The Federal Activity Project: more mad ideas around the Movement movement.

I get that some of the following is random, or ill-thought-out. Fair enough. But I’m going to relish the role of agent-provocateur and airer of the daft and unthinkable, if only because we need, surely, to break open the debate around  health? Tinkering with the ageing, sedentary population thing or the obesity issue feels pitifully weedy – insulting, even. We need to think big and broad and radical.

To get started, maybe go read my previous blog; then we can race in to the brainstorming about stuff that might really make a difference. Then join in, go loopy or protest, or write your own manifesto for Wales/the UK/the world and call it Have a Cuppa Tea Good Days Ahead. Or something. I’ll be back here, foaming, writing about sport, or more broadly, ‘Activity’.

Here I propose a list of ‘measures’ (lol) for getting us moving, for inspiring and/or practically enabling the Movement movement. They start here, with politico-philosophical jousting which I insist *is relevant* – indeed it provides the necessary context through which the delivery of the Project becomes possible. So;

  • Elect your government – local, national – around their actual commitment to green issues, to public health, to sport and culture. Insist there is nothing more important.
  • Make your voices heard. Do not accept either economic austerity or austerity of the soul. Vote for people who are open and generous and who (ideally) have Tom Waits or PJ Harvey albums… and ride bikes, run, or go watch the Scarlets. Or paint.
  • Follow and/or support those who would actually consider levering the social/economic debate right open, because they will never accept that The Market is God.
  • Maybe first, foremost and most specifically, demand that money be found to fund a massive Activity Project. (Political choices have and are being made, to make it seem as though there is no money available – and never will be – for indulgences of this sort). Refuse to accept that; this is no fringe agenda; the Movement movement is central to the mental, physical and holistic-economic health of the nation.

Ok relax. That’s the Loony bit done. Now, comrades, let’s all grapple with the radical-possibles: we need to get stormingly brainy here, to stir up the idle, the cynical and the unaware. What can we do, to get everybody moving?

I don’t have answers, but I do have questions – none of which imply any criticism whatsoever of our health professionals. *None of which*.

In a zillion ways, I contend we have to provide masses of opportunities for Activity, whether or not this is in or on schools, parks, mountains, rivers, shopping malls or housing estates. To be clear, these opportunities must be free, or cheap as chips – as the unfortunate saying goes.

Some folks will literally come running but others, for a whole host of reasons – some of which are valid – will not. Clearly the vectors of Not Running-in, Helpfully and Those Likely To Be A Burden (With All Due Respect) To The NHS show a certain common outline. These folks – young, middle-aged or old – we need to engage with: bigtime.

We need great ideas, new and novel adventures and an open, feisty debate about mental and physical health, responsibility and compulsion.

What’s do-able, given the consensus around urgent improvement? I don’t see how we can address this without a profound look at the role of the NHS.

  • Doctors are effectively the front line, when it comes to the ill-health/must change interface. Of course it can be argued that it’s not their job to fight for Activity as well as fight against illness, but…
  • Might we train/authorise/empower/coerce doctors into actively persuading/compelling patients into better diet and more movement?
  • Could we not, in some way – with appropriate training and remuneration – develop the (patient-) transformative side of the NHS, so as to empower/compel/educate staff towards offering great ideas and opportunities for activity, post the surgery/hospital fix? Clearly I know some of this aspiration is in place but I’m talking about a real shift in terms of expectation. Doctors (or somebody at the place of contact) guiding or bundling Patient Z into doing something. I fully understand the complex issues around this but still feel we need to wrestle with them: openly.
  • I guess I’m wondering what more can be done – culturally, practically – through government, through the agency of the NHS, to get unhealthy people not just immediately better, but long-term well and into wellness? Into lifelong healthy habits. Because a) surely more could be done, b) we need more impact on the thinking (or lack of it) from patients, following contact with the NHS. Which sounds like a criticism.

Maybe I’ve gone with this first because it seems most challenging? Maybe I’ve made shocking assumptions about many things. Maybe the shocking obviousness of the need for more coaches, trainers or sporty teachers for schools or youth clubs or community groups or spaces has meant I’m ‘targetting’ other, less obvious things. Whatever, this difficult stuff, where we eyeball issues across public health to civil liberties is unavoidable.

Let’s get back to ideas. Other avenues we might joyously, leaf-hoofingly race down.

