Mike Selvey leaving the Guardian

The Guardian’s cricket correspondent, Mike Selvey, is to part ways with the newspaper at the end of September. “Guardian no longer want 50 yrs intimate knowledge of cricket, cricketers and how game is played for future coverage,” he said in a tweet – later adding the hash tag #abitshitreally to leave us under no illusions that he would have preferred to continue.

This news may seem of no real interest to many of you, but it does raise questions about the changing nature of written cricket coverage. In the absence of any comment from the Guardian, we can only guess why they might have made the decision. In all honesty, nothing especially obvious comes to mind.

History repeating?

In 2008, Selvey was given the boot by Test Match Special. At the time, there was a reference to wanting to make use of ‘more recent Test cricketers’. Since then, they’ve added people like Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan. Phil Tufnell is from the previous generation and then there is the continued presence of Geoffrey Boycott, who is for many people synonymous with the ‘in my day’ view – despite also holding a number of progressive opinions.

But a newspaper is different. There’s only so much space, so you’re never going to offer such a broad palette of voices. Instead, you pick someone who can write and who knows what they’re talking about and who will find angles that are perhaps unexplored by writers on other newspapers.

Selvey’s writing

We’ve long enjoyed Selvey’s articles. He can occasionally be prone to overloading sentences with far too many clauses, but time pressures can bring wonkiness out in all of us. The content itself was generally intriguing, especially when talking about the mechanics and mentality of bowling.

You might question just how many stories one can wring out of a three-Test career, but it’s presumably decidedly more than can be wrung out of the zero-Test careers enjoyed by the majority of cricket writers. The point is that Selvey’s international playing experience is just one aspect of a longer career that has also included 278 first-class matches and a lifetime spent following the game.

Impartiality

Selvey sacrificed a lot of goodwill among the Guardian readership during “the KP affair.” It was an oddly confrontational time among followers of the sport, but it wasn’t so much for his opinions that Selvey got people’s backs up as for being unable or unwilling to express why he held them.

It was frustrating for the reader to read bold assertions without knowing how they were arrived at. Questioning sorts of people like to see your workings out. Selvey then compounded this disconnect by being slightly tetchy and thin-skinned in the comments section and on Twitter. There will always be someone slagging off your writing online and everyone has their breaking point, but managing that is a vital skill for a modern journo.

We thought of all of this again recently when Selvey made a few dismissive comments about Chris Woakes at the start of the summer and followed that up with a piece talking up Steven Finn after the last Test.

Finn plays for Middlesex, as did Selvey, so we initially felt a bit uncomfortable about his position – but the points made in that article about confidence and implicit messages sent by a captain’s field settings were pertinent and gave ample food for thought. It was a top piece; exactly the kind of thing we’d want to read.

Cost

It’s proabably just this, isn’t it? Selvey has written for the Guardian for 31 years. They probably pay him more than they’ll pay his replacement.

No-one pays to read about cricket in the internet age. Not enough people read about cricket full stop to financially justify the volume of writing we have at present. Something has to give.

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37 Appeals

  1. I was thinking that I should probably stump up for the Guardian online subscription, being as I read the paper so much. This makes it much less likely.

    I always sort of liked Selvey’s grumpy old man persona on twitter and in the comments sections.

  2. Your final two paragraphs sum it up.

    In my experience of newsroom cuts, it’s purely a matter of economics.

  3. I’ve only ever read him during the KP saga (through some links offered here), and disliked every one of the pieces. I certainly cannot and will not make a judgment based on that, but I fail to see the tragedy here. He had a job that lasted 31 years. That’s not unlike most other “secure” jobs, except he didn’t get to retire but was booted. And going by his twitter account, he certainly does not seem to go gently into that good night.

    • King Cricket

      July 20, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      No, it is indeed a career climax common to many nowadays. If there’s a tragedy, it’s perhaps in this being one example of a broader trend in UK newspaper journalism.

      The cricket section might not be the most vital corner of a news site, but this is something that’s happening in other areas too and those affected are not just those in their sixties.

      The question really is whether the inevitable reallocation of media resources to more profitable areas will eventually have consequences. It is easy to justify tech journalism because tech advertising pays even with low levels of traffic. Clickbait crap brings traffic and if visits are often fleeting, there also isn’t much outlay.

      That’s probably not a discussion for here and you could equally set Selvey’s departure against the mere existence of Cricinfo. For a while, that website paid us to produce cricket satire on a weekly basis. Other writers too.

      If there was an outlet paying for daily cricket satire 15 years ago, we’d be surprised. There are still cricket writing opportunities out there.

      • Don’t get me started. Barely a week goes by nowadays without another awkward leaving speech in our newsroom.

      • For a while, that website paid us to produce cricket satire on a weekly basis. Other writers too.

        Page Two (or whatever it was called)?

      • King Cricket

        July 20, 2016 at 3:18 pm

        Yeah, Page 2.

        Loved doing that, but it was mental that it existed in the first place.

      • King Cricket

        July 20, 2016 at 3:18 pm

        To be clear, we didn’t produce other writers. Other writers were also paid to produce cricket satire.

