Dmitri Old and the Real T20 Experience (and an American’s first game of cricket)

You know I’m not a fan of T20 cricket. It’s like those 30 second clips you get on Amazon of songs off an album (no, I don’t like streaming, kiddies(. Sometimes you get the important part, the chorus, the hook, the key verse. Sometimes you get the boring guitar solo or nothingness of an instrumental. You rarely get the full picture of a sport not meant to be played like this. To give the potential opportunity to bat for hours, days in pursuit of the undetermined. The variation in conditions, grounds and weather interventions, that form part of the tapestry of the long-form are eliminated more or less from the T20 genre. It’s not what got me into cricket, test matches did, and prominently Viv Richards in 1976 with his double hundreds, but it is still cricket. At least I think it is.

So off I trotted to Surrey v Essex on Wednesday night. Before some might carp, these tickets were bought well before Kevin Pietersen announced he was going to play for Surrey, but the primary purchase was to take my American colleague, we’ll call him Stan, to his first cricket match. It would be his entry point to the sport I bang on about. He also has kindly written his comments on the occasion in a quintessentially American way for us. I hope you find them interesting. His last paragraph is particularly interesting – “even the brash version of the game was unassuming” – didn’t exactly resonate with my experience.

I have been to Surrey T20 matches before, but the last few have been in the Pavilion. This time I was in Block 9. I was in among the legendary Surrey T20 evening crowd. The reputation was of hard drinking, abusive support, and a disregard for the game in front of them. I am a Millwall fan. I’ve been home and away, in fact my 20s and early 30s saw me travel the country watching them. A Surrey home game in the T20 would be a walk in the park. Hardly the razor’s edge.

First of all, getting to the Oval from anywhere in rush hour is an total pain. The Northern Line is a horror, and we had to walk from Kennington Station, which isn’t a massive problem, but symptomatic of some of the sporting difficulties we encounter when a venue has no parking. There’s little point in expanding the Oval to 30,000 if the transport can’t cope with 20,000. But we put up with it. The contrast with my visits to baseball in the States is stark. Once at The Oval the bag search was laughable. I mistakenly left a half-full bottle of water in the bag. She ignored it (it was 1.5 litres so couldn’t be missed), and now I’m sad there wasn’t alcohol in it! Already the concourses were rammed, the queues for beer lengthy, the extortionately priced food less congested but doing (un)healthy business. There is a definite buzz, but not the one you get before a football match. There seems little investment in what is about to unfold. It’s ultimate entertainment. People want to be entertained, far and above caring about the result. Sure, there are Surrey diehards there, like me, but do I care if we lose? Not really. Do you really care if you win the competition?

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Surrey won the toss and batted. This I understood from being told by John, who had bought the tickets and had met his son. In common with most of the night, I didn’t glean this from the public address system which was hopeless. Or it could be that someone sabotaged it because Colin Murray was on the mic. My suspicion is that Jonathan Liew might have done that. He likes Colin Murray. The teams were put up on the scoreboard, and when Ollie Pope was shown, I went “who”? They didn’t have his name and I couldn’t hear the announcer!

Surrey came out with their fearsome looking opening partnership of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy. Essex opened with a spinner. It didn’t work as Finch tucked in to him. I advised Stan that 10 an over through the powerplay (I also explained the 6 over restrictions on the field, after explaining what an over was) was probably a minimum given the high scoring games seen at the venue thus far. Progress was good until Jason Roy somehow hit his own wicket (I couldn’t really see how it happened on the replay) and while expecting Kumar Sangakkara to come in at number 3, we soon realised it wasn’t that maestro.

I have to say that the pervading noise around me was booing. Now I cannot tell how many of them were Essex fans, but I’ll wager they weren’t all from Essex. Now as you know, and as I once wrote at length on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, this thing absolutely pisses me off. Pietersen may be a hate figure, but you pricks wouldn’t have been cheering the parade, rejoicing in 2005 without him. None of your current heroes has done anything near that. Comma has. Freddie has. Ashley Giles has. They haven’t. How dare you boo one of our all-time greats? I wouldn’t boo Cook, and I’ll bet I feel like a lot of the anti-KP mob when it comes to him. It still “boils my piss” as Stan found out!

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KP and Finch dropped the pace a little as the former tried to get into his groove. Finch still let loose a drive or two, but then went himself. So to join 8181 test runs at the crease would be a man with nearly 27000 international runs to his credit. I tweeted about what a privilege it was to see them both at the crease at the same time. T20 in England still has its moments, and both these characters, for differing reasons, are irreplaceable.

Neither player could get into a rhythm and indeed Pietersen was dropped on the boundary when trying to cart Zaidi over mid-wicket. This seemed to galvanise Pietersen afterwards, and I have to say a couple of moments made the evening worthwhile. Simon Harmer came on to bowl, and Pietersen hit four sixes in the over. I’m trying hard and can’t remember ever having seen someone do that at a game I’ve been present at. What’s more, two of them flew straight over my head at long-on. I am a Pietersen fan as a batsman, as a cricketer (more about the lack of fielding later) and to think this might be my last chance to see him play in England made it more special. Even when a little over the hill, a lot out of practice, and seemingly at war with much of English cricket (who, never forget, started the fight), Kevin Pietersen still can surprise and delight with the bat. You’ve seen some of the pics.

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Pietersen was the only one who could get going, while for Essex the sight of Mohammad Amir was also something to behold. He seemed to be the main man to control the scoring as the runs seemed targeted off other weaker bowlers. Surrey kept losing wickets. Kumar holing out to square leg off a sweep shot; Sibley bowled by Zaidi, Pope caught off Walter. KP moved past 50, including 5 sixes, before himself teeing off and getting underneath a Walter delivery, seeing it caught by new England selection Tom Westley on the long-on boundary. The applause going off wasn’t deafening – too many people didn’t have a clue – but this writer appreciated seeing him play. Sitting underneath towering sixes reminded me of the sheer genius that the bloke possessed. Perhaps he still does. Off the golf course, no proper T20 play since the PSL, and he can do that. Yes, he was dropped early, but he capitalised. Only after the match with the next best score being 28, did you realise quite how good a knock it was.

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Surrey’s total was 150, after some stops and starts and no real fluency. You have no idea at the game how the wicket is playing, and although not lightning fast due to the storms the night before, the outfield was not slow. Boundaries were at a premium though. Sibley, Pope, the two Currans did their thing, but other than provide me with a spectacular pic (Sam’s Stumps Splattered), there were few fireworks. I tweeted at half-time that it looked a wholly inadequate score, but doing that I was basing it on the previous two T20 games played there. Where 200 wasn’t enough.

Before getting on to the second innings of the game, I thought I’d make my observations on the client base. I did not move from my seat for the whole game, which was cheeky as beers were being bought, and thus did not circulate. It’s bloody noisy – not that test match buzz which I sort of miss, the low hum of conversations around the ground, but something a level, several levels up. It’s not football match chanting but it is increasingly “weather-worn” folk shouting at each other from the seat next to their recipient of vocal intercourse. As usual, because I’m a grumpy so and so, I was getting more and more irate with the muppets behind me, and I’ll go into that more as the article progresses. But of more interest was to the right of Stan. It was a father with two young kids. Not a great guesser of age, but I’d say 11 and 8 years old. Now remember, this is the target audience for the new T20 competition. They are our future. It was good to see them there.

However, they were kids, and what they saw on the field did not captivate them one bit. First of all, the little blighters couldn’t sit still. We had to let them through on numerous occasions. Dad hadn’t taught them the etiquette that you don’t do it until the end of the over, but he was far from alone in that. When one did sit down he played with his Nintendo portable system for most of the game, while the other played on his tablet. They didn’t “engage” with the onfield action at all, as far as I could tell. It’s a small sample size, I know, but didn’t fill me with hope. Not sure if the Surrey Lions or whatever we might be called will be any different from a super franchise team (and Surrey have a lot of name talent in their squad), but the suspicion is that a new product needs more to win hearts and minds.

After a short interlude, and Stan relates what he thought of the T-shirt shooter, where I couldn’t hear Colin Murray, Essex came out to bat and got off to a decent start. It seemed very much to be a “new ball” wicket, where the batsmen had to make hay early on in the innings. I like Dan Lawrence, and think he has a big future, and he and Chopra set about the total. Sam went for a few in his opening spell, which meant that idiot behind had something to shout when he came down to where we were sitting. Sam had to take the most god-awful, stupid abuse from a tanked up imbecile who clearly was a lot less clever than he thought he was. Unrelated boundaries hit by an Essex batsman were met with “you’ve cost them the game, Curran” or “that’s your fault Curran” even when they went to the opposite part of the ground.

