Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

In answer to the question “Where were you?”

Ok so things can be too much. Sun. Alcohol. Events.

And then maybe you can get mixed up.

Who knows, really?

I can already feel the creep of history, or at least that slightly creepy feeling – “where were you?” And I know somewhere down the line I’ll just forget. So maybe this is my document, this is where I mark something.

Ben Stokes. Crazy, wonderful, tattooed euphoria and a free glass of chilled white from young Tom, behind the bar, at KandaBongoMan. In the batty, dusky dark, by the batty oaks and the solemn stones and the cows, actually, and the stage.

Stage? Yes. Empty but still ‘Once in a LIFE-timing’ at us before the band appear.

Band? Yes. Because from Ben Stokes we go here, blasting through the silent uplands (no cars, even though Bank Holiday) to the ridicuvenue, in the ancient valley under Carn Ingli. Then, over a glass, we catch our breath whilst contemplating said cows, said stones.

We can’t believe we’ve seen that. Tom the barman, recognising the All Stars hoodie, asks me did I see it. (I’m guessing he’s mid-twenties: I’m not. He’s saying he may never have seen a better day’s sport in his life, I’m putting it instinctively top three. Then we talk about coaching – he’s played for Llanrhian CC so we’re into family business. I strongly recommend the ECB Coaching Pathway, (honest), tell him to get on it, rapidly and then I confess I did neck the wine, pretty much).

Top three in my lifetime, off the the top of my head. But any need to delve too deep or go through some anal countback-thing? (And erm, can I say that?) What’s to be gained by unpicking the blurry wonder of it?

Bugger I’m torn on this. Do have that deliciously satiated feeling – Stokes is already forever and the minutiae will come back unbidden in joyful time. Sometimes we force when we reflect, yes? Plus the band are on.

So on the one hand I plain refuse to prepare the ground for those “it was right up there with blah di blah” conversations: I forget, anyway! The drama around Stokes – the non-catches, the Lyon’s Fumble, the bent or malfunctioning umpire – stands gloriously, kaleidoscopically alone and in the huddle with the greats, already. It’s seeping in (but) we will remember, individually.

Conversely, I need to see some of this again. How in god’s name did it actually happen? From Buttler/Woakes, how the hell did that happen?

I am dancing with my wife. I am thinking, I am wondering  how it is that spangly guitar and mysteriously ungraspable vocals can sustain such insuperable upfulness. When KandaBongoMan may, for all I know, be singing about vice and trauma.

How can things get so deliciously, defiantly, wonderfully twisted? Could it be, could it actually be that there is something invincible about (yaknow) the human spirit?

Phew. I know nothing and it’s great.

Cobblers.

It’s only sport. Given that I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours doing the family visiting-thing at our local Emergency Unit I should be well-placed to remember that – to engage Philosophically Proportionate Mode. Ain’t always easy, though, eh?

Not when after what feels like a lifetime of trying to click into hospital wifi/phone signal you snatch a buffertastic update or two on the cricket and it unleashes a Ragin’ Fury, near as dammit. (Diversion but… was it Desperate Dan who flew into Ragin’ Furies? Or who? Fluttering right out there at the shadowy extremes, that one). Anyway, one minute we’re eyeballing a heart monitor, the next I’m watching Jason Roy ‘dance down’.

Dance down? Was more like a paralytic meander – a pre-chunder slalom to the pub khazi. With added air-punch. A catastrophically uncool Dad Dance, under a cruelly searching spotlight. (O-kaaay. Did say Ragin’ Fury).

But maybe that’s not how you saw it? Maybe you either drift easily, in that flow of positivity – that ‘this is what he does’ argument, or you really deeply commit to the idea that Roy, having been selected for his brilliance as a gladiatorial, instinctive smiter of absolutely bloody everything anyone slings down at him, is ab-so-lutely entitled to do what it says on his tin.

I say cobblers to that. I could try and be more measured – for fear of sounding reactionary, for fear of losing half my followers, for fear of stirring philoso-hostilities – but that would be a betrayal of my own instinct. Where many are saying ‘express yourself’ I say cobblers. Where that lazy-macho coaching mantra swoops in, defending the gutsiness, the stay-trueness, the incomparable and essential free-spiritedness of the batsman, I say cobblers.

Why? Because not then. Because embarrassingly stupid. Because repercussions on team-mates, because ushering in terminal momentum against. Because there’s an Ashes maybee already on the line. Because Smart Cricket you utter donkey, not mindlessly Positive Cricket.

*However, note not inconsequential footnote to follow…* dude, once you’ve been in there for two hours and have 78 not out and that wonderful eye is in and the game is petering out, then maybe. Maybe clatter that chirpy Australian barsted to the boundary, then.

Expect there were discussions, pre that knock – and probably pre the Roy selection. Fair enough. “Jase, you’re in there to blaze a trail, whenever possible”. But if there were no caveats – cobblers. Ridiculous.

Why? Because Test Cricket: a test over time. Meaning sometimes a test of skill and patience as well as hand-eye.  Meaning bravado can be earned or ‘expressed’, possibly but is measurably, in this genre of the game, more likely to be exposed for the cowardly fraud it so often is. If Root or Bayliss waived away all or any responsibility to contemplate erm, responsibility – cobblers.

The shot itself was a wildish, unbalanced hack. Roy’s exit, sharpish, utterly castled, smacked of humiliation and therefore offered the gift of triumph to the bowler, to Australia – stupid and irresponsible in a moment that calls for intelligence, for smart cricket.

So if Bayliss defends him, out of duff loyalty or (worse still), because Positive Cricket was the agreed approach… cobblers. They have insulted our intelligence. For all that they might argue that their way is the way of courage, it’s the way of the fool who hides behind the easy, unthinking swipe.

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.