  • Play. As well as transforming levels of activity in schools by increasing time for Physical Education, we could (and should) increase the amount of learning through Physical Education.
  • A finer understanding of what Physical Literacy is and what it means, is developing. Primary Schools in particular are getting comfortable with the idea that Activity can assist or lead development in academic terms as well as holistically (and of course physically). Many of us will argue that activity should lead more extensively.
  • Inter-active rooms are a fabulous extension of the notion that children might often experience learning through their senses, through movement, through participatory action rather than just passive ‘listening to teacher’. Sports coaches (believe me) can develop childrens’ social, creative, cognitive, personal skills as well as supporting their physical health and fitness. They don’t just teach sports skills; it’s way more sophisticated than that – it’s a richer experience.
  • It’s about all-round growth: Physical Literacy means building a pathway, understanding and promoting development through considered, appropriate activity.
  • (I’ve just gotten the tee-shirt on this, having spent two days training for Cricket Wales coaching duties with Create Development, who specialise in lubricating those six ‘cogs’ in the young child. I am clearer than ever – and more importantly, it is widely recognised in education – that skilful, guided physical activity in early years can be truly revelatory in broad, broad terms, as opposed to merely good for sports/agility/co-ordination).

But where else, how else do we change the world, other than by flooding schools at all levels with enlightened coaches, teachers, leaders-of-activity? Get thinking.

I’m going to give you a couple of final thoughts, which maybe epitomise my sense of crazy-open dialogue… and urgency.

I’m taken by the idea of re-wilding not just nature but also ourselves. By that I mean getting our hands in the soil, on the trees, in brooks, on frogs. If you’re familiar with recent work from either Robert MacFarlane or George Monbiot or both, you’ll get where I’m coming from. (If not, shame on you – get reading).

MacFarlane has been big into the ideas around spaces to play: how the range of a child now is criminally smaller and less worldly and adventurous than twenty years ago. Why? Because we parents don’t trust society around us. We think it’s stacked with paedophiles and rapists and junkies and thieves.

Cobblers, of course but this perception means we drive Jonny or Sarah the forty yards to cricket or football and they simply don’t go ‘out to play’ like we (middle-agers) did.

It’s cruel, it’s stifling and yet completely normal and responsible parenting. We don’t, in our busy lives, allow ourselves time to think what they’re missing: the bluebell wood, maybe, the stack of hay-bales. MacFarlane mourns this and calls for a debate, for some action to reclaim the possibilities and the words we are losing because of  this appalling shrinkage.

Apart from hugging the man and supporting, wholeheartedly, his campaign(s) I wonder if we can go further. Time for a bulletpoint.

  • Could we reclaim some play-spaces, in and out of built-up areas? Designate them as Play Spaces (or something) and employ DBS-checked, trained Rangers (or something) to a) lead play b) keep out the psycho’s? Let – indeed encourage kids go absolutely (relatively) wild! And, as with the Activity generally, go really big on this?

This is absolutely a conversational hare; a wild one, gamboling away, down the field. As a symbol of the kind of free-range thinking I reckon we need, though, I’ll go with it.

We need a change of mindset; us, the government. We need some inspiration – some great ideas enacted. To start, let’s go with a massive ‘Federal Activity Project’, to develop our selves, our physical and mental fitness, our capacity to wonder and to grow. There is nothing more important.

 

 

 

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The Federal Activity Project.

In 1936, the fella Roosevelt instigated the Works Progress Administration, to revitalise an America ravaged by the Great Depression. Rather wonderfully, this included the Federal Art Project, designed to support and rejuvenate the creative soul of the nation, by bunging artists a few quid to stir and create and colo(u)r up the gaff. (Sir, I doff my cap).

Over the next handful of years, a who’s who of the Thrillingly Important Americans of the period a) survived financially and b) poured their paints and their energies into a kind of communal creativity kitty, from which a brighter, prouder, dreamier world might emerge. Pollock, Rothko, Gorky and others found a rare degree of security in the government wedge, plus the opportunity to beautifully and spectacularly indulge and develop their craft.

Whatever the pretext or the motives, there is a powerful sense that this was a rare and civilised moment: one where government actually, ambitiously enacted economic policy based on cultural good. It was stimulating; it was faithful. The fact that within ten years the world was brilliantly ablaze with American genius is at least in part attributable to Roosevelt’s inspired gift.

Historically, stuff like this never seems to happen, though, eh? – governments being typically peopled by the soulless, the myopic, the cynical. Real love of art rarely finds a way through the committees or the careering. The Federal Art Project was the diamond in the dungheap, a uniquely generous response to the national emergency and a hearty punt on the value of the search for meaning in a dark, dark world.

I call out for thinking like this. Not only in response to challenges to our capacity for creativity and spirit but also because of the threat to our physical wellbeing. We’ve too many of us gotten lazy. Fat; inactive; unwilling or unable or unskilled at moving.

