Hyperbole and the Hypercritical

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I’m delighted that England won the second test in Grenada. A draw would have been unappetising, and a loss disastrous for our young team. However, I have to say I’m gobsmacked and also slightly exasperated by the media’s reaction to England’s win.

I though sensationalism was the preserve of English football hacks. I was wrong. It’s endemic in cricket journalism too. Indeed, many esteemed cricket writers and their football counterparts seem to have swapped roles in recent times.

Almost a year ago, England failed to win a single game at the World Cup finals. The affable, reliable, but hardly dynamic Roy Hodgson was under pressure, but entrusted to lead the team into a new era with young players.

Thus far quite a few of these new players have performed well. Most observers like the look of Danny Welbeck, Harry Kane, Nathaniel Clyne and Fabian Delph. So do I. They could turn into useful players in time.

The England football team currently stand top of their qualifying group with five wins from five games and a goal-difference of plus fourteen. That’s an average of almost three goals a game. Not bad, eh.

Normally, a run of success like this would see Phil Jagielka compared to Bobby Moore, and Wayne Rooney put on a pedestal alongside Pele, Maradona, Mother Teresa and St George himself.

The fact Rooney is approaching Bobby Charlton’s all time goal scoring record would elevate the hype to fever pitch. Wayne would be declared an all time great – even though most of his goals have been scored against minnows – and the fact he flops in major finals would be ignored.

But no. This time it’s different. Rather than going over the top, praise from the football hacks has been measured and extremely cautious. Maybe our much maligned football pundits have finally engaged the grey matter between their ears.

Because England’s wins have come against lowly Slovenia, Lithuania and Estonia, media reaction has been somewhat subdued. Indeed, England’s most impressive result thus far has come against Switzerland – a team ranked twelve places below England in the world rankings.

Most football journalists realise that England haven’t been tested yet. They appreciate that the standard of football in England’s group is worse than the domestic premiership, and they’ve adopted a ‘wait and see’ mentality. Surely any responsible journalist would do the same?

When it comes to the England cricket team, however, it’s a different story. Just over a year ago, England were murdered in the Ashes and failed to win a single game. New blood was needed and the powers that be ushered in a new exciting era. The parallels with English football are obvious.

Although there have been numerous hiccups along the way – I doubt Roy Hodgson would have survived two embarrassing home defeats in addition to World Cup humiliation – cricket journalists have spun England’s story in a far more sympathetic and positive manner.

Let’s look at the last twelve months. I’ll adopt a style as surreal as the world inhabited by some (but my no means all) cricket journos …

Firstly, England lost to Sri Lanka at home in all forms of the game. We usually beat the Lankans, especially after their star No.9 Murali retired, so this was a kick in the pants.

According to many journalists however, the performance wasn’t that bad. We were only a slice of bad luck away from winning the first game, and only two balls away from safety in the second. In fact we were agonisingly close to a George Graham style 1-0 series victory (who cares about style, eh). Defeat? Pah!

In the second instalment of the summer, we conceded an embarrassing early goal against India (despite watering the pitch before kick-off) but rallied to beat them 3-1 at Wembley. What a comeback!

During this heroic turnaround, our struggling captain Wayne Cook registered a couple of assists when the ball accidentally ricocheted off his arse and fell into the path of Bryan, I mean Sam, Robson. Fortuitous? Not according to the press. Apparently it takes great mental resolve for one to position one’s arse in precisely the right place. Bravo!

Following the victory against India – who are second from bottom (of major nations) in the world rankings and notoriously bad travellers – our five-a-side team flew to the southern hemisphere to contest the World Cup. We were slaughtered. We even lost to Bangladesh, who are a lot worse at cricket than Switzerland are at football.

Somehow however, Peter McLaren managed to hold on to his job. He’s no good at the five-a-side stuff, but because we beat India in a rousing comeback at home (i.e. this time they actually won a game before they gave up) he survived the dreaded vote of confidence.

