A Hornet’s Nest

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:

http://www.thefulltoss.com/england-cricket-blog/the-return-of-caesars-wife/

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.

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Hardly

I was in good cheer when I read another tweet yesterday, and which I’ve seen in today’s amazing episode of The Cricketer Magazine.

I mean, seriously. I am getting to be seriously crotchety in my old age, but I hate this shit. I realise we live in a corporate world, where sport has to flog itself to maximise the revenues for its players and so forth. But Hardy’s doesn’t own the Ashes, and they aren’t some commodity that can be flogged to death to some corporate with ties to the sport as deep as a puddle. But no, let’s have it hawked out and retweeted by the players so they can earn a few more bucks. Let’s have all the interviews by England players sponsored so they can earn a few more quid. I even saw an advert on Twitter by Specsavers using the Ashes.

While I don’t doubt the sporting commitment of any of these players, there seems far too much of players hawking themselves to flog a bit of the sponsors wares and not enough actual proper engagement with the hoi polloi who follow them around. The team looks appallingly distant still. I get no more of a warm glow from Alastair Cook as I do from my neighbours on the other side of the estate I live on. I hate how sport has become a corporate vehicle, so it’s corporate first, second, third, fourth and so on, and the punter comes a distant last. The corporate pays and gets the finest seats, the best service, and fuck me blind, decent beer. We sit in the cheap seats, have to somehow manage to carry four beers in a paper/cardboard contraption that happens to break if it gets to wet to a crowded seat, with eff all leg room, to be bombarded by nonsense, have official rehydration breaks, have the most prestigious test series in the game paired with an investment bank every time it is mentioned over here (it was never the Cornhill Insurance Ashes, was it) and drink absolute piss masquerading as one of Paul Sheldon’s selection of “fine beers”.

Their priority is to make money – the players and the administrators. To soak the asset. If they see off some of the low earners or recalcitrant fans, well that’s just collateral damage. They probably wouldn’t drink Hardy’s wine, probably think Waitrose is a bit too pricy, wouldn’t have a scooby who Royal London are, think tap water is fine to drink, don’t use an investment bank and so on and so forth. Stuff ’em. After all, they are outside cricket.

Commercialisation is a growing annoyance, and don’t tell me the journos don’t think so. Agnew, for one, was livid he had to go through this “interview is brought to you by…” crap. The players seriously don’t help themselves when any interview they have is done under serious media management and only on the premise that they can hawk something for a few bob more. This tweet summed it up…

Which brings neatly on to Betway’s new “employee” in his Editor’s notes in The Cricketer…

“Alastair Cook has been called a weasel and a coward and other derogatory things. He does not deserve any of it.”

Ah. But calling someone who scored 8181 test runs a c–t is ok. Rah Rah. The article has decency all over it. Alastair is a thoroughly decent man. If you get a chance, read it. It’s like a bloody love letter. There seems no recognition that there is another interpretation of all this. That Cook has never truly explained the decision that he must have been party to to (a) exclude Pietersen and (b) as Dean Wilson reported, I believe, at the time, that he maintains a veto over his return. I call not explaining this as, yes, a form of cowardice. A form of weasel behaviour. He may have very good reasons, but I’ll bet he’s storing them up for a lovely autobiography somewhere down the line. Hughes, of course, conflates the cowardice line with actual facing up to quick bolwing in a marvellously ridiculous finale…

“He (Cook) is the antithesis of the men who say, “It’s the way I play.” He is constantly evolving as a player and as a leader and is about to confront the fastest attack and feistiest foe to visit these shores for many a year. So whatever you think of him, don’t call him a weasel or a coward.”

Bloody hell. Instead, we’ll just laugh at this piece of analysis (as previewed in comments below) in a tweet from Tickers.

Indeed.

I’m sorry, but Lovejoy, complete with stupid mug shot is at it again in The Cricketer…

“Obviously the above are moot points if England themselves have a divided camp and are still being forced to answer questions about the captain, opening batsman and other extraneous stories that refuse to die down. Alastair Cook must shrug off any worries about the hierarchy and apparent criticism from the media and get back to enjoying the role of prolific run scorer and team captain.”

Count the many ways this is laughable.

326 Not Out – Part 1

Not Wanted

For some context, and a piece that sums up my views on KP, try this.

Where on earth do you start on a day like this? Let’s set the scene a little. As some of you know, I’m on holiday (vacation out here) in a place called Cape May, New Jersey. It isn’t the Jersey of Springsteen, with the New York overspill or the refineries and factories. It isn’t the Jersey Shore of TV infamy, nor is it Atlantic City, where I’ve been today, but a quiet, sleepy seaside town, with one side on the Atlantic Ocean and the other on the Delaware Bay. I’m 200 yards from the sea. It’s lovely.

