Muddied oafs and flannelled fools


Our brave new world will be egg-shaped, at least if our lords and masters are able to bring their aspirations to fruition. According to Alastair Cook, the England cricket team will look to their counterparts in rugby union for inspiration – and as a template – as they look to rebuild after the disasters of the last six months.

Last week the skipper said he’s been impressed by the manner in which England rugby coach Stuart Lancaster has revived his side’s fortunes from a low ebb after taking charge in December 2011.

“Lessons should be learned from the way they have gone about it. Huge credit to Stuart and the guys for the way they have managed to change that. I imagine it has taken a hell of a lot of work and effort. They came second in the Six Nations three years in a row but everyone can see the development of the side.

“I went to watch them play against Ireland and it was a brilliant day. Stuart has obviously made some big calls about big players at certain stages of their career. He has picked people who are in form and who are playing well. Chris Ashton, he is an outstanding winger, he had a drop of form and they replaced him with a guy in form. Now ‘Ash the Splash’ has come back and done very well for Saracens and is back in the frame. That drives a higher standard.”

It’s not terribly often that Cook comes out with notions and analyses. I wonder where he got the idea from? By an extraordinary coincidence, ECB chairman Giles Clarke seems to have been mulling over something similar himself, as he revealed in an interview with the London Evening Standard’s Mihir Bose in March:

“Stuart Lancaster has done a fantastic job. In a very short space of time, he has sorted out English rugby. He’s talked the language of teams which Paul Downton and I like very much. Paul said to me, ‘If you look at the most successful sporting team over the last 100 years, of course, it is the All Blacks’. One of the fundamentals they live by is the team. You just don’t get to play if you don’t believe in it. In the end the team must matter.”

In other words, what’s happened is this: Downton’s come up with the brilliant observation that New Zealand are good at rugby, and therefore we should copy them. Clarke has bought this, and now Cook himself is parroting his boss’s line, substituting England for the All Blacks, and either consciously or unconsciously attempting to pass off someone else’s idea as his own.

At this point I should make a disclosure. I am biased, because I hate rugby union – the English variety, at least. For me, it’s a sport I associate with boorish dullards, estate agents, and public school-educated thugs. Rugby seems to have all the worst elements of cricket – elitism, old-school-tie cliqueiness, corporate arrogance – but none of the good ones. When I lived near Twickenham, I hated having to share a train with 600 beery accountants wearing stupid hats and Barbour jackets. At university, I hated how the rugby team took over the bar with their cruelty-tinged debauchery, and the way they all called each other by their surnames, as if they were still at Repton.

But I digress. My distaste for rugby is cultural, not technical, and in theory there’s no reason why one sporting team can’t learn constructive lessons from another. Nevertheless, you’ll surely forgive me for being cynical about the stall which Cook, Clarke and Downton are trying to set out.

For a start, they clearly haven’t remotely thought it through. The idea is less half-baked than quarter-baked. Which side do they want to copy – England or New Zealand? And which particular specific techniques or approaches of those teams do they hope to emulate? Are we talking about training methods, coaching structures, youth development, or what?

At the moment it sounds very vague – such and such a team are successful, so let’s try and be like them, because then we’ll be successful too. It’s a bit like forming a band and resolving to be like the Beatles, because they sold millions of records, without thinking about what kind of music you want to play.

Alastair Cook is basing his admiration for the England rugby team on two factors. First, he had fun at the Ireland game. Second, Stuart Lancaster drops players who are out of form, and then picks them again if they regain form – which hardly strikes me as a ground-breaking and revolutionary new departure in sporting philosophy.

Moreoever, Stuart Lancaster is a strange choice for a role-model, because despite having been in charge for two and a half years, he hasn’t actually won anything. England triumphed in the Six Nations the season before he was appointed, but have failed to in each of the three tournaments since. Giles Clarke might believe that “in a very short space of time, [Lancaster] has sorted out English rugby”, but it would be truer to say that in quite a long period of time, Lancaster has done moderately well – which doesn’t sound like much to aim at.

