I Once Had Pride, Now That’s All Behind. I Want To Get Rich Quick

I’m Dirty Cash, The One Thing You Asked For

I have some really bad news for all you cricket lovers out there. The Hundred is already a success. Whether the game is a total farce, whether the promised stars fail to turn up, whether the teams gain no groundswell of support and whether the promised Mums and Kids ™ show up, it’s a success. Why?

Because the ECB get to define success, and that will be in cash terms, and cash terms only, no matter what they say. When they got Sky to bankroll the game for another four years.

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has heralded its £1.1bn broadcast deal with Sky and the BBC as a “game-changer” for the sport and one that, in an era of increasing player power, will mean professionals are better paid than ever before.

The ECB on Friday announced a five-year deal to run from 2020 to 2024, with Sky having beaten off competition from its subscription rival BT Sport to retain rights to all international and domestic cricket in England but with 10 matches from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition and two men’s international Twenty20s to also be screened on the BBC.

This combined £220m-a-year deal is worth nearly three times the £75m Sky now pays for its exclusive rights, with the new free-to-air element representing a tacit admission by the ECB the subscription-only model in place since 2006 has shrunk the sport’s place both in the national conversation and in terms of grassroots participation.

Let’s put that TV contract into some sort of context. The previous TV deal was for £75m per year. Let us be totally charitable and say that as this cycle includes two Ashes series, and with some price inflation, the bid price had added 40%. Let’s say the market worth based on present earnings, with inflation, would be around £120m per year. That means the worth, per year, on a totting up basis, for the new competition is £100m a year. That is more than the current total income from TV revenue in a year. Tests, ODIs, T20 internationals, Blast, Royal London, Women’s international cricket, Kia Super League and anything else I’ve missed. That is 125% the revenue the game currently earns. And you know who pays for that?

We do. Of course we do.

So in the short term, the Hundred is bought and paid for, counties might see some extra money, as the Guardian excerpt shows above, so do the players (oh very much so), and the international cricketer will be very wealthy under the new scheme. SO when it launches the Hundred has bought cricketers and some parts of the establishment five seasons to save the game.

Sky is under new ownership now, since this contract was struck, and Comcast are no-one’s fools. They may come to the conclusion that cricket does not justify £220m a year in 2024, and will decide to put in a reduced bid. There may not be competition. BT Sport is withdrawing from a lot of sport, and shareholders are questioning why they are in the loss-making sports rights game, and aren’t pleased with how much they are paying for the Champions League. If a five-year billion quid package from the Champions League came up, as opposed to one of the same for cricket, and there was no competition, what would you choose as a businessman?

 

“Business Decision”

The very essence of sport is competition. Then, by its very nature competition, when at its finest and tensest, is entertainment. For me sport is all about the story, and the build up to a tense conclusion, for the best entertainment. In football, given goals are relatively scarce, a two goal lead is never safe, one less so, so despite the wretchedness of what went before, the conclusion can be remembered. That’s sport as entertainment in its purest form. If that coalesces with an “occasion” to bring out a classic, then it goes down in legend. I’m thinking Champions League Final, 1999, as a good example. Edgbaston 2005 as another.

Entertainment is seen to mean money. The more entertaining, the more people might want to watch, the more it might attract new viewers, or so the story goes. The biggest revenue spinning sport in the USA is the NFL. It dwarfs everything, it has, pretty much an appointment to view (with several live games scattered either side of the core Sunday afternoon suite of games) and the players have exceedingly short careers. The NFL salary cap, per team, is around $177m. Each team receives $255m from TV contracts per year, split evenly. That was up from $150m in the previous contract. The highest paid player in the NFL is, at time of writing, is Aaron Rodgers, receiving $33m per year in salary. With bonuses and endorsements, he gets up to around $76m.

Clearly cricket isn’t in that ballpark, but what do Green Bay get with that Rodgers contract? 20% of the eligible salary on one player, doesn’t leave a lot to go around for another 45. He’s also injury prone in a violent league. His team collapsed this year. But it doesn’t really matter. Green Bay will still get $255m in TV revenue, massive amounts in merchandise, ticketing and other commercial ventures, and the world will still turn. That’s how franchise sport works. It’s a business decision.

It’s more extreme in baseball. There are parallels. A sport supported by an ageing core support, questions over whether the game is too long, controversial propositions regarding pitching clocks, to speed up the pace of a game. But the classic games can go on for hours – a World Series game this year went on for 7 hours and 28 minutes and ended up with a walk-off home run. The game is as entertaining as it always has been, save for one thing.

Another danger with franchise sport in particular, where there is no relegation, is that if you aren’t going to win that year, any money spent is utterly useless. So teams dump the salaries of viable older players onto teams who think they will win, and stockpile younger cheaper players, who are strictly salary controlled into their mid-to-late 20s. The teams have the right to move those players, the players do not have the right to move of their own accord. Those teams will then decide, when the players are free agents whether to fight to retain those players, or let them go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox et al. In 2018 the Boston Red Sox spent around $240m in salary. The Chicago White Sox spent $77m. In 2015 the Kansas City Royals, a perennial low payer, stockpiled enough talent, married them with a couple of expensive parts, a few cheaper veterans and won the World Series. They are back where they normally reside now, with $141m in payroll and that is likely to decline. The Houston Astros gutted their team in the early 2010s, acquired magnificent talent, won the World Series in 2017, got to the semis in 2018, and are now faced with having to pay those young stars market rates. It’s a big decision. A business decision.

Players often say that money doesn’t motivate them, and that they have short careers. In the NBA, Anthony Davis has said he will not re-sign for the Pelicans when his contract is up, so his team tried to trade him at the deadline (akin to football’s mid-season break). They asked too much, and no deal was done. There is active talk that as the Pelicans will not make the Play-Offs, there’s no point in Davis playing and potentially getting injured. At a college sport level, where the athletes aren’t paid, potential pro players the following year are sitting out lower level Bowl games for the same reason. Business decisions.

This year, in a close NFL game, there was an onside kick in a contest involving the Giants. The ball went near to the Giants’ most valuable asset – either on the field or in the transfer market – and he appeared to choose not to go for it for fear of being clattered. He protested that no-one should question his heart, but there weren’t many who believed he didn’t really give it his all. A Business Decision.