So you’ll understand that I wasn’t up with the lark this morning, and rather enjoying a lie-in. I awoke, at around 2pm I think, UK time to be greeted with a number of comments on the blog remarking that KP had made a century. “What a lovely start to the day” I thought, and then chuckled to myself that those haters would be tripping over themselves to diminish it. Also, taking the game situation into context, Surrey really needed those runs, and needed more. What did I do though? I tweeted

Lawrence Booth got back to me (he didn’t know how the day would end up)

I responded…

I calmed down a little, and had a little walk, and came back to see the Pietersen machine rolling along, allied to a tail that didn’t give it away. 150 was up…. and I was busy working out what he needed to make to get the average over 100 if he got out (188). When he passed that, the next target was 200, and so that was passed. By now the joy was let forth. I never believed he would get back to smashing any attack around for these sort of scores. A century or two would be ignored, because, well, anyone gets them. But a double is not easily ignored – as Sky Sports pundits and hosts kept saying “if KP churns out a double hundred or two, then what…” As I left the house with a spring in my step and a little joy in my heart, I got on my international sim phone and followed the score up the Garden State Parkway. 220, 240, 255 (past his best score), 270, 290 and then….300.

Now, I don’t care what standard you play, but 300 is nothing to be trifled with. It is not to be ignored. If this were a player who had shown no aptitude for test cricket, had tried and failed, or was a promising youngster, maybe there’s an excuse. That isn’t what we are talking about here. We are talking about a test cricketer of proven ability, who not that long ago was making very decent centuries (anyone forget his Old Trafford hundred less than two years ago?) and had answered his critics by coming back to first class county cricket, a format that he doesn’t particularly cherish, and he’s smashed it everywhere. 326 not out. Ignore that.

I was so happy, I should have popped into the Golden Nugget and put money on 24.

So, I’m wandering around the shops and left the international phone in the car. Treated myself to a couple of things, and then went back to the car. As we’re crossing Little Egg Harbour, I saw the TMS Tweet.

And I went ballistic. Absolutely fucking ballistic.

You may have seen my twitter outpourings, but if not, just go on there and look for @DmitriOld . The ECB had chosen this moment to announce that they were not picking KP for England again. Ever. This would not happen. Not in a blue moon. No chance. Cut off without a prayer. Brought hope forward by intimating he had a chance, and when he stuffed it back at them, they said “no, sorry”.

Make no mistake, for all the weasel words we’ve heard since, where there has been some suppsoed back-tracking, we’ll get a restatement of Andrew Strauss’s position tomorrow (the one we read about weeks ago, and why we so opposed his appointment now) which will be all about building teams for 2019 blah blah blah and that KP will be 39 by then. If you fall for that old pony, you’ll fall for anything. They are blocking his way, no matter what. There will always be a reason not to pick him. If he followed this 300+ up with another monster score in his next outing, it won’t matter to these idiots, for idiots are what they are that they would rule out a monster talent returning to monster form. It IS one innings, and it IS just part of the road back. But this lot want to block it for what? Personal reasons? If he’s the best batsman, in form, in the country, you play him. It really isn’t that complicated. Let me effing well repeat that. IT REALLY ISN’T THAT COMPLICATED.

This is the ECB in a nutshell. Cricket is meant to be exciting, it is meant to be fun to watch, it is meant to thrill as well as enthrall, to appreciate graft and genius in all its forms. It’s not a bloody game won by management consultants, self-help books on army drills and team-building nonsense. It’s won by talent, it’s won by attitude, it’s won by seizing the moment, not ticking some Belbin Analysis or a team leader assignment on a marines assault course. This team we have now can be as together as it likes, but it collapsed like wet cardboard at Headingley last summer after an abject display by its captain. It hooked its way to a loss after another abject bowling display at Lord’s v India, and despite a turnaround which has been praised as if we’d turned into the Invincibles, we went to the West Indies and collapsed in a heap in Barbados. They are so together, they collapse in a heap in synch. I’m not saying KP makes you immune to that, but it also doesn’t mean that these batsmen are set in stone, no matter how much they say they are. If I could have a pound for all the times someone says to me “who would you drop?” then it would have paid for my shopping today. That’s not the way to look at it. It is “who are the best batsmen in the country?” If the answer is KP, then Ian Bell, Gary Ballance or Joe Root will just have to get over it.

Which is all I want. Pick our best team. Pick our best players.

Watching some of the jealous muppets on Twitter is sickening. Honestly, they act like the Katie Hopkins of the sporting world. Muppet Pringle, a man who got the sack for not reading the runes it appears, had this absolute gem, which in its brevity sums up why English team sports are absolutely Donald Ducked.

Principles over PR? What is he on about? Principles…. oh yes, they’ve worked so far. We backed a captain who took two years to make a ton, and has little or no tactical acumen over and above chuck it to Anderson and Broad and hope it works. We’ve had principles that Cook is sacrosanct in the test arena, and for a while in the ODI arena, and will work to the detriment of English cricket and hamper preparation for major events by backing him until it’s too late. Yeah, principles. Teams with principles are usually rigid, inflexible, and bound to them. Principles means authority rules, so shut the hell up.

