The Economy Drive: Is the ECB channelling Yes Minister?

News broke today that the ECB are planning on cutting 62 jobs in the wake of the Covid shutdown. This is far from surprising, the scale of revenue loss for all sports forced to play behind closed doors has been catastrophic, and in cricket’s case exacerbated by coming into force just as the season was about to get under way. Televised Test matches and ODIs will have mitigated some of the financial distress, but as with businesses up and down the country and across the world, revenue falls equates to needing to cut costs, and staffing is invariably one of those to be impacted.

Yet the ECB statement raises as many questions as it answers, both in terms of where the reductions will come and how the cost cutting will take place. There is the confirmation that their plans including the Hundred will continue to go ahead by stating that they intend to deliver on their Inspiring Generations strategy, which is no surprise at all, but is finally in black and white. Secondly, they detail that their staffing budget will reduce by 20% at the same time as talking about the 62 positions. According to Statista the ECB employ 379 staff, making the 62 to go around 16% of the total. Yet it seems unlikely that the number of contracted players or umpires will be reduced, or not by any meaningful level, and thus the 62 is more likely to come from development, coaching, administration, support and commercial.

That would also fit precisely, exactly, perfectly with the 20% reduction in budget, which may or may not be a coincidence. It is to be hoped very much that it is a coincidence, because otherwise it would imply no wage cuts at all for those at the top of the organisation. It is certainly true that they took reductions in salary during lockdown, but according to George Dobell this is currently only the case until October. There are some issues to be raised if that is true, particularly highlighted in the ECB release which states “We have now shared with colleagues our Board-approved proposals, which will generate significant savings”. What the ECB will do in future is an open question, but if Dobell is correct in his reporting, it is to state that during these Board meetings to approve the positional cuts, the level of executive pay cannot have been discussed as an agenda item, except at most to confirm the current level of remuneration.

This is highly surprising, particularly given Harrison’s warning that 2021 could well be every bit as bad financially as 2020, indicating the potential for a further £100m loss. To not factor in executive pay beyond October is simply extraordinary, and very hard to comprehend were it to be an oversight in the press release.

It remains entirely possible this is not the case, and that the reporting is incorrect. But at the very least questions need to be asked about this, for from a cursory reading both of the press statement and the Cricinfo article, it appears that as things stand executive pay, including Tom Harrison on his £720,000 a year may well be being reinstated. During the lockdown period all ECB staff took pay cuts of between 10 and 25%, a further implication with this 20% reduction in headcount AND a 20% reduction in budget that pay for the others is returning to normal. Again, there’s the possibility that the budget cuts are on top of those already undertaken in salaries, but it would be extremely unusual not to mention that if it were the case.

Finally, if redundancy payments are included in this new budget, then that would be a different consideration, but if they are separated out elsewhere in the accounts, as severance payments very often are, then those staff under threat would have grounds for asking some fairly major questions. It is to be hoped that the journalists do just that.

Sometimes I Love, Sometimes I Hide – A Review of 2019

There used to be traditions around here. I used to do a readers’ poll.  I used to give out Dmitris to those deserving of praise, and opprobrium. I used to do a media review. I used to do a lot of things on this blog, and now I don’t. It’s part evolution, part necessity, part the way the cricket world is shaping. I thought in 2014 that the attitude of the ECB was alarming to people like me. Now everything I’ve seen since has convinced me I am right. I wrote with anger fuelling me at it. Sometimes it burns stronger than other times. The quiet periods on here reflect a lack of anger, an unwillingness to say the same thing many times over, and time. Lack of time. My job is intensely busy at times, and the blog takes a back seat. It has to. One has to stay relatively sane, and this blog has driven me mad many times. Far fewer this year, it has to be said.

One tradition is I don’t write short posts. So this one isn’t, but covers, I hope, a lot of ground.

2019 On Being Outside Cricket

As I have written over those nearly six years now, I have seen friends come and go, posters surge in their intensity, and then leave to either take their disenchantment with them, or to go to other places where the heat may be less intense, or there may be more comfort in presenting there. I have seen blogs I like die (particularly sad for 51 all out’s demise, as they were a real inspiration at the start of this long run), and others become something I hoped they wouldn’t. At the end of the day you have to make your own choices, based on your own aims and desires for your blog, and any career. I don’t have to like what you do – but then, increasingly like cricket itself, a curmudgeonly blogger, with an angry streak rarely suppressed, wailing at the dying of the light of the game he love(s)/(d) is not the target audience any more – but it doesn’t mean I’m right and you are wrong.

On preparing for the review of the year one thing did really surprise me. We wrote more posts in 2019 than 2018 – 165 to 140 if you include this post. While comments are down, and hits down a little, we have had many more individual visitors – almost up to peak 2015 levels – which indicates that more people visit, but stay for less interaction. I think a lot of the interaction is taken up by our massively increased follow rate on the Outside Cricket feed, which started the year at around 400, and is now at nearly 2000. Much of this increase fed around one post that resonated beyond belief, and is by a long way the most hit post on this blog in its history. More on “Clubbing A Seal” later.

We passed 1 and a quarter million visits this week, in the middle of the test. While test cricket drives the engine of the blog, and our reviews seem really well received, I think some of the other work, outside of “Clubbing A Seal” has more lustre for the writers. We are usually the worst judge of our own perceived best work, but there seems to be specialisms in all four of your writers here that work to a certain audience. Danny’s madcap Hundred Things Wrong With The Hundred is out of this world for diligence, content, thought process and sheer, utter, madness. Sean’s scoop to get Nick Compton’s pieces, and the sheer agony you have to go through to make those things a reality, as well as his rage at stupidity and injustice add fire and brimstone when it is needed. Chris is the sharper, laser implement, written with elan and reason, and without sounding like a fanboy, I’m dead envious. But I know I can’t write like that, even if I wanted to, which I do. I’m me. Slightly unhinged, extremely thin-skinned, moody and insecure, and yet utterly convinced in what I write, and yet willing to accept I’m wrong. I’m also bloody protective of this blog.

