Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Ryder Cup a metaphor for internationalism




Take five Englishmen, two Spaniards, two Swedes, an Irishman, a Dane and an Italian. Pick a Danish non-playing captain and dress them all in blue with yellow stars. Play the contest on French soil and call it a European team. Then put them against twelve Americans with wives with shiny teeth and all dressed in red, white and blue. No contest? Well as it turned out yes, no contest. But why?

Lots of reasons - playing better golf on a course unlike those the Americans will have seen before helped. But surely a comfort with team sports and partnerships helped even more ? Every American player was a brilliant individual - but team player? Nah. In America amongst friends with supporters shouting “In the Hole” and chanting “U S A “ a noisy patriotism helps. But in Europe, and  especially in France where there is a healthy scepticism of faux-patriotism and a fear of nationalism ? No sir.

The EU flag is the flag of Europe but it is not a patriotic symbol. On the contrary it is a symbol of a conscious bias AGAINST nationalism. It’s the polar opposite of the Stars and Stripes. The underlying premise of European integration is shared sovereignty and shared accountability. A brilliant Italian and an eccentric long-haired Lancastrian formed an unbeatable partnership. They pooled their strengths and helped each other minimise their weaknesses. A metaphor ? Well maybe that’s a step too far... but maybe not.

History teaches us that working together, having alliances, forming partnerships can be difficult and that leads some to think that going alone is preferable? Taking back control is better than working out our differences some would say. But history also teaches us that closing borders, rather than opening them and nationalism rather than internationalism can be deadly.

The European Ryder Cup team won not in spite of their differences, but because of them. The Americans lost because they were all the same. Individuals. Flag-waving but shallow. Gleaming white teeth but empty hearts. Dollar bankers where success is measured by the size of your winnings not who your friends are and how good a team player that makes you.

Vive la difference !

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ground for concern at Tottenham Hotspur ?


During my Shell career I was from time to time involved in major capital projects - usually indirectly, once or twice closer to home. Almost without exception these projects cost more - often a lot more - than the original estimate and took longer - often a lot longer. Now Shell was in the big league where such projects were concerned. For a time we were the largest private sector investor in the world. We were pretty good at what we did, it was just that management of major projects is very, very difficult. I mention this to say that I am sympathetic to the challenge that Daniel Levy, Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur and his Board have faced with the new Spurs stadium. It hasn’t been easy. It never is. And unlike Shell Levy and Co. have no prior experience, though no doubt they have employed many contractors and people who have.

I don’t think sports stadiums are inherently more subject to cost overruns and to delay than other building projects. It tends to happen though - remember Wembley ? Cost and timing are inextricably linked. Spurs wanted the new ground to be ready for the beginning of the 2018/19 season and this became a firm target. As it seemed to be slipping extra efforts were made, and this cost money. If you’re a jobbing electrician £400 a day is on offer now to help complete the work before the end of this year (my guess as to the real target now that the revised original one has been missed. Spurs haven’t been helped by cost increases from the decline of the pound either - many items are Euro or Dollar denominated. 

If I am sympathetic to Spurs Chairman it is in part because he has achieved so much. To create a world class venue on the very site of the old White Hart Lane is an astonishing achievement. It required acquiring land all around Spurs N17 home and overcoming demanding planning objections. Levy has been very smart and Spurs fans have been lucky to have him. Call me an elitist but I’d rather have him with his Economics degree from Cambridge than the average Club chairman ! That said recent weeks have not seen Levy nor the Club at its best. A football club’s principal stakeholder has to be its fans with season ticket holders the most committed of these. Many of us made special arrangements to be sure that we would be able to be present at the first match at the new stadium originally planned for September 15th. We received little more than one month’s notice about the change. 

Spurs are generally pretty good at stakeholder communications but over the new stadium timetable and cost we have been kept in the dark. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Club’s inactivity in the transfer market has been in part caused by financial concerns about the stadium’s escalating costs. You can factor the delays into this as well. Up to a point you can buy your way out of time pressure trouble in projects by committing more resources - but at a cost. 

Spurs have played the safety card recently to help explain the delays. This strikes me as disingenuous. Any construction project in  modern times builds safety in from the start. Similarly in respect of architectural design. Last minute safety concerns just weeks away from the planned opening, the Club’s explanation for the delay, should not have happened. If it did. The suspicion is that the Club used safety as an excuse because nobody could challenge that safety comes first. It has the smell of a bit of a cover up to me.


It’s going to be a difficult few weeks for Tottenham Hotspur. Uncertainty of dates and venues is disruptive for fans and players alike. If the team weather this storm by stringing some decent results together they will do very well. Come the dawn the future for the Club is bright. All the signs are that the new White Hart Lane will be magnificent and despite the transfer inactivity the squad is outstanding. To me only one thing is lacking and that is greater financial security in the short to medium term. In the long term a 60,000 seat stadium in London should generate huge revenues - and not just from football. But just now the Club is very stretched and if a white knight emerged as a minority investor with a nice slug of ready money surely that would be welcome.  I’m sure Dan Levy knows this and is on the case !  

Thursday, May 03, 2018

ECB’s 100 ball a side competion idea is bonkers - and their rationale for it is disingenuous



The rationale for the new competition and new format is apparently that it will bring a new audience to cricket. Spectators (and TV viewers) will come to the game because of its razzmatazz. This may be true. But will they come in greater numbers because each innings is 16.4 overs rather than 20? Will the disappearance of 20 balls per innings really make that difference?

Of course not!

I support the idea of a city-based T20 franchise competition in the U.K. based on the IPL/Big Bash (etc.). The format of these competitions is well-established and it seems to work. It widens the support base of cricket in India/Australia and brings in the crowds. So why would the ECB not simply clone the idea (as I assumed they would do)? Why do we need to create a new format ?

The answer to this question is not the one the ECB give - to bring in new spectators. This is bunkum. “I wouldn’t go to a Twenty Over cricket match but I would go to one in which they play 16.4 Overs per side” says nobody. There are not people whose attention span would last for 100 balls but not for 120. Or if there are they should be seeking care.

T20 is an established format and a proven success around the world. Here in England and Wales it is also successful but with 18 counties and matches played in some very “Non IPL” type locations it does not have the focus or the commerciality of the 8 team competitions played elsewhere. The counties have been told they can keep this competition when the new franchise tournament starts in 2020. Here we get to the heart of what is going on.

To have an 8 team T20 tournament in the U.K. based on the IPL with free to air TV coverage and lots of hype would inevitably detract from the Counties T20 competition. And that is why some bright spark came up with the idea of making it not 20 overs a side at all but 100 balls! The counties keep their exclusive rights to the “T20” brand!

Cricket has always been played in a variety of formats. Limited overs matches have varied in my lifetime from 65 to 60, 55, 50, 40 and finally 20. There is nothing inherently wrong with having another variant. Except that there is no need to do it and plenty of reasons not to. The three format world of professional cricket (The two innings First Class game; the 50 over a side One Day (“List A”) game; the 20 over per side (T20) game) is well established). Each has its own familiar character and style - and (importantly) each has its own records. 100 balls per side would not be T20 so neither performances nor results would feature in the T20 records. This matters, not least to players.

