason Roy as a test opener. You get the picture. Geoff wrote a book. It won lots of awards. Never shy to march out of step from received wisdom, I thought it was (for large parts) utterly atrocious. A Jarrod Kimber tribute band, playing tired old metaphors and similes, attempting to be Gideon Haigh. But everyone else loved it. His excoriating takedown of Channel 9 was a career highlight – but that was a long time ago. I didn’t think Steve Smith’s Men was a highlight. I make no apologies. Perhaps Rusty might tell tales on me for saying so.
Jonny Bairstow – England stalwart who is known to throw his toys out of his pram every time anyone suggests that he isn’t quite a good enough keeper and has a gap in his defence so large that you could fly a jumbo jet through. Currently trying to do his best impression of James Vince by making 20 odd before attempting a shot that Stuart Broad would be embarrassed with. Known to be about as bright as nightfall in the Sahara Desert.
Ed Smith – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record, despite being banged to rights for plagiarism in his former role. You can tell if England are ahead in a game or not by whether Sky’s cameras can pick Ed Smith out in the crowd. In fact, it’s arguably more accurate than WinViz. His one shining success in terms of Test selection was Jos Buttler, who averaged 24.70 this summer. Generally speaking, a lot more misses than hits in his selections so far.
James Taylor – Someone from a public school who inexplicably gets a job for which he has no experience or track record. On the plus side, no one seems certain about what his role actually is, apart from almost always being pictured with Ed Smith. About as interesting as watching paint dry in interviews.
Sir Andrew Strauss – Strauss appears to be the man getting all of the credit for the men’s World Cup victory. He hired Trevor Bayliss, he was in the selection meetings, he explicitly made it the priority for English cricket. That’s fine. But it also presumably means that he’s responsible for the bad things too. England’s Test team, for example. Their lacklustre T20 record. The backsliding of the women’s team from the heights of 2017. Aside from all that, it’s difficult to forgive him for his disastrous launching of The Hundred. It’s genuinely incredible how inept it was. Essentially telling existing cricket fans that it wasn’t for them because “mums and kids” were the priority. Insulting those mums and kids by saying that the only reason that they didn’t already like cricket was because they were too stupid to understand it. Truly, this belongs in a textbook teaching students how not to promote a new product.
Harry Gurney – Started out at Leicestershire and yet wants to get rid of or demote the lesser counties so that ‘top’ players like him can get more money. Not awash with self-awareness, bless him. I had to check to make sure he didn’t attend Radley College, because his approach to winning friends and influencing people is remarkably similar to that of Andrew Strauss. Has more Twitter followers than you or I, so there.
Martin Samuel – Putting Martin Samuel on cricket duty is a public affront to decency. It would be like your humble author being tasked to write about ballet (a load of skinny people dancing on their tippie-toes to some god awful tosh music). When the Ashes comes round, old Martin pulls the Oiliver (deliberate typo) Holt stunt of saying “I’m a SPORTS writer, dammit” and gets to unleash some putrid shite onto the Mail website; a forum awash with the stuff. What the proper cricket writers must think of this oaf, the cricket equivalent of the hippos in Fantasia, or any hippo actually, being let loose is anyone’s guess. I await the “Samuel on Stumps” anthology book or live tour announcement any day now. It’ll be a ripper. Cricket writing needs Samuel like a fish needs a sunbed.
John Etheridge – Chief Cricket Correspondent for the Sun. I genuinely don’t think there’s any more I need to say. After the events of this week, I wonder how he can remain. I suppose getting paid a small fortune travelling the world watching cricket is, as Chicago once sang, a hard habit to break.
Shane Warne – Aww mate, you’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to win. Warne is like one of those individuals in the pub who keeps banging on about the same opinion for as long as anyone will let him. I reckon even Warne tires of his own voice at times. Used to be known as the best leg spinner ever, but now more synonymous with plastic surgery, terrible banter and frequently bedding younger women. The bastard. Soon to become the head coach of the new Hundred franchise at Lords, which will no doubt massively upset many of the MCC members. A small win for us fans who will have to put up with this turd of a competition.
Virat Kohli – A character that divides opinion. In India they adore him, but not like they adored Sachin and still do Dhonut. Outside of India, most appear to think of him as a flash, gobby, unsporting oik. Me? I am worried about his neck. He hurt it instead of playing for Surrey. I still wonder, to this day, how Guildford would have coped. Will probably end up with 80 ODI hundreds, we’ll remember none of them, and no-one will care.
MS Dhoni – AKA Dhonut. Is to run chases as I am to work deadlines. Whereas in my younger days I had the stamina to pull rabbits out of hats, deliver work from nowhere and get the job done, now the sands of time have prevented me and I have to start the task earlier or fail. There’s a lesson MS. Unfortunately when I fail, I get a bollocking from my bosses. When Dhoni fails, his fanboys and girls threaten anyone who dare question the great god Donut with fates worse than death. Like watching Dhoni ramp the run rate up to 12 an over, and manufacture T20 games to go to the last over. I have absolutely no reasons to question anything here. Really I don’t.
Tim Paine – Has a reputation as a nice guy, but this is very much relative to his predecessors. Still allows gobby shits like Wade and Lyon to mouth off at the opponents, and still cheats if he can get away with it. The most annoying thing for me was his insistence on handshakes before games. His team gets caught cheating, everyone else piles in about all of the (objectively worse) other stuff Australia had been doing for years, so why did they think they could force the opposition teams into a PR exercise like that.
Nick Knight – In keeping with his status as the most vanilla of broadcasters, I had to go and check what I’d said about him last time. It mostly consisted of him saying “would you believe it?” repeatedly, and that’s absolutely dandy, because since Knight just repeats “would you believe it?” all the time, it seems appropriate to do the same to him. Would you believe it?
Angus Fraser – Grumpy former England and Middlesex bowler and now even grumpier special guest on the Verdict. Spends most of his time looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than on TV and responds to any questions he’s asked with the look of someone who has been asked to recite the first 200 numbers of PI with someone standing on his testicles. Currently overseeing the complete demise of Middlesex as Director of Cricket, which has proved to be a veritable banquet of mirth for 2 of our editors and yet has made another of our editors very sad indeed.
Ian “Wardy” Ward – “Great question Wardy”. If you are looking for a point where the scales tipped from my eyes, that was it. The arch-enemy, the zealot with not-a-lot, the establishment money guzzler, with so much to defend (Tom Harrison), treating his TV interviewer with contempt by using his nickname – and the interviewer smiling away. Pat Murphy, for one, would not have stood for that crap. Wardy’s post-match interview technique has turned from probing and incisive, to “why are you so great”. And now he’s reportedly moving into Gower’s seat as presenter. While good with Masterclass, the perils are there, the warning signs are flashing, the whispers of being too close to the players are louder and louder. Let the new era, or error, begin.
Steve Smith – One of our number proudly points out that as far back as 2010 he insisted to all and sundry that Smith was destined to be a Test player of repute while everyone else was laughing themselves silly at his bowling being smacked around the park and his batting was all over the place. His batting is still all over the place of course, but with the difference that no bugger can get him out any more. This startling insight and genius punditry would be more notable were it not for said writer also insisting that David Warner wouldn’t last 15 Tests. Has infuriated everyone all summer for managing to have a technique similar to a drunken crab while selfishly refusing to get out to anyone. Eventually won around the English fans to the point that he got a standing ovation as he walked off after his second innings dismissal at the Oval, which at least had the benefit of shutting up the more sanctimonious short memory Australians who treated booing as though it was the worst crime since Bodyline. Which they’re still whining about 90 years on come to that.
Joe Root – What happened to you Joe? Just a couple of years ago, you were a young cheeky chappy with a grin fixed on your face and the enviable problem of scoring too many fifties. Now you look like you’re ten years older, you’re more likely to get a duck than reach a half-century, and your captaincy is almost making us long for the halcyon days of your predecessor. What have the ECB done to you?
Trevor Bayliss – Ex-England Head Coach who had as much interest in county cricket as the rest of the editors do for Kabbadi. Played a key role in changing the mentality of our white ball approach and deserves credit for helping to win the World Cup; however Test Cricket always seemed a bit of an after-thought for him. Likely heading for a career coaching various T20 franchises across the World. Liked very much by the England players but don’t ever try and pull his shorts down as Mark Wood found out. Should be knighted for services to scented candles, whale music and yucca plants.
Kevin Pietersen – Officially branded a “genius” by Sky TV, five years after said “genius” was sacked so we could pick Gary Ballance, and keep a crap captain in power. I haven’t been as offended by a replacement since Technotronic turned up at a PA, and neither of the two main protagonists showed up. Anyway, said genius still has all the media etiquette skills of the animal he is trying to save and sometimes he should can it, but hey, he’s interesting, annoying and you’d still watch his greatest innings over any other English player not named (possibly) Bell or Gower. And I annoy my wife no end with the “Because they’re my mates” impression from that Sky documentary, which amuses only me. Rumours are Tom Harrison wants to appoint him as PR head to convince sceptical county fans that the Hundred is great. If Carlsberg did piss-takes…..
Stuart Broad – Fantastic Test bowler and even better comedian on the pitch, Test cricket would be a lot poorer without his various celebrappeals and complete lack of understanding of how DRS works. At one point, he was considered England’s next all-round great, but was in decline before getting hit in the face by Varun Aaron and since then his batting has looked like it has been based around the Devon Malcolm school of batting (he has a higher test best than Mark Waugh!). Has finally learnt how to pitch the ball up after 10 years of trying and now has his own rental space in David Warner’s head.
Jimmy Anderson – Legendary England swing and seam bowler who has transformed himself from wild tearaway to metronomic grumpy wicket taker par excellence. Has an end named after him at Old Trafford which probably represents the greatest achievement any male could wish to obtain, though I may have slightly misunderstood what that’s about. Has reached the point where his cricketing prowess allows the great and the good to defend him even when he’s not behaved particularly well on the field, a privilege reserved to a very few. Subject of complaints that he hasn’t had a knighthood when batsmen are queueing up for them. Made an observation in the documentary The Edge that had one of our number falling off his chair at the known for certain brazen hypocrisy of it.
Glamorgan – One of just three counties not to develop a single men’s England Test cricketer in the past 10 years, but the only one which hosts international games and a men’s team in The Hundred. It would benefit English cricket immeasurably if they split off to become the Welsh national team. It probably wouldn’t damage the development of Welsh cricketers either, to be honest.
Sir Alastair Cook – It has been a contention of mine that the single most divisive figure in English cricket in the past decade hasn’t been that batsman who was sacked, but rather a batsman that was extraordinarily backed. In being forced to be the face of a regime who treated the supporters as the bien peasants, Cook took up the cudgels and milked it, and in turn got the love of an entire media gang. The Cook era is a key one for English Cricket. It’s not about his stats, it’s about what he stood for, either intentionally or not. Backing Alastair Cook became a matter of faith, a matter of your applicability to be a real CRICKET fan. You had to love him. Or else. I can’t be humorous, or wise crack about this. This was a cult, with the dullest leader imaginable. As long as Outside Cricket has breath, Cook will be here. The handsome prince of English cricket. The cult leader of the insipid. The face of the ECB. Jonathan Agnew’s BFF. Records be damned.
The T20 Blast – So called mediocre tournament that the ECB is desperately trying to get rid of despite growing crowds and fan affiliation. Supposedly can only attract mediocre white ball players such as AB de Villiers, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Rashid Khan, Michael Klinger, Mohammed Amir and Faf du Plessis to the tournament. Likely to eventually be phased out for something the ECB management team designed on an empty packet of fags between lunches, because they know better than the fans after all. Still not enough women and children for the ECB’s liking.
Somerset – Lesser county somewhere near Wales that was last in the national headlines for King Alfred burning some cakes. Worth pointing out that he went to Somerset to hide from an entire army looking for him. And succeeded. In more recent times the 14 residents of this backwater have not only discovered Twitter, but have launched a takeover, leading some to the mistaken impression that they’re important. Currently playing Minor Counties, probably.
Cricket Highlights on 5: I reckon a highlights programme with commentary from Michael Vaughan, Graeme Swann and Mark Nicholas would probably make kids have nightmares about the sport and certainly not want to pick up a bat unless they were able to use it to hit said commentators. Certainly not one for the casual fan as it’s the first and last programme I will probably ever watch on that channel.
New Zealand cricket team – On this list primarily because they’re so damn likeable, even in the cruelest of defeats. Imagine the howling from the England camp and press if we’d have lost in such a manner.
Russell Jackson – For one day only, this man made himself look an idiot. But he didn’t keep it to himself.
Dean Wilson – Poor old Dean, he so desperately wants to leave his position as Chief Correspondent of the Mirror to become the next ECB head of communications. So much so that he is happy to trot out any old rubbish the ECB gives him. Was referred to as a journalist during lunch in a gathering at the 5th Test, which is probably the first time that has ever happened. It is well known that being the Chief Correspondent of the Daily Mirror is more akin to be deputy train manager of the Island line in the Isle of Wight. Likes a free lunch or five.
Piers Morgan – Unaccountably left out of the last Outside Cricket list due entirely to the ineptitude of the writers. Chief cheerleader for Kevin Pietersen, which is about as useful as having Katie Hopkins appear as a character witness. Acknowledged in the KP documentary that this may not have been entirely helpful, which is probably the only occasion he’s ever come close to an apology. The blog will be forever grateful to him for infuriating those Inside Cricket sufficiently that they responded by giving us our name, and then leading one idiot to publicly say that we were his online agents. One of our number has played cricket against him on a couple of occasions, where he increased the sense of outrage by coming across as a fairly pleasant bloke. Totally unacceptable.
Gordon Hollins – Ex-Chief Operating Officer of the ECB and now Managing Director of County Cricket (haha), Hollins is still there owing to the fact that he now resides in a small basket next to Tom Harrison’s bed and has stopped soiling the carpet. Over qualified for the role as an ex-Commercial Director at Durham CCC, which naturally didn’t stop him from taking a steaming dump on his former employer. Wheeled out when either Tom Harrison or Sanjay Patel have more important things to do like meet a sponsor or count their money.