Take football in this country. What is it that counts the most? Winning something, or just being in the Premier League? We all know the answer to that. And please, don’t throw Leicester at me. The reaction of the Premier League big clubs to that was to close the door tighter, and to try to get the big clubs more money in the overseas revenue rights. After all, no-one in the Middle East is buying their football package for Huddersfield v Crystal Palace. So, instead of busting a gut and trying to progress in a cup competition, where you might actually win a trophy by getting lucky on a day or two, and big clubs get knocked out, what do mid-range and lower tier Premier clubs do? Play their reserves. Why? Need to keep their best players available for that mid-table game next week. Business Decision.

So now, you are the head of the ICC. Or the ECB. You see a club like Surrey, or a league like India, get big crowds, big revenues, from a short game in an evening slot. The players like it because the physical factor of short-pitch, aggressive bowling is mitigated by the rules, you have to physically exert yourself for shorter periods, although they may be more intense, and everything is geared to the batsman, so that if a bowler can find the magic elixir to keep himself below 8 an over, he’s valuable. You can rinse and repeat that day in day out in a league format, and at the end, given these are franchises who switch players backwards and forwards, and everything can be sponsored, money flows every day for not a huge amount of effort. Why on earth would you bother hosting a single test match? That takes five days, six and a half hours per, and you still might not get a result. If cricket were taking purely Business Decisions, we wouldn’t have tests at all, no matter how we are convinced how great they are.

Many of you work out there. Five, Six, Seven days a week, 8 hours plus at a time. You are offered more money, for less time, but you will have to work a bit harder in that time. For that we will offer you double your domestic salary, which you get to keep anyway. Are you going to turn that down? Or will you make a Business Decision.

 

Pay To Play

During the debate over the Hundred, many of the players have been careful in their pronouncements. It’s been left to the usual ex-playing talking heads to show their hands. I will give Harry Gurney one thing – he expressed an opinion and stuck by it. What Harry did is what many pro players do all the time – they conflate their success, in terms of wages, with a sports success. Those of us old enough to remember when the Premier League football started, there were grand messages about how the Premier League players were in solidarity with their lower league colleagues, then played in that league, picked up the massive wages, and left the other clubs behind. Who can blame them? No-one is asking Rory McIlroy to give his money to your local club pro who plays in the regional tournament. No-one is asking Andy Murray to  share his wealth with the Challenger Tour events. Sport is a meritocracy, and why shouldn’t the players be the ones to earn the rewards?

I did a little research for this one. It’s interesting.

In the end of year accounts for 2011, the ECB employed 28 players, who were paid £5.6m. In the 2018 accounts, the ECB employed 40 players (this would be accounted for central contracts to women internationals) and paid them £23.9m. The players are most definitely getting their cut of the ECB turnover pot, which in 2011 (not a lucrative international summer in 2010 with Pakistan and West Indies the visitors) was £106m, and in 2018 (with 2017 also not lucrative with Pakistan and South Africa) that was £125.5m. Turnover is not a good base measurement for revenues in cricket. A set of accounts after an India visit, such as 2012 or 2015 yielded £146m and £174.7m. So players should get a cut.

I tell you who else has had a bumper decade – the highest paid admin at the ECB. In the early part of the decade there were two, but since Harrison assumed control of the parish, there is just one. In 2011, the highest paid director took a salary, less pension benefits, of £253k. Tom Harrison, according to the 2018 accounts, took a salary of £605k. Paul Downton’s last salary was £360k. There is no reason to believe that Harrison is going to cure this largesse once the new TV contract is in place. Assuming he stays, after all, the Premier League appears to be still looking for a new head honcho, and he has to be better than the EFL guy, doesn’t he? Tom Harrison, we have been told, sees himself as a little bit of a zealot, if you can be a little bit of one, convinced of his own judgement, sold on his own brilliance, and assured of his own decision-making prowess. Every so often that is revealed in his demeanour. He revelled in being the tough guy sacking Downton, of merging two jobs, and employing Strauss, and hey, standing behind him when THAT decision had to be made. There was no doubt trust between him and Strauss.

But what also emerged was his attitude to the new competition. And his opponents.  The media have told us that he has refused, or just not set up, one-to-one discussions or open press conferences with them. The first question anyone should ask Tom is what is the measure of success for this competition. If it’s for some wistful, long-term, you’ll-see-it-when-I’m-long-gone fantasy, then he should be called on it. If it’s something linked to the amount of revenue the game brings in, he should be called on it. If it’s about how it will attract women and children,he should be called on it, and produce his massive evidence to suggest the Blast can’t. And if it is anything else, which I suspect it is – most notably his ego – then he should be called on that too.

What is always lost when the TV contracts are let is that it isn’t Sky paying the money. This increase in contribution from the key stakeholder is recouped in two ways – advertising and subscription fees (let me know if there are any others, like sell-on rights). I refuse to believe there are a mass of businesses flocking to the paywall cricket offering that weren’t before, so while we might see a slight increase – especially if one of the family friendly consequences of the Hundred is an increase in betting on cricket – in the advertising revenue, the bulk of this is going to fall on Sky subscribers. This will be in the form of fewer events shown on Sky Sports, and higher costs to watch it. Sky, of course, are doing both. This year there is no IPL. No Indian international domestic cricket. Two big holes in the Sky Cricket offering. They don’t care a jot about the County Championship despite the online streaming market showing some positive developments last year, but that’s because it’s limited so it is free. No use for Sky. At some point subscribers are going to say enough. I’ve been saying it for a while, and it rode out the financial crisis world well enough, but it’s a big number out of my salary each month, and I cut out the movie channels. If the Hundred flops, isn’t getting big TV revenues, if the BBC screenings don’t create a new vibe, or if the competition becomes exclusive again in 2025, who knows where the revenues go. Harrison is thinking Premier League. I’m thinking Scottish Premiership.

