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.

 

 

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.

Same old.

We’re all talking about the same stuff: England’s dreaming. Both in the possessive sense and the *actual*. Plus with reference to a certain J Lydon Esquire, as he snarled at the diminishing future.

England sleepwalking, England, infuriatingly, prepped and cossetted and armed to the gills with i.n.f.o.r.m.a.t.i.o.n. but somehow languidly dopey; as if nothing’s registered. As if either exhausted by all this ‘coaching’, or simply not that arsed.

I’m pretty clear, in fact that both ends of the team (all members of the team, actually) are arsed – are committed. Think Cook and then Wood. Strike you as determined, honest, committed individuals? Course they do.

Cook is about as diligent and coolly determined a bloke as you are likely to find. Wood is ballsy, witty and sharply competitive. So yes they may, in this laughably, loafingly lily-livered era have waaaay too many things too easy but this is not the same as them not caring enough (about test cricket.)

However there is an issue. Clearly. Or some issues.

When Root wafts seemingly lazily outside off, to fatal effect, we all feel both disappointment and anger because we feel let down and because most of us reckon the dismissal is poor – unacceptably poor – given the state of the game. We wonder what the hell he was thinking.

It feels extraordinary, too, that Stoneman (for example) could be so easily befuddled and bowled, when top order batsmen should base their game around impenetrable defence of the sticks. Surely that’s a given: you only get bowled by an absolute pearler? It’s a matter of pride – it’s a kindof rule. Like being watchful and respectful is a rule; or possibly two.

(Ten minutes after I write this paragraph, Stoneman is bowled again).

So, how come we’re seeing so many simple errors? And how come England haven’t addressed what appear to be strikingly recurrent issues? Are they really in dreamland?

Check out all over. Read George Dobell or listen to Michael Vaughan; there’s what we might call an intelligent consensus emerging. George has been brilliantly unpicking both the strategic shortcomings and individual issues for aeons, whilst Vaughan has rather fascinatingly veered from bolshy positivist to Sage of the Old Disciplines more recently.

What’s widely shared, is the belief that white-ball-tastic ‘freedoms’ do not always successfully transplant into the longer form. (Like WOW, who knew?!?)

It may be almost insultingly obvious to some of us, but apparently the relentlessly ‘instinctive’ batting exemplified by Buttler and co may not always be the way to go in Test Cricket. Well – *adopts the voice of his father, from 1974* – bugger me!

I do not mean to slander Buttler – or even knock his inclusion at Lords. The fella’s remarkable, touched by genius, so please understand he is merely a symbol, here. The wider point is that most of us are clear that Test Cricket demands application as well as talent. And it’s mindcrushingly astonishing that this argument seems still to have bypassed Bayliss and England.

How to explain this, though? How could even reasonably dedicated professionals fail to address stuff that’s been so blindingly obvious to most supporters and commentators for so long? Test Cricket is tough, sometimes; you have to earn your right to compete. In England, earlyish, you have to be unsexily dull, to offer more grit than colour, bat long.

The precedence of white ball cricket is surely a factor. In terms of scheduling, there can be no doubt where the ECB see the priorities moving forward. Consequently, we might argue that the majority of England players are unready for Test Cricket (now).

Bayliss and Root are most responsible for selection and state of readiness. In short I expect Bayliss to be relieved of his Test role rather soon: Root in a way is more of a concern, it feeling entirely possible that his confidence and authority are threatened by both his own and the team’s lacklustre performances. He needs not only runs but the sense that he can galvanise his team, to return swiftly.

But back to the precise hows. How can England play such dumb cricket. Unclear leadership? Too much unintelligent positivity? Nerves? That lack of application thing. All of these things and more?

Can I just try to nail something? The idea that if you rail against ‘undisciplined cricket’ you are automatically old, boring and reactionary. That you don’t get and can’t somehow enjoy Kohli or De Villiers or Stokes or Buttler at their electrifying peak. Cobblers. I (many of us) love aggressive, expressive, expansive cricket but are perdy darn sure you can’t play that way whilst wickets are tumbling early, in a five day Test Match. (You may be able to play that way at some stage in a five day Test Match but mostly you grind things out, get comfortable, secure yourself, then ‘play’).

In the current inquisition we have to acknowledge Pakistan’s good work. As I write – lunch now, Saturday – they have comprehensively outplayed England (in May, at Lords, with cloud about) in every department of the game. Chapeau.

