Cricketers Have Brains Too You Know

There hasn’t been much to talk about recently – well, nothing we haven’t done to death in the past. The ECB have postponed The Hundred until next season. What other choice was there? And Colin Graves will stand down at the end of August. He will not be missed.

It will be interesting to see if Graves lands the ICC job he’s been targeting. Once upon a time another hugely controversial ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, looked to set to become ICC chairman. But support for him ultimately ebbed away and his ambitions were scuppered. The poor dear. Perhaps the same will happen to Graves?

Meanwhile, Ian Watmore has been confirmed as the new ECB chairman after the investigation into his conduct at the EFL. This was somewhat surprising but what do I know? Sadly I’m no football aficionado. All I can say is that the first meeting between Watmore and the ECB’s strategic broadcasting partner will be slightly awks.

Watmore’s first job – and the first test of his priorities – will be to put Tom Harrison back in his box. Did you see the CEO’s comments insisting that The Hundred remains crucial to English cricket’s future last week? I really wonder what planet Harrison is on sometimes. I know that The Hundred his very much his baby, his legacy, and his raison d’etre, but suggesting we need a competition that’s set to lose money in its first five years after the coronavirus crisis is beyond nuts.

When the pursestrings are tightened in 2021, the Hundred should be the first luxury that’s sacrificed. If one (or more) counties are allowed to go to wall, but the loss-making Hundred goes ahead at great expense, it will be a very bad look indeed. And imagine the subsequent uproar if – and there must be a decent chance this happens – the competition flops horribly. Harrison and Co will be about as popular as a fart during a minute’s silence.

I wonder what the players make of the above developments? Although they’re media trained to within an inch of their lives these days, it’s worth remembering that cricketers have brains too. They play along in public – as it’s sensible to do so – but they’re far more than ECB stooges behind closed doors. They’ll naturally have their own opinions about their employers, not to mention their own concerns and priorities regarding the game in general.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when Black Opal invited me to take part in a webcast with Jason Roy, Zak Crawley, David Gower, and Gladstone Small. We were able to watch the private webcast live and submit questions as the discussion went along. Although my question asking whether The Hundred should be permanently shelved wasn’t chosen for debate – I knew the players wouldn’t touch this with a bargepole but I was hopeful that Gower might say something interesting – it was still an interesting discussion overall.

The bit that really piqued by interest was Jason Roy’s views on his Test career to date. When he was picked to open in the Ashes last summer it divided opinion. Ed Smith, Michael Vaughan, and a few others thought it was a great idea. Everyone else was left scratching their head.

It was always going to be a tall order for Roy to succeed against Cummins, Hazlewood and Co, and the odds of success were obviously slim. Personally I thought it might be worth a shot in the absence of any decent alternatives but the idea didn’t sit well with me at all.

Having listened to Jason in the webcast last week it’s pretty apparent that he had his doubts from the start too. He was willing to give it a go, and he evidently did his best, but reading between the lines he never wanted to be a Test opener, didn’t think he was suited to opening, and he certainly never wants to open again.

In fact, when asked whether he still wants to play Test cricket, Roy answered in the affirmative and seemed quite enthused about the idea – as long as it was in the middle order where he belongs.

I found Roy’s comments interesting because at the time I assumed he was well up for the challenge. The prevailing impression was of a confident young man who couldn’t wait to get stuck in, replicate his white ball form, and smash the new ball around.

It turns out that his state of mind was somewhat different. Rather he knew it would be bloody tough, expected it to be bloody tough, and after a few balls whistled pass his outside edge his suspicions were confirmed. In other words, he doubted the experiment would work either. And as we all know, if a batsman isn’t confident in the role he’s asked to perform then it’s highly unlikely to bear fruit.

This revelation got me thinking. Us supporters tend to assume that the players are usually onboard with the selectors and management. This is because they always present a united front in public. However, the reality must be different. And one wonders how much divergence there is.

If you cast your mind back to 2018 and 2019 the big debate surrounding Ed Smith’s tenure was his penchant for converting (or rather trying to convert) effective white ball players into Test cricketers. Smith’s perspective was simple (a bit too simple if you ask me): white ball players could hack it in Test cricket because they’d already shown an ability to express their natural talent in front of big crowds at the IPL etc.