It was also dawning on us (as if it had been announced on the tannoy we’d never would have heard it) that KP wasn’t fielding. The murmurs went round that this was a classic case of “pulling up the ladder! We used to call this a HABAFO (Have a bat and….well work the rest out). He was replaced by Rory Burns. By and large Surrey were hungry in the field. They nicked out the two openers, and then felt they had to get the two real danger-men, Ravi Bopara (who nearly won Essex the game in the first contest) and Ryan ten Doeschate. Also, there was new test selection, Tom Westley, who didn’t stay for the duration. The run rate crept up, the wickets kept falling, with Batty very impressive. Ravi went, Ryan couldn’t hit the boundaries, and Surrey pulled the noose tighter and tighter. They ended up restricting Essex quite comfortably, with Tom Curran being particularly impressive at the death again.

And then 24000 tried to go home. At the same time.

Walking out of the ground is a chastening experience, Very drunk, very noisy and I’m not convinced that many gave a damn about the game or the result. It just seems like a chance to get on the lash, and Surrey are not ashamed to enable this. Service at the bars is efficient. You don’t wait long to get served at all. What I found slightly soul-destroying was the sight of grown adults scouring all parts of the ground for empty beer glasses to earn a pound a pop for returning them. It felt a bit tawdry. Maybe I’m just an old stick in the mud, in fact, I know I am.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not a massive T20 fan, and the experience was not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I didn’t see beer thrown, there were no Mexican waves, and the people standing up mid-over had to be excused). You can always get the idiot sat with you (he wasn’t in the league of the Indian fella at an ODI in the early 2000s. It was a miracle I didn’t clock him) but even he just made me mad because his abuse wasn’t funny, clever or, in fact, related to the truth in any conceivable way. Plus, you always have the feeling that he might have been you before. There were some mouthy cricket know nothings on the bus back to London Bridge, but again, I’ve been to so many football matches and met people like this, and it never compared to some of the plankton at the Adelaide Oval. I didn’t take an age to get home, either, but got lucky. I never saw a programmes seller, so never got one. I like that sort of thing. This ground is the exemplar in getting people to part with their money. £5.20 a pint was remarked upon on Twitter as being some horrific price. Do these people drink in Central London pubs? The £1 to return your cup is to deter beer snakes, but instead encourages other forms…. The beer isn’t undrinkable, but not far short, but I can handle Yardbird if it’s on offer. The leg room is garbage, and is why I don’t go to tests there any more.

Did I enjoy it? It’s not as bad as I may have portrayed. I found the cricket enthralling, and isn’t that the point? When Surrey scored 150 I thought this was 30 light, but they bowled and fielded hard. They made Essex work, and they couldn’t keep up the momentum. A game the following Friday followed a similar pattern. My colleague (not Stan) at work said he found both games boring, but they were both contests. The cricket on show more than made up for the duff stuff off it, but not for the reasons the ECB or TV want.

The star of the show, whether you liked it or not, was Kevin Pietersen. The murmurs and outright accusations that he was faking injury not to field were probably put into context by Friday night’s antics. KP is a divisive character, more so since retirement from the test and international arena, and he can say some obnoxious and stupid things. He can also be incredibly prescient. I saw a lot of rust in his play, but then he hit Simon Harmer for 4 sixes in an over. That’s Pietersen. Box Office. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t say T20 doesn’t matter, that it’s just entertainment, and then get huffy when he acts like a diva, but plays shots out of heaven. It was amazing the Twitter response to both matches – the plaudits, the hatred, the defenders, the vitriol. I like him. You know that. For what he does on the field.

It was also a real pleasure to see two quicker bowlers on the top of their game – Mohammad Amir and Tom Curran. This game was not a batting parade, but a chance to see the skills of pacemen in a batsman’s game. Their ability, pace and cunning were on show. Amir tied KP up, as well as not providing the width or length to allow Roy and Finch to really get the game off to the flyer (although they went quickly enough). Curran, T has come on as a death bowler and although I hate that “routine” celebration, preferring spontaneity to something over a prep piece for #39’s lamentable advert, he has real nous now. Jade may well be a very good teacher for all we know. I have to be nice to Jade, he blocked me on Twitter ages ago.

We also got to see two legendary keepers. James Foster is a joy to watch behind the stumps. Utterly capable, smooth, no rough edges. Surrey had Kumar in the gauntlets. Hell, if you are going to retire from a sport that punishes your knees, finish them off with a spell of keeping. Still, he completed a stumping in the game.

Chris, Sean and I have purchased tickets for the 4th August match against Glamorgan. If you are there, or in the vicinity, please let us know and we’ll try to catch a drink or chat with you. T20 isn’t for everyone, but a bad day at cricket is better than a great day at work, and if Surrey are still in the running to make it through, as they should be, and if Colin Ingram is in form like he has been, it could be a really nice night out. If you can put up with the others around you.

And so, to Stan…..

Hey, where’re the Surrey City Dancers?

By Stan

Wednesday I attended my first cricket match ever. More accurately, I attended my first British sporting event ever. I’m an American. Having lived in London for a year now, I had yet to immerse myself into local sport, preferring to keep track of sports across the pond. Fortunately, I work with one of the authors of this blog and I was invited to The Oval. Although I had months of warning, I made a conscious decision to not learn about cricket in advance. I knew that even the most exciting description of a sport would pale in comparison to the experience. (They call it a bat, right?) I wanted a raw first impression. The event, the T-20 Blast, sounds like something pulled from a Red Bull commercial. The name should be partnered with EXTREME! and IN YOUR FACE! and things that are neon and shooting flames. This event was decidedly not that. (Though there was fire, which was cool.) For an EXTREME sporting event, I was expecting more music, and noise, and three jumbotrons, and a team of dancing girls. Nope. To belay the point, even the t-shirt cannon, which is normally designed to knock out the person in the back of the top deck – WHOMP! – barely got past the 6th row – pfft...

However, I learned that the name was not completely inappropriate. This was as IN YOUR FACE! as cricket gets. The T-20 matches are designed to be fast and furious.  The teams are allotted one inning each, with 20 overs, curtailing the game to 3 hours. If you’re reading this blog, this is not news. It was to me. But, realising this, I began to appreciate this sport. This was not a showy sport, and trying to turn it into one could only go so far. This was a restrained game. There were exciting moments, to be sure. There were plenty of sixes hit. (Not home runs?) It was a close game, going down to the last few bowls. However, the ratcheted down environment encouraged fans to appreciate the game for what it was: an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world up close without the extraneous frill that other sports peddle. (He now knows Kevin Pietersen’s back story, as told by Old, D. – Ed)

The stands were filled with business types in rumpled suits drinking beer after a day at the office. Many seemed only casually interested in the match. I was informed that these were not fans that would be at a proper test match. The guy behind was eager to show off his knowledge of the game, taking Sam Curran’s proximity to us as an opportunity to repeatedly critique him with, “Hey, Curran, you suuuuck!”.

In short, this was a less than pure cricket experience, and I liked it. I like that even the brash version of this game was unassuming. In a world that is overcome with a barrage of noise, it is a pleasure to find a sport that is not given to excesses. I hope to see more.

Kevin Pietersen – The Test Hundreds

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A while ago, a good year or so probably, in one of our editorial meetings Chris and I were pontificating – because we pontificate well – as to what we could do for future pieces. I mentioned that although a massive fan of all that KP did for England (well, nearly all), it’s got to the point where the very mention of him has some of our supposed cricket lovers rolling their eyes, but that there were things that I would like to do around his career and put up as posts.

Chris, in his sage like way – because he sages well, a Yoda figure – said something along the lines of “you should write a series of articles on his great innings for England” but advised I should leave it “for a bit”. We discussed about how his innings impacted on English cricket, the important moments, the approach, and that I should do something in the vein of the piece I did on Thorpe’s centuries.

The thing is, I have nearly all of KP’s centuries on DVD. In either highlight form or in the case of two of his Ashes tons, in full. A number of them are also on youtube. So there’s plenty to look at and review in terms of material. Then there are the books written around the time of some of them, including KP’s tomes, varying as they are in usefulness for the purposes of this set of pieces (Glenn McGrath, on a speed read of his book, barely mentions the 2005 Ashes!). But throughout the review of the hundreds there’s nearly always that sense of utter brilliance that was, by pretty much common consent of all his peers in the team, beyond their comprehension.

