With the faint hope that West Indies would need to qualify for the World Cup if they won this series 4-0, or something like that gone, now (yes I know it is a 5 game series) any relevant motivation on the context scale is gone. Attention turns to a ground where runs flow, big innings ensue and the real meaning of ODI cricket is on show. Heck, if it’s not raining it might even start on time. Will the visitors come out blazing and set a massive score if they bat first, or will they rely on just one or two gun batsmen to do the work (assuming Universe Boss can be arsed)? Thinking of putting a random quote from “Six Machine” every day until the end of the series. Opened the book and came to this…
Obviously not a reader of the Andy Flower Cook Book. (Yet again – I got this book for 1p plus p&p from Amazon. I have not read it yet. Just by the size of the font, I don’t think it is going to take long. Tom Fordyce of the Beeb ghosted it. Interesting.)
Back to tomorrow. England will probably be unchanged – Bairstow now has that top slot nailed down. I think the next name on the list to face a challenge might be David Willey – I really don’t think he’s international class – but that would be being picky. And late September is not a time to be overly bothered. We rarely play this late in the year, and there is nothing for it but to watch what we see, and yearn for two months time and the Ashes.
Comments below. Got things to do tomorrow on my week off, so may not be around for the whole of the game. Or I might with this forecast!
Welcome to 2017’s international cricket season. Welcome to the longest international season any of us will remember here in England. Welcome to the summer that really matters for 50 over white ball cricket. It’s the Champions Trophy at the beginning of June, and we’ve put half our chips on this one. The other half we’ll hold back until 2019. Building. Always building.
Now I know that the 50 over game doesn’t exactly float the boats of all of the punters on here. Sometimes I feel the same, but for all that, I still prefer this to the fluff that is most of your T20 cricket. There are all sorts of games of 50 over cricket, and although it gets a bad knock now because of its youthful, more irritating little brother, there are always things to watch. At least I hope so.
Tomorrow we kick off against Ireland in Bristol (now I know why Lawrence was moaning about a quiet carriage this morning) with, what I believe, is our first ODI v Ireland in England. We’ve been over there a couple of times, lost hilariously in the World Cup in India to them, and there was a game in the West Indies World Cup which, according to some wags, is still going on. There’s plenty of feeling as Eoin Morgan plays against the country of his birth while Ed Joyce plays against the country he once made an ODI ton for. The weather appears to be OK, if a little on the cool side, and there should be a full match. England are without Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes. Sam Billings has come back from the IPL and appears to have caught some sort of ailment where he’s speaking twaddle, but he’ll keep wicket, and there are rumours Moeen Ali may well be left out.
I could go on, but I’m trying to watch a dreadful play-off match with my team in it, and really it feels like a bit of a pre-season friendly, but no doubt any good England performances by a “fringe” player will get lauded beyond the stars, and any loss to Ireland, or even a duff performance, will be over-analysed.
Here on BOC we’ll try to set up and report on each day’s play this summer, but it’s a difficult task for us to do with three of us. If anyone fancies doing it for us for some of the days this summer, please let us know.
So, in the age old, time honoured tradition on BoC…..
So that was that. England went to the Caribbean, they won the three ODIs, and that’s the job done. What exactly did they beat? How well or badly did they play? And perhaps more important than anything else, did anyone really care?
I don’t mean the players, who carried out their duties and won three games of varying closeness – the first was never truly in doubt, but competitive for long parts of the match; the second was England pulling a game out of a self-created hole; and the third was a rout – but the interest in the series from TV audiences, cricket supporters in this country and the host nation’s fans.
Far be it from me to use this site as a gauge of overall interest, but I was struck how, during the first ODI, there were no comments to be had from any of our regulars for large parts of the match. There wasn’t much more during the second and third games either. Now, quite conceivably, you are all getting a bit bored with Being Outside Cricket, and when your scribes are hardly beating a path to the keyboard to write up matches I can hardly blame you, but I think it’s something more serious than that. In Death of a Gentleman Michael Holding, I think, bemoans the “lack of context” in test match cricket. How a 3 match series plonked in the middle of a long stretch without test matches is supposed to be seen as anything other than a bit of international cricket fluff is difficult for me to argue against. Just like the tour to Sri Lanka before the 2015 World Cup, justifying it as a warm up for the Champions Trophy doesn’t really wash either. While the various tourist boards of Antigua and Barbados will no doubt be pleased with the considerable English turnout at the matches, that isn’t all we should look at.