So while Chris wrote so brilliantly about club cricket, while Danny tore the Hundred to shreds, and Sean got Nick Compton to open up, my “finest” hour was arguably the time when I got Russell Jackson, Andy Bull and Mike Selvey to slag me off all on the same day – having got Jim Maxwell to tweet approvingly of the same post. It showed I could still do it, if “it” is getting under the skin of journos. I also still do rage, and following this England team, and this administration, and this media, and this attitude of the collective, then there is no place else for me to go.

On The Field

England won the Cricket World Cup and didn’t lose the Ashes series, although they never looked realistically like regaining them. The World Cup was an oddity. England went into it as firm favourites, with our main fear really being the silly collapse game our high-risk tactics sometimes threw up (see one of the ODIs in West Indies as a prime example). What happened was a seat of the pants end to the group stages, where one defeat in the last two group games against India or New Zealand would have spelled trouble, seemed to focus the mind and two impressive wins were posted. The fear that the final four would be England, India, Australia and one other (probably out of New Zealand or Pakistan) manifested itself, but I know I’m in a minority here, I enjoyed the format. There was enough jeopardy here for England, especially.

The Semi-Final was a joyful romp, and the Final. Well, enough has been written about it and talked about it, that I can’t usefully add to, other than, that, my friends, is sport. It had the occasion, it had the tension, it had the thrilling conclusion, and it would have been great on any stage, but to happen in the Final. Well. You can’t bottle it and release it when you want. It happens. Congratulations to Eoin Morgan and his team, and commiserations to New Zealand. Indian and Australian fans…. you need to get to the Final before complaining about formats. 🙂

The test team have been a bit of a joke, albeit a not very funny one. The first series of the year in the West Indies was laughable, going two down with two shocking displays, and then winning a dead rubber when some of the batsmen decided to turn up, and the West Indies didn’t. The four day test against Ireland was a farce – bowled out for shirt buttons by Tim Murtagh on Day 1, a nightwatchman making 90-odd, and then the visitors being skittled for 38, wasn’t a great advert for test cricket. Sorry, not interested in that sort of cobblers.

The Ashes were entertaining, but in the end we did not make home advantage tell. The first test was classic England. Australia were repeatedly let off the hook, the player we feared took us apart, and then we made an abject effort at batting out time. The second was even-steven until Jofra put the wind up Steve Smith, and Stokes/Buttler made batting look comfortable on Day 5 to ensure the draw, and then a potential win. The lost day’s play will be rued. It should also be an example to the cretins talking about four day tests about how a day’s washout would ruin the games. The third test saw England skittled again for shirt-buttons, just about cling on, and then relied upon a miracle knock, and some keystone cops fielding, reviewing and umpiring, to fall over the line. Theatre of the highest order, test cricket at its best. Sheer, gut-wrenching, gnawing excitement. T20 can’t replicate it. It just can’t.

That result levelled the series, but Australia steamrolled England at Manchester, with Smith taking another double hundred off us. The bowling was relentless, and although England did fight hard, Australia won. The fifth test saw a good England win, but it was a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show, and still does give us the fig leaf that we haven’t lost at home to Australia for 18 years, even though losing the chance to regain the Ashes should feel like a loss to all England fans, because given form, the next series out there is going to be a whitewash unless something strange happens.

England picked a more progressive looking side for New Zealand, and handed out debuts! The first test was again classic England – let the home side off the hook, let the bottom half of the order run rampant against woeful bowling, and then unable to bat out time to save the game. The second test was hampered by rain, but again, we weren’t really looking like winning it. The first test in South Africa again followed the Edgbaston/Bay Oval formula – get the oppo in trouble, let them off, bat well, then collapse, let the oppo get too many, subside woefully to lose.

I award a Dmitri to the England player of the year, and it’s not a tough choice this summer. Ben Stokes played the two miracle innings, he gave his all, he is the only England player within a sniff of being in a World XI (Root, no). He’s clearly the next captain, he’s the talisman of the side, and I suspect if he were leader his batting would fall of a cliff, he would bowl himself into exhaustion and we’d be wanting him out within two years tops.

You have read my thoughts on the test team, but I’ll leave it at this. We went for a cheap option to replace Bayliss, and he’s looking like a poor imitation of Peter Moores in these early days. Joe Root is not an England captain while there is a hole in my backside, but he’s too important to upset. The decision to prioritise test cricket is a funny one, given it forms the backbone of the TV deal just signed, and the one just concluded, if I were Sky I’d ask why it hadn’t been a priority before (given Australia seemed to balance the two well when they ruled the test world and won three World Cups). 2020 sees us play three more tests in South Africa, two in Sri Lanka, two home series against West Indies and Pakistan, a T20 World Cup, and a tour to India.

