Stepping Back

It was around a year ago that cricket really stunned me.

I mean, I’ve been shocked before; as a 10 year old on the receiving end of a beamer from a frustrated 15 year old Devon bowler (‘orrible spotty sod); as a bowler dropping a simple caught and bowled chance with 2 runs to get and 9 wickets down (hands like hooves, me); and as a spectator, who’d booked tickets to watch sheer ineptitude (Bangladesh losing to Sussex by an innings and 200+ runs), sheer quality (Michael Clarke treble, Hashim Amla full stop), or even sheer downright fraudulence, in the case of three Pakistanis subsequently convicted of spot-fixing. However, in time; a week, two weeks, 6 months later; I have come to understand these things: they no longer stun me.

Last year was different.

It wasn’t that I was stunned by the 5-0 loss that England had suffered Down Under, as awful and gutless as that was. I possibly was not even particularly stunned by the unscrupulous, still properly unexplained sacking of the best England player in my living memory. No, that again is one of those things that will pass, one day…hopefully. I was however, permanently stunned by what I was reading in the press covering these events. Stunned by the response of the media who previously I’d backed to be, more or less, even handed. Utterly stunned by the patronising, shoddy press releases given by administrators, officials, and departing coaches, and how those press releases were interpreted.

I still haven’t gotten over it, and it seems to continue even to this day.

I was a Graun Online reader and occasional BTLer for years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a Graun Online reader and occasional BTLer, but this is now out of habit, whereas I used to really buy into it. At one point I was a prescriber to ‘Lord Selvey’, hailing his every utterance BTL as someone who ‘got it’, and admiring his overall take on the game. Vic Marks was (and still is) demi-poetic, his easy radio charm reflected in his kind words, winking at you from both above and below the line. Add in a couple of solid contributors, plus Barney Ronay, and I think it’s fair to say that the cricket section of the Graun is the main thing turned me from someone completely ambivalent about pretty much everything in life, into the Graun reading, left-leaning, sandal-wearing, organic-veg-eating man that I am today. Thank gawd they didn’t have such a good team penning cricket articles for the Daily Heil at the time!

Anyway, around a year ago, this all changed. I’m not saying every article from this point onward was poorly written, but there was a point where I noticed that, well, I just didn’t agree with them. The entire gist seemed completely alien to me. The articles became increasingly short-sighted, the man was played instead of the ball, things got a bit personal, a few things happened, la de da, and now, I struggle to even look at the cricket section.

This had a fair amount to do with Selvey, in the Graun’s instance, but looking around the rest of the mainstream press it is entirely unfair to think that he was a sinister, one-man brigade of lies, mistruths and ECB propaganda. Instead it was clear that the press, as a whole, just didn’t “get” it. They didn’t understand the view of me, a fan. They were too entwined, and too close to some of the key characters involved. How many of them played with Paul Downton? How many of them went to a nice school also frequented by, say, Alastair Cook or Giles Clarke? How many of them would go for lunch with the coaching staff on tour? How many of them have just spent too much time in the press box, with the rest of them?

Enter people ‘outside cricket’. Bloggers. The Full Toss have been going for years, and I was mildly aware of them previously, yet I now read practically everything that they pen and the utterances in the comments, too. Even more so, Dmitri Old* maintained a fiery, no-holds barred blog which I followed and posted on for a year, to the point where I found myself not needing to write anything on my own blog here, as it have been covered before (and better) by Dmitri. Again I was a “little” bit aware of Dmitri’s work beforehand, but I didn’t really take too much interest until a post around this time last year caught my eye when he ‘fisked’ a nonsense article by Selvey – I was just so happy that someone else had noticed, and I wasn’t alone! What I’m getting at, is that bloggers filled the void left by the mainstream hacks – to the point where they’ve usurped them.

So where am I now? Well if last year I was stunned, this year I am still jaded from the whole thing. I considered the other day that perhaps I am a little bit “too” into cricket for my own good, and I should just sit back, ignore everything else and watch the matches (via a stream, of course – I do have *some* ethics, after all). I am hoping to inject some irreverence back into my blog, which is hopefully one of the things that will help me blog more (sorry). I’m looking forward to the World Cup to aid this, following it through Cricinfo, the radio, BTL and on The Full Toss. I’ll still retain one, miserable, angry little eye on the ‘press box’ view, but will I allow myself to get too bothered by it? Nah…so long as they don’t start it, by mentioning KP!

 

*Sending man-hugs to Dmitri for keeping me entertained for a year, when I really ought to have been working.