Sam Morshead – Erstwhile digital editor of the Cricketer, who has shown exceptionally poor judgement by failing to include himself in the Cricketer’s own list, breaking all convention and tradition, and thus showing himself to be far less of a man than Simon Hughes. Has feet of a type last seen in the Lord of the Rings, and looks a bit like Frodo too, come to that.
Jim Maxwell – Legendary Australian radio commentator who is a welcome visitor to these shores every four years – or more frequently as the ECB and Cricket Australia determine for financial cricketing reasons. Has rarely put a foot wrong on air and is a pleasure to listen to. Makes this list by virtue of the fact that he quite plainly cares vastly more for the health of English cricket than most of his English colleagues, and is not shy of saying so, and he liked and commented on one of our tweets (we’re so shallow). Good on him, but while it says a lot about him, it says far more about those others that this is the case, and that’s pretty scandalous in itself.
Middlesex – Every single Middlesex player and member seems to be a champagne-quaffing, tweed-wearing, Waitrose-shopping stereotype who looks down on Jacob Rees-Mogg for being too common. Despite their ostentatious demonstrations of wealth, including their own official diamond merchants and Porsche dealerships, they still can’t afford their own ground and have to rent one from someone else. This is fair enough, considering London prices, but you would think that they would be able to find one which was at least level. I would certainly complain to my landlord if I was living in a property with a lopsided floor. That a professional (and international) cricket ground has this issue is, quite frankly, embarrassing. More worringly, ex-Middlesex players seem predisposed to finding other jobs in cricket once their playing careers end. They tend to be jobs which they lack the experience and talent required to do it fully, which means that people (including us) notice them: Administrators, selectors, coaches and journalists. No sector of English cricket is untainted by Middlesex. Of the forty-ish ex-cricketers in this list, at least ten played for them. One of our editors is slightly less than impressed with this entry.
Mark Robinson – He deserves enormous plaudits for taking the England women’s team to the heights of success, culminating in a thrilling World Cup win in 2017 at a packed Lord’s. Thereafter the team went into reverse faster than an Italian tank, and by 2019 Australia weren’t just beating England, in England, but were handing out a a thrashing game after game. Another lauded when successful by Lord, but excused when the wheels fell off (the players fault, natch). Resigned his position as a result, thus demonstrating a degree of integrity scarcely ever seen in ECB circles and certainly not from those who slashed the investment in the women’s game and sacrificed the successful and growing Kia Super League on the altar of the Hundred.
Mark Ramprakash – Former England Test Player and England batting coach, who managed to make a huge mess of both jobs. His main achievement as coach was to bring down the England batting unit’s average to around his career Test average and whose mess is now being tended to by Graham Thorpe. Firm believer in accountability, as long as it is not his accountability being questioned. Likely to end up in ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’ this year.
Jason Roy – I understand that professional sportsmen have a lot of self-confidence. That it may even be part of the job. Would any great, unlikely, unbelievable sporting moment if the people involved weren’t absolutely convinced that they were 100% certain to triumph? Even if the chain of events to get there was so improbable that their belief was verging on delusion. But, even acknowledging this, how on Earth did Jason Roy think he could be England’s Test opener?
Pavel Florin – Romanian superstar cricketer who managed to move from figure of fun to cricketing icon faster than a Jofra Archer bouncer. His enthusiasm for the game is boundless, the faint whiff of condescension from those approving of his efforts mere moments after laughing at them unmistakable. Undoubtedly a welcome voice in terms of spreading the word of cricket beyond its traditional boundaries, which is one reason the ICC wouldn’t dream of making use of him. Cannot be forgiven by any club cricketer anywhere around the world for having a Cricinfo profile when we do not.
Andy Nash – Most akin to a reformed smoker lecturing all around him on how appalling it is that other people are partaking. Former Somerset Chairman and ECB board member whose trenchant opposition to the Hundred would be slightly less confusing had he not been part of the group that passed the idea in the first place. It may well be that this is an entirely unfair reading of events, since the opacity of all ECB decision making is such that voting records don’t necessarily mean agreement. Nash is now reduced to shouting from the sidelines about how terrible it’s going to be while absolutely no one Inside Cricket engages him. He is (of course) correct, but he is now experiencing the kind of cold shoulder to his views experienced over many years by that tiny, unimportant group of people called cricket fans.
AB De Villiers – Like the guy who turns up at your annual Christmas Party unannounced after having left the company 8 months ago, AB did exactly the same at the World Cup as there weren’t any 20/20 leagues going on at the same time. Well known for bouts of extreme tiredness that can suddenly be cured by a large wedge of cash being waved in his face. Expect the same thing to happen at the next World Cup unless the Albanian Professional T20 league are offering big money.
Mr Maximooo – AKA Vinny Sandhu, the hugely excitable commentator of the inaugural European Cricket League. Took to shouting “Maximooo!” extremely loudly when a six was hit, which was highly amusing at first, but started to grate somewhat in a tournament that turned into a real life version of Stick Cricket, with virtually every ball disappearing out of the park. To his credit, he acknowledged that point afterwards, and his clear love of what was going on endeared him to a small but increasingly dedicated audience watching cricket being played purely because the players loved the sport, and so did the commentators. A Celebrity Death Match with Danny Morrison beckons.
DAB Radio – Needs a particular entry in here simply because for years we’ve been told that digital radio is the future, that we all need to chuck our analogue receivers out, and that having DAB in the car is far better than some crackly old signal on 198 LW. But here’s the problem: It’s shit. It’s monumentally, utterly shit. Any journey undertaken that involves travelling more than 50 yards beyond Broadcasting House involves more drop outs than the first year of a media studies course. On one occasion, I managed to miss two England wickets in the period while it was searching madly for a signal while driving on the motorway, which says a hell of a lot about England’s batting, but even more about the utter pup we’ve been sold as a viable means of listening. I don’t know who was responsible for this complete shambles, but I’m going to find out and write a strongly worded letter – mostly because if I say it on digital radio they’ll only hear the first two words before it cuts out again.
World Cup Super Overs – Anything that is designed to be finite and then fails to be so, thus making the decision of the winner on the number of boundaries scored is always going to get on our goat. Interestingly enough those who whinge about it most aren’t our Kiwi friends but legions of Indian and Australian fans, who didn’t actually make the final. Ca’ Plus Change.
Lawrence Booth – Glory-hunting Manchester City and Northants fan (possibly a unique combination) who occasionally writes nasty things about the ECB in his sideline as Wisden Almanack editor. Has a fairly routine Daily Mail column that still looks like Shakespeare next to Martin Samuel’s cricket forays, but disappears between January and April on a long holiday.
Kumar Dharmasena – ICC World Umpire of the Year 2018, which is about the most damning statistic about the health of umpiring in our international game. More known now for giving shocking decisions and a complete lack of understanding of the rules of cricket. Somehow makes us pine for the days of S.Ravi, who he has miraculously made to look like a competent umpire.
Ricky Ponting – Sometimes in life, you get to meet your heroes. And all too often they show that they have feet of clay. Disappointment is often the result, a bad memory to taint the good ones you have. Imagine then the even more acute disappointment to be found when Ricky Ponting decided to go entirely the other way. He had been a monumental pain in the arse as batsman and captain of Australia, partly because he was so bloody good, and partly because he was combative, fantastically bad tempered and insistent that he defined where the line was while the rest of the world rolled their eyes. His appearance in the commentary box this summer was therefore a massive disappointment – not because he was bad, far from it. Instead he was engaging, witty, brilliantly incisive and came across as a thoroughly all round good egg. This. Is. Not. Good. Enough. We want our Australian enemies to be the bastards we always expected them to be, not to turn out to be delightful. That Mitchell Johnson had rocked up and been equally engaging merely made it worse.
Derek Pringle – Why me? Why do I have to write about this person? What have I done? Other than the wikipedia article, which we talked about last time, and the fact he’s written a book that I’ll wait until it gets to £0.01 on Amazon secondhand to buy, and that he’s some bon viveur now used for those talking head pieces on Sky, and that he’s the Chief Cricket Writer at the Metro, what else is there to say? I’m warming to him? That I shouldn’t have been mean about him? Hell No. HELL NO.
Ellyse Perry – You could say that she was the female equivalent of Steve Smith in terms of her complete dominance over the England team this summer, but it’s not quite true. She is better at bowling than Smith. Has done absolutely nothing wrong and is a powerful standard bearer for women’s cricket. Unfortunately, she’s both a bloody good player and Australian, which in itself is grounds for excommunication.
Sheldon Cottrell – Ok. We get why he does the salute and, as reasons go, it’s not a bad one. The only problem is that it’s been done before (and in an infinitely funnier manner) when Marlon Samuels did it to Ben Stokes and got away without having the bat wrapped around his head. There’s merit in it as long as you’re first, and he wasn’t.
Kumar Sangakkara – A batting career similar to Steve Smith but with attractive shots already marked him out as a cricketing great, but in retirement he’s managed to improve his standing even further. Firstly by doing Sky masterclasses that are so impressive Sky daren’t repeat them 30 times a day, and second by quite pointedly doing commentary that ignores David Lloyd’s banter and talks about the game itself. Has a delightful habit of pausing for a few seconds after a fellow commentator has talked about wicket-keeping to make it abundantly clear he thinks they’re talking bollocks. Sangakkara then goes on with all the skills of a diplomat to explain why. At this stage the suspicion is growing that this is all too good to be true, and at some point he’s going to rip his face off and reveal he’s the leader of an alien invasion.
Innocent Bystander – Bestriding Twitter like a gambling colossus. Friend of the blog (we think) and all round top contributor to social media. If there’s an irrelevant, gobshite T20 league in the world, and it’s playing, he’ll be on it, making the readies – watch out for the Kazakhstan regional T20 any day now, and IB will be on the Almaty Matters, while his bete noire will be favouring the Astana Stammers. Very convinced of Australia’s position as self-appointed arbiter of world cricketing etiquette, he doesn’t, at all, go on about it.
Michael Clarke – One of the list of Australian cricketers who highlight the difference in approach between Cricket Australia and the ECB when dealing with the “shit bloke” problem. In the wake of tragedy he conducted himself with a dignity and sense of leadership that caused many cricket followers of all nationalities to assert with awe that they’d happily follow him to the gates of hell, and has since then steadily eroded the goodwill by the simple medium of absolutely refusing to shut the fuck up in the commentary box. In decades past Richie Benaud used words sparingly and when he felt there was something worthwhile to say. Clarke observed and learned from the example of Benaud, but unfortunately by misunderstanding the brief and assuming that every single one of the silences needed to be filled. It is deeply impressive to be so much the anti-Benaud that grown men have been known to weep, or worse still, turn over to TMS to listen to the witterings of Graeme Swann instead.
Ben Stokes – England’s best player across all 3 formats who has basically piggy backed the rest of the England team this summer in the Ashes and in the World Cup. Victim of a horrendous piece of gutter journalism from the Scum, which he handled both intelligently and maturely. Still barred from enjoying the bright lights of Bristol’s glorious nightlife due to a small misunderstanding.
Mo Bobat – The ‘behind the scenes’ driving force of Ed Smith’s currently highly successful selection policy. After all, it is mandatory to have such a resource to rely on to pick a successful white ball opener who has never batted for over 2 sessions in a red ball game and a plucky, if not quite talented enough 33 year old county specialist for the Test team; That’s why he is paid the big bucks after all. Well known to do a “chuckles’ in that he suddenly appears in the papers when all is going well, yet suddenly goes missing in action when they’re not. Last seen in Teesside building a wooden canoe for reasons not currently known.
Ian Smith – There was a period fairly early on in the World Cup final when Smith was on commentary with Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. There followed half an hour or so of cricketing nirvana, as the three of them talked with intelligence, humour that didn’t veer into slapstick, and deep insight into the game of cricket that was an unadulterated pleasure to listen to. His calling of the super over was commentary brilliance, and made everyone regret his departure at the tournament’s conclusion. So what is he doing on this list? Well he still can’t pronounce fish and chips properly and I’m sorry, but that’s enough reason for anyone.
Simon Kuper – Have you read that Ed Smith interview? Have you? Any pretence of remaining a hard hitting journalist evaporated in the opening stanza. “Ed Smith, England’s chief cricket selector, has been irritatingly over-blessed by the gods: brainy, courteous, a former England batsman, admired author and well-dressed man. This morning he strides into a King’s Cross café in sunglasses and a wound scarf that scream Saint-Tropez, 1963.” But it gets better when he asks the startling naive: “Today is day four of the fourth Ashes test. Shouldn’t he be in Manchester watching England-Australia?” The correct answer is “Because they were about to lose the Ashes, and he didn’t want the cameras on him,” you pillock. The easiest answer is usually the best one, Simon. Call your next book Cricket Against The Plagiarists. Instead of worshiping one.
Peter Lalor – The fact that everyone knows about Lalor for the fact that he got wrongly charged an exorbitant amount for a beer at the Malmaison in Manchester rather than for anything he has ever written about says a lot about his journalism. I mean who has $99,000 AUS in their account? My card would have spontaneously combusted at 1/10th of that cost.
Matt Prior – Cycling guru who used to be fairly handy with the willow and gloves for England. Has kept a fairly low cricketing profile since retiring from the game, low enough to avoid making an appearance on the KP documentary because he found it too difficult, though The Edge was apparently worthy of his input. Resurfaced recently to quite gloriously provoke Shane Warne into a fantastically Australian response that reasserted their national obsession with telling everyone else where the line is and (even better) managed to get Chris Adams caught in the crossfire.
Denis – Cricket “writer”, shit stirrer and now a government spokesman for Pakistan. The world of cricket writing takes you to curious places, curious situations and curiouser outcomes. Does he still write a blog? I have absolutely no idea. We might spell his name wrongly one day, too.
Bob Willis – It remains the case that England having a bad day or (better still) a catastrophic day gives cause to wishing to tune into the Sky Cricket review just to see how Uncle Bob will respond to it. He rarely disappoints, providing significant entertainment with a generally epic rant that causes no end of amusement. Tends to be less comfortable when Charles Colville asks him a difficult question or (worse still) reminds him of something he’d said previously that contradicted it entirely. Given the ruthless culling of Gower and Botham, his time in the chair may be somewhat limited but he remains worth having just for the baleful sneer usually aimed at England batsmen who fully deserve it.
