Monday, January 29, 2007

The Great Escape

"Hello - this is the Strauss residence. I'm afraid we can't take your call right now, but please leave a message after the tone and we'll get back to you. If you're phoning from 'Hello magazine about the photoshoot - February 19th is fine."

"Oh, hello Bunnykins, it's me - Andy Pandy.... look, things are getting pretty gruesome down here. Any chance you can do me a favour and phone up on my mobile when I'm batting during the next game (best be quick!!) - tell whoever answers it that my Pater has come down with something pretty nasty, now on his deathbed, asking to see me - that sort of thing... with any luck they 'll put me on the next plane out of here, and I can be back in Blightly before you know it. Ok? Thanks Bunnykins. Byeeee!!"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Nixon's Not The One

Immediately after the New Zealand debacle, a friend of mine posed a question that has bugged me to such an extent that I felt moved to post about it: -

Has Paul Nixon been picked for his sledging ability alone?

It seems an outlandish suggestion, and an outrageous slur on our wonderful team of selectors, but when you start rationalising it, it starts to make sense. As a batsman he’s no better than Chris Read, and nowhere near as good as ‘Taffy’ Jones, and in terms of actual keeping ability he’s ordinary at best. If they’d wanted a specialist one-day keeper, Matt Prior would surely have been a better bet – and could have filled the ‘pinch hitter’ role at the top of the order leaving Mal Loye free to come in further down the order.

So have things really descended so far that we’re now picking people based purely on their ability to get up the opposition’s noses? A kind of ‘Sinex Strategy’…

If it is, it has no logic whatsoever – although that hasn’t stopped the English selectors before. It’s an idea that might work if you’re playing against Cheltenham Ladies College – but is hardly going to have any tangible impact against Australia, a country where they learn to sledge before learning to talk.

If that is now the criteria let’s not be half-arsed about it – let’s go the whole hog and pick an entire team of acknowledged masters of annoyance, backchat and irritation – an ‘All Gobby XI’ if you will: -

Neil Warnock
Jade Goody
Lilly Allen
Jim Davidson
Vera Duckworth
Gordon Ramsey
Rev Ian Paisley
Dennis Skinner
Liam Gallagher
Richard Littlejohn

I reckon that side would give Ponting and his men a real run for their money.

And, failing that, could at least provide a more challenging set of interviews for Athers than Freddie, with his plaintive claims of 'spirit' and 'pride'.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sit and Deliver

aka - 'The Great Bat & Ball Swindle'

Here’s the ECB programme of international cricket for the upcoming summer.

Assuming you count the two 20/20 games at the Oval as ‘halves’ this means a very healthy 46 days of cricket - though whether or not Mssrs Flintoff, Pietersen and Co will feel ‘healthy’ by the end of it is a moot point…

Now for the gripes - Of those 46 days, no less than 12 are slated for Lords – that’s over 25% at one ground. With the number of international grounds in England increasing almost yearly, is this sort of concentration fair?

Going one step further, 19 out of the 46 days are in London – that’s around 40%. Admittedly, as a Londoner, it’s rather counter-intuitive for me to object to that, bearing in mind both Lords and The Oval lie within a twenty mile radius of the TRSM Towers servants entrance, but I can certainly see why ‘North-South divide’ theorists may be slightly miffed at the geographical concentration of matches in the 'Peoples Republic of Livingstone'.

After geography – let’s deal with the economics. Check out these prices for Test Match tickets. In each case I’ve quoted the cheapest seat followed by the child price in brackets: -

- Headingley 25 (15) Family area, presumably ‘dry’- next cheapest 30 (18)
- Old Trafford 30 (15)
- Durham 27.50 (10)
- Trent Bridge 35 (15)
- The Oval 40 (20)
- Lords (v W Indies) 60 (20)
- Lords (v India) 65 (20)


That means that Lords is over 50% more expensive than any other ground in the country.

By way of international comparison, the tickets I bought for the MCG in December cost 40 Aussie Dollars each – in each case that was lower tier, twenty rows back from the boundary – a perfect view. At current exchange rates, that’s about 17 pounds each. Before anyone starts muttering about the MCG capacity, guys who went have told me that prices at the other four (smaller) grounds were similar.