The Hundred

I warned you the ECB were like this. I warned you. Convinced of their own magnificence, mistaking diktat for “leadership”, and consensus appears to be if Graves and Harrison agree with each other. Many words have been written on what is wrong with the competition, but that is the red herring here. The issue is your governing body does not give a flying flock what you think about the game. They are evangelical, convinced od their own brilliance, and you, my dear men and women, are mere peasants. You need to be shown the light. That that light will be sponsored by a savoury snack company, will upend the laws of the game, and spend money on advertising that could be going into the grassroots that they are so concerned about, is neither here nor there. This is a power grab by people I wouldn’t trust to turn on a light. The same ethos that ejected Pietersen, popped Cook on a pedestal as a lightning rod, that marginalises the first class game while pretending to revere the sanctity of test cricket, is now selling YOU a pig in a poke, and if it goes wrong, it will be YOUR fault for not buying it, and YOU will be to blame if the game collapses in on itself. Which brings me to Dmitri Number 2….

Harry Gurney

Yes. If I could award a bellend of the year gong, he’d win it. First of all, he’s funny. Just ask him. Secondly he’s right, because he can throw down a few left arm slower balls, and you’re wrong because you want to be him. Thirdly, and this will come as a relief to Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins, your tweet opinions and views are more important and correct because you have more Twitter followers than the person you are arguing against. Fourthly, what Harry writes as a man earning in his bread from T20 and his left arm slower balls, and needs sustaining to maintain his worldwide lifestyle (and fair play to him – if you get paid, go for it) is definitely NOT propaganda, but views from fans who quite like the long-form game, or club cricketers who don’t want to play T20 each weekend is! I mean, you have to get a long way down the periodic table to find something more dense than that proposition.

While being called a muppet by Michael Vaughan was one of my yearly highlights (alongside Andy Bull telling me how it is), and Vaughan is bellend emeritus for his Shiny Toy, Which Way Is The Wind Blowing, Phoenix Insights, Gurney has had a spectacular year. Harry Gurney gets a Dmitri for being himself, his twitter feed is an example of self love, and he thinks pissing off fans is a long-term strategy. Note how many likes I got for a Tweet highlighting Mitch Marsh taking him apart got. Speaks volumes. It wasn’t many for Harry, but it was a lot for me.

Other Dmitris

A Dmitri is an award for being notable, annoying, the best, the worst, or something that hit a nerve. It can be a person or an event, a team or a concept. We have the Mount Cricketmore for permanent residency (semi-permanent as you can be voted off), so I try to make things new, so we don’t have repeat winners of the media and cricketing awards.

This year I have the following Dmitris:

Overseas playerRohit Sharma, who played superbly in the World Cup, and has established himself in the test team, albeit at home against less than the best, but it is pleasing to see. He has young tyros nipping at his heels, but for now he is the man in possession. His batting is also sublime on the eye. As much as Steve Smith was our nemesis, and Shakib-al-Hasan was a beacon in the World Cup (but not so much afterwards), I think Rohit deserves it for his form in both red and white ball cricket.

Best JournoNick Hoult – Another new recipient. Now, cards on the table, I’ve met him twice this year and he’s a really decent chap. Really decent. He is also a damn fine journalist, and I can’t award it to George and Andrew Miller again because I like to mix it up. He gave us cracking insight into the end of the World Cup for press folk, which actually made me have 1% of sympathy for them rather than zero. So good stuff, and an example of how conversing with us, and being open to it, can pay dividends, we hope, to both sides of the coin without either side “giving up their thing”.

Worst Journo – Christ, this is tough. Here’s who it isn’t. Paul Newman. Not this year. I don’t read so much of the stuff put out now, so it is hard for me to call out too many, and the behemoths of Selvey and Pringle are out to pasture, relatively speaking. As Sam Moreshead of the Cricketer knows, when he gets my monthly DM, I despise everything about the Michael Henderson column in The Cricketer, and I learned this weekend, the old bastard is writing a book. I can’t give it to Andy Bull because he at least came on and had a pop. Simon Hughes made an awful faux pas over Sean Abbott, and is a pretty dreadful journo, but I just don’t have the heart. I’m not a fan of Ronay and Liew, but it’s not the cricket writing per se that gets me there. So, I’m going to cop out and not award it unless I get help from you lot. This one is open.

Kusal Perera’s 153 not out – Those who know, know. The innings of a lifetime, and thrilling to watch as a neutral. It may even be beyond Stokes’s effort because it was away from home, although Stokes has the more difficult attack to face. But in itself this innings should never be forgotten, because it was test cricket at its excrutiating, painful, lovely and artistic best. Power and grace as only left-handers seem to be able to do.

Clubbing A Seal – Self reverential maybe, and maybe slightly embarrassed Chris might be, but stuff it. This was important – this post  holds the record for most hits ever on Being Outside Cricket. There were a number of reasons. It was brilliantly written. It struck a nerve with club cricketers across the country (our Twitter follower surge, and feedback proved it). It answered the ridiculous twaddle coming from Harry Gurney and others, eloquently and powerfully. Club cricket isn’t theirs to mess around with, the recreational game isn’t for pros to sneer at. It is there for people to enjoy the game in whichever way they choose, and for the varied people who want to play to get out of the game precisely what they want, with all specialisms (sort of) catered for, which the T20 format just does not allow. Many good parts from it, but this struck a chord.

“The central theme of Gurney’s argument that all club cricket should be T20 or Hundred provoked a strong reaction, and one that he first tried to defend, and then became progressively more sneery about contrary opinion while stating it was just a view. But what it did highlight was a complete lack of connection or empathy with those who play the game for pleasure, and an inability to separate his own career from the wider game. This isn’t terribly unusual, sportsmen who have reached a professional level often have a sense of superiority over those amateurs and a lack of awareness that cricket may not be the central activity in another person’s life – or to put it another way, success in cricket isn’t more important than success in life just because it is their life. It is an odd social phenomenon, and hardly a new one, but the belief that this extra ability allows both greater insight and a position of authority is downright weird. “

In the words of Carly Simon, Nobody Does It Better.