Whereas many journalists hailed Smith as some sort of fresh-thinking genius at the time, we portrayed him as a madcap contrarian whose philosophy simply wouldn’t work. After all, the history of the game has shown time and again that Test cricket is a format where specialists with good techniques and a particular mindset tend to thrive.

I think most of us assumed (at the time) that England’s leading players were down with Smith’s formula. However, I’m not so sure now. After all, if us supporters can see when a chairman of selectors is going dangerously off piste then why wouldn’t the players? After all, they’re at the coalface day in and day out. They experience the madness first hand. And if a white ball specialist like Roy doubted whether his cricketing skills were transferrable, then one can imagine what the rest of the professional game thought.

Consequently, it’s important to remember that we must always try to separate the persona players project in front of camera from their private personalities. It’s also important to keep reading between the lines. When I read this interview with Roy ahead of The Ashes, he seemed very comfortable with the role he’d been asked to perform. But knowing what I do now (with the benefit of hindsight) it’s possible to identify seeds of doubt.

So the next time England’s selectors, the team management, or even the captain, make a controversial decision, remember that we’re probably not the only ones swearing at the telly. When Ollie Pope was asked to keep wicket in New Zealand, for example, he said the following:

I’ve seen a lot of talk on social media the last few days, but I’m a keeper, I’ve kept since I was eight years old. Since I’ve become a professional it’s obviously just been limited, the amount I’ve done it, with Foakesy being at Surrey, but it’s something I’ve had on my radar since the moment I got told I was coming on this tour

At the moment my focus in on my batting going forward, we’ve got Foakesy at Surrey, so the amount of game time I get I don’t know. But I’m going to keep going as much as I can, if I’m not getting the game time hopefully the training will look after itself and then if I do get a go in the games whenever it does happen hopefully I can do a good job.”

It was a bit of a surprise but I always had it on my radar that something like this could happen so yeah, I was prepared for it. I like keeping, I still see myself as a keeper. Obviously I haven’t done a massive amount … but it’s still something in my game I want to keep going so I’m excited and ready to go.

Translation: HELP! I haven’t kept for donkeys’ years. I’m beyond rusty. I’d better get on the phone to Foakesy (the bloke who should be keeping wicket) for some advice. I won’t keep wicket in another first class game for the foreseeable future after this so I’ve just got to get through this cluster***k the best I can. Then they might let me concentrate on my batting.

Oh, and the next time England pick five seamers, remember that the senior bowlers probably aren’t happy either. If 99% of the supporters think it’s ridiculous, you can bet your bottom dollar that the players think Root and Silverwood are mad too.

Not that you’ll read about it in the newspapers or on social media.

James Morgan


  • On the Hundred: It will be interesting to see how the ECB try to square prioritising a 5 year loss making competition in the context of the financial crisis across cricket – but they will try! Unfortunately the only way is to starve other key areas (recreational cricket!) of sufficient funding. It has become Harrison’s vanity project – personally don’t believe he is ‘fit for purpose’ any longer. The ECB remind me of the Labour Party – just talking to themselves rather than to cricket supporters – it will prove to be their downfall.

    On Communications: they don’t care what Cricket supporters feel or want or accept that some have considerable knowledge of the game.

    On Selection; I like Jason Roy but never thought he could make it as a Test opener – his footwork was the worst I have seen – ever. I love Jos Buttler as a cricketer but he is still struggling to make a case for being England’s wkt/batsman. Ed Smith is a highly intellectual guy who wants to be appear funky rather than work with the facts. I know people diss statistics but throughout time the technically and mentally best players have scored the most runs and taken the most wickets – this won’t change.

    • Strange. The ECB has always reminded me of the Tory Party! Populist at any price and obsessed with money before everything else. How else explain The Hundred? It reflects the outgoing chairman as much as Harrison who is basically a company PR man. Graves treated his term as chairman like a branch of his former empire Costcutter Inc. Quality not an issue. Test cricket – boring. A cheap version of cricket? Just sell it. The selling became more and more the package rather than the contents.