So the explanation that 100 balls rather than the established 20 overs will bring in more spectators is surely disingenuous film-flam. If it was true then why not make the Counties T20 tournament 100 balls as well ! No the only conceivable logic is that it could be presented as entirely separate from T20 so that the counties could claim that if you want to see a domestic T20 match theirs is the only offer. And that is seriously perverse.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Second Test - Dhaka


Bangladesh v England
Second Test Match - Dhaka



Preview

The approach to Dhaka airport was mostly in the clouds this morning and when we landed there was water, quite deep in parts, across the runway. My driver from the airport told me that the rain has only just appeared and that it may be around for a few days. The forecast, however, isn't too bad but for obvious reasons they do know a bit about rain in Bangladesh and we will see.

I don't think that the weather will have played a part in England's team selection. To some extent this two match Test series is a trial for the Five Tests in India - though that rather denigrates the Bangladeshis who could well have won in Chittagong. Top sport is so intensive these days that for team sports a squad system for the top teams is essential. In football Mauricio Pochettino is a believer in this at Tottenham, to good effect, and it looks like England's cricket selectors are doing the same.

Over the next twelve months the England schedule in all forms of the game looks designed to create burn out. A player like Joe Root will barely have time to draw breath if he keeps his fitness and form. For fast bowlers like Anderson or Broad, neither in the first flush of youth (how time passes!), it is essential to have them available for the big games - and that means Test Matches. We are little more than a year away from the first Ashes Test of 2017/18 and my guess is that Stuart and Jimmy will relish one last tilt at the old enemy.

Dhaka is an important Test in its own right though. My first glimpse of cricket in Bangladesh was in a sports ground near my hotel where what looked to be a T20 match between a couple of club sides had drawn a good crowd. Many were watching through a mesh fence around the ground - security I suppose in this city which has had its security scares in recent times. It is the national sport and my street cred as a cricket nut is high with the Bangladeshis I've met so far. "We should have won in Chittagong" - and perhaps they should.

In this match the England eyes will be on Ansari, who deserves his chance. Gareth Batty did fine in the First Test but really it is an admission of failure to see him in the side at all. No disrespect intended but do we really have a cupboard so bare of spinners that we had to turn to a 39-year-old? Lets see how the previously unlucky Ansari fares. Lets also see which Stephen Finn plays. I wouldn't compare Finn to Longfellow's little girl who when she was good she was very, very good - but when she was bad she was horrid. At least I wouldn't to Finny's face. But you're never quite sure what you're going to get are you? The same with Gary Ballance. There's a bit of the Graham Hick about him I fear. He has the talent and started pretty well in Test cricket. But not much for a while and the Jury is out. It would certainly help our Ashes prospects if we could get him secure and performing at four in the order.

So then if I may conclude with a personal remark. Tomorrow I will complete my ambition of having seen England play at least one Test Match in every Test playing country. The game honestly excites and intrigues me as much as it did at my very first Test (v Pakistan at the Oval in 1962) and watching it overseas adds extra piquancy and interest. It's a privilege

First Day report

The Geoffrey Boycott maxim is to always add two wickets to the current score and see what changes. But here in Dhaka we would have needed to add five to the lunch score of 118-1 to predict the tea score of 205-6. Those five wickets fell for 31 runs between the 42nd and the 56th overs. Did the pitch, which had been benign in the morning, suddenly become a minefield? Did lethargic bowlers suddenly become demons? Not really. It was much more that other old maxim - if you can just break a stubborn and productive partnership then more wickets might well come in a rush. England's body language in the morning session was ordinary, between lunch and tea, it changed completely.

In the morning England, having lost the toss, struck early when Imrul Kayes played an expansive cut of Woakes in the third over and Duckett took the catch at point. There followed a partnership of high quality between Tamim Iqbal and Mominul Haque . The score was 171-1 in the 42nd over when Tamim, who had just reached a fine hundred, padded up to Moeen Ali and was out lbw. Mominul followed for 66 four overs later (190-3) and England had a chance with new batsmen at both ends. It was a chance they took so successfully that the remaining batsmen added just 30 runs and the hosts were all out for 220 having lost their last nine wickets for 49 in 22.5 overs. Ali took 5-57 and Stokes 2-13 in 11 miserly overs. Stokes conceded just one boundary. Ansari had an unimpressive first bowl in Test cricket and there was little of note from Finn or Rashid either - though Woakes bowled well for his 3-30. Bangladesh's collapse should not be allowed to take away from how well Tamim and Mominul batted. They scored 22 of Bangladesh's 26 boundaries between them.

Heavy rain was to stop play before the scheduled close but there was time enough for England to lose their customary three wickets (all to failed defensive shots) for not very many (42 in fact). Bangladesh gave the new ball to spin twins Mehedi and Shakib who removed Duckett after just five balls, Cook, who faced twelve and Ballance who lived for 17 before edging Mehedi behind with his feet stuck firmly in the crease. Before the rain came Root and Moeen survived - but once again it will be a rearguard action if England are even to reach parity with Bangladesh's modest first innings total.

In the Press Conference Moeen Ali expressed pleasure at bowling Bangladesh out so cheaply after they had been 171-1 and whilst happy with his five wickets said modestly that he wants to bowl more maidens and be more consistent and that he is still "nowhere near where he wants to be as a spinner". He was full of praise for Tamim who "hits the ball everywhere" but felt that England "...didn't bowl too well in the first session". Stokes bowled tightly with "good control and pace". The match overnight is "50/50".

Test cricket has days like these - perhaps more of them in the past few years than before. It was entertaining and surprising in equal measure. I think that one or two good innings will win this match. It may be that we have already seen them from Tamim and Mominul. Or maybe tomorrow Root, or Moeen or Bairstow will turn the match in England's favour. As at Chittagong it's intriguing stuff.


Second Day report
One of the oddities of the First Test Match between Bangladesh and England in Chittagong was that all four completed innings were in the 200s. The Second Test in Dhaka could well be following the same pattern. The first day brought 270 runs and 13 wickets and the second very entertaining day 346 for 8. England were indebted to an excellent partnership of 99 between Woakes and Rashid which gave them a slender first innings lead of 22 and then Imrul Kayes and Mahmadullah put on 86 before the latter was dismissed playing a very unwise and ill-executed sweep to what became the last ball of the day. The importance of partnerships to the batting side cannot be overstated – and the fillip that comes to the bowling side when they are broken is equally evident. Chris Woakes said that picking up a wicket in the final over was crucial and that it “Gives a bit of momentum going into tomorrow”.

The Kayes/Mahmadullah third wicket partnership had taken only 107 balls – a run rate of nearly five an over. They attacked from the start and this does seem to be the Bangladesh way. It is as calculated as it is effective. Two wickets down with a lead of only 44 was perilous. To end having extended that lead to 130 is much more promising for the home side.

England had had only one partnership over 30 before Woakes and Adil Rashid came together for the 9th wicket. The benefit of having ten or eleven players all of whom can bat was never more evident. If Woakes is a number 9 he must be one of the best ever! He said that if they had gone into the third innings 80-100 runs behind then “…the game’s almost out of our hands”. Instead to begin bowling with a lead was a big fillip for the team.