Good friends of mine, who’ve known me decades, cannot understand why I am such a fan of Pietersen’s. He seems, in their eyes, to embody all I hate in sport. The flashness, the assuredness, the flamboyance, the appearance of I above Us. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. It can’t be abrasive characters because I’ve always sort of liked Nick Faldo. It can’t be talented geniuses who rub team mates up the wrong way because I love Brian Lara. I think they reference across to my “hatred” of Manchester United and especially David Beckham, but that was because I hated (and still do) United and he was the epitome of why. Pietersen was playing for my team, and in fact Beckham, post United was nowhere near as loathed when he played away from United and was a key player for England.

So for this series of pieces, which will take some time, and I may never finish, I’m going to look at all KP’s test hundreds. I may take one in one piece, may couple some together (going to struggle with that one to set up a declaration in the West Indies), but I’ll do it looking at the footage I have and discussing each one. Of course, that means the first is the 158 at The Oval in 2005, and books could be written on that one alone. As always, I’ll intersperse these pieces with personal recollections, photos if I have them (I saw three in the flesh, and the start of a fourth) and anything else that comes to mind. Pietersen is a divisive figure, putting it mildly, but it is because of what we saw, and how he did it, that makes those of us who were furious at the end of his England career how we are. How can you not want to see him do “this” again?

So…Part 1 – Century #1 v Australia at The Oval – September 2005… Coming Soon. But in the meantime, let’s get the introductory part to prepare for it.

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To go into the story of the 158, you probably have to go back a long way to the way Pietersen’s career unfolded. But I’ll spare you the county details which you can read in Paul Newman’s ghost-written autobiography of Kevin Pietersen which came out soon after the Ashes victory. Instead the true beginnings were in Zimbabwe, at the tail end of 2004. All through that summer I recalled that Kevin Pietersen’s name was in contention for the A team, unconstrained by full country qualification requirements, and he’s played his part in a massive England A innings in India that also ended in a massive run chase by the home team to win the game. I’d seen Pietersen play at Whitgift School for Nottinghamshire against Surrey, and although remembered some clumps to leg, and a couple of big shots, I also recall falling asleep on the grass bank! That game pre-dated my Olympus Ultra-Zoom camera so no shots of the man from them.

Pietersen was picked for the Zimbabwe ODI tour which attracted, shall we say, a fair bit of controversy. I think, and I could be corrected here, that it was the last international tour not covered at all on live television in this country. So what came back were news reports and scorecards. In his debut he made 27 not out to steer England home to a relatively small total with a couple of overs to spare. Ian Bell had made his ODI debut too, and done very well, making 75, whereas the only report I could find on KP’s debut was:

Pietersen eventually hit the winning runs, but not before running out Collingwood and twice almost doing the same to Jones.

Some might say there was a warning right there. The second ODI, also in Harare, saw KP deliver a more substantial return. He made 77 not out in 76 balls, including three sixes, to get England to a very competitive 263 – he and Geraint Jones put on 120 in 13 overs and put the game out of the hosts reach.

Pietersen and Jones hit maiden one-day international half-centuries in a rollicking stand of 120 off 80 balls, which stood for four days as an England record for the sixth wicket against any opposition. Pietersen’s innings had the air of an announcement. Arriving in the 26th over with England stuttering on 94 for three, he was initially studious, taking 40 balls over his first 16 runs, before opening up to finish with 77 from 76, including four fours and three sixes.

As the Almanack expressed this as an “announcement”, the thought that KP might actually play for England in the next Ashes probably seemed fanciful. But Vaughan was beginning to be convinced, and maybe this is in hindsight, he thought KP had that “something” that was different. In the Third ODI, Pietersen wasn’t needed as a century from Solanki and 50s from Bell and Vaughan meant England chased down a total for the loss of two wickets. Game 4, also in Bulawayo (where the 3rd was played) saw KP get a first ball duck. But he’d done enough to convince the selectors he was worth a go for the ODI series in South Africa, and we pretty much all know what happened then.

That series, where Pietersen made three centuries (although none in a winning cause) ranging from the bravado of Bloemfontein, where one might say he went a little over the top in celebrating, to the rapid but ultimately fruitless explosion at East London, and the worthy but let down by his team mates 116 at Centurion. Pietersen had proved a point, and none more so than his international TV debut at Johannesburg where he confronted the hostility of a crowd and an opponent he had riled, stared them down, and held firm to assist a D/L win.

Nobody seemed happier than Pietersen, who was there at the end after being loudly booed while walking out for his first innings against South Africa, the country he abandoned in frustration at a perceived lack of opportunities. His initial exchanges with the always theatrical Nel provided the most dramatic moments of the game, with Pietersen struggling nervously for 11 balls before getting off the mark.

Pietersen weathered a hostile reception from the crowd, and the odd word from the fielders. After a nervous start – he played and missed at his first ball, at Nel – he proved a worthy replacement for Strauss, as he and Vaughan moved seamlessly through the gears. Vaughan brought up their fifty partnership from 73 balls with a forceful cover-driven four, while Pietersen’s thumping on-drive took England past 100.

The centuries and the attitude that was reported to come with it seemed to indicate a coming force, and conjecture already surrounded how he could be fitted in to the test team. Michael Vaughan claims that his mind was made up that in some way he had to be selected for the Ashes. A lot of weight was being put on whether you had “mental scars” from too many Ashes beatings. Here was a man, unburdened by history, it seemed, fearless and relentless. It seemed too good to be true. It probably was.

Seasoned cricket fans on this blog need few reminders about the events of early 2005. England’s test team had won in South Africa, without Ian Bell who had made his debut at The Oval against the West Indies the previous year. The England team that finally won in South Africa contained a line-up of Trescothick, Strauss, Key, Vaughan, Thorpe, Flintoff, Jones at the top of the order, and with Freddie being a clear choice at six, the main vacancy appeared to be Key’s. This was despite an impressive innings at The Wanderers, and a double ton in the home series before. Bell was clearly earmarked for three, judging by the press statements (Butcher had been injured in South Africa and never played another test) in advance of the home series against Bangladesh. There seemed little threat to Thorpe, who although creeping on in years, had been a vital cog in the previous series (his century in Durban making the game totally safe in a famous fightback, and also vital in the West Indies the winter before). Whispers started to surround Thorpe. He was too old, too many scars, going to retire soon etc. etc.

Those whispers weren’t made any louder by his form in the Bangladesh series, where I don’t believe he was dismissed, but also got little chance to make an eye-catching hundred, while Bell did at Chester-le-Street. The batting line-up seemed settled then, and in truth there was not a lot of noise for Pietersen. Then came that Sunday afternoon in Bristol.

I was out watching my club side that afternoon (my Mum was in the last throes of her cancer, and I took the chance to meet some friends as a brief release), and so have only seen the very repeated highlights on Sky. The innings that won the game had all the same bravura of South Africa. He dismantled Jason Gillespie in particular, and gave off that self-assured, confident demeanour that would delight and enrage in equal measure. He also had narrow escapes on run outs. But this was totally un-English in its approach. It reminded you of a more developed, more accomplished Ben Hollioake at Lord’s. It wasn’t really true until he did it here. Sure, he had played well in the T20, but this was nearer “proper cricket”. The crescendo grew.

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In action v Australia at The Oval – 12 July 2005

I was at The Oval to see his 70-odd pull England to semi-respectability and it was the second time I’d seen him in the flesh. I really can’t remember a lot. My mum had passed away 11 days before it, and her funeral was the next day. As a release it was great, but as a day’s cricket, Australia’s win passed me by. My mind was more on what would happen the following day, putting the ill-fated eulogy into my head, worrying about my Dad and all that. Compared to the events of the following day, the effects of which persist to this day, seeing a KP 70-odd hardly resonates. But where it did, it mattered. Now the calls for Pietersen to be in the test team were unstoppable. And in the firing line was Graham Thorpe.

Now, as you may know, if you’ve read the blog long enough, Thorpe was/is one of my favourite ever players. His hundred in Barbados in 2004 is still one of the greatest innings I have ever watched for England. When he got to the hundred, that shot of adrenaline, the thing that makes your hair stand up on the back of the neck, was amazing. The ovation at Kensington was incredible. He had fought so hard, and you’d think that fighting that hard would be what was needed against Australia. We thought wrong.

When Pietersen was up for selection there was absolutely no doubt that Ian Bell would play. None. In hindsight we all say “well, he shouldn’t have played instead of Thorpe, it should have been Bell” but that was not on the cards. Thorpe was in danger. Pietersen batted in his position in the side – number 5. Thorpe was the oldest. Thorpe wasn’t mobile in the field. Thorpe had back problems. He looked vulnerable, and when the axe fell, it was on him. He’d just had his 100th test match, and it seemed a neat end. But there still are the pangs of “what if”?

