Cowards

What a disappointing end to what could’ve been a terrific Test match. New Zealand’s declaration was typically sporting and yet England showed absolutely no interest in going for the runs and entertaining the public. It left David Lloyd lamenting “one of the worst Test matches I’ve ever seen” whilst somewhat predictably bigging up The Hundred. It was therefore a dark day for those who love Test cricket.

Why were England so negative? It’s partly because very few teams (whoever they are) show much adventure in these circumstances. Having said that, Dom Sibley’s 60 off 207 balls took passivity to extremes. I don’t want to have a go at Sibley, because it’s great to have a player like that in the side. However, once the game was effectively safe then he should have moved up a gear or two. The pitch was pretty good and the opportunity was there.

In the end I turned over to the England football friendly. Jack Grealish brought me more joy in 45 mins that England’s batsmen did in 70 overs. You know something’s wrong when a meaningless football friendly is more entertaining than what should’ve been a live Test match.

We shouldn’t forget at this point that the ECB are amongst those advocating 4-day Test cricket. I’ll never understand their argument. Taking time out of the game will not encourage positive play. It’s most likely to result in more snooze-fests. This game might have turned into a classic had the weather not wiped out Friday’s play. Instead the shortened timeframe gave England’s negative batsmen an easy way out. Confidence levels must be very low indeed.

So what were the positives from this game? I’ll give you two. The first was Rory Burns, who batted superbly for his century in the first innings. Some people had started to question his place. I never bought into that. Burns has proven himself to be a gutsy opener in home conditions. He’s a decent Test opener who should do well everywhere except the subcontinent where his frailties against spin will be exposed.

The other positive was a certain Ollie Robinson. What a debut. Unlike other bowlers who’ve performed well on debut like Toby Roland Jones, I actually think that Robinson has a big future. He’s deadly accurate and shows plenty of aggression too. I think he looks more than a ‘home conditions’ stopgap. He looks like the natural replacement for Stuart Broad in my humble opinion.

The only problem, of course, is that his short-term future has now been derailed by something that happened well in the past. No sooner had stumps been called than the ECB suspended him from all international cricket for his racist and misogynistic tweets back in 2012. Well, you didn’t think the ECB would miss a golden opportunity to signal their inherent virtue to the world, did you?

Now don’t get me wrong. I can understand the ECB’s dilemma here. Cricket clearly has a problem when it comes to race. It’s a serious issue. And it needs to be addressed. Black cricketers, for example, are clearly underrepresented in the county ranks. Umpires John Holder and Ismail Dawood are currently embroiled in a dispute with the ECB and remain convinced that the organisation is “institutionally racist”. I strongly suggest that you look into this one. Meanwhile, we all know about Azeem Rafiq’s experiences at Yorkshire.

Given the current climate, and the existing allegations against them, I would expect the ECB to come down on Robinson like a ton of bricks. It would make their anti-discrimination campaign look extremely hollow indeed if they brushed this one under the carpet. However, it all stinks of buckpassing to me. What about admitting their own role in this damaging episode for cricket’s reputation?

I’m still incredulous that a cricketer was able to make his Test debut when racist and misogynistic Tweets attached to him (no matter how long ago they were written) were out in the ether. Why on earth didn’t they do their due diligence? Businesses everywhere make sure that their new hires are clean of controversy, especially when they’re assuming roles in the public eye or roles of responsibility. I find it absolutely extraordinary that the ECB hasn’t been taking the same steps. Social media is a fact of life. It’s been with us for a decade. And yet the ECB still didn’t see something like this coming?!

My reading of the situation is this: the ECB have dropped the ball yet again and now they’re making an example of Robinson in a desperate attempt to (a) make them look tough on racism, and (b) deflect attention away from the fact that they’ve screwed up massively by letting Robinson play for England when Tweets like this were out there in the first place. It’s so reactionary.

Given the ECB’s reputation for inertia, and English cricket’s current problems regarding racism, one could argue that the ECB had no choice but to suspend Robinson. However, this doesn’t change the fact that all this should’ve been dealt with long ago. The player has been on England’s radar for a quite while. And his struggles to keep his nose clean earlier in his career weren’t exactly a secret. The warning signs were there.

I would’ve preferred the board to conduct its due diligence, identify a potential problem, delete the tweets – as all offensive materials should be routinely removed from Twitter anyway (it serves no purpose to leave them there in perpetuity) – and then either discipline the player publicly or privately. In other words, the ECB should’ve been proactive, avoided the media storm, and educated the player long ago so things would’ve played out very differently.

