Our latest column for the Mumbai Mirror is about the unextinguishable rage of Ireland captain, Will Porterfield. You may notice that the column is titled ‘Bowzzzat!’ and they used the same line when flagging our piece on yesterday’s front page.
For clarity, our name is Bowden as in ‘bow tie’ and not as in ‘bow down’ so that title doesn’t really work. It’s too late now though. It’s out there.
For anyone skipping these pieces in the assumption that they’re ‘proper journalism’ – don’t worry, they’re not. They’re pretty much the same stuff we’d write here, only longer.10 Appeals
The Mumbai Mirror – formerly the Bombay Bathroom Mirror – stuck our picture on the front page this morning. And not even for some sort of crime. Out of merit. Or out of perceived merit at any rate. It’s all rather unnerving.
Today’s piece is about Eden Park and how India v Zimbabwe didn’t turn into the record-breaking runfest that many were expecting. You can read it here.15 Appeals
We appear to write a column for the Mumbai Mirror. We heard that this might happen as long ago as yesterday, so you’re not much behind with this.
Here’s our first piece for them. It’s about how England will go about developing a template for success at the 2019 World Cup. (Warning: that tired-eyed photo of our face from the All Out Cricket site is again used, but slightly bigger).5 Appeals
Guardian writer Toby Chasseaud provided us with a shocking revelation the other day. In 1987-88, of the 13 players who represented England on a tour of Pakistan, only one had attended a private school.
Did that really happen? Was that really the way things once were?
We don’t want to get all class war about this. It’s not that there’s any real difference between the two types of person. We know both normal, state-educated citizens and overprivileged public school toffs who’ve had everything handed to them on a plate, and we get along perfectly well with both groups. Just because the latter swan about above and disconnected from any sort of meritocracy doesn’t mean there isn’t a tiny shred of decency deep within the blackened souls of at least a handful of them.
It’s not about that. It’s about balance. It’s about having a representative England cricket team, which means having both groups playing alongside the kind of hard-working immigrant who is also a major part of the English (and Welsh) society in which we live. If nothing else, diversity makes for a better team.
People see the England team and they increasingly believe that cricket is a sport that’s only ever been played in public schools. (For the benefit of overseas readers: public = private in England – go figure.) The effect is compounded by the bizarre obsessions of the equally public school cricket media, who are forever referring to so-and-so’s upbringing at such-and-such-a-school as if that means the faintest bloody thing to any of us.
Not so long ago, we played a game with Special Correspondent Dad ‘name an English state school international cricketer’. We came up with Ravi Bopara.
We initially thought that Alex Hales was another (almost solely on the basis that he’s a bit laddish on Twitter), but he’s not. Jimmy Anderson was someone we inexplicably overlooked and we’ve just checked and James Tredwell is another. You can probably come up with others, but there aren’t many.
The simple reason for this is that there isn’t really any state school cricket any more. Nor is there much cricket on telly. What was once a brutal sport for everyone is fast becoming little more than a genteel pastime for the upper classes, like opera.
For those of us who already like cricket but move in circles where it is entirely unacceptable to like opera, this is a very worrying development indeed. It’s striking to think that once upon a time the situation was different and that perhaps, just perhaps, things needn’t be this way.56 Appeals
We’ve never been a huge fan of the phrase ‘more than one way to skin a cat’. Cats are decent sorts and while yours would happily eat you if you were dead, that doesn’t mean he wishes you harm – it merely reflects his no-nonsense attitude to the difference between life and death.
We therefore propose the alternative, animal-friendly phrase ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai’.
For those who’ve never had the pleasure of imbibing the outrageously sweet, spiced Indian tea, it tends to be made with condensed milk which forms a skin as it cools. You can pinch it off, spoon it off, stir it in or whatever. Point is, there’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai.
Which obviously brings us to the subject of winning 50-over cricket matches.
The bulletproof bunker of the critic
Over the last day or so, we’ve been struck by some of the criticisms levelled at the England team with regards to the way they go about putting together a total. Observing that some teams are putting on 150 in the last 10 overs, people are saying that England are behind the times; that they need to heed the lessons of AB de Villiers’ approach to batting.