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A Memory, and a Lament

Just over a year ago, Kenya chased down 266 to beat the Netherlands in an ODI at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in New Zealand. Dutch keeper-batsman Wesley Barresi’s unbeaten 137 (150 balls) set a tricky target that was chased down primarily as a result of Irfan Karim thrashing 108 from just 84 balls, helped by Rageb Aga (released by Sussex in 2010) hitting 86. Whilst interesting enough in it’s own right, what really caught my eye was the name of the man who knocked off the winnings runs: Steve Tikolo.

Steve Tikolo: I mean, how lucky/unlucky would you have to be, to not only be Kenyan, and a cricketer, but to also share a name with one of the greatest Associate players of all time, Kenyan cricket captain Steve Tikolo?

Steve Tikolo top-scored when Kenya shocked a strong West Indies side featuring Walsh, Ambrose, Lara, Bishop, Chanderpaul and Adams in the 1996 World Cup, as well as scoring 65 against India and 96 against Sri Lanka in that same tournament. Tikolo notched a further two half centuries against India and England in the 1999 tournament, and then went on to captain the side to the semi finals in 2003.

Basically, Steve Tikolo was the underdog of my childhood, across the first three Cricket World Cups I actually remember with any clarity, there he was; standing up to some of the world’s best bowlers with a nonchalant, Caribbean-esque flick of the wrists in the air through mid-wicket or backward square.

Red and green, should always be seen?

Imagine, just imagine, my joy and happiness to have ‘clicked through’, then, and seen that Steve Tikolo, well, IS Steve Tikolo. Then imagine that joy and happiness turn to sadness. Sadness because, at some point in the last 15 years, the odds on a Kenyan/insert Associate nation team getting to the semi-finals of a major tournament has been completely obliterated. The ‘International’ Cricket Council and it’s elite members have, between them, raised the proverbial drawbridge on cricket, to the point that a 42 year old man was still turning out for his country having supposedly retired 3 years previously.

It isn’t that I don’t doubt that Tikolo was probably within the best 11 Kenyans playing in January 2014. He not only scored the winnings runs, but also bowled 10 tidy overs too. It is more the disappointment that there was not another Steve Tikolo on the horizon in his 42 year old place. Will another Kenyan ever produce a bowling performance against a ‘big nation’ of 10 overs, 3 maidens, 3 wickets for 15 runs like Maurice Odumbe did to help dish the Windies? What about Collins Obuya’s 5-24 spell to beat Sri Lanka in 2003?

Irfan Karim, mentioned above as a scorer of Kenya’s ton, looks a decent talent: he now already has 2 tons in 9 ODIs, and he is only 22 years old. I wonder whether Karim, as an example, will ever even play in a World Cup, let alone three in a row? Remember that although Kenya produced the occasional shock in the 1996 and 1999 tournaments, it wasn’t until 2003 that they reached the semi-final. By this time players like Tikolo had big tournament experience, and had adapted themselves to being able to regularly compete with the best sides.

Now, I like Afghanistan and Ireland, hell, maybe I can even tolerate Scotland (in fact, I distinctly remember the opening ball of a match that Curtly Ambrose delivered to A.Scott being driven through the covers for four, then about no runs scored for another 10 overs. Lovely). I have no doubt that I will even find myself rooting for the UAE at some point. Yet I hold zero hope for any of them, really. Not a chance. Welcome to cricket 2015. Quite sad really, innit.

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Four Spots of Happy Cricketing News

It is difficult to blog when the recurring theme on one’s chosen subject tends to be miserable. Thankfully there have been a few things in the cricketing world which made me smile over the past day or so, so I thought I would awaken myself from this blogging slumber and, well, yeah!

1. Kumar Sangakkara returns to County Cricket.

Of course he had to end up at bleddy Surrey, but this is an added incentive to get out of the house this summer. Without his wicket-keeping gloves in the kitbag, he’s got the highest Test average (69.35) after Don Bradman. For one often labelled a home town bully, Sanga has scored 16 tons away from home, with only the West Indies not witnessing one of his centuries. He’s still pretty good, too;

How on earth did we allow Neil McKenzie to score a ton against us!?

2. The return of Pat Cummins. 

He’s Australian, a fast bowler, and I’ve no idea if he’s the likable Dizzy Gillespie type, or a snarling ‘meany’ like Glenn McGrath. Yet I do know that this kid is talented, and I like watching talented cricketers. In a world which seems to almost have a dearth of decent quicks, Cummins could be a scourge of everyone for years to come.