There is also the question of precisely what we were facing. The PSL finished last weekend, so some of the key West Indian players were there, justifiably putting their own financial wellbeing and futures over the international cricket circus and a board that, from the outside, treats them with a disdain usually reserved for returning former England players to the Surrey T20 team,. So when the list came up on Sky of the alternative West Indian team that wasn’t the one facing us, it was sobering. Many words have been written on the demise of Caribbean cricket, and I know a particular tweeter I like (yes, genuinely, I do like him) gets fed up of the “hipsters” constantly wanting the West Indies to be relevant again, but this has been going on for a long time now. What’s the point of international cricket if whole teams are being excluded from selection, and when T20 leagues take priority?
That excuses the West Indians, but England, and the English cricket public, treated these three games with genuine indifference. There’s a cracking test series going on in India, with all the needle you’d expect from two teams that play to the limit, but then also believe (as do the large swathe of their supporters) that in the case of their own side, butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. New Zealand are playing South Africa in another test match which is competitive, played on a wicket suited to the format, and is poised well after three days. Sri Lanka are in a decent contest with Bangladesh too. I sensed, judging by the comments on here while I was in New Jersey, that the respondents here are far more interested in the goings on in the sub-continent than they were with this ODI series. Some of this can be put down to the fatigue we have with this team, but a lot must be because we aren’t interested in the format, and when international cricket becomes us versus a 2nd XI, well, then you can’t expect us to be totally bothered. I was back in the UK for the 3rd ODI and I can tell you, it wasn’t something I was rushing home for. I don’t represent anyone other than myself, but I think it speaks volumes.
Still. It’s all about the Champions Trophy. Never has this competition meant so much to an England cricket board.
A couple of other pieces of news that caught my eye. George Dobell’s latest on cricinfo regarding the saviour of English cricket, the new T20 contains all the old cobblers that we feared from our omnipotent, all seeing, rulers of the game. There’s the threats to non-believers in having money withdrawn; there’s the deception and corporate bullshit of using England internationals in the promotion when playing tests at the same time and thus not participating; there’s the fact the tarnishing of the rest of the game, by playing the 50 over tournament at the same time and intimating that’s the only cricket worthy for outgrounds; and there’s the draft. No-one, it appears, is to be affiliated to anybody. IF Joe Root were eligible for this, if he played for any team other than the putative Yorkshire based team, it would be a joke. Cricket, as if we have to stress it, isn’t football, and England is not Australia.
But then the ECB don’t give a flying f*ck about the opinions of a mid to late 40s grump, and are chasing the youngsters. In doing so, they threaten to alienate the core supporters once more. It’s almost as if they are setting out to do so. For example, I’m going to a T20 this year. Surrey v Essex. Me, and a friend from work, are taking an American who knows nothing about the game for a laugh, and for some beers. The sport itself? Almost incidental. A bit like T20 itself.
Finally, KP’s return to England’s cricket fields actually got a more muted response than I expected. This isn’t because the anti-KP brayers have had their time and run out of steam. Still plenty of them about, of course. It seems as though it just doesn’t matter any more. There are warning signals everywhere and the authorities, paying the price for the game being hidden behind a paywall for over a decade, have a tough job on their hands. They’ve been handed a lifeline this year – a returning hero/scoundrel – but Surrey don’t need him to fill grounds. It’s a hard thing for many to understand but Pietersen, STILL, is the biggest name in the English game, and the likes of Stokes, Root and yes, Cook, have a way to go. No-one is going to go to a T20 game to see those three. They will for KP. Trust me. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your view. Why this is so? You know why. The ECB know why. The media might even know why (while they are not polishing Sky’s clocks).
Which leads me back to the start. An ODI series lacking context of any kind, plonked into the schedule years ago with no rhyme or reason, has concluded. There was little said, little noticed, and it will be forgotten in no short time. That’s a problem. I’m not sure anyone cares.
Now. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to tomorrow’s game with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I’d be lying if I said this was the number one thing on my agenda tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said this series had gripped me by my lapels, shaking my pent up excitement like a pair of maracas. The first two games have been unutterably dull.
This may be the case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show, given the excitement and verve of the recent test series. It might be that Pakistan are outmatched with a dodgy batting line-up, while England have a murderers row all the way down to Adil Rashid at number 10. The bowling is more even, but England haven’t had massive chases to test how much the visitors might bend. It’s been routine so far, and that’s not what we like to see. ODIs need the touch of the extraordinary or they become extra ordinary. A bad ODI, an uncompetitive one where the first score is low is no recipe for future enjoyment. I sat through Saturday’s game and I was phenomenally bored. I fell asleep for 45 minutes during our chase – part older age, part not caring as much, part the dullness of the game.