Mind you, as the ECB chairman also insists that “it’s utter nonsense to say [the England cricket team is] at some sort of massive low ebb”, it’s clear that he either lives on a different planet, or takes very strong hallucinogenic drugs.

Paul Downton, meanwhile, is obsessed with the All Blacks, whom he apparently views as “of course” the most successful sports team of the last century. That is in itself quite a claim, and one that Brazil’s footballers, Real Madrid, umpteen NFL and baseball franchises, and more usefully, several cricket teams, might have something to say about.

Downton is fixated with the notion of ‘team’. It’s like a religion to him – a vaguely-defined, cultish and militant belief-system which must have played a role in his sacking of you-know-who. But in all seriousness, exactly which elements of New Zealand rugby’s team-building culture can he meaningfully apply to the England cricket side? Will he get them doing the Haka?

Rugby union is a team sport in a very different way from cricket. In rugby, the interplay and interdependence between each of the fifteen players is direct and physical – passing, scrums, line-outs, rucks, and so forth. But cricketers bat and bowl alone. The winning of a cricket match is usually decided by the aggregate of individual performances. The ethos of team in cricket might be an attractive one but defining what it means in practical terms is a notoriously devilish business.

Clearly, all eleven players need to work hard, and with discipline, in pursuit of the common goal of winning matches. There will be times when a batsman needs to adapt his mode, if possible, to suit a match situation. Captain and bowlers need to achieve a workable consensus about tactics and fields. Everyone needs to field with commitment and zest. But all of these, surely, are minimum requirements of any professional cricketer. And none of those factors were obviously to blame, by their absence, for our side’s collapse in Australia. We lost five-nil chiefly because Australia batted and bowled much better, not because the players didn’t “live by the team”.

The most successful teams in test cricket history were not characterised by a zealous, unthinking faith in the cult of ‘team’. Both the West Indies sides of the 1970s and 1980s, and Australia’s in the 1990s and 2000s, were essentially loose and fragile coalitions of disparate individuals. The West Indians came from different countries. When Australia began to flirt with team-worship, several players rebelled – Shane Warne never bought into the nonsense, and refused to wear a Baggy Green, while Michael Clarke came to blows with Simon Katich for opting out of their post-match song so he could meet his girlfriend. But the team kept on winning regardless.

What those champion teams and others were characterised by was a preponderance of extremely talented players, operating at full throttle and with maximum confidence. The best sides are ultimately separated from the rest by something very simple: better cricketers, scoring more runs and taking more wickets. Just look the scorecards.

But there is a worthwhile lesson, albeit one requiring patience and commitment, which Downton and Clarke could learn from New Zealand – a country in which rugby is the number one sport, where their rugby team are a treasured national icon, and virtually every schoolboy dreams of pulling on the famous shirt. The All Blacks, as a result, can recruit from the absolute cream of every generation’s sporting and athletic talent – and the vitality of that player-pool feeds the strength of the test XV.

This is the dynamic which should genuinely inspire the ECB. They might think again, and with greater sincerity, about how to broaden the appeal, profile and player-base of English cricket. By making our national cricket side the gold standard for British sport, and by widening meaningful, sustained access to cricket for schoolchildren from urban areas and state schools – not just an occasional Chance to Shine roadshow – the talent pool will grow, and more of the most skilful and athletic youngsters will prosper at cricket.

The eventual result would be a greater number of exceptional professional players available for England selection. And by those means – having better players – are test matches ultimately won.

All of that is generally too tedious and laborious for the ECB to really contemplate trying. Instead, we get a load of inane waffle about ‘Ash the Splash’ and “living by the team”. Cook and Clarke’s vague platitudes are symptomatic of an England management whose response to the winter’s calamities involves moving a couple of the deckchairs around and speaking gobbledygook at press conferences. The genuinely scary thing about this rugby motif is that Cook and Downton have now had four months to think about how to rebuild the England team, and this is the best they can come up with.

(NB: many thanks to the excellent blogger Dmitri Old, who brought my attention to some of the above, and directed me to some of the material. You can read his work at and on Twitter at @dmitriold)


  • Of course one of the keys to Lancaster’s success has been in finding a place for the exceedingly talented but (alledgedly) ill-disciplined and arrogant Dylan Hartley.