Play to Pay

England does not publish player salaries. There are rumours that the top players derive incomes of around £1m a year if they play across all formats, but they are just that, rumours. Top county players may be on 200k per year, which for some counties is the revenue from the county format. What will happen with the new deal is a money transfer – from your pocket as a cricket fan to their pocket as players. That’s why Gurney is so keen to jump to white ball cricket. As KP said, why wouldn’t you do less and get paid more? For those that know world greatness isn’t going to be their destiny, but there’s a little niche in there to make more cash, why not. Get on the gravy train while you can. This is about keeping players, administrators and TV happy, not the fans who like low revenue, high maintenance sport. As the ECB cast the envious glances at the IPL (remember Stanford, oh please remember Stanford) and Big Bash, the players who might have deserted England for riches stayed (and my, wasn’t one of them thanked for doing so). In the new era, when even Jos Buttler, a white ball behemoth states he really wants to play test cricket, and the greatest white ball batsman of this generation is such a profound respecter of the test game, people can, perhaps, breathe easily. What Gurney is doing isn’t to be disrespected – we didn’t when Rashid did it last year – but it’s his attitude is so forthright that the next generation of players aren’t going to be as wedded to the long game that grates.

Maybe it is because he is telling the truth. It’s a business decision, after all.

I want to expand on this theme a bit in the next couple of posts, purely because I feel like the sporting world is passing me by. Sport was always about enjoyment and, yes, entertainment, but it was always about not knowing the outcome. My years travelling home and away with Millwall brought unexpected surprises and pitfalls. Last weekend I measured the despair of that 95th minute equaliser with play off losses and last minute disasters – then you recall those last minute wins away, the days your team puts it together. What stayed constant, mostly, was 90 minutes plus added on time. With cricket, it’s the game itself that gets changed. In football, money means that a year like 1989, when Millwall finished above Manchester United is now practically impossible. In cricket it means 8 counties get to host a new tournament and 10 don’t, potentially creating a divide that could be avoided if the game believed long-term revenue is about competition and not “big clubs”. It’s a battle I feel is being lost, and with it, my love for sport. When that gets to the tipping point as per paying to watch it, I don’t know. But I found when I stopped going to Millwall, it was a lot, lot easier than I thought. Maybe sports administrators and players might recognise that. But probably not. It’s short-term, and that’s all that matters these days.

I’m not sure this captured all that I wanted to, and it feels like a ramble. I hope it gives some food for thought.

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I Came Across A Cache Of Old Photos

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Please, No. Don’t let this be the whole of our future (T20 night at The Oval v Glamorgan)

OK. Time to write.

I have had a pretty tough stretch at work, and as is the way with me, when the stress levels hit high, I have to make a choice to cut something out that might cause me some more. So, after a couple of weeks just looking at the comments, reading the posts and making a couple of observations, I thought I should contribute something. Thanks to Chris, Sean and Danny who kept the show on the road.

I’ve been investing the hard-earned on some new furniture, most notably bookcases. I have also been investing in lots of cheaper books to fill them up. I’ve acquired a number of B&H/C&G Yearbooks as they become available cheap on the Amazon secondhand market. I also cleared out some of the old cupboards, and it was there I came across the contents of the title. A load of pictures from the Ashes tour of 2002/3. Most notably the Brisbane pics I’ve not seen for a while (and also from my visit to the Nou Camp, or Camp Nou, that year too). Back then, pre-parents death and with a bit more disposable income, the dreams of seeing great sporting venues filled my head. I wasn’t a little old 20 year old, but a 33 year old cynic! The excitement was immense, even though we knew we’d get stuffed. The photos are a terrific memory. I’ve now located the video Sir Peter made of the whole adventure and laughing at it again. I’m currently ranting about Day 1 as I write.

Mark , in his comments on the piece below this, sort of strikes the current mood. 2002 was pre-T20 and so much an innocent world where no-one seriously questioned the primacy of test match cricket. Now, 15 years on, no series really seems to matter to the English cricketing psyche like the Ashes, as everything that happened this summer seemed to only matter in that context. The T20 world encroaches on the test scene more and more, where a great West Indies test win is buried under the Caribbean Premier League. The people want it. The cricket fan that sustained the game through the last three decades is cast aside.

This has, from my perspective, been a dull summer of test cricket. South Africa were meant to pose a huge threat to the inconsistent England team under a new captain, but instead capitulated poorly in three of the four games (but absolutely slaughtered us in the other). They seemed a team confused with themselves – a bowling line up that worked a charm when it fired, but a batting line-up as fragile, if not more so, than England’s. All this was played to a backdrop of AB de Villiers egging his team on from home, while sitting out the series to rest for some other appointment at some other time in the future. there seemed something symbolic about the state of test cricket. England, a team in flux, with key weaknesses at 2,3 and 5 were easily beating a team that had a great away record, but who had seen their best batsman sit it out because he needs to make money and T20 will do it for him. I might react to his tweets because it seemed like he was having his cake and eat it, but I don’t blame him for making the choice.

Joe Root got his captaincy off to the best possible start with a win and a big hundred. This was augmented by Moeen Ali taking ten wickets in the game, as the Lord’s surface took spin and South Africa’s batting took leave of its senses. The second test was an almost bizarre role reversal, as South Africa took a big first innings lead after one of the most skittish test innings I’ve seen from an England team – as if we were on a time limit. The third test at the Oval saw one of those great knocks from Ben Stokes that we are going to need more and more of, while South Africa fell away (despite a terrific century by Elgar on the last day) and Moeen took a hat-trick to finish the match. The fourth test at Old Trafford went much the same way. South Africa couldn’t nail England down with the bat, but were brought to their knees by good bowling.

The West Indies series was supposed to be 3-0. Good sides, in fact some not so good, would have hammered the visitors 3-0, but England infuriated us again by mailing in a test match at Headingley, and being done by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite. As someone rightly said, I’m not on the Shai Hope bandwagon just yet. It takes more than taking a couple of centuries off England to convince me he’s the real deal. He looks well organised, he looks to have the temperament, but he also looked at an 18 batting average pre this tour in 11 tests, I believe. Hope, Blackwood and Holder have made all their test centuries against England.

