Cricket news from ESPN

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Will Cook fuck the fuck off?

There's a bit in The Thick of It, the expletive-laden BBC political comedy, where spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker - Dr Who to younger readers - tries to convince minister Hugh Abbott that there is such a thing as "a good resignation". Abbott responds incredulously, astounded at the idea any falling on his sword could have a positive, but Tucker reassures him thus: 

"Look, people really like it when you go just a bit early! You know; steely jawed, faraway look in your eyes! Before you get to the point when they're sitting round in the pub saying "Oh, that fucker's got to go!", you surprise them! "Blimey, he's gone! I didn't expect that! Resigned? You don't see that much anymore! Old school! Respect! I rather liked the guy! He was hounded out by the fucking press!" How about that, eh? What a way to go!" Abbott instead chooses to cling on, later in the episode expressing regret that he's missed his "ideal resigning point." 

Quitting the captaincy of your country because you no longer think you're up to it - ask Michael Vaughan - must be one of the most distressing things a sportsman ever has to do. It's wholly understandable Cook should want to stay in position, but everybody in world cricket except the ECB can see he missed his ideal resigning point as ODI skipper a long, long time ago. You'd have to be pretty mean-spirited to ever describe someone as docile and inoffensive as Cook - however blindly stubborn he is - as "a fucker", but the anger towards him down the pub is real nonetheless, even if it's still substantially dwarfed by the, fully justified, anger on Twitter. 

Slow-moving, doomed and a relic of the last century, the England ODI side have become cricket's Titanic, the only difference being the Titanic wasn't actually captained by the iceberg. The ECB won't change course and sack Cook because it would be an admission of their own longstanding ignorance and failures concerning the trends of global limited overs cricket. It's Cook alone who can save England from himself and no one would think any less of him for doing so. It will be far too late, but by sacrificing himself for the good of the team - the most selfless act any captain can undertake - Alastair Cook can still have a good resignation. 

Friday, 29 August 2014

Jesse: The Movie

Enough Said was James Gandolfini's final film before being all too abruptly whacked by the beyond. He plays a divorcee, unavoidably of some physical presence, who inadvertently starts to date his ex-wife's new masseuse. She's played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, carrying her Veep form onto the big screen to such great effect she makes AB de Villiers look out of nick. 

Though ostensibly a romcom, it barely feels like one given it isn't overly formulaic and makes a convincing attempt at gently exposing the flaws of adults passing into middle-age. One of the tenets of Gandolfini's character - one of the reasons for the breakdown of his marriage - is that he's a bit of a lumbering slob, a point illustrated in one scene where his and Louise-Dreyfus's attempts at stepping up their relationship in the bedroom are thwarted by his clumsy pawing and heaving stature. The only problem with this facet of the story is that, for all his genius, Gandolfini isn't overly convincing as a cack-handed brute. It's no comment on his flawless acting. It's just that he belongs to a very specific category of colossally-framed men which exude grace rather than oafishness. 

Jesse Ryder's dimensions aren't quite on a par with Gandolfini's but he shares that unshakable inability to make a surfeit of flesh look inelegant. On Thursday, he batted in vain for 90 in the Royal London Cup quarter final, at the start of his knock playing the ball as often as possible right beneath those eyes which are part eagle and part traumatised Nam vet. He was initially cautious trying to scaffold Essex's rickety chase, but the photon off side slashes and drives started to emerge, their ridiculous power and pace emphasised, not that it were needed, by the cosy boundaries of Chelmsford. In this mode, there's rarely an ounce of energy misplaced in them, just a happy consummation between timing and muscle. There's rarely an ounce of energy misplaced in anything he does. He even fist-bumps the way you imagine Baloo might fist-bump Mowgli if they'd ever batted together, a gentle paw barely impacting the knuckles of his fellow batsman. 