    And Lancaster also has the leadership acumen to appoint a well-liked and charismatic leader as his captain, and has the tactical shrewdness to know when his charges can go out and have fun and express themselves, and when they need to get their heads down and grind it out.

    So integrating difficult characters, charismatic leadership and tactical acumen: basically the exact diametric opposite of the English cricket team.

  • Couldn’t agree more with the thrust of this article. Thanks for posting.

    It is quite indicative that they’ve looked at a sport with almost no parallels with cricket to draw inspiration from because they are exactly the type of stereotypical boorish dullards that can make watching Rugby Union unpleasant, because that is how narrow their frame of reference is.

    Your final points about widening the pool of talent to draw from, particularly in state schools and in urban areas, is one I’ve been banging on about for years. In cricket, certainly in the South of England we fish from a very small pool indeed, seemingly about 5 public schools…there will always be football as the dominant sport in this country but there are many athletically gifted individuals who never get exposed to cricket. I wholeheartedly agree that this is what they should be concentrating on, not some bullshit and bogus notions of team spirit.

    Can someone please stop Cook from speaking in public, the poor man just keeps making himself sound ever more ridiculous.

    Much more successful sports teams than the All Blacks or the current England Rugby team – I’m going to list some off of the top of my head from different sports to under line how ridiculous an assertion that “of course” they are the most successful team ever and because is is patently a complete falsehood; the 90s Chicago Bulls, 70s/80s Liverpool, Ajax in the 70s, Spain’s football team, AC Milan between 88-94, the Yankees, the GB track cycling teams, the German football team, the 70s Pittsburgh Steelers, Brazil’s football team, the Windies, Australian cricket, the NZ Americas Cup team, the US Olympic basketball team…all the above had sustained success but also actually won things too.

    • By the way I enjoy watching rugby and there is a lot to admire about the All Blacks and their amazing 2013 obviously and the progress England have started to make also, it’s just I sometimes struggle with a certain type of rugby fan and their mindset.

      With their every public utterance Downton (well his only public utterances) & Giles Clarke just strike me as the archetypal privileged old school tie berks who suffer no consequences of failure.

  • Maxie. Stop being so hard on rugby. Yes, there are the usual public school drunks, who have gone straight from boarding houses into Oxbridge colleges and then onto careers in The City (so they’ve been institutionalised all their life) but all sports have their dickheads. I’d much rather be on a train to Twickers with upper-middle class nobs than football hooligans! Furthermore, I’m sure if you went to a match at Leicester / Worcester / Northampton you’d meet loads of good people without a hint of snobbery in sight! I know I have – which is why I love rugby ;-)

    Anyway, back to the matter in hand. You are indeed correct! I have always been uncomfortable with the comparisons Downton makes with rugby. The suggestion, of course, is that the RFU are brilliant at what they do and should be emulated. If this is what Downton / Clark / Cook think then England’s problems are much worse than we all thought.

    If there is one sporting body in the world even more incompetent, full of old buffers, and riddled with politics than the ECB it’s the RFU. They really couldn’t organise a booze up in a beer tent. Indeed, their record at appointing managers is even worse than the ECBs … let’s look back at their recent appointments:

    After Woodward’s regime went stale, it was obvious that change was needed. So what did the RFU do? They opted for continuity by appointing his assistant, Andy Robinson. After Robinson crashed and burned they appointed Brian Ashton, who was backs coach under Woodward. Another absurd decision. England needed change, so again they opted for continuity. By now, the need for change was absolutely clear as day. So what did they do? The appointed Woodward’s captain, Martin Johnson, despite the fact he had never managed a rugby team at any level whatsoever. Once again, it was continuity (of sorts) rather than opting for an established international coach of proven pedigree. Sounds all rather familiar, doesn’t it.