The first test was an embarrassment to test cricket. England piled on a ton of runs against a Division 2 county attack at best. The batting crumpled in a heap. It was over inside three days. That Headingley was a remarkable turnaround, and we could actually watch much of the play over a Bank Holiday weekend (it will never catch on), had some of us reaching for our memories and hoping for the best. But like those old photographs, they are just that. Nice memories. The amazement that the West Indies could chase down 300 in a day at Leeds of all places was a chimera. It was nice to have a pop at idiots who want 4 day test matches, two divisions et al, but those voices are listened to, and ours are not. We go to Lord’s, we get a test lasting 2 an 3/4 days, where a larrup stand between Broad and Roland-Jones made the lead meaningful enough after the Ben Stokes show, and the same old problems manifest themselves.

This is an era missing a great team. This is an era where if you have some level of talent you can accumulate some decent statistics. Jimmy Anderson, who has done superbly to reach 500 wickets, just to last that long to play all those games, was, at the beginning of the year a player who looked in terminal decline. He had pretty much fallen apart on the unforgiving surfaces of the sub-continent, but back home, probably a bit fitter, he made hay. But he wasn’t exactly up against the South Africa of Smith, Kallis and DeVilliers (and I would say an Amla not in terminal decline), nor the West Indies of a Chanderpaul being a constant pain. Jimmy does not need weak batting to feast – he used to have a lovely knack of getting out Sachin – but averaging 14 (?) this summer does seem to indicate the quality he was facing. A great bowler, and he is, feasting on the scraps.

England’s oddly organised team, comprising a brittle top and middle order anchored by the current and ex-captain, need to be rescued by a ton of all-rounders and a lower order that can cause some havoc. In the absence of top order batsmen, it is a plan that has to work. There’s not a lot else we can do. We really are putting our hopes in magic beans, that we can pluck a batsman out of our domestic game who may actually be better at test cricket than he is at the county level. It’s a bit like the alchemy sketch in Blackadder II, or Rodney suggesting to Del that they try to make money out of nothing. As SimonH has pointed out in the comments on the end of the test, there’s not a lot to go on, inspector. I look at the Surrey team, and I hear people say Jason Roy. A man dropped from the ODI team for technical problems. He’s not pulled up any trees in his return to Surrey.

To me, though, the test summer of 2017 will be the season I fell totally out of love with the social media side of the game. By that, I mean Twitter. It’s a very strange medium at the best of times, but this summer it has been rank. Utter garbage. People seem to want to take shots at each other, to be the smartest smart-arse in the room. Some have fully moved on to the journo side when they were fellow travellers not so long ago, and in some instances, forgotten where they’ve come from. Others just wind me up all day long with their need to be clever. I’ve muted more accounts this summer than in the past few years combined. People get irate when I say 5 out of 97 or 6 out of 103, when it’s a fact. People raved more about a 80-odd by Cook, as genuinely good as it was, than the 99 by Bairstow that played every bit as much of a role in a series clinching win. Cook has made one ton this summer. It was a mighty one, a long one, the first player in my memory to make four double hundreds for England. But we need a lot more from him as an all-time great.

There will be more on Alastair later in the piece, as we have an Ashes series coming up, but he is symptomatic of the schism that still, really, exists. It’s moved on now to those who seem to live in a world where 2013/14 never happened, or at least the ECB and its nonsense needs to be forgotten, and those who can’t, or won’t forgive. The former seem to have gone back to being calm, observers of the game, only rising up when one of their own (a fellow England fan) has the gall to question. Blind obedience, or at least a recognition that you need to be in with the in crowd, is more important than critical evaluation. You have a point, and I will listen to it, and discuss. I won’t if you say my blog, and that of the team, has been put together solely to have a go at Alastair Cook. I don’t do blind obedience. I don’t do the “in crowd”. IMVHO, it’s a bit silly.

Instead what do those on the other side of this schism do? We fade away. We post less. We certainly care less about England. We worry about test cricket. We worry that T20 hasn’t come close to maximising its destruction of the long-form of the game. We see no-one giving a crap about what we say. In many ways we, and our ilk had more a voice post-2014 Ashes that got heard. Now we don’t matter, if we mattered at all. Other than a place where we can lick our wounds, remember the better times, and hope for a saviour or two who place the test match at the heart of the sport we love.

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This place has always had something going for it. Never Being Boring. The cache of old photos still bring a smile to my face, as do my rants on Sir Peter’s video (the one about the bloke behind me and the Michael Bevan Asia XI v Whatever XI knock). The sport has given us joy. It still can do so. But it’s tough to love at the moment.

Always leave ’em laughing.

“Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for”

Those Curious, Quiet Days

Good day to you all.

You don’t need to be as great an administrator as Paul Downton to note that output is down on here at the moment. That longer piece on Giles Clarke was written over a week ago, and I’ve not felt the urge, or had the time, to write anything else. TLG is also incredibly busy at this point. We’ll try to get some more stuff out, so keep checking in, but these are the dog-days of blogging and we don’t even have a tasty autobiography on the horizon to get enthused about!

Some points that aren’t worthy of an entire post, but caught my attention can be discussed here. What’s going on with Australia and Bangladesh? I have to say I am stunned that there are security issues that might prevent the matches going ahead. Clearly Pakistan is still a country too far for international teams, and I can’t see that really changing, but there’s never been a hint that Bangladesh shares the same problems, has there? I have a couple of benchmarks to go alongside here – India in 2008, when England returned after the Mumbai Hotel siege and played out two tests; and Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s, when bombings were reasonably frequent, and yet teams toured (I seem to recall New Zealand coming home from one series). This may be due to lack of coverage in the UK, but you don’t get that impression of Bangladesh.

No-one can say that Australia are wrong to do what they are doing because we don’t know the full facts. But you are really left wondering if this is worse than being in England during the 2005 bombings, or if this were India they were talking about, then there’d be this impasse. As I say, you just wonder.

To return to KP, I saw a quote where he supposedly says Strauss was right to drop him. The quote in the article says

“[Strauss] made his decision and it’s turned out absolutely fine. Absolutely it seems to be the right decision at the moment.

Notice how those last three words are left out of the headlines?

Sad to see the death of Frank Tyson, an England legend of days gone by, well before I was on this good Earth. Legends of his pace, of his winning exploits in Australia are passed down by those who saw him in action, who can tell of the greatness. In many ways, in this age where everything is covered on TV, and you can access pretty much anything, this air of mystery to someone like me adds so much. In the absence of personal experience, read the many tributes on the dedicated pages.