Towards the end of his knock he took his Kiwi colleague Jeetan Patel, a pivotal figure this success strewn last couple of weeks for Warwickshire, for a couple of sixes. The first he anticipated the turn precisely, his perfect, louche, southpaw Mickelson swing sending the ball arrowing back immediately back over the bowler's head. The second he played squarer, across the line and against the turn over wide long on, but it was as pure a straight drive as imaginable. Ryder's bat and tyrannical forearms ended up above his head as the familiar dark bit of cloth he has hanging out of the back of his helmet bounced off the base of his neck. That piece of fabric is a great thing, after a long stint in the middle giving him the air of a world-weary Mongol warrior who's nonetheless still utterly committed to the aesthetics of combat.  

For all the grace and thrills, there's something a bit sad about seeing him bat like that, knowing all the strength, beauty and luthier's touch is part of the same person who's suffered the problems he has as you can't help but wonder just how far he's come in finally overcoming them. Largely succeeding, Enough Said works incredibly hard to be bittersweet. Jesse Ryder, cricket's Gandolfini, last night nailed it without trying. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Moeen and the World's Murky Matrix

This morning the campaigning media organisation, Exaro News, was preparing to publicise they had eventually secured the release of a police report handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1970. The document outlined the police's strong belief that the Liberal MP for Rochdale, Cyril Smith, was a long term sexual abuser of children. The report was suppressed and never acted on and so Smith, a friend and most likely paedophilic cohort of Jimmy Savile, was left unprosecuted and free to carry on his behaviour for decades more until his death in 2010.  Another public figure, another grimy cover up. 


At around the same time on Test Match Special, Jonathan Agnew and Vic Marks were discussing the ICC's decision to ban Moeen Ali from wearing two wristbands which stated "Free Palestine" and "Save Gaza". Despite the support of the ECB, Ali was censored by cricket's world body because, according to a spokesman, "equipment and clothing regulations do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match". Marks was his usual phlegmatic, sharp self, adopting the persona he always does for complex matters, one of resigned regret that the world throws up such thorny matters but attempting to see the nuances. Agnew was rather firmer, suggesting that there should be "zero tolerance" of any such political statements on the cricket field. He then seamlessly moved on to talk about the British military charity, Help for Heroes, whose logo was being worn on the England players' collars, including that of Ali himself. Regardless of one's views on Gaza or the British Military and government's various foreign interventions, it was peculiar that neither Agnew nor the ICC had spotted the apparent double standard. 

During their chat on Ali's stance, Marks and Agnew had brought up Basil D'Oliveira, the South African born cricketer who in 1968 was barred from playing for England in his apartheid-blighted home country because of his skin colour. The inference was that Dolly differed from Ali in that he never mentioned his absurd predicament on the field and so was thus dealing with political matters in a more refined way than the present England all rounder. This point overlooked the fact that D'Oliveira was so trapped in a mesh of political and racial politics he had no option but to allow others to fight his cause for him, most notably another TMS commentator, John Arlott and the Reverend David Sheppard (a Test cricketer who went on to become the Bishop of Liverpool). That particular 1968 tour was eventually called off, but South African sports teams were still allowed to visit Britain, although the Springboks rugby tour of 1969 was severely disrupted by protesters led by a young Kenyan-born anti-apartheid student campaigner who was to go on to become a UK foreign office minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The actions of that activist and his fellow protesters extended to sabotaging the Twickenham pitch with nails and eventually the situation was deemed so parlous that the scheduled 1970 visit of the South African cricket team was also eventually cancelled, much to the disappointment of both the two nations' cricket boards and governments. 

The student continued his anti-apartheid protests, becoming no stranger to court fines, but things took a more sinister turn in 1972 when an attempt was made on his life, by - it is strongly alleged - the South African secret service. The letter bomb sent was opened by his sister but thankfully malfunctioned. Four years later, the student was prosecuted for allegedly stealing £490 from a branch of Barclays Bank. The case was one of clear cut mistaken identity and he was acquitted amid suspicions he had been framed by the same organisation who had sent the letter bomb. So pitiful was the prosecution's case, there were calls for the DPP to resign.