We all know this. The information is out there, is shared. In our Primary Schools, in our halls and meeting places and leisure centres and doctors’ surgeries. Online, on the back of the bus, on the telly – fair warnings. We still get worse.

I have strong views on this (UK) government but let’s keep party politics out of this. The point I want to make goes waaay past that. In brief I say we need a Federal Activity Project, a massive, revolutionary, all-encompassing, irresistible national surge towards activity.

Of course I say this partly because this sporty/educational zone is My Territory. (I work as a Community Coach for Cricket Wales). I’m in the business of lighting up people – very often youngish children – for a game, for movement, for development-through-action.

I don’t want to be a sports bore and I get that our project needs to factor-in the allegedly non-sporty, the ‘difficult to reach’. In fact, they may need to be its focus. However, much of this is about scale – about levels of ambition. I say again, this project must happen and it must be MASSIVE.

I know we’re in (yawn) austere times. I know the purse-strings are allegedly tight. But masses of subsidised or free delivery of fabulous multitudes of activity would transform, over time, the physical and mental health of the nation. There is nothing that we need that is more important than this transformation.

I’m bawling here rather than making a case but I would argue that the NHS can only be made viable, in an era of ageing citizenry, through enormous cultural changes in the population. In brutal terms, we can’t afford folks to be obese, to have asthma, to have diabetes; we need them fitter.

In a way, kids are easy. If you give me zillions of coaches, I will transform them – make them livelier in every sense. They will be better listeners, better behaved, more creative, better citizens as well as infinitely more mobile. Good coaching does this.

However I absolutely acknowledge the ethical and the practical issues around persuading/compelling unwilling or unconvinced adults that society needs them to get moving. At some stage I may get into arguments over what ‘reasonable expectations’, what ‘buy-in’ might look like… but not here. Feels more urgent to strike out for healthy revolution than concede to practicalities before we’ve begun. This is a roar for change not a negotiation – not yet.

Ideally, I’d like an unthinkably humungous Federal Art Project as well as a Federal Activity Project. We clearly need to open our hearts and our senses to art and culture every bit as much as we need to run three times round the block. (And by the way, I know we ain’t a Federation but gimme some slack on that. This is about free ideas, imaginative nay truly wonderfully radical shifts in intellectual and physical norms or possibilities). But I’m calling out for sport to start with, for activity; for a spectacular charge towards health.

There will be more on this but meantimes chew on the soundbite. We must transform, we must get moving. We need somebody to fearlessly chuck paint around – to search. We need inspired government.

 

What do we call this?

Okay. Maybe you’re centre-midfield on a parks pitch in North Lincolnshire and it’s down to you. This. The ball plummeting towards, their grizzly number six feeling for your presence, aware you’re the one who can head. You’re gonna not so much head as clear out the universe, power through, make the most intimidating statement ever made in sport.

This only works if you bawl something as you leap; something kinda specific. Something like ‘RICKY’S UP!’ – which may on the page sound cheesy but in the moment, no. The two syllables of the name project, control, make real the intervention in a way that RICK just couldn’t. It would be ricdiculous. The words, the sound, the something… decide.

Everybody who knows footie – knows sport – understands this. The words in the event are massive. What you call yourself, what you get called, how you’re spoken of , is critical. Not possible to be bona fide without (weirdly, mainly) two syllables.

Of course this is why we get Gazzas and Glendas and (don’t worry I’m coming to cricket now) Rootys, Cookies, Jimmys. Cobblers to any other cultural-sociological considerations, it’s about what naturally fits, then. So I can be as Rick as I want but if I plant the ball majestically wide of cover’s left hand somebody on the boundary’s going to mutter ‘shot, Ricky!’ If the England number three does that beautiful unfurling thing through extra-cover, Farbrace is going to rumble ‘played, Vincey!’ as he’s stirred to his feet.

How else, though, is the gorgeous-but-infuriating Hants bat spoken to, or of?

When he strides back to pavilion, eyes down, caught at slip, what else could it be from Bayliss but ‘what the **** was that, Vincey?’

Actually it could be lots of things. It could be silence, for one. Bayliss may choose a later opportunity, maybe to ask a wiser, more searching question. Like ‘where do you think we are with the dismissals, Vincey*? In terms of pattern?’ And then they together choose what to work on.

*Could be of course that in the real world moment there’s another nickname. Not in there – don’t know. I’m betting it’s two syllables, mind. Vince is worth talking about; with yaknow, words.