Meanwhile, making 326 not out in a county game, I suppose, is PR. Jesus wept. Oh, and there’s a dig about tweeters too. Genius.

But it seems that our ECB would rather follow this “play the game chaps” approach, rather than countenance that they might have made an error. In part 2, which I’ll write later, I’ll go on to all that. And the unprecedented reaction I saw on Twitter after that TMS tweet. This is a fire that just will not go out. The ECB, instead of dampening it down, seem to want to put petrol on it.

Lament

Well, good morning/afternoon all. It has been an interesting one to wake up to, I have to tell you. I’ll leave “proper” politics because there’s a ton more places to look for it than on here, and it divides rather than unites which is never good in my book. So let’s talk about the sort of politics we all love to indulge in and that’s from the good old ECB.

I think you all remember the aftermath of the Ashes debacle when in the infamous February press release, the most heinous crime anyone could perpetrate in the English cricket firmament was to breach the sanctity of the dressing room. There were certain journalists who were said to be “anal about leaks” but that didn’t stop them talking out of that orifice on a daily basis. The people on this board, out there in the world aren’t stupid, and they know these stories don’t just appear out of thin air. These journalists have contacts, have their way to read the runes, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. I’m not sure it is, as John Etheridge I believe once said “more good journalism than leaks”, but it’s something that annoys us all.

So we can’t be all up in arms because the news leaked regularly about Kevin Pietersen and not be when it affected Cook (in December when his sacking from the ODI captaincy got out) and now seems to be for Moores. I know the journalistic corps will accuse me of naivety and all that, and that this is how the world works, but it doesn’t make it right. I’m going out on a limb here and say that although I didn’t support the appointment of Peter Moores (reeked of a pre-ordained Flower-inspired stitch up) and don’t particularly rate him as an international coach (this progress we are making seems rather ephemeral to me – as Grenada / Barbados seems to indicate) he comes across as a very decent man trying his best, and the one thing that those people deserve above all else is to be treated with the same decency. If this is proved, and I note Lawrence Booth for one is saying this didn’t necessarily come from the ECB, to be from high-placed official sources then more shame on them. This is not the way a new and improved organisation does business, and if it is one of the exiting old guard doing it, well….. you know what you should do about that.

The responsibility for a leak goes to the source of the information. So if the ECB told someone in confidence that the decision had been made, and then this gets out, it’s the ECB’s fault for trusting that confidence. The fact is that if this is the case here, and that’s the message coming out here, there’s always the convenient “plausible deniability” on behalf of this organisation which seems to make key decisions ahead of appointees taking up their roles. Indeed, Strauss hasn’t even been officially announced yet, and he’s supposed to be the one either doing the sacking or rubber-stamping it.

I see one of the commenters BTL on the Guardian is going on about us conspiracy theorists again. I’m glad these people are so trusting of those in authority to think that way and just let those running the game to do as they please, no questions asked. Trust those inside the game. But from the outside there seems to be a bit of a power struggle within the ECB and I have no idea how it is going to pan out. The deserved sacking of Downton, a man who should never have been appointed, seems more and more like a piece of meat thrown to us “slobbering hordes”.  We then replace his role with something not yet defined, and when they found out that not many people were interested in a Downton-lite role, the new revolution stumbled across an old pillar to effect whatever it is Harrison and Graves think is needed, which at this stage, we don’t have a clue about. Memo to all here, I’m not buying what Harrison is selling, not at all. Now to appease the hordes again, we are going to fire a coach AFTER a series where we could have looked at new players, but the coach and captain were too keen to bolster positions and didn’t try much. This isn’t a new bold strategy, but something else too familiar. Clueless, aimless and now heartless. The absence of a decent media strategy, treating people in their employment with dignity and class, and allowing things to just get out there, however they get there, isn’t great. It really isn’t.

Lawrence Booth, Jonathan Agnew and Ali Martin can all put their side of the story any time they like – they are more than welcome to here, but I would not expect that. How this news got out there matters to people. It speaks of an organisation seeking to regain our trust, to re-engage with us, to make us proud of the England cricket team again and to bridge the divide. This is not what is happening. The divisions aren’t now a simple chasm down the middle framed by a decision to sack Pietersen. They are becoming fractures, along familiar fault lines, but fractures nonetheless. Those that were original members of the outside cricket club see more of the same. Those who were more attuned to the ECB way of thinking see appeasement of the great unwashed. Those of a more sceptical bent than the ECB line to takers see increasing incompetence and doubt creeps in, like rot in a wooden building. The Cook fans see devilment in every utterance on the doubts in his form. The KP fans see an ECB talking out of both sides of its mouth. The ECB are further away than ever from gaining public trust. Their ultimate test was to keep their traps shut and do this the right way. They haven’t. It’s a bloody PR disaster.

Just one thought, that could negate much of this, but not all. The only explanation that gets the ECB partially off the hook is that the leak came from Peter Moores himself, or someone close to him. In which case we can make our own judgements on him. That said, it would seem a little out of character, wouldn’t it?