Cricket news from ESPN

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. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Take me to the Moores

"Over the moor, take me to the moor. Dig a shallow grave. And I'll lay me down." 

The Smiths there with a bit of their characteristically chirpy paean to murderous despair, Suffer Little Children. It is, of course, Moores of a different ilk which English cricket is currently preoccupied with, but I mention Morrissey and his troupe because being a fan of theirs and being a supporter of Kevin Pietersen have started to feel very similar, as if you're welcome to have your naive little piece of indulgence but ultimately you're acting like a naval-gazing teenager the adults really don't have much regard for. It's good you're passionate about things, but you'll grow up one day and move on to rather more mature pursuits. 

At a press conference on Saturday unveiling the ex-Lancashire boss, Moores was asked a question about his previous contretemps with Pietersen, a query he responded to with cheery candour, pointing out that "Kevin fell out with me. I never fell out with Kevin". He was then asked whether there was any way back for England's highest ever international run scorer. England's new coach looked rather startled, but was about to respond before Paul Downton darted in to basically say there wasn't, but that with regard to the reasons for the sacking, there was "no smoking gun" and that Pietersen had just become "disconnected". It was a fairly gob-smacking admission given we've been lead to believe some sort of heinous crime against humanity had been committed and it made me feel aggrieved. When one member of the press corps subsequently tweeted that England's MD had handled the issue "with aplomb", it made me feel the way Ben Stokes does when confronted with a dressing room locker. It's no surprise it was the same hack who recently ran a sycophantic interview with Downton that wouldn't have looked out of place in Pravda. It was depressingly pliant, but I accept the tightrope between biting and kissing the hand that feeds you is one with which all journalists reliant on the ECB for access to players and so forth must wrestle. 

For many England fans rather than journalists, however, their feelings about losing our most exciting batsman of a generation are still those of anger and injustice, qualities which also informed so many of The Smiths' works, but which also led to them suing each other in a dispute over royalties after an acrimonious split. Summing up the case, the sitting judge labelled Morrissey "devious, truculent and devious", and the second of those accusations could, on occasion, doubtless be applied to some of Pietersen's more divisive behaviour. Yet the fact remains that the reasons behind his dismissal have now been confirmed to be as vacuous as the gaseous guff about 'core values' the ECB are also so fond of espousing. Despite Trott, Carberry, Swann (initially) and Panesar all coming out in his favour since the Ashes tour - with the Hampshire opener being particularly effusive in his praise for the help and advice he received in Australia - Pietersen was sacked because the hierarchy of Clarke, Downton and Cook just didn't like him any more. The wine merchant, the city boy and the deer hunting home counties captain just didn't want the brash outsider on the inside any longer. It turns out it's just a classic British establishment closed ranks stitch up and it stinks. 

"Oh Manchester, so much to answer for", Moz later warbles in that song. In that city's county of Lancashire, its fans are mourning the loss of a coach they regard very highly, as well they should. I wish Moores - a decent and innovative man - all the very best in his second attempt at the job, but if growing up means accepting the ECB have not been both gravely wrong and shallow over Pietersen, I personally will be sticking with my adolescent-tinged self-righteous misery for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

England to send Stanford to ICC meet

Following the news N Srinivasan would be attending the upcoming ICC get together despite being forced to stand down as BCCI president, the ECB today announced former business partner Allen Stanford  would  be its  representative  at  the next meeting  of cricket's  elites.  Stanford, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison in 2012 for holding several cricketers' wives hostage in his moustache and also heading a huge Ponzi scheme, may seem to many an odd choice to advocate on behalf of the English game. However, having placed so much stock in ethics in justifiying the sacking of Kevin Pietersen, the ECB believe they have no choice but to match dollar for dollar the moral values of their closest allies the BCCI.

Knees must: Sir Allen readies his position on fine leg restrictions 

Speaking from a beige leather seat in London, chairman Giles Clarke explained: “Look, we all know how important team ethos is, and as we've sold our arses to a man described by the Supreme Court of his country as 'nauseating' and 'filth', it's only fair we stand full-square behind him. I'm a bit of a bumbling dufus, but, let's be honest, I'm not really in the same ethical league as Mr Srinivasan. If he's going to this meeting he deserves to engage with someone of similar moral standing. Not for the first time, I'm happy to put my every faith in Allen. Call me naive, but Srini has assured me I'm acting in English cricket's best interests." 

The ECB confirmed they would be applying for bail of Mr Stanford on 'compassionate grounds', a move insiders said they were hopeful of succeeding in given how upset most supporters currently are with them. 


