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.
As I start on this journey of a piece, it has the makings of being a really long one (and now I’ve finished it, not sure it works, but here goes). It goes to the heart of me as a fan of sports around the world. Of my love for cricket, of my lost love of football, of my hopes to see a team like the baseball champions Kansas City Royals (a team unable to compete financially with the big clubs in the States, but still able to win it all) win the league in England, of my hopes of seeing a team run by faceless wealthy oligarchs get relegated. Of my watching every single sport become a vehicle to make massive amounts of money at the expense of spectators. Of a media in hock to the money-making charade. Of organisations where the only way you can postpone the possibility of jail time is to stay in charge. Of money ruling everything. Of the extinguishing of the commodity every football fan of a club outside the richest in the world possessed – hope. Hope. Sport made you hope.
When Jarrod sent me the copy of Death of a Gentleman I sat there and watched in…. well I don’t really know what my emotions were. I wasn’t surprised. Giles Clarke is an absolute pig of a man, and there would have to be a question of judgement against anyone he’d class as an ally. I wasn’t shocked that India were looking after themselves – after all, that’s what the big clubs do in football here, so why the hell are we shocked at that – and as for not widening the game, well let’s face it, it’s only a matter of scope. Club football loves the expansion of the game because similarly levelled talent of footballers from Eastern Europe and Africa (and South America if they didn’t predominantly move to Iberia) are cheaper than English counterparts. No major English club (and, by extension it seems, their fans) give a flying f*ck about the national team and developing players for it. In many cases, quite the opposite. The club sides were businesses, and the big clubs don’t feel the need for a sucessful national side to keep the home fires burning like they used to.
I wasn’t shocked that some players, like Ed Cowan, would give everything for their first cap, but the counterpart is that they might not feel so enamoured of the game when they get to, say, their 70th. Once something becomes routine, almost an entitlement, then that sheen of optimism wears off and it becomes just a job. But it’s nice to be reminded of the good side of first selections. Then there is the focus on test cricket. It doesn’t make commercial sense, so therefore, because of that it should not be played. It is not entertaining. Sport should not be played in front of empty stadia. We can’t serve up dead pitches because five day cricket is inherently boring. It is a form of the game worth saving because…. and it comes to the ultimate test of skill, technique, concentration and athleticism. However, those qualities sell better if there are more games. Shortening becomes efficiency. That’s what the people want in their busy lives…. So dead pitch test matches are bad. Very bad. They are driving people away.
That’s a line of argument gaining traction whenever we have a pitch where you might have to work really hard to get very good players out on it. I’ve been on this mortal coil now for over 45 years and people have become this way – short-term driven and wanting to tinker. Attention deficit and a generation of tinkerers. You know how it is at work. You can’t stay the same, you have to change. Change is good. If you are not open to change, you are an impediment. What happens now is administrators, managers, CEOs have to change something. There needs to be something done because there is always more to do. Innovate or die. And that’s my problem. Sport now apes business, because it has ceased being about sport, in many case, and more about business. I used to go to, and play, sport to escape business.
What is sport for? Well, actually, it isn’t for spectators, it is for the joy in playing it, isn’t it? Sport in itself is a form of enjoyment, of individual achievement, and when in a team context, of playing with your mates or forming a bond with like-minded adults or formulating friendships as kids. It’s getting the best out of yourself. Doing something that is better than work, perhaps to get away from a daily grind. So sport, at its base instinct, is about the players. When you were a kid, you played cricket until you got out. You might be stopped in street cricket when you made 50, or 100. You didn’t constrain yourself with limiting overs, field settings, who could or could not play. You didn’t care who was watching. When sport was more organised, for me it was Schools cricket and junior clubs, they would put some constraints on what you could play and then you sought to build innings, practice defence, and try to improve.
A key tenet of the debate going on now is that people aren’t developing the same love of the sport as they did when I was a kid. That cricket, obsessed with monetising the talent, is hidden behind a paywall that pays it more than a terrestrial channel. George Dobell, in his latest piece on Moeen, made the point:
At Moeen’s old school, Moseley, 80% of the kids do not have English as their first language; 40% receive free school meals. You don’t have to be a genius to work out the long-term effects of charging almost £100 for a ticket to international cricket or putting it behind a paywall on television. The game is in danger of becoming invisible to a huge section of society.