The County season drew to an end, with not too much drama in the first class game except relegation battles in the first division. Sussex went through the trap door, and that’s sad for a county that seem to do the right thing most of the time. Somerset and Hampshire had rocky seasons but survived, with Somerset’s last day win pulling them well away from the zone they had begun to flirt with. Hampshire stayed up by the skin of their teeth (2 points). Surrey won the 2nd Division with their summer surge finally catching and then passing Lancashire (and definitely having the better of their September match-up), who took second and looked nailed on for promotion from the start.

There was, of course, the One Day Cup Final, which was a great match, won by the unfashionable county over the flash boys. I could not help but regret that something like that, which Sky doesn’t really care about, couldn’t be held at a better time, and with more access. It had to compete with a crowded sporting calendar, and especially the start of the tedious Rugby World Cup (sorry folks, not my bag). Imagine if a wider audience could have seen the performances of old man Geraint Jones and the young tyro Sam Curran? That’s the sort of thing that inspires. But no. A great game, with great stories, passed the world by. No-one cares any more because the networks don’t care about it, and to a certain degree, players and counties don’t. I really think it needs to go to knockout format now. The group stages can be tainted when two or three counties lose early games and think it isn’t worth it and chuck out lower strength, unmotivated teams, which defeats some of its purpose. The same happens, to a lesser degree, in T20 (Middlesex, I’m looking at you) but it’s not as important. The crowds will still go, in much the same way as crowds turn up to those Premier League Darts things because the results don’t really matter, it’s the “entertainment”.

What is noticeable is the line-up of next year’s County Championship Division One. Surrey, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire (the original Big 6 test venues), Durham and Hampshire (two new test venues) and Somerset (the odd one out). One would suggest that if Tom The Empty Suit, and Graves the Gutless, could pick a county championship line-up this would be it, right down to Giles Clarke’s county being the odd one out in the line-up of 9!

Please do fill out the survey. I haven’t had too many responses so I’ll push the deadline back a bit. I suppose if you don’t want to do it all, then just do the best and worst journalist part, and the same for TV. After all, that’s all anyone is really interested in, isn’t it?

I’d also point out that I took up my annual ritual and purchased the 2015 Wisden from the Book People. I’m not paid to advertise them, but it’s worth looking. That Dmitri fella somehow ended up in it. Funny and all that.

I’m sure things will pick up with more international cricket on the horizon, so keep the comments and stuff coming. I have a piece on DoaG and the international scene to write…..

The Unenthusiasm Of The Oft Writing Blogger

In cricketing parlance, I feel like I am doing a bit of a Joe Root. I’m knackered after 18 months non-stop, and need a rest! I’ve come home from work this week and just not been bothered to blog. I am sorry, but it’s the way it is. I’m thoroughly bored with watching England playing Australia, I am more than a little disenchanted with the way things went after the Ashes, and, frankly, I wanted to do some other things. Catch up on some TV shows, update my music library, do a bit of reading. That sort of thing.

Yesterday (Friday) I went to Middlesex v Yorkshire. It was a remarkable game of cricket, but only if looked at outside of the context of the recovery the North Londoners effected. Yorkshire’s intensity yesterday was decidedly lacking. They had a lot of bad luck early as there was plenty of beating the bat with the new ball, but once the shine had gone off it, and the drive I suspect that plays a huge part in Yorkshire’s dominance waned with the title in the bag, Middlesex grew into the contest, then took it by the scruff of the neck. It’s really nice, and reminds you of what the game brings, when you see someone’s maiden hundred. I saw it when Toby Roland-Jones, batting at number 10, put on the afterburners in the late season sunshine, and clumped the remaining 20 or so he needed in three overs to get over the line (and then, having done so a couple of balls before the close, played perfect defence to keep it a nice “red-inker”). It was lovely to be there.

Toby Roland-Jones celebrates his century
Toby Roland-Jones celebrates his century

Earlier I’d watched Nick Compton make the last 60 or so of his 149. He’s a frustrating sort is Nick. He played and missed a lot, at times looked really vulnerable, but then he would unfurl a shot of the truest class, and you wondered why he’s not anywhere near the fold, it seems. It was also noticeable that he wasn’t best chuffed with the LBW decision he received, as he stayed at the crease for ages before wandering off. His was one of the three wickets to fall all day, so I suppose he might have been a bit miffed at missing out on a double hundred.

One nice side event from yesterday was meeting Chris from the blog The Declaration Game for a few minutes. Always good to speak to others who write about the game and he’s a charming, polite and really knowledgeable guy. The other nice thing was when we met he was talking to Tim Wigmore, of Cricinfo and The Second XI fame, and again, great to chat to him about what he does, how he goes about it, and his book. I said I do need to buy it, and he encouraged me to do so as he’s passionate about associate nations! My apologies to Tim – my mate was wearing an Ireland cricket shirt, not a Gaelic Football one (and he berated me all night about that mess up). Suffice to say, for someone like Tim, it ain’t all glamour in the job he does, but like all of us, he loves the game dearly. So great to meet up with them both.

So what now? Arron, of course, reminded me that today is the 10th anniversary of Kevin Pietersen’s Ashes saving knock at The Oval. Needless to say, that’s not about to be commemorated anywhere that I know of (not that I’ve looked) but it was one of the most audacious, and one would say un-English, innings you will ever see. Sure, he had some luck, but who begrudges that luck. The question that I’d love to be answered honestly by those who slag the bloke off is “do you wish that innings had never happened?”

Tomorrow there’s a deciding ODI against something that purports to represent an Australia ODI XI. We should win. Like the test team, though, major questions need to be asked about our team. Hales won’t be our opener in the UAE, as he needed an ODI launch-pad and instead he’s now being questioned, and please, please, please don’t think Roy could open. The opening bowling took wickets for the first time yesterday, but hasn’t before. Are we going to trust Willey anytime soon, as for some reason he appears to have a little bit of a knack? The batting is still not rock solid. I like the approach, I like some of the execution and we need to play with a youthful verve. But the acid test is 2017, not now.