What’s more, banning Robinson now, almost a decade after the event, seems harsh to me. Is it really fair to make an example of someone in these specific circumstances? He was obviously an extremely ignorant teenager – those tweets were awful – but is he the same person now? One would hope not.

What concerns me is that Robinson could end up paying a disproportionately high penalty simply because of the board’s own failings. This would not be fair. And it wouldn’t be justice either. Why should an individual suffer a higher penalty than he might otherwise have received due to a broader context that isn’t of his making – especially when this context was largely created by the very people now punishing him?

We’ll have to wait and see what the sanction ultimately is. However, as I said above, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ECB overreact by issuing a punishment that says more about the mess they’re in as an organisation re: racism than Robison as an individual.

James Morgan

34 comments

  • England’s total failure to even contemplate the run chase was very disappointing. They were batting as if they needed to bat two days to save the Test, not two sessions. That’s not to say England should have been reckless, but what about looking for singles and running the first run quickly etc.? England sent out a clear message of timidity, which will have been noted by other teams.

    The day reminded me of England’s second test against Pakistan at Old Trafford 2001. England needed about 300 to win on the last day and at lunch, were on track to give it a go. Between lunch and tea, everything ground to a halt as England were 1-0 up in a two match series. England then lost nine wickets in the last session and the match was gone. At least England didn’t lose yesterday, but they hardly laid down a marker.

    Regarding the tweets, even if they had been deleted, they could still have been mined. The apology that was delivered was an ECB prepared statement rather than a direct apology from Ollie Robinson. A far more appropriate punishment would be for Robinson to go to schools and read out those tweets to generate debate amongst younger people.

    The England players wore t-shirts saying “cricket is for everyone” while facing the MCC members – who kept women out for years – leaving those in the public stands to see the back of their heads.

    Meanwhile, on Saturday I heard an MCC member ‘jokily’ refer to a steward as “patrolling like an Auschwitz guard.”

    • Also, let’s not forget Darren Lehmann made a racist comment in an international match in his early 30s and was then made Australia’s national coach 10 years later.

  • Meanwhile, while the ECB were pontificating with priggish self-righteousness, and England (on the field) were shrinking from their own shadows, over at sunny Headingley Yorkshire and Sussex were producing a game of magnificent drama and precocious skill.

    Here is the future. Fast bowler Jamie Atkins, a giant Bob Willis lookalike, five wickets on a day of broiling sun. Off-spinner Jack Carson, superb; looks a decent bat, too. Wicket-keeper Harry Duke, also an excellent bat, looks the real deal both sides of the stumps. Two Sussex batsmen making fifties on debut. Ali Orr and Dan Ibrahim. Ibrahim is only 16, looks born to bat, and can also bowl quickly enough, even now.

    Just some of the kids on display, but the final act involved two old-stagers, the captains, as Patterson bowled Brown to bring Yorkshire victory in the nick of time, at the end of a day of twists and turns.

    And now cricket is suspended for a month. What a shame. I’ll have to watch craven England, I suppose. On the box. I mean you wouldn’t actually pay to watch them, would you?

  • I agree that England’s approach was a disgrace – with paying fans in the house who had already been cheated out of legitimate overs on earlier days are then short changed by Root when, as Kane Williamson had signalled, this was the moment to excite cricket fans after so much COVID disruption. It also massively worked against the ECB main policy of engaging fans – like you I turned over and watched some golf which is exactly what the ECB don’t want – crazy!

    I also agree about Ollie Robinson – stupid tweets for which he had to apologise. As an organisation, the ECB does have a problem with equality and racism and it knows it – you only have to look at the members sitting in the pavilion to see that. I think they were embarrassed by their own incompetence in not checking Robinson’s digital past and have scapegoated him.

    The ECB are arrogant and will never ever admit they are wrong – small people running it I am afraid. Isn’t it Ashley Giles job to really “know” the players that are being selected to play for England – he needs to be reprimanded for not doing his job (it isn’t all about sitting in the ECB hospitality box at Test Matches!)

  • About time someone reminded Joe Root and the England camp that they’re in the entertainment industry. Would it really have mattered if they’d lost yesterday? I’d argue that it would have been far better for English cricket if they’d lost by 30 runs with 5 overs left but the paying public were left with a feeling that they’d like to come again. In the era of 20-20, it was pathetic. The cynic in me wonders whether they were operating under express instruction from their paymasters to make Test cricket appear to be the most appalling spectacle imaginable!

    • Turned up yesterday morning expecting a draw. Was then very excited after lunch, hoping Sibley would bat like Tavaré the one day player and not Tavaré the test cricketer.