The other cricket-based political controversy which was brought up today in light of Moeen's wristband ban was that of Andy Flower and Henry Olonga protesting against the 'death of democracy' in Mugabe's Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup. Then the British government left England captain, Nasser Hussain, twisting in the wind over whether or not his side should fulfill their fixture against the hosts in Harare. In the end, Hussain chose not to, incurring the wrath of the ICC and the loss of a couple of group points, although by this point matters on the field seemed rather inconsequential. Eight years earlier (when an opposition MP), a member of that 2003 Blair government had written a thriller called "The Peking Connection" in which a sympathetic portrait of a Mugabe clone had been painted, with the MP allegedly even going on to present the book in person to the Zimbabwean dictator. For those brought up in the shadow of British colonialism and apartheid, as the politician was, viewing Mugabe as a bulwark to the ills of white men rather than the land-grabbing tyrant he was to become was a not uncommon view, but ultimately a very damaging one. Mugabe stayed in power and by 2003 Flower and Olonga were suffering along with millions of their countrymen. The novelist, by that point a minister, had also become one of the dictator's biggest critics. 


The Director of Public Prosecutions who decided to try the anti-apartheid student for robbery in 1976 on flimsy evidence but, for whatever reason, decided to let the police's deep fears about Cyril Smith in 1970 go unheeded was the same man, Sir Norman Skelton. That victimised student himself was the same man, Peter Hain, who went on to become a government minister, apparently shifting his views on Mugabe along the way. 

It's a murky, dirty, interconnected matrix of a world whose permanently fluctuating ills are inbred over decades and centuries. Sport and cricket cannot pretend they do not play or haven't played their part or that they are not firewood in the furnace of geopolitics. Flower, Hain, Mugabe, Skelton, Olonga and D'Oliveira are all interlinked, tenuously in some instances, but interlinked nonetheless.

In the context of all the above, banning a pair wristbands ranks fairly low on the list of establishment cover ups, but the ICC looks hypocritical for telling Ali to shut up about his choice of political gesture while allowing the England team to so overtly display their collective one. Even if we eschew history and accept the facade that cricket and politics don't mix, then the sport's governing body should go about maintaining such a facade in an even-handed manner. The very least Moeen Ali should get is a statement from the ICC clarifying why his wristbands weren't permitted but his collar logo was. When those in authority can't adequately explain why they want things kept quiet, it's always time for everyone else to start shouting just a little bit louder. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Government Threatens To Pull ECB Out Of ICC

Moves were afoot in Westminster today to pull the English Cricket Board out of the International Cricket Council. After growing public dissatisfaction with the world game's governing body, which one minister described as being “run by mucky foreigners who can't really be trusted and are only interested in screwing over poor Peter Moores", the Conservatives see the decision to free the ECB from its shackles as a sure fire vote winner ahead of next year's general election. 

The latest row comes after the decision of the ICC to level charges at England bowler, Jimmy Anderson, for making derogatory remarks about another player's handbag. Sources close to Number Ten suggested that “this wasn't what the ICC was set up to achieve” and that the organisation should "stick to upholding the spirit of cricket by keeping an eye on dusky elbows”. 

Although some recently sacked moderate ex-members of the cabinet said threatening to take your ball home was a slightly childish approach which could undermine decades of progress in the field of international cricket rights, the Daily Mail was quick to support the plan. In an editorial which also praised the “"chic Mediterranean dress sense” of the ECB's “shapely” chairman, Giles Clarke, the respected tabloid stated: “FINALLY, the government is doing something about the meddling ICC. Not only does it persecute decent, hard-working men from Burnley, but has also in recent times overseen moves - which apologists naively claim are merely cricket fixtures - allowing thousands of Indians to flood into English cricket grounds. Enough is enough.” 