However, South Africans will tell you that the key lesson to take from AB de Villiers’ batting is Hashim Amla. When Amla (or someone else in the top order, but usually Amla) lays a decent foundation, de Villiers goes mental, mental, chicken oriental. When he doesn’t get that platform, there’s a soupcon more sanity to his batting.
South Africa actually tend to take a conservative approach at the start of their innings. Against Zimbabwe, they made 28 in the first 10 overs; against India, 36; against West Indies, 30; and against Pakistan, 35. This is their strategy. It is their way of skinning the chai.
In contrast, New Zealand – another forward-thinking side who apparently ‘get’ one-day cricket – open with Brendon McCullum, who delivers mental, mental chicken oriental from the outset. They then consolidate a bit (or scrabble to the miniature target that their bowlers have gifted them for the loss of most of their wickets).
Point is, when pundits criticise England by saying: “Look at McCullum, look at de Villiers,” they rather overlook the fact that these players play for different sides. Different sides who skin chai in different ways.
But England just leave the skin on
Entirely true. This isn’t meant to be a defence of England, but criticism of the critics.
A couple of years ago, back when they were winning fairly regularly, England were being heavily criticised for trying to ‘build a platform’ when batting in one-day internationals.
“They’re out of touch. The game’s moved on,” people said. But was that approach really so different to the one being employed by South Africa at the moment?
If there’s a difference, it’s in the volume of runs scored at the death. With Morgan, Bopara and Buttler lining up one after another, England arguably had the personnel to do the job, but on English pitches and presented with platforms of variable quality, it didn’t always happen.
Then again, it wasn’t really happening for South Africa either back then. In 2013, they won 14 of their 29 matches and were thrashed in the Champions Trophy semi-final by none other than England.
South Africa aren’t exactly setting this World Cup alight, you know?
That’s not really the point we’re making. We’re not saying that theirs is the best approach. We’re saying at least they have conviction. Whether it’s right or wrong, South Africa have spent the last two years refining their approach and now they can test it out properly.
By contrast, England lost faith in their blueprint and tried to copy everyone else’s. Not someone else’s – everyone else’s. Alex Hales is their Brendon McCullum, Jos Buttler is their AB de Villiers and they also want all Australia’s fast bowlers, all of the mystery spinners who aren’t even at the tournament, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Except James Tredwell. No-one quite knows why, but they don’t want him.
Know yourself, fool
When England have a platform-building batting line-up, they want an explosive top order. When they have an explosive top order and it implodes, they lament the lack of firepower further down. They don’t know what they want and because they keep losing, they persist in this belief that everyone else knows the secret to one-day cricket and they somehow need to copy them.
But you copy someone else and at best all you’ll end up with is a slightly inferior version of what they’ve got. England have now made so many photocopies (remember them) that the ink’s running low and the prints are coming out paler than ever before.
If you don’t know your own game, how do you judge it? A par score after 20 overs might be 110, but that might be because it’s 80 for South Africa and 140 for India. They have different pacing strategies. If you’ve got 110 after 20 overs, what does that mean for you? And what does it mean for your team’s approach from then on? This is half the problem with England’s batting. They fail to correctly-balance risk and reward because they don’t where they’re up to.
There’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai
Alastair Cook probably is too limited to be a truly effective one-day batsman, but that doesn’t mean that you tear up the solid platform approach and replace it with the all-guns-blazing approach. You just need to find a better batsman and maybe hone your approach rather than binning it. Show some conviction.
When it comes to one-day cricket, England need to learn that they’re not missing out on some magic formula. There’s more than one way to skin a cup of chai.21 Appeals
A lot of people – seemingly a majority – are saying that Peter Moores ‘has to go’. There is probably some truth in this because the pressure and scrutiny he will be subjected to should he be allowed to remain would most likely be crushing for the team. However, we also feel that England’s World Cup performance is to a great extent not his fault.
When Moores became coach, he inherited a captain who had been not so much named as anointed. The post-Ashes shitfight had seen the ECB nail their colours to the mast, set up a protective barrier around it and then launch a fleet of fighter jets to patrol the area.