Tom Harrison – It takes a special kind of person to enrage me to such a degree that I record his interviews on TV to enable me to undergo a 15 minute hate session to prep me to write articles on here. I’m only half joking. He’s an evangelical, self-centred, preacher, a man unable, it appears, to brook no counter-argument, no factual evidence to the contrary. If Tom believes it, then it will happen. And if it doesn’t, well we just didn’t understand. If there was one moment that summed up my rage it was the “Well, Wardy” start to a set-piece interview. In two words we knew a number of things. This was going to be soft toss stuff, and Wardy being on nickname terms was intended to show that Wardy had ECB approval to ask the questions. You knew who wore the trousers from then on. Secondly, Harrison knows he as to soften down the rough edges for media consumption, but he can’t stop meaningless management gobbledygook, about pathways, culture and other third rate bullshit. It’s not new. He’ll do it again. He’ll carry on doing it. Graves is stepping down as the boss this year, so let’s hope the new boss gets shot of the CEO, or whatever the hell he is. The Hundred is his folly. He may win the audience war, but was it worth the bad faith, the ignorant besmirching of existing loyal fans to do it? Only time can answer that.

This is more than enough for you to be getting on with, so it leads me to the end of this piece. As usual I would like to thank all those who comment on here, unless they don’t listen to friendly advice, who make the blog what it is. I know fewer of you comment, and it can seem our output is a little bit more sparse, but we all remain committed to write while you read what we say. That’s why we aren’t so discouraged by the hit level, when we see the number of unique visitors each day. I have said many times that I write because I enjoy it (not all the time, but mostly) and that there are people who want to read it. I used to namecheck you all, but I just don’t have that time any more. So thanks to all of you, and hope some of our long lost friends, or those who now comment only on The Full Toss, return.

On that note, and I received an email from him this morning, thoughts out to our commenter in Hawaii, Tom, on the loss of his partner of 21 years. Tom, take your time to grieve mate, and we’ll still be here. It is a sense of pride that we can reach the other side of the world with our posts, and I hope my best wishes (and those of all of us here) can reach too. Take care, mate, and I’ll get back to you on e-mail. I hope you don’t mind, but this was the best way of letting others who have conversed on here with you know.

My thanks also to all the contributors this year, those who wrote guest posts, or who signed up to our Twitter feed, or who just lent us support. I think we still matter, if we ever did. I don’t know how we’ve done nearly five years on here, six including the kick-off with How Did We Lose In Adelaide, but we have. Content drives it. My thanks go to Sean, Danny and Chris. We might not agree on much. We might not like doing that night’s report on the test match. We might wonder why someone else isn’t writing. We may even fall out from time to time. But we keep going, and proud to call them friends and colleagues. I still think we’re the best blog out there, and while I do, I’ll still keep on going on.

So, finally, best wishes for 2020. I’ll do the best of the decade stuff at the end of next year, because that is the end of the decade. We will keep trying until we have no more to give.

Community Service

In this part of the world, and for a certain category of person, April is a special time.  The arrival of spring in itself can warm the soul as well the skin; the profusion of life, the sound of birdsong and the explosion of colour signifies new beginnings.  Yet for some, a small collective, it suggests something rather more.

Across the world, the dates may change, and the climate may be very different, but the principle is identical, and the approach of the cricket season brings out the same mentality and activity wherever it may be.  For those who care start to get ready.  That might include players, who went to indoor nets in January and February, but it also includes all those who do the legwork, who prepare the fixture lists, who seed the grass on the ground, who put up the outdoor nets, who re-wire the pavilion or remove the mildew from the showers.  Those who spend the first part of the month repainting the picket fence outside the pavilion, or who have silently spent the winter ensure the square is ready – year in, year out.  Who go on courses to learn how to do it better, who wince every time the ball bounces badly.

When April itself arrives the same group of people then plan the coaching evenings for the kids, in full awareness that many parents regard this as free babysitting, and they do so on the off chance that one in twenty of the children who turn up may fall in love with the game and therefore could go on to be a playing member for the next thirty years.  They do this even though if that player becomes exceptionally good, they will leave and go somewhere else to play a higher standard.  Possibly and potentially, that might include the county programmes, meaning that all their hard work goes not to their club, but to the wider game.  They will joke that what they really want is a good young player who isn’t very bright, who won’t go to university and who will stay in the area.  But they know they will, and they know they will lose them.  But they pay it forward, in the hope their club will benefit from the hard work someone else put in somewhere else.  The circle of mutual support is a wide one.

And then there are those who have had their cricketing career, who captain the Sunday 2nd XI, batting at number nine and standing at slip, not enjoying their lack of contribution, frustrated at their waning powers, but deeply aware it was done for them in their youth.  They get little thanks for it, and may well be dead before the 40 year old they introduced to the sport thirty years earlier fully realises what he did for them, who then laments that they never told him quite how important to their life he was.  It was a he, mostly, but in decades to come it will be many a she too.   It already is.

Or there are those who despite their full awareness of the affectionate contempt in which the players hold them still volunteer to do the scoring, a thankless, dull task at the best of times, hated by most, loved by a very few.  They may have no cricketing ability at all, but choose to be involved and choose to help out.  Perhaps instead they go on an umpiring course, to give up their weekends to annoy players by being human and getting a decision wrong.  Come September those same people will compile the annual reports, with statistics, averages and club records.