The controversy is in danger of overshadowing arguments about the Lord's pitch for Wednesday's Second Test, but new ICC head, N Srinivasan, struck a conciliatory tone by surprisingly supporting the British plans. Speaking from Dubai, the ex-BCCI president explained that, “Threatening to pull out of the ICC is a mature and adult way to act which has certainly done me no harm”. He went on to stress he had done nothing wrong.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Cricket's Biggest explained by Luis Suarez

Life is full of dubious excuses: "The dog ate my homework"; "Before I sat down somebody swapped my chair for a hoover nozzle"; "I honestly had no idea she was your sister." In all human existence, however, few people can have absolved themselves of responsibility for wrongdoing quite so innovatively as Luis Suarez when explaining his decision to treat Chiellini's shoulder like a pastrami sandwich: 

"In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth."

Having been banned for nine international matches and all football for four months, Suarez has got quite a bit of time on his hands. To help fill the void between now and his return to competition, Pavilion Opinions caught up with the Uruguayan and asked for his interpretation of some of the more controversial incidents and scandals in cricket's history. 

Trevor Chappell bowling underarm to prevent New Zealand hitting the six they needed to draw a 1981 ODI 

"As Trevor approached the crease, he had no intention of bowling an underarm delivery. However, a strong downward gust of wind blown into the stadium by the English media caught hold of his shoulders forcing him onto one knee. He tried to resist, but eventually the pressure was so great he had no choice but to also relinquish his hold on the ball thus propelling it along the ground. Richie Benaud said it was one of the worst things he'd ever seen on a cricket pitch. It is no surprise Mr Benaud worked in the English media for many years." 

Freddie Flintoff drunkenly setting sail in a Caribbean pedalo, World Cup 2007 

"As Fred approached the pedalo, he had no intention of getting in it and attempting to sail back to Morecombe for a kebab because he'd drunk fourteen rum and cokes and was a bit peckish. However, as he took a light stroll on the beach he lost his balance for reasons which remain unexplained, making his body unstable and causing him to fall on top of the pedalo. The impact left a small bruise on his thigh and a strong pain in his head, although admittedly this did not become fully apparent until the following morning."

Afridi biting the ball, 2010

"As Afridi approached the ball with his teeth, he had no intention of biting it. However, as you can clearly see in the footage, the English media forced the ball up into his mouth whilst alerting the complicit umpire - I have checked Cricinfo and discovered Patrice Evra was standing in this match - to his alleged crime. It comes as no surprise that the ball got off without even a warning from the ICC." 

Mohammad Amir bowling a huge spot-fixing no-ball, Lord's 2010

"As Amir approached the crease, he had no intention of bowling a no-ball bigger than my incisors. However, when he got into his delivery stride he mistook the white line of the crease for a colony of silkworms crossing the pitch. Immediately remembering that the lovely new pajamas he had recently bought from Marks and Spencers were the end product of these remarkable creatures, he of course stepped over them. Thanks to a conspiracy by the English media, who decided to print a selection of cast-iron facts and irrefutable video evidence, the English criminal justice system - again, English - did not believe this perfectly logical explanation. Also, he is from a small village." 

Sreesanth taking money to concede a certain amount of runs, IPL 2013

"As he approached the crease, Sree intended to bowl badly because he is a corrupt little sod. Sorry, there are some people even I can't make excuses for." 


Well, some fascinating insights from Luis, there. He's certainly challenged a few perceptions. Next week, we ask former France captain and genius Zinedine Zidane how Alastair Cook can keep a cool head in a crisis. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Angelo and Demons

"It's better to be feared than loved," said weaselly old Machiavelli in The Prince. For international cricket captains, it's better just to win matches and then you don't have to give a monkey's what anyone thinks about you. At the moment Alastair Cook is neither feared, loved nor winning matches and, barring a miraculous England batting effort on Tuesday, is going to have to do a lot of thinking of his own about whether or not he can possibly restore authority to his status as English cricket's on field monarch. 