Scyld Berry – There is a place in cricket and in journalism for the gloriously bonkers hack who switches between acute insight and the most unadultered bullshit, seemingly at will. His player ratings are the stuff of legend, particularly during the Cook era where the sainted one managing to put his shoes on the right way around was generally worthy of an 8. Hasn’t quite got the hang of Twitter where people have been known to answer back to his tweets.
Gary Ballance – It’s ironic for Gary to be blessed with such a surname when balance and poise are the two things he severely lacks at the crease. If you believe Twitter, you’d have thought that England had left out the new Brian Lara rather than a chubby Zimbabwean whose foot movement looks like he has 2 bricks attached to each boot. Dropped twice owing to the fact that his pads are an even bigger target than Shane Watson’s.
Chris Silverwood – Has somehow managed to persuade Stuart Broad and the rest of the English bowlers to pitch it up in useful conditions, which is something that many have tried and failed before. Naturally this is totally unacceptable behaviour and will harm his chances of becoming England’s Head Coach massively despite leading an un-fancied Essex team to the County Championship. Will probably be let go in the next England revolution for a bowling coach who wants to put the wind up the opposing batsmen.
Wisden Cricket Monthly – Here’s a funny thing. During the World Cup, the bulk of the writing staff for this prestigious magazine appeared to have been seconded to the ICC’s own official World Cup site. Let’s just say that their reporting on the ICC’s machinations in future will be treated with considerable caution.
Mexican Waves – Probably one of my biggest bugbears. Just watch the bloody game that you’ve bought overpriced tickets for and drunk ridiculously expensive pissy beer. Anyone who is found starting one of these should have the choice of facing Jofra Archer in the nets for an hour without a helmet or becoming Simon Hughes’ full time secretary. That should cut them out in next to no time.
Twitter Pseuds – You know how this works. A player strokes a cover drive off a reasonably decent bowler, in a televised match, and it’s not enough, by heaven it isn’t, to say “cracking shot”, it’s “I want to take that cover drive for dinner, wine it, dine it, and take it to a luxury spa for a three week getaway in a tropical paradise”. That sort of shit. That sort of nonsense. There are many culprits, BR isn’t just the former initials of our national railway and VE isn’t just the day the world celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany. Yeah. At least our Twitter feed is funny!
Guardian Below The Line – BTL. A haven for the unaware, over praised, self assured, convinced of their own brilliance, and masters of fawning over Lord, Victor and any other writer who gets their well-heeled juices flowing. While some of this parish still venture into this land of one-eyed, where the blind is king, it has been avoided for many a day by those keen to maintain sanity. Blogs are for ruffians they say. Scoundrels. Bilious Inadequates. Non-county cricket fans. There are no think tanks in Southern Ireland, ECB fanboys can speak and thrill themselves, and the beat goes on.
Sky Cricket Channel Subscribers – Not all, but you know the kind. The one who pays THEIR subscription, and when a world-scale event gets to a Final, and is put on free-to-air for long-term benefit, complains that they have paid their subs, so “Why should those who don’t pay when I do, get to experience what I have paid MY MONEY for”. They proliferated on the Guardian which, as self-awareness goes, is either miles ahead of your time or you are a weapons grade idiot. They think the bigger picture is their Sky bill, and THEIR sacrifice for English Cricket. After all, “it’s only a cup of coffee a day to subscribe”. Really. I have two espressos a day, and they cost 60p. Where the hell are you buying your brew, you gullible twits? And that’s not a day pass on Sky, I can assure you. I don’t hear the moans about Sky not picking up all available overseas cricket, endless repeats of Masterclass and their own series, and Legends of Cricket. No. Don’t let the hoi polloi in, whatever you do. I PAID for this.
Sky Subscribers who don’t have access to BT Sport: The last away Ashes highlighted a particular breed, the smug tossers who have a Sky account, but who don’t have a BT one. All of a sudden they started complaining and whining about having to pay for cricket, even though it was, to use their above justification, just a coffee or two a day. It wasn’t just ordinary people on Twitter either (you can always find someone to complain about something). It was journalists and even the ECB piling in to object to a broadcaster other than Sky daring to show England play cricket, and finding that they might have to spend a bit of their own money to do so. The lack of self-awareness was astounding, as though the aristocracy had been denied their particular wine supplier because Laithwaites (oh my, shudder) had hoovered up the contracts. Some might say that being that wedded to thinking Sky were the good guys was somewhat instructive about where their loyalties lie, but we couldn’t possibly comment. Oh, ok we will – it was frankly embarrassing.
Paul Downton – We simply couldn’t have an ‘outside cricket list’ without the man who helped give us our ‘nomme de guerre’. Sorely missed for his press conferences, interviews and any other time he was on TV as he made the rest of us look like Professors of Classics from Cambridge University.
Marnus Labuschagne – Labooscayne, Labuskakne, Laboochange, Laboochanya….oh sod it.
Isa Guha – Erstwhile commentator who has managed to break up the laddish banter on Sky. Announced that she will be the lead presenter on the BBC’s Hundred coverage – Why Isa? Why?
Ali Martin – Chief Cricket correspondent for the Guardian who has restored the their cricket coverage to something resembling normality after his predecessor got moved on. Still won’t meet us for a beer mind and definitely needs to do something about that beard.
Matthew Wade – Australian gob-shite whose mouth is far more talented than his ability on the cricket field. England allowed him to score 2 centuries in the Ashes to cement his place in the Aussie squad. You’re welcome Australia.
Giles Clarke – The original cockroach who has finally been turfed out of the ECB. Responsible for many of the ills befalling English Cricket.
Jofra Archer’s Twitter account – It’s all getting a bit tedious now isn’t it.
Michael Holding – Often seems more interested in what is going on in the horse racing than on the cricket field; however he brilliantly put the execs at Sunset & Vine in their place during the World Cup. One of our number met him at Lords this year and can confirm he is a top guy.
Peter Moores – Former two time England Head Coach with a penchant for nicking the best players from smaller counties. Hasn’t stopped him from being relegated twice mind. So much for the English coach of his generation. Likes data.
Ashley Giles – New Director, England Cricket. Given the benefit of the doubt as he is still new in post. Nailed on to make the list should we ever do another one.
Andrew Miller – Only to remark that one of our editorial board thinks the sun shines out of his rear end and that he should write more. Have we forgotten someone?
This list is arbitrary, unfair and the result of the four of us having to wait a few years before we could have our views expressed on certain individuals (outside of our tremendous Glossary, of course).
If you’re on the list and are offended, then good, our work is done here. If you aren’t, you are either too good, too dull or now too irrelevant for us to write about.
Firstly, it would be churlish not to praise India who have well and truly demolished England in this Test. They need one more wicket, but the game is over, the only small delight comes from watching Rashid and Anderson surviving and thus forcing everyone, especially England’s top order, to come back tomorrow.
Some, myself included, thought that India could be on verge of a damning series defeat after Lords as it felt that this tour was starting to descend into free fall. Not one bit of it, as much as England have been poor (and boy have they been poor), India have been very good with bat and ball. Kohli set the tone with the bat once again and showed why he is the quite simply the best batsman in the world and this time he was ably assisted by Rahane and Dhawan amongst others. With the ball, Hardik Pandya secured his first 5 wicket haul in Tests in the first innings with Sharma and Bumrah both bowling superbly in each innings, the latter securing his five-for in the second. Any thoughts of a whitewash have been completely wiped away, it is now India in the ascendency and with a very real chance of securing or at least sharing the series.
Then we come to England (clicks wrists) and it is extremely hard to compose anything that can actually cover how completely and utterly abject they have been in this Test. Sure Stokes and Buttler in particular, who thoroughly deserved his maiden century after showing the top order how to bat properly, managed to salvage a little bit of pride in the 2nd innings when the game was already truly lost, but as much as the media would like to paint the positives here, the damage had already been done. It is almost typical England (John Crawley made a living from this as the archetypal second innings Charlie) that they finally make some runs when they are so far behind the eight ball that it doesn’t matter aside from personal milestones. This hasn’t just been a sanity check or a bad day at the office, these things happen way to often just to be a bad day at the office, this has still been a thrashing – something that anyone who is associated with this side should be embarrassed about given it was lost on day two. I’m going to give the bowlers a bit of pass here, as although they could have bowled better, certainly on day one by pitching the ball up more consistently, it is not they who have lost this Test for England, though the ironic thing is that one of them is most likely going to pay with his place in the team due to the sheer inadequacy of the England batting and fielding units. I think if you compared these two elements relatively to a village side’s expectations, then you would be doing village cricket a disservice, this was far worse. As I mentioned before, it’s not as if it has been coming, England have lost 10 wickets in a session 3 times more in the past 22 months than they did in the last 80 years, yet still we keep being told to take the positives and that the players are working hard to correct things. One question then, how long do these overpaid and mollycoddled individuals need? We’ve had gaping holes in our batting line up for more time than I remember, we have shown time and time again that we are more than capable of collapsing on the flattest of pitches against the most average of bowling attacks and quite simply things are getting worse not better.
You only have to show highlights of England’s batting in this Test to show quite how bad this unit is. The lack of technique against the new ball, the edging of deliveries to the slips which didn’t need to be played at, the lack of will and application to grind out a session in tough conditions and the general apathy about representing their country. This is not just the players’ fault, though they have to accept that they also have a big responsibility for this mess, but there just also seems to be no accountability in the coaching unit. Bayliss is babysitting the team until the next World Cup, Chuckles Farbrace normally only comes out in the media after a good session and we have a batting coach (whose contract has just been extended whilst England’s batting performances get worse) that averaged a jot over 27 with the bat and admitted that he was unable to deal with the intensity of Test cricket. Andy Flower is doing a great impression of not being remotely seen in public when England are performing badly and one dreads to think where Graves and Harrison are and what they are currently dreaming up. Joe Root, who in my opinion should not be captain being our best batsman by a mile, is the man who keeps getting hung out to dry in the media as the rest of the coaches and players hide behind their handsome salaries and hope no-one notices them.
Let’s not make any bones about it; this batting unit is a wreck. Cook’s eyes have gone and so has his hunger, the best thing Jennings could do is purchase a one way ticket back to Jo’burg, Root shouldn’t be batting at 3 with the added burden of the captaincy, Bairstow and Stokes (who played with some proper acumen today) often seem to play the same innings no matter what the match situation, Buttler (this innings apart as he played extremely well) has yet to show that he has the consistency to be a staple of the English batting line up and Pope is a young kid trying to find his way in the game. The batting line up of the 90’s was much maligned but they would absolutely stomp all over this line up. Can you imagine Jennings, Cook and Buttler et al facing Walsh & Ambrose or Wasim & Waqar, there would be absolute carnage. I bet this team wouldn’t make 100 between them most times. Time after time, collapse after collapse, this unit continues to fail apart from the odd ‘solo innings of excellence’ but here we are, still trying to fix the massive hole in the hull whilst the flood water continues to gush in, with a sticking plaster. Don’t even get me started about the fielding unit, if I have to see another ‘slack-jawed, derp-I-dropped-another-catch-face’ from either Cook or Jennings, then I’m going full ‘Michael Douglas – Falling Down’ on my way to the Oval. The fact that our brains trust can’t even successfully master how to catch a ball at slip, then what hope does the rest of the team have? We have dropped 15 slip catches in 3 games, do you know how hard that is to actually achieve? Now it’s well known that I’m not a fan of St. Jimmy of Burnley’s antics on the cricket pitch, but I would fully condone acts of extreme violence from Jimmy to either of these two butter fingered miscreants.
Do you know what though, this performance is exactly what England and the ECB deserve. The general incompetence and apathy that is the ECB, has manifested itself both on and off the pitch and to be fair the England cricket team now reflects its administrators; a team of greedy, shallow individuals who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. We have a former captain in the throes of batting decline, one who is so paranoid that he believes that the media is out to get him despite being the beneficiary of endless hagiographies during his career. We have just dropped a talented 20 year who was Man of the Match two games ago, because England’s thug of an all-rounder needs an arm round him after getting into trouble on a night out. We have marginalised county cricket so much that it is now irrelevant and unable to supply players to the national team anywhere near international standard, we have upset and marginalised the fans whose money is somehow not good enough, we have the Hundred too all in the name of a focus on white ball cricket by the ECB so that those at the top can still make a mint from the game, whilst the rest watch it burn to the sinews.
Yet back to this series and so poor has the display been that some of our friends in the media might write about their surprise at such a poor performance, even though this has been happening with alarming regularity. There may even be the odd murmur about Cook’s form, which has been consistently on the wane for the past few years. However, don’t expect it to last, before the week is out we’ll be talking about how ‘Cook can decide his own time to retire’ and ‘how important it is for England to hit back after Trent Bridge’ narratives and soon enough this game will be but a distant memory. Just like every single horrific collapse and every single away tour has been over the past few years. Besides, what would motivate the ‘old boys’ at the top of the chain and their compliant media friends to make waves by doing what’s best for the team when malignant mediocrity pays exactly the same amount?
It’s just one Test. But it’s not just one Test is it? And short of a surprise monsoon tomorrow, being 2-1 up doesn’t alter that.
So here it is. Rain is the only thing that might prevent Australia regaining the Ashes in the quickest time possible as England seem hellbent on making the last tour look like a high water mark. Predictable in its ineptitude, exceptional in its execution, the anger doesn’t even apply to what’s happening on the field.
This has been a tour created over four years, and with all due respect to the hosts who have played well throughout, they aren’t even really a part of it. Last time out England were obliterated by a bowler who took ample revenge for his previous tribulations, and instead of taking defeat on the chin, English cricket decided to turn in on itself, dismiss all those who dared to question the prevailing line and embark on a process of self immolation exceptional in its stupidity.
There’s no wishful thinking about what might have been, no feeling that had certain players not been kicked out they’d have been the saviours of this particular tour, but merely a total lack of surprise that we have reached this particular point. A culture gets what a culture deserves, and this is what English cricket is and what it deserves.
