2016: Well That Was Mediocre

It’s that time of year when newspapers and blogs publish their various reviews of the last twelve months. They all get a bit repetitive after a while so I’m going to try and freshen things up somewhat.

I’m not going to do a chronological report, and go over stuff we’ve done to death in detail a million times already, I’m just going to write a few lasting impressions, and conclude whether (a) it was a good year for the England team, and (b) whether it was a good year for English cricket in general. I’m not going to win any awards for originality but hopefully you’ll get to the end without putting a pistol to your mouth and pulling the trigger.

So let’s crack on with the first part. Overall it has been – spoiler alert! – a very mediocre year for England. Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that. Our results in all formats were as follows:

Tests: Won 6 Lost 8 Drawn 3

ODIs: Won 11 Lost 5 Tied 1

T20s: Won 5 Lost 5

The year started brilliantly with a test series win in South Africa (although the hosts obviously missed Steyn and Philander) but went downhill pretty rapidly thereafter. The only subsequent test series win, during a year in which we played a whopping 17 games, was a predictable 2-0 victory over the cold and miserable Sri Lankans in May / June.

The other summer series was a disappointing 2-2 draw at home against Misbah’s men – press ups and all – which has since been put into context by their recent defeats down under. Obviously, the less said about our performances in Bangladesh and India the better. Dhaka, Mumbai and Chennai were lower than most low-points I can remember. It’s almost like these performances were trying to outdo each other in some kind of limbo tournament.

I suppose the form of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, plus the emergence of Haseeb Hameed, gave us something to smile about in 2016. However, the ineptitude of our selectors, bowling injuries to Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson, plus a succession of catastrophic batting collapses, has left a nasty taste in the mouth. The general theme of the year was therefore teeth gnashing and gratuitous grumpiness.

Moving on to our T20 specialists, the obvious highlight was unexpectedly reaching the final of the World T20 in India. I was pleasantly surprised by our performance over there – which exceeded the performance of the Indian organisers by a country mile. However, although we finished with a won 4 and lost 2 record in the tournament, we only won one more T20 during the rest of the year: we lost to South Africa 0-2 and to Pakistan 0-1. Our overall record was therefore 5-5. You can’t get more mediocre than that.

Our 50 over side, on the other hand, was a shining beacon of hope in an otherwise miserable quagmire of middle-of-the-roadness. To win 11 games was a pretty decent effort considering where we were after the World Cup. The team has more batting depth than it’s ever had – with talented guys like Bairstow, Billings and Duckett waiting in the wings – and the seam bowling also held up better than expected (although I still don’t think it’s particularly great on paper).

Although we’ll learn a bit more about our 50 over specialists in the coming weeks and months the signs are definitely good. We’ve always been able to win games at homes – even going back to the golden age of the Texaco Trophy – but our somewhat unexpected win in Bangladesh, when conditions were pretty slow and spin-friendly, suggests that Trevor Bayliss, Graham Thorpe and Co are taking things forward at last. I imagine we’ll lose 0-3 in India now I’ve said that.

What I really want to get to, however, is the number of off-the-field issues that raised their ugly head in 2016. The first thing that really concerns me is the ECB seem determined to prioritise white ball cricket over red ball cricket. When I first heard that Andrew Strauss wanted to take ODIs and T20s more seriously I thought it was a good thing. After all, we’ve been a complete joke in global tournaments since 1992. However, I didn’t realise that doing so would not only jeopardise our test fortunes but possibly endanger the survival of first-class cricket in England in general.

Just look at the conclusion of the county championship this year. It was an absolute cracker. Who can forget that final day when Yorkshire threw wickets away in a desperate but inevitably ill-fated run chase against Middlesex at Lord’s? However, although the championship finale really captured the imagination of sports fans across the country – apparently BBC statistics showed that the county cricket page was the fourth most visited section on their entire website that day – the ECB seem to have little interest in reinvigorating the competition.

Next year we’ll have a lopsided structure, with a reduced division one and an expanded second tier, and once again the vast majority of matches will be played at times when kids are at school and adults are at work. This isn’t anything new – as counties have put on limited overs games at weekends for ages – but what exactly is the plan for breathing new life into first class cricket? I would say that the marketing of championship games in this country is absolutely pitiful if there actually was any.

The ECB’s only plan, it seems, is for T20 cricket to fill everyone’s coffers. However, while I don’t blame the authorities for exploiting the windfall that is T20 cricket, I feel very uneasy about the way they’re going about it. For starters, what exactly is wrong with the NatWest Blast?

Blast attendances were up again in 2016 – even though the tournament didn’t attract all the world’s greatest stars and wasn’t played in a month-long window. So why, exactly, do we need a city-based (franchise) system played in a short window containing the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and all the other ‘stars’ that play in every other bloody tournament around the world? Honestly these guys are just becoming a circus act in my opinion. Do we actually need them to make cricket watchable? The Blast is already very popular and profitable without being an IPL or Big Bash style event.

Although I’m somewhat open-minded when it comes to franchise cricket – I’m unsure whether it will take off but I’m generally in favour of trying things – I’m very worried about the identity of our smaller counties. What’s more, it seems bizarre that the Blast will run concurrently with the city-based thingy. Talk about a surfeit of T20. Everyone knows we play too much cricket in this country so why do we need even more limited overs matches when – and this is my primary beef – it messes around with the championship?

Did you know that from 2020 there will be no first class cricket played in August? It absolutely beggars belief. How are we going to produce proper test match spinners, and proper test match batsmen, if we don’t play when wickets are traditionally at their driest? I’m all in favour of away teams choosing whether to bat or bowl, but measures like this are tantamount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s the bigger picture that counts.