The issue of “reverse swing” was again in the forefront in the post match debates. Woakes felt that the ball did not reverse as much today as it had on the first day but he said that “hopefully tomorrow we can get working on the ball and get it reversing again”. “The game”, he said, is “in the balance”.
If England can dismiss Bangladesh for the addition of, say, 100 runs then a target of 230 in the fourth innings will be tough on a turning pitch, but gettable. Much over that and the pendulum would have swung very much in the home side’s favour

Bangladesh has won just seven of their 95 Test matches – five against Zimbabwe and two in 2009 against a very poor West Indies side. To beat England would confirm the progress they have recently made. The first session tomorrow is the key.


Third Day report

After 23 Overs of their Second Innings, at the tea interval, England openers had put on 100 runs together chasing 273 to win. Duckett was playing a One Day type innings, 56 off 63 balls, whilst Cook was a tad more circumspect with 39 off 75. Bangladesh had gone on the defensive around the 16th Over with only two close fielders. England had adopted the aggressive tactics which worked for Bangladesh in their second innings - the hosts had been 113/2 at the same point. (They went on to reach 296 at a run rate of 4.42 an over with Tamim top scoring with 78).

The chat at tea was that "all" England needed to do was press on. There seemed nothing particularly threatening in the pitch and the Bangladeshi heads had been a bit down before the interval. Then this:

W14•••W1•11•1••••1•••••••••••••1•1•1••1121•24••••W•••W2••••••1••W•2••••11•••141•••••11W31lb•11•1•1•1•••1•••1•••6••1••4WW•W•1••••••1••••1W

That's 64/10 in 135 balls. Let's kill the canard that the pitch was to blame. It was the same pitch that England had just prospered on for 138 balls and Bangladesh earlier. It was entirely a matter of confidence. As the wickets began to fall in the final session Bangladesh's bowlers grew in confidence and England's batsmen collapsed and lost it. Root was clearly out-of-sorts but for Ballance there could be no excuse - a horrible shot to a long hop from Mehedi. Once Cook had gone for 59 in the 34th over there was no further resistance to a bowling attack that was transformed from the first afternoon session.

So a five day Test match finishes in three days - not for the first time in recent times for England away. Another interesting Stat is that in England's last ten series home and away their record in the final Test of the series has been Played 10; Won 1; Drawn 1; Lost 8. Whatever the reason for this oddity if you claim to be a top side you need to keep your foot down even if a series has been won, and especially if, as here in Bangladesh, it is in the balance.

The general view among the "experts" around is that England will be slaughtered in India because they can't play spin. I disagree I think they can play spin - here Root, Woakes, Rashid, Cook and Duckett all played decent innings and at Chittagong Root, Ali, Bairstow, Woakes and Stokes had done the same. If they go out thinking they will fail then they will fail - as we saw in sharp relief today. But if they think that can play - which we saw at times in both matches they can - then they probably will.

My own rather curtailed cricket experience in Bangladesh has been a delight - the people have been wonderfully welcoming and it was been intriguing.

আচ্ছা বাংলাদেশ সম্পন্ন !

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Why Tebbit's "Cricket Test" was nonsense



The only time I found myself in agreement  with Norman Tebbit, that most reactionary of Thatcherites, was when he coined the idea of the "Cricket test". The principle that if you were a British citizen, irrespective of your own or your family's cultural heritage, you should support British teams. If England played India you should support England even if you or your parents were born in Madras. After all Nasser Hussein was born in Madras and he captained England. Obvious innit? Except that it isn't.

Let's say you were born in Southall or Bradford and grew up in a British Asian community. You are British and proud to be so but when you are, say, ten years old you take an interest in cricket. Who is to be your role model? Your world is Asian. That is your culture. Yes your school reflects the diversity of Britain - White, Brown, Black, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh... But in your home it is  (say) the Sikh values of your parents (and theirs) that predominates. Just as in the home of a ten-year old in Woking where there is a dominant White, Anglo-Saxon, Middle Class culture so it is with your home. A distinctive culture and differentiating set of values. Not better or worse than if you'd been a white boy in Woking - but different. 

So back to the role model choice. Here's the offer. On the one hand Alastair Cook. Unlike anyone you've ever met. White, middle-class, independent school, choirboy. On the other hand there's Virat Kholi. Brown, Sikh, Indian (like you are - or at least you're made to feel). His culture and yours are really very similar. To have him as your role model is logical. And the extension to the support of the Indian Cricket team is a very small step indeed. You are not being anti English - when the England football team plays in the World Cup you'll support them and you'll cheer on GB in the Olympic Games. It's just that for cricket you relate more to Kohli than Cook and to India than England. 

When Moeen Ali reached a good half century at Edgbaston last Wednesday I noticed that both the England and the Pakistan supporters rose to applaud him. This was not just good manners! The Pakistan contingent were acknowledging one of their own (Ali who was born close to Edgbaston, is of course of Pakistani heritage). Let's be clear about this. Those supporting Pakistan in the ground were overwhelmingly British citizens and most, like Ali, were born in the UK. Their choice is a cultural one - they identify more with (say) Misbah-Al-Haq than they do with Joe Root. And the genuine support for Moeen Ali further demonstrates that culture is stronger than nationality.

Among our freedoms is that to support whatever sports team we like. There are good reasons for British Asians to support India or Pakistan if they want to. And there are good reasons for them instead to cheer for the country of their birth and nationality (Britain) if that is what they prefer. Norman Tebbit insulted them by saying that they should all do the latter to prove they were British. And I regret having agreed with him!

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Follow the money" if you want to know where cricket is going



American sport and, a bit more recently, Football in Britain, is big business. The Premier League has shown that, as in the US, Business and Sport can successfully mix. But both at a global and national level cricket for a long time eschewed being primarily driven by money and measured by commercial success. No more ! If you want to understand where cricket is going then follow the money.

The success of the Indian Premier League has been the model for most other cricket playing countries and, as England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chairman Colin Graves says today, England's T20 offer is "mediocre" by comparison. We should have the best domestic T20 contest of them all. Played in the summer months on long light days at a time of the year when little cricket is played elsewhere in the world it should be a winner attracting the biggest stars. The commercial potential is enormous. So why not? In one word - the counties.

Our county-based domestic system was designed in a different age. Cricket was substantially amateur and cricket administrators totally so. A private member's club, the M.C.C. ran the show. The game only had a two innings (three or four day) format. It made little money and the professionals received little. The "Love of the Game" meme was the dominant one. The number of First Class county teams rose over the years until by the time of Durham's ennoblement in 1992 it reached 18. And when the ECB dreamed up Twenty20 for the 2003 season it was unthinkable then that it would be anything but a county competition with 18 participants. But times have changed !

The reality is not just that an 18 team competition makes no sense for T20 in today's cricket world but that a fully professional 18 club structure is unaffordable as well. It is no coincidence that watching international cricket in England is by far the most expensive in the world. Tickets at the ground reach over £100 a day for the top matches at the most popular venues. And if you want to see international matches on television you'll need a Sky subscription at over £600 per year! All this in part to help keep 18 counties afloat - the money you pay to watch international cricket flows in substantial part to the counties most of which would be bankrupt without it.