    • Anyone with half a cricket brain knows that Roy and Buttler were never going to make serious Test Cricketers (or even red ball cricketers in general).. tHey simply do not posses the skill or mentality. They are ball strikers supreme but ball striking isn’t a skill required in long format cricket.

      Shame that the amateur game has decided to kill off long format cricket in favour of bish bash bosh… Numbers are down so it’s not exactly working either.. which is usually people’s arguments for it being bish bash bosh.

      Bairstow is another who did have a purple patch but it was just that.. flatter to deceive.

      On the 100.. The ECB won’t quit, they’ve invested their lot ini it now.. as have the counties and media.. It IWLL BE hailed a success, no doubt about it.. When the counties, players and media say it is often enough people will be bar bar sheep and then say ‘hey, look how great It is’.. hell, happens with the IPL now… low quality competition now but people believe the media hype and claim it’s some great comp.. harry Gurney anyone….

  • It shows that the selectors are still trying to cut corners by incorporating less than top notch skill sets and passing it off as versatility. Problem is there is no evidence it wins games for you.
    I don’t think we’ll ever be privvy to what players really think till well after the event, maybe till their biographies, as you don’t refuse any offer made to you that potentially moves you up the career ladder. Roy is a perfect example of that. Wonder how honest his biography will be.

    • Your comment reminds me of how much I”m looking forward to Harry Gurney’s autobiography, if he writes one. Might not agree with much of it but I doubt it will be anything other than honest.

    • The fact players, coaches etc aren’t free to speak the truth says more about today’s society than anything.. and yet, we have more media reporting claiming to be telling it how it is, the real story etc etc.. just shows we can’t believe any player, coach, administrator or media outlet to actually be telling us the truth.. just a distorted truth

    • Perhaps not entirely true if you believe Pietersen’s allegation that there were players who did not want to be selected for England because of the behaviour of the appalling Prior clique. That would seem to be a clear example of not being prepared to put up with anything for career progression.

      • Speaking of the Pietersen saga, am I the only person getting increasingly irritated with Morgan’s pronouncements about Alex Hales?

        There seems to be a lot in common here. “Breakdown of trust”. “Don’t know how long it will take to regain that trust” [read: maybe it will never be regained], but “the door is still open” [really?]

        Most obviously, “what happened was harmful to our environment”…without specifying what caused the harm.

        So, what exactly did happen? Hales failed a drugs test, twice, apparently because he was using recreational (not performance-enhancing) drugs. He kept quiet about it, twice, as the ECB’s drugs policy certainly allowed, and arguably encouraged, him to. That meant that the England hierarchy only found out that he would be unavailable for the start of the international season after they’d selected him for it…which must have been pretty irritating, but it’s a natural result of the privacy clauses of the drugs policy.

        He’d apparently not long before had an affair on tour just before his girlfriend turned up–which isn’t particularly good behaviour, but it’s his own business. (Interesting too that he still has a contract with Notts, where one of his teammates is apparently the partner of said–now ex–girlfriend’s sister).

        I can understand that some people in the set-up–maybe even a lot–think that he’s a bit of a knobhead. I don’t object to them kicking him out of the WC team (he was, after all, under a suspended ban for acting very poorly in the Stokes incident–and he was probably extraordinarily lucky not to have been charged in relation to that, particularly since the evidence suggested he lied to the police).

        But this kind of indefinite suspension; the abstract moralistic reasoning and convenient ignoring of what actually happened and its context; the public shaming; the coming down on someone who appears to have behaved much worse on a previous occasion–doesn’t sit well with me, and I feel I’ve seen it before.

  • Interesting. Selection will become more important rather than less important as well – there’ll be less money around to fly someone out at the last minute if there is a mistake with the original squad which has to be fixed.

  • Roy opened for Surrey a few times in red ball at the start of his career, didn’t work then and never will. Wrong style, wrong technique, wrong mindset.
    I heard that Sky wanted it’s money back for the 100. Doesn’t look like to me it’s ever going to see the light of day, particularly if the new ECB Chair dumps Harrison, as he should. If it does go ahead it won’t save cricket, it’ll be a financial disaster for the game, especially with the aftermath of the virus.