A further subset go and watch a county match, aware of their small band of fellow travellers with whom they are often on first name terms, despite little in common but a shared passion for a game that passes most of the public by.  They go when the weather is cold and grey, and they go – and are joined by a few others – when it is warm and sunny and the appeal of a cold pint with appropriate on field background entertainment is available – the crack of ball on bat, the cries of fielders as they appeal for a decision to another who has given up a substantial proportion of their life to give back to the game they were brought up with, and who are able to make a modest living from doing so.

For five and a bit months across the country, this pattern prevails.  Some make the teas, traditionally they are tea ladies, more recently not so much.  Many will have little interest or concern, but will drive past a village green filled with cricketers and know that a traditional element of their national character is being played out in front of them.  Like Morris Dancing, they may not wish to be part of it themselves, they may even sneer at those who do it, but it is a precious part of national consciousness.  John Major was laughed at for his references to it, but as definitions of a desired national character go, there are many worse that could be chosen.

Each week the same group, always a small number of people in any club, go through the same process.  They prepare, they work, they give up their time for no other reason than a deep seated love for a sport.  Even within their own organisation there aren’t enough of them, they do several jobs not just one.  Sometimes they may get frustrated at the lack of respect they get for the contribution they make, but they do so not for fame or fortune and not for recognition, but because it needs to be done and if they don’t do it, then who will?

The rarefied atmosphere of the highest level of any sport is a world away from the day to day that makes up virtually all of the game.  Yet professional sport relies on the amateur to a far greater extent than the other way around, even though they both need the other for it to flourish.  But take away professional cricket, and the game would survive.  Take away amateur cricket and there is simply no game at all, which is why the dismissive behaviour towards it remains one of the more despicable attitudes pervading the corridors of power.  They deny it, but all involved know it is there – the ECB won’t even give the “recreational game” as they put it, elected representation to their organisation.  That is the reason this band of brothers and sisters quietly get on with things, with little help, and less interest from above.

These people do it all.  They are the backbone without whom nothing, nothing at all, would exist.  They are a minority within a minority, they provide everything and in return get little except perhaps personal satisfaction for making a contribution to society.  They are denied the right to even see their chosen sport at the top level without paying again for the privilege,  they are belittled and even laughed at.  Decisions are taken that make their lives just that little bit harder, and their response is to give even more time, and make even greater efforts, for no reason other than they feel it is the right thing to do, and that it matters.

Cricket is a sport first and foremost.  It isn’t a business, and it isn’t the opportunity to make vast amounts of money.  That may be a by product for a chosen few, but it is not the driver, it is not the raison d’etre, and those who behave as though it is should be ashamed.  Those who allow it to happen should be even more ashamed, for they could speak up yet do not do so. They betray the work done across the country, across the world, to provide a background for all those who care little for their efforts to exploit.

These are the obsessives.  The fanatics who move heaven and earth to ensure there is something for successive generations to complain about.  They do it in many different ways, from the park in the city centre to the village Common.  They support, morally and financially, all rungs of the game, and they provide the base interest that in turn creates the next level, be it County Championship, T20 or 50 over.

Yes, Mr Harrison, they are obsessives.  Every single one of them.  And you should get down on your knees and thank them for their very existence.  And so should we all.

Trust – 1

What else could I call this post? While my good friend and colleague on here, Vian, aka thelegglance, held the fort so spectacularly this morning, I sat in my room, here in New Jersey, at 6 in the morning wondering what the hell was going on. I couldn’t shout or swear at the screen because didn’t want to wake the beloved or mother-in-law up. I was interested in seeing how the new dawn of Harrison and Strauss looked, and what new ideas they had going forward. I also wondered how prepared and how briefed they were for the KP onslaught.

I sort of owe Stephen Brenkley an apology. Compared to this, Paul Downton and Peter Moores handled their questioning with aplomb last year. I’ve just seen George tweet “Bring Back Downton” and I’m inclined to believe it might not be worse. Downton could have been told to wind his neck in, eat humble pie and go with a selection policy based on merit. If he didn’t like it, he knew where the door was. The ECB needed a scapegoat after the World Cup, Downton inserted mouth and put his foot in it, and eh voila, we had our token sacrifice. But by doing this early enough, one man would still have a vital say in the replacement.

Someone said today, I think it was Harrison, it may have been Strauss, that the decision to axe KP, although he’s not banned (they think they are so effing clever, don’t they) was unanimous at board level, with the names mentioned being Strauss, Harrison, Graves and Giles Clarke. There you have it. That man Clarke. There was absolutely no way he’d countenance a return to the fold for Pietersen, an uppity man who dared challenge his monstrous ego. No way would Clarke allow this. Whether he should have been mentioned is a point for debate. After all. wasn’t he being shunted overseas, out of the way, not to get involved and let Graves run the show. Or is he the ultimate back seat driver? Instead we’ve got into this position. Downton’s early termination by ECB standards may have been part of the plan. They needed a scapegoat and no-one was going to bemoan his departure. By doing so swiftly enough the current Chairman was going to get involved in the selection process. There have been whispers in the press that there was no way he would go quietly. So, how better to construct a false competition, with the illusion of rivals for the post, and then, when one dropped out and one was ignored, we arrived at Strauss. A man with well known views on Kevin Pietersen, made clear in a book (funny how that worked, eh) and on air. Hey, that’s all right, he took time away from the game to do all that. Every man and his dog knew he was biding time before getting back into cricket admin. I think I’ve spent 500 words saying I don’t believe Giles Clarke is going to let go at all. We’ll see.