      Instead, we got the advert for The Hundred that the ECB has always wanted.

  • So let me get this straight: The ECB have a problem with racist and sexist comments? Yet, failed to NOT appoint Andrew Strauss, after using sexist language on air, when referring to a (former) teammate? Yeah, that is credible. Extremely credible.

    As for the Test, I’d actually argue that it was sensible batting for the most part by England in the second dig. New Zealand are good enough to run through a side if the other side obliges (Pakistan losing 9 wickets in the last session of a Test against them, when they were trying to chase the target ring a bell?) with loose strokeplay.

  • An ambiguous article, I’m not sure what the point is. Surely the Culture Minister has got it right. Robinson was a young prat sho has grown up and apologized. The EWCB has a hapless record on race, and should not use Robinson as a scapegoat.

      • James, you opined: “Why on earth didn’t they do their due diligence? Businesses everywhere make sure that their new hires are clean of controversy, especially when they’re assuming roles in the public eye or roles of responsibility.” Would seem obvious wouldn’t it?

        Just check out the current controversy in the news at Google over Kamau Bobb, its head of diversity, who wrote an anti-Zionist blog about Palestine eight years ago which has now been labelled anti-semitic. They clearly didn’t do their homework as you asssumed!

  • As Root pointed out the conditions, with the swing and variable bounce, that were still in evidence into the last session made forcing runs difficult. This is test cricket on day 5, where a draw for our beleaguered batting line up against such a threatening bowling attack under theses conditions is no mean feat. Who made runs of real consequence in this match, Conway and Burns, and how did they make them, by grinding them out. Quick 20’s and 30’s were never going to win this one, especially when so many of our top 6 are still clearly short on form, the lack of foot movement being a key indicator here. If we had Stokes, Buttler and Bairstow in the line up I’m sure we would have had a go but we didn’t. This was the sort of wicket where we could have easily thrown the match away by chancing our arm and suddenly finding ourselves 5or6 down with no batting to come. In any test series ask any captain and they will say the most important thing is not to lose the 1st. Try telling any of the combatants in this test it’s not a proper test match because it doesn’t count for ranking points. I don’t believe this will ever have an effect on the way teams perform in the moment. The only 1st choice test players missing from this match were Boult and Stokes. This was real test cricket.
    Forget Bumble’s comments, he’s not balled Bumlevfor nothing, as he’s a reactor, eager to be one of the people. Even Vaughan calmed down later after initially castergating England’s negativity, pointing out that Root hadn’t any reliable batting to call on.
    As to comparing Grealish to England, irrelevant as Grealish only knows one way to play and picking on footie matches generally far more dire as a whole than this test ever was is clearly not a sensible analogy.
    As to Robinson, he clearly has a future if he can keep that intensity up, even with the ‘Woke’ brigade on his heels. Even the BBC ended up putting his cricket in this match above his ancient tweets.

    • I think it was the lack of intent, urgency and ambition that really got on everyone’s nerves. They didn’t need a Stokes/Buttler/Bairstow slog session. They were set 273 off 75, about 3.6 an over. This was a very generous declaration – England normally set sides a minimum of 4 an over before declaring. Even at snail’s pace they were only a hundred short, with 5 overs unbowled. They only needed to be going at 1 more run per over to put the Kiwis under pressure. If they’d made 150 off 50 – 3 an over, which should have been achievable with little additional risk – then they’d have needed 120-odd off 25. That would have forced more defensive fields and put pressure on the bowlers that could have led to more loose balls. The fact they seemed to not even try was a pretty poor show. Entertainment is important if you’re charging people top dollar to attend. Test cricket simply won’t survive if teams start treating draws as a form of success, 1980s style.

      • And yet when New Zealand batted to set up the declaration, they only managed to get to 157/5 in 50 overs. Yeah, it would have been really easy to get 150 of 50 …

        • I didn’t say it would be really easy. I said they should have displayed a little more intent and taken a little bit more risk, trying to squeeze out an extra run an over.

    • It’s very relevant to point out that people would’ve enjoyed watching other sports more than the cricket yesterday. And if Grealish is a one trick pony then it’s a bloody good trick!

