KP; a brief wallow.

KP. Gone. Gone to save the rhinos, with (perhaps for the first time?) a coalition of goodwill behind him. But previously…

Flamingoing god. Revolutionary genius. Caresser, counter-attacker, take-the-contest-by-the-scruff-of-the-necker… or utter, utter tosser? Mincer and moaner, delusional with with his own greatness, bigger than everything. The Maestro Who Would Not Listen. KP.

This wee column ain’t gonna change how you feel about Pietersen. You sorted that yonks ago. When you saw him unpick Ingerland’s chief oppo’s or re-calibrate the do-able as a mid-order bat. You either surfed that bore with him, or did the uncomfortably surly thing – turned away, to enjoy stuff later, when the blokes you felt you could really back jumped in. Or maybe found a mid-position, where you were pleased by victories but neutral about KP’s role – however central?

With the South African’s brilliance there was that tidal surge of baggage. For the bristling xenophobes, that stuff about origins and authentic britness, or otherwise; perenially relevant of course to half the flipping squad but particularly so to Pietersen because of his extravagant profile and that feeling that he might turn Afrikaaner at any point. The non-relationship with the ECB and their coach(es?) seemed unhappily in thrall to this feeble idealogical wrestle.

More legitimately, for many, the *relationships issues*. Our Kev as a prima donna of the highest order, who (though we fully accept might have/should have been managed better) refused the throw-downs, denied or actively undermined the Team Culture. (It may be a complete irrelevance but I think I just dreamt about Pietersen on an All Blacks training camp. He was being drowned, so it appeared, in a cattle-trough, for flagrant contravention of the No Dickheads rule).

KP was either a) years ahead (again) because he knew what he needed to practice b) a mardy, irrespectful git or c) poorly managed. Or something else. Certainly it was messy and both sides of the KP / ECB/Moores/Flowers/Strauss/whoever divide may need to (in the contemporary committee-speak) ‘reflect on their behaviours’. Nobody comes out of this well, I think.

I’m bit lost and a bit anxious almost. Many of the voices I know and/or respect are pretty much besotted with KP. I’m really not. I can’t quite get past the refusing to join with the team thing – not entirely.

If I felt that brash young bloke with the partly-blue barnet really was a deeply rebellious, big-hearted genius I’d be more in his camp. But too much ‘happened’: whatever KP Legacy there is feels surely so much about poisons arising around his selfishness, his arrogance, that a durable argument can not be made based on the player’s ‘fierce, individual commitment?’

For me, that barnet seemed more a signal of something rather dumb, rather naff: something estranged from real, legitimate, subversive-in-a-good-wayness. KP the private school prat. KP who maybe thought Nik Kershaw was punk and that Celine Dion is the Queen of Soul.

What I mean by this is that for me, Pietersen was a tremendous cricket player but a vain, cardboard cut-out of a bloke. And in my view of him, this counts.

I’m not so naive I fail to recognise the rivalries and personality clashes within every team ever: of course I see that. Sport is often about egos and how they are revealed, managed, sacrificed, expressed. The KP story is something of a classic and an epic, in this wonderfully cod-psychological regard. Hence my wallowing. Briefly

It’s surely telling and probably boring that much of the actual cricket is squeezed out, here. Thank god, elsewhere there will be zillions of folks writing or reminiscing about KP’s batting, over this, his retirement weekend. I only saw him live three or four times. I missed the truly great moments: I truly hope you loved yours.



Rocket Science.

The snow may be piled up against the iconic Pembrokeshire hedgebanks but I’ve already done about a month’s worth of cricket sessions in our primary schools. Sure, on the one hand this feels crazy-premature – and inevitably most of the delivery has taken place indoors – but a) I/we have a lot of ground to cover and b) there’s a different time-pressure, this year.

My 2018 Cricket Wales brief is shortish and sharpish in the sense that I’m almost completely committed to All Stars Cricket-related action. Sessions for 5-8 year-old children, to be completed before about 11th May, when the  clubs will begin to roll out their own programme of guided, cricket-based fun.

The gist of this is guys and gals like me will offer a bundle of weekly sessions – typically 6 per class – from a genuinely smart curriculum which runs parallel to (and I suppose leads to) the summer romp in the clubs.

You may have mixed feelings about any or all of this, including the revelation that us Community Coaches have received a whole lot of training so as to deliver something which is not only engaging and sporty-cricketty but also a great prompt towards creative, cognitive and co-operative learning and (actually) a shedload of other meaningful objectives. We may often coach by instinct and continually adapt – even in a heavily-designed situation such as this. However this particular mission has ‘we don’t throw this together, right?’ written all over it.

I wrote in early January about my confidence and indeed pride in the quality of our Community Coach work. I’ll spare you that here, if you promise to accept the following: that a lot of kids are really being enthused for cricket and a lot of teachers/headteachers are respecting the educational as well as sporting value of what we’re doing. This matters – in particular if we want to have a sustained influence in schools.