Clearly there’s a lot of chat around all those starts, all those frustrating, demoralising finishes. (Sometimes I wonder if they’re worse for us poor buggers watching than for him!) Plus a rich vein of psycho-gubbins around personality, freedom, responsibility and yes, that coaching framework. There’s a documentary series, never mind a blog around What, Exactly, Vincey Should Do: for now, I’ll stick with the former.

Some are fascinatingly clear that what they deem a ‘failure to learn’ simply disqualifies him already; however he might purr, this cat ain’t suitable for Test Cricket. Others argue that the problem isn’t so much centred on poor choices as kindof disproportionately fiercely-punished non or near-execution. Failing to execute shots he very often plays. Outside off-stump. Imperiously.

From memory I think I’ve only seen one media name blame technical issues for Vince’s predicament. Chiefly he’s getting slaughtered for going there at all, given we’re under, or about to be pitifully legs and arms akimbo under the cosh. There may actually be something comical about the level and intensity of verbals aimed at the rather serene-looking strokemaker but head-in-talons at the unbe-leeee-vably serial transgression across the Don’t Play Eet Less Ya’ve To Principle, us nighthawks – Yorkie nighthawks? – have typically stooped full-tilt into raging fury. Perspective? Proportion? Intelligent Investment? Na.

Here’s a thing, though. Plenty of us have woken the dog – quite possibly immediately before the offending nick of the wide-ish one behind – with a snortaciously approving ‘Yesss, Vincey’ as the ball raced to the off-side fence. We’ve muttered something about ‘class’ – and I don’t mean his private schooling in medium-luxurious Wiltshire. Thus many a dark, dark December night has felt defined (or possibly caricatured?) by the cruel see-sawing between expressive pomp and dumb, tribal humiliation.

Incidentally, I wonder how many of us have marked a beautifully squeezed J.V. drive with a follow-up aimed (in increasing order of spitefulness) at Starc(k)y, Smithy or War-ner? And is there something else about doubling up – going bi? Bitterness? Bile? Emphasis? Certainty?

See, I am more sure of my two syllable hypothesis than any of the Vince cricket-things. He’s a fabulously gifted player – milky, honeyed, rich, pure. And yet we wonder either if no-one’s home, if nothing’s been said or if our fears about the empowerment of players through (ahem) *personal discovery* have in his case reached an epic high, or low?

Freedom for learning is a gift and a blessing. It’s also very much at the forefront of contemporary coaching philosophies. They change. The need to decide stuff arguably doesn’t.

Vincey, come out and tell us: what’s been said?

 

 

It’s huge.

New Year. Darkness, with a soundtrack of ghoulish gales. Red wine territory, or maybe Guinness – Guinness in a low-slung, fire-lit pub. Waiting and (I think subconsciously) gathering.

At home: flick through the blogs. Another year of wild fauvism, with the usual daft daubing about the Miracle of Sport or the colour of a Cricket Moment… or rain. Or stuff even more indulgent than that.

Maybe another post about work might be appropriate?

For those just joining, work is Cricket Wales, is mainly a gift, a privilege; coaching kids. As Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire – yup PEMBROKESHIRE, as if the blessings weren’t sufficient before that geographical cherry-on-top! – in dreamy West Wales.

Currently, I’m waiting on a wee bit more training before delivering Chance2Shine/All Stars Cricket sessions into schools. Then full-on to the summer. You’re welcome.

In this real world, then, my annually-surging effort will be yet more closely linked to the All Stars project, as it charges in for its second season. Feels good to be storing up some hoipla to energise a zillion kids because I know I will properly use it. We surely do things differently but my way is generally to enthuse through infectiousnesss and energy: I’m getting mildly pumped even thinking about it.

Dunno about you but I’m somewhere between fascinated and mortally offended at the debate around All Stars. Faaar too many folks appear to view it as ‘another money-making scheme’ by the ECB, when this is plainly absurd. The ECB is not making money out of All Stars – how could it, when the kit and the admin/promotion costs are so massive?

On the contrary, once-in-a-generation style wedges are going out on this because the ECB now knows radical, sustained, innovative action is needed to really change where cricket’s at in terms of profile, relevance, access. Those of us who have happily assumed for thirty years that the ECB is endlessly snobby and soporific have to stir ourselves from our own idle prejudice because (get this!) a bonfire has been burning underneath the Old Farts and maan they are jumping. Having to.

Cricket Unleashed is a slogan, for sure. We’re historically within our rights to be cynical about a) this b) the cycle of ‘innovation’ bu-ut the administration leading the game has never been so D.Y.N.A.M.I.C. so the unleashed thing isn’t entirely preposterous. Honest. It’s not just another tweak – or even just another re-brand. It’s huge.

