Monday, December 30, 2013

A brief sad rant about the decline of Test cricket...

Follow the money. If you are a young talented cricketer you will go where the cash is. So off to one or more of the T20 competitions. If your country also wants you for the odd Limited Overs game as well all to the good. And the World Cups will help you promote your personal brand. But Test cricket which few outside England and (sometimes) Australia and India watch? Little reward. Takes too long. Bit of a bore really. T20 will kill Test cricket when it isn't just a lucrative pre retirement opportunity for aging stars but the game of choice for the bright young things. We are nearly there.....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The three lions must be looking away in embarrassment

Victory, as they say, has many fathers whereas failure is an orphan. England’s comprehensive failure in The Ashes in Australia will have plenty of people ducking for cover. For the players there has been nowhere to hide and they should have our sympathy. I do not believe that skilled professionals would play as badly as they have without there being some seriously good reasons. Lets try and explore what they are.

First the whole idea of “Back-to-back” Ashes was a lemon. I don’t buy the “scheduling” reason given by ECB Cricket. Other options existed to avoid the Cricket World Cup fixture clash but Giles Clarke and Co. plumped for the one that they saw as bringing in the maximum short-term revenues. The Ashes is the Golden Goose and the laying of golden eggs for ten Test matches in a row in little more than half a year was just too tempting to ignore. The ECB needs money to keep the hugely overblown County system afloat (18 Counties – three times as many “top” domestic teams as any other Test country!). And Sky of course obliged, as they do, and paid up their fees. Bad money going after bad you might say.

Next England were not as good as the Media hype suggested and the Australians nowhere near as bad. This isn't hindsight. At the end of the Summer series I analysed the five matches session by session. My judgment was that Australia won 27 of the 62 sessions, England 26 and that nine were drawn. The Aussies could well have won at Nottingham, should have won at Manchester (the weather saved England) and might well have triumphed at Durham where an inspired spell of bowling by Stuart Broad was the only difference between the sides. They were blown away at Lord’s – though even there they had their moments. A fair result would have been a drawn series with England retaining The Ashes.

It was an irritable and often downright unpleasant summer Ashes and the players of both sides behaved badly at times. The DRS confusions, poor umpiring, sledging and even urinating on the pitch suggests that the “Spirit of Cricket” wasn't too high on the agenda! And I haven't even mentioned Warner and Root !

In the summer the ECB ran a hubristic promotional campaign that was at best counter-productive and at times downright sick-making. The whole “Rise for the Ashes” was an unnecessary bit of vulgar hype:

Jerusalem was sung every day (except at Lord’s where England seemed to manage OK without it). And the depths were plumbed in the First Test at lunch, with Australia 291-9 chasing 311, when singer Sean Ruane launched into "You Raise Me Up" followed by "Rule Britannia" and finally "Land of Hope and Glory". It was cringe-making and in the long run counter-productive.

Sean Ruane during the lunch interval final day Trent Bridge

All this hype had little effect on England’s performance (as Lord’s suggests) but it must have irritated the Australians beyond belief. So much so that when they got England back on Aussie soil the wounds of the summer were far from healed. They wanted revenge – and frankly who can blame them. Shane Warne summarised the mood  in a Tweet once it became clear that that revenge was near:



During the summer I felt that there was little between the sides and I said so. One or two fine bowling performers (Anderson at Trent Bridge, Broad at Durham, Swann at Lord’s) and some solid batting from Ian Bell covered up some pretty ordinary England cricket. Only Bell averaged over 40 and the bowling was at times unpenetrative. Four of the top six run scorers were Australian and three of the top six wicket-takers.

If there was little between the sides in the summer the difference was a bit of luck (always the twelfth man of course) and one or two moments of inspiration. Australia did not do themselves justice batting as a unit only reaching 300 or more in two innings (to England’s six). But they had their moments – and their bowling was pretty good, especially Harris and Siddle. Overall when they were good they were very good – but just a bit too often they were awful.

The rivalry between England and Australia at cricket doesn't need extra hype – certainly not the uber-hype that the ECB launched. The verbals on and off the field went over-the-top as well. So when the Aussies got back home I can imagine that there was some soul-searching. Whilst they could not believe they were robbed in the summer they were certainly hard done by. England on the other hand must have known that they rather got away with it and that they were certainly not 3-0 (nearly 4-0) better then their opponents.

The Ashes in Australia has been a triumph for the Aussies and they thoroughly deserve to have regained the urn. I have never seen an England side in any sport so deflated as they now seem. These are technically very good players whose minds are scrambled and who are like shell-shocked soldiers in the front line. They don't want to be there and when they go over the top the chances are that their bravado will be immediately punished by an Australian side with a great flair for attack and a solid sense of when to defend. The England players have not suddenly become donkeys led by donkeys, though the three lions on their chests must looking away in embarrassment a bit. A less leonine England I cannot recall. Its sad.    

Saturday, December 14, 2013

SPOTY - Inward-looking, often maudlin, sometimes downright embarrassing...

I'm not struggling to get my head around Andy Murray's decision to stay away from SPOTY at all, as an article by Giles Smith in today's Times newspaper suggested I would be. I do struggle with the idea that the award is, in the article writer's words, "a pinnacle" of anything. The beanfeest  is a bit of fun - worth watching on a cold winter's night if you've nothing better to do. But the outcomes are arbitrary - akin to asking the public to vote for Camembert versus Creme Brûlée versus Tripe and Onions. All worthy foods no doubt - but one better than the other? Nah!

Last year Bradley Wiggins was a worthy winner. But so would Mo Farah, or Jessica Ennis or a dozen others have been. For all of them their "pinnacle" was winning whatever they won. SPOTY more of a pinnacle than two Olympic Gold Medals? Are you having a laugh?

SPOTY is quintessentially British and there's nothing wrong with that. But if Mr Murray has better things to do that's his call - and frankly none of anybody's business. Like other uniquely British institutions - our Royal events and obsessions, Remembrance Sunday and the rest - there is a sense of obligation that we have to stand in line and salute. And there is an overwheening sentimentality underpinning them as well. We might shrug our shoulders and, anything for a quiet life, buy the bull for a day. Most of us do. But when somebody says "Stuff that for a game of soldiers" (or, as in Murray's case suggests by his absence that that might be his view) we have no right to criticise. 

SPOTY is a bit of fun for many. It's not the Nobel prize, or an Oscar. It's an inward-looking, often maudlin, sometimes downright embarrassing TV event. To take it uber-seriously as The Times article does is giving it a status way beyond anything it deserves. Nobody is obliged to watch it even less to revere it. Including Andy Murray. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

England has been beaten by hubris, and their scrambled minds.

A brilliant bowling performance, like Stuart Broad at Durham in the summer and Mitchell Johnson in the first innings at Adelaide can win a Test match. A remarkable innings can do the same. But these are the exceptions. In the main matches are won or lost because one team collectively gets it together better than the other. If you want to understand why England is 0-2 down in this Ashes series it's not Johnson's heroics you need to study. It's who has won the mind game. Take England's second innings in the second Test. Cook and Carberry both gifted their wickets with dreadful shots within twelve overs. They weren't defeated by better bowling - they were defeated by their own scrambled minds. The fact that later some others in the England innings batted well on a benign pitch shows how foolish those gifted wickets at the top of the order were.

