The Crowd At Southampton

It’s rare that I feel the need to respond to an article, so well done Ed Smith in advance for penning drivel on a scale of such a magnitude to force me out of what I had previously thought was a permanent slumber at work.

http://www.newstatesman.com/sport/2014/08/true-meaning-success-and-why-we-should-never-listen-impatient-mob

This paragraph is the particularly painful one:

“The crowd took the opposite view to the newspapers that claim to represent England fans. Cook was cheered all the way to the middle at the toss, then greeted by a standing ovation when he returned to the pavilion 48 not out at lunch on the first day. The England coach, Peter Moores, conceded that he had never seen Cook more moved than after that spontaneous act of collective support. Another standing ovation followed when he walked off, having made 95. The atmosphere of the post-match victory ceremony was driven by deep respect for the England captain.”

Ok, my turn. As someone who was there at the Rose Bowl on that First Day, and had paid the “twenty odd quid” to be there, I absolutely hate (HATE) this notion of the crowd there absolutely loving him, “two fingers up to the doubters”, “Cook 4 Life”, etc.

I’ve sat and (preferably) stood at many sporting occasions in my time, from having a season ticket at Plymouth Argyle, to watching England or Bath play rugby, to of course cricket – usually England, but occasionally Hampshire/Somerset depending where I am.

There have been times I have wanted the manager or captain of ‘my’ side to go. Of these, I would split them into two categories: there are times I’ve watched terrible players not worth the shirt let me down week after week because they simply don’t have the ability. Then there is a completely different situation, where a good, talented player is letting you down because the attitude or focus is wrong.

Somehow Cook bridges these two options. He isn’t a good enough captain: He has no natural charisma or leadership, he has managed 200 international games whilst remaining seemingly obliviously aloof from the finer nuances of the game. He has no confidence in himself. His people-management skills are woeful. His stubbornness and attitude.

As a batsman however, he is gifted. Gifted in his own way, sure. He can bat for a long time, and will probably still break records. He is however in a horrible run of form, is it 60+ international innings without a ton?, which has coincided with the mental pressures of captaining a struggling side. I want Cook the batsman back – at least in Tests.

The Rose Bowl was a peculiar occasion. England hadn’t won a Test in 10. Of course the crowd were pleased that England turned it around. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell’s innings were both wonderful knocks, Jos ‘not ready’ Buttler was a breath of fresh air, and then England’s bowlers including Moeen turned up.

Then there was Cook. I don’t want to talk about his 70* in the second innings because it was a situation completely void of anything resembling pressure, and he scored at a rate about half that of most of his colleagues did in that situation. This innings was an irrelevance, and I wasn’t there anyway. So I look at his gritty, non-fluent, fortunate 95 in the first:

It was a knock by an Englishman which set a platform for not only better knocks by more Englishmen (exclude Ballance who was superb in the exact same situation), but ultimately also a big win – a big win to end a shocking streak of draws and (mainly) losses. It was the knock of a man struggling to justify his position in spite of being an England great (he is an England great by the way). He even fell sympathetically close to that elusive, job-saving ton. Yet his job was saved regardless.

The Rose Bowl, and in fact the entire south of England, doesn’t see very many Test matches outside of London. This first day struggle on a flat pitch up, creeping towards the ton, for a batsman that obviously out of nick – it was always going to be applauded. I stood at the end; I appreciated it, so I clapped. This is not a ringing endorsement of his continued place as captain of the team.

I repeat: this is NOT a ringing endorsement of his continued place as captain of the team. Watching Cook the Batsman struggle manfully, is NOT the same as watching Clueless Cook the Captain struggle out of his depth.

At Lords on Day 4, again I was there, it was utterly embarrassing. Humiliating, even. The Indians didn’t take over Lords that day, as was reported. The English crowd just had nothing to applaud, nothing to get behind. It was shocking. I left with 30 minutes to go – I won’t be hurrying to buy a ticket for the Ashes next summer. THAT is an endorsement of his captaincy.

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***1990s Cricket Memory Alert***

Born in the 1980s, a lot of my “growing up” memories were formed as a child in the 1990s. It was when I got into cricket, and what a decade it was for the game!

From the decline of that great West Indian side, to the emergence of that great Australian side, to the batch of genuinely excellent quicks floating around the international circuit like the glamorous Wasim/Waqar, the fiery Donald/Pollock, Curtley and Courtney, the ominous Glenn McGrath, and even the likes of India and the Zimbabweans had either Srinath or Streak.

Even looking back, I’m not sure how to place England’s Gus Fraser, Goughie, Big Devon et al among that lot. I suspect they’d be some way behind, akin to reluctantly-invited work colleague huddled together getting pissed at the back of a wedding, watching the main players of the day go about their stuff: wholly irrelevant in the big picture, but certainly capable of being mildly interesting if approached.

I’d go into the batsmen of the era too, but it would start and end with Brian Charles Lara.

*gives everyone a moment to think about BCL*

Anyway, the memory which provoked this piece (and my blog posts genuinely have to be provoked these days) wasn’t really much to do with cricket. Well it was, and it wasn’t. Needless to say it was frowned upon by those running the game, and there was even a hint of racial bias to it – as a bit of a ‘foreign problem’.