My understanding of funding is that all Test Match profits go into the ECB pot and get divvied up around the counties – thus keeping about thirteen of them afloat for another year, but surely that ‘profit’ is after all the grounds have covered their costs for catering and other facilities – and written into that cost must surely be some element of ‘local’ profit, otherwise local caterers and other service providers at Lords wouldn’t bother bidding for the contract. So the sole reason for such astronomical ticket prices is to maximise profit – at the expense of fleecing the average cricket fan.

Yes, even an unreconstructed Socialist like me understands the idea of supply and demand, and that if people are prepared to pay a high price then why not charge it. Also, I’m not quite that much of an anti-traditionalist to accept that there is a certain magnetism about Lords on a Test Match day that everyone should get to experience at least once (plus have the opportunity to go behind the pavilion at lunchtime to marvel that in the 21st Century people still actually behave like that, and play the famous 'hunt the chin' game) but how on earth is everyone going to do that with such high prices?

Why not maximise the profits on the corporate hospitality boxes and use that profit to subsidise some cheaper seats? After all, as we’ve discussed here before, individuals don’t actually pay for those prime location seats – that costs comes out of corporate marketing budgets. Or why not directly subsidise a certain number of seats for each day down to a reasonable level. Don’t forget that once someone is in the ground they’re going to be stumping up for other things – such as food and beer – so the average take per head is much higher than the ticket price.

Quick prediction – by the time the Australians get here in 2009 the cheapest seats at the Lords Test (you know - the obligatory one we always concede at the start of each home Ashes series to get the Aussies off to an unnecessary flyer) will be 75 pounds and the standard price elsewhere will be 100. Don’t forget there’s always a slight premium on Ashes tests at Lords compared to when other teams visit, so the figures could conceivably be higher than that.

One of the four key pillars in the ECB ‘From playground to Test Arena’ statement is

“Enthusing participation and following – especially among young people”

It seems a bit pointless for a kid to be able to pay 20 quid to get in if his Dad can’t afford to get it as well.

One final note – look closely and you’ll see that Edgbaston doesn’t merit a Test Match this summer. On the 2005 Ashes DVD, Mark Nicholas compares the atmosphere at the legendary Edgbaston Test to a rock concert – in contrast to the ‘classical recital’ feeling at Lords. In such a tight game, that supportive atmosphere might just have been the reason for England’s extraordinarily tight victory. For that reason alone, Birmingham deserves a Test Match each summer.

The ECB would say that with seven test match grounds in the UK – shortly to rise to eight when Cardiff joins the list, someone has to miss out – but even my simple maths says 7 grounds into 7 tests this summer goes pretty well – but that’s before you take into account the requirements of the cricket establishment who seem to feel they have a God given right to the lions share of matches leaving the rest to pick over the bones of what’s left.

Bearing in mind all visiting sides tend to raise their game at Lords far more than the alleged home team – thus effectively negating home advantage, why not ask the England team which they’d prefer, an extra test in the ‘neutral’ confines of St John’s Wood, or one in the intimidating atmosphere of Edgbaston – I bet they’d choose the ‘rock concert’ every time.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's a Man's World...

Here at TRSM we're only too willing to offer unsolicited advice to anyone who appears to need it. We're also very much aware that you can learn a lot by how other sportsmen go about their business.

For example: -

If Hershelle Gibbs and all the other sensitive flowers in the South Africa team are getting fed up at the comments they are hearing from spectators, this might be the solution they are looking for!

And if any batsman is getting wound up by the incessant sledging ringing in his ears, how about this as a riposte?

Incidently, guess which player in that second clip would have received the harsher disciplinary penalty? (Answer in the 'comments' below)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Those Were the Days

Believe it or not, there was a time when England had a decent ODI side, and actually used to win tournaments and stuff...

So, how the hell did that happen?

Well, in a shockingly bold move, the England selectors had taken the unprecdented (for them) step of having different captains for the two different forms of the game and the decision to choose Adam Hollioake to skipper the ODI side was extraordinarily radical for a body that up until then had probably thought that the concept of sugar in a cup of tea was rather 'racy'...

