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.