  4. Not a massive fan of his writing if I’m honest. Particularly recently, it felt as if he was dialing it in a bit. However, a man has lost his job and that is indeed #abitshitreally.

    A bigger concern would be if, as I would suspect, he simply isn’t replaced. The decline of journalists of his ilk allied with the decline of interest in cricket is far wider reaching

  5. Did feel like he was just going through the motions sometimes. On the other hand The Grauniad is in enormous financial difficulty at the moment. It’s free online version (along with The Mail) is phenomenonally successful but it’s circulation is tanking. Can’t see it hanging around in its current format much longer to be honest.

    • King Cricket

      July 20, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Steve and JB, we know what you mean about phoning it in at times of late, but that was one reason why we linked to the Finn piece, which we thought was good. Match previews are also by their nature a touch formulaic. Plus we don’t really know when he got an inkling this might be on the cards.

  6. He is 68, too. Perhaps time to retire and spend some time watching cricket?

    • Maybe if he had to shell out for a ticket or 2, he would have more sympathy with the fans’ points of view

  7. There’s a Selvey article in the Graun today, as it happens, something about Anderson, selection, brandy and Paul Allott. He raises a number of interesting points about the selection process, and then finishes by advocating possibly the single worst idea that anyone has ever had ever.

    That’s the sense I get with many of his articles, that he is a critic who has been asked to become a playwright. Deep down he is clearly a traditionalist, but he doesn’t seem to know why. He writes fulsome praise when things are going well, and devastating critiques when things are going badly, but always with hindsight rather than insight.

    To some extent, this is always the problem with ex-players. Their opinions of the modern game are inevitably tinged with a desire to defend the way they did it. Fan-commentators (like Brian Johnston, for instance) are much better able to say that this thing is better than before (or worse than before). The ex-players see an implicit criticism in every piece of praise of the new way, so they don’t do it. That’s OK for people who take it to parody levels (I wonder who that might be), but it can be bloody tiresome.

    Also, he dissed camels, possibly the best adapted creature on the planet. He’s nothing but a camel-disser.

    • King Cricket

      July 20, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      At the risk of going off at a tangent, we don’t know how the selectors currently work, but we wonder whether it might be worth allocating roles within the selection team. Fast bowling selector, batting selector and spin bowling selector, say.

      Maybe that wouldn’t work. Maybe they do it anyway. It just strikes us that it takes an awful lot of cricket-watching to judge players and you’re judging very different qualities in each player.

    • I don’t think it’s that terrible a concept, but he put the wrong man in charge. Surely if anyone has to be accountable for selection it should be the coach. I understand he doesn’t have the time to watch county cricket nor, as an Australian, a background knowledge of it to fall back on. But surely we could implement a network of scouts to watch, analysise and advise, but with the final decision being the coach’s?

  8. I have always liked Mike Selvey and think he is a good writer, although I often find myself at variance with his opinions. This mostly for reasons stated above, not least a rather change-resistant tendency.

    But Selvey normally lays out his arguments in a balanced and well-argued form in his writing. This he couldn’t really do when commentating, which perhaps explains why I didn’t much like his TMS commentary and wasn’t sorry to see him stop doing that. His spoken opposition to the use of technology in umpires decision-making used to irritate me beyond belief.

    I enjoyed Bert’s critique of the Anderson/selectors/brandy/Walt piece more than the piece itself. I concur (with Bert’s critique).

    Still, I shall miss him and I do worry about the creeping diminution of quality cricket analysis in writing. Sky’s severe scaling back of “Cricket Writers On TV” being further evidence of such erosion.

    • The “him” I shall miss being Selv, not Bert.

      I am rather hoping that Bert is here to stay and that KC will continue to pay Bert at the same generous rate as KC pays me (by the word, regardless of grammatical and punctuational bloopers) for the foreseeable future.

  9. I can’t say whether I agree or disagree with Selvey about Stuff, because I figure if we do have a difference of opinion on any cricketing related manner then, wot with him being an expert an’all, I really couldn’t argue with him, wot with me being decidedly not an expert at all.

    When people who actually do know a bit about cricket disagree with one another I genuinely have no idea who is right and who is bananas faulty.

    • Haven’t you heard BailOut? Experts are over, the British Cricketing Public have had enough of expertise – in future, all selection decisions will be made by a combination of guesswork, sponsorship contract value, and what school people went to….

      (… not much change there then)

  10. I see that Bert… er, I mean the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been getting heavy-handed with the Russians re. the Olympics recently. It would be a shame if Bert… er, I mean the CAS representative who regularly visits this blog were to be put in any danger as a result of this.

    Cricket is just so much safer.

  11. Perhaps that now he won’t be so busy there’s money to be made as a Patrick Stewart lookalike at Star Trek conventions.

  12. Most of the writing on King Cricket, both above and below the line, is better than most cricket writing in the ‘mainstream media’.

    Barney Ronay apart, anyone would think they’ve all had a sense of humour bypass.

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