Hollioake had a reputation for being outspoken, opinionated and very aggressive out on the pitch - to the point where he'd almost come to blows with members of opposition counties visiting The Oval on more than one occasion. This might have had something to do with the fact that he was born in a land far far away known as 'Australia' where traits such as plain-speaking and a strong desire to win are the general norm... There was no denying, however, that he was an inspirational captain.

The team Hollioake had at his disposal was a wonderful example of a balanced ODI side, containing all the important ingredients for success: -

- A core of experienced one-day batsmen - Stewart, Nick Knight, Hick and Thorpe (how England miss him now). The first three were multi-dimensional, capable of blazing hitting as well as run accumulation, whilst Thorpe was second only to Michael Bevan in terms of working the ball around and chasing down a target.
- A genuine 'pinch hitter' in Ally Brown, and an equally dangerous pure hitter in Matthew Fleming.
- Wicket taking opening bowlers like Dean Headley. (Quick digression here - does anyone else share my view that his premature retirement through injury in 2001 has been hugely underrated?)
- A further core of experienced one-day bowlers, all of whom could score useful runs - Mark Ealham (probably the best one day bowler England have had since Underwood?) Hollioake himself who was a master of the 'six different balls in the over' routine Robert Croft, Dougie Brown, and Fleming.

The presence of ex-Army officer Fleming in the side also added another dimension, in that it prevented opponents sledging getting too out of hand - after all, you aren't going to start abusing someone who has a capability to blow your car up, or enter your room at the dead of night and slit your throat without making a sound are you?!

At the end of that tournament, there were many of us who saw a new dawn of English one-day cricket emerging but within less than nine months the experiment had been abandoned and the slide downhill was so quick that it culminated in the monumental cock up of the 1999 World Cup, from which you could argue, England haven't properly recovered.

If you're after a scapegoat for the downturn, look no further than Alec Stewart. After Mike Atherton quit as England test skipper after the 1998 tour to West Indies, Stewart took over the reins and promptly announced that he wanted to captain England in both forms of the game. Stewart was a wonderful batsman on his day, an excellent keeper, but lacked the cricketing imagination to be a good captain of the one day side.

Had the selectors not used up all their supply of cojones in the original choice of Hollioake, the logical move would have surely been to tell Stewart to stop acting the Prima-Donna, and to give Hollioake a contract to lead the ODI side up to and including the World Cup. A Hollioake side would surely have not succumbed as lamely as the England side ultimately did against South Africa and India in that tournament.

Postscript - Also in that England squad in Sharjah, although not in the side for the final was one B.Hollioake. It's an awful shock to realise that he would have turned just 29 during the Brisbane Test just gone. You can stop and think wistfully about a current England ODI middle order of Pietersen, Hollioake (B) and Flintoff very easy - at least until the room starts getting very 'dusty' and you can't focus on the computer screen anymore.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This Charming Man

London Radio DJ Danny Baker once memorably described footballer Dennis Wise, then professionally getting-up-noses for Chelsea FC, as being the 'school snide'. By that he meant an irritating wind-up merchant (or 'agent provocateur' if you don't fancy the London vernacular) happy to provoke and needle opponents, but always on the periphery of any serious trouble, safely out of harms way hiding behind the school bully when any retribution was meted out. The McAvity of the football world for the more literary minded amongst you.

Hershelle Gibbs has always struck me as being the Dennis Wise of the cricketing world.

There's always been something vaguely dislikable about Gibbs. It's nothing serious that I can put my finger on, but just a general sense of unease. For example, I didn't share the shock of most of the cricketing world when news came out that he'd accepted a bribe, and I was equally unsurprised that he'd ultimately bottled it when the chips were down. No surprise at the drug allegations either... and I bet he broke 'Rule One' under cross-examination and shopped his dealer.

In the league of irritability, he's probably in the same division as the sanctimonious Jonty Rhodes (Mike Atherton's autobiography is rather outspoken about Rhodes to say the least!). Batting against SA in the late 1990s, with Rhodes wittering away at point and Gibbs doing the same from midwicket must have been somewhat trying, to say the least.

So this then doesn't come as a huge surprise.

To be honest, as an anti-apartheid campaign veteran, it's still difficult to come up with a considered rational judgment when thinking about the issue of racism and South Africa. It's hard to forget that people like Gibbs, along with most of the South African side, lived their formative years under a repellent system where Makaya Ntini and Ashwell Prince would have probably had to eat in a different restaurant and stay in different hotels to the rest of the South African side. - had they actually been allowed to play in the first place.