      • Didn’t say he was a 1 trick pony, I said he only knows one way to play. That’s totally different. He’s a naturally attacking player in a game that doesn’t have to adapt itself to different formats.
        England cricket selectors have picked more temperamentally sedate players in order to try and avoid collapses. So far this season after a teaumatic winter they have made 275, 170-3 and 257-7 in largely bowler friendly conditions against a decent attack. We should be looking at this as progress, not pandering to white ball entertainment. Test cricket is about series over individual games and with our fragile batting and long tail would you risk defeat and impossibility of winning that series for intent of a dubious winning total on a pitch where you’re never in because of day 5 variable bounce and cloud cover, where quick 20’s and 30’s aren’t going to win it for you. Maybe you could have promoted Pope to have go in the afternoon, but who else is there in sufficient form to ride their luck?
        I’m surprised at you James. This is what makes test cricket different. It’s not there to satisfy the beer snake and fancy dress brigade, who bring their own boorish entertainment with them. The only saving grace so far this season in there’s no Mexican Wave, YET! Couldn’t believe Sir Cook talking about the crowds home entertainment so gushingly.
        Have you ever tried to watch test cricket in the Hollies stand. Impossible!

    • Not helped by the fact that it’s a two Test “series” (sic). If England had lost that session the best they could then do was to draw the “series”.

  • The problem is that the majority of these anti discrimination campaigns, Unity displays, taking the knee etc. is that they are done chiefly because it’s seen “to be the right thing to do” by the appropriate organisation. It actually rings pretty hollow to me, and I believe just makes the matters worse by constantly winding up the wrong people even more. I note they boo “the knee” at football now for example. And I disagree that the ECB had to come down hard on a guy who made the remarks almost 9 years ago. Jesus Christ if we’d have had social media in the 1960s we’d all be serving life sentences. But I do agree the ECB is trying to save it’s arse, especially now that the Culture Secretary has come down on them. A shame the Government does not have the power to dismantle it.
    As for the cricket well James has said it all, it was shameful. They couldn’t even be bothered to make an effort, and that corpse Sibley is going to blown away in Australia, as most of the rest of this poor side.

  • You can’t compare a cricket pitch with a football ground unless the latter is so covered in ruts the ball is bouncing in strange ways.

    The pitch on day 5 was fairly treacherous according to reports, which makes a change at Lord’s. Usually the pitches get flatter and flatter. New Zealand’s declaration made sense if they thought they could fire England out. So was it cowardice – a strange word to use in cricket – for England to play for a draw? Goodness me we need the rush do we? Everything else is staid but attacking the ball? The Hundred-speak is in the system.

    As for Robinson we have the PM now opining that it is too harsh to suspend him for racist comments of a few years ago. The PM guilty of the same charge of course. The PM has never supported anti racist movements although he has dismissed his younger self’s jibes. Racism is a serious problem and there is zero tolerance of it in sport and world sport. Since the days of apartheid sporting excellence is based on elimination of racial slurs. The fact that there is a trace of this still from football fans booing England for taking the knee and cricket teams less than friendly to the idea of inclusivity is a disgrace to the sentiment of fairness in sport. Let’s not accept weasel words excusing this as a right to protest. Why not a right to burgle? Racism is against the law. Paying lip service to it isn’t acceptable. It’s an evil which has tormented the world. Just have the imagination to put yourself into the mind of others who are being taunted. As for being a teenager I thought 18 was now the age of responsibility. (It used to be 21).

    The suspension will help Robinson to see that society has moved on. As a cricketer he will meet on the playing field all races as equals. Sport leads the way. The standards have to be high.

    • And yet Overton is to represent England (AGAIN), Jackie. This after using a racist language in an actual cricket match. A bit more serious than tweeting racist nonsense when it is not happening on the cricketing field. In fact Overton is still convinced he did nothing wrong. Yeah, so it is a great idea to let an unrepentant racist represent England, rather than Robinson. That will teach racists!

      Then again, as I pointed out earlier, it was okay for Andrew Strauss to use sexist language on Sky (so unlike the Tweets, everybody who was tuned in actually heard that; no digging required), AND subsequently be rewarded with a high profile job at the ECB. Oh and Mike Selvey deemed that one of the cricketing highlights of the year.

      Oh, and half a dozen Black / coloured / women players have come out in the last few years with regards to racist and / or sexist abuse that they have suffered, and that includes several players who represented England. NOTHING, is being done about that, with Yorkshire CCC and the various other cricketing clubs where these incidents took place, just silently praying that it goes away.

      Sorry if I don’t have an ounce of confidence in the ECB on these issues.

  • It was a poor game – but mainly as a consequence of a poor pitch (will Lord’s suffer in any way? no). poor overrates (not expecting any punishment here either), both sides but especially England missing crucial players (mount a heroic run chase with your fastest scorers and most established players out? really?) and the weather.