The role of TV in this piece is all-pervading, but I’m not sure if it’s the illness or the carrier. The fact is that cricket is, in some markets, an important commodity. Indian TV contracts are massive. In England, the absence of an IPL or a cricket equivalent to the football behemoth, means the contract is all about televising England’s national team. In this country it means test matches. I know how much more keenly test matches are viewed, by one look at the hit stats for the blog. ODIs capture nowhere near the attention. We’ll come to why, soon. Maybe. But it needs to start at what sport means to me. What cricket is…
When I was a kid it was all test cricket. No-one really cared about county cricket as a kid, and I didn’t go to my first County Championship game until I was a University student. Cricket was played in the streets by kids back in the 80s, because I was one of them. We played football in the same streets, despite being told not to by the council busybodies. Football is very visible, and yet I don’t see any kids playing it in the street on my council estate. There are less teams playing on Sundays over the playing fields I used to play on. Participation levels appear to be down, even informally. I lived cricket, though, because although I was never really going to go to county cricket, I followed it in the papers. I even purchased a long wave radio so I didn’t have to wait a couple of days for the scores when I was on holiday and could listen in to the snippets of cricket on the World Service.
During my formative years there was a school of thought that televising football live would kill clubs. Yes. People actually fought tooth and nail to keep the FA Cup Final as the only live club game on TV each year. It’s almost unthinkable. TV coverage was totally removed for the first half of the 1985-6 season. Nothing. Not a thing. At all. There was a running joke that West Ham’s Frank McAvennie, recently signed by them from St. Mirren and who was scoring for fun, could walk down the streets and no-one knew him. Football didn’t die. Of course not.
Now to make money, sport has to be about spectators – but it has become about TV spectators now. Players want to get paid for what they do, and they want it in increasing amounts. As those amounts get larger, the people paying them want more bang for their buck, and to try to keep the money flowing. They’ll increase ticket prices, play TV companies off against another to get in more revenue, and still they’ll increase prices, get into bidding wars with other mega-wealthy clubs to get the best players, who play less often because they are increasingly saved for matches against the best teams. Gideon Haigh summed up the role of you, the spectator, in DoaG perfectly – we are there to be monetized.
I’m a little bit of a lefty, you’ve probably guessed that, but I don’t live my life with my head in the clouds. Players want their fair share of the money going around, and that’s understandable. For the vast majority of sportspeople, especially in team sports, careers are short at the top level, and those lucrative media jobs for post-sporting careers are few and far between, while coaching and managing at the top level is both short-term and high-risk. But with money comes cynicism (I know it is not an exclusive relationship, but it’s just worse when high values are involved) both in terms of the superhuman feats a player is expected to perform because he/she is earning amazing amounts of money, and from the players, who might, or who are not able, to perform superhuman feats on cue every time they are asked to. It then means we might feel short changed when we see something that isn’t up to standard from them. That player will be crucified in the press, the braying, baying media pack who want “drama” “stories” and “soap opera” rather than sport. Your team wins some times, it loses some times. We are in the era when big clubs are not allowed to lose. Ever.
It is us, the spectators who are at fault. Most of us aren’t good enough to play at a high level, yet act like we know what it takes. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Now your choice of football team is often seen as a reflection on you. I support my local club exclusively in England. I don’t care much for any other team. A team with a style of play I like might lose one week and I wouldn’t give the first f*ck about them. My team is Millwall. I was brought up in Deptford. My Dad was a Charlton fan, the rest of my family Millwall. My cousin got me first, and took me to the Den in 1979. I was a Millwall fan, for life.
Now, in SE London, I see people with Chelsea shirts, Arsenal shirts, Manchester United shirts, less Liverpool shirts than you used to, and for the love of all that is holy, Manchester City shirts. Their choice of team isn’t in reaction to their locality – hell support those jokers from Selhurst Park, it’s better than Arsenal – but it’s not just their choice that riles. They pat themselves on the backs as if they’ve backed a penny share that’s suddenly had a good Annual Report. Meanwhile, of the three local clubs, Palace are having a decent run, but it will only take a raid on their best players, and a downturn in form to see them back where they belong; Charlton are now a Belgian league club’s plaything; and my lot are arguably back where they belong – a tier two/tier three yo-yo club. Only diehards support lower league clubs now. We’re seen as an oddity, as if there’s something wrong with us, as if we don’t have the mental capacity to choose a big team.
So it goes for cricket.
I am a Surrey fan, for life. I chose them in the late 1970s. They were my granddad’s team, they were the nearest ground to home, and someone with the same real surname as me played for them (hello Mr Alam). They are my team for life, and believe me, it took 20 years for any glory. But I appreciated it so much more that it took so long. I am also a supporter of the following other sports teams – Miami Dolphins (Superbowls since supporting them – 1, and they lost it); Boston Red Sox (started supporting in late 1990s, when Pedro was doing his thing – they’ve become winners since then); Chicago Bulls (nearest I come to a glory hunter, but supported once I got to see Michael Jordan play on TV – before the Championship run) – and stuck with them through their slumps, which they have all suffered (Miami the 1-15 season, Red Sox bottom of AL East two years on the bounce, Bulls post the glory years).
The modern spectator has more in common with the Bulls following than anything else. They want to win, and they want to see the big stars at their team. Extrapolated to the TV audiences, it means big clubs, more often. Top stars, more often. Money makes the world go round.