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

England's Triple Bypass

To enjoy the high times, you have to experience the low ebbs. So goes a school of thought about being a sports fan. Even if it be true, Giles Clarke's recent proclamation that it's ridiculous to suggest England are at their nadir even denies us the prospective pleasure of that particular aphorism. So what's left to cling on to as an England fan at the moment?

The only ray of hope is that the abject capitulation against the Netherlands serves as a sort of CPR to the obstinate heart of English cricket and is followed by a triple bypass of enlightenment. Firstly, to reiterate previous postings, a revision of attitudes towards T20 and overseas T20 tournaments. The sole English success story here was Alex Hales of the Melbourne Renegades. He won't be Alex Hales of CSK, or King's XI or any other IPL franchise because English cricket decided to set a base price on him. No takers. Also no takers for Morgan, because he was tacitly forced to withdraw from the IPL auction to further his Test ambitions in county cricket. This is wrongheaded in my view, but it's a moot and subjective point I've put before, and, as a fan, if he has a productive Test summer against Sri Lanka and India after recovering his confidence playing for Middlesex in the County Championship, I'll be delighted to look silly. Overall, however, it is ostrich head mimicry in the extreme not to see that the cricketing sands across all formats are shifting and England are presently only sinking into antiquity and defeat. But New Zealand and Australia's players play in the IPL and look what happened to them? Fair point. Come back to me after the ODI World Cup.

Secondly, a back room rethink. England are more beloved of laptops than the average Starbucks customer, but in this tournament, and indeed throughout the whole winter, they have shown they need a bit of defragging. Broad was accused of cowardice for not bowling himself in the power plays, but there's no way in the world that was his decision. It would have been plotted scrupulously based on empirical data, though heaven knows which given Dernbach and Bresnan's economy rates. Similarly, in the South Africa game Nasser Hussain was tearing out what little hair is left on his Putinesque head exclaiming on commentary how comparatively unproductive the Proteas had been against balls short of a length as England continued to pitch it up. Granted, AB de Villiers would have dispatched an Akram/Lindwall hybred towards the end of the innings, but England's rigid insistence on sticking to what was doubtless a meticulously devised strategy as Nasser despaired surely speaks of a side so drilled on preconception that ad hoc logic is anathema. And this stultifying clottage infuses everything. Hales aside, the batting was also lowly and inhibited and, no one aside, the fielding abysmal, but after so much hurt already I can't yet contemplate suggesting that the two of my cricketing idols responsible for those facets of England's game be dismissed. Thorpe and Collingwood should be allowed to carry on for the time being.

Thirdly, and inevitably, the ECB has to grow up and accept they made a mistake over Pietersen. It can be done via fudge and obfuscation on both sides but it will require Downton and Clarke to have the courage to appoint someone from beyond the present set up as England coach. Axing Ashley Giles - though another former player almost as beloved to me as Thorpe and Collingwood - would be both the kindest thing and also allow an outsider to come in whose insistence he be given a free hand over who's picked enable yet another earnest apology from Pietersen alongside some suitably obsequious yet face-saving words from Downton about how England have now “reassessed their staff symbiosis moving forwards” or some such corporate mucus. Downton and Clarke are not, despite it all, dishonourable men in my book, but they will go down in history as obstinate and foolish ones if they cannot - hopefully under pressure from a less pliant press corps - accept their folly and reverse their position. Clarke, in particular, with his cosying up to both Stanford and Srinivasan, leaves himself open to charges of being a nincompoop, but they're charges he consistently refutes on the grounds he believes he was acting in English cricket's best interests. I genuinely think he believes he was, but with Stanford in jail, Srinivasan in BCCI purgatory and England in disarray, it's surely three strikes and you're out. If he wants to restore what's left of his reputation and save his job, he needs to start showing the canny knack for survival he did when allegedly gambling his way through university by dragging England's rough diamond back into the fold from left field. It's admittedly a forlorn hope.

Ultimately it depends who you have the most respect for. Nick Knight, through his fence-sitting rhetorical gibberish and continued support for Pietersen's sacking offers one standpoint on England. Nasser, through his patent contempt for his co-commentator, offers a better one but, if you want the most telling comment on where cricket is off to and where English cricket isn't, just watch Mike Atherton, leitmotif of sporting nous and intelligence, bound around like a giddy schoolgirl in the Sky studio with utter wonder as he analyses the T20 cricket on offer in this so far splendid tournament. Mike Atherton is inside modern cricket. If England and their ethos don't change, they can just continue to watch the Netherlands and everyone else from the periphery whilst offering platitudes about harmonious changing rooms and staring dumbfounded into their laptops. The situation is critical. Someone has to have the courage within English cricket to start wielding the knife. 


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