So to today, and Andrew Strauss. Having woken up appallingly early, I managed to get a Sky Sports News feed, and given no-one else was using much internet at 6am, I got an unbuffered stream. My first surprise was that we weren’t shown the press conference, a la Downton, but that there would be interviews first. OK. I didn’t hold out much hope. Tim Abraham comes off as a good guy, but he’s not Pat Murphy. Now, I’ll have to trust to memory and Vian’s recall here, but the first words out were something along the lines of “we need to have an honest, open discussion about Kevin Pietersen.” I sighed. I couldn’t swear. I sighed. By implication this means you have not been honest in the past about it, and that you’ve not been open at all. You’ve had all night to prepare for this question and you come out with startingly obvious platitudes that those of us who have followed this for 16 months now will see straight through. Andrew, old bean, you threw a fit over text messages and you called him a c—. You are not some impartial, detached honest broker. Don’t hold yourself up to be one.

To his credit, this early gambit didn’t hold, and he didn’t even try. What followed was bilge. Some believe it is those dastardly lawyers, clamming everything up again. That pesky employment law, eh? But what we had was the key element of trust, and Strauss couldn’t make up his mind if the key factor was at corporate level (a unanimous view of the board) or his own (we’ve had serious trust issues and I don’t trust him). There’s the first error, a massive one. He put his own personal beef above English cricket and he never went into detail why. Not that I heard. When even Paul Newman says we needed to read between the lines, you know this was not working. Only a couple of usual pillocks – Selfey, Lovejoy Jr – went hurrah! Here’s his excerpt from the book: Driving Ambition 1So a grudge, eh? Yet again, when it comes to the crunch, Strauss never went into this with an open mind. But we knew this from what he had said before. But many came to the same conclusion – what the hell is he on about? This bloke (KP) was just completing his 355 not out – a special score – and Strauss is still going on about a beef three years ago? What was he talking about? What the hell did it matter? How many runs did “trust” score? Oh, I’ve seen those who liken sports teams to corporations say that you can’t do what he did and return. Pietersen would be the one with the problem, not them. It would be Pietersen ostracised in a dressing room, not them. If KP could go in there and take it, then so should they.

No. I came to a pretty swift thought. This is about Alastair Cook. Again. Cook doesn’t want him back, he never goes into detail why this should be the case, and Cook rules this roost. Once again, another senior management figure gives this man carte blanche. Denials do nothing to convince me otherwise.

Strauss gave it the big one over sacking Moores. Bravo. He wasn’t tactically adept enough at the international level. Well, that’s nice. I suppose all those press boys who fell over themselves last year have recanted their sins on both Moores and the man who appointed him (sound of crickets). There then came all the stuff that Andrew Miller, in his excellent Cricinfo piece, called the “white noise of corporate bullshit”. If you’ve read Driving Ambition, and I have, the bit I most recall was Strauss’ devotion to managment text books, team bonding exercises and military disciplines. People here will know how much I absolutely adore all of that. We try to escape this sort of claptrap in watching sports. I’ll bet Lionel Messi has never read a management text book in his life. I’ll bet Ronaldo doesn’t do team bonding. It’s drivel. We are playing sports, not planning a mission to invade Afghanistan, or to deliver a leveraged buy out. But here they were all trotted out, the most vacuous of them all being the “long-term strategy”.

We had the shock that he was keeping Eoin Morgan as captain of the ODI team – hey, while we’ve just sacked the coach, let’s kick him even harder by saying the World Cup was ALL his fault by keeping the captain (who just happens to be a Middlesex player, but I wouldn’t be that cheap to draw a conclusion based on that). Then there was the promotion of Joe Root to vice-captain, which, who knows, may have been based on the legendary leaked performance on some leadership exercise by Ian Bell to demote him back to the ranks. Then there was the woolly philosophy of separate ODI and Test teams, but under one coach. There would be more of a distinction but we’ll flog a head coach to death to do it. Well, good luck with that.

And that was pretty much it. A trust issue where there was no-one to blame, and I didn’t go into the semantics of the following old shite where he said KP had no future, but he absolutely wasn’t banned. Some contrition for the manner of Moores dismissal, but a dismissal of Moores himself (and how that contrasts with his book which when KP and Moores were having their spat, Strauss almost indicated that “it was nothing to do with me guv”. Driving Ambition 2He certainly worked with him there, didn’t he? (Driving Ambiton, by Andrew Strauss is available from normal sources if you wish to read the full book). Tom Harrison came on and did a speak-your-Downton regime. First of all, his credibility is shot because he looks like Tim Westwood. Secondly, when challenged on the KP front, he then did what all good charlatans do when caught on a weak issue for them, and said, I don’t want to talk about the past, it’s about the future, and then went on about excitement and long-term strategies. I lost the will. He’s dead to me. No more than a Downton in a sharp suit, but with more of an attitude.

Of course, since then, the main copy has been provided by the Pietersen sacking (for that’s what it is, don’t bullshit us) and what KP had or had not been told.

Like last night, I’ll divide the post in to two, and have a real pop in the second part. Because I want my dinner, and I’ve topped 1500 words. I’ll hand it over to thelegglance to take things up.

Also, read The Full Toss (James and Maxie), and Andrew Miller on cricinfo (which also has a link to Switch Hit).

UPDATE – Not really been at it today, even though I seem to have devoted a full day of my holiday for this nonsense. I’m likely going to take a couple of days away from the blog (don’t hold me to it) and I know Vian has something up his sleeve for tomorrow. I feel a bit of my spirit is broken, to be honest. I’ve felt this way before. I get over it, and get on with it. It wasn’t helped by listening to Tuffers and Vaughan, to be honest. If we showed one tenth of the bile for Cook or Strauss that is doled out to Pietersen, we’d be annihilated. We don’t come anywhere near close.

326 Not Out – Part 2

COOKY

Read Part 1 below – a bit of a diary of the day up to the TMS tweet. Now I’ll really get stuck into this nonsense.