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I was fortunate enough to be at Days 1 and 3 of the first test match. Again, anyone with a passing interest in cricket does not need a reminder. KP came into bat at 20 for 3, saw two more wickets fall quickly, rebuilt the innings to a degree with Geraint Jones, and make a fifty, including smashing McGrath into the Lord’s Pavilion for 6. In the second innings he made another 50 in a totally hopeless cause, and despite a soul-crushing defeat, loads of dropped catches (although he did effect a run out) and all round feelings of “here we go again”, the man with the mad hairstyle had announced his arrival.

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The Edgbaston test saw KP play his part in the rollocking 400 in 80 overs first day, with a quickfire 70-odd in concert with Freddie, and then a 20-odd in the second dig. Diminishing returns at Old Trafford, including his first test duck were lost in the tenseness of the test, and he did not pull up any trees at Trent Bridge.

So to the Oval. Here is where we pick up the story of Kevin Pietersen’s test centuries. The next instalment will be along when it is written. Keep your eye out…..

Rehabilitation? No Chance… KP the Book, KP the Movie

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I’ve just finished KP on Cricket, and watched Being Kevin Pietersen (should I sue?) as England’s most polarising cricketer undertakes his next steps in visual and print media. The programme and the book, taken in isolation, are the usual media image portrayals which leave you annoyed at their lack of bite. Of course, though, neither of these are in isolation. Pietersen is not about to rehabilitate himself with anyone, and judging by these two pieces of work, isn’t trying that hard with those who he has no time for, and who have no time for him.

Let’s take the book first. Unlike the visceral KP – the Autobiography, this book took days to finish reading. I really hate bad errors in books, and there is one on Page 2 – Francois Pienaar is named as Francois Pineda, and that gets you started thinking this is a lazy book. It actually isn’t, but I tell you what else it isn’t…. It isn’t what John Crace said, and what the Private Eye review said. Pietersen was exhorted, last year, to include more about the cricket than the arguments. Oh, if there wasn’t one press person expending crocodile tears saying “what saddened me was Kevin not talking about those great innings” there were dozens. So Pietersen does, and the press people by and large ignore it (other than to slag it off as an extension of his out of control ego).

I said in a comment to BigKev that it is a rather dull book, but I don’t mean that as being a book you should not read. When you’ve written a book like the autobiography there is nothing to compare to it. I’ve said about that book on a number of occasions, we mock the sportsman’s autobiography (while they are playing) for being dull and boring (I’m re-reading some of Alastair Cook’s initial autobiography at the momen), but when someone tells it as he sees it, people are shocked. Appalled.

In some places this book is all over the shop, and then in others it brings some interesting insight. I thought it quite re-affirming that the innings of his that I thought was the best (his 151 in Sri Lanka) was the one he did too. The one the English public refer to a lot, his 149 at Headingley, isn’t in the top five. He puts Glen McGrath in his World XI yet whenever he’s interviewed on him (most memorably in the Radio Five Live one with Andrew Flintoff in 2013) KP says McGrath never caused him many issues.

It’s not a book to build bridges. While he is praiseworthy of Swann the bowler, of Prior’s attitude to batting etc. he’s not giving Flower any praise, he’s not giving Moores any praise, and there’s no hint on contrition for the previous words. People will say his inclusion of Jimmy Anderson in his world XI, and his constant references to him as a genius, are just ingratiating. He’s generally nice about Cook, but not his captaincy, not even during this last summer. He clearly believes Cook is not a “flat wicket captain”.

There’s calls for franchise cricket in England, a somewhat silly request for 5 tests at home and 5 tests away each year (and then saying England, India and Australia play each other too much), and throughout there is constant reference to practice, practice, practice. I know of no-one who complains about Pietersen’s work ethic. The impression you get from the media is of a dilettante. A shirker. A natural talent. Pietersne isn’t a natural. He’s worked hard at his batting. He can over-think. He can go off the boil.

You know I’m a fan, and I make no apology for it. Pietersen writes the book the media “wanted” him to (did they hell, Pietersen’s thoughts sell papers, ads) and it sells much less well, gets much less attention and what it does get, is pretty negative. That’s why David Hopps’s excellent review in ESPN Cricinfo is so welcome. Especially this quote:

For those who previously condemned Pietersen’s autobiography as overly confrontational to now dismiss Kevin Pietersen on Cricket as merely an attempt to address his reputation as an outcast star player, just a cynical display of even-handedness and affection towards former colleagues, is an exercise in double standards, a refusal by his critics to accept he has any saving graces whatever he does. Damn him if he does, damn him if he doesn’t.

The book is worth reading, but if I’m being honest, I’d wait until you can get a cheaper copy. KP’s got enough money, and it isn’t a “must read now” like last year’s book.

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Which takes me on to the television programme. Being Kevin Pietersen has been dismissed by the likes of Barney Ronay as a hagiography (the first three paragraphs of which needed an editor to tell him to stop being so effing pretentious), or by Mark Webster as not challenging. While no-one is going to confuse this with a hard hitting expose of Pietersen, it remains utterly remarkable to me that some of the things he mentions in the programme, which he’s been mentioning for 18 months, remain totally unanswered by his critics. Bullying? Swann makes one claim, Cook says he doesn’t recognise what he says, but noticably none of them call him a liar. Textgate against Twitter Parody account – the ECB look stupid. KP doesn’t mention the leaking culture, which like it or not, he was evidently a victim of (e.g James Taylor incident) in the TV programme, but again, in the book, it remains unanswered. What charges is he supposed to answer? The one’s about him giving “tactical advice on how to get Strauss out” which now none of the protagonists said happened and which Jessica Taylor brilliantly summed up as being “such bollocks”?

In the programme he is celebrated by no-one from the current era. And his critics will jump on that. All those that say good things about him are his older colleagues. Piers Morgan turns up as the least wanted character reference since Kenny Senior turned up to defend Brian Potter after the fire at the Phoenix Club. It painted KP in a good light with his team-mates, which is really horrible because, as we all know, he ruins every dressing room he’s been in.

It was worth a watch, won’t change many minds, and that’s the sad fact. We’ve wasted his last two years, not him. The fact is we’ve all been filling in the blanks. This will lead into the media stuff that we’re planning. How those blanks are filled, how the ECB were massively let off the hook, and how we cannot tolerate the something extra, different that he brings.

However, it’s a comment like this, by Webster, that needs challenging:

it is ultimately too much like a documentary that is quite happy to simply be about an exceptional England international cricketer who believes he has has been unjustly slighted. And doesn’t mind telling us

That is because, Mark, we’ve never been told. He says he’s never been told why. The comment put to him about not being a player we could build around, was answered. It then became about “trust” instead, though what he could or could not be trusted is another example of fill in the blanks. You can’t challenge KP’s side when the accusors have never provided the slam dunk evidence. I think berating a bloke for putting his side of the story, when the opposite side tried to leak their’s through the dodgy dossier which was ridiculous, is slightly unfair. But hey, I’m a fanboy. It’s now about the book, apparantly. Well, I’ll let SimonH say what he thinks of that, as he so eloquently did on Guardian BTL.

And those things remain. And so will KP in my memory. He played too many, and I saw a few, great innings for the small-minded haters to taint. Just will not happen.

Him Again

Hate Weekly

In South Africa there came some rumblings. A noise English cricket has learned to rile itself over. A cacophany sure to light up the social media hordes. A din “no-one” wants.

Yep. You know who has made back-to-back centuries in the T20 competition in South Africa, the Ram Slam. Accompanying this are the usual cries for his return to the England set up, for the ECB/Strauss/Cook to swallow their pride and bring him back. Accompanying those cries we see those implacably opposed denigrating the achievement (domestic bowling, big difference between this and test cricket, rubbish in UAE last time around) as if this is a selection issue based on ability.

I’m writing about it, so I can’t exactly say I’m sick of it can I? I can’t exactly moan at others talking about it when I was accused in Wisden last year or having the effect of constantly beating others about the head with my constant repetition. But it’s the same old, same old. The same personalities, the same arguments, the same rambling debate. KP should be playing test cricket for England, if we select on merit. I think you might have something wrong with your analytical skills if that wasn’t your point of view. It’s not that he’s made runs in a hit and giggle competition, it’s that he has the temperament and the skill to play test cricket. There might be quibbles over fitness, which only KP himself can answer, but on ability with the bat. Stop being idiots.