This much is true. (cue Spandau Ballet) 18 months ago we were garbage at ODI cricket. Absolute unmitigated rubbish. Now we (I) get bored when we win routine matches. Yes, I sound like an entitled Manchester United fan fed up that we aren’t winning in style. I get this. Except there’s not a lot of fandom, other than dearly hoping Jason Roy or Jos Buttler go off. I don’t mind Hales or Root play very well either. Less enamoured of Morgan, ever since the “that’s from me” macho bullshit, and Stokes really needs to justify his white ball place with performances rather than “I want to bowl because I’m bored” stuff, even if that was tongue in cheek. This isn’t unconditional fandom at all. But you knew that!
Tomorrow the match takes place at Trent Bridge. A couple of months ago there was a thrilling game where England got out of jail with a tie when Liam Plunkett hit the last ball for six. It was the sort of ODI that gets your attention. England, through Buttler and most notably Woakes, gave us a thin chance, and then got the rewards. Last year New Zealand made 349 and England chased them down with six overs, yes six, remaining. Eoin Morgan made 113, and yet not much more than a year later there are whispers that he should not be in the team, He made a half century on Saturday, so maybe that clamour has receded. Just mentioning those two matches show how the landscape has changed, and probably why the last two matches have been dull in comparison.
In my opinion, and I said it on Saturday, Joe Root should be given a couple of weeks off. He plays all three formats, has hardly had a break, and got a knock on Saturday. We do push our players to extremes at times, and I think he’s earned a break. No doubt Joe won’t want one, and no doubt the medical and management staff know better. But it looks to me as if there is no harm in doing so. Maybe, if we clinch the ODI series tomorrow, we can take a more pragmatic line, whether we are placing equal weight on ODIs and tests or not. It’s not as if there isn’t some exciting young talent behind the scenes. Duckett, Billings, Bell-Drummond et al. I know we are building a solid team for the Champions Trophy next year, but health has to come into it.
Comments on the game below. Come on now, you WILL enjoy it.
England win the ODI series 3-1, and did this in varying styles. We dug a game out from a troublesome position, we set a middling to good total and bowled well, and we smashed a massive total which was never really under threat. That’s probably the most pleasing point from this series, and lets leave aside just how good, or not so good, the opposition might have been, and shows there isn’t just one way this team can win.
Having said that, our batsmen are going to win many more games than our bowlers. I’m sure that’s not an exclusive revelation, but the bowling is still capable of going for plenty. It did against New Zealand, to a lesser degree (and that might be down to the change in regulations) against Australia, and it may well do again when the human cyclone that is AB DeVillier reaps his storm.
To quote the mystics from May “there does not appear to be any vacancies in the batting line-up” at present. Don’t worry, pearl clutchers, I’m not mentioning him. With Hales and Roy at the top, Root at three, Morgan at four, Taylor at five, Buttler at six, Stokes at seven and Ali at eight (with Rashid maybe at nine), that is an exciting batting line-up. It could do serious, serious damage. If either of our spin bowlers could become regular wicket-taking threats, we’d be in a really solid position.
What you will get with this batting line-up, as you probably will with most, is brittleness. I’ve seen Jason Roy enough, as have most of you now, that he will go early quite regularly. I’ve compared him many times not to you-know-who, but to Ali Brown. If England had stuck by Brown, took the rough with the smooth, and not bowed to the usual staid and boring methods, we’d have had a winner. I’m convinced. I saw him play enough when I was a Surrey member, in county championship and one dayers, to see it. Roy is a talent. But even yesterday, he started a bit dodgily, with two inside edges flying past his stumps. He was out second ball in the first match. It will happen. We need to stick by him. It was brilliant to see a Surrey man make a hundred for England. Not counting who I can’t name, it might be the first international hundred by a Surrey man since The Thorpe in 2004 at Durban. I think!
At the other end Alex Hales also made his first ODI hundred, and without it we might have been in strife in that game. Hales is again going to be hit and miss, but his hundred was pretty mature in many ways. He got himself in then let himself go. Hales is likely to open, we think, in Durban next month in the test team (though I still remain to be convinced they’ll take this mighty plunge) and we should see what happens (although we might not like the answers). It’s tough to get a huge feel of a series I could only watch on highlights shows, but Hales seems to be finding his way. It still beggars belief that we haven’t had that faith in him for longer. But that’s history now. What I would say is I thought the reaction of the England camp afterwards was a bit OTT. Hales has a long way to go, he’s not there yet, but the upside is phenomenally exciting.