Is there anybody out there who is prepared to take even the smallest amount of responsibility? It doesn’t seem so. Not the ECB, who care about money to the exclusion of all else, not the administrators who openly regard people who love cricket with the kind of contempt no other sport quite manages, and not those players above reproach who seem to find any excuse that allows others to be blamed. At Adelaide, a bowler with 500 Test wickets to his name agreed England could have bowled fuller, but said that the coaches could have told them that. Did Courtney Walsh need a coach to tell him what to do? Did Glenn McGrath? In microcosm, there is England right there, a cricketing organisation where nothing is ever anyone’s fault, and nothing is anyone’s responsibility.
Players come and go, form comes and goes. But the absolute certainty of the modern England structure is that only a few should ever be blamed for it, useful patsies who can be vilified and discarded, as long as those who are chosen can be protected and kept in place. Turn the most successful batsman of the modern England era into public enemy number one (and you know, who gives a shit about the rights and wrongs, this is what it amounts to in the round), keep in place, and not only keep in place, but actually create a legend around a captain who has oversaw the most abysmal leadership seen in years, praise to the skies the decisiveness of a new administrator even though he is plainly woefully out of his depth. And then above all else, insult and abuse anyone who dares to object. All that happened last time, all that has led to this.
Four years in the making, the ability to plumb new depths should come as no surprise to anyone, yet apparently it still does. Every decision the ECB makes studied in isolation, with no regard to the whole, no consideration of a pattern of behaviour. Players chosen because they fit into a box of conformity and woe betide anyone who dares to be an individual. Standards of behaviour that manage to fall despite the attempt to force everyone to be the same, and a side that has no chance of being good enough because of the panic stricken ejection of the latest scapegoat who coincidentally always seems to be an individual. And there’s one coming too. As it lurches from crisis to crisis there’s one ready made to be castigated, not for his own behaviour, but as the person responsible for everyone else’s failure. It’s going to happen, and it has happened before. Why be properly reflective when there’s a useful idiot who can be hung out to dry.
These are chickens coming home to roost. Each exclusion from the side, each whispering campaign against a player which might be the right call on its own as far as selection goes, but is ever underhand, vicious and endlessly repeated. One after the other, those who aren’t the right sort of chap are removed, and the latest lamb to the slaughter slots in for a few games. No plan, no strategy, just endless marketing bullshit and excuses.
It’s not like any of this was unexpected. The “all time great” opening batsman who has been struggling for some time, but all those who dared to point out that might be a concern were told to pipe down. Again. The bowling attack that lacks pace and variety, with a structure entirely unable to produce anything out of the ordinary, but which manages to wreck the unusual, either via the press or the medical teams. It’s all part of the whole. Individuals don’t matter, the cosy little club does.
And then there’s the press. The most supine, pathetic body as a collective it’s been our misfortune to have inflicted on us. They haven’t been observers, they have been complicit. Following the diktats of the governing body, exchanging analysis for access, attacking those who pointed out the lack of emperor’s clothing, failing to consider the reasons for the shambles and justifying the unjustifiable. Cricket reporting as a means of advancing an agenda, picking on those who dared to be different, refusing to criticise those in charge. They have been the entirely witting participants in reaching this point, and even now they would rather criticise those individuals who have done the most in a failing team.
They ECB are responsible for cricket in England, they are not meant to be a cabal of self appointed, self promoting, self aggrandising charlatans who view their own interests as being the same as those of cricket. Yet at every stage, they ignore the wider game, and this is where they’ve led us to.
Test series come and go, players come and go. There are ups and downs and successes and failures. None of that is new, none of that will ever change. But a governing body who loathes the game except as a means of making money won’t be devastated by this performance because it simply doesn’t matter, unless ticket sales and subscriptions fall off. This is where we are, success is not defined on the field, success is defined in the accounts.
And perhaps the most damning crime of all, is turning passionate cricket supporters into those who don’t give a stuff how the team does, except as a symptom of the wider malaise. Those who would follow England abroad, those who would buy tickets, reduced to rage at the sport and ennui at the performance of the team. This is a special achievement, one that can only be managed by deliberate, determined attack. Replaced by those who care little, but who will attend an irrelevant T20 match to have a few overpriced beers and add further to the coffers.
And the worst bit of all is that it doesn’t work. Every sport has its fanatics, those who can be relied upon to be there through thick and thin, while the casual interest fan can bulk it out in time of plenty. But not the ECB, who expressly push them aside as performance disintegrates, viewing figures plummet and participation amongst males reaches crisis levels. This is their defeat, this is their disaster. And it’s not an accident.
Rain permitting, England are going to lose. They thoroughly deserve it. Not the players, who are undoubtedly doing their best, but the structure, the governing body, the media and all those who care for filthy lucre over the game.
When a publication gets bored and runs out of ideas, it turns to lists. Whether that be “Five Things We Learned” or a wider list, it’s lovely clickbait because it manages to irritate just about everyone, whether the inclusions are too low, too high, not on it, or because the list itself is preposterous in the first place. (Is this author having a go at The Dmitris, or the journalist list?)
This week it was the turn of The Cricketer, with their Power List of English cricket. Oddly enough, we weren’t on it – presumably we were in 51st just behind the editor of Wisden, who they eventually remembered, probably when they realised he dared to criticise people. Objectively understandable – who would ever read the editorial of the world’s premier cricket book? Who would ever write article after article about his excoriation of the game’s governing bodies?
The real trick is then to nominate yourself to be on the list, but only the worst kind of self-important, smug, arrogant idiot would dream of doing that. So between the three of us we’ve come up with our own. It’s a list of those who adore the sounds of their own voices, who fully believe that they are far more important than anyone else, who rest with absolute certainty in the superiority of their own existence. And are not shy about letting us know.
It’s a team effort, it’s not listed individually, so you’re going to have to blame Dmitri, TLG and Sean equally. Oh and feel free to slate us in return, that’s the whole point of it after all.
There is an order to this, but trust us, we’ve not spent more than 5 seconds trying to work it out. Anyone upset by where they are…..good. Our work is done.
By all accounts one of the most charming, delightful men you could ever wish to spend time with, a chatterbox who entertains all those around him, and who often wrote beautiful prose. It was therefore particularly unfortunate that he didn’t turn his mind towards asking some of the more obvious questions that should have occurred to him. Had the misfortune to be at the Independent in the dying days of that paper, and whose departure was symptomatic of an organ that was going nowhere. Has been rather quiet since, and while his output may have been criticised, his loss to the cricket community is simply rather sad.
Perhaps with hindsight Botham’s mastery with the ball over his career was down to the fact he had about 30 fielders at any given time. For surely there can be no other explanation for the uncanny ability to point out that England should have had a 26th slip fielder in place mere moments after the ball has gone through the vacant area. In this, he is at least more accurate than he tends to be when trying to forecast the future instead of the past, his notorious 5-0 prediction for the 2013/14 Ashes proving accurate as long as no one mentioned who to.
A fixture of cricket coverage during the noughties, a period he clearly misheard, deciding to consider his time on air a mere interlude between visits to the toilet carrying a small bag and a rolled up £50 note. Special mention must go to his outstanding explanation of reverse swing as being akin to the uneven underside of an aircraft wing. Planes fell out of the sky a aeronautic engineers absorbed the reality of the new, radical theory.
I’m sure some are amazed he’s here. In fact Knight himself would probably say “Would you believe it?” To be fair Knight says “Would you Believe It?” to almost anything; indeed it’s quite likely his default response to missing the bus. There are perhaps few greater exponents of the art of speaking the most bleeding obvious of the most bleeding obvious in the cricket world today. It has been said the poor man has splinters from such an outstanding ability to sit on the fence – I prefer to focus on the way he casually ignored the fastest ball ever recorded by nudging it round the corner for a single. Not for Knight the glorious out of the park for six shot, oh no – the nurdle for one, the special ability to be a key part of history, yet for no one to remember his role in it. Few have ever so beautifully summarised the point that television is a medium than Knight has – for it is neither rare nor well done. A medium medium. A chicken tikka masala with a keema naan. Inoffensive to all, memorable to no-one.
He’s blocked one of our number on Twitter for a start. One prong of the Essex Mafia, and a conduit for the ECB line to take on everyone’s favourite scapegoat; the one thing not in his favour is his lack of gravitas. But it takes some sort of special individual to make the KP issue so personal. Some of his work read like a screaming teenager shouting “No. No. No.” I often wonder what it was that set him off, but then it really crystallised when he allowed the dignified silent man, the Flower of Andrew, to have his dignified say. Couldn’t have been a larger dose of cats out of the bag since Millwall drew Hull in the FA Cup. I have to say I was stunned. After all, Newman did the talking in 2014, and Flower’s lips never moved.
Old school journalist, who never forgets to mention that he came from the University of life. Gloriously misreported that Kevin Pietersen had returned his gifts from his 100th Test match and then vowed to investigate when proved wrong. The investigation must be extremely thorough as it’s been 2 years and 85 days and we’ve still heard nothing about its result. Desperately keen to be seen as a serious journalist and known to get extremely pissy when asked “why he bothers as no-one reads cricket in the Sun”.
Ooh controversy. One of the most sublimely talented batsmen in the world, the one who can pull off an innings in Colombo that ghasts the flabber, and a friend of this place rather obviously going back to the frankly idiotic initial sacking and cretinously stupid refusal to consider him after the small matter of a triple century.
Trouble is, he’s a knob. You know it, I know it. He’s an amazing batsman, who is so good his international record is frankly a disappointment. But he’s an idiot. There’s being opinionated, there’s being a rebel. There’s even being right – and the worst crime Pietersen ever committed was that dreadful tendency to be right on so many occasions, and for the ECB to quietly do exactly as he suggested, even though he was very obviously wrong at the time, right? Who would ever forgive that? Especially those who have less talent, there’s no way they could ever even think about accepting such outrageousness. But there’s being right at the right time, and there’s being right at the wrong time. And then there’s being right at the right time that you’ve managed to turn into the wrong time. Hang on, slight pause to check I understand that sentence – oh yes, got it.
Pietersen is one of the most insightful, intelligent commentators on the game out there. That so many refuse to listen to things which are actually rather good is partly his fault. There are lots of villains in that whole sorry tale. Pietersen is sadly one of them, even if not the worst. In the last 30 years, there has never been so clear and obvious case for banging heads together as l’affaire Pietersen.
The commentary darling of the BCCI and well known for his over the top praise for every Indian cricketer ever. Known to share the same commentary manual as Knight, Nick with gems such as “If India want to win here, then they will need to play well”, “Edged and….taken” and “the next few overs will be crucial” Ravi is always on hand to state the bleeding obvious time and time again. Has since been dumped as India’s head coach which left him “surprised and disappointed” but no doubt come the winter, he will lighting up the Sky studios with his unique take on how everything in India is amazing.
The bar is set World Limbo Dancing Championship low when you follow Giles Clarke into the head of the ECB hotseat. That you couldn’t even make your KP statement stick two minutes before backtracking quicker than Frank Bruno against Mike Tyson second time around, spoke volumes for your ability. Wants four day tests, and absolutely loves the word “mediocre” which probably should just be the title of a book based on his reign so far. Well, mediocre will do when “A damn effing laughing stock” probably won’t make the shelves at WH Smith’s. Number 1 on The Cricketer’s list, which is amazing as I couldn’t think of a single good thing he’s done yet. Plus, just what is that £1m guarantee thing in the ECB accounts? Perhaps we should be told. Mediocre financial data there.
Channel 9 commentary
“Hey Brays, guess what Warnie and Slats went out for beers and pizza last night and boy are they hanging, boom they’re goes another four, went like a tracer bullet to the boundary, that went even quicker than Tubbs opening the door to the pizza delivery man, haha”. And so it goes on, the cricket commentary team where talking actual cricket is likely to get you sacked and where the arrival of Mark Nicholas in the box represents a glorious interlude of cricketing erudition. It’s like watching a middle aged episode of the Inbetweeners where a load of ex professional cricketers see who can outdo each other in the banter stakes and holler loudly whenever there’s a boundary. Then there is the deliberate idiocy in how Brayshaw and team declare how they have never heard of the Indian fast bowling coach or of the Pakistani leg spinner, after all, these teams are just there to make up the numbers and should not detract from the amazing Australian team. Oh and they don’t take criticism that well either, as Brad McNamara highlighted when launching an ill conceived tirade at Gideon Haigh after he had gently criticised the commentary standard of channel 9. Glass houses and all that.
Since his appointment as Grand Vizier at the ECB, Flower has disappeared from the radar of many. But he’s still there, and he’s still exerting influence. This is a good thing, for losing the expertise of someone who has had such an important job would be extremely wasteful – though not so wasteful the geniuses at the ECB didn’t think it perfectly reasonable to dispense with Duncan Fletcher. Maybe it was because he wasn’t the Best Coach of His Generation or something.
Flower had a decent enough record as England coach, and the idea that he’s the enemy of the state is no more reasonable than believing he is descended from the heavens to dispense wisdom and success. But the determination that everyone bend to his will is as flawed as it always has been. The briefings to the media about players that seemed to include things that only Flower knew according to those on the receiving end of the headlines didn’t exactly engender trust. And now the England Lions get the benefit of that. Aren’t they lucky?
Aggers is a late entry on this lise, first of all because crossing him invokes the fervent fandom’s ire, and we can vouch for how that plays out from personal experience. Secondly, even we have to pad out stuff like this. Agnew generates plenty of heat and light from those who don’t buy the folksy charm and think he’s an establishment stooge. We have to reflect that on here, although it has to be said, he’s not really part of the problem. But he gets in for the reaction to the infamous Clarke pic. And how he reacted with other blogs. Come on….
How this curmudgeonly old writer still gets gigs is beyond me. He’s allowed to spout off about this and that each month, looking back and never forwards, seeking decorum and manners in the game he rarely shows in his pieces. If you are looking for tolerance, look elsewhere. I can only imagine he’s kept on as some poor man’s Swanton tribute act, and instead of being amused my his grumpiness, he just enrages. I’m sure he would absolutely love this site. About as much as I love root canal. I’d like it that way.