Confidence is the key. The teams that keep on winning are those that believe they can. The teams that struggle are those that look as if they don't want to be on the Park at all. That's been England since they arrived in Australia. They know that they were lucky to win the summer series 3-0 (nearly 4-0). Cool analysis shows this series score to have been a travesty. England (just) deserved to retain The Ashes in the summer - but over the five matches they were only marginally the better team. The players on both sides know this and it is Australia who took confidence from it not England. The Aussie motivation was surely "Mates we were bloody unlucky in England. We know we're better than that. In front of our own fans let's show the Poms we are". Meanwhile the English must have felt, whether they spoke it or not, "We rather nicked that one whatever the series score says. Oz is only a bowler or a couple of big hundreds away from being better than us." And so it was.

This England team hasn't suddenly, qua innate ability, become no-hopers. This Aussie team hasn't suddenly been transformed into world beaters. What has happened is that the hidden factor of confidence combined with the driver of "who wants it more?" is overwhelmingly in the Australians' favour. Successive Ashes series losses finally got to Michael Clarke's Australians. They'd had enough and it hurt. And England? At  the moment they had Australia 132-6 on the first day of the series they must have thought "Here we go again - we can roll this lot over any time we want !" But pride came before the fall and from that moment on it has been Australian confidence and determination, combined with English hubris, which has blown England away. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The game is up for England–and it’s painful to watch


England hasn't suddenly become a team comprised of players without the skills for Test cricket. More than half the side is world class by any standards and have outstanding records - and the rest are more than competent. So you have to look at what is going on in their heads to find out what is going wrong. Mitchell Johnson hasn't been in a laboratory where a Dr Frankenstein has equipped him with magic arms. Physically he is the same bloke who couldn't even get in the Aussie squad only a few months ago. You have to look at what is going on in his head to find out what is going right.

Why would Andy Flower decide to pack it in with England? Not because he's not up for the fight - he is a man with huge personal courage and principles. We'll have to wait for his inevitable book to find out! But we can guess. I suspect that he thinks that too many of the England team have become prima donnas whose ambitions are mostly concerned with boosting their bank balances and shining their egos. They are good cricketers and they know it - and they assume that their talent will carry them through. Sometimes it does - and when luck goes their way as well they'll do alright. They were very lucky in the summer of 2013 and the 3-0 Ashes series win (nearly 4-0) was a travesty. The signs of decline were there for all to see. Indeed they’d been there for a while.

Winning and losing are both habit-forming. Self-belief will always beat self-doubt. In early 2012 England played three Test matches against Pakistan all of which they lost. In the three matches they averaged 191 runs per innings. It was woeful. Spineless. But then they got home and easily beat a poor West Indies side. Masters of the cricket universe again! Except that they weren’t - as a good South African side showed them immediately (2-0 series win for SA). 

England has at best been inconsistent over the past two years and at worst seriously in decline. Only when they are winning are they up for the fight. And they get it in their heads that a bowler is unplayable (Ajmal versus Pakistan, Johnson at the moment) so that bowler then becomes unplayable. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Is there a way back? Well there is no evidence except perhaps the straw that a year ago they came back from losing the first test in India to win the series 2-1. Can they do the same in Australia? I’d like to think so, but I don’t.

The game is up.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Cricket Australia needs to learn how to apologise

The art of issuing a graceful apology seems to have passed Cricket Australia by. This was their "apology" for their earlier crass tweet showing some Sikhs as teletubbies and calling on the real Monty Panasar to "stand up". It was a foolish, unfunny and dim-witted tweet and the Australians were rightly castigated for having done it.

The "apology" is almost a case study in how NOT to apologise. "Any offence caused" is the classic cop out. It suggests not, as was the case, that offence was definitely caused. It leaves room for doubt. The word "Any" implies that they believe it's possible that no offence was caused. 

"That was certainly not our intention" is equally facile. I doubt that anyone would accuse Australia's governing body of wanting intentionally to cause offence - so why state that it wasn't the intention to do this. Nobody is saying it was ! 

Cricket Australia is guilty of stupidity and they have compounded their foolishness with an ill-thought through "apology". What should they have said? Well they should not have suggested that there was doubt about the offence caused. And they should specifically have apologised to Monty Panasar. Like this (140 character limit applies):

CA apologises unreservedly for having caused offence with an inappropriate Tweet about Monty Panasar and have said sorry to him personally.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ashes fatigue floored poor Jonathan Trott - but who in the England dressing-room is not suffering from it ?

Everyone will feel sad about Jonathan Trott's illness and wish him well for a speedy recovery. But you must wonder if  there been an Omertà against speaking about Trotty's problems as there was for Trescothick ? Remember those absurd press conferences when we were supposed to believe that Marcus's problems were physical not mental - denial piled on denial. The ECB did not cover themselves in glory then. 

Has it only just emerged that Trott is suffering from a depression-related illness? That in itself raises questions about the quality of the medical assessments the players have. All too many cricketers have had mental health issues over the years as Trott's colleague in the Squad Jonny Bairstow knows, tragically, only too well. Perhaps Trott covered up his difficulties but from what I hear and have seen I doubt it. There has always been a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviour about Trott at the crease. If I can see that from beyond the boundary surely the ECB wallahs could see it from close up ? 

The ECB's greedy and foolish decision to have back-to-back Ashes series is coming back to haunt them. England were truly awful in Brisbane. Having got Australia 132-6 in the host's first innings they then lost the plot so comprehensively that by halfway through the second day they were out of the game. The atmosphere in the dressing room must have been dreadful, nobody could do a bloody thing right, Trott was cowering in the corner and the Aussies pounced. After just four days of cricket there really does seem no way back for England whatever they may, with phoney bravado, say for public consumption. This summer the same players got very lucky and there were some fine match winning sessions from the likes of Broad and Ian Bell's late-flowering coming of age to carry them through to frankly not always deserved victories. I doubt that the Aussies will give them that chance again.

Jonathan Trott's tour, and perhaps his international career with it, is over. Meanwhile a group of demoralised players who give every sign of having Ashes fatigue trudge off to Adelaide knowing that only a win there will put them on track. A loss, with Perth to follow, could mean it's all over before Melbourne as it was for Freddie's lot in 2006/7. And though no doubt Giles Clarke and his accountants at the ECB will still be banking the dollars with glee England's cricketers will have gone from heroes to zero without even passing go. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time to Yellow Card the abusive sledgers - enough is enough

The idea of "Mental disintegration", a fancy term presumably meant to give sledging in cricket a thin veneer of respectability, originated with Steve Waugh. Waugh of course did not originate verbal abuse in the game - it probably goes back as far as the game itself. But Waugh's Aussie team used it as a deliberate part of their tactics - mostly by fielders to unsettle batsmen. If we needed more evidence of the fatuousness of the "Spirit if Cricket", the nonsensical notion beloved of men of a certain age and class especially in the higher echelons of the Marylebone Cricket Club, then the ubiquity of sledging in the professional game would be it. Deliberate, calculated, foul-mouthed abuse of batsmen by fielders is cheating - pure and simple. I'm not talking about the occasional funny or even mildly rude remark. Nobody wants the cricket pitch even in a Test match to be solemn and silent. I'm referring to the sort of vulgar, constant sledging that England's batsman were subjected to at Brisbane. That is cheating pure and simple.

