A little bit about me and my little blog

This is by far not the first cricket blog to be written and it certainly won't be the last (or necessarily the best). But it's mine.

This is mainly an excuse for me to carry on about a sport that has been something of an obsession since I was knee high to a middle stump. An obsession which has never left throughout the many highs (behave, there have been some) and lows (and boy have there been many of those…..) of being and England cricket fan in the years since.

The views and opinions in this blog are entirely my own. Sometimes light-hearted, occasionally irreverent, hopefully never offensive.

What gives this fool the right to have an opinion on this great sport? Where are his credentials I hear you ask? Well I think my catch at mid-on in the inter-house final at Heath Grammar school in 1981 speaks for itself…..

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Well Bowled, Harold A -Z of Cricket - C is for Calm
I know what you're thinking - Calm? Not cover drive, Captain Cook, Calamity-down-under, Compton, Cowdrey, Cricket Club or any other other C-related cricket word?

Well no, because in the past few weeks it seems that cricketing reality has become as twisted and confused as ever I can remember as an England fan. The multitude of ever increasing volatile assertions on the future of English cricket (including those within the game who should know better) which have recently bordered on blind panic, have been everywhere.

Yes I know that over the past few months English Cricket has been rather careless and irresponsible in holding on to what it had, quite frankly on somewhat of a cataclysmic level. Let's see if I can remember all that we've lost or simply mislaid off the top of my head; A world class top-order batsman, a world class off-spin bowler, the fourth highest Test run scorer in English cricket history, The Ashes, the ODI series, the T20 series, oh and our most successful ever coach by a country mile....... That's one heck of a depressing list and one which could no doubt be added to by someone else who had both the inclination and medication treatment available at the time.

Another thing that we seem to have completely mislaid is any sense of perspective, if the multitude of panic stricken and often volatile comments on both social and traditional media are anything to go by. 

He who shall remain nameless 
- my cryptic skills 
know few bounds
For example in the last week we've had the respective opposing camps in perhaps the daddy of all the current debates arguing either for the virtual deification or execution of a certain player who shall remain nameless. I say remain nameless because in the last week or so I have become almost physically nauseous whenever his name yet again comes up on my Twitter feed, radio, TV, Internet and newspapers etc etc (you get my drift?). So for the sake of this short article (and my sanity) I will not refer to him by name, I shall instead cunningly rearrange his initials and simply refer to him as PK. You may not believe that I'm a fan of the guy, but I have long supported and justified him as a man and cricketer. I appreciate that you may not know who I'm talking about.....

The unceremonious and very public sacking (for that's what it was) of PK was both debatable in its cricketing merits and the way it was undertaken by the clowns hierarchy at the ECB. The chaotic events first instigated by the fools at the  ECB ECB was mirrored by the very public spat between seemingly the rest of the world and PK's very vocal famous and influential supporter, who for the risk of my offending him and thereby causing work again for my over-stressed legal team I shall refer to to him again in a cleverly cryptic sense - Mierce Porgan. Whilst I am and forever will be a huge fan of PK's cricketing talents, referring to him as his mate Mr Porgan did as 'Englands greatest ever player' is taking hyperbole to a level that even I wouldn't dare attempt.

Even now the very public nights of anger and emotion surround the whole affair as accusations of Captain Cook and Matt Prior having a pivotal role in PK's removal seem to further galvanise opinion. Come on people, lets move on, rebuild the team and just calm down.

Ahhhh, happy times.....
As I write this piece on a very sunny and rather lovely mid-February afternoon the main conversation in the Twitter universe seems to be the head-coaching/director of cricket/boss man replacement for Andy Flower. I, like many others, thought that the sacking leaving by mutual consent of our most successful coach EVER was yet another knee-jerk panic decision from the jokers people in charge.

I honestly excepted at least a few considered and calm weeks of thought and discussion about what went wrong from our perspective, but instead was rewarded with what appeared from the outside to be a DONT PANIC DON'T PANIC!! sort of reaction that we last saw in an episode of Dads Army.

Yes he was the person in charge and therefore ultimately responsible for the calamity-down-under, but I sincerely felt that the highs far overshadowed the lows of his tenure as the excerpt provided by the BBC shows below;

England under Andy Flower

  • August 2009: England regain the Ashes with a 2-1 series victory
  • May 2010: England win their first ever ICC global event in the World Twenty20
  • January 2011: History is made down under with England winning their first Ashes series in Australia for 24 years
  • August 2011: England whitewash India 4-0 to go top of the world Test rankings
  • August 2013: England beat Australia 3-0 for third straight Ashes series win
  • April 2009: England dismissed for 51 against West Indies in Jamaica in Flower's first Test since taking over as interim team director
  • May 2009: Hosts England suffer humiliating defeat by the Netherlands in their opening match of World Twenty20
  • February 2012: England crash to a 3-0 series defeat against Pakistan in UAE
  • January 2014: England suffer a 5-0 Ashes series whitewash for only the third time in their history
The man had so much more to offer in the role.