This is like criticising fluffy little kittens. Everyone loves Bumble, don’t they? Well, yes, to a degree. The problem comes when he stops being a cricket commentator with great humour, into an attempted humourist talking over the cricket. This tends to happen more in T20, where yes, we should give less of a toss, but still. Yes, Start the Car was amusing. The first ten times. He’s low in our pecking order because this is pretty harmless stuff, but one of us, in particular, has had his fill. It’s good to be contrary. So let’s name fluffy little kittens because some of us are allergic to cats.
He really went for Nick Compton, didn’t he? What on earth was that all about? At least he got in touch to ask how he was perceived, and that’s decent. But you can’t get away from the pieces. But we do have sympathy for freelancers!
Guardian County Cricket Blog
This will resonate with a few.If your face doesn’t fit, if you dare to relate our domestic game to our international, if you dare to question the sacred cows below and above the line, then woe betide you. For you will be damned for eternity, or at least until you abide by the unwritten rules. Suck up to the admin, be deferential to certain characters, and be whimsical. Oh yes, be very whimsical.
Put himself number 39 in his own Power List, above the Chief Cricket writer at The Telegraph, the single best England batsman of the last decade and clickbait king combination in history, the editor of Wisden, England’s current best all rounder, England’s best all rounder who works for Sky, and every single one who picks the England team as a selector. I’d understand it, just, if you were John Etheridge, Jonathan Agnew, or Jonathan Pierce. But if you walked down the street and picked out a random person and asked them who Simon Hughes is, I’d bet a majority who answered would pick the former Liberal Democrat MP! When you aren’t even the most famous person with your name, well that’s hard yakka. We’ll always have that Dobell exchange though….
Since this went to the original typesetters, we’ve had some small interaction. We’ve had those patronising tweets, where we are extremists and he is unbiased. I mean, really. I mean REALLY. Have a day off. Because “went off in a huff” is the language of equanimity. Let’s put it this way. This tweet…
@MaxieCricket@DmitriOld you have a valid voice in the game but do yourself no favours with extreme unbalanced criticism of unbiased opinion
There’s a peculiar difference prevailing in the world today. Be a grumpy so and so, scream at players when they make mistakes, provoke and get involved in physical confrontations, and the press will defend you to the hilt. Smack a ball down a deep fielder’s throat and you’ll be lambasted as irresponsible. Jimmy may be one of our greatest ever bowlers, but we enable his behaviour. And, well, frankly, this as well….
We don’t have many positions for entities rather than people, but we couldn’t leave out Lord’s. Look, we get it is where everyone wants to play, but to go there as an ordinary spectator is to be classified as a second class citizen, shuffled behind people who patently don’t have mirrors in their houses. Dressing up like a clown is clearly a sign of intellectual, moral, and let’s face it, financial supremacy over the proles. Then there are the queues – because they’re always shocked to find people want food or drink, the appalling views in the lower stands, the pervading sense of patronising people and those effing champagne corks. Who, or what do they think they are?
But what is he for? I mean I’ve written loads of stuff on other people and I keep coming back to this one point when I think about Mr Sublime Interviewing Technique. And that is…..I don’t quite know how to word this. Oh yes. Um. How about “What is he for?” Answer – to bring Ballance to the proceedings…
You could have two entries here. One is the Mills and Boon character, the handsome doe-eyed (and they are his own doe eyes, not the one he shot) England captain, fighting against the odds to reach success while those beastly enemies try to take him out by pointing out his long period without centuries, and his appalling captaincy that used to coincide with the number 4. On the other is the man who has only to pass 50 before grown men collapse in paroxysms of ecstasy, retweet more than One Direction fans after the latest band break up, and then claim he’s been subjected to a media battering. Combined you have a strong contender for the top spot in our list. Oh, and he’s not England’s greatest ever batsman, before you start going on about that, either. Bring on the Cooky Crew…
Well known for his role as Director, England Cricket and for calling KP a c**t on national TV and getting away with it. Strauss is the darling of the MSM, the man who decided that his trust is the only prerequisite to be playing for England, stuff talent and runs, and a man who Gary Lineker referred to as “extraordinarily petty and immature”. Director comma still believes that KP ended his career, never mind the fact that he couldn’t hit it off the square and has taken great pleasure in ending the former’s international career too. Currently being deigned as the saviour of England cricket alongside Cook, Alastair by his mates in the MSM and last seen desperately trying to push the merits of the ‘super series’ to fans who can smell bullshit 1000 miles away.
Dave Richardson –
Grow the game? What is this nonsense? it’s our game and our money and we’ll do what we always do by making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer, 3 team World Cup anybody? Last seen whilst serving as PA to Anurag Thakur.
One of the more talented cricket writers out there, who has a body of work behind him to be proud about. So why would he ever make a list like this (That’s an in-joke between TLG, Dmitri and Sean, and a pair of Old Shades)? Well the trouble arises when certainty about his own wit and knowledge supercedes the more natural uncertainty that most people have. Miller’s Twitter timeline is a delightful example of being so sure of himself that anyone daring to disagree is considered thick. He’s keen on making political points, and that’s fair enough for anyone, but it remains instructive that anyone so sure of themselves that those who hold perfectly legitimate different opinions are regarded as the lowest form of life in his eyes. And that is the problem – contempt for the views of others in one field is illustrative of the same contempt in all others. Only the arrogant can ever be so certain.
Well Charles…the Sky man who is only known for being Bob Willis’ cannon fodder. He surely can’t believe he has still got the gig despite knowing next to nothing about cricket and regularly being schooled by Mark Butcher, Rob Key and Marcus Trescothick, who don’t even pretend to hide their disdain for him. Posh, obnoxious and clueless never makes for a good combination for commentators; however it does tick all the boxes for a Director role on our glorious board, expect him to be the next MD of the ECB.
The outstanding coach of a generation unfortunately turned out to be not that outstanding at all, even second time around. Primarily utilised by Paul Downton as a tool to ensure Kevin Pietersen could never return to the England fold, Moores did his usual job of talking a great game and then disappointing on the pitch. The lead up to the 2015 was at best comical and the results on the pitch were even worse, proving that Moores had paid no attention to the way ODI cricket was evolving. He then kindly hammered the nails into his own coffin by declaring that he would have “to look at the data” after a hammering by Bangladesh. Now working as a consultant at Nottinghamshire CC, which judging by their form this year, hasn’t exactly proved him to be the outstanding coach in which he was proclaimed. Special mention goes out to his wife, who after a vino or two, is not afraid to stomp onto Twitter searching for those who dare to declare that his time in charge wasn’t a roaring success.
In recent times thesauruseseseses (er, not sure where to stop there) have updated their entries to include Clarke as a synonym for “odious”. Indeed all cricket fans should be encouraged to do a Google search for both terms and ensure that it comes up as a suggestion in the search box. His finest moment in a career of James Bond villainy is undoubtedly his starring role in Death of a Gentleman where his patronising, sneering arrogance has led actors like Mark Strong and Jeremy Irons to watch and learn how to portray a character that audiences automatically hate. Where Clarke excels is in his total disregard for any other human being and disdain for any contrary view. Such things as actually loving the game of cricket are not for him, when instead it is purely there for his own self-aggrandisement. Lawrence Booth still lives in fear, looking over his shoulder every day to seek out Clarke’s henchmen intending to finish what the great man started at the Wisden dinner (this may not be entirely true).
Like all great supervillains, Baron Greenback has his sidekicks, and the superb insertion of Oddjob into the Guardian to act as chief cheerleader remains one of his finest achievements. Add in a sense of righteousness that removes any hint of self-doubt and you have a man who superbly manages to represent every single thing that is wrong with the game. What a diamond he is.
It is always instructive to visit Del’s Wikipedia page, purely for the deliciously cruel entry about him that reads “Pringle’s first-class batting average exactly matched his bowling average, indicating that he cancelled himself out perfectly.” But his true metier has been in journalism, where he created a dedicated following of readers, who were united in despising every piece of vitriolic hatred that passed for a newspaper column. The only ones who approved were those who hated Pietersen even more. The best journalists have the rare ability to necessarily criticise players who have by definition made it to the top of the game. Only Pringle had the extraordinary ability to arrogantly belittle those so much better than he ever was. These points about him won’t worry him in the slightest, for he has that wonderful ability – let’s call it Clarkitis – to consider the views of the little people to be beneath his pay grade. The feeling of contempt is entirely mutual.
Where would we be without Paul? We wouldn’t have a name. We wouldn’t have been able to keep this (and the previous) blog going without his material. We wouldn’t have had aplomb. We wouldn’t have had the dossier. We wouldn’t have had the “best coach of his generation”. We wouldn’t have had the Agnew interview (and one of our number wouldn’t have had death threats). To do a FICJAM to AndyInBrum, “He’s so out of his depth he’s below fish with lights.” We miss him. We needed him to get through “difficult winters”. It’s hard to be “fresh” and “exciting” and instead we need to be disengaged. Also noted for having his English corrected by Kevin Pietersen, who responded to the charge he was disinterested by denying that he’d been uninterested.
This is all about disappointment. The most talented player of his era, hell the most talented player of almost any era. I’ve spent hours waxing lyrical about Gower innings to the young (i.e. therefore stupid – apparently it’s a meme), mentioning the most sublime cover drive ever seen, the most delicious cut shot, the most perfect pull (unless it was a fraction too full and knocked off stump out). And he’s a posh boy, he’s ideal for TV. And he was too, he was wonderful. But in more recent times he’s gone all establishment – the insistence on refusing to mention the Great Satan (Pietersen FYI) because it might cause palpatations at Lords, the general stroppiness when anything or anyone dares to challenge orthodoxy. Where did it all go wrong? You were the Bojo of cricket, the upper class boy who was the rebel incarnate, and unaccountably popular with the masses. And now you’ve gone native.
Nothing is as disappointing as being let down. Oh David. What price criticism from the studio for flying a Tiger Moth over the team now.
Failed England Cricketer and now author, philosopher, philanthropist and more recently plagiarist. Never hesitates to remind us how incredibly clever he is by dropping in notes about 15th century Umbrian history or Virgil’s Aeneid into his cricket writings. His ability to destroy the morale of a whole dressing room which then kicked him out on his ass, has naturally led him to be proclaimed “the next Jonathan Agnew” on TMS and the Course Director of the MA History of Sport at Buckinghamshire University. Currently lying low on social media after being found to have copied and pasted one of his Economist colleagues pieces on stress and claiming it as his own. Not as clever then as he thinks.
I’m all for enthusiasm. Really I am. But there’s enthusiasm and then there’s being the kind of person that you see come into the pub and pray to whatever sky fairy you hold dear that he won’t come and pull up a stool next to you. Danny Morrison (or DFM as I call him – work it out, it’s not hard) is unquestionably one of these. Picture the scene as you quietly sip your pint, only to have someone next to you screaming that the way the barman has delivered it is the best he’s ever seen, that there’s simply no pint in existence that could ever compare, and that while the bar staff run for cover in terror, he then turns to everyone else and invites them to partake in excited appreciation of said beverage. Just for God’s sake no one tell him there are crisps under the bar, probably of various different flavours.
It’s always been an idle thought that the commentary box has anything sharp removed just prior to a DFM stint, and his colleagues are allowed solely a hip flask in order to cope with the ordure created from order over the following half hour. It takes something truly special for cricket fans to be actively looking forward to the commercial breaks, where a Safestyle advert counts as a reduction in the volume. Drinks breaks in DFM covered matches should be increased to one every other over, allowing desperate fans to run outside and put their heads into a bucket to cool off. But you know, it’s what the people want, right? It’s cool, it’s down wiv da kidz (innit). He must be popular with someone, or he wouldn’t be there. But who? Um, seriously who? Answers on a postcard please*
*They will be ignored – just so you know.
Is gaining rapidly on Jimmy Anderson as England’s leading wicket taker, without ever getting quite the same amount of coverage for his achievements. Divides opinion like few others not called Kevin, with some calling for his dropping despite a truly world class bowling average over the last few years. He will not be satisfied with it, mostly because of his absolute certainty that he has been denied around 300 lbws by the combination of appalling umpiring and a DRS set up that is biased against him. It must be biased, because when he walks out with the bat the dastardly umpires switch round the settings so he is given out every time he is struck on the pads (quite frequent) and then DRS upholds it no matter how many times he reviews it. There should probably be an investigation into this clear example of bias.
A major redeeming feature is a pathological love of winding up Australians.
A few years ago there was a Test series in New Zealand. Actually they’re fairly regular, but this was a specific series and I can’t remember who they were playing anyway. It matters little, in the way that Tests played by New Zealand so often tend. Anyway, it was raining. That happens too. And with a morning wiped out, Sky – who had spent at the very least pub money in getting Cork and Mark Butcher in to the studio, had to fill. And fill they did, Charles Colville (who is going to get a right slagging elsewhere on this page to my undying fury – there will be words ) deciding to simply ask Butcher and Cork about cricket at the highest level. It was glorious. The following day rained as well, and the cricket viewing public tuned in to watch two old Test cricketers (Er. Old. Looks at birth certificate. Bugger) reminisce about players, series, conditions, opponents, structures and anything else in their minds. For a cricket fan, it was nirvana. To the point on the third day the fact play was possible was a fundamental disappointment. I wanted to hear more. In fact I wanted a dinner party with Cork as a guest, I wanted to know everything. He was wonderful, Butcher was wonderful, Colville was wonderful.
All of which makes it so hard to understand why Cork has to be such an utter twat the rest of the time.
The County Chairmen
The rulers of the English game. In itself, it doesn’t have to be a problem, after all someone has to do it. But here’s the problem, cricket isn’t like football, where the clubs are the power and the money. County cricket is a loss maker, international cricket is a money maker. And yet the counties are the ones in control and they are the ones who dictate everything. What that means is that all the international arrangements are handled in terms of how it can best support the counties, and the county chairmen. The English structure has managed to create a delightful situation where the counties leech of both the top level and the clubs beneath them. Nice work if you can get it.