Tim was interested in the journo poll – obviously not read the blog post in question – and I know that some of you are itching to participate. It won’t be long. The oft-promised Final Ashes Panel will be up too – I promise.

So, ten years to the day, we can all enjoy this. Can’t we? The last test hundred made live on terrestrial FTA TV.

Dmitri’s Ashes Memories – Perth 2006

It seems somewhat apt to return to posting with a low moment. I’m returning to an era where we were getting our 2005 win rammed back down our throats by a hostile foe, for a time where I felt low about the game, but for different reasons to those now. It’s ironic that I probably feel more low now than I did back then as England are on top. It’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about the fans sticking together, and on that fateful tour of 2006/7, I never saw fan division. We supported the team, no question.

This was not only support against a juggernaut team, it was against a Cricket Australia organisation that made it desperately hard for English supporters to get tickets. It was support an erstwhile disinterested Australian public, who couldn’t give a stuff for the Ashes in 2002/3 when I was out there, but were now making sure the games were played in a hostile atmosphere. It really wasn’t pleasant. It was a lot like football. I’m not sure it was for the best, really, but who am I to say?

Absolute Nonsense With The Old Jos....
Absolute Nonsense With The Old Jos….

At least at that time we got abuse from the opposition fans. I’m a lad from working class roots, born into a council estate in SE London, moving to another one where I still live after 36 years in the same house, and never that well off that money was no object, but able to do some really good things when the economy and the relative purchasing power of my wages allowed. No-one from my family had ever done this sort of thing. Never gone to Australia. I absolutely thanked my lucky stars at how I’d been able to do this. It is something I never took for granted. You know, it’s why the somewhat silly barbs about being anti-England and not a cricket fan actually do hurt. You have got to me effing kidding me.

The only Ashes century Alastair Cook has made outside of 2010-11. He worked incredibly hard for it.
The only Ashes century Alastair Cook has made outside of 2010-11. He worked incredibly hard for it. You know who applauds.

I only turn on people who turn on me, and I have always been one that recognises that other people have different views. Back in 2006, there was a clamour for Monty Panesar which although not of the modern level for another player, was firm enough. This time, though, it was the media leading the charge. It was the dog days of Duncan Fletcher and he wasn’t for picking him if Giles was fit. He got all sorts….

I was ambivalent. I’d had a disastrous time in Adelaide, and I was in pieces. Confidence shot. Holiday proving to be a trial. The cricket depressing.

Flickers on Day 5 - They wouldn't last
Flickers on Day 5 – They wouldn’t last

I’ve always got the Adelaide test up my sleeve for a piece, but the one thing I do recall about Perth is our hopeless optimism. On Day 4, with England up against it, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook gave us hope that we might get out the mess we were in. KP was in decent nick, and had a 90-odd, a 158 and a first innings 50 under his belt, and with Flintoff and Jones following behind we had a sniff of getting out of the game. It was ridiculous optimism. But when we were three down, there still remained a little hope, and that’s when Perth announced the prices of fifth day tickets. The man we call Reg went round to the ticket office to get them, and we still tried to believe that there was a shot. Cook got to a hundred, a horrible knock, hopelessly out of nick, but absolutely an example of temperament and courage. Yes, the iron rod, the steely core. But this was Perth. This was heat. Towards the end of the day his concentration wilted, and a combination of that and the new ball did for him. Hoggy came out as a nightwatchman. Brett Lee, fielding in front of us, where there was a large corps of England support, mocked us “Where’s your skipper now, boys? Hiding is he? Scared?” Hoggy lasted no time….

It didn't go well
It didn’t go well

As the day drew to quite a cloudy close, we wandered back to our apartment block, about half a mile from the WACA and thought we were quite mad to have bought the tickets. Our flight out of Perth Airport was for 1:30 a.m after the 5th day, and we had to pack our bags and go to Scarborough for our last night in Australia that evening. We wondered what precisely we were doing going up there, and then back down again for the last day.

But we did, because we thought we needed to be there for the team. Well, I did. However that didn’t last. Flintoff and KP saw off the early attacks and both made half centuries, but once Freddie went, and then Jones for a pair in his last ever test, the tail failed to wag. One wicket left at lunch, we thought there were better things to do than watch the Aussie apply the coup de grace, and went for a beer somewhere in the Perth city centre. We heard the winning wicket on the radio. We were spent.

Time to leave....
Time to leave…. Gilchrist starts out on his record-setting century. We’d seen enough.

That trip was an emotional experience for me, and I’m going to go into more depth when I do Adelaide as to why. After Adelaide we flew out the morning after (the infamous flight where Pringle sat two rows behind me), and headed down to Augusta on the far South West coast of Australia. It was gorgeous. We then spent a few days in Margaret River, did a bit of winery stuff, had a few beets, watched some football on the TV, and then headed to Fremantle, where four of us squeezed into a bijou apartment and we couldn’t wait to get out of it. Then we went up to Perth the day before the game, but still caught a train on one evening for a night out in Fremantle!

I’d also met up with a Millwall friend, Jim, who now lives out there, but had generously popped round to my brother’s house in London to pick up a credit card (after I’d had all mine nicked in Adelaide), and bring it out to me. I met him for a drink in Subiaco, whereupon I promptly left the card and the new wallet in the pub we were in. Thankfully, I realised, and some lovely honest people had handed it in to the bar-staff and a second disaster was averted. I was in an absolute state by this time, an emotional and unsure wreck (both my parents had died in the preceding 18 months).

England were obviously 2-0 down going into Perth, and the Adelaide scars were raw. There had been a lot of comment in the England fans area at Adelaide about Duncan’s stubborness over Monty Panesar, and the poor performance, and then sad news around Ashley Giles, had meant his inclusion was a certainty. Saj Mahmood also came into the team, a player, I have to say, I really rated (cracking judge, me). Perth underwhelmed me as a ground – I don’t know what I expected – but it was a decent atmosphere and they had put in extra seats.