There is a school of thought that he should play for England in the World T20. Well of course he should. Now that the ECB’s Lancaster fox has been well and truly short, and culture isn’t all, the reasons not to pick him now seem daft. Players who may put up a block, like Cook, Anderson and Broad, won’t be playing. Morgan wants him, or so he indicated. But he won’t.

So, instead of watching him in the World T20, we’ll have to rely on him having a pop at county cricket:

Trolling the ECB and the haters:

Having a pop at Dominic Cork:

Holiday snaps:

Personal grooming

And people who berate me for being obsessed, having a massive conflab about him on Twitter! 🙂

Cheers.

The Lyrical Gangster

Evening all.

Thanks for all the comments today. I thought I’d just link a few articles around the web and see where we go.

Never, Ever, A Team Man
Never, Ever, A Team Man

First up, because I’m totally obsessed with the man, and I’m like a broken record, and courtesy of Steve in the comments section, are two articles in the Telegraph on Kevin Pietersen. As if people haven’t noticed, he has a new book coming out, and he’s doing what all good sportsmen do, and plugging it (incidentally, Alan Butcher has one coming out soon, and I’ll be getting that, while Tim Cahill, a legend from my club, has one too – and he retweeted me yesterday, so I’m happy). Not sure who ghost wrote it with him, but I don’t think it was FICJAM (who wrote Flintoff’s latest).

OK. The two articles….

Why I Was The Wrong Choice As England Captain

and

They’ve Not Told Me Why I’m Dropped

There’s not a lot new here. A few meat on the Graham Gooch bones, a bit on not looking at the data, a bit on there was no-one else to captain. All pretty rehashed old stuff, packaged for the bilious. And my oh my don’t they go to town.

The humour here is that, as we’ve pointed out, the real rage, the real bile has been from those who are almost rabid in their hatred. It’s everywhere. I love how they all complain to say he’s an attention seeker (now that’s familiar) and why do the papers keep printing stories about yesterday’s man, then say Cook doesn’t get the attention (there are plenty of stories on him on the web after his 263), and then they take it in turns to prove just how much they hate him, in words. Lots of them.

KP’s two posts at time of writing have 120 and 40 comments. Cook on Rashid has 27. Celebrating Cook’s double hundred has 7. The papers are printing what gets hits, people. You keep feeding them, they’ll keep printing. We’ve moved on from the instransigence and stupidity of our selection process, you lot clearly haven’t. You’ve got what you want, why all the anger?

Next, let’s move on to the wonder of modern literature that is Ed Smith. Now I know we are all massive fans of the know-it-all Eddy, but this latest work on Cricinfo is in need of a serious look. In trying to show how clever he is, how well read and educated, he manages to bury in a sea of orgiastic self-indulgence the point. That cricket is absolutely nuts, and it doesn’t take Einstein, or indeed Ed Smith’s intellect, to sort it.

Let us begin. With the classics. He’s a classics student, isn’t he?

Homer’s Odyssey describes the ordeal of Odysseus as he tries to return home in order to be reunited with his wife, Penelope. It takes Odysseus ten years but he gets there in the end. So the analogy with this Test match only half-fits. The first four days of tedious cricket in Abu Dhabi certainly felt like a ten-year ordeal. But when nirvana approached – in the form of an actual competitive match with the prospect of a result – both sides were ushered off the field and a draw was pronounced.

He so desperately wants to shoe horn in a Greek literature reference that it hurts. In the end it goes nowhere. Tickers was all over that, and loved it so much, he missed the next. An all time classic… Swiss Toni in the house…

It was like pursuing a beautiful woman around the world for ten years, finally persuading her to have dinner, only to announce after the starter course, “Sorry to leave early, but I pre-booked a taxi home at 9pm. Bye.”

My sides were splitting.

I’m not going to fisk the rest, because, frankly, I want to put the TV on, but I’ll save you the bother of clicking a link for this tortuous piece of analogy that had me thinking of the scenes in Airplane where Ted Stryker tells his life story to a passenger he’s sitting next to.

So why does cricket continue to get bogged down by the problems that beset the first Test here? The explanation was provided in 1950 by Albert Tucker, the Princeton mathematician and game theorist. He formalised “The Prisoners’ Dilemma”. The theoretical experiment explains how when two agents pursue narrow self-interest it can work against the long-term benefit of both parties.

Imagine two members of the same gang are imprisoned in separate cells. They are not allowed to communicate. But there is insufficient evidence against them. To try to force a confession, the police offer each of them the same bargain – known as Defect or Cooperate.

Admit that your partner committed the crime – and if he stays silent – then you will go free and your partner will get three years in prison.

But if you stay silent and your partner testifies that you did it, you will face prison for three years and he will walk free.

If you both betray each other, you both go to prison for two years.

If you both stay silent, you both get only one year in prison.

What is the best strategy, defect or cooperate?

The best outcome, in terms of combined punishment, is obviously for both prisoners to cooperate – to remain silent. The combined punishment would be two single-year prison terms.

But that isn’t what they do. Because they cannot communicate, the rational response is to anticipate what the other prisoner will do. If you think the other prisoner will stay silent, the rational response is to defect – and hence walk free. If you think the other prisoner will defect, the rational response is still to defect – and hence serve only two years in prison rather than three. The playing out of the game is both entirely rational and yet still works against the self-interest ofboth prisoners. Here is a short video summary.

The point is very simple. There are some circumstances in life when the failure to communicate and agree to a collective response leads to a series of rational responses that ultimately work against everyone’s interests.

Cricket is currently suffering its own versions of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Individual teams play on pitches that may suit their own team, but certainly don’t suit the game as a spectacle.

Bloody hell. Get to the point man!

There’s plenty on the net about the ICC and IOC meeting, including mention that the form of cricket to be played might be the indoor version. The IOC will take two minutes consideration before booting that one out. The impression from afar is that the ICC aren’t serious, and when the prime movers (India) are pretty much motivated by internal short-termism (and the decision today to allow Aleem Dar to step down as umpire for the current series is an absolute utter disgrace and they ought to be ashamed of themselves) that isn’t going to change. You all know how I think Clarke will play it in this International Ambassador role he has. The game needs to grow more than it needs to worry about the odd batting track being skewed in favour of the home team, and this provides an opportunity. A long-term eye rather than a short-term blindness might help. As soon as Dave Richardson gets wheeled out, I know we are in for disappointment.

Viru - The Oval - 2011. Hitting the ball for four.
Viru – The Oval – 2011. Hitting the ball for four.

Finally, lots on the wires that Viru has retired from international cricket. Aside from the fact that I doubt he’d be picked again for his national side, you have to say “what a player”. Sadly, I never saw him really score any runs. He was undercooked (putting it politely) in 2011 and didn’t play in 2007. It is close between him and Dravid for my favourite Indian batsman, but when it comes to being entertaining, there was no-one better, and no-one more scary. And judging by that selfie last year when playing for the MCC, not someone who took himself too seriously. He is missed, and the formality of the announcement, such as it was (so he can play Masters Cricket) brings back the memories. Two test triple hundreds. The strike rate. A 290 odd too. The foot movement (!). Much loved, Viru. Much loved.

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Good day to you all.

I am not a rugby fan. Actually, I sort of prefer league to union, but that’s by the by. But I took more than a passing interest in this year’s England team at the Rugby World Cup because, as we all recall, when England were chasing a certain person out of the squad and were seeking to start a new path, the name Stuart Lancaster was being thrown about as if he were some sort of all-seeing, all-knowing guru. The candle to lead England’s sporting managers away from the dark days of unharnessed, unhinged talents, and instead embrace culture, good environments, hard work and playing with pride in the shirt.

So, when we went back to the greatest coach of his generation after the Ashes whitewash, Peter Moores was seen as a man very much in the Stuart Lancaster guise. Oh we had it all…..

The England rugby team has evolved particularly well and it would be wrong not to look at the way they’ve done that. That kind of stuff, the Englishness, the legacy you want to leave behind of the culture we want to create. – Alastair Cook

“Lancaster has done a fantastic job. In a very short space of time, he has sorted out English rugby. He’s talked the language of teams that Paul Downton and I like very much.” – Giles Clarke

Paul Downton, while not having a quote to hand (and there not appearing to be an easy one to latch onto online, was certainly part of the gang that thought Stuart Lancaster was imitating the culture of the All Blacks, which Paul and his crowd proclaimed as the greatest sports team ever (based on longevity of dominance – I suppose Brazilian football is probably a bit too fancy dan for out Paul).

Lancaster, from this perspective, seemed no more inspirational than someone like Brendan Rodgers, who got his cards yesterday. There was lots of seeing off old faces, trying the wacky non-conformist and getting shot of them, and then churning out dull, boring teams in the main, that frustrated the life out of you. You can see talent there, but you couldn’t see leaders. You could see ability, but you didn’t see belief.