However, once again levels of blind panic seem to be taking over even the sanest of us when it comes to Flower's successor. The main contender seems to be soliciting the more extreme and negative of comments - some (again who should know better) going as far as suggesting that it would be cricketing suicide and downright madness to give Ashley Giles the job. Now I'm in no real position to talk about being correct in terms of predictions, I for one suggested that way back in 2009 that a certain Mr A Flower would be a dud as England coach and would never be much of a success. So you can take with a pinch of salt that I also think the same of the King of Spain's chances of being a a smash hit as head coach  - after all, his tenure so far as ODI supremo has been, well, pants hasn't it?

Bloody Mitchell Johnson?! - I'd have had him in my time!
However, we all need to (yes you've guessed it) calm down and take a breath or two. Whoever does eventually take the reins should be given every chance to succeed - my worry is that Giles won't be given that opportunity by the wider public if it is he that is given the job. 

At least some semblance of calm sanity did seem to reappear recently when Angus Fraser was chosen as a new team selector and then Paul Collingwood was installed as England’s assistant coach for the short tour of the West Indies and the World T20 finals in Bangladesh. Now at least some steel might be installed again.

People have very short memories. Yes there are problems in our game and overall set-up, but leaving aside the obvious exception of the IPL we've been in a pickle once or twice before and things have eventually improved. We were indeed beaten by a far better team than any of us realised over the winter as the recent smashing of the Saffers in their own back yard by Mitchell et al in the first Test earlier this week indicates - so maybe a little perspective is in order eh?

As long as we all stay calm we'll be fine.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Well bowled, Harold A to Z of Cricket - B is for Broad

It seems that cricket, like every sport, enjoys its share of pantomime villains. 

Excuse me Mr Broad - aww, how much of a shit bloke are you mate?
On the 25th of October 2013 our brave Ashes-holding boys arrived in the land down under, all fresh faced and full of naive yet at the time, believable hopes of retaining once again the fabled urn. Amongst the group of hopefuls was a certain individual who was attracting an unusually high ( even for our Aussie friends) level of concerted vitriol. 

However, more of that in a moment, because here we are 102 days later and it seems that at some point I must have inadvertently wandered through a rip in the time/space continuum and entered a depressingly negative alternative reality. For not only do we seem to have mislaid our 1st team coach, a previous run-machine of an opening batsman and a talismanic world class spin bowler. We also seem to have been the on the receiving end of of the worst performance of an Ashes touring party since, well, actually forever as we managed to win only one (just one bloody one) of all our international matches against a team who have outplayed us in every single department. Yes, I'm afraid that even includes the ODI malarkey and the T20 stuff and nonsense. 

In some ways I'm glad that what is happening is only an alternative reality because if it was for real then the sacking/resignation/leaving through mutual consent of our most successful coach ever might result in more than a little cause of concern and disquiet. Not only that but the names in the frame to replace Andy Flower, well actually, just one of the names, doesn't particularly fill me with a distinct feeling of optimism for the future. I won't say his name for the sake if decency, I will instead refer to him simply and cryptically as The King of Spain........(I think I've got away with that one).....

However, one nagging worry is still wittering away at me from the nether teaches of my mind, and that is if I have wandered into some parallel shift in reality then why is one factor still the same as it ever was. Because our very own pantomime villain in the shape of Stuart Broad who was singled out in the Aussie press and by the home crowds from the very start of the tour for 'special attention' is still ( on the final day of the tour) on the receiving end of one or two less than flattering remarks and songs from his Australian hosts. 

Actually, to be more accurate - a campaign of public sledging towards Broad had started well before our boys had set off to begin what would become the 'Catastrophe Down-Under'. We had Aussie radio stations and newspapers alike suggesting a whole manner of inventive ways of making sure that he got the message of what the locals (well some of them) thought of him. 

Now for those who may not know, or may have forgotten the reasons for the Douglas Jardine-esque levels of hate towards the all-rounder and golden boy then we need to go back to the very first Ashes Test match of the 2013 summer at Trent Bridge - or as I prefer to call it, the good old days.

Picture the scene............

Sorry stuart, mate - you're nicked.
Our Broady had joined Bell after the loss of England's 6th wicket and had been slowly and painstakingly inching their way past 200 ahead. Broad was facing a ball from Ashton Agar which seemed to clearly glance of the side of the bat, ricochet off the gloves of Haddin and straight into the greedy hands of the lovely and honourable Michael Clarke. The Aussies were naturally ecstatic, the celebrations loud. Every one knew it was out - it was about as clear cut a decision for Aleem Dar as could be but, amazingly, he then did the familiar Dar shake of the head and gave it not out. It's safe to say at this point that things went into something of a meltdown.......