If the Laws of Cricket included a specific reference to verbal abuse on the pitch instead of their paean to the phoney "Spirit of Cricket" it would be far more useful. It's not difficult. You place the responsibility with the Umpires. If in their judgment a fielder offends then give the Umpires the right to show that fielder a Yellow card (off for an hour) or a red card (off for a full session). Obviously you would need to give the Umpires some guidelines - but you leave it to their judgment. Why not? It happens in other sports to counter unfair play.

Cricket is a great game but it is sullied by vulgar fools who think it is smart to abuse their opponents. It isn't  - it has no part in the game. Of course cricket is played in the mind and unsettling a batsman with short-pitched bowling or the placing of fielders near to the bat (etc,) within the Laws is and always has been part of it. But abuse is mindless, demeaning and damaging to the sport's reputation. Enough is enough.


The news of Jonathan Trott's illness and his return home is further food for thought. The Steve Waugh type of calculated sledging will work best on those players who are already mentally fragile. It's water off a ducks back to the toughies (like Steve himself) but more effective with those who are mentally vulnerable. Marcus Trescothick, who should know, has described the Australians as "... experts in the theory and practice of doing your head in". I am not saying that Clarke and his team targeted Jonathan Trott specifically in this way or that they knew that his problems were more than a bit of nerves. But I wonder whether they would see Trott's personal mental disintegration and return home as a bit of a "result". Lets hope not.


The signs pointing to Australia's resurgence were there across the summer Ashes series.

Australia's comprehensive win in the first Ashes Test Match at Brisbane was underpinned by their losing, according to my analysis, only two of the 14 sessions that were played over the four days. These were the afternoon session on the first day when in their first innings they fell from 71-2 to 153-6 and the first session of the final day when England scored 74 runs for just one wicket. That second “lost” session didn't really matter (and Australia did get Pietersen’s wicket in it) and the first lost session was followed by the Haddin/Johnson partnership which, as it turned out, set up Australia's winning chance – which they grabbed with both hands! So the final score in this Test match was Australia 6 sessions, England 2 with three being drawn.

England's eclipse will have come as a surprise to many but analysis of the summer series in England shows that it was actually far closer than the 3-0 (nearly 4-0) match score result suggests. My own session by session analysis of the 62 sessions played actually gives 27 to Australia, 26 to England with 9 drawn. Clearly if this is right England must have had some stellar match-winning sessions – which they did. But the idea that England was dominant through the summer is wrong.

Australia were within 15 runs of winning the First summer Test and they won  6 of the 14 sessions to England’s 4. They were blown away in the Second Test at Lord’s but still won 3 of the 12 sessions to England's 9. Australia absolutely dominated the Third test winning the sessions 9-2 (two draws) and were only denied a win by the Manchester weather. The Fourth test was also close on a session basis (6-5 to England with one drawn) and only Stuart Broad’s brilliant bowling at the end won for England a game Australia could well have taken. And the Fifth test at The Oval was also tight (England 5 Australia 4 – two drawn) but Australia bossed most of the match until the generous declaration which almost gifted England the match.

So England’s 3-0 Test series win in 2013 was something of a travesty of a result. It could, and probably should, have been a much closer. England did mostly win the big sessions but over the five Tests they were far from outplayed.

The dominance of Australia at Brisbane and England’s dreadful performance in scoring just 315 runs across two completed innings was a surprise but that Australia won was not. The pointers were there in the summer.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

England flatters to deceive at Twickenham - again

What a weird match. The sober around me at half time predicted a bit of a rout in the 2nd Half (the drunks didn't care). England weren't brilliant in the First Half, but they were good enough. Argentina looked half a class behind. Instead Argentina very nearly WON the second half and only lost it by one point.

What the hell happened at half time in the England dressing room? How could they manage instead of putting the foot on the accelerator to put it on the brake. Then break the gearbox. And look for a time as if they were trying to find a way of letting the Argentinians get level. It was awful.

The England of the first half today and the second half last week v Australia might just give the All Blacks a game. The England of the second half today, and the first half last well will get slaughtered.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Book Review: “Gentlemen & Players–the death of amateurism in cricket”


Charles Williams was a First Class cricketer and after retiring from the game in 1959 he had a distinguished career in business and public service. He became Baron Williams of Elvel in 1985 and a Privy Councillor in 2013.

“Gentlemen & Players, The death of amateurism in cricket”  is a concise (just 200 pages) but thorough record of the extraordinary story of the attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to end the divide between amateurs and professionals in cricket which had endured for over 100 years. It is written with style and panache and with a real sense of Lord Williams leaning over to us and whispering “You're not going to believe this but…” ! It is a story of the English class system, of privilege, of Victorian cricket administrators still alive and well in the post war era and doing harm by neglect and ignorance. It is a story of hypocrisy and mendacity, of meetings behind closed doors, of the establishment looking after its own and of deceit. And yet, as Williams generously says at the end of the book, the guilty men (my description!) were really “…honest men doing what they honestly believed to be in the best interests of cricket”.  Well maybe so but these were the same “honest men” who connived to try and keep England's planned tour to Apartheid South Africa in 1968 alive – the D’Oliveira Affair – and who fought tooth and nail against Kerry Packer in 1977.  And that particular brand of conservatism is still alive today in that same MCC Committee whose predecessors feature in Williams story.

That in the second decade of the 21st Century England’s finest cricket ground, Lord’s, is owned by a private members club and that this Club, the MCC of course, is still responsible for the “Laws of Cricket” may seem absurd. But back in the early 1960s this same club actually ran English cricket and a fair proportion of world cricket as well. The distinction between amateurs and professionals only existed to any significant extent in the English First Class game because MCC wanted it to - and by the mid 1950s (if not earlier) it was obvious to many others that it was an anachronism. It was hugely offensive. The amateurs were “Gentlemen” but the professionals were not - they were “Players” and paid for their labour. The amateurs were the Officer Class, the players the other ranks. The amateurs had been to Public School and University (usually Oxbridge) – the professionals had not. And so on. This was about class and the venal presumption that our leaders had to be the “right sort of chap” – especially those who could deal with the serfs. The top amateurs were mostly batsmen whose cover drives were sublime Raman Subba Row, MJK Smith, “Lord” Ted Dexter, Denis Silk, Tony Lewis, Colin Cowdrey, Roger Prideaux were some of the leading amateur batsmen in 1960. In the same year the bowling averages were dominated by professionals –Statham, Moss, Trueman, Larter, Illingworth, Shackleton, Higgs, Titmus… On the scorecards the amateurs had their initials before their names “M.C.Cowdrey”. The professionals had their initials after their names “Statham, J.B.” And the Captains were mostly amateur but in 1952 the Yorkshire professional Len Hutton had been appointed Captain of England, a role he preformed with conspicuous success. His county continued to appoint amateurs though – as did most of the others.  

The offensiveness of the amateur/professional divide in the post-war era seems self evident to us from today’s standpoint and it was offensive to some at the time as well. Hypocrisy abounded. The amateurs in many cases weren't true amateurs anyway, Some has sinecures at the Counties as “Secretary” or “Assistant Secretary” – roles which involved them in not doing very much at all and being paid for it. So long as they turned out and played for the County for the season of course! And on tours these  “shamateurs” received compensation for loss of earnings and often made considerably more money than the professionals who were honestly paid! It was these anomalies and the surrounding complexities of trying to maintain a system which was plainly unworkable which was finally to lead to the end of the amateur/professional divide in 1962 when all cricketers became just that – “cricketers”. But before this happened there were years of bungle and confusion with an MCC committee actually being charged with pronouncing whether specific individuals were really amateur or not.