    And then we come to Lancaster. After Johnson’s lack of experience was exposed, the RFU appointed a man with even less experience of international rugby. Lancaster’s rise to the pinnacle of English rugby is a modern day fairytale. He had only managed in the English premiership for a single season before being made England head coach. It was at Leeds … and he got them relegated. His appointment was therefore absurd, especially as they overlooked Jake White, a world cup winner with South Africa, in preference for Lancaster.

    Lancaster did not get the job through good planning etc. He was in the right place at the right time. After failing with Leeds, he got a job coaching the England Saxons (he was not even on the radar of the nation’s top clubs), so he was already within the set up. When the RFU procrastinated over appointing Johnson’s successor, and couldn’t act in time for the Six Nations, they appointed Lancaster simply because he was already an RFU employee and they needed someone at short notice on a temporary basis.

    When England came second in the 6 Nations that year under Lancaster’s guidance (they had won it under Johnson the year before), the RFU decided to appoint Lancaster permanently because they could see he was actually changing a few things. Well duh! of course, he was. He was the only coach in 10 years who had no association with Woodward’s regime. Furthermore, coming 2nd in that particular 6 nations was no great achievement at all. He effectively won the home games that England would win 99% of the time anyway, no matter who was coach.

    To be fair I think Lancaster is doing a decent job now – especially for someone who has never coached with any success at a professional level before. He obviously has some charisma, and the players like him, but the RFU deserve no credit for this whatsoever. They have, in effect, blundered their way into current circumstances. Furthermore, Lancaster has been helped by the emergence of some good young players and an excellent coaching team, which in many ways makes up for his palpable lack of credentials as a pro coach.

    It will be interesting to see how Lancaster gets on in the World Cup. He received a lot of criticism for his substitutions in the recent 6 Nations, so the honeymoon is over, but as you say he has yet to win as much as his much maligned predecessor – something everyone seems to forget.

    For the ECB to therefore put Lancaster and the RFU on a pedestal is ridiculous. If Lancaster wins the World Cup, which is unfortunately highly unlikely, then we can all start to copy his methods. Until then, we’re simply copying a team that makes a good fist of coming second …. sounds very English, doesn’t it.

    • “Furthermore, Lancaster has been helped by the emergence of some good young players and an excellent coaching team, which in many ways makes up for his palpable lack of credentials as a pro coach.”

      I don’t have the time to write a full response to this, but this particular bit stuck out at me.

      1) Lancaster’s credentials are not that he’s got lots of experience as an international coach, but he has worked his way through the elite coaching system and is one of the most highly qualified coaches (in that sense) around. He also has a lot of experience dealing with the younger players, which leads to…

      2) He’s not “lucky” that good young players have emerged – most of these are guys he’s had a big hand in developing and even some of the more senior players owe quite a bit to him. When he took the job he immediately started talking about the young talent he was expecting to come through, many of whom he’s since brought into the side. I don’t think I have to explain that identifying and developing talent is not necessarily a strength of English sport, and he’s excelled in this area. It should be something used to praise him, not diminish him.

      “It will be interesting to see how Lancaster gets on in the World Cup. He received a lot of criticism for his substitutions in the recent 6 Nations, so the honeymoon is over, but as you say he has yet to win as much as his much maligned predecessor – something everyone seems to forget.”

      England won a 6N under Johnson, it’s true. How did they do it? By winning 4 of their matches and getting hockeyed by Ireland in the 5th to smash their Grand Slam hopes. England’s 6N campaign this year was better, with the same results on the pitch, no humiliating defeats, a lot of progress in attack, but 2nd place in the tournament instead. I think looking just at “win or lose” is somewhat facile.

      As for the substitutions, only people who didn’t realise what was happening complained about those. Danny Care for example had spent the previous 5 minutes practically unable to get to rucks because he was out on his feet. Yes, he was hugely influential during the game and yes, him going off turned things, but it was a substitution that *had* to happen.

      “If Lancaster wins the World Cup, which is unfortunately highly unlikely, then we can all start to copy his methods. Until then, we’re simply copying a team that makes a good fist of coming second …. sounds very English, doesn’t it.”

      This is silly. A team does not have to win the world cup to be considered successful and a good model of how to create a sports team.