Alastair Cook was England’s one-day captain and if Peter Moores didn’t agree, there was, quite frankly, nothing he could do about it. A coach should be confident and single-minded, but an England coach also has to survive. Undermining the ECB would not have been the way to achieve this.
Even if he didn’t at first, Moores will surely have grown desperate to drop Cook from the one-day side as he desperately tried to lay paving slabs around that one dead tree stump. Had it been uprooted sooner, maybe he would have had a chance to prepare the ground better, but he never got that chance and valuable stones were broken in the meantime.
Moores had to build a 10-man team to compete against 11 and the more he tried to work around Cook’s shortcomings, the more damage was done to those moved around to accommodate him. It wasn’t just the matches Alex Hales didn’t play or the omissions Ian Bell shouldn’t have had to endure; it was also the defeats.
England lost and when you lose, you react. Confidence ebbs and you make changes. England made so many changes that by the time they got rid of the one thing that was definitely wrong – Cook – half of what surrounded it had become wrong as well and there was no time to put things right.
So maybe Peter Moores does have to go. But he also has our sympathy. This was his lot and he did what he could with it. As pathetically as things turned out, and as ridiculous as this sounds, given the same set of circumstances we can’t imagine anyone else would have done much better.29 Appeals
Five different four-year plans in every World Cup cycle – the illusion of stability in English cricket
After six months of solid one-day cricket, England started the World Cup with a different side. Chris Woakes had been opening the bowling and doing well – he came on first change. Gary Ballance hadn’t played one-day cricket for six months – he came in at number three. James Taylor had been making a decent fist of batting at three – he came in at six.
As well as making a mockery of all the months of World Cup preparation the team had enjoyed, the most striking theme of these changes is that they ‘fixed’ things that didn’t need fixing.
You need long-term plans, but you can’t be beholden to them. Ballance at three makes sense, but if he hasn’t actually been playing cricket and you appear to have fluked a decent number three in the meantime in the form of Taylor, then Taylor becomes Plan A. Similarly, Stuart Broad may well be your first-choice opening bowler, but if he’s had surgery and seems a shadow of his former self, you have to respond to what’s in front of you.
Maybe it’s a labels thing. Maybe the stats program associates data with a name without recognising that the person bearing that name doesn’t always remain a constant. People say England play like robots, but the point is that they really, really don’t and so treating them that way makes no sense.
It’s not really about picking the right players
It’s not even about giving them the right roles within the team. It’s that there’s a way of managing a team. People think that you can pick explosive cricketers and tell them to play with freedom, but that sort of self-expression thrives best in a stable environment.
A lot of people will point at Peter Moores as being guilty of that mismanagement, but is that really fair? England also lost to Bangladesh in the last World Cup and here’s what we wrote this time last year when the Netherlands beat England in the World T20.
“The will to win will always triumph when pitted against a fear of failure,” is one line from that piece and that’s the thing – England’s tournament performances are always absolutely shot-through with a fear of failure.
It’s the culture
It’s not the culture. People say it’s the culture of English cricket, but it’s not. England produces plenty of liberated attacking cricketers. Nor is it the fault of the head coach really. Whoever that is tends to know the value of playing ‘no fear’ cricket. It’s just that they invariably inherit an environment where producing such a thing is almost an impossibility.
There’s an illusion of stability in the way the England cricket team is managed. There are reviews, there are plans and then there’s another revolution. The fear of change and the desire for stability leads to a stubborn marriage to whatever overarching plan is currently considered ‘correct’. There’s intransigence where there should be flexibility and then overreaction when there should be moderation.
Think of it like the moving of tectonic plates. In most cricket nations, they slide. They’re never static, but nor is there much drama. In England, the plate sticks, the pressure builds and then it suddenly lurches forward causing a huge earthquake.
Imagine you’re playing for England
Good cricket requires conviction. The blessed few have this in abundance, no matter what the circumstances, but most rational humans require evidence on which to build their self-confidence. Practice makes perfect and the more times you’ve done something, the more confident you will be that you can perform the task in question.
Today’s England number three was playing his eighth one-day international. The guy he replaced had just played his 16th. The guy he replaced had played 11 one-dayers when he was moved down the order.