This book, as well as telling the story of the end of amateurism in First Class cricket, also includes some wonderful pen portraits of players of the era. Williams knew them all and he quite rarely describes individuals pretty honestly warts and all. I found his descriptions of, for example, Colin Cowdrey and Peter May particularly revealing.

This is a book about change and a record of how when a necessary change involves the removal of privilege and a challenge to established conventions in Britain it is likely to take a very long time to happen! It is not really a story of “Heroes and Villains” – there were good men on both sides of the debate. But in the 1960s, as it is sadly still so today, the life of the progressive, the people who point to the absurdities of part of our system, is likely to be made uncomfortable by the men in the better suits.    

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why the “Spirit of Cricket” is the worst sort of hypocrisy

From the November/December issue of the “The Cricket Society News Bulletin”

Sydney Cricket Ground. The final over of the final Ashes Test match. The series is tied 2-2. England’s last two batsmen are at the crease. Australia needs one more wicket to win back “The Ashes”. England needs to survive six balls to draw the match and retain them. Peter Siddle bowls to Jimmy Anderson. The ball flashes through to the keeper and Siddle and all of the Australian team leap up in appeal convinced that Anderson hit the ball. The Umpire says “Not Out”. Australia has used up its reviews so that is the end of the matter. Except that Jimmy knows, as batsmen always know, that he did indeed get the finest of touches on the ball. So what does Jimmy do? Does he look at Michael Clarke and say “Fair cop Pup I nicked it” and walk off the field so handing the Urn back to the men in green and gold? Does he hell!

And if you think that Jimmy was right not to walk, which as an Englishman well you might – no doubt justifying your view by saying “An Aussie would have done the same” – whither the “Spirit of Cricket”. And what about the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Spirit of Cricket awards” – where do you stand on them? Because this is a moral issue and one that allows no flexibility.

The professional winner of the inaugural CMJ Award was Derbyshire captain, Wayne Madsen, who, according to the citation:
“demonstrated that it is possible to combine the highest level of sportsmanship with professional cricket,”
In a match against Yorkshire in July 2013 Madsen
“feathered a ball from bowler Steve Patterson to the wicket-keeper. With one lone appeal coming from the Yorkshire fielders, umpire Jeff Evans gave Madsen not out, only for the Madsen to walk back to the pavilion on his own accord”
“Jolly Good Show” for Madsen you might think. But if you believe in the purity of the principle of the “Spirit of Cricket” you can’t praise Madsen and at the same time defend Jimmy in my hypothetical case. You can’t say “It’s good that batsmen walk, but only when it doesn’t really matter”. And that is the problem with the whole concept of the “Spirit”, now enshrined in the Laws of the game. Men in suits of a certain age in positions of power or influence in the game, many of whom haven’t picked up a bat in anger in years, decided that it would be to set a good example if they created a fine sounding idea – the “Spirit of Cricket”. And they, and others, opine that walking if you know you’ve nicked the ball is a good example of fair play. CMJ was one of the chief proponents of this. In his Cowdrey “Spirit of Lecture” lecture at Lord’s in 2007 he said this:
“… the game would be immeasurably [better], if it were to become once more the inviolable custom of every cricketer to walk to the pavilion the moment that he knows beyond doubt that he is out.”
But, as my imaginary Ashes example illustrates, this is all so much pie in the sky. The reality is Stuart Broad standing his ground at Trent Bridge in the first 2013 Test Match despite knowing that he had been caught at slip. And there are plenty of other examples from this and every summer of a similar nature. That’s the real world, and it ain’t going to change!

“The Spirit of Cricket”, and the new CMJ Awards, are the worst sort of hypocrisy. Their invented values relate to a world that doesn’t exist - and probably never has. Except in the minds of those who, no doubt honourably, truly wish it was so. They may think, as the preamble to the Laws now states, that
Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.” .
But these are no more than motherhood words designed to give us comfort. And to reassure us that cricket is a game sans pareil in its values. But in truth this is not how the game is played – certainly at the highest levels, and it never was. Bodyline anyone?

If you would like to know more about “the Cricket Society” follow this link.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why is India doing this? Because they can.

"Why is India doing this ?" asks South African cricket writer Neil Manthrop on Wisden India about the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) decision to play only two Test matches during their South African tour this winter. The one that is dropped is one of the great cricket events - the New Year's Test at Newlands.

So why? It's like dogs licking their bollocks -  because they can. Is the BCCI against Test cricket? Not if it brings in the money they're not. Five Test matches v England to look forward to next summer. Even SA only got four. But then with daily tickets at around £100 plus their share of the broadcasting rights it's a nice little off-season earner for the BCCI. And the Indian diaspora, most of them born in Britain (like their parents) will stump up generously for tickets and all the bright blue gear. More $$$ no doubt for the corrupt gangsters of Indian cricket.

The BCCI calls all the tunes. The Lorgatt affair is scandalous - but he was always going to be too honest for the mobsters at the ICC.

In around ten years time someone will write a book with a title like "Who killed Test cricket?" The answer is of course there now for all to see. The body is not yet a corpse. But it's only a matter of time before it's laid out to rest on a Mumbai rooftop to be pecked to death by the vultures.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wearing a sponsor's logo does not mean a cricketer's personal endorsement of the sponsor's products.

Australian Rugby legend David Campese has been forced to apologise for suggesting Australian cricketer Fawad Ahmed (right) should "go home" for not wanting to wear a beer sponsor's logo on his national team shirt.

Well Campo told it as he saw it and he echoed veteran cricketer Doug Walters in criticising Cricket Australia for allowing Ahmed licence not to wear the "VB" logo. The Australian cricket authorities and the sponsor were as one that if the Muslim Ahmed didn't want to wear the logo that was fine by them. In this they followed Cricket South Africa who allow another Muslim, Hashim Amla, not to display the logo of the Proteas sponsor Castle Breweries. Commonsense and sensitivity has prevailed in both these cases you might think. But has it?

Let's look at what sponsorship means and what it doesn't. When for years the Indian cricket team was sponsored by Wills tobacco the charge could be levelled at the BCCI that they were promoting a cigarette brand and, therefore, smoking. It was a fair charge and eventually they stopped doing it. But when Sachin Tendulkar wore the Wills brand on his cricket shirt was he, Sachin, personally endorsing either Wills or the act of smoking? Of course not. Subliminally the public might have linked Sachin with smoking but I very much doubt it. This is because Tendulkar, famous though he is, was just one small moving billboard among thousands. The grounds where he played had Wills advertising boards everywhere and of course all of his teammates wore the same kit.

And so it is with Amla or Ahmed. They are part of a team and that team is sponsored by a brewery. They play on cricket grounds where that brewery's advertising is everywhere. There is and never has been any implication that the players personally use or personally endorse the products and brands displayed on their shirts. I've never met a cricketer who drinks "Gatorade" (another cricket sponsor) nor have I assumed that Stuart Broad uses Vodafone or Brit insurance!