Let’s take ourselves back to the end of the day’s play. The reaction to the 326 that I saw was mostly of the “wow” kind. A few churls who wouldn’t have cared if it was Marshall and Holding in their pomp at each end had a pop, but they looked rather stupid. One moron of the month, who Clive rightly called a troll said “one innings in four years” which not only questioned his recognition of how relatively rare 300s are, but also his numeric ability given KP’s knocks since 2011 – you know, the golden trio even his worst critics can’t help bu admire. I’m used to this utter nonsense now. It’s tedious, it’s dull, a bit like this blog to non-believers.

So to the TMS Tweet.

Seems pretty unequivocal. Of course it’s a leak, or whatever you want to call it, because a leak isn’t a leak if it isn’t a leak or something. Some people got rather uppity about all that over the weekend (no, not you LB), as if we were doubting their journalistic abilities. But this looked like a leak to me, this one… if it looks like a leak, smell lies a leak, it probably is one. So the reaction was one of fury.

I absolutely one hundred percent stick behind this one. I’m deadly serious. I’m not over-reacting. This blog is built on these foundations. Call it as you see it on DAY ONE. I called for Downton’s dismissal the day after he said something utterly stupid and now I call this.

I am seriously not impressed by Tom Harrison. Oh, I know, he wouldn’t give a toss if he read it, and why should he? He’s a highly paid executive and I’m just a mere bilious inadequate with a small platform and loyal support. But this was another one we were told was made of the right stuff. A former county pro, who went into media rights management and is now in charge of something or other at the ECB.

This is him.

HarrisonSo far, he’s sacked Downton, which was a fair move but bloody hell, he took his time over it as he presided over a costs and structure review – and boy does Harrison like a structure. Then he presided over the absolute clusterf*ck that was the dismissal of Moores. In the interim he employed head-hunters to come up with Andrew Strauss for a new post called Director, (and that comma says so much) England Cricket (or whatever – I cannot be bothered with this muppetry) and now, that is coming home to roost. They had it all planned. Andrew Strauss would be unveiled, they’d say a teary farewell to Peter Moores, and then new Management Structure England would move forward to the New Zealand series and the Ashes.

But, as we know, the information on Moores leaked. How it leaked we do not know, because, well we’ve done that already above. So a decent bloke (I think I’ve been consistent in that) was humiliated in public by this organisation. You’d think they’d feel a little chastened, a little wounded, maybe a touch humble. But I’m not sensing humility from Harrison. I’m sensing someone who is a little too cock-sure and seems to think he’s wielding a big stick. Just a hunch, and we’ll see how it plays out. Not been too wrong on them so far.

So, with plans completely blown out of the water, a contingent strategy took place, and the announcements were made on Saturday. Vian’s post below captures my thoughts brilliantly. My thanks for such a really good post on the matter. After this nonsense we were advised there would be a press conference today (Monday) or tomorrow (Tuesday). No-one was quite sure. There seemed to be utter confusion, while at the same time trying to exude some sort of decisive authority. This smacked of Captain Mainwaring shouting “I’m In Charge” as his bunch of old timers rambled off here and there.

Now, they knew the press conference, on Tuesday, was always going to throw up the KP question. At this stage (Sunday) it was an easy case to answer. Let him make some runs, he’s not in our plans at the moment, and it’s difficult to see him in our plans going forward. But he has to make runs. Even this has not, it appeared, satisfied our captain. I’ve been told a ton of times how nice a guy Cook is, but he doesn’t seem to act like it it. Either he’s being horribly misinterpreted here, or there’s something I’m missing, but every time someone seems to broach a rapprochement with KP, there’s a column saying Cook’s angry at someone for it, being Aggers (reportedly) over his TMS stint at the World Cup, or Graves for that message during the World Cup that got KP to sign for Surrey and play county cricket. It seems that Team England is run for the benefit of Team Cook. We’ve been down this road on this blog before. It really appears to me a him or me situation, a back me or sack me. In Downton, Cook had an implacable supporter. In Flower, behind the scenes wielding whatever power, he had someone in his camp if it means keeping KP at bay. And in Strauss, he has a man who KP fell out with, who didn’t want him to return to the team after Textgate, and who called him a c*** live on TV. I think, as they say in the legal world, these lot have “previous”.

I’ve been saying all along they’ve been leading him up the garden path. This is not an organisation steeped in an ability to admit mistakes. It refuses to believe it can ever be wrong on any matter, or admit it’s core policies are misguided or prone to scrutiny. This is a body that went into a major deal with a subsequently committed felon, and you’d gather from our governing bodies attitude to its culpability in the terms of “ooops, shucks, well, ok, never mind.” Collier, the architect supposedly of this kept his job for a mere six years after that. Clarke has had to be prised out of office with the promise of a lovely old international jolly. Hugh Morris presided over the Moore/Pietersen nonsense with all the authority of Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served, while throughout this period we had leaks/good journalism all over the shop. That an organisation is supposed to be anal about leaks lets so much information out, such as KP’s report, the dodgy dossier and the sacking of Moores II, is preposterous. They are a sick joke, with the emphasis on sick. It’s bloody ironic that the new chairman is called Graves. This is a place where common sense goes to die. Where good chaps preside over the serfs, and don’t you dare question authority.

Above all, this is an organisation that employed Paul Downton in a position of responsibility. You remember him. All aplomb and good impressions. He may have been a lovely guy, aren’t they all, but he was out of his depth from day one. He hid. When he spoke, we knew why he hid. But we are told that things will be different now. While Downton was removed from the game for a couple of decades, the new Director, England Cricket, will be more in touch. More in tune with the modern game.

