It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when the final wheel fell off. It was probably a couple of months ago, but England’s cricketers have had to continue shoving “it” along anyway. No wonder they ended up going round in circles.
It’s not been the best tour. In a vain effort to gain a well-paid but pointless position at the ECB, let’s take the positives.
We can see it now. England are already drafting their excuses for when he’s injured. “We need to find another all-rounder because it’s impossible to balance the side in his absence. He’s effectively two players in one and 12 into 11 won’t go.”
His bowling’s solid but unspectacular. His batting’s surprisingly unshowy. His mental resilience appears first rate. A three-format, two-discipline cricketer – expect diminishing returns as he’s worn to a nub.
We’ve warmed to Broad quite a lot during this tour. Not that we ever disliked him, but he’s always been hard to really root for. However, it takes a certain kind of person to be bullied by an entire nation and not buckle; to in fact take pride in it.
Delusion can be a strength for an international sportsman and Broad has somehow played well in a weak side when throwing in the towel and sleepwalking through a few matches would have been infinitely easier. If only he could stop saying ‘to be fair’ in interviews.
Back when England’s pace bowling strength in depth seemed like a real thing, you could get down as far as Ajmal Shahzad and still think that he’d probably do okay given a run in the Test team. Nowadays, Steven Finn’s turned into Ishant Sharma at the end of a one-day international.
In this new and murky light, Chris Jordan somehow looked like he backed up the positive impression he made when appearing in our county cricket round-up pretty much every time we bothered to write it. He managed this despite taking six wickets at 42 in the one-day series. Honestly, what a tour.
Sort of carried on doing what he does – something almost no other England player managed. The fact that ‘what he does’ is mind-blowingly spectacular is a bonus.
Why did you push it without wheels for so long? Look what you’ve done to the axles. And the chassis. Junaid Khan (new non-blasphemous exclamation), it’s a right mess. It’s going to really cost you to get this fixed.16 Appeals
And England give their coach the boot. At least that’s the case according to ‘reports’.
We’re not actually suggesting that the two events are linked. We’re just struck by the fact that we’ve been sitting around checking the cricket news once every four minutes for the whole of the last week only for something to happen the minute we step away.
A watched Cricinfo never breaks news, as the old adage goes.
Some of you are suggesting we should have some sort of official stance on this development, but, like we say, we have had a pint. It was called ‘long hop’ funnily enough.
There’s a suggestion that Flower might take up some other job within the ECB. Doubt he’ll be running the website, so maybe he’ll become ‘mega-director’ or ‘stategist emperor’ or something, in which case his not being coach will seem less significant. We don’t know. We haven’t even finished reading the article yet. We’ve been otherwise engaged.31 Appeals
We ask that not even knowing whether it’s still a draft or not? When does a draft proposal become an official proposal? When they actually come to vote on it? Presumably that’ll only happen once everything’s been thrashed out, in which case official proposal status will be a transient and meaningless state.
Whatever it is, where are we? Our answer is: don’t know.
There have been all sorts of changes in the last few days as the various pedlars, wide boys and shysters tweak things in order to get enough people onside. We’ve heard about a few of these changes, but there is sure to be plenty more going on that we don’t know about.
The upshot is that the future of the sport hinges on a vote on proposals the exact nature of which are unknown to us. Being as the whole thing’s entirely out of our hands anyway, we suppose that doesn’t especially matter in any practical sense.
In other news, Bangladesh got battered by Sri Lanka. You probably saw. Shakib al Hasan was hoping it would be a spicy pitch. Sri Lanka scored 730-6.21 Appeals
It doesn’t really matter which format gave rise to it, no-one wants to see a headline reading ‘Australia’s mastery entrenched’, which is what we just saw over at Cricinfo.
Nothing good is ever entrenched. Tuesday night pub night isn’t entrenched, despite having persisted for over a decade. Nor is our taste for salt and pepper chicken wings entrenched. If something’s entrenched, it implies that the wider world wants to dig it out and end the horror.
Racist views are entrenched. Problems are entrenched. Soldiers engaged in a long, arduous and inhumane war might be entrenched. When something is entrenched, it is always, always a bad thing.
This is a time for heros. Michael Lumb, Luke Wright, Jade Dernbach and Danny Briggs – lead us from this squalid realm. Lead us to a 2-1 series defeat which, while still undeniably a loss, at least hints that Australia’s mastery is not entrenched.11 Appeals
India picked Ronnie Irani. Hurray!
The Ronnie Irani in question is Stuart Binny. Speaking at the toss, MS Dhoni said that he would give India a lower order batsman and an additional bowling option. Needless to say, Binny bowls a bit of medium-pace.
How appropriate that he should make his debut in New Zealand, land of the Chris Harris. And what a debut! R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja batted ahead of him, so he didn’t make it to the crease and he was then entrusted with a single over, which went for eight.
A specialist number eight who doesn’t really bowl much. Every team should have one.8 Appeals
On the face of it, there should be plenty to say about the fifth one-day international, but shortly after watching it we didn’t feel moved to write anything. A day later, we’re left with one abiding truth: we should feel a little more strongly than ‘peeved’ when England throw away any match against Australia.
It’s over half a year since either team played anyone else. We were momentarily elated when James Tredwell edged to the keeper, giving Australia the win, because we thought it was all over. Then we remembered the Twenty20 internationals. There are three of them. They finish in February and at that point it will be 17 months until the Ashes.
We’re beginning to live through what we saw on the horizon back when we got rather irate about them scheduling 10 Ashes Tests in a row. It’s becoming a weird, philosophical exercise, more than a series of cricket matches. We’re starting to ask ourself questions like: if you replace all of the components of something, is it still the same thing? Is a team with Nathan Coulter-Nile and without Mitchell Johnson still ‘Australia’ if it wears the right clothes? What about a team with Danny Briggs, Alex Hales and Luke Wright in it? Is that still England? They call them specialists, but is this specialism or dilution?
