Highlights Reel – as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

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.

Oh us of little faith.

Remember when it got dangerous? Oooh all of a week ago? Loads of us did it. Overtly, covertly, angrily, quietly, seething or braying or tutting. We all knew we were More Right Than Morgan, on this one.

How could England’s myopic Brand of Cricket not lead to some level of come-uppance? How could Eoin’s icy, almost-surly sermonising not breed a nose-thumbing response from the universe? We all knew there would be some payback for his sub-cricketty, soundbitey positivity; for the audacity of the man; for his Irishness, for god’s sakes!

England could never have just the one way. It’s not intelligent enough, not seemly enough – plus nothing can be that simple! Mainly, then, amongst the pomp and bluster, this idea that you can’t be so brittle about stuff.

But then Jonny got mad, courtesy of yet more mouth-shooting from our friend Vaughanie, firing, once again, on all twelve brain cells. And Roy got fit – enough. And the arguments got yaknow, dispatched.

Or did they?

Fact: England are in the semis. Fact: they did it Eoin’s Way. Or did they?

Certainly everything about Roy & Bairstow’s magnificent charges-straight-through-the-effing-mountain spoke of the brand – the utter lack of fear and/or negativity.

We don’t need to have crunched the numbers to feel the step-change back… and forward, on the Brand Express. Both the flametastic Yorkshireman and his returning partner drilled that tunnel again, the former with his diamond-edged fury-disc, the latter with his trusty wonder-sabre.

But it wasn’t all boom. It wasn’t possible. There was scratchiness and (more from India than the Kiwis) there was quality opposition making things tougher… or complicated. So Stokes, for example, had to do some Proper Batting and certain periods needed to be seen through.

Maybe it’s good that England arguably under-achieved a smidge, with their totals. Two truckloads of 400 and maybe the mantra might have to be caveated – if you can do that stepping-back, that re-considering, that qualifying thing to a mantra?

(Maybe the essence of any brand flirts with dumbness, or lack of intelligence, because of this imperative towards the magical brevity/positivity combo? Maybe everybody from Saatchi & Saatchi to Eoin Morgan have known that all along? Maybe we’re just not getting that Captain Boom is a step ahead – that he knows absolutely that 84.6% of his media appearances are 96.5% charade? Interesting thought, perhaps?)

Interesting but nowhere near as much fun as getting mad-outraged and bawling on twitter. Or writing something in the comments section. Or blaming Nintendo, or the Kardashians.

England are in the semis. What’s more, they are in there with momentum. What’s more more, is that significant contributions have been spread across the team; Woakes and Archer, Buttler and Stokes doing something either deeply or supremely validating or actually wonderful and uplifting in the moment. So confidence should have steepled – should be back to the absurdly high level we’ve experienced for the last year or four.

I have always argued against ‘dumb machismo’ and still do. Because sport is predicated on intelligences as much as skills. Because half the fun and half the winning is about responding to fortune or change – and this surely implies, suggests, demands the application of everything in the psychological sector, including, often crucially, the implementation of Plan B or Z. Jeesuss, right now. Under pressure.

Too often, I reckon, players or coaches get caught up in the excitement or ‘flow’ of things: they say stuff about ‘expressing themselves’ which of course has some truth in it but may not be smart enough, either in the teeming, challenging, complicated moment or for the exposition of playing philosophy – brand.

The particulars of international cricket at the mega and micro-level include so many variables, so many forces inputting their fields of influence on the action that it is a) tempting and b) probably right to seek out simplicity and clarity. However, whilst accepting this, is it not prudent to explore, prepare, ‘facilitate’ for life beyond the soundbite?

Whether or not Morgan and England are suss to this is part of the fascination. Whether or not Bairstow blasts and Roy carves, I wish England well.