Now it’s on to the Caribbean, where England are playing the only team in the world ranked even lower than India. What’s more their star striker, Dwight Gayle, is off playing for his club side. They really should do something about this club versus country dilemma you know.

In the first test of the series, England failed to break down the opposition’s defence for several hours and only managed a goalless draw. Hash tag sad face.

Even worse, Wayne Cook looked hopelessly out of sorts. Did you know he hasn’t scored a goal for thirty five matches? It’s a big worry. According to most pundits he’s still a great player though. Even though Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott (who basically have identical records) are not.

In the second game, England finally managed to snatch victory by playing incredibly well in the last ten minutes. Joe Oxlade Chamberlain scored a hat-trick, and Wayne Cook took advantage of Jerome Boateng’s absence to register another couple of assists … the second of which was made when Jason Roberts was off the field injured, and Devendra Bishop was limping badly.

Did I stretch the analogy too far? Probably.

I find the press reaction to this stuttering year bizarre. Rather than establishing context, and analysing performances and results relative to the strength of the opposition, there has been much celebration.

Reaction has bordered on delirious gushing in some quarters (but by no means all). Anyone would have thought we’d defeated Sri Lanka easily, beaten India without alarm, reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, and were 2-0 up in the Caribbean after two wins inside four days – goals which wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable just a year ago.

Despite this reality, all we’ve heard in recent days is that the team is making excellent progress – even though it’s making harder work of beating limited opponents than the incoming chairman of the ECB, and many pundits themselves, had predicted.

Even more astonishing is the claim that Alastair Cook is back to his best. I’m not sure how a couple of half-centuries against a poor team missing key bowlers proves anything. What was it about the way Cook caressed the ball into the back of an empty net from two yards out that merits such premature optimism? One suspects Australia, South Africa and Pakistan might defend a little better.

Basically I’m confused. Why have the nation’s esteemed cricket journalists – the fine writers who inspired me to become a writer myself – displayed what I consider to be a peculiar lack of perspective and judgement?

Maybe Cook and Moores really are that likeable? Maybe their intoxicating charm mesmerises helpless correspondents, who then root for them so badly that all objectivity is purged from their eloquent prose? Or perhaps it’s something more sinister: an irrational, or even somewhat sadistic, longing to build people up before knocking them down again.

I certainly hope not. I’ve long despaired at the media’s idolisation of England’s captain. Why burden a good test batsmen with great expectations? Hasn’t his form suffered enough? If he gets a pair at Barbados I bet the knives will be out again.

British sports writers are amongst the best in the world – and our cricket journalists are the finest amongst them. Yet I sense the media has never been so out of synch with ordinary cricket supporters. Their hyperbole insults our intelligence. Or am I just hypercritical? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.

James Morgan



  • Maybe these esteemed cricket journalists of ours need to write nice things about Cookie to continue to get favoured access to England players and officials from the ECB..?
    No, of course not! How could I even think such a thing!

  • James,
    You’ve written a whole article about what the media say without actually giving any examples, named any journalists or links to articles that support your contention.

    You say “cricket journalists have spun England’s story in a far more sympathetic and positive manner” but don’t back this up with examples.

    Similarly – “I find the press reaction to this stuttering year bizarre. Rather than establishing context, and analysing performances and results relative to the strength of the opposition, there has been much celebration.” Again no examples.

    It may be understandable that you don’t want to quote at length from other’s articles, but a brief quote or a link or even just a name and a paraphrase of their opinion would give your piece credibility.

    • Piers, as far as I can tell, the whole print press is behaving in the way that James describes, without exception. Read the match reports of Pringle, Selvey, Etheridge, Newman, the comments by former players such as Agnew, Swann, Hussein, Lloyd, Vaughan and you would get the impression that this English team is a potential world-beating side. The only partial exception is Boycott. Are you able to supply contrary examples of muted or nuanced or even balanced acclaim? On Cricinfor, Hopps has been quie circumspect but even Dobell has been drawn into the general back-slappery – writing about Cook and Englands’ record over the last 5 tests for example, rather than the last 10 or even 15!