And why is it that we find ourself asking such questions specifically now, in the aftermath of an ostensibly compelling match?18 Appeals
Although, admittedly, you could just as easily say that some England players beat some Australian players. England were down a Pietersen and an Anderson, but Australia were down a Clarke, a Warner, a Watson, a Haddin and we can’t actually be bothered working out who else would be in the first eleven. If they were using a handicapping system, Australia probably still won.
But let’s not quibble
England won a match. Furthermore, Ben Stokes went from bringing about some sort of six-shower from James Faulkner a couple of matches ago to bowling six dots at him and conceding just a single run before dismissing him. That’s progress, that is. Stokes also found time to hit 70, batting at three.
The future is here; the future is Ben Stokes putting in top performances in consolation wins.
The future is also Jos Buttler, the fastest bat in the West and the most insanely watchable England batsman since Eoin Morgan was a novelty. You want to see a bat flourish? Jos is your man. Sometimes hitting the ball is just a dull preamble to that follow-through.
Buttler hits fours and sixes that literally defy expectations. As often as not, your initial response upon seeing him go for a shot is to internally scream: “Don’t take swing at that one! It’s not right for the shot!” only to see the ball sail into the stands after a bizarre contortion and an insanely fast blur of willow. It’s bleached-clean hitting and his bat appears to only really have a middle. We’re slightly in love with him.
His audition to become England’s next Test wicketkeeper is going pretty well, but hopefully they leave him to pretty much just do what he’s doing for the time being.15 Appeals
We like the way people are talking about ‘the draft proposal’ as if that’s in some way a unique label. The damn thing needs branding. We need some shorthand so that Cricinfo don’t have to invest a paragraph at the start of every article explaining what it is.
The other day, we said we’d written about whatever-it’s-called twice. The first article questions whether it would really be so bad if one of The Big Three (is ‘the big three’ enough of a thing to warrant capitalisation?) were relegated. The second’s just been published on Cricinfo. It’s about relenting and letting Australia, England and India do whatever they want in the hope that maybe they’ll learn from the experience.8 Appeals
A draft proposal regarding the structure of international cricket will be presented to the ICC Executive Board during its quarterly meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29. One of the elements is a two-tier Test system in which India, England and Australia would be protected from relegation. (So a three-tier system, then.)
The supposed justification is that this is a commercial decision; that cricket would become financially unsustainable without all of these three at the top table.
Really? Is this a fact? It’s presented as if it’s a fact, but is that actually the case? Who decided it was a fact? Would all the fans in each of those countries completely lose interest in the sport should their team be relegated?
Here’s an alternative scenario
India are relegated and forced to play Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan et al. The popularity of the sport in those countries skyrockets. India return to the top tier at the first time of asking, leaving the health of the sport in each of the second tier nations in a far better state than when they were relegated.
Maybe that’s a trifle idealistic, but it’s also true that sports fans’ main interest is competition. They don’t always care so much at what level their team is playing. Manchester City Football Club have won the FA Cup and the Premier League in recent years, but many of the fans still rate the 1999 Division Two play-off final against Gillingham as being one of the club’s most memorable days because of the extraordinary drama of that match, with City clawing back a two-goal deficit during injury time.
When the short-term is the only timeframe that matters
If there is one thing that cricket administrators need to understand, it is that what they consider to be the right decisions for the commercial viability of the game are merely the right decisions for the commercial viability of the game in the short-term.
Doing what seems rational from a short-term commercial perspective actually means doing exactly the wrong things from a long-term commercial perspective.
Abandoning Test cricket entirely makes sense from a short-term commercial perspective – it’s the hardest format to sell to fans. However, in the long-term Test fans are generally the most loyal and easiest to retain as the very complexities which make Test cricket so inaccessible to new fans are precisely what engage people in the long-term.
Similarly, it makes sense for England to play Australia this summer from a short-term commercial perspective because that’s the series that currently gains most interest in those countries and therefore makes most money. However, in the long-term people will grown weary of seeing the same thing over and over again. Big events draw people in, but diversity is what keeps them interested. How will we know the Ashes is special if we have nothing against which to compare it?
We once wrote a five-part short story for Cricinfo in which short-term commercial optimisation fucked everything up. If you’ve the time and inclination, have a read. It starts with a bloke presenting something at an ICC board meeting. The end of it is basically what’s happening now.33 Appeals
Okay, let’s do this. Let’s write a 200-word article in which we somehow find a new way of emphasising how wonderful the third Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was for readers who already know precisely how wonderful it was and who probably followed the match much more closely than we did anyway.
We’ll also shoe-horn in a hilarious joke at our own expense which somehow makes a wider point about cricket with additional implications for wider society. We’ll do this off the top of our head during a break at work while trying to block out the world’s worst radio station. The first comment will then relate to why we haven’t yet covered some earth-shattering news which one of Cricinfo’s billion writers has broken during a live transcription of a Mashrafe Mortaza press conference which was supposed to be about the chances of Khulna Division in next year’s whatever-the-hell-Bangladesh’s-first-class-competition-is-called. The resultant masterpiece – which will obviously be nothing of the sort – will then sit in prime position on a website of almost no significance for a matter of hours before the moron of a writer feels he needs to add something ‘fresh’, thus pushing the article further down the page, where it will never again be seen by a human.
Alternatively, we could have some sort of tetchy meltdown and one of you can point out that we’ve actually written 236 words, plus a rubbish headline.14 Appeals