So when you read about sensitive white South Africans getting upset because they're copping some abuse from the crowd, (Gibbs in this instance, and Andre Nel in Australia last winter) it's hard not to raise a quizzical eyebrow and point them in the direction of the chapters headed 'Sharpville 1960 ', and 'Soweto 1976' in their history books.

Of course, it's easy for me to say. I've never been on the end of any racist abuse, and have no idea how I'd react if I was - though I've always been an adherent of the 'sticks and stones' school of thought when it comes to verbal confrontation.

On a related issue, remember it was Graeme Smith the Doomsayer who warned that Monty Panesar would receive a load of racist abuse from Australian crowds this winter. As predictions go, it was as wide of the mark as those that said that England would be competitive in the Ashes series. Instead, Monty became a cult favourite amongst the Australian crowd, and not in a patronising way either. There was, and is, genuine respect for his bowling prowess and general enthusiasm - and respect from Australians hard earned.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Reverse Swing's 115th Dream

How about this as a scenario...

England get totally humiliated by Australia in their remaining three group games, but manage to pick up enough points from games with New Zealand to get into the final.

Someone (Strauss with the bat, Showpony with the ball, Freddie with either...) then uses the preceding humiliation as suitable motivation to turn in a match winning performance and England win the final.

Unjust? - Yes
Unfair? - Yes
Unlikely? - Yes
Enough to keep us laughing all winter if it actually happens? - You bet!

(Don't tell me no one else has thought of this!)

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Here's a question that's been bugging me for sometime, and no amount of searching can provide a definitive answer so I thought I'd throw it out into the blogosphere and see if anyone can help.

Simply - what's the history of covering wickets in Test Matches?

My own immediate response was that it came in during the 1970's - it can't have been earlier than that in England otherwise Derek Underwood would have ended up with half the number of test wickets that he eventually did. (Remember The Oval 1968, Lords 1974...)

However, a West Indian friend of mine vividly remembers covers being used in Port of Spain in 1958, which suggests to me that there was no formal ICC policy at the time and covering wickets was done on some sort of ad hoc basis.

Any thoughts?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quiz Answer

Tony was right - the person so effusive in his praise of the Barmy Army was Jonathan 'Wildchild' Agnew in an interview with ABC News and the end of the 2002/2003 tour. (Follow the comments box to the link Tony provided for the whole interview - saves me having to do it!)

As I said, no prizes, but even had there been I'd have obviously insisted that it be retained in the UK in perpetuity for Tony to stare at wistfully on his visits to these shores...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

' Bridge over Troubled Water

Sometimes after a severe trauma like a 5-0 whitewash it's the simple things that can bring people back to reality and make you realise that life WILL go on, and the world will keep turning.

For me, it was the 'Nottingham' postmark on the envelope lying on the doormat. That simple red circle of post office ink said that the Trent Bridge Test Match tickets had arrived. A life-affirming moment indeed.

Despite the abject nature of the performance Down Under, which surely reached is nadir in the 20/20 match a few days ago, you needed some sort of reminder that we do still have quite a decent team - just as long as that team doesn't include the name 'Anderson' anywhere. There's a good arguement to say that below Australia (waaaayyyy below Australia actually!) there are a host of other test sides, full of normal flesh and blood humans, that we can hold our own against - and, glory be, actually beat.

This summer should be a cracker - A resurgent West Indies side and the ever threatening and always entertaining Indians. Possibly the last chance to see Lara and Tendulkar - a new crop of young quick bowlers, Dravid, Sehwag, Gayle ("Sarwan, Hinds & Chanderpaul")- another chance to see the ageless Kumble - can't wait!

We always have a good time at Trent Bridge, make a weekend of it by booking into one of the many cheap hotels in Nottingham and take advantage of the 'lively' nightlife, and the fact that you can enjoy a decent night out without fearing the state of your bank balance by the end of it.