      • I don’t necessarily disagree with either yourself or James that there have been instances of the behaviour criticised in the article, but I would contend that it isn’t to the degree that you or James believe is prevalent.

        Irrespective of that, my comment wasn’t so much my opinion on whether what James was arguing was correct; rather I was disappointed at the unsubstantiated manner in which he put his points. I still stand by this.

    • We all know the people I’m talking about. I don’t want to name and shame individual journalists. Making enemies is not what I’m about.

      • Here’s Selvey…


        “Slowly but surely the England Test team are rebuilding and starting to succeed, the phoenix from the Ashes. A solid line has been drawn under the attempt, understandable despite what may be thought, to squeeze one last series out of a flagging side in Australia and start again.

        There is a country mile and more to go when it comes to white-ball cricket, but put a red ball in their hands and the results are there to be seen. Should England win the final Test at Kensington Oval, which starts on Friday, it would be their fifth win in six matches with only the drawn Test in Antigua, a game they had dominated by the end, breaking the sequence.

        Furthermore, a win now and it would be the first time since they won in Mumbai and Kolkata in late 2012, and two years before that in Melbourne and Sydney, that they would have won two Tests in a row away from home. It is an encouraging start for a side who are full of optimism.”

  • It was a win for one limited, re-building team over another marginally worse re-building team missing a few players. Noithing more nothing less.

    Glad we won and there were some encouraging signs.

    The weird investment in Cook that many paid for and upaid for pundits, for that matter, have is utterly bizarre. As you say, it seems to completely skew their ability to report with any kind of context, forces them into weird situations where their loyalty to one player forces them into illogical positions on others.

    All I want from England is for them to be as competitive as possible in all forms, hopefully to win more than we lose, to pick the best available players on form & fitness and to try and play attacking exciting cricket where possible.

    So, yep a good win with some good perfromances, especially Root. Really intrigued to see how he gets on against the 2 very good attacks he’s facing this summer. If he comes through this summer playing close to this level, he really will be living up to the ludicrous billing he was given at the start of his England career. Let’s hope he does.

    • Root is travelling very well for a young player., I don’t think a few failures against higher teams should be held against him – not saying that he will fail.

  • Agree with the gist but this, too, is hyperbole:

    British sports writers are the best in the world – and our cricket journalists are the best amongst them.

    I’d love to know your criteria for sports writing. I’d have thought CLR James and Gideon Haigh deserve a look in. Philippe Auclair and Guillem Balague and Simon Kuipers knock most of our football writers into a cocked hat. And then there’s Frank Bascombe of course……

    • Those are all great writers (Haigh has linked to this blog!). But I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say we have the best. Name an individual country with better writers and journalists? Certainly not America or Australia (although they do have some very good ones).

      • James, I struggle to think of any good British sportswriters. JW is interesting, Brearley when he can be bothered. The age of elegant long form pieces is long gone.

        As for other countries, I’ve named a few representatives, but it helps rather, if you’re well versed in other languages. On what evidence do you base your assumption? I’ve lived all over Europe and believe me, people don’t talk about English journalism. Italian football writers are scathing of their English counterparts. Jose Mourinho didn’t enjoy quite such adulation in a country and a culture with expects its best writers to know about their subject rather than hang on the every word of minor celebrities.

        I’d respectfully suggest that the explosion of blogs such as this exposes the lack of critical writing in the MSM.

        • Fair enough. I think there are a lot of good writers out there (Ed Smith immediately springs to mind) although I don’t always agree with what he writes. Atherton is also a fine writer. I accept that standards might be dropping somewhat, but there are still excellent writers like Simon Barnes, Patrick Barclay and Paul Hayward around. Henry Winter isn’t bad either.

          • Smith’s a platitudinous dilettante, he has not as single original thought in his little head. He merely regurgitates snippets from the latest Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis sans critical engagement. The others, meh. They’re adequate. If there was a golden age of sports journalism it is well and truly over.