Jos Buttler’s hundred yesterday was amazing, even on highlights. Good grief, what a talent. Some of those shots are played only by the true greats of ODI cricket. That reverse sweep when he barely moved his feet and just belted it behind backward point was staggering. Also, when he got the free hit, he just took a look at the ball, and guided it behind square for four when many others would have looked to belt a six. Brilliant shot selection, awesome power, so many weapons at his disposal, a calm head, what on earth is there not to like. It’s lazy to compare him to Gilchrist, just because they are keepers who can bat. I’ve not really seen anyone like him to be honest. The travails at test level are mystifying, but I pray he gets through them. My real fear, and I hope it is not going to happen, is that he’ll be pigeonholed as an ODI player now white ball cricket is a priority. No-one doubts that Bairstow is most likely to keep in Durban.
The other batsmen weren’t needed so much, although Root was his usual solid self with half centuries, and Taylor won the sort of game we’ll need him to win, where his ability to manouevre the ball around with what looks a more solid technique, is going to be important. He’s no slouch when you need to get a move on, but he’s not the unleashed havoc of Roy, Hales, Buttler and Morgan.
The bowling coped without Finn, Wood or the two senior bowlers who may have played their last ODIs (although neither have retired). It remains to be seen if Willey and Topley are the answer, but they aren’t letting anyone down at this stage. Moeen Ali is still such a promising talent, able to make ODI hundreds and to bowl his share of overs that you can’t imagine the team without him at this stage. Rashid is going to be a daisy player. Some days he will go well, some days he will go far. South Africa will be a real test. Woakes seems like a squad player to me, but others really rate him. It’s nice to have a decent player like him in the wings (a little unfair to compare him to a bit and pieces player), but you can’t discount that he can bat (same as you can’t do that with Willey).
It’s promising, it’s pretty exciting, it’s the coming through of new one day talent, meshed to those who show aptitude for the format already. It is important that this is allowed to settle, but also not to be a closed shop. Bairstow is a fine ODI player in my opinion, especially when on form. I am intrigued by Billings, and would like to see him given a go in an elevated batting position (I think he might be the long term answer at test level – just a hunch based on the limited amount I’ve seen).
But, despite all this, I don’t get that sense of excitement that compares any way to test cricket by people out there. Sure, no-one can be anything but enraptured by Buttler’s hitting, and our two openers making hundreds, but it’s a fleeting thing. That was the point of the two pieces over the previous weekend on white ball cricket. No doubt if this team continues to perform like this, there will be a lot of excitement, and perhaps the new ODI team will capture the imagination. It’s probably sad, but true, that this team will face a firm examination in 2017 when the Champions Trophy returns to these shores, and a failure at that will have much wailing. England and its media don’t particularly like stability. Thus far stability has paid handsome rewards, as Strauss’s backing of Morgan shows.
The test squad raised some comments, and if time permits, I’ll be commenting on that. But well done to the ODI team, there’s something to hang on to, they’ve beaten what was put in front of them, and that’s all they can do. That it’s an exciting batting line-up (and I’m biased towards batting) is something to look forward to. See them all again in January.
You lot don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. WordPress have changed the post drafting interface again. Jeepers. Leave it alone, peeps.
Anyway, enough of the moans, here’s your comments space for the third one dayer to be played in the venerable old stadium in Sharjah, scene of famous triumphs of the past, and an unimpeachable reputation.
The series is level at 1-1 as England revert to glorious inconsistency. The glimpses of something are there, almost tangible, but not quite. Alex Hales made his first ODI hundred in the second match in Abu Dhabi, while Jason Roy made a half century. We’ve rather been here before with Hales, when that T20 century against Sri Lanka made his future selection almost irresistible (but resist we did for six months), but the England man he reminds me most of, Ali Brown, made a century in his third international and it was, with a couple of exceptions, all she wrote. Hales will certainly be backed for much longer than Brown, and we should wait for Roy too. But as I noted on a separate Twitter feed on another subject, Quinton de Kock has eight ODI hundreds and isn’t 23 yet, while Hales is 26, and this is his first. I love watching Alex play, but the press have over-reacted again, pumping up his tyres, asking us to sort of forget some of his early struggles.
Bowling was also a concern after game one, but those extra runs and the early wickets certainly made the task easier. These guys have Wood and Finn to compete against in the not too distant future (Broad, I think, won’t be tried again) so competition is there, which is good.
Pakistan? Well who knows which team will turn up. They are like England at the moment, rather unpredictable.
We also have Day 5 of the Australia v New Zealand test, which looks nailed on a draw. There is Day 4 of the water polo match between India and South Africa.