It’s hard to know what’s worse – the stuff Gayle comes out with or the response to it. When he decided to chat up a journalist on air, the howls of outrage echoed from one side of the world to the other. And then there was a long debate about the nature of it, whether it was sexist, what defines sexism and so on. All of which missed the point rather spectacularly that it was still boorish, rude and disrespectful first and foremost. Gayle is wonderful at belting a ball over prodigious distances, but has an uncanny ability to annoy and enable the holy to engage in virtue signalling. Ultimately this man’s place is in the wrong.
Captain of the most famous Ashes winning side now turned mouthpiece for ISM Sports Management and Stan Collymore impressionist on Twitter. Vaughan never fails to have an opinion on anything, unless of course it contradicts that of Neil Fairbrother, you’ve got to bring home the bacon after all. Campaigned mercilessly for James Vince’s inclusion in the Test squad even if everyone and their dog can see he is patently not good enough and will no doubt do the same for the next batch of ISM inductees. Occasionally seen writing in the Telegraph in favour of whatever Director, England Cricket has briefed him on.
A ubiquitous Twitter and blogging presence, with that oh so unique Australian sense of humour that generally involves ignoring any Canary Yellow disasters and shouting “look over there” at anything English. Being maganimous in victory is easy, to be arrogant when you’ve been thrashed is far more satisfying. So thus it is that Olympic medal tables can be dismissed as Britain being four countries rather than one, and awkward stats like Yorkshire doing better than the whole of Australia ignored. It’s a good game of course, and one we all like playing. Which is why Dennis himself will be inordinately thrilled at his presence on this list. That’s Denis with one n.
He is to Richie Benaud as I am to Neville Cardus. And I didn’t go half way round the world, suck up to the powers that be and pretend to support Australia to further my career. Crackerjack. His written pieces in Cricinfo exist only to give Plagiarist Ed something to live down to. It is a measure of how far Channel 9 have sunk that he is clearly and by a distance the best thing on it.
Ex England captain and one time promising commentator who actually asked difficult questions of the ECB but has since sold his soul and insight for bucket load of cash from Sky. Now mainly seen wandering around ECB sponsored events asking innocuous questions to England’s band of up and coming warriors and writing pre-approved hagiographies in the Daily Mail. Always the butt of the jokes from fellow commentators for having a big nose and being tight – oh the lolz.
Some things in life deserve a serious tribute. And the IPL is one. There are few such magnificent money making adventures in the world of sport, and the owners of the franchises can indeed sit down, raise a glass and appreciate how they’ve superbly exploited a love of cricket to their personal benefit. It’s a touch unfortunate that artificial teams that no one remotely cares about change around every year, and even more so that the police seem to take such an active interest in what’s going on. But what does that matter – feel the cash. Appreciate the dosh. Hang the rest of the game, this is where it. is. at. And. Ya.
We like to go against the grain on here. Not for us the open goal of quite a bit of journalistic stupidity over the years, no we prefer to attack the nuance, the subtlety, the clear problems in the media. And thus, so it is that Ali Martin finds himself on this list. More acute observers of the largely nonsensical output of the media may be puzzled, they may indeed consider Mr Martin to be one of those who has irritated few, who has criticised where it is due, who has praised when needed, who has offered up pithy and occasionally subversive tweets daring to take the piss out of the ECB.
And that’s the damn problem. No one can be that good. No one can have been in his role all this time and not managed a single article on here complaining he’s an idiot. Not even the fact he’s a mate of the wife of one of your writers justifies the reasonable, critical and generally objective journalism Martin puts out. To be blunt, this is not what is expected of the Guardian, whose cricket writing has tended to be beautifully pro-ECB throughout (The Telegraph has been the anti-establishment paper on this – which just goes to show the world is more screwed up than you ever imagined) to the point the good old Grauniad have thoroughly enjoyed the company of Giles Clarke in various hotel suites.
Sorry, it’s not acceptable. It’s not what we’re used to, and to be blunt about this, things were so much better when Martin was at the Sun covering the Zimbabwe element of the Under 19 World Cup while John Etheridge enjoyed the hospitality of a full England tour. Reasonable and balanced coverage? Call yourself a cricket journalist!
Oh Lizzy, where to start? No, you’re not Mike Selvey, insulting your followers doesn’t work or make you look clever. Trying to follow Lizzy on Twitter is akin to putting ones head in a sand mixer and hoping for the best. Lizzy is great if you follow her peculiar brand of cricket, but try and disagree with her about anything, then she will not hesitate to tell you that you know nothing and are an idiot of the worst kind. Desperate to be part of the MSM, fortunately her talent isn’t as strong as her bite.
Bilious inadequate, eh? Social Media zealot, you say? Vile Ignoramus? Charming. A man who launched a thousand quips, his presence at the Guardian as some sort of teleporter for the words of Chairman Giles, he bestrode the media world like a colossus, until the Guardian packed him off, with a stream of WestCorkian tears trailing behind. If you didn’t play, you couldn’t say. He made fruitflies an acceptable insult, made calling someone a C*** a moment to cherish, and if you dare question his greatness, well, you were just plain impertinent. Rather loved being called Lord Selvey by his adoring public, many of whom became rather less adoring quite swiftly. His departure has been the journalistic equivalent of Steve Waugh’s Australian finale. By the time it was finished, I think we were all glad.
Played a bit of county cricket, so you thought he might know that the doddery old sods in charge of the shires know more about survival in harsh climates than Bear Grylls. They ain’t about to take some secondhand TV salesman with a sharp suit and a line in sweating gibberish at his word, when they’ve had Vodafone and Paraguay Mining Inc beating at that door before. Or was McLaurin Tescos? Who gives a stuff. Anyway. good luck with that reshaping of T20 old bean. You may come across as a straight talking hard nut, but to us here, you’ll always be an empty suit we’ll never trust.
Best mates with a certain ex Chief Cricket Correspondent of the Guardian and an ex England bowling coach who had one method of trying to get the opposition out, i.e. bang it halfway down the pitch and hope for the best – see Headingley 2014 as a prime example. Successfully turned one of our most promising fast bowlers into a quivering wreck and after successfully making the Melbourne Renegades one of the laughing stocks of the Big Bash, is currently the new bowling coach for Australia, where I guess he has been advocating the need for the bowlers to ‘get in the oppositions faces’.
The thing is, you need to lose to win. If you want to win a game, you need to lose to win. If you win, then it’s because you lost to win. If you lose, it’s because you won to lost. Oh hang on, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Warne never said it, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he had, since the verbal diarrhoea reaches such proportions that there’s almost nothing you won’t be fairly sure you’ve heard him say. It’s always a clue on commentary – the momentary silence while a colleague tries to think of creative ways to politely say “that’s a load of shit, Shane”.
When you have a true great, a titan of the history of cricket, a man who stands second on the all time list of wicket takers, who would have been first but for an unfortunate episode where he was incapable of reading prescriptions, anti-doping regulations, team orders, WADA guidelines….errr perhaps just incapable of reading given the lack of plausible excuses for the ban.
As a commentator Warne has managed to nail that oh so difficult niche, whereby he witters on talking utter crap, yet retains the attention of the audience because maybe, just maybe, there will be a nugget of actual insight. And let’s be clear, Warne doesn’t lack insight – the bigger problem is the Herschelle Gibbs level of intellect. It does limit it a touch. He’s also so delightfully Australian. Not content with slating Alastair Cook to the point that even the residents of this blog were getting feelings of fatherly love and sympathy for the England captain, he also manages to go full on C’mon Aussie C’mon without realising there’s someone next to him who might remember it differently. Things like, oh I don’t know – the laughable claim Australia never doctored their pitches for Best Spin Bowler In The World Shane Warne for example.
Atherton could barely disguise his incredulity.
Like the mate you knew from when you were growing up, you know the one who behaved like Jay from the Inbetweeners, been there, done that, completed it mate. Swann believes he is the best thing since sliced bread and has the banter mode to live up to expectation. What most of us see is a middle aged, ex-international spinner who decided that he didn’t quite fancy being whacked around the park in Melbourne and decided to pack his bags and leave in a huff. The man who believes that Test tickets are but a mere £20, Bantersorous Rex is truly a man of the people. Tim Lovejoy has a new heir to the throne.
One of the authors of this blog in particular takes great umbrage at being offended. Jade didn’t like the fact that I criticised him not for his bowling, but for some irresponsible batting when a game might have been saved. As I saw he returned for the ‘rey recently, I clicked on his Twitter timeline to see I was still persona non grata. Given his performances for England, his position as a standing joke as a “finisher” across the whole of social media and press, to take umbrage at li’l ole me seemed rather, shall we say, petty. But it’s his right.
The English Medical Staff
Do they have something against people with first names starting with M? With Cheese, who made everyone know he was playing through pain, they let him carry on with a tear in his achilles that ended his career. With Mark Wood, even Director, Cricket was questioning what the hell was going on. But there are green shoots. They told England not to pick Stokes and Anderson at Lord’s, and the selectors backed them. Mr Dignity played absolutely no part in the furore that ensued. That furore went strangely quiet when Stokes broke down again and Anderson said it would have been too early.
This list is arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable and the product of three blokes in the pub deciding who to have a go at.
On that basis it’s every bit as important as the Cricketer’s list. Glad you approve.
One of the elements of the notorious description used by the ECB (and PCA) which provided the name of this site was the implied attitude towards those who at amateur level played the game, or who watched, bought tickets or paid television subcriptions. It was a perfect demonstration of their opinion of the plebians who merely provided all the revenue to allow those either within cricket administration, professional players or indeed journalists or broadcasters to earn a living. It remains one of the most despicable statements ever used by a sporting body towards those upon whom a game relies, and that statement is still carried on the ECB website, and no apology or even acknowledgement of it has ever been made.
But on its own, in isolation, it could perhaps be seen as the botched missive of an idiocracy which most people could brush off and laugh at. Except the trouble was that this attitude was pervasive, and not just within the ECB, it went through every level of the international game. Indeed, the attitude of the ECB was carried forward into the highest echelons of the international game. The film Death of a Gentleman outlined the perspective that supporters were merely there to be monetised in detail, and the ECB were not just complicit, they led the way alongside India and Australia in attempting to grab as much filthy lucre as possible.
The power grab by the Big Three (one suspects that rather than hear the dripping contempt of that phrase, some within will view it as a badge of honour) was largely about increasing power and increasing the revenues to those boards, entirely at the expense of everyone else. The remaining Test nations would be worse off, the Associate nations might as well give up, and for a nation like Ireland, the possibility of Test cricket had receded into the distance and has little appeal to it even if they were to achieve it.
Dmitri yesterday wrote a piece about the anniversary of the removal of Kevin Pietersen as an international player. Even back then, people were told to “move on” and naturally enough, those who always seem to back the ECB no matter what were quick to repeat it. But as so often, they miss the point. Pietersen is one tiny part of a wider jigsaw, and in the grand scheme of things, one of the least important. But what that episode did demonstrate above all was the utter contempt for those who are Outside Cricket not just by word, but by deed. That attitude, irrespective of whether one is a fan of Pietersen the player or not is precisely the reason the ECB, and Giles Clarke in particular, had no compunctions whatsoever in behaving the way they did, and the reason it was so important is that it highlighted the naked greed and lack of any interest in the consequences so demonstrative of that arrogance. It was not just that they abrogated their duty of care for the game, they showed they didn’t care about the game at all, merely their own narrow self-interests. The expression of lofty superiority by authority was echoed in similar ways across the globe, and while Pietersen had his own problems and was to at least some extent the architect of his own downfall, the lack of interest in the game itself reached the point where players were not turning out for their national teams, preferring instead to play the T20 leagues, and the captain of South Africa – South Africa no less – was openly debating giving up Test cricket. Different circumstances, entirely different situations, yet it was possible to draw a direct line between all of them on the basis of the lack of interest the governing bodies had for the integrity of the game.
The Big Three carve up had the consequence of drawing the vast majority of the game’s revenues to themselves, impoverishing the remainder of the Test playing nations and killing any prospect of the game expanding beyond its rather narrow boundaries. Cricket became the first sport in history to deliberately reduce its footprint on the planet. It went further, with Clarke’s flat rejection of the idea of T20 cricket being an Olympic Sport, mostly on the grounds that it wouldn’t make his board any money, whatever he said, while slashing the development funds to non-Test playing nations and turning even the Test playing nations outside India, Australia and England into nothing other than vassals. The three countries took complete control of the ICC, ensuring that all ICC events were to be held solely in their own territories over the following ten years (though no one expected that to change at the conclusion of the agreed period) and challenging all the others to simply lump it or face being excluded from the kinds of tours that would allow them to survive as cricketing entities.
Some journalists objected, and objected vociferously. In Australia Gideon Haigh was scathing as only he can be, in England Scyld Berry broke ranks from his colleagues to condemn it outright, while Wisden in the form of Lawrence Booth sounded the alarm for cricket as a game. Since then Nick Hoult at the Telegraph has frequently written about the machinations both within the ECB and beyond. Cricinfo too raised the matter, with Jarrod Kimber impressively furious and of course along with Sam Collins making Death of a Gentleman, while Tim Wigmore has repeatedly castigated the powers that be for their duplicity and selfishness concerning the wider world game.
From others. Silence. From the Guardian, nothing – really nothing. At the time of writing, there is still nothing on the ICC meeting today. From Mike Selvey, their chief cricket correspondent, absolutely nothing at any point on the whole topic. This is no surprise, for Selvey is known to be close to Giles Clarke to the extent that a paper that has prided itself on investigating injustice has appeared to be an echo chamber – indeed a direct hotline – for the views of the ECB. Selvey’s first response on TMS to the potential for major change in favour of the richest boards was to profess ignorance of the whole matter and regard it as unimportant and when Death of a Gentleman came out he refused to watch it. As far as anyone knows he still hasn’t. It is shameful that newspaper has ignored the matter, it is despicable that they have made no effort whatever to cover it, preferring instead to imply approval of Giles Clarke’s claim that no-one is interested in administration, apparently even when it fundamentally changes the nature of the game. Colleagues such as David Conn may have views on that. For cricket lovers who have adored the Guardian’s previously excellent coverage, it is a dereliction of duty that they will find very hard to ever forgive. That it requires blogs like this one to point this out, and to try, in our own small way, to back up the work of those excellent journalists in asking questions and making criticisms is unacceptable.