      Ask the Kiwis.

      • We will have to disagree Burly. What is more important, going through coaching qualifications or actually proving it – by achieving something with a professional team?

        In football, for example, getting your coaching badges is simply a step you have to take before a club will employ you. Coaches are judged by what they achieve, not by the system they’ve come through. By the logic you are using, the next England manager, and the one after that, will have to have come through the same Elite Coaching structure rather than actually gaining coaching experience at a top club playing in either the Premiership (and hopefully Europe). Lancaster had done none of these things at all. In his one season in the premiership he was relegated. Had he not been an employee of the RFU at the time Johnson was sacked, he would never have got a look in as England coach. Why should he? He had achieved absolutely nothing in his career to date.

        I also get the impression (sorry if I’m wrong) that you regard Lancaster’s appointment as the culmination of years of preparation and a cultivation of an elite coaching structure i.e. he was always going to be coach one day and his appointment was pre-ordained. If this was the case, why did they take so long to appoint him, and only give him the job on a temporary basis to begin with? There was no real planning, and the other applicant were from outside the system (like Jake White and Nick Mallet).

        Yes, Lancaster had a hand in developing the younger players before coming into the job, but that’s only natural for a coach of the Saxons. Should Stuart Peace have taken over from Fabio Capello on the basis that he was the England U21 coach? Furthermore, what were Lancaster’s other options at the time? Keep picking an over the hill Steve Borthwick? It’s only natural to pick the next cabs off the rank. And he hasn’t particularly helped to identify talent either. Not really. His job involves picking younger players from a small pool (guys who are playing for approx 8 Premiership clubs) with a bias towards those playing in Europe. Worcester’s Chris Pennell, for example, doesn’t get a look in despite being one of the best players in the land this season. Lancaster also has a bias for those who are playing in the Heineken Cup, which is totally understandable but somewhat ironic considering that he himself has no experience at the top level.

        It is not just me criticising Lancaster’s use of substitutions in the 6 Nations. Most journalists and lots of ex-players did too – so it’s not exactly the condemnation of the uninformed.

        Finally, I don’t see why my final point is silly at all. No, you don’t have to win the World Cup (which the Kiwis did, so I’m not quite sure what you’re saying) to be considered successful, but you should come close to winning something. In Lancaster’s entire career he has won nothing, nor achieved as much as his predecessor.

        Please don’t think I’m having a personal go at Lancaster. I like him, and he comes across well in interviews, but I do think the decision to appoint him was utterly absurd at the time. It would be like England appointing a county coach with just one year’s experience at a pro level (in which he got, say, Glamorgan relegated) ahead of guys like John Wright, Tom Moody or even Paul Farbrace. I just don’t think we should be calling Lancaster the best thing since sliced bread yet. I certainly don’t think our cricket team should be trying to emulate him just yet. The England rugby team seems to be going in the right direction, but they’re only just starting to improve. There’s a long way to go yet.

        • Cheers for the response. I’m trying to make sure I get down what I want to say without it coming across as hostile, as it’s not intended as such.

          Firstly, I think my initial complaint is that I feel you’re doing Lancaster a disservice, by talking down the things he’s done well and focusing on the (pretty minor) things he’s done poorly. I’ll explain this further as I go on. I’ll try and respond to each point raised (not all of them, this’ll be an absolute essay if we get that far. OK I lied, it already is).

          Lancaster’s lack of experience: He has more experience than most club coaches at bringing together players from different teams and getting them working to a plan for a particular tournament. Being in charge of an international side is very different to being in charge of a club side, particularly in England. He benefits from the RFU and PRL being closer than ever, but he’s also put in the legwork to ensure the clubs are kept on-side and that they have no complaints about players being released for England. Lancaster’s time with the U20s and the Saxons means he’s not a complete newbie to either English representational rugby or the international structure. And yes, his coaching badges do actually mean something. I would’ve thought that how things have gone under Lancaster would be proof that you don’t actually need the experience you’re asking for.

          Lancaster’s appointment: I’m saying he’s a successful product of the system, not that he was the inevitable choice.