So, the Chance to Shine resources that we base our delivery around are almost inviolably excellent. The theory is that the holistic brilliance of our side of the project will translate into powerful transfer across into All Stars ‘proper’. Families do have to pay to sign their kids up to All Stars: £40. But as I wrote in ‘It’s huge’, in Jan, it’s not about the money. The ECB, Chance to Shine, the game, all of us… we need new blood and a higher, broader profile. We’re driving that objective through the schools/All Stars link.

As coaches we have pretty stiff targets (hate that word!) in terms of numbers of children entertained, given the relatively short window of opportunity and the practical difficulties (for schools) in presenting groups of both (for example) Year 1 and Year 3, one after t’other. (Often, when speaking to schools, it becomes obvious that they would love it if I delivered more sessions but they simply cannot juggle to accommodate. Frustrating – especially as I am conscious that my own ‘numbers’ may be lowish due to the relatively small size of some of the local schools).

There’s no easy way round this; true, ECB investment in Chance to Shine has doubled, but I am still flying solo re- the delivery of sessions. No complaints; the new money means that for the first time we do have other staff backing up what I do but they are doing one-off visits – All Stars Roadshows – as opposed to mirroring my weekly ‘courses’.

But enough of this strategic nonsense, what do the sessions feel and look like? I hear you ask.

They vary – a lot. Year 1 and 2 are young, (three and four, I think) so there ain’t much in the way of forward defensive. It’s often as much about storytelling as sport. Being a rocket to the moon, landing carefully. Miming the ‘spaceman’ together; climbing into a suit; plopping that helmet on with a smile, before setting out to explore the universe.

I think I told Pembroke Dock Community School that the Proper Spacemen Who Landed on the Moon celebrated by playing a game that looked… like… this. Golf! So why don’t we celebrate at some of the stars (cones) in our galaxy by playing any game we want… with a ball? Then we can go rocketing on, to the moon (yellow crescent of cones) and then home to earth (blue circle of cones). It was a story, a game that built towards catching games; it was rocket science!

Those children just wanted to have fun, to move, to feel a game and maybe a ball in that wonderfully naive, amorphous, explorative way. So that’s what we did. They almost got that we were going around a galaxy and yes, they could make rocket noises and the rocket cost a fortune so they really should rocket carefully and land beautifully and softly. 

Some things were understood, some followed. The rest was environment, goodwill, freedom to find.

Year 3, meanwhile could aim at targets ‘properly’ and have some sense of measuring and maybe tallying. I adapted Chance to Shine’s ‘Brilliant Bowler’ into a game where children bowled different sized balls on different length pitches, whilst scoring on a whiteboard at the side of the hall. (The shortest of the three pitches put the target within reach of every child; the longest was a pret-ty serious challenge. Players (teams) rotated through the tasks, to make it fair and to give them some understanding of distance, weight of shot, degree of focus etc etc).

I am pleased to note in passing that the teachers were bloody impressed at the breadth of the activity; the kids loved the tallying – which of course was literally a record of their success.

This game is endlessly re-calibrateable and provides the opportunity for questions around technique(s). I often ask the kids to tell me how they made their throwing (or bowling) work. Their answers – I looked/ I aimed/ I went like this – prompting brief further questions, until something simple and appropriately memorable emerges. We aren’t looking to get bogged down in anything here, eh? We just want to have an enjoyable experience and drop in a couple of friendly markers.

In a nutshell, this is how the sessions are: anarchic but friendly, guided but free. They are way more than cricket, despite the apparent lack of high elbows, levelled eyes, stilled heads. We’re playing, we’re building – towards All Stars.

Holding out for something.

Rashid. Hales. T20, *I*T20, or not? Fifty overs, forward defensive, The Olympics(!) or not? Spin bowling – or not? Everything Changes & it’s all, frankly, a worry. Or not.

I’ve been living and maybe living off the adrenalin and alround crest-of-a-wave newness of all this for what feels like years. The tumbling towards, the surge and the grasp. Sure I know and have felt the awesome weight and quality of the strategies in place but I‘m nearly ready for some quiet, some relief from the centrifugal force; from the barrage of opinions & corporate messaging; from the sense of divergence.

These cricket revolutions, eh?

Where are they taking us?

It feels clear that we may gain a new audience; this, plainly, is the thrust of the white ball/city-based/All Stars/Cricket Unleashed agenda. But what are the costs, in what I’m tempted to call ‘human terms’, arising from that? In gaining new fans, new families, do we lose diehard county cricketpeople? We would, certainly, if in five years there is no county cricket to watch.

We would, too, if the game retained its longer form but in a way traditionalists received as insulting: if it felt irrelevant in a swashbuckling matrix of colo(u)rific slashes and carves. The protestors would walk.