It’s churlish at best to note that this Pakistan side is not special, that’s it’s merely goodish, proficient – that it’s performing. But Mr Bayliss and his employers do need to factor this in, however ungenerous it may seem.

This inevitably leads to more questions; about how good our best players are, for example. Root seems to be at a tipping point. When he first jogged out as skipper his boyishness, likable funkiness and joie-de-vivre seemed somewhere between encouraging and inspirational. Not so now. Patently, most England players are not as good as Root.

The level of performance in the field – though plainly not all the captain’s fault – reflects poorly on Root. Not only were catches dropped but certain field placings seemed odd (as opposed to challenging, or funky) and the (over-coached, over-discussed?) eternally-vaunted Bowling Plans seemed to fizzle to nothing. England seemed disjointed and almost dispirited, at times.

Hard to know, really, how much enthusiasm players have for their captain or coach, or whether at a deeply subconscious level they see themselves reverse-sweeping Rashid Khan for six in some cauldron on the sub-continent rather than battling it out in The Smoke, for days on end. Body language can reveal a certain amount but hey… we’re guessing.

However, it’s the job of the coach to demand focus, fitness and absolute commitment to the cause: the skipper then polices that on the pitch.  England have work to do on this. Mostly though, they have to prove to most of us that they understand the nature of Test Cricket.

All of this, in particular the widespread disappointment amongst fans, is entangled with concerns or furies about maladministration or player-comfiness or the alleged general cultural malaise. We’re angry or outraged and we really don’t like idleness – what my dad or your dad (or Sir Geoffrey) might have called ‘lack of application’.

Would be great to separate all that stuff out and really consider what’s happening on the pitch. Not easy.

As I finish, Root is re-building.

Bright Side.

Warm-ups. At the Brightside. England. Lots of high kness and dodging. Bowlers catching medi-balls and slamming, with some violence. Stokes choking Rashid playfully; apparently. Greyer than our friends at the Met Office promised.

Conflicting and building scene, then, at 10.20, with incoming punters carrying already that fear of incoming drizzle or depressingly fatal dollops – about three-ish, we now hear.

Across the ground from me, the West Indies, in their weirdly, unconvincingly kingfisher blue trackies are jogging. Then hopping. Again, like their opponents, utterly directed. England turn to full-on footie.

It’s mid-competitive. Buttler scandalously holds Bairstow, like some brutal 70’s catenaccio, whilst Curran to-tally fluffs a routine cross. It’s fascinatingly ordinary.

As is the Windies equivalent – now going on directly across the square. I wonder about a challenge match between the two, with Stokes ab-so-lutely clattering *the player of his choice* into row C. Would be great.

The visitors win the toss and will bowl. Their fielding drills, come 10.38, are sharpish. Lots of skim-catches.

We start. Taylor gets some bounce and some away-swing, to Bairstow. Single legbye off the first. Then Holder, who is a giant, in the flesh. Absurdly high hand means he extracts bounce even plopping it down – which he does, rather, first up. Third man and square leg the men out in the powerplay.

Early signs are for some life in the pitch; both quicks getting bounce,Taylor getting more shape. England in no hurry.

Taylor no-balls and immediately adjusts his bowling marker… before castling Hayles… on the free hit. Bowling full – in the expectation of a little swing? – nearly pays dividends but Bairstow gets a streaky, uppish boundary past short cover. Good start from Taylor.

Hayles miscues, hoiking Holder just over mid-on from high on the bat. Neither opener has really settled. Windies definitely ahead on points.

First plainly poor ball – short and wide from Holder – cut to the point boundary contemptuously by Hales; needed that.

In the fifth, still a hint of way swing for Taylor, if he goes very full: Holder had none. First half-tracker is the last ball of the over. Only 18 on the board. Thought strikes that England could be waaay out of this if Duckworth Lewis kicks in mid-afternoon.

Bairstow responds, by scampering to rotate things and by despatching a free hit over mid-on for six, but is caught off a leading edge, next ball, by the Windies skipper. In comes Root at 27 for 1. The man in the deep to leg goes behind square – to fine leg, in fact.

England’s finest plays and misses twice – genuinely – before clattering three fours. Hayles belatedly joins in, as the momentum shifts a tad back towards England. A ver-ry tight-run second down to third man confirms the gear-change. Classic straight drive, off the suddenly hittable Taylor, by Hayles emphasises the flip. England have spurted to 61 for 1 off 9.