3. Curtley talk to no man.

And yet, he’ll write an autobiography with forewords from Steve Waugh and Richie Benaud; it comes out in April. The last time I heard from Curtly was when he was delivering half hour speeches to, if not save the day, then at least delay it. To be honest, I don’t know what to expect from the book as he never said all that much during his career, but just someone evoking his name has given me warm memories of the big Antiguan who might well be my favourite player from the 90s. Here’s a quick reminder:

4. Afghanistan.

They’ve got some ability, as I wrote about last year following their victory over Bangladesh. I’d like to see them scalp a big side or two at the World Cup, as the minnows are what these tournaments are about. Anyway, pleasingly in their current warm up series they have just thumped Ireland, having been bowled out by Scotland for 68 in their last match. This kind of mercurialness (mercuriality?) (mercurialation?!) appeals to me a lot. Najibullah Zadran hit 52 runs in 3 overs against the Irish, and unlike any English bowlers Hamed Hassan can regularly bowl at 90mph+. We need to get some of these boys in the English T20 tournament or something, as they can hit it a mile and bring a raw element to the sport that hasn’t necessarily been coached out of them. It might even help spread the game…

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5 Cricketing Dreams for New Year 2015

I’m looking forward to going back to work on Friday. I don’t love my job or anything like that, but the end of 2014 has been a bit of a ball-ache in my personal life; I’ve got a minging cold at the moment, and a ton of stuff to sort out in January that make actual work seem like a mightily trivial concern. Well, more of a “mightily trivial concern” than normal…

So I got to thinking about my hopes for 2015. Of course, “personal life” hopes are boring as hell, so more specifically, I got to thinking about my hopes for cricket in 2015. Happily there were 5, which if I wasn’t an adult could well be one of my favourite numbers.

1. I hope the England and Wales Cricket Board can provide me with a cricket team worth getting behind again.

It is difficult to describe how I feel about them at the moment, but it certainly feels quite ‘cool’ to enjoy them not winning. It’s not that I particular want any individual to fail, but when there is a confused mess of an England set up, from top to middle, providing me and many others with practically countless occasions where it has been too easy to shrug off a loss or shocking performance and just think “I told you so”, it isn’t a great situation for anyone really. I want to feel anger about losses, not ambivalent – and certainly not borderline smug.

2. I want to watch more cricket live this year.

A combination of time constraints, employment, botheredness, car issues, and even (bloody) weddings put paid to most of the times I had earmarked to attend cricket last year. I saw one day of cricket in total, at Lords against India…Day 4. I enjoyed it, in spite of it being one of the worst days English cricket has seen since…Headingley, about two months previous? I always enjoy cricket though. I’ve lined up a day at the impossible to reach Bowl against New Zealand in an ODI, and I must watch Hampshire/Somerset more this year too.

3. Weather. 

I’m actually planning on playing some cricket again this year. Hopefully at a terribly low standard. I want to bowl leg spin, and bat at 7. I want to field at cover point. I want at least one score above twenty, all via boundaries. I don’t want to be stood at deep backward square leg in the drizzle. I want one of those terrible cricketer tans; above the neck and on the forearms only.

4. A Resurgent West Indies.

They have Kemar Roach, averaging less than 26 with the ball in Tests. In Kraigg Brathwaite they have a 22 year old opener with 3 Test tons to his name in his last 11 Tests. They have Shiv Chanderpaul, defying the ageing process, with his stance becoming squarer by the innings – (the next time you’ll see him he’ll be batting right-handed!*).. They’ve also got the most fractious relationship between their board and their players in world cricket. They’ve got the threat of a £30m fine looming over their heads following the withdrawal from the tour of India. They barely play any cricket and have sacked their three best players. I don’t know how, but please get good, West Indies. If you can’t do it for regional pride, or to pay homage to your glittering history, or just for the sake of the global game of cricket, then please…do it for me?

*not my phrase, but worth stealing.

5. A good World Cup.

Check out how shit this looks..

 

First of all, let me state: the format is fucking terrible. Like, genuinely god-awful. I actually looked into going out to Australia to visit family/friends during the period of the World Cup – I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the fixtures and format. There is no incentive for anyone to travel to any of the host cities. You’ll get one game, two at most if you’re happy to stay for 3 weeks. Given there are only 12 teams competing, I can’t believe one country doesn’t host the tournament on it’s own; at least then fans might see some cricket for their mileage.

What’s the thinking behind the two groups of 7 teams format? Surely there’s more to it than just an excuse to get India to play more games in the tournament? SURELY?!! I literally have no other reason as to why else it could be a good idea.

Anyway, I hope the associate nations come good; best of luck to Scotland, Ireland, the Afghans and the UAE. I also hope the low ranked, useless nations who are Full Members perform well too – I’m thinking Zimbabwe, the aforementioned Windies, and, yes, even England. I’m hoping for tight finishes in every game I watch. I’m hoping for, well, a World Cup that won’t happen. A winner not from India or Australia, ideally.

Happy 2015!