The need for modernisation in English domestic cricket is clear. An eight-team City-based T20 competition played in high summer with no other professional cricket being played at the same time is the start point. I would create new franchises on the IPL model but that is not the only option. I would also consider non-traditional venues such as the Olympic Stadium or Wembley along with the obvious candidates - the current international venues such as Edgbaston and The Oval. There is no need for the Franchises to be based on the current counties but in order to get them to agree ( County chairmen control the ECB) that concession might be necessary.

The two-innings game is fading. Outside of England and Australia even Test matches are attracting few spectators and declining media interest. Follow the money again. If nobody watches the domestic two-innings game and if Test cricket is struggling against the competition of T20 there will be only one winner. The recent International T20 contest was a big success and the triumph of the West Indies a joy to watch. It was top class sport and there will be no holding it back. Expect it to become an annual event. 

This is the context in which decisions about cricket in England have to be made. There is great nostalgia about the County system but for T20 it simply doesn't deliver. And for two-innings cricket the cost/benefit analysis is completely negative. To have more professionals playing the four-day game in England than in the rest of the cricket world put together makes little sense! It doesn't even deliver consistent success in Test cricket and few in our Test squads play it at all! 

The model for County cricket might be to have a much reduced competition with fewer teams at a much reduced annual cost. This could be a pyramid with many  of the counties reverting to being predominantly amateur (like the current "Minor" counties) and with an elite group of no more than ten being fully professional clubs. The elite group might use the same venues as the T20 franchisees and, indeed, be the same businesses. Warwickshire might have an elite county team and a T20 franchise - the Birmingham Bears. (They county has already anticipated this in their current branding actually !).

Colin Graves is not the first ECB Chairman to find change difficult. His predecessor did not attempt to change the county system but focused, with some success, on the England teams. He was re-elected by the Counties because he looked after them. For Graves that is not an option. He must create a fit-for-purpose commercially-viable T20 competition legally disconnected from the old county system (though with some appropriate links to it). There must be no fudge. Once this is established he can then turn his attention to the two-innings game. But he must not allow cricket's affection for the traditional 18 County-based format of the latter to skew his judgment. As a Yorkshireman he shouldn't worry about the need to "follow the money" !








Monday, January 18, 2016

Saturday, January 09, 2016

English cricket needs to get its act together on T20 - or someone mightdo it for them !



Is T20 the monster that is devouring all other cricket in its path? The success of the IPL and the BBL and other city franchise based annual tournaments around the world suggests that it is. And when English cricket launches a similiar eight franchise tournament (as it inevitably will) in the English summer the process will be unstoppable. From April through September there is little cricket played in the world other than in the British Isles. A tournament involving, say,  six big city teams plus Ireland and Scotland would have the potential to be the best of all attracting all the top players from around the  world and of becoming the new heart of the English sporting summer. The BBL lasts just over four weeks. A similiar duration British tournament in, say, late July early August would boost cricket and provide spectacular entertainment. The matches of the BBL are sell-outs - a British equivalent would do the same. What's not to like ?

Well the problems are twofold. Firstly we play lots of Test Matches in the English summer. Seven this year . To accommodate a four week T20 event this would have to be reduced to four or five. Second there are the counties. The present 18 team (!) TwentyTwenty tournament in England is for the Counties. It has its moments of excitement but it is a poor old thing compared with the BBL and its like. We may have invented T20 in England but others have taken it and created models that work. In all cases these nations started again instead of trying to graft T20 onto their existing domestic cricket structure - structures  which were based on the very different three or four day two innings State or Regional model. England will have to do the same. And if that means fewer Test Matches and no county cricket for a month in the summer then so be it.

If a proper franchise based T20 system in Britain makes sense - but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) still won't do it - maybe there's a media mogul out there who will? Remember how the rebel Kerry Packer dragged International cricket kicking and screaming into the Twentieth century? And the IPL (official) only happened to forestall the Indian Cricket League (unofficial) who were the innovators. It would be quite possible for a Rupert Murdoch to do the same for English T20. As with World Series Cricket the matches might be played in some non-traditional venues but it could be done. Far better that the ECB gets its act together than that a commercially driven rebel calls the tune. But they need to get a move on ! 

Monday, November 02, 2015

It's the TV stupid!

Sport is so much about time and place. The Rugby World Cup Final on Saturday was well staged at Twickenham. But it wasn't just the gormless "singing" of "Swing Low" by a well-tanked contingent of England supporters which made me wish I was somewhere else. The Semi-finalists had all been from the Southern Hemisphere (deservedly so). So when we got to the final was the history and tradition of Twickenham going to add much to the experience? Not really. This was an Australasian affair and Twickenham seemed almost embarrassed to be hosting it. Though a competent job was done.

I'm writing this in Sharjah where I'm watching the Pakistan v England Test match. Should we be here? Of course not. We should be in Karachi or Lahore - we all know why we are not. In an empty ground the cricketers of both sides are engaged in proper cricket despite the soulessness of the venue. Well done them. But sport needs the spectators to care to work. At a full Twickenham many in Black or Grren and Gold did. But too many were there because they were there. And could afford to be. At Sharjah valiant bunches of England and Pakistan supporters occasionally try to make an impact -but their voices disappear into silence in this sepulchral venue.

For the TV it doesn't much matter where a contest takes place. I really doubt that the viewers of the Rugby final cared where it was being played. Similarly the TV viewers of this Test Match in London or Lahore I suspect neither know nor care where the ground is. It's the TV stupid.

Friday, August 07, 2015

A Black Swan sort of day at Trent Bridge

The point, of course, was that it isn't  just any old Test Match. For the first time this summer The Ashes are literally at stake. England wins the match - The Ashes are ours. Lose or draw and there's another chance at The Oval. For Australia a loss is terminal. Michael Clarke goes home without The Ashes. Again. The stakes could not be higher.

After the Toss Clarke sounded very down. He'd have bowled first and he didn't really hide his disappointment much. That was a state of mind that communicated itself instantly to all who heard it, not least his own team. The mindset was already defensive with the direct replacement of all-rounder Mitchell Marsh with his batsman brother Sean. That signalled concern about Australia's batting caused mainly, no doubt, by that first innings drubbing at Edgbaston. 

Perhaps there was a sense of injustice about having to cope with good bowlers on a greenish wicket under cloud cover and on a drizzly morning. But at this level that is part of the game. The luck evens itself out over time and you know that sometimes it's going to be tough. But you're the best in the world and that's what you're paid to do. At Edgbaston Clarke was bouncy after the Toss which he won and which, he no doubt expected, would allow Australia to build a substantial first day score. That didn't happen, and maybe that was the dent to confidence that led to yesterday's debacle. If you can't get a decent score when you expect to, and there's nobody to blame except yourselves, what chance can you have when you're put in and everyone expects a tricky morning. That's tricky as in 70-3, not tricky as in 60 all out in 111 balls though!

Confidence is almost everything in sport, especially in cricket. If you worry when you get to the crease you'll struggle. And that is contagious. Once Rogers and Smith and Warner were back in the hutch after just a few minutes play the mindset for the rest of the team must have been fearful. Courageous tough Aussies they may see themselves, unflinching and brave. But perhaps a misplaced sense of injustice combined with instant self-doubt turned them into something else. If you are fearful of losing you cannot win. The reverse applied to England of course. And remember that there is a duel going on between bowler and batsman and if the one feels confident and the other fearful there's only one outcome possible. 

