Friday, 20 February 2015

Meet the old England, same as the new England

It's been quite a while since I've last done any blogging. I did a few for the 2013 English Ashes (remember those, back when England were good? Heady days) but the last time I blogged with any real regularity was the 2011 World Cup. England underwhelmed in the groups so terribly that they only got through to the knockout stage thanks to a format that aided the big boys so much that non-qualification was near impossible, try as they may. Once there however, England had no hope and were crushed by 10 wickets by Sri Lanka. Despite four years of planning, seeing careers shortened and those plans ripped up and rewritten numerous times along the way, England weren't even close to being up to scratch, and despite a month at the tournament were home long before the World Cup got close to being interesting.

So with all that in mind, I've decided to give cricket blogging another go (well, for this one at least). A lot's changed for me since I created and built this site up, before completely forgetting about it. I was writing about the last World Cup on my gap year in South Africa, and in the subsequent four years I've started university, graduated with a Journalism degree, had a go as a cricket journalist and commentator, worked in digital content for MCC, moved full-time to West London, and am now working in the communications department for a charity. I'm sure plenty of others have had a much more dramatic change since 2011, but funnily enough, not much has changed for England. Sure, different captain, different coach, and different victims of batting collapses, but everything else is as you were.

Acknowledging how badly things were got wrong in 2011, the ECB acted to try to make a better go of it this time around. The Ashes scheduled for this winter were bumped to last year to give the one-day side a clear run to the World Cup, and a captain was appointed with 2015 firmly in mind. This of course being a captain who wasn't in the ODI side (and hadn't been for a number of years) who was bumped about a month before the World Cup started. Sure, the ECB weren't to know that the back-to-back Ashes weren't to put paid to the careers of Pietersen, Trott, Swann and Prior for the variety of reasons that it did, but surely some bright spark could have noticed that ten consective Tests of cricket's most intense match-up may have one or two negatives?

There's then the short-sightedness and stubbornness (to put it kindly, batshit mental could also suffice) approach by the coaching set-up to picking the team. Nobody is denying that Cook clearly wasn't the right man for the ODI captaincy gig, but given this was fairly evident about 18 months out why did it take until three weeks before flying to Australia before Eoin Morgan was appointed? A year and a half to grow into the role, select the players he wanted and put his stamp on his team was such an obvious thing to do it's almost pointless me even writing this given how many others have pointed this out. Ditto earmarking Ravi Bopara as the number seven who bowls a few handy overs a good few years ago and dropping him on the morning of the World Cup opener, refusing to select county cricket's stand-out limited overs batsman James Taylor until November - and then when he has unprecedented success batting at number three drop him down to six for no clear reason, and giving Chris Woakes the new ball for every game for months before giving it to Broad when the World Cup starts. "Joined up thinking" is the sort of management babble that Peter Moores has come out with at some point in a post-match presser, but there's been a distinct lack of it from England.

England's shortcomings aren't helped by the lack of rope fans are willing to give them. After the shocking way the Pietersen situation was handled (by both sides I must add), getting into bed with Australia and India to ensure top-level international cricket will now look like a glorified round-robin, along with high ticket prices, a lack of visibility of international players at county level, being told we're "outside cricket" in an official statement, not being from the right sort of families, and saying Moeen Ali should be "glad" to have been booed by fans in Birmingham - there's not a great deal of goodwill from anybody towards the England team at the moment, who unfortunately for them are the visible face of some shocking bureaucratic decision-making from the ECB.

This is all in focus due to this (as it stands) being the last World Cup that won't be a ten team invite-only members party. Despite the crippling affect this will have on the sport outside of the lucky few who got VIP tickets, the ICC are pressing on with it to avoid countries with the big TV markets missing out on getting through to the final stages. Never mind that the current 14 team structure is already weighted so heavily in that regard, ICC CEO Dave Richardson is ending all hope for 115 of the 125 countries that he represents of ever appearing on the biggest stage again. "A lack of competitive matches" cites Richardson for the contraction for the already criminally small tournament, though in his defence this was well before New Zealand chased down England's score in 12 and a bit overs.

Given the fact that the gap between cricket's haves and have-nots is now so small that an Irish win over West Indies last week (and even a Netherlands win over England in the last World T20) can barely be considered a shock, the contraction of the game by the money makers at the top of the ICC, ECB, Cricket Australia and BCCI is a decision that is both cowardly and incredibly damaging to the future of the sport. In chasing a few short-term dollars at a time when literally every other sport is growing, cricket isn't so much falling behind the times but becoming plain irrelevant. While the TV companies are still paying the big bucks to show matches that are watched by the hardcore cricket fans, in this country at least that number is dropping dramatically - and Sky surely won't be as keen to stand the ECB's finances up if nobody's going to watch their shows. And that isn't even getting close to touching on the decision to ignore potential fans in untapped markets where cricket isn't the major sport that it is in England, Australia or India. And if you want to be as crude as the ICC, there's a hell of a lot more money to be made if cricket makes it big in America or China than there is to be lost by seeing Sri Lanka fail to make a World Cup quarter-final.

So back to the beginning of this blog, why I haven't updated the old faithful Short Midwicket blog over the last while (though it's still been picking up a few views, so cheers for those). Sure, life has got in the way and it's harder to find time to put together a couple hundred words of quality cricket cricket with uni and work going on, but the main reason is that it's difficult to get excited about cricket in 2015. I nominally support a country who are destroying the future of the sport by chasing short-term profits, and in that short-term they are run so laughably it's beyond parody. Maybe it's having a few more years of life experience under my belt, but it wouldn't have been that long ago that an annihilation so embarrassing as this morning against New Zealand would have left me on the verge of tears, but today I'm almost ambivalent about it all (though not that much, seeing as I'm writing a blog on it). As Holland were outplaying England in the T20 win in Chittagong last year I was cheering along for the boys in orange (not the boys in solar red), and when Geoffrey Boycott says things like this (which might be the most arrogant, ill-informed and outright offensive quote I've seen in a long, long time)
it's hard not to want one of Scotland, Bangladesh or Afghanistan (if not all of them) to give England a Brendon McCullum style shellacking.

Whether I blog again any time soon remains to be seen (I imagine you're all on edge to read this excellent and well planned standard of writing where I knew exactly where I was going with throughout again) but it certainly is difficult to summon up any kind of emotion about English cricket that isn't just incredible disappointment. English cricket deserves better than those who are running it, just as the sport of cricket worldwide deserves so much better than those who are supposedly acting with the game's best interests at heart. Blogging and public dissent in so many areas can really be a force for change, with governments overthrown, bills passed and laws changed due to an active and growing blogosphere, but the most disappointing and dispiriting thing about world cricket is that no matter how many pieces I or the incredibly talented batch of cricket writers throw at the ICC, there almost certainly won't be any real change. Cricket is clearly heading for a crisis but will anything change at the top? It's almost as likely as me doing another episode of the Short Midwicket Podcast...

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