The England skipper has always had the slight air of the fairytale prince about him, with his chiselled jaw and uncomplicated heroics giving the impression he often knocks off - or used to - one of his ridiculously numerous Test centuries and then climbs effortlessly up a castle turret to wake up a slumbering princess with a smooch. He is, as far as one can see, a perfectly charming if rather aloof man, notwithstanding what many regard as his not altogether chivalrous behaviour in English cricket's joust with Kevin Pietersen. He has understandably become a lightning rod for his team's rotten displays, but also and probably unfairly for the resentment and distrust England supporters have of the ECB, not least as its chairman rather shamelessly jets off to Melbourne to rubber stamp the Big Three's shoddy plan to turn cricket into a global cabal. The talk of 'values' and Cook's family being 'the right sort of people' is a significant reason - alongside the small matter of many defeats - why fans are so reluctant to give the new era such little patience, despite the international emergence or reemergence of some genuinely fine cricketers such as Jordan, Ballance, Robson and Plunkett. Cook himself has occasionally got lured into using this sort of abstract corporate speak to try and cover up what's been recorded in the scorebook in the last eight months, but he's largely been hoisted on the ECB's petard of moralising lick-spittle. 

Regardless, it is with Cook himself that the buck must reside for England's recent run of humiliations and the present impending defeat. The very same characteristics that mean he has been such a wonderful, statistically superlative batsman for his country - resoluteness, conservatism and a willingness to play well within the boundaries of the conventional - are exactly the same traits which have led to his recent failures as captain. As his opposite number, Angelo Mathews, went about compiling a near Graeme Smithian second innings captain's knock to thwart the English, Cook appeared impotent and iron-brained in his inability to discard the rigidity of his failing tactics. Just as opposition bowlers have turned his once admirable refusal to score in "the V" into his biggest weakness, opposition batsmen shepherding the tail can now see his predictable efforts at kidology a mile off - "Take a single? No thanks, but I'll certainly enjoy the lack of close fielders and the pressure being off for a few balls before picking my moment for a boundary." 

It gives little pleasure to have to acknowledge that last summer Shane Warne with his garrulous "lose to win" diatribes about the England captain being too inhibited was, in fact, a sort of brilliant Botox Nostradamus. Cook last week felt compelled to publicly address these accusations, labelling them "personal" and stating that "something needs to be done." It was an absurd comment that sounded like something powerless and broken Uncle Junior in The Sopranos might utter as his henchmen politely nodded but then stared at their shoes and each other in the sad knowledge their superior no longer carried enough weight to get anything done about anything. Cook is probably as unlikely to cry in public as he famously is to ever sweat, but his outburst was that of a man in danger of drawing comparisons with the epitome of captaincy's cruel daggers, Kim Hughes

At the very least, Cook should step down as ODI captain to take the pressure off both himself and the selectors. His record in the format is impossible to dismiss, but it's very hard not to believe that, with the undoubted IPLisation of the one day format and England's recent results and performances, he is doing the cricketing equivalent of bed-blocking and his staid approach at the top of the order infecting those around him. Whether he stays as Test captain for the long term is not a question likely to be resolved until after India have been and gone. On Test Match Special as England capitulated, Jonathan Agnew today suggested that some English supporters were enjoying seeing their side suffer. That's a simplistic and lofty assessment. No one - regardless of their stance on Pietersen and the ECB - enjoys in any real sense seeing their national team humiliated and someone as ostensibly pleasant as Cook endure such a torrid time. However, as Machiavelli also rather obviously noted: "Whoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times". If Cook is unable or unwilling to do so, then the times will continue to change, but England's Test results simply will not. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

How to stay true to cricket during the football World Cup

Despite an ever-growing choice of alluring franchises, the cricket fan remains a fairly loyal beast. Supporters also rarely switch allegiances between countries, certainly less so than players, and county fans can't even abide a change of name - witness the hullabaloo over the Birmingham Bears - let alone a change of side. However, for any cricket fan thinking of having an affair with another sport, the football World Cup with all its saucy stepovers and wall-to-wall media promiscuity presents something of a tempting opportunity. So, if your cricket-married eyes are starting to wander lustfully towards Brazil, here's a brief reminder why you should stay loyal to willow and leather.