Would it not have been far better if Ahmed and Amla instead of requesting special treatment had said something like this:

"I am a Muslim and as such I do not drink alcohol. I do, however, acknowledge the right of non-Muslims to do so and that there is a large alcoholic drinks industry in South Africa/Australia and that one of the company's in that sector is a valued sponsor of South African/Australian cricket. As a proud member of the national team I wear the uniform of the team in the same way as all my fellow team members and see no reason to request special treatment. My wearing of the sponsor's logo is not because I personally endorse that sponsor's products but because I am proud to be a South African/Australian  and  even prouder to wear our uniform."

Wearing a sponsor's logo does not mean a cricketer's personal endorsement of the sponsor's products.

Australian Rugby legend David Campese has been forced to apologise for suggesting Australian cricketer Fawad Ahmed (right) should "go home" for not wanting to wear a beer sponsor's logo on his national team shirt.

Well Campo told it as he saw it and he echoed veteran cricketer Doug Walters in criticising Cricket Australia for allowing Ahmed licence not to wear the "VB" logo. The Australian cricket authorities and the sponsor were as one that if the Muslim Ahmed didn't want to wear the logo that was fine by them. In this they followed Cricket South Africa who allow another Muslim, Hashim Amla, not to display the logo of the Proteas sponsor Castle Breweries. Commonsense and sensitivity has prevailed in both these cases you might think. But has it?

Let's look at what sponsorship means and what it doesn't. When for years the Indian cricket team was sponsored by Wills tobacco the charge could be levelled at the BCCI that they were promoting a cigarette brand and, therefore, smoking. It was a fair charge and eventually they stopped doing it. But when Sachin Tendulkar wore the Wills brand on his cricket shirt was he, Sachin, personally endorsing either Wills or the act of smoking? Of course not. Subliminally the public might have linked Sachin with smoking but I very much doubt it. This is because Tendulkar, famous though he is, was just one small moving billboard among thousands. The grounds where he played had Wills advertising boards everywhere and of course all of his teammates wore the same kit.

And so it is with Amla or Ahmed. They are part of a team and that team is sponsored by a brewery. They play on cricket grounds where that brewery's advertising is everywhere. There is and never has been any implication that the players personally use or personally endorse the products and brands displayed on their shirts. I've never met a cricketer who drinks "Gatorade" (another cricket sponsor) nor have I assumed that Stuart Broad uses Vodafone or Brit insurance!

Would it not have been far better if Ahmed and Amla instead of requesting special treatment had said something like this:

"I am a Muslim and as such I do not drink alcohol. I do, however, acknowledge the right of non-Muslims to do so and that there is a large alcoholic drinks industry in South Africa/Australia and that one of the company's in that sector is a valued sponsor of South African/Australian cricket. As a proud member of the national team I wear the uniform of the team in the same way as all my fellow team members and see no reason to request special treatment. My wearing of the sponsor's logo is not because I personally endorse that sponsor's products but because I am proud to be a South African/Australian  and  even prouder to wear our uniform."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

ECB Cricket - are they taking the Piss ?

The "apology" issued on behalf of England's players was one of the worst I've ever seen public figures issue (and that's saying something) and it is right castigate it as Mark Baldwin does very well in today's Times. To manage to apologise (sort of) for something without saying what you are apologising for is a new low in PR. This summer has been blighted with the dreadful overhype of The Ashes with the preposterous and entirely unnecessary #RISE promotion. The England and Wales Cricket Board clearly take us for fools who need to be pushed to support England by pseudo-patriotic overkill, a plethora of patriotic songs and overt suggestion that The Ashes is about grudge. The packed Test Match grounds showed that the cricket loving public doesn't need simplistic and barely concealed anti Australian tub-thumping to buy a ticket! We'll come and support our team and don't  need to be told to do so, or why.

Virtually every statement of the ECB is nuanced, sanitised and full of obfuscation. The statement on the incident at The Oval is a classic of its type. Of course it is not the Players' statement at all. It was drafted by some PR suit who was told by the ECB apparatchiks to draft something which failed to admit the offence! 

I actually don't think that the players peeing on The Oval pitch (if that is what they did) when pissed as farts is a particularly heinous crime. Unpleasant, juvenile and dim-witted perhaps but few of us have not done things we regret when one over the eight! Far more serious is the ECB's predeliction for cover-up and their assumption throughout this summer that we the spectators can be patronised and lied to. That's the truth, but don't expect an apology! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Stats show that Ian Bell apart England’s batsmen underperformed in “The Ashes”


BellThe statistics only tell part of the story about any batsman of course but now The Ashes 2013 is over there is one telling stat which tells its own story. Here in order of success are the Test Match averages of England’s top nine in the batting order showing the extent to which that average increased or (mostly) declined over this summer. The number shown is the difference between their average just before the series started and now:

Bell          + 1.09

Swann     + 0.17

Broad       + 0.09

Pietersen  –  0.63

Bairstow   –  0.78

Bresnan    –  1.23

Cook        –  1.32

Prior        –  1.97

Root        –  2.25

Trott        – 2.69


Only Ian Bell enhanced his reputation and for Trott, Root, Prior and Cook there was serious slippage. Pietersen slipped back a bit but his average of 48.38 now places him at the top of England’s current players whereas before the Series started he was third behind Trott and Cook.

Michael Clarke overstepped the mark at The Oval on Sunday .

In what conceivable way was Michael Clarke "within his rights" to harangue the Umpires as he did (as Michael Vaughan has claimed in the Daily Telegraph) ? Clarke was supported on the field of play by other Australian players who as a group were borderline threatening? 

The Bad Light rule is a mess. But it is clear. It is the Umpires decision. Not the batsmen. And certainly not the fielding side. Neither side has behaved consistently well throughout this bad-tempered Ashes series. But Clarke had no right at all physically and verbally to put pressure on the Umpires as he did. It denied the crowd an exciting finish and I'm not surprised that the Australian Captain was booed at the presentation ceremony. I didn't stay but packed my bags and left The Oval in disgust. 

Clarke when from Hero (a sporting declaration) to Zero (his mean spiritedness) in a couple of hours. Whither the "Spirit of Cricket" now?  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back to the drawing board for “Cricket United” ?


This was the scene at “The Oval” on the Friday of the “Ashes Test” when spectators were asked by “Cricket United” – an alliance of Britain’s three largest cricket charities – to wear a blue shirt for the day. As you can see there were quite a few of us who did this and some can be spotted in the crowd. But many either ignored the message or were unaware of it. And the choice of the rather boring and non-particular colour blue didn't help either. I saw every shade of blue from very light to Navy and that is why there was absolutely no huge splash of blue that the organisers were looking for. The photo above is very typical of the ground as a whole.
“Cricket United” said that they were “inspired by The McGrath Foundation” who have had “Pink days” at international matches in Australia to promote the McGrath breast cancer charity. The initiative at The Oval could not be seen in the same light as the McGrath Foundation’s initiative for a number of reasons which should give the organisers food for thought.

1. The Choice of Blue
As I say above blue is an unspecific and rather generic colour. Most of us wear blue as a matter of course from time to time. Unlike Pink it’s no big deal. This is so much the case that if you showed the above photograph to somebody and asked them what was unusual about it nobody not “in the know” would spot the Blue shirts. Not because there aren't quite a lot of them, there are if you look closely, but because they are so unremarkable and so diversely blue.