Unless there is some kind of statement to the contrary, the assumption must be this is deliberate policy, for it is rather hard to believe a journalist of the quality of Ali Martin is purposely ignoring the whole subject.
Today the ICC held a meeting which largely reversed the changes made a year ago, the status quo ante prevailing. This can be viewed as progress of a sort, though Tim Wigmore wrote an excellent piece on Cricinfo pointing out the limitations of what has happened. It is well worth reading:
Wigmore is completely correct, and points to Lord Woolf’s scathing assessment of the ICC at the time, to which we now more or less return. And yet even this does provide some grounds for hope, and perhaps practicality dictates that in one board meeting the only possible immediate means of rolling back the changes was to re-instate the previous constitution. The ICC under the jackboot of India, Australia and England would have in short order killed at the very least Test cricket as we knew it. The West Indies, already in crisis through their own administrative ineptitude have reached the point where they are uncompetitive against almost anyone, their best players preferring instead to play the shortest form of the game as hired hands – and who can blame them? The battering received in Australia was greeted with sadness in some quarters, and with outrage amongst those who have delved rather more deeply into the wider problems. It was only going to get worse, the alarm bells were well and truly ringing when AB De Villiers made his statement about giving up Tests. The clear revenue increase to the majority that applies now at least buys a little time.
The ICC statement from today is worth reading in full:
It is a curious thing when an ICC statement provides some degree of cheer for the cricket fan. The removal of N. Srinivasan back in November when the BCCI withdrew support and the subsequent installation of Shashank Manohar as ICC Chairman provided the first glimpse of the possibility that the theft of the world game by an avaricious few might just come under scrutiny by those with the power to change it. The other Test playing nations, suddenly aware of their position as turkeys who had voted – or been forced to vote – for Christmas, had raised objections to their diminished status, but the constitution gave them virtually no prospect of changing anything. It required the BCCI in particular to take the lead. Manohar was swift to demonstrate things could change, saying upon his appointment:
“I don’t agree with the revenue-sharing formula, because it’s nice to say that India (BCCI) will get 22 per cent of the total revenue of the ICC, but you cannot make the poor poorer and the rich richer, only because you have the clout. Secondly there is another angle to it which nobody has thought of. India generates money because the other countries come and play in India. If you do not have a fierce competition, the broadcasters are not going to pay you and the sponsors are not going to sponsor your events.”
He went on:
“I don’t agree with the three major countries bullying the ICC. That’s my personal view, because as I have always said, an institution is bigger than individuals. You cannot guarantee which individual will occupy the top position in either of these countries. And, the ICC constitution, as it stands today, says that in all the major committees of the ICC, these three countries will be automatically there. So all the financial and commercial aspects and the executive committee will be controlled by the representatives of these three countries which according to me is wrong.
“You should have the best man, whether he comes from Zimbabwe, or West Indies, or even from an associate or affiliate to work on a committee, who will promote the interests of the ICC.”
Simple statements of truth, but it garnered attention because it was entirely at odds with everything that had gone before. Premature it may be, but there is at least a hope that the new man at the top actually gives a shit about the game. From today’s press release, one line stood out in particular:
“No Member of the ICC is bigger than the other”
Others have been quick to point out that as currently constituted, this is not true, for India in particular have the power that no one else does, and as the major driver of revenue in the game, that is certainly not inherently wrong by any means. And yet the statement has been made, and while they are merely words, they are good words. And this is where ideas begin. At long last there is at the very least a statement of first principles that he and the ICC can be held to. This is some small progress.
Another item was that the chairman of the ICC could not hold office with any of the boards. This has direct consequences for Giles Clarke, as President of the ECB. He has long aspired to be ICC Chairman, but to do so he will have to give up his role at the ECB. And yet the indications are that despite previously appearing very likely to get it, the change in structure has crippled his prospects. Australia and South Africa have already made it clear they won’t support him, Sri Lanka are reported to be reluctant. Given Clarke’s unpopularity in much of the ECB, it would be an irony if the English were the only ones in favour, and it is tempting to wonder if they are even more in favour if it means ridding themselves of him at the same time. Either way, there will be few in mourning for the dissolving dreams of a man associated with the carve up of the world game like few others.
Other elements from the press release include conducting a review of the T20 leagues and their impact on the world game. T20 is a reality, and could – and should – be something extremely good for the game, as it raises the profile, popularity, and yes, the revenues of the sport. That we are in a position where it constitutes a threat to Test cricket and international cricket more generally is not inevitable, and never was. To review this is again progress, with the tantalising prospect of providing a context for Test cricket in particular, as the form of the game most under threat.
Is it an answer? No. Is it even the outline of the answer? No. But does it provide the smallest semblance of hope that international cricket, and Test cricket in particular, has a future? Just the smallest. It is a start. If it goes no further, then the downward spiral, which has been paused today, will resume. But nothing is inevitable, and with the right people at the helm, things can improve. Today is a good day, the despair is slightly lessened, and maybe, just maybe, Mr Smith has gone to Washington.
It’s been a fair while since I’ve written a piece, and it’s been like an itch that needs scratching. The last few months have been fairly manic with work, but after next week it should be a quieter period, just in time for Christmas and then January and February, which are my easy months of the year, comparatively.
I’ve also been doing some research on a bigger post to come, and have notes scribbled all over the place. Picking the right time to do that is perhaps the biggest question.
The approaching series is the one in South Africa, historically always one of the marquee series, and thus one where excitement is building, right?
Hmm. Over the last week we had the nominations for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and the observation that despite a truly fantastic year, Joe Root was missing from the list. It was also pointed out that at the same time, a woman footballer was on there, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.
From a couple of cricket writers.
From the wider public there was the sound of complete indifference.
Now, the reason for me apparently picking on a female footballer there was deliberate. You see, not only are those matches visible on terrestrial television, but it goes further than that. Participation in female football has been growing rapidly in the last few years, and in the next 12 months or so, it will exceed the male participation in cricket in this country. Add to that the higher viewing figures for the Women’s World Cup, and realistically, why should there be the slightest objection or even query? By these measures, women’s football is simply more important to the English people than cricket is.
Is it really? Probably not, yet one of the defences the ECB puts up to cricket not being on terrestrial television is that it is available on Test Match Special on the radio. Yet here we have an Ashes winning year with one player across the calendar year proving genuinely exceptional and becoming the number one batsman in the world, and he wasn’t included. But the fundamental point is that people do get missed off these things, that isn’t the story – the total indifference to it is.
Few would argue that the SPOTY award is more than a bit of fluff, yet it is symptomatic of the decline in interest in the sport generally that Root being left out didn’t cause a storm of outrage, instead it wasn’t even noticed. Go to the pub, sit at the bar, raise the subject amongst those interested in sport and see what the reaction is. There’s a slight raising of the eyebrows and a response of “oh yes. That’s true”. This is more dangerous to the game here than anything, when the sporting public don’t even realise until it’s pointed out.
When this debate occurs, the question of terrestrial television coverage is always rejected with the line that the drop in revenue from doing so would be a disaster for the game, and that terrestrial coverage wouldn’t suddenly change everything. This is true, yet it is what it always has been – a complete straw man argument. No one is arguing that it is a panacea for all ills, it’s a deep seated concern that there won’t be much of a game to support at this rate.
Ah yes, but crowds remain excellent and there is strong demand, so the story goes. Yet this year there were day one tickets available for the Lords Ashes Test, on the day of the match. Trying to find this kind of information out from the ECB is nigh on impossible, and so the supporting evidence for this assertion is a simple one – I looked at the Lords website and went through most of the process of buying one to see if I could. It’s unlikely there were many, but the point is there actually were some.
Let’s just think about that; day one tickets, on the day, for the Lords Test, of an Ashes series. And England had just gone 1-0 up. Cost is a big part of this for certain, the exponential increase in ticket prices and the gouging of supporters by the ECB (funny how the huge rise in income for the ECB hasn’t held ticket prices down) has probably reached a point where a substantial number of those who would go simply don’t solely for this reason. Yet the alarm bells should be ringing loudly, and the biggest concern is they don’t seem to be.
It didn’t help of course that the Ashes series itself was such a dreadful one, five completely one sided matches with barely any drama or uncertainty beyond the first day and a bit. But to counter that, the two Tests against New Zealand were truly magnificent, cricket as entertainment at its best. It still didn’t make much difference.
With most specialist interests, there’s the matter that anyone writing or talking about it is doing so in an echo chamber, the only people who react or read it, or argue back are those who have the same interest, and thus it can be talked about at great length, entirely oblivious to the fact that no one outside of it cares. This is where cricket now is. The national press do cover the game, but if the Sun stopped writing about it (tucked away four pages in from the back) would anyone care? Would anyone outside of the few even notice? It seems unlikely.
Out of sight, out of mind is the most dangerous state for any sport to reach. For decades the lamentation that football has taken over the national consciousness at the expense of cricket has gone up, but it’s gone way further than that now. Rugby union is miles ahead, notwithstanding the England team gloriously completely the full set of the three “major” team sports all going out at the group stage of their respective World Cups (the football team’s failure is positively superb by comparison with the other two), in fact rugby league probably is. Cycling, tennis, athletics – they all now have a much broader appeal than cricket does. It’s nothing more than a minority interest, and the slump in people playing is as good an evidence of that as anything else.
If you were to visit some of the London parks, the removal of the cricket pitches by the councils is something that has been highlighted over the last few years. Yet a question that is never asked about that is what if the councils are right? What if they have removed them not just because of the expense, but because no one really cares if they do? It’s not like it was met with strong protest, more like quiet grumbles at the way things are going.
The national team is the pinnacle of any sport, and also the showcase of it. For all the talk about the dominance of the club game in football, nothing pulls in viewers or captures the imagination like the national team doing well – younger readers may need to ask a parent – yet despite the defeat in the UAE, the England cricket team had a reasonable enough year post World Cup, and for most of the wider public, it simply passed them by.
A South Africa tour should be highly anticipated, England don’t win there often, and despite the hosts comprehensive defeat in India, it will be a stiff challenge. But will anyone notice? Will anyone even realise it’s happening?
The wider ramifications of the ICC power grab are yet to unwind, the complicity of much of the media in allowing that to happen with no objections or investigation as shameful as it ever was. But the bigger issue right now is the game itself, and where it is in this country. And for the first time I am starting to truly fear for its future, not just at the top level but throughout. The mendacity and self-serving nature of the avaricious ECB is a subject to which we will return time and again. The danger is that it reaches a point where even when it’s put in front of the public, they still couldn’t care less.
At the moment, we are researching a series of posts on the cricket media, so I thought I’d kick off with a little (ha ha, as if) historical perspective as regards this blog, and the predecessor that was HDWLIA in relation to comments on the media. Let us begin around ago….
In the middle of the furore over the Hong Kong cricket match, many of you on here will remember this tweet from a member of our press corps which said:
“You have no idea how cricket media works. I’ve offered to meet to explain but you prefer to spout nonsense form (sic) anonymous blog”
I’ll keep that one.
My frustration with much of the cricket media has been a common, and some would say (very) repetitive theme throughout the last two years. Of course, it was principally sourced from the incidents in the fallout from the Ashes whitewash, but it’s beyond that. It really is, and this scene setter seeks to explain why and how.
The predecessor to this blog, How Did We Lose In Adelaide (still available if you know where to look) had rumbled around for quite a while before it got noticed. For six or so months, probably from around April to November of last year, it hit its peak in terms of the pique it derived from the cricket media. While I would not be as so bold to admit I know entirely how cricket media works, my heavens, I had gained a jolly good taste of how it did, just by watching their reporting, their behaviour, and in some cases, their arrogance. Back then I would take an article, and tried to dissect it (fisking). I was angry. I may well have been off target, but it was from the heart. That blogging captured the drive within me. Sometimes I wonder where that has gone.
(I’ve always said my aim was to get to within three universes of the sort of stuff Fire Joe Morgan did for baseball, where journalists were routinely targeted. They were talented professional writers doing that. I was a sole muppet, with an anger issue…. whatever I did, it seemed to work)
Things died down in the New Year, as HDWLIA closed down and Being Outside Cricket started. There was a brief renaissance of interest during the KP furore of May and the Ashes, but the tone then was completely different. We were aiming at the ECB, and had, actually, been doing that for quite a while. After all, the press weren’t really trying.
But here’s a fact. I was absolutely more excoriating of the cricket media last year on HDWLIA than I have ever been on Being Outside Cricket. I read back my attacks on the big beasts of journalism not hiding behind a paywall from those days last year, and I go full on. Now, maybe that’s because I didn’t really believe journalists would read it, because hit rates then were less than 100 a day and very few people were picking up on it. I was just one of those annoying gnats that you could shoo- away. In many ways, that has not changed.
So, let me go into the way journalists have interacted with me. I had occasional tweets answered early on, and put comments on line. I had a regrettable debate with Jonathan Agnew after a “convivial evening”, which ended up with someone threatening me with physical violence, which was nice (I’d called Agnew obsequious, which was out of order and we made peace). I think the starting point of more interest was at the test match at Lord’s against Sri Lanka last year. On that test match night, Jarrod Kimber let me know that he was reading out the “10 Worst Journalists” column to the attendant media. In his words, some were mad at being on the list, some were mad at not being higher. What he did say, was that many there read the blog, including those I’ve been told by others never do.
It’s a bit intimidating really. But I tried to be fair, and probably didn’t succeed. So while I am by no means an expert on the cricket media – we’ll delve into this a little later – the opposite applies. The cricket media’s overall knowledge of social media is laughable, in my experience. They rely squarely on the comfort blanket offered by social media’s lunatic fringe, by lumping those in there trying to make a point as trolls. Ed Smith, in particular, is good at that one. Others ignore the well-made salient points made to them on Twitter, and just pick on a ranting one to have a pop. I’m not saying it’s easy seeing your work dissected by the hoi polloi, but if you go on Twitter, you know what you are going to get. I got some fearful abuse over the KP post last year. I got some this Ashes summer too. It’s not nice. But that’s the price you pay.