All Stars actively seeks to re-positon the game in the consciousness of the public by welcoming in thousands of new families – people who just never got cricket before – by entertaining their youngsters imaginatively, appropriately and with some style. (Actively seeks? Sorry, sounds like a brochure. I mean really really really. Like I believe it really, really does. That help?)

The idea that cricket (i.e. the ECB) accepts the need to *actually address* issues around accessibility/class/opportunity is strikingly, stormingly, break-down-the-doorsingly encouraging. Whatever the reasons, the thinking is radically healthy and it does represent the unleashing of something. Something which is meant to add a new dimension to the truly precious, traditional club & family stuff.

All Stars is MASSIVE and bright and extremely cute in almost every sense: it’s here to COMPETE, to challenge footie in the playgrounds, to capture kids from waaaaay beyond the range of our previously rather narrow range of influence. We can and should argue about the finer points of how and where and at what cost the show goes out but the fact that it’s designed to be genuinely popular, almost universally available and respected in schools is excitingly, emphatically, rightly beyond dispute.

I have two days training coming up, to fine-tune my knowledge of the All Stars curriculum and inhale expectations around delivery into schools. Having no problems either with the change of emphasis (towards a six week course for each class) or with that whole notion that the branding and jargon may change again next year – I look forward to it. I’m neither faking my commitment to the wider Cricket Wales cause nor faking my support for the intention to burst cricket’s middle-class bubble. Both feel bloody good.

All of us in cricket have strong views on everything from The Way Ahead to future of Test Cricket – of course we do. So inevitably there are moans about All Stars ‘not addressing the real issue(s)’. But by powerfully confronting the problem of too few young people getting or knowing cricket, or having it in their vocabulary of thinkable, do-able things, a key barrier is surely being tackled? And the feeling from (almost) the inside is that the barrier is really being tackled, not merely faffed about with. I’ve written before about the perils of another weedy intervention: this, my friends, is not that.

Effectively, a parallel Chance2Shine/All Stars is being taken in to the classroom, or schoolyard, before the clubs roll out their own programme (again with ECB support) in May or beyond. Obviously those of us leading sessions in schools will be signposting children to their local clubs – and not exclusively those clubs offering eight weeks of All Stars Cricket. The whole game should benefit.

The six lessons I will be delivering per year group or class will be heavily supported by online material for the schools. This is a rather skilful extension of our existing mentoring of teachers: until now this has been good but maybe too informal, maybe less impactful than it might have been. Consider how much more influential limited Cricket Wales resources (like me) might be if teachers themselves took on the role of cricket advocate, year on year? This is the very clear intention of the brilliant Chance2Shine resources being offered into schools and  it’s also indicative of the good-quality thinking and support around the whole All Stars phenomenon.

I’m pretty sure the people who have designed and built All Stars know it ain’t a panacea. I reckon they’ve noticed teenagers leaving the game and drawn games or long games being a major turn-off for many clubbies. Because this is 20018, the challenges, like the cultural context, change all the time. We need to get on top of stuff: make bold decisions.

The ECB and their partners may (shock horror) be flawed. But I am spookily clear that the general thrust of the developments they are leading in grassroots cricket are really worth getting behind.

More kids will play. More kids will know who Joe Root and Heather Knight are.

Beyond the 5-8s in All Stars, more kids will be active, will feel they are in the game when they play their cricket, as formats change, pitches shorten, opportunities at younger age-groups widen. If we develop a fabulous Big Happy Pool of young cricketers and offer them more of what they want and value the stuff that’s great about our existing club cricket, then that’s a decent start, right?

 

Back to bed, then. For a month, maybe?

Oof. Up before the 3.20 alarm – just. Quick hot lemon and honey then just as you’re settling, Aleem interveneth.

Cruelly late – and surely influenced by an enormous appeal from Australia (the whole continent) – Dar raises that cruel finger on Woakes.

On review there is clearly no white spot… but snicko suggests a tiny feather: Woakes is gone.

It feels tough and possibly terminal; second ball – SECOND BALL! The locals are horribly rampant. When Root also edges Hazlewood behind, in his very next over, the thing feels over. Despite Moeen’s craft and Bairstow’s quality, the hope not so much gone as annihilated. At 3.38 you do, you confess, think of bed.

Both were straight balls. Woakes then Root beaten by that extra four miles an hour, only – or that and their nerves. The key to the series, right there.