2. The Focus of the appeal
The Brand here is “Cricket United” a made up name to bring three separate charities together for fund raising (They are “The Lord’s Taverners”, “Chance to Shine” and the “PCA Benevolent Fund”). These are indisputably good causes but there is a very unspecific focus to the appeal. I asked around at The Oval and even many of the Blue Shirt wearers were not quite sure what charity they were supporting or what they did! Compare that with the unequivocal focus of the McGrath Foundation. Every single wearer of a pink shirt in Sydney would have know without a shadow of doubt what they were supporting.

3. Learn for the “Broad Appeal”
At Trent Bridge earlier in the summer the charity run by Chris and Stuart Broad and their family, the “Broad Appeal”, had a fund raising day for Motor Neurone Disease – the illness that killed Chris’s wife Miche. It achieved its purpose of raising awareness of the disease and raising funds for research. It was a focused initiative with a single beneficiary (like Glenn McGrath’s charity) and no confusion about what the fund raising was for.

I have to say that I thought “Go Blue for Cricket United” admirable though the idea was was comprehensively botched in execution. There was no “sea of blue” – just sadly deflated expectations. Must try harder.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

England selectors hand the advantage to Australia at The Oval

Shane Watson was in such good form yesterday, on a flat pitch and in ideal batting conditions, that he would probably have scored a hatful of runs against any attack. Though had he faced Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar instead of the ineffectual Chris Woakes and the disastrous Simon Kerrigan he would have had to work a great deal harder for his runs.

The stupidly of England's team selection almost defies belief. Losing Tim Bresnan was a blow and the selection of Woakes was presumably some sort of like for like swap. Except that it wasn't. Bresnan is a bowling all-rounder who gets in the England side mainly for his bowling. His batting is a bonus. Woakes is a batting all-rounder who in the sub-standard domestic game also takes quite a few wickets. Had he been picked as a fourth seamer and front line batsman you might have said that Jonny Bairstow was unlucky but maybe the gamble would pay off. Under this scenario Chris Tremlett would have taken on Bresnan's third seamer role and Swann, maybe with support from Root (who is more than a part time tweaker) if necessary would have provided the spin.

To play two spinners is unusual in the England Test team but if the selectors were certain that The Oval pitch would eventually turn square then Monty Panesar would have been the obvious choice to partner Swann. Given Monty's non availability the selectors decided rather than calling up the battle-hardened James Treadwell they would go for a Monty-like slow left-armer and plumped for the tyro Simon Kerrigan - with disastrous results. Every Test player has to make an international debut somewhere of course. But in an Ashes Test Match? It may be that Kerrigan is pencilled into  the Australian tour party in the selectors' minds and they wanted to give him a run at home first. If so why not in the One Day Internationals? Why throw him into the cauldron that is an Ashes Test Match? 

The muddled thinking of this Oval selection puts Australia firmly in the pound seat after day one. If you choose a five man attack and two of your five bowlers lob up pies you then have a three-man attack - which is what happened yesterday. As bowlers Woakes looked on a par with Jonathan Trott and Kerrigan was nowhere near the level of Jo Root. What the hell were they doing there at all? When England bat the pressure will be on Woakes at number six. Remember he has replaced a specialist batsman - was he really the next best batting choice if Jonny Bairstow was to be dropped? No he was not. I hope he does well, but it is asking a lot and given that his bowling was unimpressive he won't be going to the crease with wickets in his locker - unless something remarkable happens today.

The benefit of having a settled, successful side is that the selectors can take a back seat. When injury and loss of form take members of that settled side out of the equation then the selectors emerge and start selecting ! If they do it again as badly as they did it yesterday they will be the laughing stock of our game. Taxi for Mr Miller.... 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The nonsense that is "Umpire's call"

On the evidence a batsman is either OUT or he is NOT OUT. It is preposterous for exactly the same evidence to lead to the batsman being given "out" if the on field umpire had said that he was out and "not out" if the on field umpire had said that he was not out. This defies logic.

If the on field umpire is challenged  what decision he originally made should then be ignored. The challenge moves the decision away from the on field umpire to the third umpire who, on all the evidence, decides whether the batsman was out - or not. Whether the referral was by the batsman or by the fielding side is totally irrelevant at the point of decision by the 3rd Umpire - or should be.

DRS only has one function - to improve the quality of the decision-making. It is not there to protect the sensitivities of Umpires! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

After yesterday's inept batting The Ashes are at risk this winter.

My reputation as a modern day Nostradamus is on the line - in respect of England's cricket anyway. In my previous Blog on this site I confidently predicted that if they got a good start in their First innings (after losing three wickets for zilch all too often in this Ashes series) they would go on to a big score and dominance. In fact their good start ( hundred up for one down) presaged a batting performance of such ineptitude that after one day Australia is comfortably in charge of this match. England may bounce back today of course and even if Australia do get a handy first innings lead they could still lose - as they did, just, in similar circumstances in the First Test at Trent Bridge. We shall see - but what is clear is that England's batting is in poor shape with no consistency and even less confidence. And I suspect that I was not alone in shouting at my television "What the hell is going on?" rather too frequently yesterday. And I didn't say "hell" either.

There are many shots or individual innings I could point to to illustrate the point that England is up the creek without a paddle at the moment. Jonny Bairstow's appallingly unambitious and painful stay at the crease for example. Or Cook's inexplicable misjudgment. Or Trott's improbable lack of defensive technique when batting really well. But two shots in particular showed that there are some problems with the team which go beyond technique or basic ability. First we had Pietersen playing a huge careless "Wahoo" to the first ball he received. He mishit the ball and got away with it but it was a shot of such ineptitude that you had to wonder what was going on in his head, and why. The second was Ian Bell's dismissal - a lofted drive at the beginning of his innings which defied belief. Bell has had a good series and he is chalk to KP's cheese. He just doesn't do these things - not often anyway and not in his current guise as the instrument of England's recovery after early wickets have fallen.

So "What's Up Doc" ? Is there trouble in the England camp that suggests that all is not well and is this affecting some, even all, of the players? Monty Panesar's recent moment of madness may have pissed away his cricket career - but would he have really have done this if his involvement in the squad in the last two Tests had convinced him that Flower and Cook believe he has a future? And what about Jonathan Trott interviewed yesterday on the BBC at the end of the day? Trotty gave a good honest interview. He was asked about the decision to bat after Cook won the toss. His answer (I paraphrase) was that he wasn't involved in such decisions that were made solely by Andy Flower and Alastair Cook. Really? Are there no team chats on the morning of the match about what to do if they win the toss? Are the bowlers also not consulted? Do Jimmy and Swanny not have a say? 

I thought that England's patchy cricket in the first three Tests was due to Ashes nerves and that a relaxed team would give us something really to enjoy at Durham and The Oval. Well on the evidence of yesterday I was wrong and The Ashes look to be at risk. Not in this series, of course, but certainly in Australia in the winter. ECB Cricket's agreement to back-to-back Ashes series always looked foolish - perhaps they thought that the momentum of a good Series win this summer would carry England on to a good defence down under? Maybe there was a touch of arrogance in this as well as the obvious commercial benefits? For arrogance and bombast has characterised ECB Cricket this summer. The preposterous "#RISE" slogan and its cringe-making accompanying video and the "Jerusalem" overkill are bad enough. The addition of even more faux-patriotic songs at a wholly inappropriate moment of the final day in the tight Trent Bridge Test was vomit-inducing. The accessibility of England's players to the media, except in carefully stage-managed moments hasn't endeared Flower to the cricket writers either. 