One thing struck me from when Jonathan Agnew tried to break bread with Maxie Allen last year on a podcast. He said something along the lines of “if you come into my house and started calling me names, I’d chuck you out. That’s my approach on social media.” Well, yes, fair enough, but how many people with serious points to make are totally ignored without kicking up a fuss, and I’m referring to a number of the selective tweet responses in the para above? I’m a case in point. I called him lamentable and obsequious, and got blocked – entirely up to him, but it came with consequences for me. He then made peace the following day, so we called it quits, and have got on OK since, although our paths do not cross nearly as often. But I wouldn’t have got to that point without being forceful to start off with. I’m not as down on Agnew as others on here, but that’s their right.
My raison d’etre is not to become in with the in crowd. I’d much rather be friends and get along with people than have steaming rows with all and sundry, but I’m not courting anyone. It’s not good for me to be angry and arguing, and after a while, screaming and shouting becomes annoying and self-defeating. So let me strike down casual myth number one about my interaction with the cricket media. I do not want to become a journalist / reporter. That is not my aim, and I don’t know how many times I need to say it. It is also not attention seeking (although I can do it very well as this blog proves), and the clue is in the use of a pseudonym and my unwillingness to meet people. Some people call this cowardice. Don’t bother with me then, because it isn’t changing any time soon. That is the antithesis of “attention seeking”. So my lack of knowledge about the cricket media isn’t keeping me going to get into the game. So perhaps we’ll leave that sorry canard alone, eh? Others have got into journalism, to newspapers etc, and got contacts along the way by blogging. Fair play to them. That isn’t for me. At Lord’s, this summer, I was stood five feet away from Agnew. If I was an attention seeker, I’d have said hello.
What this (Being Outside Cricket) blog did less than the last one was to hold the cricket media to some sort of account in my own style. Again, Jarrod has said to me “why do you blog about people the vast majority of the cricket world don’t give a shit about?” Because it was fun. Yes. Fun. I adored the way they tripped up over themselves in knifing a cricketer they clearly did not like (and if they did, they did a passable impression of hating him), while being on the same side as an organisation headed, at the time, by a bloke I’m confident many of them can’t abide, bigging up charlatans, propping up a captain who, on form and captaincy ability at the time should have been dropped, and giving a passable impression, as Mark frequently comments, of being the ECB’s “stenographers”.
What I got to understand rapidly, is that the one thing that got cricket in the papers was something to do with Pietersen – look how many times his Tweets are converted into news stories. In their own way, this was their attention seeking. Even now, KP makes the papers. I’d wager he’s still the most famous cricketer in England, and only Cook might rival him. His exploits in over-the-way T20 competitions still get mentions. I understood this about the cricket media. A story with KP got hits, got comments below the line where applicable and sold advertising. It still does. Vic Marks alluded to him in his recent piece on Jason Roy. Fomenting antis were over it like a bad suit (remember, we’re obsessed). So chalk that down as something I know about cricket media. And you didn’t have to be Einstein to work that out.
The cricket media have their own jobs to do, and it was something that I was criticised for in Brian’s review in Wisden Almanack (and jeez, I will always have that little gem….) in not seeing their side of the story. Well, I’m awfully sorry about that, but when an organisation (ECB) treats its own fans with such utter contempt, it’s hard to see their side when they won’t see our’s. Our hopes were pinned on at least some of them asking the right questions and having a feel for what a good constituency of their readers might be feeling, at the right time. At the time he was sacked. Instead, they slept. Or stuck the knife in. I never sensed that they cared about that sacking, and said so. Suddenlt there was a wave of people who came along for the ride. Those that read, or read (in past tense) the blog over the past 18 months felt, and still feel incredibly let down by our fearless press have, in some instances, turned their back on England. This doesn’t matter in a world of small-minded administrators. Those that care a lot can be disenfranchised. I can’t watch England in the same way again.
The ECB are never going to give access to bloggers (not sure that I’d want that, but Chris, perhaps, would be more up for that as it suits his personality better than mine), so our hopes were pinned on the cricket media. We were appallingly let down, whether they like being told it, or care. How we saw the cricket media work there was putting access above adjudication, prejudice above pressure, long-term comfort over short-term revolt. Coming to mind, especially, was the fact it took 10 questions to get to KP in Downton’s first conference when we’d been waiting two months for any answers. Then, hilariously, more than one of the media were falling over themselves to tell us how great JPM’s finest was. The re-writing of history over Downton has been to see how the cricket media works. Not many of them were thinking “blimey, he’s out of his depth” until the end of the summer of 2014 at the earliest. A fair few of us were. We recognise that sort in our daily lives.
Since then, the pressure has died down on the media, and I’ve not been doing the fisking I used to. That’s fisking (analysing an article line-by-line). Why? Well, for the first thing they are quite time consuming and some newspapers make doing it a real tedious affair. Second, I’ve not felt the need to. Much of the fisking was because people were pretending there were no leaks (hence the repeated use of the “good journalism” meme on here – as in here’s another piece of good journalism “such and such is set to be dropped, we understand”) and also that ridiculous contentions were being put up about KP in particular without tangible evidence to back it up. The relationship between the journalist and reader should be that we either enjoy their style, or we trust what they say, and I was pointing out that I (me, and I write for me alone) liked neither their style nor trusted them in many ways.
I’ve also not issued the results of polls on the worst journalist, and thus not added comments to them. Why not? Because, to be frank, I don’t read much of what they write any more. It used to be fun picking up on their contentions blatantly accessed from sources we’ll never be a party to, or some of their ideas they’ll stick to come hell or high water, but it gets a bit repetitive (another Wisden criticism). The name of our recent winner is at the bottom of the post. It’s no surprise.
A few weeks ago we saw them, briefly, at their finest. A piece of good journalism here, a breaking of an embargo (an embargo, for heaven’s sake, it’s not a top secret report for God’s sake) there, and all round tut-tutting about it. These are the last throes of the dinosaurs. An ECB edict, issued under embargo to a press in need, protected from the punters of course, who don’t need to know before someone with a commercial imperative, and it’s leaked on social media. They haven’t a bleeding clue. Then, hilariously, the big story (Bell’s exclusion) was missed.
You see, the reason I like reading George Dobell and Jarrod Kimber and Gideon Haigh is that I trust them. They have their opinions, and I will listen to them and decide based on what they say. Sure, they have their favourites, because they are human beings, and we all have biases. I don’t believe (well, in some cases I have no doubt) they take dictation from the ECB or other authorities. They call it as they see it. This blog regularly votes them in to the best journalist poll, and we waxed lyrical about George in particular last year. Indeed, I think a sign of how highly he should be regarded is that in some cases, people were disappointed in some of his stuff, and voted him in the worst poll this year. That’s interesting to me.
TLG and I will be talking more about the media in the short term. In the years I’ve been doing this blog the reactions to a couple of recent events really piqued my interest. The golf day stuff, which I stayed out of by and large, and the Hong Kong game. It piques Tregaskis’s enough to write his epic published yesterday.
So be prepared for some more nonsense, and I hope you enjoy it.
Finally, I can exclusively reveal here the winner of this summer’s worst journalist award, as voted for by the readers of Being Outside Cricket. It’s Mike Selvey. No shock there. The rest will follow…. a new entry at number 2, and at number 4 for instance.
Selvey was a landslide winner because he exemplifies how we see the cricket media “working”. In the past 18 months he has been contemptuous of those who dare to challenge his view, has undertaken some of the most appalling briefing against a player I’ve seen in ages (Adil Rashid – it went beyond opinion on the pace he bowls at when he went after him at Lord’s this summer) and his world class tweeting. Just recently Tim Wigmore alluded to something a little more concerning, and no, we didn’t miss it, and nor did you, commenters. He’s number 1 for a reason.
This post was written, mostly, a fortnight ago. I’m sharing it now in the light of Tregaskis’s piece. We’ll be discussing that for days to come, an important blogging milestone of undoubted depth. It took a chance, and his style of writing, leaning towards FICJAM but without the ego, and thus superb in its nature, is beyond what I could possibly achieve. He has sought to be honourable when no such honour is reciprocated by most. I wonder where we go from here. TLG and I will pick up on it more and more, because it has not gone away.
It has been an interesting last 24 hours. David Hopps kicked off the fun with a scathing article on England’s fixture with Hong Kong. All the details of what followed are contained in the Someway, Somehow post below.
Today we were told that the CEO of Hong Kong cricket, Tim Cutler, had written a statement on their website to clear up some misunderstandings. This has been retweeted by Lawrence Booth, John Etheridge and England Cricket on my timeline. I’m sorry chaps, but I don’t believe this as the whole story. I’ve worked in a press office and this looks like a statement that’s been worked on a while. There is also the really important issue here, and one, that I am afraid goes back all the way to the beginning of 2014. Andrew Strauss mentioned the word. Trust.
We do not trust the ECB. Hong Kong cricket, even if it wanted to, could not kick up over this without making an implacable enemy of one of the big three, and in the current ICC environment, who’d want to do that? Andrew Nixon, who reports on the Associate nations with a passion to be admired, is adamant that, yes, of course Hong Kong wanted an ODI against England. I’d see it as a non-league football club getting drawn out in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup away at Manchester United. It sort of defies belief that they wouldn’t want that with the commercial exposure that might bring, and the chance for other local cricketers to aspire to the same. They have ODI status so why waste that opportunity?
Now, the line to take is that an ODI was never an option. You can rearrange a test match due to a terrible event (see Brisbane last year, and the extra day in the Emirates), you can rapidly schedule an entire series (Sri Lanka ODI to replace West Indies tests), but you can’t organise an ODI in a month? Hong Kong cricket seemed to indicate that they sought the possibility of an ODI while also claiming that a one day practice match with a white ball and coloured clothing was better preparation for the Intercontinental Cup (a four day match). There’s also the mentions of money, which of course governs all, and yet from the start the best practice was most important.
Read the statement. David Hopps remains somewhat sceptical.
And while David continues to beat this path, we can’t be dismissed as conspiracy theory nutters.
So it comes to trust. This is what you damaged, chaps, when you allowed yourselves to be used as an ECB conduit. When you failed to stick up for us as being “outside cricket” right from the outset because you needed access. When you failed to acknowledge the leaking, left, right and centre (one even saying they were anal about leaks) in the last embers of the Ashes series, and let personal emnity to an arrogant cricketer get in the way of exposing what went on. Instead we were asked to take you on trust, and we had no desire to. In my view it reached the bottom with the Ian Bell awayday leak – that was poor. I’ve no doubt the media were scurrying around looking into it yesterday, but it’s amazing how they’ve done so when it is to protect the ECB’s reputation. Hong Kong are a bunch of amateurs compared to this machine. Once that press release praised Tom Harrison for working “behind the scenes” (he’s the CEO of England Cricket for crying out loud, why does he have to work behind the scenes to persuade his own body, he’s the bloody leader) to help associates and Olympic cricket, I had my tin hat on, turned the heat up in my mum’s basement and started salivating. Oh yes. Good old Tom. Well, I don’t trust him for starters. In ECB circles, trust is all. We know that.
So all we saw yesterday was a minor schmozzle where the ECB (who else would be affronted by Hopps initial report) wanted the record put straight (Ireland in April chaps? Let’s encourage those associate nations) and the journalists were prepared to act as Sir Walter Raleigh. I don’t expect them to like (or care) what I think, but that’s what happens when you have an arrogant, ignorant cricket board, a media who whistled their tune when the going got hot, and a load of angry cricket fans.
That’s the bed and we are all lying in it.
And, of course, it didn’t take long.
@DmitriOld You have no idea how cricket media works. I've offered to meet to explain but you prefer to spout nonsense from anonymous blog.
England could have used the international against Hong Kong in Abu Dhabi as a celebration of the full ODI status Hong Kong received for a four-year period from 2014, a chance to show a vague commitment to the global expansion that many cricket followed hanker after. Many would have seen it as posturing, but even posturing can bring benefits.
I’ve kept the article in full by way of record in case it is altered in the light of the following Twitter exchange…
@DavidKHopps Simon Cook, Hong Kong coach, didn't want an official ODI and he did want more than 11-a-side. England played 11, though.
First of all, the leaping to the defence of England’s cricket hierarchy by John is touching. While Hopps’s piece may not be true, and that the Hong Kong ODI team, throwing their weight around, forced England into a 13-a-side game we never really wanted, and we accommodated them (despite the rumours that we weren’t playing Hong Kong in a full ODI because we didn’t want / couldn’t afford (ho ho) our players), it’s not as if we go out of our way to give the Associates with ODI status on our doorstep much of a look-in. Ireland are an attractive side to watch, famously beat us in Bangalore, and yet we try to cram them in at the fag end of the season. It’s not as if our ICC representative is out there fighting their corner, stitching up the Big Three agreement, rubber-stamping the ten team format for the next World Cup.
Andrew Nixon, a firm proponent of Associate cricket pointed this out…
Given what they like on twitter, I’m not entirely convinced Hong Kong did request the England game not be an ODI. pic.twitter.com/688xKaRzZn
We spent a lot of last year going on about some of the press doing the ECB’s bidding. There still remains a good deal of suspicion around that area. Tim Wigmore alluded to it in a piece he wrote on Olympics and cricket. The ECB are capable of looking after themselves and defending their record. Except, of course, they are not as they showed last year.
If England would have wanted this to be a full ODI, ground status or not, they could have. Hong Kong dictating terms to England seems rather fanciful to me. But I’m not there, so I have to accept what I’m being told. It just seems a little strange.
The match will have been good experience for Hong Kong, but the lack of ODI status for this fixture between two sides with ODI status leaves something of a sour taste in the mouth. Reports are that Hong Kong said in the post match press conference that they requested the game not be an ODI. Given what I’d heard from within Hong Kong cricket ahead of the game, that is almost certainly a line written for them by the ECB in order to save face.