Us cra-zee England fans (contemplating bed) are also thinking maybe Bairstow and Moeen could yet find their flow; battle quietly for half an hour then begin to erode that 170 lead. We know they’re both fabulous players when the juices are flowing and we like to think Smith and co may not deal all that well with purposeful counter-attack. Then Cummins comes on and beats Bairstow all ends up with an 86 mph leg-cutter.

Moeen becomes becalmed. Bairstow looks under pressure – which of course he is. Credit Australia. Cummins and Lyon come in early after Hazlewood and Starc and absolutely maintain the squeeze. Moeen’s response against the latter is to try and break out with a sweep. Clunk. He’s leg before.

So thirty-something minutes in and the match seems done. Likewise the series. Likewise the whole purpose of life.

Given the spike in enmities between the sides, this is a catastrophe unleashed for England. Another humiliation at the hands of some jeering, sneering Aussies. Bottom line is these barsteds are better; or three or four of them are.

Cummins has looked class: quick, skilled, disciplined. Starc has actually been less good than he might have been thus far – which is clearly rather concerning – but he’s winkled people out, nevertheless. Lyon has been all over us. Hazlewood bowled beautifully for that critical first period today. The upshot of the barely credible hoopla and drama of this test has been that their bowlers have smashed us more decisively and predictably than we’ve smashed them.

We’ve barely started but Overton is in; ridiculously. Cummins torments him and then hits him, hard, in the chest. Then Bancroft weakly drops one. There’s a lull but not anything to *actually encourage* the tourists. Wickets simply feel medium-likely instead of immediately inevitable, for about three overs. My god Overton and Bairstow are clearly trying but they’ve not settled; merely survived, to the 200 mark. 200 for 7.

4.52 a.m. Enter the new ball. Starc bowls full at Overton. It shapes in late, in the air – it’s too good. Full enough to be hitting… and the finger goes up. Overton has again earned some respect, for his guts and his stickability but this was a peach. 207 for 8.

Bairstow strikes one of very few confident drives down the ground: four, off Starc. The sun is shining but is it me, or does this seem principally to exaggerate the alarming lustre of that new, pink cherry? The cherry that’s suddenly hooping – comically down leg, for four byes, in the case of a rare loose one from the returning Hazlewood. People, this ball looks unplayable, immediately.

Bairstow has 27. There are 134 runs required to win. Broad faces Starc, who again goes fabulously full. Broad escapes, off the toe-end – twice! This can’t last.

Australia have been excellent, goddammit. Interestingly, too, they’ve chosen to stow away the bouncer almost completely. When Starc has Broad caught behind off a tremendously full delivery, that policy seems entirely wise, as well as creditable. Again there was a touch of swing, again it was too quick for the batsman – so why wouldn’t you bowl that way? Anderson is in for the last rites.

Starc offers Bairstow drives and briefly, he partakes. But then he plays on. England are all out for 233, meaning Australia win by 120 runs. The handshakes seem pretty good-natured.

The inquest, for England will focus on the batting, whilst acknowledging the bowling was poor in that critical first session. Anderson, so often and so rightly lauded for his prodigious, refined skills, bowled distressingly short – embarrassingly short, given his knowledge and experience – and set the tone for chronic underachievement. (Later, he did the opposite and took a deserved 5-fer but that later was what it said on the tin).

One view might be that we gifted an ordinary Australian batting line-up some respite: they gathered and Marsh was able to cash in. A sensational turnabout for the second Aus innings was always going to be against that context and those numbers… and would mean nothing should our batters fail again second time round.

The batsmen did fail. When the big moments came, Australia powered through. Hazlewood found length and bounce. Starc – I maintain, without bowling remotely to his full, frightening capacity – blew people away. Cummins was magnificent and Lyons supremely consistent. On the final day, again, Australia rose to it and England did not.

So what’s to be done? Only if Mark Wood is electrifying in the next ten days or if Stokes becomes available will there be a change amongst the bowlers. (Moeen will not be dropped, I suspect, despite his lack of a contribution so far). They have been fallible but also effective and we probably have none better.

Batting-wise I wondered aloud a fortnight or so ago about Bairstow being hoisted up to three and though that’s a big ask for the lad I return to the thought. Vince has probably carved his way out so there’s juggling to be done. Ballance may add some doughty resistance but my hunch is he’s more likely to do that at five than three. Plus he’s essentially defensive and we’re two down. Hales is a huge talent but you’d probably play him five, not three, if at all. Cook stays, obviously but gets the general bollocking about playing nothing you don’t need to play. The coach has work to do.