Yesterday at Trent Bridge was a Black Swan sort of day. A once in 50 years day that gathered improbability as it unfolded until seen as a whole it was impossible. And yet it did actually happen. And when sport is like that we know why we always come back for more. Improbable though it may seem it just could happen again! 

Monday, July 20, 2015

The next in line to replace the failing Ian Bell? Our domestic system hasn't produced anyone!



We have the most extensive (and expensive) professional cricket structure in the world. Eighteen domestic clubs each with a fully professional squad of players (that's about 300 of them) coaches, grounds etc. etc etc. 

The Counties spend our money (see below) on too many talentless players, too many foreign imports, too many past-it time-servers. And, as we now see, trying to find a Test cricket prospect from this mob is unsurprisingly difficult. How many genuine international cricket prospects has this moribund system produced in recent years, bar Joe Root? Who is to be Ian Bell's replacement? Is Jos Buttler convincing as Matt Prior's? Or Moeen Ali as Graeme Swann's? Where are the successors to Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad? 

James Whitaker the Chairman of Selectors has a difficult job, one he does with difficulty, but he perhaps deserves some sympathy. The Counties pursue their own interests (mainly survival) and producing home grown talent is low down their list of priorities. Need an opening batsman? Nurture and develop one over the years in your youth system - or buy in a pre-made Kiwi or a Saffer whose looking to play some well-remunerated cricket in the English summer months ? They often take the easy option - and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) pays them to do it.

The hugely costly 18 County system would not exist, could not exist, without generous subsidy from the ECB. That's our money by the way. Our £100 per day Ashes tickets. Our Sky subscriptions... And that money is spent so ineptly that from the 300 professional cricketers it pays for very few are anything like international standard (the overseas players excepted of course). 

Revolution is necessary starting from the imperative that by far the most important requirement of a domestic cricket system is to produce players for the England teams. We are signally failing to do this with the current set up. Some counties have not one player in their squads of true international potential and haven't had one for years. Time for change.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Relentless and better led Australia on course for 4-1 Ashes series win




In their last three Test series, including the current one against Australia, England has gone one up and immediately lost the next Test for the series to be levelled. In the West Indies it was ignominious - the performance in Barbabdos was a disgrace and England slunk away without apologising to the 10,000 of us who travelled to watch them and deserved better. At Headingley against New Zealand they were better but ultimately pretty spineless and a defeat by 199 runs did not flatter the Kiwis. And this weekend at Lord's the depths were plumbed again the lost by 405 runs was England's sixth worst defeat ever against any opponent when chasing a total in the fourth innings.

These three successive serious reversals may of course be a coincidence, but I don't think so. The wins that preceded them were commendable. But far from the momentum being maintained the reversal was swift and complete. It may be that the Windies and New Zealand made an extra effort to try and get back after a defeat and there is  certainly no doubt that that is exactly what the Australians did. But England seem to be able to reverse the cliche of being "on a roll". Highs and lows are alternating worryingly. 

At Lord's we should take nothing at all away from Australia. They played with determination and skill and thoroughly deserved their victory. Their bowlers gave lie to the idea that the pitch was too flat and lifeless. And their batsman in application, technique and (mostly) commonsense were in a different dimension from England's (mostly) spineless bunch.

The heart of England's problems this year is with the top of the order. Here are the runs totals at which England's third wicket has fallen in their thirteen Test innings in 2015

34; 52; 164; 38; 18; 25; 74; 238; 62; 43; 73; 29; 12

That's an average of 66, boosted by the only two totals over 100. All too often when Root came in at number five England was in serious trouble. Bad batting which when you're up against an attack as good as Australia's was at Lord's creates a position from which a decent recovery is nigh on impossible.

England jettisoned their Coach after the Caribbean and by the time Trevor Bayliss arrived there were some positive signs. The win in Cardiff was praiseworthy but the loss at Lord's will have given him food for thought. Lyth, Bell and Ballance look vulnerable but it would perhaps be a bit panicky to drop all three. Buttler doesn't look safe either and, Broad aside, it's hard to make a persuasive case for the rest of the attack. Say it softly but Anderson was ordinary at Lord's and Wood and Stokes won't be giving the Aussies any sleepless nights. It won't happen but I would replace Cook as Captain. He's frankly very ordinary - let him concentrate on his batting. Bayliss hasn't got the authority to do that but if he's going to recommend braveness now is the time to do it! 

I rarely make sporting predictions. So my gut feel that the series will be won 4-1 by Australia is not a forecast. We will see. But at the moment Cardiff looks to be the aberration, not Lord's 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Supporters of great Clubs like Tottenham Hotspur are stakeholders with rights. The Club directors need to acknowledge this better.

Sports have a wide variety of stakeholders at the international, national and the Club level. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but how many at the top of sporting bodies really care about those of us at the bottom of the food chain? That's us, by the way, the poor bloody spectators.

Take FIFA (actually please DO take FIFA and incinerate it). How much do you imagine Sepp Blatter and his bunch of crooks think about you and me? Maybe collectively as ticket purchasers or consumers of their sponsors' products. But as individuals who have a stake in their sport? Nah!

Or take two Clubs of which I am a member - both in North London but separated by a bit more than the difference between Westminster and Haringey. The Marylebone Cricket Club (M.C.C.) and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (the mighty "Spurs").
Spurs have home crowds of around 36,000 and MCC about 8,000 less on a big day. If you have a season ticket at Spurs or are a member at Lord's there will be around 20-21 thousand of you who are unequivocally "stakeholders" in the Clubs. And yet, when it comes to the crunch, what role or rights do we have. For years now I have been an activist trying to get some sense in the strategic management of MCC, of which I am a member. See this for example. At Spurs I have been less active and yet the same deficiencies of process are there. Above all there is a lack of respect shown by those in charge for supporters and members like me.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) is, as they describe it,  “a formal, democratic, non-profit organisation run by fans for fans.” It’s purpose  is “…to help fans to join together and strengthen their influence over the way their club is run, and to improve the links between their club and the community it serves.” It is well-structured and well-managed but it is clear that it feels that the Club, with whom it meets quite regularly, regards it with suspicion. This has led to an unwillingness on the part of Chairman Daniel Levy and his Board to be open with the Trust – holding their cards very close to their chests at all times.

The key current issue (away from the playing side) is to do with the new Stadium. The construction of a new Ground virtually on the same site as the present one is an ambitious project and one that has dominated much of the day-to-day life of the Tottenham directors for years. On the face of it they have done a good job, not least the clever acquisition of land and property around the current ground. When this was going on it is not unreasonable to argue that secrecy and confidentiality was essential. But now that this phase is over why does the secrecy go on?

Let’s look at the key variables of the new stadium;

Planning permission: This is pretty much assured. THFC is already the single largest employer in the London Borough of Haringey and plays an active part in the community. The new Stadium will adds jobs and is massively net positive financially to the Borough. The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has also been supportive. There is no reason why the Club should not be open with the THST  and the fans on planning matters.