1) Decency
Cricket is of such innate decency that a player can be fined for looking at his bat ruefully for half a second after being given out leg before. In football, by contrast, players constantly get away with directing language at referees of the sort which cricket normally only witnesses after David Warner has had a convivial evening and then taken to Twitter. Is that really the sort of sport you want a fling with? I accept Colin Croft once deliberately ran into umpire Fred Goodall, but he was quite a portly figure to avoid and the worst form of dissent you normally get in cricket is a bowler retrieving his sweater in a slightly churlish manner. In any case, you never get cricketers actually attacking each other. Ok, fine, there was that thing with Lillee and Miandad and Praveen Kumar did on one occasion physically assault a batsman, but he's from a family of wrestlers anyway so we can just put that down to genetics.

2) Honesty
Chaos theorists talk about the butterfly effect whereby a small event can have huge consequences on the other side of the planet. You can often see this in football. For example, when a butterfly flaps its wings in China, there's a good chance Luis Suarez will fall over in Brazil. Footballers are in fact so addicted to diving that the sport had to invent a euphemism - simulation - just to cover up its dishonesty. Imagine the lies they'd tell you. Cricket, however, is a gentleman's game based on mutual trust. What's the difference between footballers diving and cricketers not walking, you ask? Fair question, but when a player, Stuart Broad for example, stands his ground he's actually being respectful to the umpire by allowing the umpire alone to make the decision. The supreme Jack Hobbs went as far as to reason that the official might be unduly embarrassed by a batsman eventually walking if he'd initially been given not out. So you see, even when cricketers are being morally dubious, they're actually being noble.

3) Technology
Football lays claim to being more dashing and attractive than cricket because it doesn't allow its luscious flow to be interrupted by video reviews. That's all very well, but I suspect most Croatian fans would have warmed to the idea of DRS after Fred's simulation of a dropped sack of potatoes in the World Cup opener. It's true cricket's man and machine combo can of course make mistakes, especially when the man is Billy Bowden and the machine is a TV screen. On balance though, Cricket's use of technology is Blu-ray to football's Betamax. Also, if you can make a bail flash why not a net? You see, cricket even has more bling than football, so why go cheating?

4) Corruption
I acknowledge it's very easy for the current cricket fan to think along these lines: “So, the prospective head of the ICC owns a franchise being investigated for illegal betting and is also the father-in-law of one of the key suspects. Come to think of it, he's also been banned from running his national board by his country's Supreme Court. Hang on a minute. I'm being treated like a fool. Maybe I should just run off with football ?” Ok, now just wait up a second. I accept you feel you're taken for granted, but one thing you can say about N Srinivasan is that he's not Sepp Blatter and, let's be honest, FIFA somehow manages to make cricket's governing bodies look like a hybred of Florence Nightingale and Desmond Tutu. This is no time to gift Sepp your heart.

So, come on. It's fine to glance longily at football's showy attractiveness during its encroachment on the English summer season, but try and control yourself. The World Cup can only ever be a fleeting summer romance. True love lies in cricket. Most probable in Moeen Ali's timing. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Mild disquiet as FIFA reveal official World Cup Final ball made using skin of dead migrant workers

Football was slightly perturbed today as it was confirmed the special ball being used for the World Cup final on July 13th was sewn together using the skin of labourers who've perished in Qatar ahead of the 2022 tournament. In the face of widespread shoulder shrugging, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was swift to defend the unusual move, claiming the decision to incorporate recycled migrant worker corpses into the ball's manufacture showed the sport's governing body had “a sensitive side and excellent environmental awareness”.