Root, gathering in that quietly awesome way, surpasses Gooch’s record for the number of runs scored in an international summer. (Of course he does). After a very briefly uncertain start, he’s freed this up – freed up Hayles, too. It’s bright, here, now and England are finding their flow.

Hilariously, Hayles calls for a new bat as the Windies review a possible lb… on Hayles. He’s out. Enter the under-pressure Morgan. Briefly. He is caught behind, first ball. (What were we saying about momentum shift to England?!?)

With Holder still bowling – and now fired–up – England are 74 for 3, in the 12th and the sun re-joins.

Stokes sprints impressively to make two and get off the mark but plays rather loosely out to point, without penalty. Then studiously presents the bat to Cummins and gets four past the bowler’s left hand. Looking good.

Perhaps should have mentioned the outfield: green and softish when I arrived, similar at noon. The ball hardly ‘racing away’.

Holder bowls seven overs straight and is still getting meaningful bounce. Plunkett may enjoy this.

Cummins looks deceptively sharp – something about that not-too-arsed-actually approach – but Root picks one up and it curls over fine leg for six. 101 for 3 after 14. Drinks.

Dramatic change-down as Bishoo comes on after the break; he escapes relatively unscathed.

Enter the off-spinner Nurse, for the 19th. Root and Stokes seem settled. Will they go after him? He’s going flattish, quickish but Stokes reverse-sweeps him through point’s hands for four. With both spinners on, there’s that fascinating energy-change: Root and Stokes play it pretty patiently, initially.

The former gets to yet another fifty in the 21st, without really opening up. You feel that’s coming, mind – especially with Stokes at the other end.

Not hugely impressed with Nurse, who’s getting no turn and asking very few questions. At least Bishoo seems to be driving Root back. Likewise with Stokes, until his patience gives and he smashes one straight for six. 145 for 3 after 22.

That sense of a dam about to burst is (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor?) mexican-waving itself around the ground. Both batsmen being hugely patient – or ‘responsible’. The innings hasn’t exactly stalled but with Stokes on mid-forties and Root past fifty, if I’m Bayliss/Farbrace I’m maybe looking for more, medium soon.

Again, Stokes reverse-sweeps for four, off Nurse. Gets to fifty with a defensive prod. Measured might be the word; he is noticeably presenting the bat beautifully.

Maybe anticipating the potential boomathon, Holder changes Bishoo for Powell. Good call.

Stokes booms the first two balls of the 31st for six. He’s cruised to 73 but then fails to connect with a wide one next over and is caught in the deep. Shame to lose him but incoming Buttler might be just the man to raise this again, for England. Hope he doesn’t he too greedy too early.

He’s bowled, instead, by Cummins. Great ball of killer length. Moeen in at 210 for 5 in the 33rd. More drinks.

England need a partnership as much as they need another gear-change. Loving the balance of this one. One thing’s for sure, the Windies are no pushovers.

Root, having been untroubled since his first handful of deliveries, gets a good, full one from Cummins and is plumb, having stayed back. 84 scored – cue moaning from the back about ‘failing to cash in again’.

13.32, pouring in Pembrokeshire.

Moral victory for Powell, as Moeen edges through vacant second slip: am hugely biased but feel Ali may be key, here, completed game, or no. He can really do that game-management-whilst-also-striking crazy-purely thing. And I unashamedly hope he does. (Honestly wrote this pre-frenzy).

Bloody big drone soars above deep midwicket. 250 up (for 6, in the 41st). Taylor still manfully searching for that blockhole.

Back to the A Team as Holder follows Taylor. Draws an uncouth swing from the typically elegant Woakes; no contact. The sense that maybe England are rising to this, with ten remaining. Woakes more expansive, certainly.

Moeen whirls at Taylor first ball of the 43rd, as if to confirm that the home side will go at this, now. He marches at the next, too – and misses by about a fortnight.

I think Taylor’s been good, here, despite one period where Root and Stokes feasted. Woakes strokes a beauty off him, down the ground for 4. Uppish but utterly controlled – safe. Then it’s about Moeen.

Words are inadequate so in a few… FIFTY are plundered off two remarkable overs.

Mo mashes and smashes it all over, getting his second fifty off TWELVE deliveries. Woakes departs but the Mo-Show goes on. The crowd bellows with Mo-lurv as he breaks the hundred barrier with another maximum. The stat-heads in the Media Centre are rolling around on the floor.