          Developing younger players: This is where I think you really do him a disservice. Lancaster has taken risks with selection, he made huge changes right from the start, identified a lot of young players (most of whom most rugby fans wouldn’t have heard of) who he expected would come through and then did something about it. His time with the U20s (not so much the Saxons – most of these guys were not Saxons) was an advantage that he’s used to great effect. It’s easy to say that these were obvious choices but were they really? Look back at the last decade of English rugby and tell me how often we’d have picked someone like Jack Nowell or Anthony Watson or Mako Vunipola at that stage of their careers. The last few guys in charge were a hell of a lot more conservative, that’s for sure. I think it’s wrong to say he’s not helped identify talent, particularly given he a) developed a lot of these players for Leeds and England U20s, and b) reeled off a list of them right at the start of his tenure.

          You also say he didn’t have any other options for selection but that’s just wrong. It would have been easy for him to keep selecting the old pros; he brought several into the side at the start of his reign but phased them out as quickly as he could (Mauritz Botha, Phil Dowson, etc) as soon as one of youngsters was even remotely ready. Sometimes he’s even gotten it wrong as a result; picking Wood at 8 for the Wales 2013 game instead of going back to a last hurrah for someone like Waldrom or Easter was a big mistake, and one he’s hopefully learned from. Compare this with Martin Johnson, whose reaction to the Ireland shellacking was to completely cack himself and go back to the old stagers with a stone-age gameplan for the World Cup, and we all know how that ended. I find it hard to believe Lancaster in the same situation would have ignored Robshaw and Wood, who were better players than Haskell and Moody at that stage and by all accounts proving it in camp as well as for their club sides.

          Heineken Cup bias: Pennell is a good shout, I also believe he’s the closest thing we’ve got to Mike Brown. Beyond that I don’t know who has missed out because of the club they’re at; I’m genuinely struggling to name names. Wasps haven’t been a HEC side for a while and that hasn’t stopped Launchbury from being picked or Billy Vunipola while he was still with them, or Christian Wade being an option before he broke. I am curious who you think has been unlucky here – genuinely so!

          Substitutes: That read as a swipe just at you and that wasn’t my intent. It was actually a swipe at the people you mention – the ex-pros and the journalists who didn’t bother to examine the evidence. Care (among others) was running on empty and with good reason given the lack of game time he’d had and the insane ball in play time that match. He had to come off – he had nothing left to give. It’s more obvious on replay when you know what you’re looking for.

          Winning the World Cup: I don’t believe Lancaster needs to win a single tournament in order to be considered a successful coach. He can keep coming second, keep beating SH sides, keep improving the attacking side of the team, and lose the final and I will still consider him a success. Sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there’s other teams involved – I don’t consider England’s 6N win under Johnson to be better than England’s 2nd place this season, for reasons I gave in my original reply. You did specify the world cup though, and the New Zealand point was my gentle reminder that they had lost every World Cup since the first one until they finally got another one last time out, but were still the best team in the world in the intervening period regardless (with a couple of cameos by England and South Africa).

          I can’t just focus on tournament results – I have to look at things like player development, style of play, quality of opposition, response under pressure, selection decisions, manner of defeats, etc. Martin Johnson did actually have a pretty good go at it but he blotted his copybook big time at the end, so please don’t think I’m needlessly slagging him off. Both Lancaster and Johnson genuinely improved the insanity that was the post-Woodward period.

          • Just to clarify my point about the U20s etc – he was in charge of English rugby development, basically, after Conor O’Shea (praise him!) left for Quins. So yeah, he’s as responsible as anyone for the development of these guys.

            • Maxie here – thanks, Burly. Just to clarify, there are two of us who write this blog, and confusingly I wrote the original post, but then James (who actually knows about rugby) wrote the detailed comments which you’ve been responding to. I’ll let him respond properly as I am now well out of my depth!