Speaking at the unveiling of Jeremy Clarkson as FIFA's “Handshakes not hate” race ambassador, Blatter explained the thinking behind the idea: “A lot of people think our organisation is these days run solely for the benefit of suited oafs with paunches who do tireless work supporting high-end prostitution. By using migrant labourer body parts for this World Cup, we hope to show there is still very much a place in football for the working man, even if that is technically only actually in the ball itself."

Labour of love: The Brazuca ball Adidas claim is "guaranteed 74% migrant body part"

The controversial move has brought a wave of indifference from fans across the globe, with one supporter, Barry from Gravesend, going as far as to condemn the decision as “Whatever, pal. None of my fucking business, is it?”. Another, who wished to remain anonymous, was more forthright in his objections, complaining that, “Yeah, it is a bit dodgy, 'cos if they didn't shave them first and left some hair on there it might affect the aerodynamics at set pieces. You know, Pirlo and that?”. Millions of other fans expressed similar levels of outraged apathy.

The migrant death toll among those building stadiums for Qatar 2022 is expected to reach 4,000 by the time its stadiums are completed, and Blatter stated he was disappointed plans to extend what he termed the “Cadaver Merchandise Experience” to replica shirts and scarves were yet to be finalized. However, with Bangladeshi child labour on the increase, he said he was hopeful of having the comercial infrastructure in place in time for the Russia 2018 tournament.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Newish Era

With apologies to Scotland, England's new era kicked off in earnest on Tuesday with a T20I fixture against World Champions Sri Lanka. The match was prefaced with ECB chairman Giles Clarke seeing fit to give an interview to the BBC in which he complained of his colleague Paul Downton being subjected to "the most repulsive abuse on social media". After the Pietersen sacking, the ECB managing director has undoubtedly been subject to scrutiny on Twitter, at times rather vociferous, but Clarke's comments smacked of the same sort of "outside cricket" disdain to which those dissenting from the official line have previously been accused of. He went on to bolster Cook's credentials as captain by suggesting he was "a very good role model and he and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be..". I've said before I believe Clarke to be a very decent man, utterly earnest in his attempts to do his best for English and Test cricket, but the trouble is that his words and actions so often seem out of touch and merely serve to alienate supporters. "The sort of people"? The England team's job is to win matches, not win praise in Daily Mail editorials and on Thought For The Day. It was an odd comment tucked inside yet another peculiar interview which left many feeling at best bemused and at worst quite angry. 

On the field, England did show signs with the bat of having the rather more carefree approach which surely has to be adopted in the post-Flower age, with due respect to the vast success the previous coach's austere methods brought them. In the field, the catching and general organisation showed little upswing from the greased palm shambles we saw in the World T20, but there were bright spots, not least in Gurney's bowling, which stayed relatively frugal even when he was caught in the maelstrom of Perera's death overs batting, an unenviable place to be as many more experienced bowlers already know to their cost. Ultimately, though, it was England's inability to come up with concealed slower balls and the wide yorker - very much the poster boy of T20 containment bowling at present - which cost them. It's too much to expect such an inexperienced attack to be as savvy as Kulasekara and Malinga, but it all feeds back to the fact that due to our self-enforced isolation from grubby franchise T20 tournaments around the world, our players have undoubtedly been shorn of that little bit of street smart which can be crucial to winning tight matches, such as this transpired to be. 

Coming back to the chase, Hales again played a superlative knock, with one velvety cover drive in particular giving succour to those who believe his exclusion from the ODI side to be a retrograde, conservative nonsense. Yet England, as they were in the unsuccessful but gallant chase against South Africa, are still too prone to getting bogged down mid-innings. On this occasion, they were doomed to fail because having Bell and Root at three and four is simply self-harming. Bell, who has played very little T20 in recent times, is an aesthetically wonderful player in the guise of Mahela, but unlike the recently retired Sri Lankan, he has neither the nous nor acceleration to bat at number three in T20Is. Root, despite his undoubted innovation - though recently well hidden - is currently just not suited to providing an innings with the necessary impetus. His knock of 90* against Australia last year currently seems a very distant memory. He is too inventive and canny not to become an integral part of England's T20 side, but at present he seems inhibited and wrought, and at number four that is a death sentence for the team. 