There were nerves aplenty on show from England's batsmen yesterday just when you thought (sorry, I thought) that we could expect some class and some fun. Were they the victims of control-freakedy and of an over-instructive leadership from Flower and Gooch? Surely they need to relax more and show us what they can do. Otherwise it might not just be Monty who who shows his unhappiness and gets himself out of order. People do funny things at times - especially if they are looking for an arm around the shoulder and they get a slap in the face. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Lets hope that England now relaxes in this Ashes series and shows their true potential

England has retained The Ashes 2-0 with two to play. Phew thank goodness for that - maybe they can now relax and play some truly fine cricket. Don't get me wrong England deserves their Ashes win - but the nerves have been visible almost throughout. 

I saw every ball of the first two Tests live and an odd experience it was. True in the Lord's Test England's dominance was clear. But don't forget they were 28-3 on the first morning before Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott took control.  Australia's first innings batting was woeful but England neglected to enforce the follow on for no logical reason that I could see. Their bowlers between them had only bowled 53 overs in that Aus first innings.That match should have been over much more quickly but instead we had another poor England start (30/3) in their second knock. Then Root, Bresnan and Bell (again) batted well but with Australia batting little better second time around the margin of victory - 347 runs - showed how wrong the decision not to enforce the follow on had been. 

So after a tense match at Trent Bridge which Australia could and probably should have won and a dominant England victory (not without its flaws) at Lord's we went to Manchester. Here England's early batting once again failed (36/3 and 27/3) and the bowling in Australia's first innings was none too impressive either. Only Swann took more than one wicket and Jimmy Anderson none at all. The batting in the first Innings recovered thanks to Pietersen, Bell (again) and the late middle order who saved the follow on and, as it turned out, the match. Unlike England at Lord's Australia would have enforced the follow on and if that had been able to do this they would have won the match.

So what's been going on? Australia have had one bad match - and so have England. Trent Bridge was England's  but only just. If it was a points contest I'd score it - with ten points at stake each match -   6-4, 8-2, 3-7 (England scores first). That's 17-13. But with 15 more runs Aus could have taken Trent Bridge and then it would be 15-15 ! 

England need to get off to better starts at Durham and The Oval. They need to apply the same bowling pressure that they did at Lord's. They need to get rid of Australia's tail much more efficiently. Above all they need to relax more when the pressure seems to be the greatest - on the first morning of the match. And that challenge is firmly with Alastair Cook. Scores of 13, 50, 12, 8, 62 and O is underperformance by Cook's high standards. And some of the shots he's played to get out have been poor. To me clear signs of the pressure of captaining in an Ashes series have been visible. Now the Ashes are retained I expect Cook to score prolifically in the final two Tests. And I expect England to win these Tests comfortably as well now the pressure is off. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lord's Taverners Christmas Lunch with NIgel Farage - no thank you !

Paul Robin
Chief Executive
The Lord’s Taverners
10 Buckingham Place

28 July 2013

Dear Sir
Christmas Lunch
Although I am not a Full Member of the Taverners I do receive details of events and have attended some in the past. This privilege comes from my Life Membership of the “Brian Johnston Memorial Trust”.
I have received information about the Christmas Lunch to be held on 2nd December and note that Mr Nigel Farage will be the Guest Speaker. The Taverners is and has to remain apolitical. This does not of course mean that those who pursue political careers should be debarred from speaking to us. But in all cases such invitees must, I would submit, have demonstrated some involvement in cricket of a significant nature to be invited. Mr Farage is, I know, a cricket fan. But this alone does not, in my view, qualify him to speak to us. Indeed the only reason can be his political position. That I find distasteful. Mr Farage and the Party he leads are extremist and have views and values which I would suggest are incompatible with the “Spirit of Cricket”. However subtle he may be is hiding his views on 2nd December (not very would be my guess) his presence can only be seen as a recruiting exercise for his obnoxious Party.
I have the choice of staying away on 2nd December but I feel that I should make a stronger protest than that. So with immediate effect would you please remove me from any lists you hold, send me no more information about Taverners’ events and cease contact completely. I will be speaking to Richard Anstey to tell him that my decision in respect of the Taverners in no way affects my commitment to and support for the BJMT.

Yours Sincerely

Patrick S Briggs

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Even the ghastly jingoism of the England and Wales Cricket Board couldn't spoil this fabulous Test Match

Great privilege to be at Trent Bridge for every day of this Test Match. Our sensationalist over-trivialised culture looked for scandal and headline-grabbing events and issues. What they should have done was concentrate on the superb cricket, the ebb and flow and in the main the sportsmanship. 

Zero marks to the ghastly England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for their hideous attempts at faux-patriotism. The foolish "#RISE" slogan and it's childish and insulting video was bad enough. We've come to expect the ludicrous "Jerusalem" at the start of every day (has anyone actually read the preposterous words of this awful hymn?). 

But the depths were plumbed after lunch on the final day. The crowd was hushed - the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife. Australia needed 20, England one wicket as the teams emerged. What did the woeful ECB do? They played three (yes three) patriotic songs complete with operatic tenor. "Land of  Hope and Glory", "Rule Britannia" and some demented song related to their #RISE promotion. 

Patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel - and there are plenty of scoundrels in the ECB. The #RISE nonsense is not just partial but actually insulting to our opponents. It takes two to make a contest and one-sided chauvinism  of this type is vulgar and demeaning. But nothing could excuse the grotesque decision, at the key moment in the match, to drown the crowd with jingoistic display. Whether the Aussies were bothered I've no idea - perhaps they rose above it. But I was deeply ashamed. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The language of Sport – only mangle the grammar if you have to!


This is about adjectives. Is there a difference between an “Australian cricketer” and an “Australia cricketer” – aside from the fact that the former is a grammatically correct construct and the latter isn't. “Australia” is a proper noun not an adjective – “Australian” is the adjective which describes something or somebody that comes from Australia. OK - but what if there is confusion as there is in this case. An “Australian” cricketer might not be an international Australian cricketer. He/She could be any person of Australian nationality who plays cricket. So we introduce the ungrammatical but clearer “Australia cricketer” to describe the international. But do we need to? Take this entry in Wikipedia for example

List of Australia Test cricketers

There is no reason at all why the grammatically correct “Australian” could not be used here. The entry is defined as being about Test cricketers so there is no doubt what we are talking about. “List of Australian Test cricketers” would have exactly the same and equally unambiguous meaning – but it would be good grammar as well – why not use it?

Here’s another from SkyBet:

Ashes Top Australia Batsman Betting Odds

Again the use of “Australian” instead of “Australia” would be correct and not ambiguous. My contention is that in the vast majority of cases there is no need to use a noun as an adjective at all. In respect of the two examples which open this article why not use a slightly longer but grammatical term? So “Australian Test cricketer” or “Australian International cricketer” to avoid confusion. it sounds better as well. As is always the case in language clarity is everything. “Australian Cricketer” is ambiguous – out of context anyway. So if the context of the usage doesn't make it clear then clarify – e.g. by adding the word “Test”. There’s no need to screw up the grammar and to use nouns as adjectives – ever!'