The WACA - pre-game
The WACA – pre-game

England had a good first day, and Monty made an immediate impact. Sadly, as was to be the case frequently in his Ashes career, Mike Hussey was a royal PIA. He saved the innings and took Australia from real strife to mediocrity. Monty claimed five-for, and Englan fans started to believe again. Maybe we could be competitive and make a real fist of this. After all, we’d fought hard in both the previous test matches, hadn’t we? At times…

Despite bowling the Australians out for 244, there was a sense of foreboding. Had England got that last day collapse at Adelaide out of their minds. Well, Cook got out cheaply, and Bell followed for a duck, and 51/2 wasn’t a firm base for us to launch. It looked even less firm when Collingwood went very early on day 3, and although Pietersen steadied the ship at #5 (people started to comment he should go up one, despite Colly making a fine fist of number 4 until then), Strauss also went to a dodgy old caught behind. No-one stayed with Pietersen, who got increasingly desperate towards the end of his knock and was ninth out for 70 with 175 on the board. There was a knockabout last wicket stand of 40, but the sense of fear was such that you thought “jeez, it looks easy for them, what are Aussie going to do!.

With a lead of just 29, England probably tasted parity when Langer went first ball of the second innings, and I took one of my best ever pics….

Perfect Timing
Perfect Timing

It never lasted. Ponting and Hayden steadied the ship, and by the close Australia were 119 for 1 and the Ashes felt gone. The third day, a Saturday was not one I saw a lot of. It was 40 odd degrees plus, and Sir Peter and I did a bit of early morning Christmas shopping to take home, and turned up after lunch. We saw England open that morning with KP. It was desperate. Panesar couldn’t weave his magic. We turned up after Ponting and Hayden had gone, and we fried. I mean we absolutely fried. Hussey made a century, Michael Clarke did too, and then, memorably, did Adam Gilchrist. We were so hot, being belted around so much, that we left with Gilchrist in the early stages of that knock. Beaten, and depressed, we stomped back, hearing cheers for every boundary, sensing something. I remember saying to Sir Peter as we left the ground “this is the sort of situation that Gilchrist could go off and do something mental.”  We sw him get to his ton back at our apartment. I’d changed to go for a swim, and cheered Hoggy’s very wide, but not called, ball that denied Gilchrist the chance to equal the record held by Viv.

The water was lovely.

Of course, Strauss immediately got an absolute shocker of a decision once the Aussies had declared, so there was nothing to it but to head out for a nice meal in Northridge, and a serious session in the Brass Monkey. I pick up Day 4 above…..

What did Perth mean to me? It was the end of an era. I’ve never seen England away again, and never likely to, if truth be told. It was a holiday that I can’t look back on and say it was the greatest ever, but I learned a lot about myself and my inabilities and weaknesses. I’d say that the world was vastly different then, and the cricket world was too. I think it is interesting to contrast how much fire was aimed at Duncan Fletcher after that tour and not the players, and especially the captain, who let him down (in my view). There was much focus on his stubborn approach to Panesar, but in an interesting read across to the recent 5-0, the players quitting the tour through injury or lack of form weren’t to play again at all. The captain never skippered England again. KP batted well, as did Colly at times, but Bell was Bell.  In his second innings knock at Perth, he was pure Ian Bell. He looked superb, then played a loose drive and got out. He flattered to deceive.

But the fans never turned on the team, and they never turned on each other. It’s a different world. Some say the likes of me are to blame. We created the divide. We are the reason. But stop for a minute and just think. Please. Just think. We had incredible trouble getting tickets for the games we went to, but we got them. This was an expensive trip to watch a team collapse, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. This was a team that fell apart, but we stuck with it, when the media were throwing missiles at the coach. I haven’t changed as a cricket fan, so maybe something else has.

Monty - The saviour that wasn't, really.....
Monty – The saviour that wasn’t, really…..

For a test that I don’t relive that much, it’s quite an important one in my cricketing life. I was sort of there when the Ashes were clinched. I’d seen 40% of a whitewash on my travels, and seen a team collapse in the heat – that third day was brutal. I had a ton of admiration at the time for Cook, as he battled so hard for his hundred, and yet now I view him in a much different vein. It’s my last day touring. But at that time, I loved the sport unconditionally. It had me. Now, I feel it’s pushing me away. The media turning on fans for the past 18 months. The fans turning on the fans (I genuinely believe I only retaliated when attacked – others may differ). It’s not England cricket as I remember it. It’s a sad look back, to a sad test, and a sad outcome.

Oh, and I did this. Count the chins…..

Too much sun....
Too much sun….

Hope you enjoyed the above. I am feeling rather cheesed off, and hope that writing the memory stuff works for you lot, and gets me back. It’s been a rollercoaster. Feeling up, and then down. Angry tweets, repentant deletions. I am fed up feeling I need to justify myself, when I got to do things like this. I’m not special. I’m just a bloody ordinary cricket fan, who writes a blog. Some may not like what I write, some may be envious of the traction it got, some may call me a broken record. But it’s mine (and TLG’s).

Have a good night.

Colley Street

So. I was walking out of the office, down to the station, and on the train home, and I’m wondering. What do I write tonight? Anything? Leave things alone and have a night off?

I don’t think I can. The atmosphere among cricket circles is, certainly, from what I can see, venomous. The vast majority of England cricket fans don’t give two hoots about how the game is run, and just want to enjoy the game. There is, I know, widespread ambivalence to the ins and outs of cricket administration, office politics, personal disputes. But I’ve been on this trip for a while, and I know others feel like me.

Now. Let me get this straight. I didn’t want to do this, because it is a bit like dick waving, but here goes. I’m going to set down, in words, my cricket life.