Some upcoming news. TLG is nearly back from his manic workload and is working on a major piece, or pieces, on the cricket media – a subject we know nothing about. It’ll be broad in scope and take some work, so keep checking in. I’ve written up an introductory piece, with the interaction between the blog and the media its focus, while also finally announcing the top 10 worst journalists, as voted by you (and me).
I’d also like to thank all of you who contributed to the ODI pieces at the weekend. I’ll do a couple more bringing the pieces together, and perhaps one on T20s to coincide with the Pakistan v England series. And, I know you all want to see this, The Bogfather has written one of his poems (not the filthy ones he puts on Twitter) and it will be coming (oooo er) to you soon.
Following on from yesterday’s piece on the Strauss interviews, I thought I’d do a little bit on the other issues that surround the game in this country. The chief of which is the curious case of mismatch of interest.
All through the World Cup there were people on the Twitter feed saying that they really didn’t care about how England did, because, in their words, we’ve always been useless at this sort of thing. Yet, whenever there is an ODI match in the UK, in the main (not always, I know) these are really well attended. People do like watching them, but at the end of the day, do they care? And it is that care that makes the task of Strauss very, very tough indeed. There are going to be no campaigns to sack a one day captain – and as I write that I recall Alastair Cook, but let’s treat that as a special case – and one day form is seen as being somehow inferior to being in test form. Whereas the rules of test cricket have not changed hugely, barely a year goes by without some tinkering with field placements, powerplays and, of course, the hugely lamented supersub is inflicted on ODIs. The format itself seems insecure.
We seem alone in caring so much about test cricket, but are we really? Are we equating attendance at a fixture with the amount the people care about it? After all, T20 matches are ten-a-penny, but are well attended, but are you as awfully upset if your team loses one of them, as you would be if your team lost a key longer-form game?
Test cricket does not have a world championship, so the idea of who is the best is determined on a rolling basis, which people find incredibly hard to understand how it works. At the moment the world ranked number 1 team is South Africa, who are being given a bit of a beating in India. England were number 1 for a year, in which their first series as top of the tree brought about a 3-0 defeat in the UAE. We are now ranked number 6. Whenever the reign of Strauss and Flower is brought up. being number 1 test side in the world follows. But at the same time, England were ranked number 1 in the world at ODIs too, and that’s never mentioned at all. We reached the final of the Champions Trophy, and choked in a T20 final masquerading as an ODI, and yet that’s dismissed. No-one placed any value on it.
Because, let’s face it, in ODI cricket all that counts is the World Cup. It’s the importance of that once in four years championship that conquers all. The main reason, one could call it a priority reason, Strauss gives a stuff about white ball cricket, if you ask me, is that we are at home in 2019 (and the CT in 2017) and failure there would make him (and not the suits above him) a laughing stock. It’s why the next world event, the World T20, is barely given a passing mention. It’s in India, we don’t play well there, so who cares?
Can you make people care?
The grave danger is that you might not be able to. Caring is about losing, not about winning. Everyone feels nice when their team wins, but caring is about how you feel when they lose. I’m a Brian Lara fan, so when Warner was 244 not out after one day, and playing like a God, and he’s a player I’m not that fond of, I would care immensely if he lost the record to him. If it were Hayden’s 380, I’d be willing Warner on, but only to make 381. I’d care because I loved Lara. Now, as you know, what the ECB have done over the past 18 months meant that I have ceased to care about how England perform, so that on many occasions, my sense of misery after they lost has diminished. Getting that caring back is much harder than losing it.
But even during my peak times of fandom, did losing hurt that much? In tests, oh yes. If asked what was my lowest moment in sport while I was at the venue, it probably would have to be Stern John’s goal in the Play-Off Semi in 2002. I gave enormous amounts of time and money to my club, knew that goal would likely mean the break-up over time of that squad, and we lost our shot at the Premier League. But running it close was the Adelaide test of 2006. While some make light of it with their “it never existed” meme, the agony over six hours of watching that demise is still immensely painful. There are pieces to be written about it still, but it was shattering.
I have been to a few, not many, ODIs, and the most memorable, if you will, was the England v New Zealand game at The Oval in 2007. This was the Elliott/Sidebottom game, when Collingwood upheld an appeal, but New Zealand somehow won by one wicket in the last over. It was an exciting game, it was won off the last ball, I believe, and yet….. I’ve never been back to an ODI. Both Sir Peter and I were of the same mind. It was a great game, but it never mattered. It’s almost fandom-lite. You can watch a spectacle, admire it’s good parts, tut-tut at the bad, but you never gave a stuff. Not really.