If Bairstow does go up the order, does Foakes play? Not necessarily, in my view. Bairstow is so bloody fit and temperamentally such a gem that I don’t think there’s a concern around his extra workload. But only the coach, seeing Foakes in the environment, seeing Bairstow’s energy (or otherwise) can judge that. (Incidentally, only the coach can bully the other possible, significant change – stick Root in at three).

If I’m calling it I put Bairstow to three and bring in Hales  – we’re going to have to attack to win matches, right? Hales can do that blazing away thing – if he can ever get in.

I don’t personally foresee a whitewash here, despite the consistent failure (do we call it capitulation?) during those key moments. The thing that might change that is if Starc gets to his absolute peak. So far Australia have been too good without Starc finding his scariest, most unplayable best. God help us if he does.

 

Whites’ Mischief.

Our relationship with Australia and its inhabitants is extraordinary. Put simply, we can’t stand each other. We think they’re boorish and dumb (but noisy): they think we’re stuck-up and feeble. But who are these ‘we’s’ and ‘they’s?’
Hang on. I’m simply not the man for an epic deconstruction of this stuff. Partly because I suspect a three year research project into What Gives With Ashesness could only come up with with the same conclusions as my own hunches; partly because I get that it’s only Level 2 serious – where Level 7 is outright racism and Level 12 is war. So my general, sub-considered view would be let’s flick the vees at each other and crack on.
However, in passing, let’s also agree that the English (as seen by the Aussies – and please note this maybe really doesn’t include all The Brits) are Middle Class (or worse), pretentious, privileged, moneyed, ‘Imperial’. People you want to put in their place, rob, subvert, expose, humiliate, exact your own justice upon. (Note that historical issues unquestionably play a role here, in a frozen-in-chip-fat kindofaway).
I reckon there’s marginally less bile going in the other direction but maybe the sense that there’s something essentially superior about the dismissal of the Aussies by the English is telling. Like they’re the shepherd at the door, reporting a problem with the ewes but we don’t want to hear just now, thank you – dinner is served. In our heads they’re still rural underlings.
At the full, twisted and/or comedic extent of this we can pull out the criminal thing: The Banished. But is this really part of our framing now, or do we just revisit this for the larfs? As in Brian Moore and his SD’s wind-up? (Shackle Draggers, if you’ve missed that). Personally, now, I’m thinking the origins of (white) Australia barely register in the gathering of factors… but I may be wrong.
Incontrovertibly, though, there is feeling around this. The relationship is not so much loaded or complicated as part-sunk, with strangely, disturbingly animated baggage. England v Aus at anything has become charged but the cricket is something else.
There is proper history there. Facts and everything but mainly rivalry and dislike and increasingly, hype. A dash of romance, lorryloads of mischief, some outstanding sport and every now and then some real sportsmanship. But – and here’s my concern – the matrix in which the Ashes are enacted is (wouldn’t you say, currently?) more weighted with bitterness than any healthy game should be. Begging the questions, in 2017, post everything from Bodyline to Ball Of the Century to Buttgate, where do we go with this and how do we forensically isolate sociological import from banter, from That Which Transgresses?
I don’t think we can.
Jimmy Anderson has written in The Telegraph. He says (effectively) that the Aussies don’t say much when they’re scrambling but they like to bully folks when they get on top. They won’t like that but there may be some truth there.
Interestingly and probably controversially, Anderson says he asked the umpires in Brisbane about levels of intimidatory bowling against the England tailenders: something he knows will stoke the fires in more ways than one.
He also talks of how the current crop of Brits are quietish by nature and how they agreed, given that prospensity, to let their cricket do the talking. Clearly now, they have to turn that volume up.
Anderson is no angel. He’s clever and toughish and coolish and (I think) not that easy to like. The absurd thought strikes me that it will take bigger, better blokes than him (and David Warner, and Steve Smith, probably) to break the log-jam of spitefulness characterising much of what we see, hear, read.
If anything can sort this – and my expectation could only be that this might be temporary, until the next provocation, or ‘incident’ – it will be proper, unashamed, natural big-heartedness, a quality that may be lurking behind the bravado in certain cases but which has lately been reigned in (or ‘whipped’) for the appearance of team machismo.
Shame. Shame when Warner and Lyon talk utter, provocative horse-s**t and then *maybe* have reason to think that it’s worked. Shame when any professional in the media – on either side – toes that particularly grubby party line.
It feels impossible to appear unbiased in this so forgive me if I unleash one or two more contentious ‘views’; take them as seriously as you like. The central one being that the Australians, regrettably, are worse at this unravelling of the opposition. (Yes, more guilty than England are – guilty is the word I would use). They have made a kind of weirdly heightened machismo a badge of honour, a weapon, a pre-requisite almost, for Proper Aussieness. This idolises, breeds and infers violence. As a notion this is so plainly pitifully neanderthal, it’s a huge shame that it’s been notably successful.
Aus have made a virtue (hah!) of going beyond mischief – I, like most of us have no issue with mischief – to a place where they hope the opposition will break down under their assault. This is the plan.
The association they make between realness – real, successful Aussieness – and winning Big and Nasty is both juvenile and ugly. Mitchell Starc’s forced confrontationality, post-delivery. The endless chirp – wot Lyon and Warner sed. Smith’s ludicrous badge-kissing and slightly faux hysterics in the Buttgate interview. The Team Mentality. A psychologist really would have a field day – and surely words like ‘insecurities’ might crop up in their notes. Surely?
But I would say this cos I’m a Brit, right? Maybe.
I am a Brit and a cricket man – a sportsman. I don’t buy the argument that tolerances are different at the top level (which I never played). I don’t buy the idea that we’re simply not getting the (Aussie) joke, here, that we just need to chill on out and there will be handshakes at the end. Cobblers. There is too much that is unnecessary, too much that is anti-sport, that we can’t claim back or re-coup.
David Warner may not need to care how he is regarded over thissaway but many actively dislike him for his bullishness, his place at the forefront of Australian aggression. We view his claims to have ‘matured’ with some contempt. Really good player, total arse; still. That will always be part of his legacy.
Warner has role-played his way through a very successful career, opting to push his luck a bit in regard to his relations with the opposition. Almost certainly, he’s either been directly encouraged to be a pain-in-the-arse or the Team Mentality has supported that idea that maybe that would be good. I guess I’m saying that this is in no way good. It’s unnecessary and ugly and mean-spirited.
There are the laws and there are things undrawable, abstruse, beyond legislation. We all know, though, where the lines of fairness and decency are; know too, where understandably adrenalin-infused mischief veers off into distraction, anti-sport, intimidation. The game needs the players to manage some of this.