  • I’ve been a member of Surrey CCC for about six or seven years. Gave up because I had to make savings.
  • I went to the Oval test for 15 years, often organising all our group’s tickets, outlaying the cash when I could afford to do so. Plus ODIs. Plus visits to Lord’s. Plus Trent Bridge. Stopped
  • Two Ashes tours of two tests each – Brisbane and Adelaide 2002; Adelaide and Perth 2006. Took the chance to see the SCG (NSW v South Australia) and MCG (Victoria v Queensland) on those trips.
  • A tour to South Africa in 2004-5 – Cape Town test and two days of Joburg (days 2 & 3, worse luck).
  • Played cricket at school. Scored for England Schools (one game – Mark Ealham, Chris Lewis, Mark Alleyne all played, and Paul Farbrace kept wicket for Kent). Played club cricket for 16 years. Captain of my work team for a few years, occasional social player until injury finished me off.
  • I used to record all cricket that I could. I had a library of VHS tapes with cricket (no, none of that, please) on that, once the DVD age came and the video they were recorded on died, I couldn’t play any more because the tracking was f*cked. I could have rivalled Rob Moody on Youtube, except copyright freaked me out. I still have most of England cricket on DVD since 2005 (first series was Pakistan), and as much of the international stuff that I can record. I’m a cricket nerd.
  • I have Wisdens dating back to the early 70s. I have mountains of cricket books. Lots and lots of them. I scour bookshops for some old accounts of tours gone by. Love bargains.
  • I keep all my ticket stubs, my match programmes, those silly things they hand out at games.
  • I yearn to be able to go on England tours again, or any cricket, but money is a lot tighter these days.
  • I’ve been cricket blogging for 5 or 6 years, first on HDWLIA and now here.
  • I blogged on a previous host, frequently talking about cricket on there too.
  • As you know, I’m a mad keen photographer of the game. Every game I go to, I try to take pictures of the action, to get that great shot. Like this one….
Justin Langer bowled first ball - 2nd Innings, Perth 2006
Justin Langer bowled first ball – 2nd Innings, Perth 2006
  • I have written about how I hated nets. I have written about the traumatic experience of making a diamond duck. I have written about bad press well before the incidents of early last year. I’ve written of my tour to Australia in 2006. I’ve written pieces on here about how the 2005 Ashes were so important to me because of family events (and I want to send out my thoughts to one of our regular commenters, not naming them, but they know who they are, going through some awfully tough times at present). I’ve made lifelong friends, like Sir Peter, Danno, and the many, many top guys at Old Josephians, and with the business colleagues we play against.
  • I owe this sport a hell of a lot.

DON’T

ANYONE

EVER

F*CKING

QUESTION

HOW

MUCH

I LOVE

THIS

SPORT

I do not question those who do not agree with me on their’s. I do not hold myself up as a better or worse supporter than anyone else, just that I love the sport of cricket and care deeply about it. I really didn’t want to list this, but it needs saying, as evidence of track record, of loving the game, especially tests. For once I’ve done it. If you’ve been a long-term reader of this blog, then you’d know it. I don’t need to tell you, you don’t need to tell me.

I muted someone on Twitter – yes, I know – who absolutely gets on my tits. I don’t block. This wouldn’t piss me off as much except that I know that a number of others feel the same, but won’t say it. I warned Maxie not to talk to him, but he did. When he’s not telling someone they are beyond parody, he’s churning out this line.

and again

and again

He’s an insignficant little so and so, I know, but I’m not letting this lie, and he can spout off all he likes on his Twitter feed. But this is my home ground, and I’ll comment here. I don’t give a shit if he’s an “England supporter”. So am I.

Oh, I got this:

Look, I know. I shouldn’t give this pathetic excuse the oxygen of publicity he so certainly craves. The effort, the sustained effort to put logical thoughts into words to craft posts etc. is something we can all look forward to from him when the time comes, although, like me, Jack Byrne, James Morgan and Maxie Allen, it’ll be beyond parody. And no, none of this was directed at me, but it was directed at some of our blogging comrades, and I’m not having it. Je Suis Maxie and James and all that.

You see, we attack the ECB.  I’ve given up trying to get into rational debate about Alastair Cook, every bit as much as I am about getting into a rational debate about KP. As for Strauss, well. Let’s see on this one, eh?

Some can separate the ECB from England.

I UNDERSTAND

HOW

YOU

CAN

DO

THAT

Now, when we attack people from having the opposite point of view, its usually aimed at journalists, ignorant people on social media or, most importantly, the ECB.

When they attack someone of the opposite point of view, they attack us. Nice. And when we go back at you, we get that drivel.

James Morgan, today, tried to tread the middle path. I tried that last year when I was sick of all the rows, and nothing happened. Of course it didn’t. The schism remains, and neither side of it can wish it away. Wounds run too deep. They aren’t petty, they are deep. To see my blog described, and it’s mine and Maxie he’s having a pop at, as “anti-England”, I just get angrier and angrier. I do not see life through your damn prism, so don’t keep telling me you have it right.

I am royally pissed off. If people take pleasure in that, that’s up to them. I don’t. There’s no hint at rapprochement here. People want blood. I’m not pretending for one minute that I’ve been a model citizen, and I’ve lost my rag every now and again, but I see precious little of that from the opposing view.

I say “beware the man who claims he is honest, because he’s usually a liar, and that’s his first one”, but you get honesty on here from me. If someone cheeses me off, then I react. Big or small. I’d fisk Dominic Lawson’s dog whistle article if I could be arsed, but he’s a toffee nosed prick who thinks there’s not a sliver of difference in KP and Cook’s commercial attitudes, and then denigrates an entire England legend’s career. You haven’t found me doing that to Cook. I’d rage on about Ed Smith, but he’s just ingratiating himself with authority, and he’s definitely their kind of person. See SeanB, who knows a thing or two about Middlesex, about that man’s credentials. Then there’s the BTL buffoons.

I return to James Morgan’s piece. Can’t we all just get along? Public Enemy, in my one culture reference of the piece, in their track “Whole Lotta Love Goin’ On” say “Rap is a contact sport”. This has been a contact sport all right. Some are sick of it. I think it’s just starting. I’m prepared for it. I’ve been doing it for a long time now.

I wish I could be more positive, but it ain’t happening. We were always going to be attacked, and we were always going to respond. I wanted to let the situation breathe. It hasn’t.

Anti-England. You precious idiots. Bring it on…..

Have a good evening.

Let’s Get The Message

I think it is time for some honesty, from me. Not that I’ve been dishonest, let me say, but perhaps I need to clear up a few things nonetheless. This is a really long piece, so you can pass over it if you wish. But I do this from time to time, and is part of my blogging make-up. I feel sometimes, that the message is not getting through. This blogger’s message. I will never tire in clearing up blatant misrepresentations of my views. I will not stand by when I am being lied about.

You can stop now if you want. Click on more, and there’s 3K words. You’ve been warned!

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