Regardless, it captured the imagination of this scrawny English kid. It seemed bizarre then, and even more bizarre now. These “disgraceful scenes” were the backdrop of “a sad day for English cricket”:

Pitch invasion

You think cricket has problems these days with mere match-fixing, financial inequalities permanently ingrained by the “Big Three”, texts being sent to opponents, and a god-awful balance to an England side not suited to the format in the slightest. Just imagine all this…PLUS a mad scrum of fans trying to grab a souvenir stump – usually occurring within one of England’s more provincial, “northern” towns. Or if you don’t want to imagine it, just remember it instead. Cos it happened.

This Daily Heil article at the time sums up the prevailing mood at the time.

“If a player lashed out at one with his bat or a fist he would probably be fined his match fee, possibly be arraigned in court and almost certainly be sued for compensation, now the favourite word in the English language.”

The author, Ian Wooldridge, even went on to say:

“What does concern me, since we now have several Indian and Pakistani families living in Britain, is how the Old Trafford match will pan out. A rival newspaper suggested yesterday that it should be transferred to the small Amsterdam ground in Holland where South Africa played Kenya last week. Personally I would favour the Falkland Islands.”

Which is what I mean regarding the semi-racist, “colonial” attitude regarding the horrific terrorism going on at the time: those young chaps going after the stumps. I’d like to say the attitude has faded since, but given the angle put out there on the Jadeja/Anderson incident this summer, I’m not so sure…

Waqar Younis obliquely stated: “We have got to do something about security”. Smart man, Waqar. Good yorkers, and this proverbial delivery would have crushed, well…a proverbial toe.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1393761.stm

 

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Cook’s Last Test As Captain?

2-1 up. India utterly broken; plenty of runs at Southampton… “Role on Australia!”. Etc.

Let’s start this off by stating that England will probably win this Test. India don’t win Tests away from home very often, let alone get series’ results – and make no mistake, a drawn series here would be a huge result for a young Indian side.

However the big picture still doesn’t add up for Cook. By my reckoning this is the most likely Test for a captaincy change since the loss to Sri Lanka, and it feels almost as likely for it as the final Test of the drubbing Down Under did. If India manage to summon the spirit they showed just two Tests ago, and England again fold under pressure, I think it *will* be Cook’s last.

The sacking might not come immediately. In fact at this stage I would imagine it probably wouldn’t – the ECB have invested a fair amount in Cook, and a 2-2 draw is poor – but not necessarily that poor.

However what then comes next would be next to insurmountable for any England captain, let alone a man of Cook’s abilities. Even Cook’s best form still isn’t really suited to one day cricket. Even if he scores lots of runs in the World Cup, he’ll score them at a rate too slowly to be match-winning; and possibly at a rate which is match-losing. His captaincy won’t defy expectations in the field; his off-the-cuff intuition for the game is one of his weakest points. He doesn’t react naturally to things which deviate from the set plan, and the bowling attack at his disposal is going to be pretty poor – Anderson and Broad can only bowl 40% of the overs in ODI cricket.

If England have a nightmare World Cup – and I cannot remember the last time they had anything else, Cook will surely be removed from his post for the 50 over format with immediate effect. If they’re considering his role in ODIs, they will surely also cast a long glance at his record in Tests – which could theoretically look like this:

  • No Test centuries for 33 innings
  • Three Test series without victory, including hosting two ‘weak’ subcontinental sides
  • Complete disintegration of Strauss’s successful side

This is why the Oval could be Cook’s final act as Test captain. So it is now over to you, India. All you have to do is turn up.

English Test Century Makers since May 2013

  1. Sam Robson
  2. Gary Ballance
  3. Joe Root
  4. Ian Bell
  5. Jos Buttler
  6. Moeen Ali
  7. Ben Stokes
  8. Kevin Pietersen
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The Rising Cost Of Test Cricket

There have been a couple of excellent articles from people outside cricket (TheFullToss and Dmitri) regarding the attendances at the recent Test matches held in England, published alongside some excellent comments BTL which are worth a read too. Graeme Swann presumed people paid “about twenty quid” to watch a day at the cricket – given I paid £60 for a ticket at the Rose Bowl last week, and face value was £65 for an unremarkable view at Lords the week before, Swann was only “about” 200% wrong.

So I thought I would do a bit of research into ticket prices over the years. The method was unscientific: in the absence of any actual data, I have gone on random online ticket stubs. The results were not surprising: obviously inflation means that costs *should* rise. But by this much? By my reckoning, they’ve increased 33% in the past 5 years.

1. 1984. The West Indies at the peak of their powers. Lords, the home of champagne. Ticket cost: £7.50.

The Lords Member’s tie colours went particularly well with the Doc Martins in the 1980s. They were oft spotted in the stands trying to work out their Rubix cube’s.

2. 1991. The West Indies still pretty much the best side on the globe. Edgbaston, England’s second city; the home of Ashley Giles. Ticket price: £12.

Just seven years later in 1991, ticket prices had increased by 160%. This caused cricket fans’ jaws to collapse quicker than the Soviet Union.