The list of those who would be in for the job underwhelmed. While Michael Vaughan was an inspirational captain, he’s a twit online. Alec Stewart had experience of being a Team Director, but that didn’t count a jot, and really, were we enthused by his candidacy. Then there was Andrew Strauss. The last week has seen people falling over each other to tell us how tough he is, how single minded, how focused he was. How he’d do the best for English cricket. He is the ideal man to take us forward, a great captain, a great leader of men. The evidence? He got rid of Moores (or did he. I’ve heard from some that he was gone well before the announcement of Strauss….and I’m talking a couple of weeks). But if Strauss sacking Moores adds to the narrative, well, what’s the harm in that? Of course, we’d heard from Michael Vaughan that Moores wasn’t going to be sacked, and that he’d been told that the ECB were not going to take KP back. Then Strauss is their man, and Moores goes. It’s laughable. So Strauss has a big decision under his belt, so it seems.

And it is abundantly clear, if I’m guessing, that the plan was to talk to KP before the presser to sort that out. They know that the question is going to come up, and I said how I thought they might answer it in part 1. But it’s easy to speak to KP with a forthright view if he’s not made runs. Now he has. 326 un-ignorable runs. 326 stabs into the heart of the ECB with their high-fallutin’ principles and beliefs. 326 jabs at their pompous approach, their holier than thou, high and mighty, we are in charge balloon of infallibility. 326 reasons why they are wrong to adopt a policy of selection that excludes someone because someone inferior doesn’t get on with him. 326 reasons why this country is a bag of shite when it comes to creating and maintaining great English sporting teams. It’s too much about getting along, and not enough about getting runs.

So when faced with the utter shit-storm the initial twitter post from TMS unleashed, with people going absolutely puce with rage (me included), there was a very quick back-track via Nick Hoult in the Telegraph. Lawrence Booth has reported much the same thing. But this is them trying to be clever and the ECB-watching public out there are not going to be fooled one iota. Their policy, if not explicit, but as close as you can get to it, will be KP over their dead bodies. Even now these control freak, superiority complex muppets will be concocting something that is designed to fool the public tomorrow. You won’t. Without the simple mantra that the team will be selected on merit, as it should be, anything else is claptrap. We won’t get fooled for building for 2019, because we built for this World Cup and blew it up in a tantrum last year. Setting long-distant dates, talking about long-term strategies is management bullshit. You going to give all the punters who paid all that cash for the Ashes some money back as you ain’t giving it your all? Like hell. It’s talking down to us. Some, in their bilious hatred for KP will accept this bag of nonsense. More shame them.

So, on the off chance that Strauss will surprise us, which I doubt, I’ll hold all my fire. But here’s the Dmitri Declaration. If I hear anything other than the England cricket team will be selected on merit, and no player is excluded, and if he is playing well and is deemed to be the best available at that time, regardless of age, then that player will be selected. But as this is a team that selected Tredwell over Rashid, Trott over Lyth and is busy flogging Anderson and Broad to a standstill, it’s all a smokescreen.

To the final insult, the last in a long line. The Graves comment that KP’s not available for selection as he’s not playing county cricket and not scoring runs. There have been denials that a deal has ever been struck, that this was a mere innocent comment and nothing had changed. KP is many things, not all good, but he’s not stupid. He returned because he felt there was a genuine chance of a rapprochement. He felt Graves would take none of the previous regimes nonsense and set them straight. To that end he negotiated an exit to his IPL contract, and gave up a decent, not huge, sum of money, and does not take a salary from Surrey. If there were “no chance” of a recall, then they should have said so, there and then. They didn’t. They hoped he would fail, would not score sufficient runs. That he would wither and die, and sod off to the CPL later in the summer. KP’s not that gullible that he wouldn’t keep that in his back pocket.

Now he makes 326, now we see them close ranks. Now we see them all but shut it off in perpetuity. That’s reprehensible, and let’s see them get their way out of this. A good number of cricket lovers are enraged at this apparant duplicity. That this isn’t just getting shot of a trouble-maker but exacting a bitter, cruel revenge. I am a KP fan. This man gave me some of the greatest thrills of my cricketing life. I would have loved to have been there today. I’m desperately hoping he’ll be there at Beckenham in a fortnight’s time, but that looks unlikely. I’m not saying he’s an angel, but he’s among the best we have. But we don’t play the game that way.

From the outside this is an organisation not representing its core supporters. This is an organisation that leaks. This is an organisation that thinks it is too clever by half. This is an organisation that is rotten to the core, steeped in some misty-eyed half-baked concoction of superiority complex elitism and management philosophy claptrap, that only they can judge and only they can decide. This is an organisation that couldn’t organise a piss up in brewery, a sacking on the Apprentice, or honest broking in a room full of spivs. It is diseased, it is malevolent and it has to go. Yes. We need a new organisation running the game, free of all this rubbish, these agenda, this structure. There’s another structure for you, Tom.

Sure, I’m outside cricket. I’ve never felt more outside than I do now. Judging by the reactions of many today, so do they. It’s an incredibly sad day when our own organisation rushes to dampen down the enthusiasm felt by many when a player who gave great service to England, who played many amazing innings, who had us glued to our screens, buying our tickets, makes a thrilling riposte and does what he thought he need to do, only to be told within a matter of hours, it seems, to foxtrot oscar. Someone put cricket on the back pages today, and instead of welcoming it, our beloved guardian authority hated it. They’ve got it all right, ain’t they….

Let’s be pleasantly surprised tomorrow, eh? Anyone betting on it?

kp FO