Mohammed gifts him a life on 101 – as Gayle had, previously – but when he finally holes out to Holder at deep mid-off the crowd do that ecstatic clapping above your head thing. It’s been wonderful. We don’t need anything else.

Taylor, bowling the last, runs out Plunkett with his left instep, shortly before signing for Bristol Rovers. The lights are on, on, now (as opposed to unecessarily on). Perversely, symbolically, the sun comes out again as the innings closes, with England – Moland(?) – on 369 for 9.

 

I eat. Quickly.

This is what we want.

  • for the cricket to be good
  • for girls to play – like shedloads of them
  • for the sun to shine – really
  • for (somebody like?) Mark Wood to stay fit then take International Test Cricket by storm, or signal it’s ok, for Anderson then Broad to slip into the past
  • …or, maybe just have competitive equals.
  • Also for Cummins and Starc to stay fit, bowl incredibly fast, entertain the universe but be tamed by Hameed, Jennings & Rooooot, when *that time comes*.
  • In a slightly greedy-personal way, I want the whole #AllStarsCricket/#CricketUnleashed thing to really, really transform the profile of cricket in the next two years, so that more people simply get it
  • because it’s worth getting, right, but currently there IS a smallish, arguably fairly narrow range of people who are kinda culturally-familiar with the game, so we do have to commit to something bubble-breakingly ambitious. I think that revolutionary moment is nearly upon us and I hope our commitment is kosher. Tweaking rules or formats is all very well but we have to get to more people in AS WELL.
  • So that mission. I’m proud and excited to be part of all that but c’mon, let’s all get on it?
  • On the T20 thing let’s resolve the City v Counties issue in such a way that County Cricket really benefits. Not good to have a spectacular, ‘world-class’ City T20 that further closes the door on the traditional form (which is maybe dead in the water without T20blast money?) Can’t see how two UK boomathons can co-exist, myself, so this feels like MAJOR. Major comprises, major, generous, philosophically-informed as well as commercially-driven conversations. Let’s be avvin um.
  • I would also like to play cricket… but there’s no realistic chance of that. So maybe contribute elsewhere. Coaching, social media-ing, writing. Try not to think about the pleasure of running in or fluking the occasional cover drive. In fact stop thinking about that RIGHT NOW. Work to do.
  • On the tribal front, I want a better year for Glamorgan. The fella Croft will know he needs to feed more successfully off the goodwill and bourgeoning welshnesses in and around his developing squad, because the times conspire against patience. Great that he’s actively promoting and supporting homegrown players – and I’m told that Huw Morris should also take a lot of credit for this – but clearly results must improve. Lots of us are heartened by (for example) the offer of a 3 year contract (and the security that offers) to young off-spinner Andrew Salter and by Van der Gugten’s emergence but as somebody said re another, similarly competitive industry, ‘goals pay the rent’. On the short-format front, I personally enjoyed Dai Steyn’s run-outs at The SSE Swalec and the form of his compatriot Colin Ingram and of Aneurin Donald. I think I have starts in the night, mind, around the first of those two batsmen being tempted away by a large, hairy cheque. The local lad we imagine will stay and build a wonderful welsh story…
  • Back at England level I think we are actually half-decent. We just can’t compete with India on their patch. Of course this isn’t acceptable… and we have to look at ways to get better.
  • With my Elderish Statesman wiv Worldview head on, I still wonder if there isn’t something frankly unintelligent about the drive for ‘positive cricket’ (in Tests, in particular) or at least the relentlessness of the pursuit of it. It feels ridiculous not to have real game awareness ahead of the need to fight back aggressively or ‘express yourself/back yourself’ at all times. Been mentioned before but there’s a significant clue in the label here: Test Cricket. It’s not about swapping macho gestures – although we accept absolutely that bravado or boldness will play a part. Often it’s about patience, playing within yourself, seeing things out, as opposed to needing to express some weird domination throughout every moment. This is a contest over time and that’s beautiful, unique, crafty, cerebral, tense-in-a-different way. We all get that young athletes wanna be sexy and strong – stronger than their oppo’s – but sometimes it’s dumb and counter-productive to fall for that as An Approach. It may be tempting, in a bullish cohort of Fit Young Things, to go the easy way of expressing superiority through spunkiness but hello-o you don’t have to be a reactionary retard to make the argument that this may be simplistic nonsense unworthy of high-grade sport… which demands intelligence as well as testosterone.
  • There, I did it. Got struck off David Warner’s Christmas Card list. And Michael Vaughan’s. And everyone under thirty.
  • Final word on that Culture Of thing. Get absolutely that dynamism is central to impact/saleability/maybe growth. But drama is not always poptastic and colorifically-enhanced: sometimes it’s symphonic, ma’an.
  • So I want the Wider Game to be looked after. I’m bit suspicious of the race to funkier kit – essential though that may be. I want County and Test Cricket to dig in or be propped up until we’ve kappowed that bubble of limitations and shown everybody what an extraordinary, diverse, exciting game we have. The range of possibilities, of intrigues are maybe a language that must be learned – and therefore they may demand unfashionable levels of attention – but draw folks in and make them welcome and hallelujah! Something great happens. Longer forms are worth supporting not just for sentimental reasons but because they are essential to the romance on the one hand and the learning or skill-acquisition on the other. Tests and County Cricket must be sympathetically nuanced til crowds are meaningful and/or income from the ECB or telly or T20 action means there is a secure place for the next Baby Boycs as well as the next Ben Stokes.
  • That’s all I ask
  • except, naturally, for an absurdly fit-again Dai Steyn to come steaming in from the Cathedral Rd End / an absolute production-line of great welsh cricketers / a regular & successful & appreciated slot for Andrew Salter / a mindblowing series of tons from Nye Donald…