    Something could be done about the first three but there’s no will to do so; the changes both boards want to introduce would make the last factor worse. BTW by a poor pitch I mean the lack of pace and occasional inconsistent bounce – not that I want some green top where everyone’s out for 150 and Sky pretend that’s exciting.

    The picture that the ECB are lining up their foot in their gunsights to pick Overton to replace Robinson is some consolation.

  • James I agree with you that Robinson looks like a natural succcessor to Broad, but what has gone wrong with Broad ?. To me, although maybe he hasn’t looked quite as fired up as he has in the past, he doesn’t seem to me to bowling badly, but the wickets aren’t coming for him. It’s not as if he’s had a disproportionate number of dropped catches or bad decisions, and none of the analysts and commentators seem to have suggested anything – he’s just not getting the wickets. I would be interested in anyone’s views on this.

  • Robinsons main fault seems to have been he made a joke that religious people might consider blasphemous. The suggestion that no jokes should be made about something as nonsensical as religion is ludicrous. Are richard dawkins and christopher hitchens now to be cancelled because they are atheists?

    He also made a joke about women playing video games. I remember frankie Boyle insulting Rebecca Adlington by saying she was only any good at swimming because she looked like a dolphin. Jimmy carr is another who has made his career out of risque jokes and being offensive. Both these comedians still appear on the state funded bbc. Is it any surprise that a teenager, probably not particularly well educated, did not see any problem with aping jokes made on the bbc?

    • Robin, you miss the point. Full disclosure – I am a Christian Minister (Church of Scotland). Anyone who knows me knows that I make plenty of jokes about my own religion – as do many of my colleagues. But that is a world away from the ‘bomb’ reference in Robinson’s tweet, which appears to trivialise, in quite an offensive way, the issues of religious extremism and concomitant impact on others. You can make fun of my religion as much as you want – I’m well used to it and wouldn’t be much good at my job if I couldn’t deal with it – but Robinson crossed a line, and crossed it massively. Oh, and I have enjoyed reading Dawkins et al – life would be very boring if we only read opinions we agree with…….

      • I agree Barry. I thought the joke about ‘the bomb’ was in terrible taste. To be honest though, the one I found most offensive was the joke about Gary Speed and Madeline McCann. Joking about suicide and the disappearance of a little girl was beyond the pale.

  • I was very disappointed in England’s unwillingness to go for the win yesterday. It is worth remembering that it is only a few months since Joe Root was smashing the Sri Lankans and to start with the Indian attacks to all parts and look how Rory Burns batted after he got his 100 in the first innings. It showed they could have at least tried and if they lost a few wickets, they could shut up shop. Very disappointing and gutless.

  • No I don’t miss the point. When satirical images about Islam were published in 2015, world leaders then marched to demonstrate their entitlement to free speech. What about The Dictator which derived humour from depicting extremists blowing themselves up? Are you now saying that Sacha baron Cohen should be banned for making similar jokes and deriving humour? At least be consistent.

    Oh and what about life of Brian. People 40 years ago tried to blockade cinemas and have it banned. I would have hoped we would have become a more liberal society in that time but we have become a far more censorious one. When people in this country support ending someone’s career due to blasphemy committed nine years ago despite the cultural milieu of the time clearly showing people in the public eye made jokes of this nature I really do despair. If someone makes a joke about witchcraft can the wickhamists now get him or her sacked as well? I think we should be told.

    • Hi Robin, again you aren’t comparing like with like. Life of Brian didn’t, and doesn’t, bother me as a Christian at all. It’s funny and I, and many of my fellow Christians, have watched it many times. It’s not even close to the “bomb” tweet, which goes a lot further than just mocking a religion. As James says above, Robinson is not guilty of ‘blasphemy’ but of outright offensiveness, especially with the Speed / McCann tweet. It’s nothing to do with offending a religion – we are an awful lot more tolerant of that than you seem to think we are!

  • Well they’ve really opened up a can of worms here and are going to have trouble closing the lid. Now Anderson, Morgan and Butler are involved as well as another as yet unnamed.
    Overton I presume was investigated by the ECB, and presumably found not guilty? I fail to see why people feel he shouldn’t play. What about Stokes. Many feel he put the boot in and got away with it, but he wasn’t found guilty either. You know this is a very dangerous slippery slope here, and we’ll be struggling to find a team for Thursday at this rate.
    Call it woke or PC, but if some are advocating ruining people’s careers over comments made 10 years ago deemed “offensive” or “racist” (a word used far to liberally to justify almost any cricticism these days) the God help us.

  • On the evidence of the second Test, this must be classified as a heroic effort to avoid a whitewash.

    Utterly shambolic.

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