If there’s one thing Australia have been lacking, it’s dull, steady, three-an-over partnerships in the middle order. Today they got one and they look like a proper team again.
Even while gaily twerking atop England’s comatose body, there was a fragility about the Aussie Test team. How odd that they should give the impression of solidity through Shaun Marsh, the flakiest cricketer since… well, since Shane Watson, who he replaced.
Marsh is a true all-rounder when it comes to flakiness. Physically, he’s only ever one ill-advised blink away from a major muscle strain and behaviour-wise, he’s been known to partake of liquid refreshment. He once made reference to having a favourite vodka. Honestly, who has a favourite vodka?
Then there’s performance. It takes real commitment to the art of making a balls of things to maintain an average of 35 in first-class cricket when you’re also capable of looking as skilled as Shaun Marsh. At the age of 30, this is only his ninth first-class hundred. And just look at this run of Test scores. It’s demented. It’s top form or no form and no middle ground. Yet somehow this is the man who delivered much-needed easy-not-to-watch functionality.15 Appeals
“We’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“No, we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Not being funny, but actually, I think you’ll find we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Yeah, right, whatever. Have you even seen our fast bowlers?”
The build-up to what promises to be a fascinating Test series between South Africa and Australia has been a bit one-note and we haven’t really learnt much from it.
The Kallis-shaped, Kallis-sized hole
How did South Africa become the top-ranked Test side? They scored plenty of runs and they fielded four cracking seam bowlers as well as a spinner. Very few sides can manage this because very few sides can field a guy who averages eight runs more than Kevin Pietersen with the bat and who also happens to be a darn handy pace bowler in his spare time.
Of course Jacques Kallis is irreplaceable, which must therefore beg the question: how exactly are you going to replace Jacques Kallis?
Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren seem the most likely beneficiaries, which means shedding around 30 runs an innings and gaining precisely what in terms of bowling? Not a lot when you’re talking about a fourth or fifth bowler.
This South Africa side is not what it was.
Long handle deployment
Complete these two sequences:
- Steyn, Philander, Morkel…
- Johnson, Harris, Siddle…
What comes next is the word ‘attack’. If the main threat comes from the seamers, how will the batsmen approach the spinners? Probably with a fairly wild look in their eyes, you’d think.
But that goes both ways. A handful of spin bowlers can dismiss batsmen intent on survival, but there are plenty more who can outfox a psychopath who’s lost all perspective.
Robin Peterson isn’t even his mum’s favourite spin bowler, but he thinks he might profit from being underestimated and he might well be right. Nathan Lyon’s in a similar position and, as has been pointed out, how might the Ashes have gone in England had he been selected from the start?
Okay, it probably warrants a mention. The one thing we would say about this is that while Mitchell Johnson’s on a six-month hot streak, Dale Steyn’s maintained a pretty decent temperature for many years. We’re not sure whether that’ll prove pertinent, but we have greater faith in the latter ‘turning up’ and then remaining ‘up’ once there.20 Appeals
Late season, I always try to take in a day of county cricket with my old friend, Charley “The Gent” Malloy. It helps us both to prepare for the inevitable winter withdrawal symptoms to come.
By 11am we were already tucking in to sesame bagels stuffed with honey roasted salmon, washed down with a perfumed Austrian Riesling, quite similar to the German jobbie we had enjoyed at Chester-le-Street.
“I did something very metrosexual the other week; about as metrosexual as it gets”, said Charley. “Can you guess what it was?”
I looked him up and down carefully. “Nothing to do with hair gel?” I stated, more than asked. “But was it something to do with clothes?”
“Listen carefully to what I said,” instructed Charley. “I DID something. Not wore something. But that’s more than enough clues. You have until one o’clock to guess what it was.”
The puzzle felt a bit light on clues, actually, but then Charley is like a TV quiz master without quiz structure. And without prizes.
Around 12:15, Charley said to me: “Any idea yet what my uber-metrosexual deed was, then?”
“Still, pondering, Charley, still pondering,” I said. “I’ve got until one o’clock anyway, so plenty of time to mull some more and possibly even watch some cricket just now.”
“You’ve got until 12:30,” said Charley. “That’s when lunch is being taken.”
“But you said one o’clock, Charley,” I protested. “I forgot that everything is half-an-hour earlier in September,” he replied.
Just shy of 12:30, I decided to distract Charley by changing the subject. “By the way, I saw your boy on the TV the other evening, right at the end of the Women’s Ashes T20 at Chelmsford. I’m certain it was him.” Charley smiled and said: “Yup, all three of us were there; the missus too. Well done. Had you worked it out all along then?”
“Worked it out? Oh…” I winked at Charley and secretly winked at myself.
“Taking the family to women’s cricket. It doesn’t get much more metrosexual than that, does it?” effused Charley. “Shame you spotted the boy on the TV – made my puzzle too easy for you.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something more challenging for next season, Charley,” I replied.6 Appeals
‘How about we put together a nice cosy environment where everyone goes along with everything Alastair says?’