The ground itself has a wonderful charm. It's small by Test Match standards - even after recent developments, but even after all the changes it's still got a lovely old-fashioned atmosphere as there are stands from different eras pieced together with different styles. It's old fashioned in a positive way - the tickets stilll look like they've been run off on a John Bull printing kit, the staff are friendly (the gatekeepers actually welcome you to the ground!!) whilst those working in the bars know what they're doing. The traditional lunchtime wander round always unearths a hidden treasure like a souvenir shop that seems untouched since the days of Larwood and Voce, and tiny counters serving food that is actually edible and tasty - a rare combination in an English sports arena.

The 2005 Test was the best cricket watching experience of my life, but then I've never had a bad one in the place where Gary Pratt went from obscurity to legend in an instant.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Quiz Time

No prizes, but guess who said this about the Barmy Army: -

“I mean, there are thousands of down there, all having a very good time and all loving cricket.

They're an extraordinary lot. They’re serious cricket people and their sort of culture has grown up now….

More and more are enjoying the sunshine, and dare I say the Aussie dollar as it is at the moment, and lots of beer… having a really good time and enjoying the cricket.”

Answer tomorrow.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Return of Captain Fantastic

It's official, the cavalry is on the way - only the England version is coming over the hill on a gimpy knee rather than horseback.

It's the equivalent of being in a bar, absolutely hammered, and knowing that you're going to have a hangover the next day that is likely to make you want to tear your teeth out - so you think "well, what the heck - a large double scotch isn't going to me me feel any worse tomorrow is it - barman, start lining them up..."

England have sunk so low in the ODI world, and have plumbed the cricketing depths in general over the past few weeks that the recall of Vaughan is that double scotch.

On the face of it, it doesn't inspire confidence - his one day record hardly sets the world on fire - and there must still be some doubts over his fitness, especially as he'll be jumping into a format of cricket where there really is no hiding place in the field, and batting is all about constant motion.

But - being an England supporters these days means always being prepared to cling to blind, irrational optimism as our final solace . For example, on the fourth morning at the SCG I bet I wasn't the only one thinking 'well, if KP can get going and Read can hang around for a time and the tail can wag we might be able to set a tricky 150 target, and then with Monty on a turning wicket, who knows what might happen...' (Was I?!)

So I will say that Vaughan's leadership does give you a general sense of well-being. You always got the impression, watching an England side skippered by Vaughan, that he was very much in charge, and was always in complete control of events going on... even when England were on the end of a terrible shoeing with the opposition 450-5, you could look over and see him motivating his team, a quiet word here, a shake of the fist and quick handclap there - and also see that they took strength from that.

At Edgbaston in 2005, he single-handedly managed to hold the side together on the last morning when most of them were wearing facial expressions which suggested that they'd ingested more amphetamines between them than the entire audience at a Motorhead gig and Freddie was wandering around looking as though he was a step away from mass murder or chewing his own arm off.

Of course, the logical move would have been for Vaughny to sit out the rest of the winter, make a few warm up starts for Yorkshire in April and early May ready for a trumphant return at Lords against the West Indies on May 17th - but it seems to me that this England set-up stopped dealing in 'logic' some time ago. Instead, the management team are going for the 'stick it all on 26 black' option.

Here comes that large scotch - be ready with the Alka Seltzers.

Burning Desire

Superb article by Kevin Mitchell in the Observer today.

I agree with his sentiments - the Ashes should be moved from Lords to Melbourne forthwith, for two good reasons: -

1) It will annoy the reactionary buffoons at Lords (always a plus), and

2) The Australians deserve them.

They should only return to the UK when England manage to win them again... and judging by Mitchells article and the evidence of my own eyes, it could be sometime.

Brimfull of Brett

One thing I noticed watching Aussie TV was the number of ads featuring members of the Australian Cricket Squad happy to whore themselves for a few dollars. (And before any English fan starts getting too judgmental and smug, do you reckon that KP, Freddie & Co wouldn't do exactly the same given the chance?)

Brett Lee has taken the idea to a whole new level however...

(Thanks to Tony at After Grog Blog for that one!)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Memo to Paul Collingwood

There's a very honorable tradition of people refusing to accept honours like knighthoods, peerages, MBEs etc - for a variety of reasons.

For most, it's political principle that leads them to reject whatever petty little bauble Downing Street feels appropriate - and for others, it's the feeling that maybe they don't actually deserve it.