In cricketing terms we all know what this means. The biggest money is in India. Therefore, the biggest stars are in India, a nation that remains proud of its own, and yet loves those from outside that embrace the culture and the fanaticism. When this is combined with cynical, money-hunting businessmen, on the prowl for more power, there’s an unstoppable nexus. Feed the fanaticism, make more money. The IPL stands alone as the T20 league to play in. The money, the fame, the adulation. Cricket on a level playing field with football. No wonder players want to play in it, and others worry themselves sick about it. India hold all the negotiating hand here, and everyone knows it.
Anyone in England who thinks this is outrageous, then look at how the Champions League is run. How the Premier league is run. The aim for all is to make sure India keep the IPL away from their turf, to keep themselves sustainable. West Indies have suffered the most. England and Australia, the least.
Again, anyone in England wondering why India want to guarantee nine matches in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, because of a shock exit in 2007, haven’t paid attention to a Champions League that spends 48 games to halve its numbers, with a lovely seeded draw to keep as many big teams apart as possible, and a draw designed to maximise revenues in the big markets by not allowing more than two games per nation on any one day, and by stretching the 2nd round out over four weeks, not two. There was nothing wrong with the old European Cup knockout model, except it didn’t make the big teams enough money. When UEFA had the gall to remove the second group stage, there were howls of derision from the bigger clubs, and many a veiled threat – but fans saw through it and it was almost too obvious in its soaking of the fans. The big club spectators want more of this exotic stuff, not less, but too much damages credibility. India are mimicking big football clubs, and yet we get howls from supporters in this country that they do so. We must be having a laugh……
India has been threatening an IPL2, have been using their international team as pawns in ageo-political money accumulation game for years now. They have the power. Without them, every country with the exception of England and Australia is sunk. Sports authorities, and those making money out of them, rarely look for long-term rewards, because within a few days your corruption might be fatal, your face might not fit, or some younger, or more innovative whipper snapper has seduced your enablers. It’s only going to get worse. I sound like an old codger, I know, but we’ve got a load of twenty-somethings come into our office in the last year or so. I like pretty much all of them personally. But they don’t see long-term. They see rapid development, an entitlement to promotion rather than it being earned in the long run of hard graft. There is impatience. There is practically no dissent to authority. It is not about common good, it is about the pursuit of your own goals. It’s the culture in which they were raised.
That sort of culture, to take an extrapolation if you might allow me to, means sports that take five days, played in empty grounds, are anathema. These are top players who could be earning more. They could be used more. The lopping off of six weeks at a time to play three matches in a desert location makes absolutely no commercial sense. Commercial sense. It isn’t about growing the game, getting more teams involved (after all, we grew it in 1999 by promoting Bangladesh to test status and they still aren’t up to it), it is about getting the best players on people’s screens, in front of lots of people. It isn’t about cricket lovers, certainly us old codgers, because we aren’t the target for advertising – that group between 18-35 is the holy grail – and advertising makes the TV money go round. A modern culture demands a modern way. Death of a Gentleman is more Death of an Attitude.
The film highlighted all it needed to. A governing body doing what all other major board seem to do – hoard power and cash, run the sport on short-termism, pay lip service to development and monetise the best players as frequently as possible – and players moaning about workload in the one instance, but grabbing every bit as much cash as they can whent the opportunity arises (which is why I won’t listen to KP on county cricket, for instance. He made it where he is because of it, not in spite of it. He moved to this country to play it). Giles Clarke is a lovely coat-stand to hang our ills on. Maybe he is right and we should ride India’s coat-tails. Maybe the counties are right for fighting for the status quo, because, let’s face it, their existence in the form of 18 teams playing four day cricket book-ending the limited over stuff is every bit as logical as test cricket in Mohali.
Whether test cricket lives or dies isn’t up to me. The Ashes will live on, as long as we have players capable of playing long-form cricket. There is a lot mentioned about context of tests, and the refusal to have a Test Championship is mind-blowingly short-sighted, but what was the context when the West Indies were ruling the world, or Pakistan played test series against India that would feature a result once in a blue moon? These aren’t new issues. Cricket is more expensive to watch, both at grounds and via subscriptions. So is football. So are most other sports.
I’d like to finish this long ramble up with a comparison to baseball, which I mentioned at the start. You can’t go a week or two without reports that viewership on TV is down. That baseball is a dying sport. That no-one talks about it over the water-cooler. That the NFL now rules everything in the US. Baseball will still be there in decades to come. It is a slow, cerebral game, which I love. It cultivates its base by making its local TV rights, and national shows available. It has a website that was the envy of many other sports which made watching your team outside of market very cheap (£90 for every match in a season, more or less). It plays on its history, a sepia-tinged “father and son” narrative. It’s a sport embraced by the Latino community. It’s also competitive. The current richest team haven’t won a title since the 1980s (Dodgers). The perennial richest team, the Yankees, have won the championship once since 2000. Last week, the Kansas City Royals won the title having been in the finals last year. According to sources, a greater proportion of younger people watched the World Series than in recent memory. It’s food for thought.