Financing and Ownership: The £400m required to build the new stadium is serious money and, as we know, capital projects in sport have a tendency to have heavy cost overruns. Remember Wembley! Along with this there is a need to be open about the sources of funds. When there were hints that the State of Qatar might be involved I'm sure that I was not the only Spurs fan horrified by the idea. Qatar and football is a toxic mix and the last thing that  Spurs need is these particular Sheikhs involved in N17. This is a matter that the Club must discuss with the THST. They haven't, and supporters are in the dark about what is going on. Who owns our club matters to us and we have a right to be involved.

Where do we play during construction? During the 2017/2018 season home matches will have to be played away from N17 as the construction of the new stadium progresses. There is quite a wide range of options including Upton Park, the Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Wembley – even a ground share deal with Arsenal at Emirates (I quite like this idea but tend not to mention it when with fellow Spurs fans. Or Arsenal ones for that matter!). There is also the possibility of using the MK Dons ground in Milton Keynes which is 55 miles from London!  None of these options is ideal or in some cases even possible it seems. The point is that on this matter the club should be having open discussions with fans, ideally via the THST. Tottenham fans are loyal and no doubt if we have to we will trek to Milton Keynes. But is this really the best option? Let’s discuss the alternatives. Maybe some of us might have a bright idea or two?

Tottenham Hotspur is a great club and the concerns of fans like me is not intended to be disruptive or petty. But we are stakeholders and we do pay with our ticket purchases and our membership a lot for the privilege of supporting the Spurs. We deserve more than secrecy and shadow-boxing, more than partial and skewed information, more than being patted on the head and told all will be well.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

When charges of corruption in sport are made what should a commercial sponsor do? A personal story.




Fifteen years ago I was responsible for Shell's sponsorship of the Sharjah cricket tournament. It was, in the context of big global sponsorships, small beer. But in the Middle East and especially because of TV  coverage in South Asia, it was a valuable commercial activity where the returns well exceeded the modest cost.

As a cricket nut I personally enjoyed the close involvement I had with the sport and, particularly, the relationship the sponsorship gave me with cricketers and the media. From Sachin Tendulkar and Richie Benaud downwards! But this close contact, especially with cricket writers and commentators, meant that I soon learned that all at Sharjah was not what it seemed to be. In 2001, when I was still in the Middle East and responsible for the sponsorship, Jonathan Agnew the BBC Cricket Correspondent said this:

"Sharjah has been pinpointed as being the centre of this activity [match fixing] and, again, this is entirely plausible. I. would swear under oath that two of the dozen or so matches I have witnessed on that desert ground over the years were fixed: both of them by Pakistan."

What Agnew was saying was the same as others close to events had been telling me "in confidence" for a while. So what should I do? Shell's support of the tournament was in itself perfectly respectable and above board. The allegations of questionable practices at Sharjah were just that - allegations. I did nothing. Later the Condon enquiry into corruption in cricket whilst not giving Sharjah a clean bill of health in 2002 did report that:

"They have implemented whatever we recommended. I am happy with the measures taken here (Sharjah) to prevent silly access to potential corrupters," 

My own view is that there was something of a cover up going on for reasons that are unclear. Certainly the focus on "corrupters" - referring to Sub-Continent illegal bookmakers - was only part of the problem. To fix a match or events within a match you need more than crooked bookies - you need crooked players and/or officials as well ! From 2003 for seven years no more One Day Internationls were played at Sharjah which may be a coincidence, or it may not ! 

For a commercial sponsor, as those of FIFA are now finding, mud can stick if what you sponsor is of questionable integrity. But it is not as easy as it might seem. Sharjah was not a significant problem for Shell or the other sponsors - but it could have been. Should I have pulled the plug as soon I was aware of the allegations? On reflection I probably should have...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New boy Wood fails to trouble Kiwis

It is not uncommon for bowlers new to international cricket to trouble batsmen in their early matches. Debutant Henry took four wickets in England's first innings and only just missed getting on the famous Lord's honours boards at his first attempt. But Mark Wood blazed no such trail yesterday. The "high spot" was the dismissal of Guptill off what after an umpires' review turned out to be a no ball. Otherwise it was a competent but wicketless debut for the Durham seamer who conceded nearly five runs an over and rarely looked threatening.

The Kiwis top four is as good as it gets and there will be more difficulties for Wood and the rest of the England attack today one suspects. The trials of Wood, and the disappointing debut by Lyth on the first day, show up two of England's real problems before The Ashes. We don't have an opening pair at the moment - a concern made more acute by Cook's poor recent form (that one innings in Barbados aside). The Trott experiment was a daft failure and Lyth (if it is to be him) has just three Test innings at most before he faces Mitchell Johnson. As far as England's attack is concerned the Aussies won't be shaking in fear with only Anderson truly world class at present. Broad's bowling hasn't fallen away as much as his batting, but he caused the Kiwis few problems yesterday. Ali is work in progress. Stokes is lively but inconsistent and Wood adds nothing over and above Jordan who he replaced.

Today England may turn the match around and even get a first innings lead - but it's unlikely. More likely is that New Zealand get sufficient runs to put England under real pressure in their second innings - and sadly we know from all too recent evidence what that can lead to !

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Too many layers at the ECB - the job Andrew Strauss is going to is unnecessary



In my Shell days one of the sometimes fashionable policy imperatives was "de-layering". Essentially the idea was that if you removed layers in the hierarchy it improved efficiency and the quality of decision-making. It generally worked as more empowered people were more motivated and their job satisfaction was higher. It forced delegation and removed some of the exercising of "Position Power" by which empires were built. The fewer the layers the faster the communications and the quicker the decisions. 

Which brings me to England cricket. Here is a simplified representation of the recent vertical hierarchy of the ECB:


1. Chairman (Giles Clarke)
2. Chief Executive (David Collier)
3. Managing Director (Paul Downton)
4. Team Director (aka Head Coach) (Peter Moores)
5. Team Captain Alastair Cook 

The personnel have changed/are changing  and we understand that Andrew Strauss is being brought into the job at 3 vacated by the sacked Downton. Tom Harrison is now in the job at 2 and Colin Graves in the top job at 1. It remains to be seen whether there will be changes at 4. and 5. as well.

Personalities play a part of course. Clarke was authoritarian and very much in charge. He took all the key decisions (including, almost certainly, that to sack Kevin Pietersen). So what do they all do - and do we need such a heavily layered structure at all? My contention has always been that the job at 3
. is superfluous. If you have a good Chief Executive and a good Head Coach why do you need a layer in-between them? Surely Strauss, a player and with no significant coaching experience, can add little to what Moores  (or whoever) does? Similarly he has no real commercial experience and has never run a business so what use in these areas is he likely to be to a skilled CEO such as Collier or now Harrison? Downton, who did have that experience, floundered so it is hard to see how Strauss can succeed. Too many chiefs is a bad policy leading to confsed accountability and decision-making. Itseems  that the ECB is perpetrating its mistake. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

England cricket needs to put on a Happy Face

Well how was it for you my fellow sufferers here in Barbados - all ten thousand of you? You battled to get flights and a hotel and tickets. And paid a lot for all three. You dressed up loyally in the gear to go to the Kensington Oval. You shouted yourself hoarse, cooling your tonsils from time to time with a can of Banks. And for what? To see one of the most spineless and incompetent England cricket debacles of all time. And when it was all so quickly over, when young Blackwood hit the runs that gave the West Indies a deserved victory at the end of the third day, what next? Maybe, like me, you expected a few words of acknowledgment and an apology form England Captain Alastair Cook. You know something like "A big thank you to all the fans for their great support, I'm sorry we let you down". Wouldn't have been too much to ask would it? Didn't happen of course. 

