Monday, November 02, 2015

It's the TV stupid!

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

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

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

Friday, August 07, 2015

A Black Swan sort of day at Trent Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New boy Wood fails to trouble Kiwis

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

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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 04, 2015

England cricket needs to put on a Happy Face

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 02, 2015

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

245 Runs, 77.5 Overs, 18 Wickets

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

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

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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Triumphant England will progress to Cricket World Cup Quarter-Finals

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

How not to apologise - again !

I don't know what Darren Sammy said on the field of play in the match against Ireland today, but it was sufficiently bad for him to apologise on Twitter. See above. But this apology is a classic of its type. Sadly. 

It is in the passive voice. The swear word "came through the stump mike". Note that he doesn't say he swore and apologise for that. You might think that that is implied and self-evident. But why use a passive voice construct when you can say "I'm sorry I swore" ?

The reference to the stump mike is unnecessary anyway. The suggestion here is that it was the fact that the swearing was audible on the broadcast that is important, not the swearing itself. He is apologising for being caught, and for the fact that "young kids [were] listening and watching" not for the act of swearing itself. So what should he have tweeted, given the 140 character limit of the medium? How about:

"I would like to apologise to listeners/viewers for my swearing during today's cricket. It was a bad thing to have done and I'm very sorry."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The next month of the Cricket World Cup is a fraudulent farce.

The Cricket World Cup starts on Saturday. Except  that it doesn't. It really starts on 18th March when the Quarter Finals begin. So what are we going to do for the next four weeks as we whittle 14 starters down to eight? Create sponsor and media revenues, that's what. Of course matches like Australia v England and India v Pakistan will sort of matter, as they always do. But in the context of the World Cup the result doesn't mean a thing. All four sides will get through to the Quarter-Finals as will New Zealand and Sri Lanka in "Pool A" .In "Pool B" the four qualifiers will be India, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies. And going home will be Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, Bangladesh and the UAE. We'll spend a month proving what we knew from the start. There are eight teams that count, and a handful of minnows who don't. 

It's (just) possible there will be an upset.But unlikely. The odds are heavily stacked against any team outside the top 8 getting through. England could lose to Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka but still be in the quarter-finals from utterly predictable wins over Bangladesh and Scotland. It's a farce. The money men can't risk India and to a lesser extent Pakistan, Australia and England not being in the knockout stage. So the ICC fixes it so they will be. Fraudulent? You might think so. Come back on 18th Match when the meaningful cricket begins.