Happy new year. I hope your bellies are bursting and your liver languishing somewhere on the lavatory floor. Mine certainly is. Which is usually a sign that a good time was had by all … or at least by me. I can’t comment on those who had to endure my drunken festive rants about political correctness, the Left, the Right, Brexit, the ECB, my kids, too much immigration, too little immigration, why there’s no brandy left, and who put cassis in my fifteen quid per bottle prosecco.
Anyway, it’s back to the daily grind today – by which I mean supporting the England cricket team, and crying over the latest news concerning Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit. Let’s deal with the city T20 first.
A fortnight ago I intimated that all wasn’t well with the new competition, and that the ECB might be forced to either (a) make substantial changes to their proposal, or (b) abandon the whole project. This was due to increasing dissent amongst the counties over the financial arrangements and other structural issues. My source indicated that the latter was a real possibility … and it still might be.
The latest news, according the The Times, suggests that big reforms are afoot. This suggests to me that the ECB are scrambling behind the scenes to appease the dissenters and rescue their shortsighted and unpopular project.
So what exactly are these reforms? According to The Times the city T20 is no longer going to be based on … wait for it … cities! And the teams won’t even have home venues. They’re just going to be somewhat nomadic franchises that play at a number of different grounds around the country. Riiiight.
Apparently the ECB has been forced into this concession because the smaller counties are worried, and rightly so, that this competition puts their very survival in doubt. They’re concerned that only clubs with big test match venues will really benefit, and they want the right to host games themselves. All of which seems fair enough if you ask me.
It’s not all bad news for the ECB though. If the franchises aren’t based in any single city, and the games are played around the country, they get to do one of their all time favourite things: have counties bid for the right to hold matches! Harrison and Graves must be literally rubbing their hands with glee. After all, the process of bidding for international matches has worked out oh so well in the past. Not.
So what we’re left with people is the following: a T20 competition involving a handful of random franchises, playing in random locations, in an unspecified format, and aimed at an entirely new audience i.e. not people who currently like cricket (or are even aware of its existence). The whole thing has got ‘farce’ and ‘failure’ written all over it.
Why would anyone who currently doesn’t like cricket suddenly become interested in the sport because a visiting team, consisting of random mercenaries who have been drafted, is fulfilling a fixture up the road ? What makes this any more appealing than going to watch a NatWest Blast fixture involving a team containing (some) local talent that is permanently based in the community? The mind boggles.
Oh, and you know all that talk about playing matches at the Olympic Stadium (or the London Stadium, or West Ham Park, or whatever it’s called these days) that’s not going to happen either apparently. Why? Because the ECB have just realised that the stadium is busy holding other events in the middle of summer. No shit Sherlocks.
Anyway, now it’s back to the Ashes. The 5th and final Ashes test starts at the SCG tonight. And with the whitewash finally avoiding thanks to Alastair Cook’s double century on a pitch the ICC have just branded as ‘poor’ (because it didn’t give the bowlers a hope in hell), England can afford to experiment. Consequently, there’s a good chance that Mason Crane will play. Hallelujah.
However, although Moeen Ali has performed miserably on the Ashes tour – just like he tends to do on any tour – I would much rather England drop Tom Curran instead. This is because (a) our tail will be ridiculously big if Woakes has to bat 7, and (b) I wasn’t particularly impressed with Curran at the MCG. He brought ‘a lot of energy’ but never looked like bringing any wickets. I just doubt that a bowler operating at 78-82 mph can be effective at test level … unless they’re something very special indeed.
I’d like to know what you all think about England’s selection dilemma. Moeen’s bound to get some runs at some point, right? I’d also like to know whether you give a rat’s arse about the outcome in Sydney. In fact, do you care about the outcome of dead rubbers in general?
This was a subject raised by Dan Splarn, who sent me this glowing tribute to Cook’s marathon last week. Apologies to Dan for not posting this as a standalone article in its own right:
There was something about the way Alastair Cook celebrated this magnificent double-century that epitomised his character.
Whilst the Barmy Army roared their approval, the England dressing room collectively punched the air with glee and even the most hardened Aussie fan rose to their feet to acknowledge some fight from the Poms, Cook was comparatively muted in his celebrations.
Granted, his beaming smile was plain to see, and there were a few short moments where he allowed himself the pleasure of savouring such an epic milestone – but within 40 seconds Cook was already practicing his straight drive, collecting his thoughts and once again focusing on the job at hand: to bat his team into a dominant position and restore some pride to a hitherto disastrous Ashes campaign.
After three desperately disappointing showings in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, a whole catalogue of records tumbled during Cook’s 634-minute stay at the crease. This was the first time an England opener had carried his bat since Michael Atherton in 1997, and the highest score by a visiting batsman to the MCG since Viv Richards’ 208 in 1984.
It was the 32nd test century of his career – the fifth time he has gone beyond 200 – and Cook moved beyond Mahele Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara on his way to becoming the sixth highest test match run scorer in the history of the game.
His 244 not out featured a number of imperious drives down the ground and a healthy strike rate of 59.66, and this innings surmised every great mental quality that Cook possesses – concentration, patience and power of will – as he completed a set of centuries at every Australian test venue after averaging just 13.83 in the first three tests of this tour.
Of course, the cynics questioned why it had taken so long for Cook to arrive to the party. There was talk that making such a huge score was ‘easy’ in the absence of Australia’s spearhead Mitchell Starc, and that such an innings was meaningless given that the team had surrendered the Ashes at the earliest opportunity.
Perhaps it is just me, but I just can’t look at any test match as a ‘dead rubber’ in Ashes cricket. Try telling those who have spent huge sums of money to head Down Under for the Melbourne and Sydney tests that these games mean nothing. With the chastening experience of 2013/14’s drubbing still fresh in the mind, I would like nothing more than for England to fight back, make the series 3-2 and take away some of the gloss of Australia’s victory starting by winning Cricket Australia’s showpiece Boxing Day fixture.
Cook himself talked of ‘last chance saloon’ as he walked out to bat on Wednesday, with a partisan Australian media queueing up to put the boot in to the squirming Poms, 67,000 people watching and barely a run to his name since his 243 against West Indies last summer, and he delivered – in a big way.
Although I’m a little indifferent to dead rubbers myself, I personally think that Cook’s hundred counted for a quite a lot. Yes Starc was injured, Cummins was ill, and the pitch had less life in it than Stoke City FC, but a whitewash was still a real possibility when Cook strode the the crease. However, I appreciate that others may disagree.