…Which plainly won.

It’s been a blast. An Indian one – sinuous and surreal and somehow both massive and intimate.

Afghanistan have charmed and entertained us; Dharamsala has blown our minds and now The Windies have doubled up on their Champions dance. Things are done; plans and hopes exhausted. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on where this leaves us.

It’s been a blast, despite an infuriating whiff of anarchy around ticketing and venues and the weirdly Old-World thrum of intransigence re the status or value of Associate Nations.

There’s an argument, of course, that global cricket governance needs to experience a similarly explosive culture change to that which rumbles so excitingly violently through the game itself but such was the seductive power of a good deal of #WT20 that I will scoot irresponsibly on past this whole conversation. (Others will and are nobly unpicking the pretence, in any case.) Much better and fairer and more appropriate to revel in the plusses.

We can do this most realistically, however if we pause briefly to ask if there is – in this Age of The Boomathon – any way this format at this level could fail to be tectonic entertainment?

Now we have legs clearing and blades voluptuously carving from ball one – arguably not.

Aha but let’s be positive! (Let’s be fair, in fact.) From an England (and Wales) supporters viewpoint I/we can now luxuriate in the knowledge that finally we have a team that gets this. Going forward – as the politicians and planners and coaches and posers and everybody else now says – the single most significant plus is the fabulous forward lurch, the progression that now sees us ready to compete in this format. This  may be bigger than achieving a place in the final: because we aren’t either flunking this or faking it now. England are a force and you (everybody else) better believe that.

Clearly you do.

Beyond this steepling climb into credibility and competitiveness, the view into the milieu nouveau is comforting – possibly inspiring. Crucially, it’s also inseparable from a nailed-on expectation of solid entertainment. (My thesis on How Exactly, This T20 Stuff Materialised, will be serialised in The Daily Doosra sometime soonish but meantime just do a one-minute-of-applause-thing for the happy coincidence of (R)evolutionary Sporting Dynamism and Full-on 21st Century thrill-grazing.)

Then check out these four boomers.

  • #WT20 was great because of the fabulous, diverse geographical/sociological landscape it inhabited. The continent that is India.
  • Yes we can give the administrators a slap but no we won’t waste energy on that: not now. But that will come. Now, enjoy!
  • England achieved.
  • Certainly Root and maybe Buttler confirmed themselves as World Stars, here and now, in the Boomathon.

Broadly, there’s been a change of nature in short-format cricket which inclines it towards drama. We know that now and we (England) are feeding off its energy, receiving the revelations; responding to and reflecting the sheer excitement.

What we fans can’t yet know is whether experience or experiences around the new and renewing sexed-up beast will be mediated in time by familiarity/inertia/ boredom. Fortunately the climax of the men’s tournament in particular (although the women’s ran it close in the ‘Advisory; watch from behind the sofa!’ stakes) re-nonsensed unlikely fears of any encroaching ambivalence.

Four more *absolute rockets*.