3. 2001 Australia at the peak of their powers. The economy at the peak of it’s biggest boom period since the post-war period; even Manchester is thriving. Ticket price: £34.

Another 10 years; 2001. Ticket prices go up the best part of 300%. Al-Qaeda respond by plotting 09/11.

4. 2004. The declining West Indies rock up to The Oval (the home of Mark Ramprakash).  Cricket is still on terrestrial TV. Ticket cost: £40.

2004. A mere £6 rise in three years. Ronald Reagan so shocked that he, erm, dies.

5. 2008. South Africa, consistently one of the best two sides in the world for the previous decade, visit the home of Neil Carter. Cricket is being funded by SKY, for SKY. Ticket Price: £45.

2008. Question to ebayers…why on earth would anyone want a ticket stubb from this Test? Or for that matter, any Test? It’s weird. Anyway, the cost went up another fiver across four years until this Test.

So since in the five years from 2008 to present, there has been the biggest rise in ticket prices since the 1990s, up just a fraction over 133%. I won’t post too many conclusions, but let’s just say that this increase coincides with the ECB creating the horrific ‘bidding process’ – which basically aims to squeeze every last drop from the County grounds hosting the matches, and the County grounds in turn have to squeeze every last drop from the paying fans. Thanks ECB! Again…

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Test Three – The Saafampton Bowl

The last time I found myself at the Rose Bowl, Aaron Finch bludgeoned his way to a world record 156 in an international T20 match, and England, in spite of posting 200+ themselves in the chase, found themselves falling rather short. It was Finch’s greatest innings to date, and one suspects it’ll retain that mantle for the rest of his career.

It wasn’t the first Australian ‘innings for the ages’ I have been witness to; I was there for Michael Clarke’s elegant treble against India at the SCG, as well as a brutal 160* from Shane Watson against England in an ODI in Melbourne which saw Australia chase down a record total. Three Australian batsmen, performing the greatest acts of their lives, in front of a miserable and bitter Janner, sat there wishing them to fail.

I honestly can’t remember much from English batsmen that would compare to any of these three knocks that I have seen live – I certainly don’t think I’ve seen a “career definer” of an innings like the three above, though.

Actually that’s a lie – “I WUZ THERE” for Samit Patel’s 5fer against the South Africans in an ODI at the Oval in 2008. Err, yes that is right: some people get to see Bell’s and Trescothick’s double tons, KP 150s, Vaughan in Adelaide, etc, and I get fat Samit’s five-for in a bleddy One Day International – (“scalps”: Ntini, Boucher, Morkel, Morkel and Botha). Harumph. I think it’s time to take this post back to Finch and the Rose Bowl:

Since that day in late August last summer, England’s record is not so grand: beaten 1-2 in the following ODI series at home, then  rotten tour Down Under which saw 0-5 in the “Return Ashes”, 1-4 in the ODI series and 0-3 in the T20 series. A patchy tour of the West Indies (a 2-1 series win and a 1-2 series loss) was the warm-up to a shocking World Cup (W1, L3) which of course included humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands. Edging desperately home to English conditions didn’t help; series’ losses to Sri Lanka is Tests (0-1), T20 (0-1) and ODIs (2-3) and we are now facing a (0-1) reverse at home to India.

W8-L27 – not a pretty stat. I could include the one off fixtures against Ireland and Scotland; if I were a Cook/ECB fan I probably would. It still wouldn’t make good reading, though.

As for tomorrow, there might be a spot of rain about. It has threatened to hum it down all week here in a very humid and warm Hampshire. It hasn’t done so yet, though. No doubt saving itself for mid-morning tomorrow.

The Rose/Ageas/Pudding Bowl tends to play true and reasonably fast – Finch’s knock wouldn’t have been achievable at Lords. Thus unless there’s extremely good overhead conditions for swing I’d back the side batting first to score runs. Whoever bats second will probably score runs too. Third and fourth might be slightly trickier, but only slightly. If there is a winner it’ll be down to which side collapses unnecessarily worse, but the verdict must be for a draw.

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Photos From Lords

Vijay taking evasive action from an Anderson bouncer

Vijay taking evasive action from an Anderson bouncer

Jadeja hooking...spot the ball?

Jadeja hooking…spot the ball?

Kumar's impenetrable defence

Kumar’s impenetrable defence

Sam Robson. Nothing to say about this shot other than my timing was shocking.

Sam Robson. Nothing to say about this shot other than my timing was shocking.

The man of the hour; Ishant Sharma

The man of the hour; Ishant Sharma

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A Trip To Lords

Tomorrow. It’s my birthday. Well done her – much better than the usual codswallop she gets me on these occasions.

Naturally this means I hope today gets completely rained out and the extra time is made up when I’m actually there. Weather forecast for this scenario looks promising.

Considering making a sign to take and get myself exposure on TV:

#FreeCook

#RootForSkip

#£20ticketLOL

#lashedasBallance

#hashtagwanker

Who am I kidding – like I’m even remotely bothered enough to make a sign. Also going to see Jeeves and Wooster in the theatre this eve. Not really my bag, but, I have it in my head they like cricket.

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