Rugby people seem to be rallying around Stuart – hey, we could be inside and outside rugby before you know it.How people like Lewis Moody (I’ve just watched his Kicca monologue) can sit there and say that we should maintain a coach because, and I paraphrase, other World Cup winning coaches hit rock bottom and then built a team up (honestly, I was laughing at this point) I don’t know. It’s this mentality that kills us. Somehow, someway, honest toilers will become world beaters because of culture and good environment. It isn’t about that. It never really has been.

We English rush to say someone is amazing before actually settling in for the long haul. I know it was a good couple of years ago, because I was still driving home from work in those days, when there were 5 Live Specials on the new and wonderful regime Lancaster had engendered. Other coaches were keen to tap his brain, follow his lead, share his knowledge. Yet, it has to be said, I was asking “what has he done?” At that time, a win in an Autumn International against New Zealand seemed to be it. Absolutely nothing to sniff at, in much the same way as smashing Germany 5-1 in Munich wasn’t for Sven. The test, like for Peter Moores and every England football coach, is the World Cup (or Euros / Ashes). Wait until they’ve been where it really matters and take it from there.

With the debate over Lancaster’s future, there doesn’t seem to be much past “he’s a nice guy, and he’s got to be given the chance to turn this around in 2019, which we’ve been long-term planning for with lots of young players in the wings.” Cricket fans have heard this for 18 months now. We spunked a World T20 and a World Cup behind nice guys in charge, who created a good environment, but seemed to be lacking that bit of something else. I’ve come to the conclusion, sadly, that to coach an England team, the one trait you must not have is being English.

Feel free to continue the rugby debate. I think it’s a no-brainer that Lancaster has to go, but then I’ll be accused of all sorts, so what-o.

In the cricket world, England are out in the UAE and recovered from a dodgy position with runs for Cook (cue the salivating from his One Direction like followers in the media), Root (we’re going to be up shit creek when he fails), Bairstow (good on him, a nice surprise) and Adil Rashid (this could be fun). The bowling tomorrow is going to be interesting, as Rashid can stake his claim with a decent performance.

There were all sorts at Cuttack where India made a right old balls up of their innings and South Africa won their second T20 game. Wonder if the locals are blaming the IPL in the same way we blame the County Championship? Then there was a bit of naughties with the crowd, which had the hand-wringers out on Twitter (as a Millwall fan, God I’m used to that old shite), and we’ll see a hastily lifted up carpet with the afters of all that swept neatly under it.

There’s a One Day Series in Zimbabwe going on, but I’m not exactly on board with it. Been pretty busy and not that engaged in cricket, which I know a number of you are also feeling at the moment. The latest edition of the Cricketer didn’t even raise the rage. Selfey rambled on about the late Brian Close, while Henderson wrote a rather odd article about Zafar Ansari in which he both seemed to criticise him for mentioning that with the likes of himself and Rashid in the team, along with Moeen, there was a more representative feel to the squad, and then going on about Zafar’s Double First and British Asian club sides not socialising. Or something like that.  Lovejoy’s little bro wrote a wonderful intro to a piece on Ben Stokes that was like FICJAM’s little bro. Simon Hughes banged on about pace bowling, berating coaches and experts who sought to change mechanics to allow bowlers to last, but hardly mentioning the crippling effing schedules these bowlers have! The whole magazine is going down the pan, and even Tim Wigmore’s effort on Zimbabwean cricket is not enough to save it!

Humourous point that may resonate only with me. Playing International Cricket Captain on the tablet and Surrey were struggling against Glamorgan. Only KP stood firm with a doughty 106. As he reached his hundred, Aggers commentary goes “and that’s his hundred. Solid rather than exciting.” See! SEE! Even the games are programmed to slag off my KP!

I’m going for a lie down.

Be back soon.

Off The Deep End / Long Run – Episode 1

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OK. I’ve been reflecting. Let’s see where this gets us.

Over at TFT, James has asked people for their views on the current state of the game in the country. I’m well aware that in the last few weeks I’ve been asking a lot about your views, and not been giving mine. I had a really long DM conversation on Twitter with James on Monday night, which at times became a bit melancholy on both our parts, but from my perspective there were a couple of things that I spoke out loud (so to speak) for the first time in ages. Namely, that I am not inclined to do much at this stage, and that what I am writing is decidedly pulling my punches. I’ve just not been in the mood to do much fighting in the past six months – well, certainly since the Ashes began.

It may be time to really decide what I want to do with my interactions with the blog – I’m well aware with the welcome presence of TLG that it’s not just for me any more. Do I want to play it safe, not upset people, try to be the real me and avoid conflict? Sure, even when I’ve been pulling punches, I still haven’t satisfied some people who are beyond accepting anything on here, but that’s not the gig I want to play. I’m a little bit annoyed with myself for being like this. There are too many things that, in my view, are wrong, that suppressing the manner in which this blog got to where it did, has resulted in a half-hearted, relatively tame last few weeks.

So what to do? Carry on as a half-hearted, pulling punches blogger, or give it a bit more? I’ve not been short of advice, and people commenting on what they’d like to see from the blog, and maybe I’ve listened too much to them. I actually think that this blog would benefit from me not being on Twitter, and it’s something I’m considering actively. I’m not pleased with people being pissed off with things I’ve written, and then those matters being discussed with some individuals on Direct Messages  (DM) who just want to pick a fight, or try to do what it is they want to do, virtual person to virtual person. I told James that I am still not “over” if that’s the best phrase, the Etheridge nonsense a few weeks ago. I know I need to pack in Twitter after a night out, but I also need to be sensible when I am not. Look to see less of me on there. As if that’s a promise I can keep!

So, in a few posts in the next few days I’m going to give my views on the summer of blogging (from my perspective, not The Leg Glance’s) and the events on and off the field. I hope you enjoy them, I hope you comment on them, and one day, I hope to garner a much thicker skin to repel the haters.

So, in a peace offering to the haters, here’s the first instalment, and of course, it is on Kevin Pietersen. Good. Write what you are most comfortable with, I say. Lest we forget we entered the summer with Pietersen given a clear indication by the man who supposedly was/is in charge of the ECB, the successor to Giles Clarke (no-one doubted he was leader, did they), Colin Graves that he had a potential route back if he played county cricket. Of course, some of the press went into overdrive, and I have to say I was absolutely convinced that this was a nonsense. But KP came back, and after a laugh with his Uni hundred, he then went and made 355 not out. So having given up an IPL place (a number sneered that £200k, or whatever it was, didn’t rock KP’s world…) he learned his fate. Since the “encouragement” a new broom had come in…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Good Old Days….

1. The Kevin Pietersen “Issue” – Trust The Boss, Trust The Press, Trust The TV

You know,  stuff them who don’t like me talking about it. Sorry for the defensive posture, but that accusation thrown at me that I am just a stuck record and obsessed by KP is a joke. I have consistently said he should not be recalled now, or in the past year, not because he didn’t deserve a place on form and ability (he clearly still does, and if you deny that, well we’ll debate the pure cricket ability point all you like – he should be in the World T20 line-up but won’t be), but because it would be a total zoo. Worse than it has been without him in the team. That it would render some scribes into a catatonic state, others would spontaneously combust and some would probably see the funny side, a recall would have been too much. There is too much history, still. The ECB had used the press as their conduit since pre-sacking, and now a recall might be seen as a betrayal of the support they’d given. Who knows? Nothing is too ludicrous in this saga.

Kevin Pietersen’s treatment by England, and the ECB in particular, has been an unmitigated disaster. It has been the most disgraceful scapegoating one could ever see. If he deserved to be left out for behavioural issues, then let’s have them. It was sacking by innuendo, besmirching by press leak and vendetta, disparaging by those who had waited for the moment. Pietersen once said in an interview that he was like Marmite – you either loved him or hated him – and that he would spend his time on the former and ignore the latter. You don’t ignore your enemies, and Pietersen found that out. No matter how much he pretends that the T20 fills the hole in his career, by making enemies at home, he misses out on the pinnacle.

When KP made that 355 not out and was then sacked again – and no-one has denied KP’s side of that clusterf**k so let’s assume that was true – it wasn’t just an added insult to those who still respected what he’d done for England. The treatment was nasty. KP’s side of that evening has never been denied (I don’t want to go into that, as Strauss kept saying, is as clear an admission that it’s true) and that his sacking was leaked while he was in the meeting, a few days after the Moores disaster, just summed this disgraceful mob up. It re-confirmed that the ECB, in trying to bring clarity to the situation, were just being a nasty, spiteful, vindictive bunch.