At the beginning of this three match Series England was third in the ICC Team rankings and the West Indies eighth. No contest surely? But the Windies fought hard to draw in Antigua, played well in Grenada before Anderson blew them away - and recovered from a 68 run first innings deficit  in Barbados to win. Now let's be clear. The Windies No. 8 ranking is about right. With defections to the IPL they are short of top class players and those that they have like Chanderpaul and Roach are out of form or injured. They are a second rank side. Keen, trying hard but way, way short of the top teams. So where does that leave England?

On the showing in this series, and especially in Barbados, England has two genuinely world class cricketers in Root and Anderson. One promising newcomer in Ballance. And three former greats who are still struggling to recover consistent form - Cook, Bell and Broad. Buttler shows promise - especially when he is freed up to play his natural game. The rest? None has emerged in this series as worth his place at this level. Cook's captaincy and general leadership is sub-standard. There was a time yesterday afternoon when the team looked listless and their body language was awful. And at that time an energetic motivated side could well still have won the match.

So what now? I cannot see this England team having a cat in hell's chance of regaining The Ashes or, indeed, of beating New Zealand. When a couple of years ago Australia was in similiar straights they took drastic action, sacked their data obsessed coach, and brought in the motivating Darren Lehmann. That is the minimum England must do. Moores must go. Cook's depressing period as Captain must surely also end. Lets set a realistic target like Lehmann did. Play well. Play with guts. Make your supporters proud of you. Hit hard when its right to, defend stoutly when necessary (The West Indies Blackwood did just that). If you lost the Ashes series (say) 3-1 that will be a result. Build with a Coach, Captain and players who remember cricket is the greatest game in the world and its fun. To play and to watch. Let's put on a happy face!

Grey skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.



Saturday, May 02, 2015

Two second-rate teams battling to see which of them can be condemned as third-rate.

245 Runs, 77.5 Overs, 18 Wickets

It wasn't even a full day. Yes in a macabre sort of way it was exciting, but it was a far removed from proper Test cricket as it's possible to imagine. At the end of the day two second-rate teams were battling to see which of them can be condemned as third rate. I've no idea. England, woefully 39-5 after 21 overs should lose from here. But don't put it beyond the West Indies to contrive to lose either. If we look back over the two days there have been three performances of proper Test quality from the 22 players. Cook batted well in England's first innings. Blackwood the same in that of the Windies. And Jimmy Anderson bowled wonderfully well in taking 6-42. Terrific skill. That's it. Some of the rest of the batting   and bowling was briefly alright. But much of it was at best inconsistent and most of it was dross. Trott should not have been there. Bell lost any sympathy that his feeble "pair" might have generated when he let his ego refer an lbw that was plumb. Samuels did the same. The slow left armer Permaul bowled 20 overs of filth and conceded 86 runs. Ali and Root between them bowled an excruciating 19 overs of village green spin for 90 runs. 

In England's first knock three players played innings of some merit - eight did not. In the Windies first knock Blackwood was the sole player to score more than 25. For the West Indies to take five England wickets this afternoon was not because there was an Anderson-type great spell of bowling. The wickets were shared between four bowlers. It was because England batted like frightened chickens and the Windies thought "Hey, we've got these dummies on the run" - and they had!

Apparently 10,000 of us came to Barbados for this match from England. We are having a wonderful time in this friendliest of nations and enjoying the sunshine. And, as I said, the cricket has been exciting. Maybe tomorrow the two teams will remember that they are playing a Test Match. But frankly the signs are not good. The Windies soon face Australia here in the Caribbean. They'll be taken apart. As will England by both Antipodean visitors this summer. Unless a miracle happens. Dont hold your breath.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A joyful evening celebrating the success of Barbados Cricket Club "Wanderers" young stars


In an excellent article in The Times today Mike Atherton describes the continued importance of clubs in Barbados cricket with special reference to Wanderers who had an event last night to celebrate their locally produced stars. When researching my biography of West Indies Test player John Shepherd I came across stories about the racially based divide in club cricket in the island which was present in Shepherd's youth in the 1950s  - and beyond. I wrote this:

"The Barbados Cricket Association was under the management of the white "planter-merchant" wealthy elite... and included clubs such as Wanderers...which had been founded on racial grounds and remained selective on the grounds of colour until such discrimination was prohibited by law after 1957" .

 In fact the date of independence (1966) was probably more important that the legislative change as it was only then that Barbadians began to feel free of the centuries old domination of the white master. The celebrations at Wanderers last night were of course mixed with both the traditions of the Club's long history being well represented. The great Tony Cozier, himself a white Bajan of course, presided over part of the proceedings and was quite tearful when celebrating not just the achievement but the potential of young Jason 
Holder scored his maiden Test century a couple of weeks ago in Antigua but had a nasty fall when bowling at Greneda and seemed a doubt for tomorrow's Test match. I asked him if he'll play - I think he will. He is a modest, impressive young man. Massively tall andhighly articulate   I think a future West Indies captain.  Another Test-playing young graduate of Wanderers was also present - Chris Jordan. And that is quite a story!

I spoke to many people who helped Jordan was he was a promising young cricketer and later when he had a full season with Wanderers. At 15 Jordan was offered a place at Dulwich College where under Bill Athey's coaching he progressed swiftly. He is now, of course, in the England team. Chris despite some British roots on his grandmother's side is a Bajan. And he was clearly proud to be back at Wanderers and to receive an award alongside Jason Holder. I spoke to many at the Club about Jordan's decision to qualify and play for England rather than the West Indies. Nobody was critical, and pride was the dominant position they took. The people of Barbados love their country, and support the Windies. But when one of them plays not for the country of his birth and parentage it doesnt seem to bother them one bit!

Wanderers today is the best of cricket. Enthusiastic, volunteer led and of course completely undiscriminatory. That said I was told that the younger white Bajans joining the Club prefer to play football rather than cricket. If this is typical across the island and across the West Indies it may explain why hardly any white West Indians have made it to representative level for a long time.




Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A scenario for Engalnd's cricket recovery can be written. But it needs a change of cast.

So Kevin Pietersen is turning his back on the riches of the Indian Premier League in order to play County cricket in a bid to regain his England place. One of the more crass responses to Pietersen's autobiography was that by the brothers Swann who suggested that KP's book and its controversial content was a bid by him to make money. That he did make money from the book is not in question. But the idea that that was the only motivation in "writing" it is not true. That motivation was to, as he saw it, put the record straight. That there have been no threats of legal action by the ECB or any individual since the book's publication suggests that the lawyers did a good job in ensuring that the stories in the book were evidentially backed.