This is where the fandom gets personal. I watched the Ashes series this summer with a bit more detachment, and thus found it hard to fathom why fans were going so mad over two wins on green tops (I think the Cardiff wicket was fine for both teams, actually, and was a superb win by England). I would have been more delighted if we’d won in UAE as that would take some doing, just as India in 2012, Australia (for all their faults) in 2010-11 and the wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka 2000-01. And yes, Australia at home in 2005 with that team, which, remember, one tweeter memorably said he’s wished had never happened! All supporters are different.
Care does need to be taken, because ODIs are too frequent, too many played with not enough riding on them, quite often without main stars who are rested. If authorities treat them like this, then why should anyone care? While people go on about tests lacking context, the only context that seems to matter on ODIs is how often can we put them on while keeping grounds nice and full. When you have a billion people across India, with ODI grounds a plenty, that special occasion might be a local thing. In England, the ten or so we put on a year are often tucked on to test series, and seen as the dying embers of a tour.
I come from an era when the county final on the first weekend of September was a massive occasion. Then, when people pointed out that bowling first nearly always won you the game, people found holes in it. The glamour of the occasion died. It’s now a sad, pale imitation of what it once was. Yet that is the format of the game that gets the crowds in at international level! It was failing well before the T20 era, before anyone lays the blame firmly at that door.
It’s not just cricket. Millwall, my team, got to the FA Cup Final in 2004. For a fan like me, the win at Old Trafford against Sunderland was a highlight of my supporting life. Never has 45 minutes passed so slowly. We were well beaten in the final, and as we got our buses back to the car parks in Cardiff, a load, and I mean many, Manchester United fans walked past us, almost solemn, almost disinterested. I said to them “cheer up, chaps, you won the FA Cup!” because people of my age saw this as a highlight of any season. One snapped back “We’re supposed to win this sort of competition”. Clearly, in Arsenal’s invincible season, winning the Cup wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter to them. In one instant, the new football was laid bare. I’d denied it was really true, denied it when I went to cup ties and the attendance was shocking, denied it when clubs played reserve teams, but it was true. Something I cared about, didn’t matter. I’ve scarcely cared about the Cup since (I do believe Manchester United have never won the Cup since).
So, to get back to cricket and the ODI priority. Strauss has seen 50 over cricket’s importance diminish over the last 15-20 years, so there’s no domestic base to give a stuff. T20 matters a little, but does it really? You’ve got 14 games a year to play of that. At international level, the series have on context, with players often rested due to crazy schedules. The competition only seems to matter when there are a mass of teams on your shores battling it out, and even then you constrain who can play there. Why make such a fuss over something we don’t seem to give a fuss about? Why prioritise something that the people who watch may never think is a priority? Good luck Andrew.
I was researching a piece I intended to write last night, when the news from Paris started to filter in. I find, like most of you no doubt, that stories like this consume you, so the piece took a back seat. Now I’m struggling to remember what I’d heard, so if this doesn’t have some flow, forgive me. Naturally, last night’s events hit home. That’s us out there, eating and drinking, going to concerts, watching sporting events. The world is a potentially horrible place.
This piece is on Strauss and his ODI comments.
I wasn’t concentrating on cricket much towards the end of the week, which is a bit of a problem for a cricket blogger! Work and social stuff took over, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the reactions on here, and on Twitter, to a round of interviews that Andrew Strauss conducted during the 1st ODI (or just before). So last night I listened to the Agnew interview and the one with Nick Knight.
The confusion I had was I thought the line to take from these interviews was that Strauss would prioritise (and he used that word a lot) “white ball cricket” because if we didn’t we would fail again in the World Cup in 2019. Many of you on here took this to mean that players could miss tests to play in the IPL or perhaps the Big Bash to get experience of top quality, pressure-filled cricket (Mike Walters in the Mirror certainly did). This certainly wasn’t dampened down immediately, but then, yesterday Strauss made it clear that he was not suggesting that England would weaken their test team to allow this to happen.
“I can’t foresee any circumstances in which we would weaken our Test team in order to allow a player to play in the IPL or any other franchise-based competition.” Strauss…BBC
The cynical among us, and that numbers me, might note that the two day period between the airing of these interviews, when the position wasn’t made crystal clear, and the clarification offered yesterday was deliberate, to see how the position went down when allowed to float, or Downton-esque and a cock-up. Whereas Downton was a buffoon from the outset, I’m absolutely convinced that Strauss is, if nothing else, a sharp operator. Leaving that position open (ish) was probably quite an astute move to see if some of the big beasts roared. I don’t think, for one minute, Andrew Strauss wants Joe Root and Ben Stokes to play in the IPL (the only two test certainties that will play international white ball cricket and possibly get picked). Jos Buttler might also be sought to play in the IPL but his status as a test player is in jeopardy. The test team is our money-spinner and to mess about with that, even in the early season test series, opens the door to much in the way of consternation. Remember when we rested our bowlers against the West Indies at Edgbaston a few years ago? Some people went mad!
