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.
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.
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.
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.
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.