              • No worries Burly. You make a lot of good points. As I say, I think Lancaster has done pretty well thus far, I just think it was a poor decision to choose a coach with no prem experience (except a relegation) or Heineken Cup experience when proven coaches like white and mallet were available. I think one’s perspective on rugby often depends on which club side you support (maybe). Either way, I certainly don’t think the RFU should take any credit for appointing Lancaster, as he kind of stumbled into the role, and I think it’s wrong for the ecb to admire the RFU considering the last ten years or so. That’s just my opinion, and I am certainly not always right!!! As my wife will tell you ;-)

              • There’s a story in itself as to why White and Mallett are perennially available! :)

                Though Wayne Smith was a good shout.

    • Maxie, you spoil me. An article conjoining my favourite sporting twins, cricket and rugby. You may guess that I do not share your distaste for rugby union. It may be steeped in blood and sweat, and touched by thuggery, but it is an aesthetic brutality and at its best the game is played with meter and rhyme and poetic phrasing.

      Some low blows on the elitism of rugby – surname camaraderie is not exactly confined to varsity butteries after cuppers. Ask Cooky, Belly or Mooresy.

      Under Lancaster, English rugby is visibly on the up. His England team plays with greater intensity, pace and balance. When I watch the team play now, I do so with an air of excited expectation, and believe they will arrive at the 2015 world cup in great shape and as one of the tournament favourites.

  • I agree that putting Lancaster on a pedestal is premature. However, I think there’s a deeper irony about it – Lancaster is popular with fans for winning some big games and changing the style of play to something more open and attacking.

    If I actually thought the ECB and Peter Moores were going to embrace a more open and attacking game plan, well I might be happier with their rugby obsession…

    • Good point. Lancaster is also an extremely wet behind the ears coach, whereas Moores has been round the block so many times he’s probably in danger of falling over through dizziness. There are no parallels between the two at all.

  • Thanks for all your very interesting comments. Mike – I completely agree with you about the narrowness of their frame of reference. All they can think of as an influence are a team and a set of players from their own cultural milieu. On the state schools/urban point, the ECB will of course cite Chance 2 Shine (which they don’t actually run themselves – nice of them to outsource something so important). I’m sure that C2S does some very good work, and is very well intentioned, but I’d like to know more about its longer term impact – how many of those children get further and sustained access to cricket afterwards? I suspect the ECB are using C2S as a bit of a sop, which doesn’t mean it has no virtue, of course.

    • I honestly believe looking at the way the NZ people “connect” (hehe) with their sport and hoping to implement the same thing in this country is both a laudable aim and a total pipedream. It simply isn’t going to happen.

      I’m all for increasing participation and getting more grass roots stuff in place, but that’s a world away from having the entire country basically obsessed with the sport at all ages.

      • Agree with you there Burly – we already have Football which is our obsession but still no where near the level of the All Blacks in NZ.

        But their aim should be to get more people playing cricket, and viewing cricket aspirationally (vomits in own mouth) to play professionally. Given that large swathes of the population live in cities and are educated in state schools without the opportunity to play, that’s an awful lot of potential not being exposed to cricket. You really have to look for it if you don’t know anyone at a club as it just isn’t as present in schools.

        Chance 2 Shine is great and all and we need more of this please. The ECB should be spending time fattening the pipeline of future talent rather than fucking around with the senior men’s team and making facile comparisons with other sports.

  • Putting cricket in state schools is never going to happen. They’ve given up on it and they’re never going back. It’s too expensive and too complicated for them. They can’t be arsed. It’s infinitely more worthwhile to put the resources in to clubs and let them bring on the youth.

    But to get them in to the clubs, of course…

    “We covet what we see before us every day”

    A lot of kids grow up now never watching cricket. You have to go looking for it to watch it. Why would you go looking for something you don’t really know exists? Australia has a third of the population of the UK but twice the number of people actively playing cricket – and cricket faces huge competition (and is very much the little brother) from AFL and Rugby League – and increasingly football.

    The BBC was almost equally useless in the affair, but the TV coverage of cricket is probably the most short-sighted thing the ECB has ever done.

  • English cricket (like rugby) has always been hideously overreliant on the private school system, but since they pulled the plug on free to air cricket on tv, that has got worse and will continue to do so.