            I’m conscious that this may come across as critical: it is and it isn’t. I enjoy your blog and others like it precisely because they are not afraid to critique sacred cows. But I’m very suspicious of those who blithely assume we are the best without reference to other cultures, writers etc. It’s just this sort of complacency that infected the England set up and its fellow travellers.

            Keep up the good work!

            • No worries Paul. We can agree to disagree. Thanks for reading! And cheers for being so kind about our blog :-)

      • Fine piece James. That line about the quality of English cricket writing (in the MSM of course – not among our lovely bloggers :)) was the only point I’d take some issue with.

        The wretchedness of C9’s TV commentary shouldn’t obscure the fact that Australian cricket writing is in something of a golden age at the moment. Gideon Haigh is still king (his Jack Marsh 2015 lecture on Victor Trumper on Youtube is a thing of rare beauty) but Russell Jackson, Dan Brettig and Geoff Lemon are a superb generation of writing talent.

      • I was going to let it pass until you actually repeated the judgement call. Now you need to called for it. “British sports writers are the best in the world.” If that is not exactly the same hyperbole and lack of perspective you accuse a sub-set of said writers of, then pray tell, what sample are you basing this on? How many languages do you read? Have you not yourself heaped scorn on the footy journos that used to predict England winning the world cup with the regularity said tournament came along? How can you then come back and use “best in the world” again, as if they were Jimmy Anderson or something?

        • I can only comment on the English speaking world. I’m a big NFL fan (so I read American journalists) and I spent seven months in Australia, where the standard of reporting on the Ashes was abysmal (with a couple of notable exceptions). Britain is a country of great writers, has a history of great literature, and I think some of this rubs off on our standard of journalism. People come on this blog and sometimes praise the writing, but it’s mainly due to its content (from what I can tell) rather than the way it’s written. I certainly don’t think it’s better prose than what you read in the papers.

          Would you be happier if I’d said English journalism was ‘one of the best’? Maybe I should have said that instead, to remove the element of subjectivity. Would’ve saved a lot of trouble! Incidentally, I would place football punditry near the bottom of the UK’s journalism pile. There is no contradiction because I didn’t say all sports were reported with equal brilliance.

          • Yep, I am happy if you’d just scrap the “best in the world” tag. The phrase grates. For all we know, the best sport journalists write exclusively in Vietnamese. We may think this unlikely but that does not make it false. I find English sporting journalism better (written and researched) than most of the other sports pages I read (in German and Dutch) that is the reason I read it, but that does not make it the best in the world – not by a long shot. The myopic perspective of “best I know – must be the best in the world” is exactly indicative of the perspective that cricket journalism has been called out for – and not just the last 18 months – by such esteemed blogs as this one, the other one, BTL and other people fighting the good fight.

            • Agreed. Not just cricket journalism, British culture in general. We’re a nation of cultural monoglots.

      • America has seen some quite brilliant journalism on baseball, though perhaps using journalism is applying the wrong word.

    • ” our cricket journalists are the best amongst them”. Who are these journalists? Can you say as I really have not read them.

      • See above Nick. I’m talking about the style of their prose more than anything.

  • Great article James. Extremely accurate and comical verdict on some of our sports writers. BTL’s who have subscribed to Full Toss for the past 15 months know exactly who and what you mean, so no need to give examples. We have all read these articles and comments from newspapers or on Social Media. They appear to be going crazy again.
    Well done.

  • If I want to read about cricket it’s Being Outside Cricket, The Full Toss, Dave Tickner, and ESPN Cricinfo in any order. I will read any links that posters put up but I cannot and will not read any of the bought-and-paid-for press pack as a first port of call. My BS-o-meter just won’t allow me.

    Based on the current media logic, Cook only needs to get (x) amount of runs and he’ll be the greatest England batsman ever. Just how effin’ bonkers do those words sound? He’ll actually be the least injured, most privileged England job squatter ever. Or…

    …he’s gonna hit an ultra-golden patch and cream centuries off Southee, Bolt, Johnson, Starc, Harris, Riaz, M. Irfan, Ajmal, Steyn, Morkel, Philander, etc. If he does, I will eat my house and garage, and never mind what my landlord thinks about that.