We All Know Better Than The England Coach.

Chemistry. The blend. Knowing the human, knowing that stats aren’t everything – but, yes, that they are something. Understanding (without the thesis) the stuff about gathering the group; how there has to be both freedom and hierarchy. How there’s no algorithm for genius or leadership; nothing which stands above your feeling for the game, for the individual.

Sure, there’s process: it’s the elite coach’s mode, their first point of reference. So you attend to the process, in every respect. Players are developed, through contact, through care, through challenge. You just don’t personally buy the need for process as safety net.

You’re good; they see that you get it. They don’t need to disentangle how but later – years later, pre the book – they might talk warmly of your intuition. About how they weren’t sure what it was, at the time.

This is the picture. You carry it around. It’s palpable.

In training there’s a sustained intensity: lungs are bursting, eyes ablaze, minds trimmed and alive. You’re easy but spikily funny. You measure out – but again by instinct – the qualities of your staff. The right people are working with the right people: there’s no coasting, no wastage, no boredom. You ask the right questions. There are laughs.

You deal generously but without ego, with the media. Pretty soon – did they even notice? – there’s no flak to draw, no eyes averting, no knives. The scoops, the intimate words, the cheery beers together get shared around. When the tensions come, you snaffle them with a joke; with self-effacement; with impregnable good will. The journo’s use words like ‘remarkable’.

Everywhere, you build trust. And nobody betrays it. If they did you would judge the transgression supremely fairly, with flawless discretion and then you would act. Without bitterness or favour. Decisively.

The key is, you make things work: the environment you’ve built breeds results. Not that the team is unbeatable but it’s improving, it’s ‘ahead of the curve’ – way better than folks imagined. The players come to love you and the fans respect you. The Barmies sing songs; musically, metaphorically and whenever the chance arises, they man-hug you. You can enjoy it; we can all enjoy it.

If there was time, you’d reflect. You could’ve managed KP. And Botham. You could put Bairstow in at three, now – could make that possible by just a few words. The black dogs who’ve skulked around for aeons… you would have anticipated every raw moment. Over the years. Words would have been found.

You could get round the counties, too. Sure, there’d be moans but it would be clear; no-one’s missing, there’s no diamond left out in the sticks. You know them, you’ve watched, you’ve said hello, seen them, been in their company just enough to fix them and select.

Friends, it’s a quiet, shared, redemptive joy. Whilst we *actually work* in schools, or ‘at The Council’, or for Leyton & Co. by the bus stop on the river, this is the thing: we all know better than the England Coach.