You didn't have to accept the MBE you were granted last year, so it's a bit rich to start mouthing off to Shane Warne when he, correctly, points out that maybe 17 runs and a few overs is scant justification for the letters after your name.

Of course, you could always send the damn thing back - and maybe persaude the others with you in Sydney to do the same.

Oh Dear...

The feeling amongst England supporters I've met over the past couple of weeks is one of total let-down and humiliation, so for Duncan Fletcher to start coming out with stuff like this is simply rubbing salt into a self-inflicted wound.

Yes, there probably is a case for Shane Warne to be used in an advisory capacity over the next year or so, but what is the point of mentioning it at the post-mortem press conference?

I'd suggest that the strange gurgling noise you can hear in the background to this is the Australians pissing themselves laughing.

And did anyone else's blood run cold at the "can you imagine the help he could give to a very, very experienced spinner in the side" reference?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Beer Match

I'd intended to post an article extolling the wonders of the MCG as a sporting arena, but over the years I've read quite a few articles like that, so there's no need to go over the same ground again.

Suffice to say that everything you've read about it is true - it's an extraordinary place.

Here's one factor that not every cricket ground reviewer takes into account, but is, nonetheless, a critical issue in enhancing the cricket-watching experience: -

Everytime I wanted to buy a beer, it took me less than an over to leave my seat, get to the bar, buy the beer, and return to my seat.

Compare that to grounds in England, where trips for alcoholic refreshment can result in you missing out on at least half an hour's play. In fact, on one occasion at an ODI against New Zealand at Bristol, I stood in a beer queue whilst Freddie Flintoff took his score from 17 to 106 - the incompetence of the bar staff had to be seen to be believed.

Admittedly, the beer at the MCG had all the alcoholic strength of Top Deck Shandy, so that a lot of the lads were drinking red wine by the second day, but that's a minor quibble.

Operation Phoenix?

In the scheme of things, losing an Ashes series 5-0 to a side skippered by Ricky Ponting must rank up there alongside 'losing a General Election to a party led by John Major' or 'having one of your masterpieces kept out of the number one spot by Please Release Me by Engelbert Humperdink' - the history books will show it happened, but it's not something you're going to be particularly proud about.

Actually, Ricky and his boys have probably done English cricket an enormous favour though admittedly it might not seem that way at the moment. but the shear comprehensiveness of the whitewash means that the authorities to to take serious note of what went wrong, and start putting together a proper action plan to start putting things right and building a framework within which the team can start developing for the 2009 re-match.

Australia started their preparations for this series around 7pm on Monday 12th September, 2005. There's no shame in copying good practice, so I'd therefore suggest that England do something similar starting later today when the curtain falls on this series.

The biggest mistake England could make (and it was something that was coming up in conversations around the MCG last week) would be to assume that an Australian team without Warne, McGrath, Langer, Martyn - and presumably Hayden & Gilchrist, is simply there for the taking. There is a huge crop of hungry cricketers in Australia who have been fighting for their opportunity over the past five years or so and have, until now, been frustrated by the continuity in the Aussie side during that time. Michael Hussey, for example, has been waiting patiently for some time - and there's plenty more like him with a point to prove a few years down the line. The faces may well be different, but the attitude will be exactly the same.

To begin with, they need to come up with some answers to a few questions...

1) Why, with all the experts that England have available, were two of our frontline bowlers psychologically unprepared to perform in the first Test Match - and what can be done to prevent a repeat occurance?

2) Why was one of our key batsman picked for the tour when he was patently not mentally prepared for it?

3) What was the thought process that led to Freddie declaring at 550-6 at Adelaide?

4) Is it right that one person (Duncan Fletcher) had control over both the touring party as a whole, AND team selection?

5) Is Fletcher the right person to take England up to the 2009 series?

6) Who is going to be captain in 2009? Or maybe, who would we like to see as captain in 2009?

7) Who at the ECB agreed to the farcical tour itinerary? (And why does he still have a job?)

8) Does the 'central contract' system give players sufficient playing time to prepare themselves effectively for Test Match cricket?

The answers they come up with, and the actions taken to address the serious issues raised by those questions could well decide the 2009 series before a ball is bowled.