The problem for many it seems is that Broad didn't walk when he and the rest of the world knew he had nicked it. In addition, he had the affront for many to take on the air of the angelic choirboy and put on his best poker face in an apparent air of innocence. for the rest of the series and beyond the subject was the topic of debate in the cricket world - and never in my life have I read so much claptrap with suggestions ranging from a verbal reprimand for Broad's 'behaviour' to even claims that he should be fined & banned for bringing the game into disrepute for not walking. Bollocks.

The traditional Ashes Teapot impression competition begins.
Poor old lovable-never-threatening-to-break-an-opponents-arm-captain Clarke had already used up his two reviews, one of which was a naive and pointless review of a previous lbw claim on Bell. I have sympathy for a clearly wrong decision but little sympathy for Clarke who had clearly ignored the advice of one team mate for the Bell review. 

I could understand the level of vitriol if Broad had been given out and then refused to walk - but he hadn't. He clearly waited, like 99.9% of all batsmen do for the umpire's decision.  

I also have no sympathy for some of the Australian media and fans who have vociferously placed themselves in the 'let him hang' side of the argument - remember Australia, apart from the odd noteworthy case such as Adam Gilchrest, are a cricket nation of non-walkers. Ian Chappel famously declared back in the 1970's that it was not his place to give himself out, that was what an umpire was paid for. It would be unfair to suggest that it is just an Australian reaction against the non-walking, many across the world have gone as far as to call Broad a cheat - bollocks again. Few, very few, batsmen walk. Even Sachin has refused to walk - and before anyone out there ( and you know who you are) spring unthinkingly to the little master's defence, there is video evidence out there on youtube land so check it out first.

So this led to Broad being labelled public enemy number one and a publicity campaign the likes of which hadn't been seen in Australia since they discovered that some guy dressed up in tin cans and a metal dustbin lid was wandering about robbing banks and killing people. We witnessed front page advertisements advising the crowds to at first boo Broady and sing all manner of songs containing some rather inventive lyrics. However, when that didn't seem to work we had front page adverts suggesting he received the silent treatment whenever he took to the field. Not only that but well before the series had started we had the Aussie coaching staff suggesting that he would be "made to cry" from the sledging on the field swell - lovely.

C'mon people, at least keep it in time....
And so this brings me to reason why in the Well bowled, Harold A to Z of cricket Broad gets the B all to himself - because the reaction from him from day one of the tour was priceless - the bugger seemed to genuinely love every minute of the abuse that he received. 

Broad is a player that,  even for England fans, galvanises opinion as to his worth in the side. For some observers of the game he is too much of a 'rhythm' player who seems to turn it on only in sporadic moments in a Test series. I can understand that to a certain degree, but I will unashamedly admit that I would always have him in the side. I simply think that overall, as a player he is unfairly criticised - and that's why I admire the guy and his reaction to the slating he received from the Aussie media, fans and lets not forget, opposing players. 

There are some that would suggest that it was all in good nature and that we would be overly sanctimonious to suggest the same wouldn't happen from us - after all, there was a certain similarity in the way Davis Warner reacted to his treatment from our fans last summer. However, some of the vitriol aimed at Broad was well over the top and not to mention complete and utter hypocrisy, I would have been truly ashamed if it had been the same from us to an opposing player.

Quite simply - the sight of him in the first Test at the Gabba conducting the songs from sections of the lovely home fans was truly a sight to see. As was him waving the ball in the air in triumph after taking 6–81 in the first innings and ending with match figures of 8–136. Not only that he was one of the very few England players to come out of the series with some reputation still intact as he finished as our leading wicket taker with 21 wickets at an average of 27,52. The result of which from the Aussie newspaper was to insist he be treated to total silence and not even mention his name - now that's grown up behaviour all right. 

Broad himself has suggested that as the tour has progressed to its final end (thank god) that the amount of abuse he has received has lessened. Whether this is due to the Aussies becoming bored with the object of their taunts seemingly not giving much of a toss about them, or whether (perish the thought) his reaction and behaviour has won a new found respect, it is difficult to say. The episode back in January when Broad & Matt Prior were involved in talking down a would-be suicide from a Sydney harbour bridge may well have also contributed to a part-rehabilitation in the eyes of some Aussies. It's difficult to say.

What I will say is that Ashes tours have often provided an English Pantomime villain - Douglas Jardine, Jon Snow and Tony Grieg to name but three. Each of those examples reacted to their treatment in very different ways. Broad should be applauded for the way he has reacted too...... Though as I write this we are getting spanked in the final T20 game in which he is captain and this defeat would mean an overall 12-1 defeat against the Aussies on the tour. Broad has just come into bat against a backdrop of boos. He hasn't left the country yet..........

Hmmm, just as I write this last sentence we have just lost by a country mile that final match.......with a run out. How apt.