KP’s interjection at this point, while understandable, probably wasn’t well judged. I’ll leave it there at this point and may return to it later.
The thing that concerned me was Strauss and his non-stop mentions of the word “prioritise”. What does this actually mean? Strauss claims that the model to follow appears to be the Australian one, where they can play well in both formats of the game at the same time. He takes the message that Australia prioritise the game in the right way and his takeaway is that we should seek to specialise our white ball cricket. This, clearly from where I am sitting, means two almost separate units, with very few players playing in all formats of the game.
Let’s leave T20 cricket as an outlier at this time. That’s a format of the game Australia have never succeeded in because they seem to play another different team entirely for that (and pretty much have treated it like a joke – but a productive one – see David Warner). Australia’s ODI winning team lined up as follows:
Warner (current test opener), Finch (specialist), Smith (current test batsman), Clarke (then the test captain), Watson (then the test middle order bat), Maxwell (played tests, but seen as specialist), Faulkner (played tests, in their thoughts), Haddin (then test keeper), Johnson (test bowler), Starc (test bowler), Hazlewood (test bowler).
Arguably Australia had two out and out white ball specialists, and one (Faulkner) who has made his name in that game (but I’m sure is in their thoughts for test cricket). This may change given the retirements – Wade will probably be ODI keeper instead of Nevill, Khawaja isn’t, I think, seen as an ODI batsman, and it remains to be seen if Burns can force his way into the white ball arena. Voges isn’t an ODI player for the future. But what is clear from the above is there isn’t the separation of powers that Strauss seems to think is vital.
Looking at their opponents in the final, New Zealand, the specialists were Ronchi and Elliott. Vettori was playing ODIs to end his career (having been a prolific test player) but all the others are in the test reckoning. There really aren’t that many “specialists” like a Kieron Pollard or a Quentin de Kock.
Strauss wants to bring this specialism to the fore and I think it is dangerous. One of the names he mentions is Jason Roy. At this stage he’s shown ODI promise without delivering the big innings, and it is a great credit that England are going to stick with him. I remember how we treated Ali Brown, and I still get livid about it. We wanted a pinch hitter, but when it went wrong he got slagged off. I think it is too soon to give up on Roy as a potential test player. I don’t think he’ll get there, but in red ball cricket, he has been a bloody important player for Surrey. He plays that innings in Surrey’s line-up that demoralises the opposition. He will fail, but sometimes he will succeed. Strauss appears to be pigeon-holing him as a white-ball specialist very early. The same may happen to Alex Hales. What if we have a new player who comes in as an ODI player, is whisked off to T20 competitions, and yet he could be a test player in the making? All through this I look at how we’ve treated James Taylor to the point that at this stage, we don’t really have a scooby (clue) what he is.
I don’t have to tell you that I’m not a fan of Strauss. I’m also not going to pretend that he’s another Paul Downton. There’s a lot of good thinking in what Strauss is telling us, but he’s a politician to his boot-straps, and management consultancy is in his DNA. The latter seems to make sports journalists go weak at the knees. A man only has to come in, spout out about culture and environment, talk about processes and evaluation, and set low goals, and suddenly he’s a guru to be listened to, a beacon to follow. I call it Lancastrianisation. The aim is stuffed back donkeys years, and when you get there, well……
So much has been written about the Rugby World Cup that it’s almost become a spectator sport. Look at what Lancaster and the RFU did, and do the opposite might be a better lesson to learn. They cut off the talent pool by putting in restrictions on selection, they identified a lot of players (who weren’t good enough), they took multiple second place finishes and close losses as evidence of progress, they then brought in a wild card to show they were innovative, and made last minute changes to the team, and they collapsed in a heap. The journalists in that sport, a lot who make cricket writers appear like meek and humble people, have hardly aimed fire at Lancaster. If half the vitriol that Paul Ackford aimed at Sam Burgess for example had been aimed at Lancaster, well…..we might actually be admitting where the problems lie. Meanwhile, the head honchos in the RFU remain. So while cricket gazed on admiringly at this nonsense, they perhaps need to “refocus”.