    • It’s also worth mentioning that Roy said he won’t be changing his technique. I perhaps should have included this in the article.

      • aahhh.. another Balance…. shame he never could even score what Balance managed… He can biff a ball though and sadly that means all the social cricketers love him..

  • I’m sure James is right about the private thoughts of cricketers. I don’t like the way they are always fed answers by the media. Why not just ask a few questions? As for Smith as head of selection. He is too arrogant and likes to play Fate if not God. How otherwise explain the late international career of Denly? His one time mate. He’s a decent enough good County cricketer. But the nepotism is embarrassing. Cricket suffers from certain counties dominating selection. Not helped by a similar hierarchy in personnel.

    • hold on..

      THe selection of Curran??
      The selection of Buttler??
      The selection of Bairstow??
      The selection of Denly??
      The selection of Roy
      Potentially pushing Stokes/Root up the order??
      Continuation of Moeen Ali and even now, the potential recall….

      Many many many things that he’s got and will get wrong.. sadly, most of the above have many social cricketers claiming these guys are some sort of great player when actually.. all white ball or simply nowhere near good enough and shouldn’t be near the England TEST team.. Don’t care about white ball.. that’s just for power biffing and as we can see with the amount of good players around.. it takes less skill to biff than it odes to play red ball cricket..

      • Is there anyone you don’t consider to be a one-day biffer, ccc?!

        Seriously…it’s very easy (and actually, very “social cricketer”) to say that everyone’s the wrong selection. But who precisely would you have selected in the exact situations that these players were selected? Curran in May 2018, Ali for the SL tour, Denly in the WI when Jennings had been dropped (and presumably you don’t think Bairstow was the answer), etc?

        • Denly is no Bairstow/Roy/hales up the top of the order … sure he isn’t good enough but he’s no hitter.

          Curran – if he’s the best paceman after broad/Anderson/Woakes then we have problems (his batting is biffing, he’s not an actual batter like Woakes)

          Ali – pick leech or Bess like they finally have… at least they are actual spinners rather than not. Batsmen but also not a bowler ..

          The likes of a Roy and Hales were never going to work and once Bairstow decided to become a one day player his time was up (and he’s never been anything top order )..

          Stokes has improved but again, he’s never going to be anything but a middle order player so why pretend otherwise

          Root isn’t a top 3 bat yet people pretend he is ..

          Buttler was maybe worth a shot as wk but then foakes is way way ahead so buttler and Bairstow shouodnt even be spoken about ..


          All players who should have bene given the gigs and time to develop ahead of Bairstow, buttler, Roy, hales , ali, Curran Etc Etc

    • TBF; I can see more logic to trying Denly than some of the others. England have had a top 3 problem for several years and Denly seems a better call than the likes of Keaton Jennings, Adam Lyth, Tom Westley and, yes, Jason Roy and James Vince.

  • Re the 16.66: if Harrison dumps the idea he’s admitting he’s burnt a load of money and effort on a, to borrow a phrase, hare-brained project; if he carries on with it and it flops, he blames it on the virus and the naysayers. Which seems more likely?

    It seems like things are shaping up for England to play SL in January as a warm-up for the Indian tour pushed back a month to fit in the IPL. This will create an interesting conflict for the ECB – do they, for example, force Buttler to go around SL as reserve keeper while telling him he can’t play in the IPL? Do they let players go to the IPL and try to sell it as better preparation for a Test tour of India than playing SL? This is all assuming “the virus” doesn’t reappear in the autumn as “viruses” are wont to do.

    As for this summer, it’s felt like they’re prepping us for no domestic cricket at all. Closed doors’ Tests starting in July seems to be where things are going, all played at OT and the Bransgrove Arena.

    • It’s not the same Indian tour–although that wasn’t very clear from the article! The one they’re talking about rescheduling to make room for the IPL is the one-day tour, which would allow the IPL to be played up till Oct 4th (and therefore not to start till right at the end of August).

      I read somewhere that the IPL accounts for 56% of cricket’s revenue worldwide, so I assume that everything else will take second place to it, including international cricket!