Imagine we’re not talking about cricket for a second and put yourself in a position where someone’s just said that to you. How do you feel? Do you think that sounds like a good idea? Some bloke called Alastair? Does he know best?
As ever, there’s the fact that we DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL, but if you overlook that minor detail and read the words of yesterday’s ECB statement, that first paragraph feels like the subtext.
“We must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”
No. You earn support. You earn support by making good decisions. Did England lose because the captain didn’t have the full support of his team, or did the captain not have the full support of the team because they were losing?
People should be challenged. Leaders, in particular, need to be challenged – if only because they tend to be the kinds of people who think they know best. The kinds of people who see themselves as leaders are, by and large, less open to other opinions than your average sentient human.
We’ll be honest, our opinion is coloured by our own experiences, but we’ve been in enough work situations where someone has demanded loyalty to know that it is almost always a sign that they have lost control – usually because that person doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
The disappointing part is that we’d kind of warmed to Alastair Cook’s captaincy. Back when he was the anointed one, we were far from onside, but the more Shane Warne slagged him off, the more we thought he was doing plenty right. The on-field tactics were often a bit wobbly, but that’s the kind of thing you can pick up over time. The off-field stuff’s harder and Cook appeared to be keeping things together.
That view would now appear to be massively, massively wrong. A week or so ago, we really felt like this winter battering might have been the making of Cook. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but apparently it can also make you weaker and a little bit insecure.28 Appeals
Leading India by 301 runs after the first innings, New Zealand frittered away all but 40 of them in the second innings to ensure an unexpectedly exciting finish to the first Test. If you’re in an almost unassailable position and want to make things interesting for yourself, get bowled out for 105 and invite India to chase a target.
As we said on Friday, India will be tough opponents for England this summer. The fact that they’re losing masks how they’re losing. They’re losing with grit and running good teams very close where once they were just sort of having a bit of a sit-down and waiting for matches to end. They’re genuinely rebuilding rather than just using that word as a meaningless excuse for being beaten.
New Zealand are more building than rebuilding. You could say that they’re exploiting India while they’re in a state of flux, but we suspect there’s more to it than that. They have a middle-order and a well organised seam attack, although they could still do with some reliable opening batsmen.
Another weakness is that they’re full of Trents, Coreys and Kanes. In an ideal world, all Kiwi cricketers would be called Chris, Martin or both.8 Appeals
Well that was easily the tensest sporting moment of the last 20 years. Possibly ever. There he was, on 99, and Cricinfo refreshed several times with no change to his score. Surely this moment couldn’t be ripped away from us so cruelly? We were absolutely on tenterhooks.
But huzzah! After the next refresh, his score did change and Mominul Haque has another Test hundred. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Cox’s Bazar tonight. There’d be dancing here too if it weren’t for the fact that we don’t dance and wouldn’t dream of celebrating anything in such a ridiculous way, let alone the achievements of a 22-year-old Bangladeshi batsman whose career we’re following largely because we think his name sounds kind of funny.
Mominul is currently batting with Shakib al Hasan who newer readers may not know we’ve been following since 2006. That should probably be considered a warning that Mominul coverage is unlikely to die down any time soon.7 Appeals
It’s a week in which teams have been relying on their big name, 30-something batsmen. This isn’t a coincidence. That’s just the way Test cricket works.
Kumar Sangakkara has indulged in some average bolsteration by hitting 424 runs in the second Test against Bangladesh. For their part, Bangladesh managed two runs more than that in their first innings, which isn’t a bad effort.
In New Zealand, Brendon McCullum made 224 against India, who are now 130-4 in reply. India of course tour England in the summer and after seeing real fight from their batsmen in South Africa, we think they’ll provide stern opposition. Then again, you wonder who wouldn’t fancy their chances of steamrollering England at the minute. No-one even knows who plays for them any more. Cook, Bell, Broad, Anderson…
India’s pace bowling is still pretty wonky, but New Zealand’s is looking stronger these days. At the time of writing, Trent Boult had 74 Test wickets at 26.09 and rarely seems to let them down, home or away, while Tim Southee’s passed 100 wickets by the age of 25. Neil Wagner also bowls for New Zealand.19 Appeals
In our experience, the employees most likely to be considered ‘team players’ are the obedient, unquestioning ones. Management may make great show of inviting feedback – and they may honestly believe that they’re open to it – but the truth is that no-one makes a decision thinking it is the wrong one.
Most of us, when our thinking is questioned, are liable to grow defensive. We’re also likely to somewhat take against the person who is challenging us. A manager might think: “Why are you trying to undermine me? Why can’t you be more of a team player, like Alan or Deano?”
This sort of situation is compounded when the questioner reads social situations badly and when the person being criticised is feeling vulnerable anyway. We wonder to what extent this might be what happened with Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Andy Flower in Australia.
Motives and execution
The Telegraph is reporting a Pietersen ‘rant’ about Andy Flower during a players’ meeting. You can easily imagine that he might have gone about things the wrong way, but was what he was saying really so radically different to what the rest of the players were feeling?