KP will earn comparative peanuts with Surrey. The IPL is where the big money is and Pietersen has declined it. He can afford to, of course, but in pursuing his improbable ambition to put on an England shirt again he is driven by motives other than those pecuniary. He wants to stuff it to those that discarded and traduced him. Of these at the ECB Giles Clarke is on his way and David Collier has gone. Their replacements seem to take a different view over England's wayward star.

But KP is far from home and dry. Standing in his way are Peter Moores (again) and Alastair Cook. The former must surely be on his bike. England has declined from hopeless losers to laughing stock under his second coming and he cannot survive. Cook is different. A few years ago Cook was flirting with greatness as a batsman - then he had the captaincy thrust upon him and it all went belly up. Failure as ODI Captain led to his replacement, not that that made any difference to the ODI team's hopelessness. But he is still a young man and someone with his proven batting talent cannot be lightly discarded. 

A scenario under which Alastair Cook, no longer Captain but rejuvenated batsman, joins Kevin Pietersen in a new style England team is attractive. Their experience along with Bell and the impressive Root and other younger players like Buttler, Ali and perhaps Ballance could work - so long as the bowlers recover form. But who would coach and captain such a side? That's where the scenario falters!






Sunday, March 01, 2015

Triumphant England will progress to Cricket World Cup Quarter-Finals

As I pointed out in my last Sports Blog despite losing to Si Lanka England will probably still make the Quarter-Finals by finishing fourth in Pool "A" by beating Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Assuming, that is, that the other Pool matches go as expected as well. The one uncertain match in the Pool (barring a major upset) is Sri Lanka versus Australia. The outcome of that match doesn't matter much but let's assume that Australia with home advantage in Sydney wins it. In that case the final Pool points will be as follows:

New Zealand 12
Australia 9
Sri Lanka 8
England 6
Bangladesh 5
Afghanistan 2
Scotland 0

Whether you feel England has done enough to make the Quarter-Finals is up to you! But they'll probably be there.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Australia v New Zealand, like most of the 42 "Pool" stage matches in the Cricket World Cup, is non-competitive.




"Tomorrow we'll be two long weeks into the Cricket World Cup and excitement is at fever pitch as the two best sides in the tournament prepare to play one another in Auckland." NOT!

Australia and New Zealand will face one another at Eden Park. And as always with clashes of the two rivals from across the Tasman Sea local pride will make the result matter. Sort of. But in the context of the Tournament the outcome is irrelevant. As have been the results of most of the matches so far. Both of tomorrow's teams are guaranteed a place in the Quarter Finals - and that has been the case from the start of the World Cup. The world's top teams have only had to make sure that they do not slip up against one of the "minnows" to ensure that they get into the knockout stage when the proper competition starts. (That's on 18th March, by the way when the first Quarter Final takes place. The 43rd game in the tournament !). 

There has been one "slip up" so far - Ireland's fine win against the West Indies. Could the Irish upset the odds and qualify from Pool "B" ? It's certainly possible that they could be facing Pakistan in the final pool stages match with the winner taking all. But that is the only possible shock outcome and my money would still be on the likelihood that the pre-destined outcome of the eight quarter-finalists being Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England (from Pool "A") and India, West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan (from Pool "B"). 

England could well lose to Sri Lanka on Saturday (their third defeat out of four) and still qualify for the Q/F by beating Afghanistan and Bangladesh to add to their win over Scotland. That's the fix of the tournament. It makes virtually every match of the 42 Pool matches non-competitive. This hasn't been a World Cup at all it's been a Festival of Cricket. And very nice too you might say. But should the media and the sponsors really be calling the tunes? India HAD to be in the final stages to keep the money men happy and if you are going to fix that you might as well fix it for the other big boys as well. The two hosts. England (the second biggest commercial money-spinner after India) and so on. 

We the public are being fooled by being told that matches like Australia v New Zealand matter. And no doubt both sides will be doing their best to win. But will there be a real cutting edge and will the spectators in Auckland and around the world be on the edges of their seats biting their nails with anxiety about the outcome? Nah

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our politicians as Brands - there's no "Apple" there !



Back in 1960 JFK was seen as the first to market himself as a "Brand". Not sure he was really, but he was certainly "made" by some slick brand marketing. Here in the UK we don't have a President (boo, we should !) but we have had some powerful personal brands (Wilson, Thatcher, Blair in modern times). So what about now? Here's a personal list of some of the best, and worst of today's lot.

1. Boris Johnson. Easily our strongest personal political brand. Wide appeal. Meets the criterion of the "Love Brand" - you forgive him his mistakes. "Boris" is "Coke" - instantly recognisable. Not the "Real Thing" - but then nor is Coca Cola. 

2. Nigel Farage. Brands need strong visual symbols. Farage has that. The pint and the fag. The grin. He is the quintessential "Marmite" brand and like that product if you like him, you like him and if not you hate him. His appeal is strong, but limited. Like "Boris" he is forgiven his mistakes. But once you've made up your mind one way or another you are unlikely to change. 

3. Ken Clarke. A bete noir of the Tory Right but Ken has the ability to appeal across the political spectrum which is unusual today (Thatcher and Blair had it). Ken is 74 and has missed any chance of Number 10 and knows it. But he keeps on trucking. He has a hinterland (Jazz, beer, cricket...) which makes him interesting where others are not. Fading a bit but still admired. Marks and Spencer.

4. Gordon Brown. Strong identity, Scottish, proud, achiever but deeply flawed. Gordon is the "Royal Bank of Scotland". Still around, but you wonder why. Once very powerful but now at best tolerated - at worst a symbol of failure. Unfair, of course. But that's it with brands. Once they're shot they're shot.

5. Tony Blair. Someone who once was. A brand once the runaway leader that has now fallen spectacularly from grace and is struggling to re-establish itself. Hubris led to pride before the fall and it won't be easy to recover, indeed it may be impossible. Blair is Tesco. The shelves are still stocked, but nobody wants to go there. 

6. Theresa May. May has a strong visual identity and is underpinned by self-confidence but is rather gaffe prone. Unlike Boris (some see him as a rival) she is not forgiven her mistakes, rare though they may be. Most of the time she delivers but when she has a bumpy landing or cancels a flight she is not forgiven. Theresa May is British Airways. 

7. David Cameron. "Call me Dave" has what all brands need - a solid technical product. The bits and pieces of politics, like public speaking, he does well. But it is hard to like him because beneath the solid surface you have no idea what he really stands for. Not because he doesn't tell you, but because you don't believe him. He is superficially the archetypical political professional but it's a veneer. Underneath that veneer you don't trust him. Cameron is BP - and riding for a fall like they did. 

8. Ed Milliband. Ed is nice, capable but hugely maligned. His most commonly used descriptor "Red Ed" is a negative jibe and his most familiar visual symbol, Wallace of "Wallace and Gromitt", was also given to him by his enemies. His own brand identity is taking a long time to emerge and his sponsors are struggling to do it. He is the opposite of Cameron - you do mostly know what he stands for (decent performance and a lack of Flashiness) - for but there is no overwhelmingly strong brand identity to sustain him. He is worthy, and decent but finds it hard to defend himself when under attack. Ed is a Skoda on "Top Gear".  

More to come ? Let me know...! Do we have an "Apple" manqué ?