  • The gist of this is that England are of the essence of this format (now.) The Blokes, anyway. Expect the Women to return to some serious soul-searching and an abrupt, significant gear-change.
  • Willey kindof discovered himself, maybe? Which could be interesting.
  • Our Blokes are a danger to anyone but…
  • Just a few moments of inspiration or brutal, brutal hitting can have this thing done. T20 really is pop. Only unlicensed, dangerous, punky pop.

In the #WT20 Final, after England had unburied themselves from a frankly sickening start – mainly due to yet more brilliance and guts from Root – a young lad called Brathwaite unleashed a shortish but shockingly terminal barrage. It did feel like an eruption, being violent and beautiful. It crashed through of our senses; it was a supra-conclusive statement of something in a new-torn, invincible language. It was magic but kinda scary.

But that was the end. Previously, with the undoubtedly strong England batting line-up inserted, things began with a whimper not a roar. Both Roy and Hales departed jarringly early as the innings bolted towards then flirted with – please god no! -humiliation. Skipper Morgan almost got his lines together…but no. Butler and Root battled against and almost stemmed things… but no.

Strikes me that one of the challenges we’re yet to resolve in the new T20 universe is how swiftly and mercilessly we apportion blame to failing batsmen. They’re ALL supposed to give it a thrash, right? So, risk factors are to some extent factored out.

The Roy/Hales #fail-ure here provides plenty of scope for #bantz or bar-room brawling: why wouldn’t it? World Cup Final: stall to be set. Opinions will gloriously differ but unarguable surely that their premature exit contributed to England’s descent into flip-chart-cartoon-chaos mode? (Meaning it wasn’t good.)

Mind you, Goodie-Baddies in all of this were a W Indies side absolutely on the rampant side of pumped. They forced the England stumble. They were close to unplayable, being everywhere in the field – being a presence in the gaps. We knew Morgan’s side batted deep but from early on it seemed somehow only Root and Buttler might offer resistance, never mind a threat.

The former was again magnificent. Always less likely than Buttler to clear the rope but purer and less brittle. Whilst he stayed…

Painfully and somewhat surprisingly, the Yorkshireman got a tad greedy or a tad sloppy and ballsed up a trick shot. A disappointing end – one he visibly railed against. But he’d been England’s rock again. Buttler and Willey snorted or smote some defiance but the score seemed 20 or 30 light at 150-something.

Then the crazy stuff really started. The ultimately triumphant W Indies innings stumbled and stalled as England’s had done. Root winkled a couple out, sharpish and joyously. The pressure piled up and occasionally blew. Scores were comparable, as were levels of angst. This was no strut – not for Gayle, the feared colossus,  nor for anyone else. Everybody not actually in the ground was – yes! – behind a sofa.

England’s bowling was/is by reputation less convincing than the batting. Except maybe at The Death, when both Jordan and Stokes have repeatedly shown heroic levels of both skill and nervelessness. Another lurch forward and Stokes found himself, ball in hand with a *more than decent chance* of steering his country home. In the World Cup Final!

There is no question that Stokes is a) brilliant b) big-hearted and c) biologically/genetically programmed to perform sport to an elite level. It didn’t matter. Brathwaite dismissed him for four consecutive maximums to obliterate the ‘fact’ of a bottom-clenchingly tight finish.

We could pile in with the pyroclastic metaphors and the references to New Earth Being Produced. During this Last Over/New Geological Era Finale Thing. Because Brathwaite unmade or sea-floor-spreaded all that too, whilst he was dissecting and discombobulating Stokesy and England. How could he do that stuff? It was impossible. Times four.

We can argue the toss about what Stokes did or didn’t do but better to relax and actually to smile. Brathwaite made him and his lifetime of practice (and his weeks of death-bowling plans) an irrelevance. On the count of one, two, three, four.

Importantly, Stokes will be back. But this is Brathwaites’ story. He won a World Cup and made the most wonderful mockery of everything. Everything except sport… which plainly and simply won.

Root and branch and lifeblood.

The argument (made by England skipper Eoin Morgan to the BBC) that Joe Root is the most complete batsman England have ever produced is a rather striking one. One we might reasonably and fairly immediately file under hyperbole; post-match, post-UNREAL swashbuckling victory euphoria. Because if ever there was a moment for delusional disproportion then this was it: Root being godlike in an environment from which most would have (actually) sought escape, one way or another. Instead Ar Joseph unflinchingly but beautifully built his way forward, denying the Munch-like scream of the moment, dismantling the Proteas attack.