That, of course, is the extreme case scenario. Maybe there’s no way, despite the widespread fears, that either the County Championship or Test Cricket itself are really threatened. In extraordinary and polarising times, though, with what some feel to be ominous lumps of energy behind the gathering carnival, you can understand the angst and the vituperative urgency.

Part of me wishes we could have our infuriatingly sleepy processes back: decisions after a snooze, maybe? The relentless contortions of today’s tag mud-wrestle (and yes I am talking about the administration of cricket, here!) seeming as incongruously anarchic and therefore un-directed as they are stirring. Nobody seems to know where we’re going or how things might be resolved.

This can’t entirely be true, of course. There is strategy which will survive the clammy interference from Furious of Bodmin.

To be fair, despite the undeniable charge behind white ball action, plenty of ‘ECB Men’ do love county cricket and surely are looking towards the ideal scenario, whereby boomathons co-exist with (or effectively make viable?) the four day game. The lack of clarity is perhaps inevitable; a function of unknowable stuff resulting from accelerating change – from revolution itself.

What feels key is a) whether loyalties to county cricket will persist sufficiently or, more painfully and controversially b) whether it’s already been decided somewhere that County Cricket must be sacrificed.

I don’t think that’s happened… but I don’t know. There is after all, a pret-ty convincing case that County Cricket cannot sustain itself – crowds very often being shockingly meagre, for professional sport. (Ok, I get the argument that crowds in grounds aren’t the only measure of a game’s state of health or value but it would be borderline delusional to deny the issue here. Not enough people are watching live, at most fixtures).

The Big New Telly Deal and better attendances for short format fixtures could theoretically and surely will in practice subsidise red ball cricket. But… for ever? We can only imagine a reckoning must come – sometime.

In short we need a plan and I’m sure there is one and also not sure at all.

Will we/they conclude that County Cricket is a lovable financial nonsense which can and must be supported – by white ball cricket, if necessary – despite its own, fundamental failings? Or will Independent Directors – all the rage in administrations for the modern, accountable era – shorn of a lifelong love of cricket, bring a sharp, fatal dose of fiscal realism?

I may personally be hanging on to some quasi-religious dream, in which the holistic, historical and magnificently amorphous value of four day cricket wins out, triumphantly, against the shallow grain of the day. Certainly I’m holding out for something.

All of which brings us to Test Cricket.

Almost universally accepted, even now, as the *theoretical* jewel in the crown, Test Cricket may be unthinkable without County Cricket: that may be the saviour of them both.

How could players prepare for the epic grandeur of five days at Lords without four at Taunton, Old Trafford or The Oval? How does any batsman get into Test Mode, without first occupying X hours at the crease, honing (amongst a zillion other deeply specialist qualities) the patient brilliance essential for the task?

In brief, in other words, no Tests without County – and vice-versa.

This, though, despite the comfort it may bring to purists, is surely a dangerously brittle notion?

The time may come, for example, when four day cricket is cut completely and players and coaches simply have to engineer a way across that great divide between short forms and Tests. The unsympathetic or independently-minded – in or out of the game or in other sports – might argue that this is tough but do-able; just another elite-level skills challenge. If County Cricket is mad-disfunctional, it goes: players just need to flick that switch between the formats and get on with it.

There’s scope, let’s be honest, for a whole lot of hurt. Partly because people really love this game… and because not everybody (obviously) gets the finer/dafter/more ‘symphonic’/whatever they are points of attraction enough to slap a preservation order on it.

Lots about liking cricket is untranslatable, unexplainable but the deep reservoir of understanding for and loyalty to the game amongst long-term, long-form fans is a phenomenon. That feels undeniable. Mostly.

I personally know some truly outstanding and genuine people in places of real influence in the game. People who are ambitious but also deeply conscious of the uniqueness of Proper Cricket. Currently, the drive is on towards bursting the bubble, breaking the boundaries, bringing new blood into the sport. (The people I know are right behind this; they think we do need a new, ‘broader’ audience).

That drive is where it’s at at the moment. And I find little to argue with on that All Stars/Cricket Unleashed front. The ECB are going really BIG on raising the profile of the game – with youngsters, with new families. It’s the links that are understandably being made (by diehard fans) between this monumental investment and the incoming T20 that are problematic.

County Cricket People fear a betrayal, a dumbing down. I think they can tolerate All Stars (and expansion) but they fear the age of the boomathon for what it might bring to their beloved four day/five day cricket. None of us are sure; revolutions are happening – yes, plural!

While life continually throws up the most appalling examples of Morons in Power, I am hopeful. 1. County Cricket fans have and are giving a good account of themselves. 2. It’s obvious that Test Cricket is unique and powerfully influential in a way that goes right past mere fascination. It has a historic weight that must mean something. 3. There are some Good Guys at the top. 4. Change is gonna be challenging.

I am hopeful. As well as concerned.


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.




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?