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Australia’s Two-Tiered Test Team

Tier One

  1. Warner
  2. Smith
  3. Johnson
  4. Harris

Tier Two

  1. Rogers
  2. Watson
  3. Marsh
  4. Burns
  5. Haddin
  6. Lyon
  7. Hazlewood

How this lot engineered a 5 zip result last winter is still utterly beyond me.

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Festive Cricket

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka

The two best international sides, with both sides having a strong core at the moment and more than being competitive in spite of ‘the odds’. A healthy, sunbaked crowd on a grass bank. Winning the toss, Sri Lanka get New Zealand 3 down with less than 100 on the board. Enter Kane Williamson’s solid accumulation. Enter Brendon McCullum smashing an almost double ton at a rate I don’t think I’ve seen before, en route becoming the first Kiwi to reach 1000 Test runs in a calendar year.

A quiet word about James Neesham. He’s had a ‘nice’ start to his Test career, coming in after the strongest middle order trio in perhaps New Zealand’s history. Yet after 6 Tests he’s averaging a tad above 44, and he’d be disappointed to have fallen 15 runs short of his third Test ton last night. Another nugget unearthed?

Australia vs India

Two of the self proclaimed Big Three, and two sides it’s always quite nice to see struggle. Almost 70 thousand souls within the glorious MCG. India have managed to remain competitive in this series in spite of not looking like actually winning a match, which is a bit of a bonus. I actually quite like their quicks at the moment and, combined with Ashwin who bowled nice and tight through the day, they won’t be too distraught at the scoreline. The issue they have is Steven Smith, who has completed an unlikely ascent and emerged a weaknessless, immovable object at the crease. A ‘crucial first hour’, cliché etc, to come.

South Africa vs West Indies

By god, the Windies are a listless bunch.  I don’t know what to do about them. They need help, support and direction; they’ve got the WICB, the WIPA, and the self-proclaimed “Big Three”-led ICC. They could die. I have no answers.

On the other hand, South Africa’s system possibly isn’t a fair one, but it produces some darn good cricketers. I wouldn’t even recognise half of the current team, but they certainly appear to be of the same metronomic ilk as their predecessors. I’m interested to see how the black lad does on debut. I don’t particularly like singling someone out as a result of their race, but it feels important at the moment – in the absence of practically any “top level” black players worldwide.

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Cook’s England ODI Side

Cook’s England ODI side (“CEODIs”?) had an ethos. It was the “laptop approach” ethos, which is just about the least glamourous ethos there is, but, you can say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. The ethos demanded discipline, steady accumulation and an almost clinical obsession with following the ethos. It required Jonathan Trott.

For Cook’s England record can be split into two categories; avec Trott and sans Trott. Trott played 39 matches under Cook, averaging an impressive 49.72, at a less impressive strike rate of 76.62. England under Cook, with Trott in the side, won 23 of their 36 matches (64%). Without Trott, Cook’s England won just 13 of 33 games (39%). He didn’t score quick runs, but he at least scored runs, and his donkey work freed up others to express themselves. England cricket’s answer to Claude Makelele; the side didn’t work as well without him and couldn’t cope when he was no longer on the scene.

Alternatively, CEODIs might be summed up more figuratively by my completely hunch-based assertion that they were either pretty good if there were less than 450 runs in a match, mediocre with around 500 scored, or utterly and shamefully woeful when there were 550 plus. At a time when other sides were making the most of rule changes and batsmen friendly pitches to rack up more regular scores of 300+ than ever before, this probably isn’t the best way to go about trying to win a World Cup.

When faced with the possibility of getting inevitably knocked out the moment a side hit above 280 against us, this was a relatively simple decision. Cook’s own form was awful, terrible, a scourge and an embarrassment. Even at his best, though, he isn’t suited to this format. Barring disaster, I would be surprised if he plays another ODI match…you don’t take a Pomerian bowling.

Obviously it would be remiss to fail to point out, at the very least as a footnote, the absolutely shambolic decision-making which has left us in this mess 6 weeks from the World Cup, which was frankly obvious in both hind and foresight to everyone except for Paul Downton and, well, Peter Moores every other day.

I have been left frustrated, angry, and in no small part completely turned off English cricket by these parasites. Cook has taken a significant amount of flak which might have been better aimed at the likes of Downton and chums, and in this respect the split means nothing. What are you saying, ECB lackeys? When you get divorced you turn in your library card? You get a new license? You stop being Jewish?!

Nope, Downton et al are utterly responsible for this reprehensible shambles. However, I do not do seething and rational contempt as well as either Dmitri or The Full Toss – all I do is insert irrelevant quotes from The Big Lebowski – so if you want a proper footnote, go there. I can get you a toe by 3 o’clock this afternoon… with nail polish. These fucking amateurs…

 

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