Over at our friends at the Full Toss, a proper debate has been going on – it started initially on Twitter, with Tregaskis raising a point, and snowballed from there. The whole thing can be read through Maxie’s post on TFT, and I’m not going to repeat it here, so the link is as follows:
Here’s the thing. I like Maxie. I like his writing, and I like him personally. I’ve had a couple of good nights out with him, and enjoyed his company thoroughly. Which is why I know that saying I disagree with his premise is not going to be met with shock and horror, but more “Oh really, why?” Because if there’s one thing I do know about him, it’s that he’s exceptionally comfortable with the idea people hold different views to him – it’s something that always makes me smile when you get the more virulent criticism of him for his articles, he is quite interested in those who don’t agree.
It’s one of those things that is striking across a few of these blogs. Dmitri is the same, forever worrying about whether his perspective is a reasonable one. The irony is that it’s me who tells him to ignore the trolling and the abuse, yet I’m the one who is probably thought of as less polemical and more nuanced. The true beauty of all of these debates is that it involves real people, who can be hurt.
From his post, it seems Lawrence Booth in particular felt that he was being unfairly maligned, and here I have enormous sympathy with him. I really can’t see a thing wrong with something like a golf day that might involve a few players. And this is why – in my own line of work there is a fair bit of what we might call “promotional” activity. The deal is what is has been for generations across many kinds of career, we take them out, spoil them, show them a good time and when it comes to contracting maybe they’ll be better disposed to us than our competitors. Naturally, our competitors do the same. It’s the kind of thing that tends to be pontificated about as somehow dubious, but it’s normal practice. More specifically, I’d fall down in a faint if something like that made a potential client switch to me, it doesn’t happen, it’s way more complex than that involving building trust and – the key point – getting to know people.
For journalists, their stock in trade is copy for their newspapers. It’s nothing like as simple as on here – I can write any old rubbish and click “Publish” and up it goes. The press pack have to pass it via their editors and hope that some kind of simulcrum of what they wrote appears in the paper the following day. It is extremely easy to be totally cynical of all media output, and it just ain’t that simple.
Want the proof? I can write a piece on here talking about Kevin Pietersen, and the hits we get double from normal. Hell, just the fact his name is used will add a few extra ones. It’s extremely easy for us to manipulate the content if we were so inclined, and thus when online papers do it, the line that it’s clickbait might be true, but it’s successful clickbait.
Neither Dmitri nor I make a penny from this place, so we can say what we like, but it’s pretty easy to see how commercial sites love it when you can do something that straightforward to get extra hits.
So for a newspaper journalist, first and foremost they need to create copy that attracts attention. That might be about – say – Joe Root, as we’ve seen with the Telegraph interview with him that has got plenty of notice. But what we can’t do is expect those articles to come out of the ether, and that’s where the whole point of argument has stemmed from. It’s a fair bit easier for former England batsman and captain Michael Vaughan to do it, but for a normal cricket journalist, to provide an angle requires them to do the legwork both before and after.
We know what Root (poor lad, still using him as the example) did in raw figures and anyone can write that, it’s just that barely anyone will read it because it’s dull. How does a journalist provide context and colour? It’s by getting to know them, talking to them, allowing a sufficient degree of trust that they will speak to them in the first place. So both because of my rationale about hosting events, and because of the peculiarities of sports journalism, events such as a golf day are critical. What else would people desire of their correspondents? Glorious isolation? It simply is not going to happen, and the journalists aren’t doing their jobs if it does happen.
The unguarded comment from someone suckered in by a journalist they trust is in itself part of the job, but they can’t do that unless they know them in the first place. It’s just not a fair argument to attack people for doing what is in reality their job.
On here we have offered up plenty of criticism for journalists not holding the ECB or ICC to account, and those criticisms stand absolutely. The frustration about that can’t mean though that everything they do is therefore criticised, we have to be fair about this. When we get a fascinating interview with Nick Compton, it’s because that journalist spent time getting to know him well enough for him to talk, and created sufficient trust for him to open up. It doesn’t help anyone to pretend the means by which that happened shouldn’t.
Criticism for not doing their jobs properly is legitimate and necessary. But not for when they are. And heaven only knows there are enough things to complain about there, for there really is much too cosy a relationship between some journalists and the ECB, while the fact that the senior cricket correspondent of one of the broadsheets can’t even be bothered to watch Death of a Gentleman remains as pathetic a dereliction of duty as there is. But seeing reds under every bed weakens the argument, it doesn’t strengthen it. Sometimes they’ve simply done nothing wrong.