      I still don’t understand Ashley Silva’s comment about the Eng–SL series taking place in January. Whether you delay the India series or start the SL series right at the start of January, as the calendar stands that can only happen with the agreement of Cricket South Africa–SA are due to be playing SL into January (and moving that series forward would impact on SA’s domestic T20 competition) and also England within days of the India tour finishing.

      Without rescheduling other things, the only window for SL-Eng is in late November or the first half of December.

    • Harrison is simply dancing what used to be called (in the City) the Lloyds Waltz. Lloyds underwriters would move from syndicate to syndicate, always making sure that they made the move a little ahead of their incompetence being exposed at their last employer. And, astonishingly, the most senior people in Lloyds rose to the top based on a record of regular moves and track records totally devoid of any success.

  • Your point about the media training of modern cricketers and keeping to the party line is right on the money and a major problem. For many years an outspoken personality (with the media – bullying teammates is no problem) has meant no England career or a curtailed career. You only need look at the examples of Dermot Reeve (the best captain England never had) and Pietersen (who I am no great fan of but who paid the price 2-3 years earlier than would have been best for England cricket). Too often it has meant that England have fielded a team packed with mediocrities rather than their best players.
    I would love to see an England team with the personalities of Sydney Barnes, Keith Miller, Brian Close or even Alec Bedser (who I met at a dinner in the 80s and who was extremely open in his views of the abilities of some players). Perhaps the best thing would be that if Graves and Harrison tried to reign them in then both Graves and Harrison would be singing soprano.

    • Sure, public people need a bit of media training. Just to avoid the obvious gaffes (racist or sexist remarks and the like, although that did not stop a certain Overton from having an England career anyway). But that is about it.

      Turning players into corporate drones does not make them more appealing to the general public. There is no point in reading an interview with Joe Root, or if you must, just read the questions from the interviewer. You can tell what he would respond. That is really not helping the profile of cricket(ers). What kid aspires to be boring, and spouting platitudes from the age of 8 onward? Saying nothing at all – being invisible – is probably more inspirational than being a drone.

      Seriously, what off-field things will people remember of Root, once he stops playing? Probably nothing. How does that compare to guys like Gower, Gooch, Hussain, Vaughan (though the current rent-a-mouth version of him is really terrible), Botham or even Cook, who was not exactly an extravagant outspoken character?

      And is it any surprise that the players who survive in such environments, where they are stifled by the board and the senior bullies in the dressing room (instead of addressing that, we have been subjected to a boatload PR pretending that it does not exist), are prone to mediocrity, with the accidental bout of doing a bit better?

      • I have a lot of time for Gower and Hussain as commentators, but what England need is a few like the four I named. Not so much for the media side, but to deal with the culture. If even one of them had been around neither Prior or Swann would have lasted; they would have been recovering from the consequences of their behaviour. And Anderson and Broad may have learnt to behave.

  • I rather liked this comment btl in the Guardian :

    As ‘The 100’ seems to be a tainted and troubled competition before it has even begun, why not relaunch it in 2021 as a brand new competition called ‘The 120’?
    We could divide that 120 into easy to understand sections (say into 20 sections of 6 balls each), and, to save money and confusion, we could use the existing county teams as contestants.

  • I honestly don’t understand the obsession that the ECB seems to have with the hundred, it appears that they’ve put all their eggs in this particular basket and now are caught with their pants down.

    • they missed the boat by not patenting the 20/20 so they are hoping everyone copies the Hundred which I’m guessing they have patented

    • Interesting side-fact from today’s DCMS hearing: unless Dobell’s committed a typo, Harrison appears to have slipped in–and hoped that no-one would notice–that the projected costs for the first season of the Hundred have gone up from around £35m to around £39m (or by well over 10%).

      Harrison’s capacity for doublespeak bordering on outright dishonesty never fail to astonish me, although I’ve had enough time to get used to it. (Exhibit 2–that a payment without which the Hundred almost certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to go ahead due to the provisions of the ECB’s own constitution shouldn’t form part of the profit and loss calculations for the event).

  • I should clarify: that means the costs excluding the payment to the counties, which are the costs referred to in the second para


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