    The fantasy world that the ECB and their rah-rah-rah press munchkins inhabit ain’t the world I live in. ‘Outside’ suits me fine : )

    lots of love,

    • I’m with you MM. Gave up newspapers a long time ago once they stopped doing news and concentrated on opinion. I can form opinions for myself. Why should I be interested in what someone called Newman, of whom I have never heard, thinks? Sorry James but “eloquent prose”? No. It’s adequate. I’ve been privileged to read Swanton, Cardus etc. Modern “cricket writers” are hacks in comparison.

      My answer to your poser is that this bunch do what their editors demand – controversial, outrageous, wind up – whatever spurs their (diminishing) readership to come back for more. For me, papers are obsolete, the writers are second rate.

      • Neville Cardus etc. That’s just the kind of proud British sports writing tradition I was referring to! I’m sure standards have dipped worldwide. Isn’t dumbing down an international trend?

  • I too have been very disappointed by the strange change in our cricket journalists. They used to be distinctive for their ability to be fair-minded regarding other nations’ teams in ways that our football journos were not. All that seems to have gone by the wayside.

    For me, the key worry is that the India and WI victories have been built on the injury to one of the opposition’s opening bowlers. Of course you can only beat what is in front of you – but it’s not a great sign when we lose/draw against a full strength side and only roar back when they are weakened. It makes you think that against a fit and motivated Aussie team we’re going to be in trouble again.

    And of course, that is the real background (which again I’m mystified by the way our cricketing journalists seem dedicated to forgetting) 0-5 Down Under. We got hammered – and it wasn’t just the batting, our bowling looked toothless. And more than anything, while there are hopeful signs in the batting (openers’ travails apart), the bowling does not look like much of an upgrade on the last Ashes series…

  • ………. and so the middle class cricket revolution continues apace with the 54th recycling of the same old arguments that have got people absolutely nowhere up to now ….. why don’t people just walk away? Cricket is corrupt. The ECB is toxic. The whole thing is a money making sham. Stop. Give it up, it’s the only power you have.

  • As an Aussie who spent 3 years living in the UK (up till last year) I found the attitude so well described in this article strange. After the Sri Lanka series loss, the comeback win was being hailed in one tv discussion I saw as England back at their best having put the ashes behind them etc. I mean seriously you just lost to a weak team at home (yes it was close but should it have been?), and then came back to beat another weak team who travels badly at home.

    Then I read articles this week that the victory in WI means the ashes will be a close contest. It might be a close contest (and I hope it is) but this isn’t evidence.for it.

  • James, you’re forgetting: journalism IS sensationalism. No media company can sell copies/produce good click-bait without hyperbole, sentimentality and/or lying. They’re just doing what it takes to get the attention their business needs to survive.

    This is why blogs like yours are better sources of info: you’re not trying to make money by doing it, so there’s no profit motive to conflict with/replace the truth-as-you-see-it motive.

    • Exactly this. If ‘the media’ purely told he truth and never mis represented it, spun it, left out bits to suit themselves or any other under hand means… They’d be out of a job in weeks.

      Yes, I count what shelvey, pringle, newmann and now dobell are doing as under hand as they are misrepresenting things and not doing their jobs

      • Which raises a further question: why are lies/sentimentality/hyperbole the only things that make a profit? What makes media customers want lies/sentimentality/hyperbole more than honesty/integrity/perspective?

        It’s not very flattering to the man in the street, is it?

        • Unfortunately the obsession with minor celebs on inane reality TV shows have addled some of our brains. Most don’t have the intellectual capacity to process a logical thought and others just can’t really be “bovvered” to. If it doesn’t involve hair extensions, nails, handbags, beards, lager or iPhones, it just doesn’t prick their interest.

        • Who was it came up with the great sentiment “No-one was ever guilty of underestimating the intelligence of the British public”?


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