Kumar Sangakkara has played 402 one-day internationals and 236 of them at three. In the last two years, he has batted in no other position because he has been looking to practise and perfect his role. You might think that is an unfair comparison, but the point is that even Kumar Sangakkara needs steady, consistent preparation.
It’s not just number three either. This was the 20th time that Moeen Ali had opened the batting in a one-day international and if Ian Bell seems like he’s been the opener for a while, he was out of the side as recently as December.
The Bell example is another good one
People typically have one of two major gripes about Bell right now. One, that he’s too lumpen to open the batting in one-day internationals; or two, that he’s inexplicably playing in lumpen fashion when opening the batting in one-day internationals despite having it in him to play more expansively.
On the face of it, Bell as opener in this World Cup is a ‘plan’. But looked at more closely, they gave him a nice long run-up and then tried to trip him up at the last minute. Having performed well as opener for a couple of years, they shunted him to three last summer and then dropped him after two failures. They brought him back in Sri Lanka – again at three – and then dropped him after one failure and a run-a-ball 35.
Bell is England’s senior one-day batsman – far more experienced than anyone else – and management somehow managed to make him fearful and uncertain of his place in the side just in time for a World Cup. That is quite an achievement. Put him in a team with 10 other people feeling much the same way, add the threat of World Cup elimination, stir in the potential humiliation of losing to Bangladesh and serve. Delicious.
Who’s to blame?
The players are at the pointy-end of a mighty wedge of chaos that is driven into every major world tournament.
Do you blame the cricketers for playing with a fear of failure when they’re inexperienced or undermined and part of a side that’s been cobbled together through luck as much as judgement?
Do you blame the coaching team who inherited a floundering one-day side captained by a Test batsman who shouldn’t have been playing but couldn’t be sacked? After all, they’ve had to cobble together a side in a short space of time after said captain was finally removed within months of the World Cup.
Or do you blame the administrators who make at least five different four-year plans in every four-year cycle – one after each Ashes series, one after each World T20 and one after each World Cup?
They wouldn’t need to do this if England were successful, of course, but where are all the stalwarts on whom that last plan depended? Where’s Pietersen? Where’s Trott? Where’s Bresnan? Where’s Swann? And why do Anderson, Broad, Finn, Morgan and Bopara now seem like wishy-washy watercolour paintings of their former selves?
It’s not that England have problems at World Cups. It’s just that World Cups are when tension and pressure are the greatest and when conviction, self-confidence and experience become most valuable. World Cups are simply where England’s perennial problems come to a head.32 Appeals
You probably have something to say about England getting bundled out of the World Cup by Bangladesh’s seam bowlers. You can leave your thoughts in the comments of this article while we keep ourself busy writing some sort of… actually, we’re not too sure what you’d call it.
To quote absolutely everyone: they moved the Ashes for this?34 Appeals
Cricket needs jeopardy. Jeopardy makes things exciting.
You have jeopardy in a tournament – the chance of being knocked out – and lo, the match is exciting. Something is riding on it. Tension’s good.
You have jeopardy in an innings – the chance of being bowled out – and you get the same benefits.
Cricket is always best when wickets win a match. Test cricket is about taking 20 wickets and Test cricket’s best – but one-day cricket can also have its moments. That sense of jeopardy adds a whole extra dimension to proceedings, as we saw today.
Even AB de Villiers couldn’t save South Africa. His team again proved that other than he and Amla, they’re something of a fairweather batting side. For their part, Pakistan again proved that having two bowling attacks banned and another one injured need be no barrier to success.
But if Pakistan were the real winners, that oh-so-out-of-form side ‘cricket’ also earned a rare victory. Twenty20 is too short for wickets to be of any real concern. Surely here was proof that 50-over cricket’s niche is as a form of the game where they are at least meaningful?10 Appeals
Somewhere, in a dark, neglected, cobweb-strewn corner of the Cricinfo homepage, an article of ours was briefly accessible. You may have missed it because Mark Nicholas was hogging all the prime real e-state.
The article in question is about the format of the World Cup – same as all cricket articles these days. However, our article differs from all of the others in one crucial way. It is woven together out of our own lies rather than merely being pieced together using the lies of others. This is that article.25 Appeals