The fun came in then watching some of those employed by ECB-TV saying that 355 against the worst team in the country wasn’t that impressive. This is an insult to those who watch the game. Dominic Cork should have been sacked on the spot for allowing personal malice to creep in. But he wasn’t alone. The issue wasn’t allowed a public airing. Subsequently we see every time Pietersen’s name is mentioned on Sky (ECB-TV), David Gower acts like the maid when she sees Jerry in the cartoons – the cricketing equivalent of screaming on a stool. It’s an insult to the viewers who think burying a player who, on the face of it, on public evidence presented by these buffoons, has done nothing wrong, is a grave dereliction of duty by a broadcaster. But more about that later..

But that sort of character thing, making it personal, as Dominic Cork clearly did is OK, because, let’s face it, the bloke making the decision (Strauss) couldn’t possibly have been accused of the same thing, could he? The total c**t, was it?

Instead of investigating whether personal hatred had over-ridden the need to put the best players out there, the press spent most of their time, as they did with Downton, buffing up the new man in the suit. It’s as if criticising an officer of the ECB is strictly verboten. Given how a number of sporting bodies treat proper journalism, it wouldn’t surprise me if the line to take from the ECB, readily snapped up by their chums in certain parts of the press corps, was reprinted verbatim. I was in the States at the time, and I didn’t get to see or hear it all. A few broke ranks, and a number said KP had been treated shabbily. Didn’t stop them, at the end of the summer, polishing Strauss’s ring, did it? You’d think they’d learn from last year and Downton, wouldn’t you?

I’m wandering off the KP bit, and don’t worry, I’ll get to the ECB in the next part, but it wasn’t just the phenomenal mis-treatment of him after that 355 that riled me. KP had clearly been told to play country cricket, and there might be a chance to play, but all the experts at the time snorted that even if he did come back, play well and score those massive scores, there was no vacancy in the middle order. Some of us thought it premature to be so cock sure of the England batting prowess, on the back of a couple of miserable displays in Barbados. So it proved as Ballance fell apart and was ditched hastily, no-one has the faintest clue still if Bairstow is a test batsman, Bell is in a funk that has people calling for him to be dropped, and others begging him to stay (because off the lack of replacements), and no-one should have been the slightest bit surprised. Not really. It means that Joe Root has to carry more passengers than Sheffield Buses, and also focuses the light on our openers to make good starts. If you had a top class, top banana middle order, you wouldn’t need Moeen Ali batting at 8, would you? But the media, who punted that line at the time, have never truly been held to that account. The fact the Aussies were substantially worse on some decent, lively wickets, covered up the cracks, allowed people to “look over there”. Yes, look, our middle order is in pieces, we’ve gone with a player some in the past clearly didn’t rate (Taylor – and please, spare me the KP stuff on him) and the rest is a wing and a prayer.

(I’ll take a brief break to bring this piece of “good journalism”.

Clearly John has done his work here, but who told him that, and is that how we want our teams run?)

Again, don’t confuse this with wanting KP back in the team. It’s just putting into context some of the fantasy that was used to cover Strauss’s arse. We’ll go more into this one later. Because in Strauss providing “clarity” and then waffling on about amorphous things like “trust” , there might have been a requirement for much more like hard work instead of relying on old platitudes about his captaincy. Instead, we had all these promising youngsters with burgeoning reputations in the middle order, and we needed to place great faith in them. We didn’t parody James Whitaker’s interview with Pat Murphy for nothing. Gary Ballance was the answer, now what was your question again?

You know, I’d barely mentioned Pietersen, or the issue at least, all Ashes. Then came along the end of the pier show that was Strauss at SoccerEx. Now the context may have been all, but the message seemed clear enough to me from initial readings. “Great we won the Ashes, great it was without KP or the issue festering all summer because I provided clarity”.

I’ve used the phrase often enough, but it does seem worth repeating. “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan”. I was discussing sporting matters with someone recently, and if you believe Strauss doesn’t despise KP, he thought you might be in error. I think by Strauss’s actions he should be judged. Instead of questioning a man in love with management textbooks, army disciplines and so forth, the things I run a mile from in my life for fear of being indoctrinated by these cretins, we saw an almost universal acceptance of what a spiffing man he is, and how well he’s done all summer. A barrage of positive articles, ignoring the gaping hole that our middle order became, put Strauss on another pedestal. Honestly, I was gobsmacked he raised the KP issue at all.

Most of us had “moved on” and were on the point of letting it lie, but the desire to want to dredge this decision, based on personal animosity, up as some sort of example of management brilliance was amazing. In one fell swoop, he lost a ton of respect from me – I really didn’t care that much for his appointment, but as you will note, I was a big fan of his as a batsman, which is all that should matter. Not that he would give a shit. It doesn’t matter what any of the proles think. But just as we were constantly encouraged to let it lie, some appear just too grand, just too pleased with themselves, to avoid patting themselves on the back.  Hell, Andrew, you have the same home win-loss margin as your predecessor in tests. (4-3 as against 3-2). Don’t be too pleased with yourself.

But again, we can get to the ECB later. But note. It’s nearly always the ECB when it comes to KP. Their behaviour, their attitudes, their implementation of policies. Which really means this isn’t a KP issue, it’s an ECB one, which leads me to………………………….

2. Giles Clarke and the Curious Case Of The Silenced Yorkshireman

That will be for next time.

Paraxylene

First of all, some house notices.

The Ashes Panel #006 is in the books, and I’ve just now sent the questions for the seventh panel to lucky recipients. You get a doozy of a Question 5. Do well with it.

On The Extra Bits, I concocted a little post on books. I’d be happy to hear what you think are good and bad ones, and perhaps make some recommendations for others. The Extra Bits is meant to be a bit gentler than here, so no wars, eh!

It’s been a great week on here, and I was pleased we got a decent response to the Ashes ODI thread yesterday. There will be one for tomorrow’s game as well.

Now, to the meat of this post, and it’s going to be a bit of a ramble, so do keep with me.

Item 1 – A Legendary Tweet.

Now my flabber was gasted. I mean, this is really just utterly superb. A puff piece? Selfey accuses someone of writing a puff piece?

This is like shooting fish in a barrel, even before we look at the hilarious mis-spelling of Paul Hayward’s name. I’m a bloke who often falls foul of the old auto-correct, so perhaps jumping on that was a tad harsh. Maybe I jumped on it because it included the words “puff piece” and “star” columnist.

I mean, puff piece..

In the process Cook, a genuinely good man and one of the greatest of all England Test batsmen, was subjected to a disproportionate amount of abuse, some of it carefully orchestrated and relentless, of a kind that, in my experience anyway, has never before been directed at any England cricketer.

Genuine puffery.

Against Sri Lanka the margin between winning and losing the series was as slender as could be: six inches more carry on the final delivery at Lord’s; and survival of two more deliveries at Headingley

A classic of its genre.

Without question, though, the other members have been sufficiently convinced that whatever else they may feel, the fact that India is “inside the tent pissing out”, as some like to term it, rather than the reverse, is actually something of a political coup.

Ah yes, the ICC stitch-up. Nothing to see here.

Then there was this non-puff piece…. https://dmitrihdwlia.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/morris-flower1.jpg

And this one…https://dmitrihdwlia.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/downton-selvey.jpg

Not enough puff for your pastry….

As a collective, the team had forgotten how to forge partnerships. There was a complete systematic breakdown of the batting unit. It may say more about them than Gooch, but it is said that many of the players – and shame on them for it, if true – simply stopped listening to the record. Maybe it was a generational thing: Gooch is 60.

Augmented by this tremendous Tweet:

Maybe it’s a puff piece when others do it, eh?

Then there’s Moores…

Read the post this comes from again. God, I was a much better blogger then – https://dmitrihdwlia.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/well-good-morning-judge-how-you-doing-today/

The fact is, that I’ve not even mentioned the Tweets about Saker, absolving him of all blame, and the countless times he’s backed Cook when he was under pressure for his place, no doubt believing he is vindicated. Calling for KP’s return, or considering it, is every bit as much puffery as the crap he wrote about Downton, or Flower, or Gooch. I laughed hugely at this nonsense.

