Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who is responsible for the corpse of England cricket?

Events of the last few months, which has seen England cricket descend into a shambolic mess, almost defy comment or parody. If we forensically try and identify the guilty party I suspect that it will turn out to be rather like “Murder on the Orient Express” where it transpired that everyone had killed the victim and there was no single culprit. But in keeping with the mood of these difficult economic times, when most of us point the finger at the well-heeled fat cats at the top of the pile as being to blame for the mess we are in, I personally have no hesitation in naming the Chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Giles Clarke as the main reason for our cricket malaise.

Clarke must go
Rants passim have covered Clarke’s elitism (he referred to those with no access to satellite TV as “less fortunate members of society”) ignorance (which led to the nonsense of Stanford), and complacency (he has failed completely to get to the heart of English cricket’s problems with reform of the unsustainable county structure). To this list we can now add gross insensitivity. Clarke sits on top of a hierarchy but seems to have no feelings for the inter-personal issues down the line – Vaughan, Collingwood, Moores, and Pietersen. And he can’t opt out by saying, as he did, that the coach/captain spat was "… a matter for Hugh Morris". The buck doesn’t stop with Mr Morris or even Morris’s boss David Collier. It stops with Clarke - and he better wake up to the fact soon. For the first time in living memory the flagship BBC current affairs programme Newsnight covered the English cricket disarray – and Clarke should have been there to face up to Jeremy Paxman and tell it as the ECB saw it - not leave it to his predecessor but one Lord MacLaurin.

England’s Ashes chances have been weakened
You are left numb by all the shenanigans and the conclusion that you come to is that England cricket has some sort of death wish. Shane Warne said shortly before the hurricane hit Lord’s that if “If England play well and win a couple of series …then I think you’ve got a real good chance and [The Ashes] should be one hell of a series”. But now, whilst Australia certainly struggled a bit at home they seem reborn in South Africa with some startlingly good new young players. Who would now confidently bet on England regaining The Ashes this summer? With KP in charge (and I mean IN CHARGE) I would have been reasonably confident. Whilst he is a different character in many ways from Graeme Smith he shares his fellow South African’s will to win and bloody-mindedness. Just what you need successfully to take on Ricky Ponting – as Smith has so recently shown. Andrew Strauss is a good bloke and a fine cricketer. But I don’t expect to see him in Ponting’s face in the same way that KP would have been and my guess is that Punter will not be quaking in his boots at the prospect of facing Straussy.

The Establishment versus the maverick captains.
Over the years there has always been a struggle in England selection circles between the competing claims of the more establishment figures and the riskier but bullish appeal of the less respectful and non-conformist captains. Colin Cowdrey (Tonbridge and Oxford) versus Ray Illingworth (Pudsey and the University of Life). Mike Brearley versus Tony Greig. Mike Atherton versus Nasser Husain and so on. For the ECB to take the risk of appointing Kevin Pietersen was surprising – that they failed to manage him and ditched him pretty unceremoniously after only five months is not.

Trying to cheer up
My usually sunny disposition has been dealt a blow recently and I’m sure that this is some thing that I share with most of my blogs knowledgeable readers. So as we go around with our countenances dull I suspect that for most of us it is more in sorrow than in anger. I’m angry that just when it seemed we would be safe to go back into the stands to watch a brave and buoyant England take on the old enemy under a leader with charisma and style instead we will start on the back foot. The performances in the West Indies have shown what happens when you have shambles at the top - the lack of spine, focus and intent has been deplorable. I’ll never forgive Giles Clarke for so incompetently and thoughtlessly landing us in this almighty mess. I wonder if he really cares?

Grounds for concern
Somewhat lost in the deluge of publicity about the England captaincy and coach was the announcement from the ECB about the allocation of Test matches to grounds in the future. This included the statement that Lord’s will not automatically get even one Test match per year from 2012. This came as a bolt out of the blue to the Marylebone Cricket Club and if followed through it will scupper their redevelopment plans completely. These plans, which would have seen significant investment and a substantial increase in seating capacity, were predicated on Lord’s having at least one Test match per year - plus some of the other big occasions such One Day Internationals and domestic finals as at present.

One of the many good things in Williams Buckland’s excellent book “Pommies” was his contention that one of the things that holds England cricket back is the low capacity of our main cricket grounds compared with the Aussies. Australia’s smallest ground Perth is bigger for Ashes matches than England’s largest, the current Lord’s. The redevelopment of Lord’s would have a least meant that we have one decent -sized ground but that now looks unlikely to happen. Buckland recommended that we should have fewer but much bigger international grounds – the ECB looks to be going for the exact opposite and no doubt if Giles Clarke gets his way we’ll have a Ashes Test match at Taunton in 2013 - his predecessor David Morgan shamelessly got one for Cardiff this year after all!. Morgan’s fellow member of the Taffia, Hugh Morris, explained the ECB’s thinking: "It's important for people in different parts of the country to see cricket.”. Indeed it is Hugh boyo – and the best way to do that is to get bigger grounds - and to get International cricket back on terrestrial television!

An earlier version of this blog appeared in the cricket fanzine Yes, No, Sorry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Meet John Shepherd at Tunbridge Wells

Kent CCSC members have a special opportunity to renew acquaintance with Kent stalwart and favourite John Shepherd on the first day of the County Championship match versus Essex on Tuesday June 16th.

Paddy Briggs (a Kent CCSC member) has written a biography of Shep and it is being published in early June. Both Paddy and Shep himself will be in the Supporters Club Marquee at lunchtime on the first day of the match to meet members and to sign copies of the book which will be on sale.