What I also found funny was Strauss saying that prioritising ODI cricket for a World Cup would be a new approach. Now it is if you do it a long way out, but in 2014-15 we played no test cricket for six months. We prioritised the ODI game and yet it didn’t work. So prioritisation isn’t new, it is now a different kind. But that’s classic management speak – the past is not to be referred to, and all things have to be new. There has to be change. Change. A word I never want to hear muttered by a manager or administrator again in my life.
Managers also make tasks sound harder than they might be. Strauss sets the bar low (we had a miserable World Cup – while forgetting we got to the Champions Trophy Final last time around) and then makes it sound like the way out is absolutely nigh on impossible. If you fail, well you tried, if you succeed, you are a genius:
“If someone is playing in the Test team or very close to the Test team, then that’s a harder decision to make. But let’s be honest – we’re not going to make massive strides in white ball cricket without making some hard decisions along the way.
“I think we have to be prepared to do that and I personally believe we can make those strides and not do it at the expense of Test cricket.”
So what did we learn. We’ll focus on specialists – so I’m assuming that’s Willey, Woakes, Roy, Billings, Hales, Topley and the skipper, Morgan. Perhaps Buttler if it’s decided that tests aren’t for him, and perhaps Bairstow if he drops out of the test team. The portents are not good – Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara are two that come to mind – but if Strauss is serious about attitudes to the game, then fine.
Nick Knight, in his interview on Sky, raised the T20 World Cup, which seems to be something hardly mentioned in the corridors of power. So the management consultant assured us we had great talent and had a real chance. But the words he spoke at the end of the piece were the ones that sparked the rage in me….
“I think we’ve pretty much identified the group of players we want to work with in the short term. It’s important we give them opportunities to develop.
“It would be wrong to be searching in very different directions right now. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a closed shop in the long term.”
The World T20 is in March. We have a T20 player scoring hundreds. He’ll have plenty of big game T20 experience. He’s absolute class. He’d walk into this team in normal circumstances. I’ll quote Peter Miller from his excellent podcast with Daniel Harris last night – England would rather lose cricket matches than pick Kevin Pietersen. For that, KP is correct when he says:
If England win this, then we’ve gone the whole summer without having been beaten in any of the six series we played in.
This contrasts to what you didn’t read about last year’s cricket – that we won just two of the five series we played in (counting a sole T20 as a series) – when beating India in the test series was all that mattered. The elegant escape narrative for our press is always heartening to see.
But all sniping aside, this is a big day for England, but in my view, not for the reasons we are being told. This is a game that we absolutely should win. It’s being played up north, late in the year, on a wicket we seem to like playing on. The visitors are bedraggled, bereft and probably really looking forward to the flight home. They’ve coughed up a 2-0 lead and their morale should be low. If we can’t take them now, then when will we ever take them out? If England lose this series, it should be a real eye-opener, just as it was for Aussie when we shocked them in 2007 in the Commonwealth Bank series.
Win this and we’ll be having more Strauss than a Waltz convention. Lose it, and we’ll get defences.
I won’t be glued to the screen all day, as England cricket’s supermarket calls (you can leave the insults below!), but will dip in when I can. Comments to be added below here on the match, or anything else taking your eye. Then the real fun can begin!
As you might have guessed, TLG and I have been busy, and in my case in particular, lacking a bit of oomph to continually update the blog. This doesn’t last, you all know that, but we will be back soon.
Today is the second ODI, and comments can be added below. At time of writing there’s rain about so the start is delayed. The first ODI showed, in my view, that there’s still a bit of an issue chasing targets, which we have a couple of years to fix in advance of the Champions Trophy being played here in 2017.
Congratulations to Surrey on their promotion, clinched with a Gareth Batty hat-trick. I saw the pretty insipid first day’s play with Benny Bowden and it was lovely to meet him and chew the fat. He has told me who needs to be number two in my Test Centuries review. Surrey looked listless on Tuesday, and Ansari took four on the day. Chesney Hughes impressed me with his play.
As for today, we’ll hear the talking points. Are Roy and Hales an opening partnership? Are we wasting Moeen Ali? Is Jos Buttler mentally shot? Are we fed up with talking points? Is it becoming boring playing Australia? Have you read Alec Swann’s review of Death of a Gentleman? Do I need to seek help as I sort of agreed with Michael Henderson’s piece in the Cricketer?
Oh well. Enjoy whatever the day brings….
(quick note from TLG to apologise for my absence recently. This is my busy time of the year unfortunately, and I’ve been away most of the last few weeks. October is even worse. But I do have a couple of “different” posts to write. One I’ll do today and activate tomorrow. Because guess what, I’m away again. Arrrrgggh.)