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wimbledon – count me out !

In the Daily Telegraph Peter Oborne decries the middle-classness of tennis. I agree with him 100%! As a sporting nutcase I'll go anywhere anytime to watch it played at the highest level. Silverstone last week. Trent Bridge this. And I believe that when it comes to one-to-one sporting combat nothing can beat tennis. It requires fitness, nerve, creativity and (in the man's game anyway) cojones of steel. I have been to Wimbledon a couple of times many years ago but despite my admiration for tennis and tennis players I haven't been back. As Peter says it is played and watched live by a very narrow cohort indeed. We are very good at putting on tournaments where the privileged can go along, eat their strawberries, display their jingoism and have a jolly time before going back to Esher, and Tunbridge Wells and boasting about it.

Class defines British sport as much as it ever did. I go as often to White Hart Lane as I do to Twickenham – the cultures are dramatically different. To start with spectators at Spurs are far better behaved than they are at Twickenham! Seated in my expensive seats at the Home of Rugby I would say I would have to make way for others in my row at least a dozen times in the hour and a half of a game – and during play not just at half time. They drink cold, over-priced swill continuously and they replenish their glasses and empty their bladders without giving a stuff for the spectators like me they disturb. This never happens at the Lane – drink is banned beyond the bar areas and anyway people are predominantly there to watch the football. All too many in the expensive seats at Twickenham are beneficiaries of the malignant Corporate Hospitality syndrome. Piss-artists with one eye on their glass and perhaps one occasionally on the field of play.

Back to Wimbledon. It and the English tennis establishment that surrounds it is an abysmal failure when it comes to the production of decent British tennis players. It’s been so for decades. Andy Murray owes nothing to the LTA – his progress was almost entirely separate from what purports to be Britain’s tennis academies and coaching set-ups. He is our only man in the world top 100. Spain and France (for example) each have 13! Is the class exclusivity of tennis to blame? Well what other reason is there? Facilities are concentrated in areas that can afford them and the costs of being a club member (never mind the social elitism) are unaffordable for many. Do state schools have tennis courts, coaches and a proper system of talent spotting? Ha!

British tennis is a shameful mess – decades of incompetence and neglect have made us an also ran on the world stage. Our Davis Cup record is deplorable for a nation of 60million – and the one that invented the game! So I won’t be going to Wimbledon to rub shoulders with the self-satisfied elite who frequent it or who sit on the preposterous “Hill” bawling their support for somebody, Andy Murray, who owes them nothing at all.

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Lions will struggle in the final, deciding Test

I was lucky enough to be at Ellis Park in 1997 for the third and final match between the British Lions and South Africa on that year's momentous tour. I was lucky for two reasons. First if was a privilege to attend a match at one of the world's finest sports stadiums. I was not disappointed. Secondly it was an honour to acclaim a truly great Lions team who came into the match 2-0 and are the last Lions team to win a series. Will Sam Warburton's 2013 team join them next Saturday? I doubt it.

At Ellis Park in 1997 the Springboks had a narrow 13-9 lead at half time. The Lions had played well but early in the second half it became clear that they had, wholly understandably, run out of steam. A long tour was taking its toll and South Africa eventually ran out 35-16 winners. It was no disgrace for the Lions but they were beaten by two main things. The Springboks were determined to get a consolation win and the cauldron of Ellis Park, in front of a fanatical home support, was the ideal place to do it. And the Lions, at the end of a long tour, were pretty knackered !

Roll forward to Sydney next Saturday - the stadium and the home support will not be unlike Ellis Park. The prize for the Wallabies is a series win so even more than the Boks in 1997 they will be up for it! And the Lions are, as they were in '97, at the end of a gruelling tour which has seen many withdrawals from the squad through injury, including now (it seems likely) their captain. The hype will be there and the support will be great. And there will be no lack of motivation that's for sure. But can the Lions raise their game for one last supreme effort? It will be a remarkable achievement if they can - but the odds are against it. I hope I'm wrong. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

We need to change our out-dated domestic cricket structure


The debate about the future of domestic cricket in England can get rather rancorous at times! As someone who has argued that the current 18 County system is unsustainable, and that a change to an eight-team franchise structure is desirable, I am often on the receiving end of emotion-driven criticism – even abuse. It is almost as if I am a contrarian challenging the established church and that what I am preaching is heresy!   The reality of where we are is that all too many counties have business models that would see them in insolvency without substantial annual hand-outs from the ECB (some are close to bankruptcy even with the subvention). The need to raise revenues to cover these costs means that the ECB has to charge spectators the highest ticket prices in the world for international games, create a destructive bidding war between the ground owners (counties and MCC) for the allocation of the matches as well as establish long-term arrangements with commercial broadcasters which keeps all live cricket off free-to-air television. With sponsorship becoming more problematic in a difficult economic climate the main source of ECB revenues will continue to be the cricket loving public – and we are getting a rotten deal.

The problem is the assumption that a county structure first established in the 19th Century and little changed since then is right for cricket in the 21st Century. No other sport has the conceit to assume that because there was once logic to first-class cricket being played in the shires as well as the cities and at antiquated venues as well as modern stadia that is a model that is sustainable today. The Premier league in Football and the Premiership in Rugby Union are modern constructs created for modern times. Traditionalists may bemoan the passing of top tier football or rugby from locations and clubs where once they were played – but things had to move on, and they did.

The creation of eight city-based franchises at our Premier international cricket grounds would establish a financially sustainable model that would require overall far less subvention from the ECB than currently exists. The cricket that the franchises played would be of a high standard and the professionals that the franchises employed would be the best in the game – not substandard journeymen hanging in for a benefit or past-it old pros stretching their careers. In this structure the counties would not disappear – some might evolve into franchises, indeed this is the most likely route for some of them. But the shire counties would move into a semi-professional status and merge with the minor counties to create a new second tier regionally based structure on the current Minor Counties model. Good standard cricket wouldn’t disappear from Tunbridge Wells or Arundel or Derby or Leicester – it would continue but without the huge costs being incurred to sustain the current fully professional 18 county system.

One does not court popularity when one proposes to cricket lovers the demolition of traditional county cricket – but I would argue that whilst the change I suggest is radical it does not destroy cricket in the shires but actually establishes a model that means it will continue. Meanwhile the top tier cricket played by the franchises will be world class, will bring in the crowds and the viewing public and be a hugely improved breeding ground for England players that what currently exists. Above all it will be financially sustainable and mean that international cricket tickets can become affordable again and that cricket can return to free-to-air television. What’s not to like?

My intention is to throw down the challenge to those cricket lovers who wish to maintain the status quo to tell us all how that could be made to work. The challenge is not to write elegant pieces about the history of the game in the shires and of the charms of festival cricket. It is not to say that the reason first-class cricket should continue to be played in Kent or Sussex or Leicestershire or Northamptonshire (etc.) is because it always has been. Or about the delights of hearing the sound of willow on leather whilst lazing in a deckchair by the boundary at Tunbridge Wells. The challenge is to describe how an 18 county system can be financed fairly, how spectators can be attracted to a plethora of fixtures, how dilapidated grounds can be renovated when money just isn’t available and what the logic is for employing well over 300 professional cricketers all too many of whom are overseas mercenaries, or of sub-standard talent or just time servers. I look forward with interest to answers to these questions!