Cook and Prior called the meeting because they felt they were relying too heavily on Flower. It seems Pietersen was of a similar mind, but felt that this was Flower’s fault. This is a distinction, but his motives for speaking up were the same: the team weren’t playing well and he had identified a lack of self-reliance among the players.
At heart, he still wanted the team to improve, but expressed himself badly with the effect perhaps magnified by his frustration at being marginalised.
Threat to sense of self
Andy Flower is a strong man. Few would question that. Could a man who took a stand against Robert Mugabe ever feel threatened by someone like Kevin Pietersen?
Well, perhaps. Taking a stand against a dictator takes courage, but if anything it is an act which adds to your sense of self. You can take pride in what you’ve done. It is not easier to do than accepting you were wrong about something – but it is a different thing. Accepting you were wrong means acknowledging your own fallibility and who can readily take pride in that? Flower might well not be that kind of person.
It’s the flipside of having conviction. When things are going badly, conviction might manifest itself as greater certainty that you are right and a belief that what is going wrong is that people aren’t doing exactly what you want them to do. All your repressed insecurities and self-doubt might therefore become focused on those who question you the most (and in the clumsiest manner).
A strong, confident, self-assured leader of men
Alastair Cook was perhaps in a similar position. He will certainly have been having doubts about his ability to lead the team – he’s said as much himself. That’s not a strong base from which to withstand questions about the way you’re going about things. It’s easy to say that valid points should be taken on board by those in authority, but insecurity can affect us all – particularly when the defeats are piling up.
We’ve done another Pietersen piece for Cricinfo. You’re probably a bit weary of it all by now, but if you’re not, it’s about the ECB information vacuum and the concept of ‘rebuilding’.29 Appeals
Remember when England dropped Nick Compton? At the time, we thought maybe they were getting a little bit ahead of themselves. People said Joe Root was amazing and there were loads of other amazing batsmen queuing up to play for England and come on, come on, bring us the future; the future’s going to be amazing multiplied by amazing!
A few months later, 33-year-old Mike Carberry made 78 against a Western Australia Chairman’s XI and England were now in a position where they thought: “Oh, okay, er, maybe he could open the batting? And then Joe Root could move back down the order? Yeah? Yeah?”
Sometimes you can overestimate the quality of what you have in reserve. Particularly if you’re cocky and kind of stupid.
But of course we’re in a completely different situation now. Back then, England were planning for a glorious future and ushering in talented youngsters in a bid to experience it sooner. Now England are shit. Now it’s time to rebuild with talented youngsters. You know, like Australia did earlier in the year.
Because surely that should be the template for how to turn a team around? Except for the likes of Chris Rogers, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris and a few others, Australia started afresh, didn’t they? They gave youth its head.
When times are tough, you have to move on. It’s vital to start rebuilding and the first step in that process is to chuck any half-decent bricks you find into a skip. It’s not sinful waste, you see – it’s long-term planning. You can’t really judge the wisdom of these decisions now because it’s a long-term thing. It’s all going to be fine. Stop questioning the ECB’s wisdom, okay? Just stop.51 Appeals
Granted, we work for them, but we’ve been very impressed with Cricinfo recently – specifically with regards to their near-refusal to report on the latest ‘Kevin Pietersen situation’. They’ve pretty much restricted themselves to one ‘it’s being reported that senior figures are to meet on Tuesday to decide the future of Kevin Pietersen’ article, when they could easily have produced daily non-news on the subject, adding to the general nowtstorm that’s been raging of late.
If you don’t know what’s happening, you’re not alone. Even those of us who have been foolish enough to try and follow this saga don’t know what’s happening because there have been very few specifics.
The Guardian has been most guilty, churning out article after article dotted with ‘it is thought’ and ‘there is a belief/feeling’ with very little in the way of actual detail. It’s been infuriating to read. When the writer appears to know something, but feels they cannot put it across using specifics, it’s immensely frustrating.
We’re not sure whether it’s a sign of a journalist being disconnected from their audience, assuming they’ll pick up on whispers and allusions in the same way as their press box pals, but it makes for bad writing, lacking in value, in our eyes. Perhaps there’s a narrative to the writer, but from the reader’s point of view, hearsay has been repeated until a point at which it is then presented as fact.
A vague overview of the situation
Sorry, it can’t be anything but vague because as far as a non-journalist is concerned, dramatic things are happening for no clear reason.
- ‘Poor behaviour’ from Pietersen has been mentioned
- Being ‘high maintenance’ is another of the charges
- Pietersen is said to be ‘a bad influence’ on younger England players
- Alastair Cook, Ashley Giles and Paul Downton are apparently meeting today to decide whether Pietersen should be ejected from the team
Even if there does turn out to be some major issue that precipitates the end of Pietersen’s England career, it won’t negate criticisms of earlier coverage of the story.
When you were a child, there was probably an occasion when some other kid claimed to know ‘a secret’ and wouldn’t tell you what it was. They hinted and mocked you, but wouldn’t relent. Eventually, a third party whispered in your ear and everything became clear, but that didn’t mean that the first kid hadn’t been acting like a complete dick.29 Appeals