    Cricket clubs like mine are more than happy to offer free (or virtually free) coaching to kids, the problem is getting them interested enough in a sport they have never really been exposed to to turn up in the first place.

    • Funnily enough the top end of English rugby is pretty well represented by state schools. Certainly the academy input is mostly fed by public schools though.

  • No, a renaissance of state school cricket is very unlikely, as you say, and as you also say, the chief answer is cricket on TV, which I may have mentioned once or twice on this blog before. That’s why I’m suspicious about C2S – I think the ECB use it as a sop and get-out-of-jail card for flogging the game to satellite TV.

  • I can see why Giles, Downton and Cook would seek to hijack Lancaster’s success and promise, just as shameless politicians attach themselves to cute babies and national treasures. However, the future of each sport is likely to follow different trajectories. First, Stuart Lancaster (Proverbs 16:10) has the authority of a coach who, so far, has done everything right first time round. There is nothing fresh about Peter Moores (Proverbs 26:11). Secondly, England rugby has in the indefatigable Chris Robshaw a natural leader, who learned more about captaincy from Andrew Strauss in five minutes than the anaemic Alastair Cook did sharing a dressing room with the man for years. Mark Baileys recent piece in the Telegraph is worth a look. Thirdly, Lancaster will pick his players on merit and not because the face fits. Edgy characters like Dylan Hartley or even Owen Farrell may have struggled to survive a Flower/Moores-type regime, and there is even word that the serially maverick but seriously talented Danny Cipriani could be back in the mix for the New Zealand tour.

    • Great point re: Hartley and Cipriani etc. I think you’re a little generous in your praise of Robshaw, but I’m no lover of Quins so that’s to be expected ;-) just kidding

  • Maxie here – thanks again for all your comments. Sorry if I was a bit harsh on rugby, Tregaskis – I was just trying to be honest with a disclaimer as my distaste of rugby culture obviously colours my views somewhat. The above analysis of Lancaster and the RFU comes from James, our other editor, as he follows the game closely.

    I wasn’t trying to say that the ECB can’t learn anything from Lancaster et al – more that all they’ve come out with so far is their usual hazy thinking and tepid platitudes. What exactly, as I asked in the piece, do they want to copy?

    I’d go back to Mike’s comments about their narrow frame of reference. It’s typical of Cook and Downton to seize on a setup like English rugby, because they belong to a similar cultural milieu. Far more interesting would it have been if they had cited instead someone like Dave Brailsford and Team Sky/GB track cycling, which together amount to a genuinely undisputed British sporting success story.

    • Flower and co have been banging on about Brailsford and his 1% theory for years. A lot of the failure in Aus can be put down to an obsession with trying to transfer this approach across to an inappropriate degree.

      The methods that work in a narrowly focussed and highly technical sport like cycling do not necessarily translate to a creative and tactically open-ended sport like cricket. By obsessing over the 1% details, Flower allowed many of the 10% gains to slide.

      • That is an extremely good point. Brailsford was a bad example on my point – what I meant is that it Cook and Downton could surely have come up with a more imaginative source of inspiration. But the point overall it’s not about which sport or which lessons you draw on, but how sensitively and cleverly you apply them to your own sport and own team.

  • I think you have underestimated Downton and Giles. All of this talk of Rugby and team ethics is only the prelude to the taking of the ‘red bull 2014 England Cricket Team team photo’ Following the impressive Waitrose and Harrogate Water deals it has been thought that what would give England Cricket its wings is a red bull sponsored team photo shoot. Imagine Clarke and Downton and Cooke with wings – angels the lot of ’em!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Interesting piece and I completely agree that the real goal of the administrators should be broadening the appeal of cricket and particularly participation. The current administrators are miles away from thinking like that. There is one error I’d like to point out from the piece. You talk about Repton when you’re describing your image of braying bully boys. I went to repton and played for the rugby teams briefly. We were awful because repton isn’t a rugby school. It was just a sport for people who didn’t play hockey so it was just the misfits. We got beaten 54:3 by the burton rugby clubs youth team in a time of only 4 points for a try. We were awful.


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