For this most English of English heroes to dismiss the whirlwind around him with such calm, such style and without resorting to the violent bludgeoning of the innocent ball was remarkable… and maybe remarkably attractive and rich and necessary. Whether Root’s genius catapaults him beyond England’s Finest Ever is another matter. Frankly I’m not going there; not now; not without several clarity-inducing beers inside me.

Instead let’s pop back into the broader arguments. T20 is clearly the coming force but if there is a concern around its appeal this may centre over the car-crashness, the impact-frenzyness, the potentially divisive or even repulsive quality of the Boomathon that it has become. (I know! Tad perverse to intuit the least concrete reservations of a tiddly proportion of traditionalist fans here but stay with me; a Bigger Picture will emerge. Judge me then.) Where were we?

T20. Yes we love it and need it to make us relevant into a new age. Yes we accept that there is some meaningful upskilling going on as well as possible subversions to Wise Old (Longer Format) Truths – fielding and levels of ingenuity in both batting and bowling codes being notable contributors to the positives here. And yes, critically and unanswerably, we acknowledge cricket is suddenly unthinkable without T20.

But in the ever-fuller gallop, are there implications for the sustainability of all this – or more precisely, are there dangers in being T20-centric? Is there something inevitably concerning about a dynamic charge – a revolution – that is so-o relentlessly breathless? My answer to that is I’m not sure, that I am uneasy with the consideration-vacuum implied, that I do wonder.

Again I fear the accusation of miserablism. So I repeat my allegation that I am the least miserable/most enthusiastically positive bloke I know and that I support and accept forward energy as our lifeblood. I also get that excitement means numbers and that maan, we need numbers.

There must be debate about how T20 feels and looks and evolves and is structured or levered into our domestic structures but yup – there must T20. The question (or one question) might be whether people weary of the smashes, the fireworks, the ramped-up ramp-shots? And how, if boom-fatigue did set in, could we plan or address that easing back? Where does cricket go if (let’s say) new supporters tire of seeing Gladiator X carve his way to another killing?

Backtracking into my crease, I accept this scenario simply may not arise. Maybe I’m just casting the idea out there to see if anyone understands the universe this way(?) The fact that Root and de Villiers (for example) span the ludicrously operatic skills-dimension with such majesty and ease suggests T20 will never be the brittle theatre I almost fear. Long may their talent keep us safe.

Certainly the Yorkshireman made a nonsense of my argument yesterday. He/we can’t claim he did it solo – not after the stunning barrage from Hayes and Roy – who sent Steyn (arguably the best and toughest and canniest genuinely quick bowler in the world, remember) packing. Root did still, however, come in with the proverbial ‘lot to do’. He then performed beyond the capacity of nearly everybody on the planet – hence that hyperbole from his captain.

He steered the ball as much as he smote it. He seemed – absurdly – to be in his element whilst we were either delirious or contemplating a brisk walk out until things were done. It was one of those personal triumphs that go beyond the tribalist norms; he was rapturously received, when his effort was cut tantalisingly short, by an almost entirely neutral crowd. He might almost have been at Headingley.

Morgan was effusive in part because of the natural excitement following an audacious and vital win but also because Root really is special.

Comparisons are fatuous with previous eras because now is so obviously and uniquely Peak Dynamism. Sobers or Botham or Boycott or Bradman – who all faced fearsome opposition – faced nothing like the levels of athleticism we’re seeing now. The context was substantially different and probably less challenging in terms of its range; despite uncovered pitches etc etc. We could conceive of Sobers and Botham being transported into the modern era and adapting (probably remaining gloriously god-like, in fact) but many of us would rather simply deny the validity of joining any of these crazily abstract dots.

What we could reasonably extrapolate, however, is that Joe Root is pret-ty masterful across the cricket arts. He has the technical brilliance and temperament to be a genuine Test Star. He has the running and the hands of a short-format hustler. He has, as yesterday confirmed, the timing and craft to power his way towards the unthinkable in T20. Even when the pressure is mega-epic-acute.

Joe Root is our world star. He’s precious not simply because of his tremendous gifts, but his personality – his capacity to return us to simple, joyful matters of sport. That boyishness. He’s great company, too, being plainly a ‘good lad’, ‘one of us or ours’, a charmer and a laugh. But let’s value him higher yet; in covering all bases across the playing formats, making the case for skill as well as muscle, he may be holding the whole shebang together.