England are "moving on", as Clarke is so beloved of telling supporters they should about Pietersen and, with the troublesome genius currently enduring a torrid time with Delhi in the IPL, it does indeed make harking on about his sacking seem slightly shrill, though no less justified. England are possibly not in terrible shape as they go into the ODI series against Sri Lanka. They have the component parts, but just need to stick them together with bravado and confidence, rather than conservatism and aphorisms about families, "good atmospheres" and needing someone to "anchor an innings". These notions are passé and irrelevant. It will be Moores' great triumph if he can make the necessary, and not necessarily seismic, adjustments both on and off the pitch to ensure such an adjective doesn't apply to the England team throughout the summer in its entirety. Don't hold your breath.


For more analysis of England's post-Pietersen era, listen to our interview with esteemed Wisden editor, Lawrence Booth: 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Trip to Remorse

If you didn't watch The Trip To Italy, or indeed its predecessor The Trip, many congratulations. You have six of the happiest hours of your life ahead of you. The series follow comedic cousins Steve Coogan (of Alan Partridge and, as he puts it, other less successful characters fame) and Rob Brydon (Marion and Geoff, panel shows) as they tour around Britain and Italy reviewing high end restaurants, doing impressions of James Bonds throughout the ages and bickering to various degrees of bitterness. The two play themselves, or rather slightly idealised, modified or negatively enhanced versions of themselves with much of the poignancy, candour and humour of their largely improvised conversations coming from the viewer not quite knowing where the true personalities and interactions cease and the facade of television begins.

The show has sometimes been criticised for being self-indulgent, but as the premise is of two middle-aged men struggling to come to terms with the nature of success, family, love and often just existence itself, this barb seems rather ill-placed. Coogan is perceived of as the more successful of the two professionally, but the balance of power between the pair can be altered in an instant by a misquoted line of poetry or film script being seized upon by Brydon. Over the course of the two series, their initial respective roles of lothario and dedicated family man start to blur and pivot and ultimately their own relationship - on screen and off it too, we might reasonably imagine - starts to thaw into a greater mutual affection, all the time mellowed by the great overbearing axiom that life is brief and time spent being jealous and at loggerheads is a travesty. 

Today the ECB's Chief Executive David Collier gave an interview in which he was asked about the possible return of Kevin Pietersen to the England side. Perhaps Collier had been watching The Trip To Italy with a wistful whiskey in hand because instead of giving the stock line trotted out by Giles Clarke that there's “no going back”, he chose to say, “It is always very foolish to say never. I don't think anybody can ever say never.” It seemed an incongruous admission when placed alongside with the united front of moving on resolutely previously put forward from English cricket's governing body. Pietersen is probably past his prime, but this present situation is still denying him, England and England fans the chance to see him at the crease for our country. It is precious time being wasted because of pettiness, intransigence and a lack of communication from all sides. It is precious time which could be filled by something likely to provide something to our lives of tangible value, even if that value is only seeing a flawed man hit a piece of leather with a bit of willow. 

Throughout the two series, Coogan and Brydon are beloved of out-quoting each other on the romantics. Pietersen, Cook and the ECB hierarchy should take heed and try a bit of Byron. In “"When we two parted”, an ode to the despair of prolonged separation, he writes: 

If I should meet thee
After long years
How should I greet thee
With silence and tears. 

It really doesn't have to come to that for Cook, Pietersen et al. As Coogan and Brydon evidence, men the world over, no matter how rich or famed, are probably never adult in the subjective rather than biological sense. They do, however, when pushed by hindsight and the numbing slap in the face of age and time, occasionally have the capacity to triumph over their inert, trivial quibbles and grow up sufficiently to rectify blatant, damaging idiocy. 


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