The current proposals, which clearly reveal the ECB’s priorities, simply have to change. The moneymen might say they’re doing all this to ‘save cricket’ and make the sport sustainable in the modern world, but in my opinion this is an overdramatic and somewhat disingenuous argument.

As I argued in my debate with Tregaskis for Speakers Corner Trust, sports that take a long time still have a place in our sporting culture. The Tour de France takes about three weeks but it has still attracted sizeable TV audiences keen to watch Bradley Wiggins (and to a lesser extent Chris Froome). Meanwhile, NFL is becoming incredibly popular in the UK despite the fact that it’s quite stop-start and can take three and a half fours to finish a match. Some games at Wimbledon can also drag on for hours yet attract record-breaking audiences. People at home simply dip in and out of the action. The result? Andy Murray gets a knighthood while Joe Root remains completely anonymous to anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Sky Sports 2.

Cricket in this country isn’t dying because human beings are now too busy or stupid to comprehend it; it’s dying because it’s been hidden behind a pay wall for a decade. What the ECB are really doing is trying to keep the sport as relevant as possible within the context (or perhaps I should say disadvantage) of flogging the television rights to a relatively niche provider. In other words, they’re fighting with one arm behind their back and trying to solve the problem by tinkering with the one good arm they’re prepared to use. It makes no sense. What the game really needs is a holistic overhaul.

What annoys me most, and I’ll leave you with this thought, is that the ECB seem to have such little faith in the first class game. They seem to think that because kids now have PlayStations and iPads, they’ll have no interest in cricket unless it involves big men with big bats whacking the ball over tiny boundaries.

This assumption seems entirely false to me. When I was a kid I was addicted to my Spectrum 48k computer. Games like Paper Boy, Bomb Jack, Monty Mole and Chucky Egg were my world. Yet I still found time to pop down New Road and watch first class cricket because (a) it was (and still is) a fascinating game, and (b) I wanted to see my heroes like Ian Botham and Graham Dilley in the flesh. And why were they my heroes? Because I’d seem them play for England on BBC2.

Happy New Year!

James Morgan


  • The circus act of the T20 circuit is spot on. The one organisation who don’t have English cricket’s best intentions at heart are the ECB, it appears

  • It was entertaining mediocre which is important, I guess if you reversed the timeline we all be a lot more positive as the two major highlights a Test series win in South Africa and a global white ball final.

    Its been a good year for the First Division of the County Championship as those guys with form have done well like Jennings, Hameed, Woakes while those without Ballance and Vince haven’t.

    I am not two disappointed with the results of the winter more that the number of question marks over the team hasn’t really changed. The selectors may which to look back and decide of all of the stop gap selections were really worth it

    Looking forward to the South Africa series, Their ‘rebuilding phase’ doesn’t seem to have taken very long even without Steyn it a really good bowling attack and the top 6 is strong enough to wonder how ABV will get back in the side

    One other little grip is given the number of slots open in the Test side, I feel the Lions side is a bit young nothing against Tom Alsop but surely Borthwick should be batting at three

  • It’s the paywall that’s killing cricket, due to it’s invisibity. I think cricket got a 30 second slot on SPOTY, a damning indictment of our toxic administrator’s efforts into “growing the game” The popularity of cycling, tennis, athletics, and even the NFL is simply because it is viewed by millions on FTA
    I think there is a begrudging awareness by the suits that some FTA exposure is essential to the game’s survival in this country but I’m not expecting a stampede to reverse things, after all, how could they possibly admit they’ve bollocksed up!
    As an aside, I think an end of year review should also contain a review of the years administrative performance too…why should that lot escape some kind of forensic analysis?

  • Its not been a good year for the ECB, has it?

    I like T20 cricket, I think it involves more skill and nuance than people give it credit for, and if it were shown on FTA tv, it could be England’s version of baseball (which let us remember is absolutely huge across all generations and demographics in the US).

  • Excellent post, James. Right on all points.
    Personally I’m much keener to look forward to 2017. A slow-burner probably, but reaching a climax, so no doubt a different mood 12 months from now. I can’t judge yet if it will be better or worse.
    Internationally, 2016 has been – in my opinion – dire, so maybe cricket should think itself lucky to have got away with a ‘mediocre’ year! Nevertheless, Happy New Year to you, and everyone here.

  • The last day of the county championship was an engineered farce, I don’t understand why people point to it as an example of the “purest form of the game” when at one point it had a couple of openers bowling like club players so that a dreamt up figure of 250 odd could be attained. Did anyone here try explaining the events as they took place that day to someone that doesn’t follow cricket? It was embarrassing

    • Have to say I kind of agree. I’m all for part time bowlers if you need to take wickets (amazing how often they eek out a batter as batters can’t resist ).. that final day went too far as they essentially produced a Sunday friendly game where you ensure it’s a good game .

      Still, got to agree with the rest. Ecb have again been poor and team ecb is no closer to being a good test side than it was 12 months ago. We have lots of players avg’ing 30’s who are lauded as world class etc.

      FTA is essential and nobody who cares about the game can argue with it, only money men. T20 will obviously sadly have to be the one on tv as it’s short but god help the game when it’s just a game of whacking it like baseball. Just look at the types who do well in it to realise it allows low Calibre players a chance a sits just slogging

  • Morgs and Belly on FTA tomorrow morning! It’s even on at an almost reasonable time as the match is from Perth.

    Internationally, the ECB and CA have been driving for a reduction in the amount of Test cricket played. The innocuous-sounding conference system they’ve been proposing is a Trojan Horse to slash the amount of Test cricket played.

  • The results of Pakistan, SL and Bangladesh over the last few days should give pause for thought about assessing England’s performances in 2016.

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