BTW – want an old gold post, which I used in this research, then read this again. https://dmitrihdwlia.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/behind-the-hatred-there-lies-a-murderous-desire-for-love/

Which leads me on to Part Two

kp FO

I’ve not spoken a lot about Pietersen recently, but the tide of fury is rising. In the past two or so months, since Strauss came out with that pile of drivel about trust and what-not, I’ve seen a decided change in approach. The mere mention of Pietersen’s name is to bring in some sort of collective shock, or even worse, collective contempt. Mention him to one of the media behemoths so staunchly stood behind the aristocracy of the game, and it’s no better than “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. Muppet did it the other day, the contemptuous prick that he is, as if our wishes and concerns are of no relevance to him.

Remember the arguments made by media folk, and those anti-KP’ers at the time…. “There’s no vacancy….who would you drop……this team needs to grow and develop”. As with most of the pathetic arguments about KP, that one has been shot out of the water. By dropping Ballance after a rickety start to the summer, and promoting Bell up to three, they created a vacancy, as many thought might happen. Now, as much as Bairstow deserves a place in the team, should KP not be eligible for consideration? Note, those of you who think this is all black and white and are quick to throw their nonsensical bollocks at me, I’m not saying KP should be an automatic choice, but 8181 test runs seems rather persuasive when looking for evidence. But you can’t just shut down the debate because you don’t like to hear it. Strauss cut off one of our options on “trust”. This may be that Cook doesn’t want him back, but neither Strauss nor Cook have the guts to tell us that, instead we heard it via Dean Wilson in the Mirror.

Pietersen, in the eyes of his critics can do no right. He has finished his T20 spell in St Lucia and this coincided with a test loss. I suppose that is his fault. He has an ego – news to you, pretty much all top level sportsmen do – and probably thinks he should be playing. Many of us share that contention. This argument isn’t going to die with any zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz tweets, or people telling the likes of me and Maxie to stop it, we’ve got no chance of him coming back. It, as always, spectacularly misses the point. It’s personal politics, and it’s potentially harming England. I think it was, and probably still is, especially driven by Giles Clarke (and potentially Cook and Flower, although who knows how influential he is now). And yes, KP’s book is not irrelevant, but these are grown adults and they should sort it out. It’s not too late.

What I won’t let go is a tweet like this. I won’t give the name, but I’ll copy what he tweeted to me a couple of days ago.

it was only a matter of time before the worst thing for English cricket was heralded as a saviour again

The worst thing for English cricket. That’s just unutterable bollocks and despite frequent points that you may question many things, but you can’t question what he gave to England by way of entertainment and match-winning innings (hey, the worst thing for English cricket saved us an Ashes series. What did the second worst thing do?). I don’t get it. I call Graham Gooch “the devil” but christ on a bike, I don’t demean his batting, his great innings, his determination because I don’t like him. Bloody hell. This was a man WHO TURNED HIS BACK ON ENGLAND FOR MONEY and he gets revered above by Selfey, while KP TURNED HIS BACK ON MONEY FOR ENGLAND and gets slagged off! Hell.

I also know of no-one who thinks KP is a saviour, which also appeared in that tweet. Another sweeping generalisation of the position perpetrated by numpties. My line is this – is he in our Best XI? Simple as. I’m sure Bell’s sour demeanour at present and stupefying lack of form is absolutely intrinsically vital for this team’s performance while someone who might just go out and give it a whack would be a dressing room cancer the likes of which we’ll never recover from.

I said it almost a year ago when that post went viral….

But on Day 5, this looked in jeopardy. One man held the line. While all the other top batsmen got out, one man rode an early piece of luck to then just take Australia to the cleaners. Aided and abetted by a spin bowler people derided, that one man kept the dream alive and then made us believe it was all over. Without that one man, Australia would have been chasing 200 or less to win the Ashes in 50-60 overs. You want to know what would have happened without that one man’s innings, you saw exactly what in Adelaide 18 months later.

So, all you “haters” out there, remember that. Remember it when you boo him. Remember it when you spit out YOUR bile (for that’s something I’ve been accused of) on the various sites. Remember it when you demean a great career. Remember it when you slag him off relentlessly as some sort of traitor despite the fact he was sacked, has been abused by the cricket authorities more than any other player I can remember, treated with disdain and contempt by a media in their back-pockets because maybe, just maybe, he didn’t like them. He is a bit arrogant? So what? He scored masses or runs, loads of hundreds, played injured (and was then slagged off if he took time off to cure or rest them). never gave less than his all (remember Headingley 2012, before textgate, when he opened the batting for the team in the second innings?) and yet still there’s this hatred. For what?

I get it. People don’t like him. People despise him. I happen to enjoy his batting and to me that matters. Until someone comes up with more than a half-arsed dossier, leaked like so much to do with KP was, and tells me how it was, then I will believe there’s a stitch up and that the main sufferers are those that want the best players playing for England. I understand the other view – about building a new team, under new players with a solid figure as coach – but I disagree with it. The bile, if you want to call it that, comes from the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, and the demeaning of his record and his contribution. The almost Orwellian erasing of his history, the Lynton Crosby-eque “dead cat” mention of his name among media types. The sheer fact that a score of 355 is dismissed casually by many.

By the man in Mumbai, the conductor at Colombo, the harrier at Headingley and the bringer of brilliance in Bridgetown in the World T20. Yeah. He’s been the worst all right.

(Before people say the individual meant going forward, he had plenty of opportunities to clarify that, but he never did.)

The worst thing for English cricket? Really?

After all, you can only get better from a 400 run smashing, can’t you?

Miami

In case some of you are not on Twitter, here are the latest tweets from Kevin Pietersen….

Needless to say, those in the media who had forgotten about him will now report these tweets avidly. The Mail already has a story up, not checked elsewhere.

You know how I think about this by now. We’ve done this to death, but it never hurts to remind ourselves that on the one hand we moan about our top order, and on the other, we have a proven performer not playing, and now 18 months out of international cricket. I’m not sad, I’m effing livid.

I thought Chris Rogers played very well for his 173.

BTW – think Miami is massively over-rated. Never liked it much there, and I’m a supporter of their NFL team!

Violence Through Silence

I think it shows how weary I’ve become that when I saw the article (quite early in the evening) on KP and the commentary stint I thought I’d leave it be. Nothing surprises me with these clowns any more. That is should go through the conduit of the Daily Mail or Mail on Sunday is little surprise. That Patrick Collins thinks it’s great is little surprise. I’ve no doubt the likes of Pam, who was probably jumping the moon after her little Andy came in and we’ve had this massive turnaround (drawn series at home to New Zealand), and is calling us all KP fanboys, is happy too.

There’s a super piece by Maxie over at TFT if you want to comment. I have and so have other familiar traitors posters (I jest). But I’ve just re-read the Mail article and two bits in particular make my blood boil.

The ECB were outmanoeuvred by Pietersen and his advisors, led by Piers Morgan, during a sustained public relations campaign on his behalf after he was sacked following England’s 5-0 Ashes drubbing in Australia last year.

and

Pietersen has previously impressed as a television pundit, but pressure from the ECB to keep him at arm’s length this summer indicates that they remain extremely wary of his capacity to polarise public opinion and potentially alienate England supporters with his outspoken views. (my emphasis).

Listen here, journos. I don’t think we had everything to do with it, but it wasn’t you keeping “outside cricket” going, and it wasn’t KP either. There was no sustained PR campaign throughout last year when KP kept largely silent on the matters of his dismissal, as he was bound to do. They had a strategy. Stand back and let the morons at the ECB, aided and abetted by the compliant media to do the rest. Just wait, and thou shall deliver.

The ECB did itself in by appointing Paul Downton, and all the campaign had to do was keep quiet, let some of your lot throw themselves in front of the mighty Paul, and call him Lord Aplomb, and then allow him to open his mouth. I miss Downton because he was useless. He had all the suitability to the job as I have of being a court jester. There’s nothing sustained about the PR Campaign. He wrote a book and you lot took out the bits that mattered to you, and ignored some pretty salient points. And you can’t go f–king anywhere without Piers Morgan’s name coming up. Grow up you morons and admit it. Some of his fans, and many who hated the way he was scapegoated, didn’t buy what you fools were selling. Now some of you have buyer’s remorse on Downton in particular, and Moores as well, you want us to say sorry? Do one.

Which leads to the second point. His commentary may alienate some of the cricketing public. I’ve seen it all now. What do you think his sacking did? Do you think I’ve been writing this blog because I love it and accept it? Do you think I care enough to spend all the hours that I have on this and HDWLIA because I’ve not been alientated by this. And you care about those who have done nothing but insult us all the way because of it? Because we were right over Downton, over Moores, over Cook’s position in the ODI, and yes, over his leadership of the test team. You worry about alienating the people who have stuck their heads in the sand?

It would be hilarious if these chumps weren’t serious. Well done Sam. Paul would be very proud.