Odds and sods

i070099

I have a Christmas present for you. Tomorrow I will put away my moans and groans and try to spread a little festive cricketing joy. No more doom and gloom till the New Year. I promise.

But before then, a quick recap of the talking points from the last couple of days, many of which you’ve already flagged up and discussed on the comments boards. Dmitri has been all over it – especially here and here.

It was a lively weekend. Seven shades of ordure rained down on the ECB’s head. Some from unexpected quarters. Paul Downton ended up resembling Father Ted in the episode when Tom presses the wrong button on the sewage lorry.

I almost began to feel a bit sorry for him.

Actually, that’s not true.

When even Andrew Strauss is up in arms against the establishment, things have reached a pretty pass. As he said in his Sunday Times column yesterday:

What does leave an unsavoury taste in the mouth, though, is the way that the axe has been wielded.

The ECB’s image has taken a battering every bit as significant as the reputation of some of its players over the past 12 months.

Refusing to talk about Kevin Pietersen’s banishment from the team, allowing Cook to carry the can for the move, leaking the ‘dossier’ on Pietersen’s misdemeanours at the precise moment when they should have been taking the moral high ground, and now filtering the news of Cook’s demotion through to the Twitterspehere and other unofficial channels smacks of clumsy subterfuge or incompetence or both.

It is hugely disrespectful to a captain who has given everything to the role.

Exactly how the ECB would have taken the moral high ground is a question for another day. That lot could share a platform with Ronnie Kray and Idi Amin and end up looking the bad guys.

That apart, Strauss nails it.

He wasn’t the only alumnus of the class of 2005 to weigh in. Steve Harmison delivered his most accurate missile since the Michael Clark slower ball at Edgbaston.

Downton has made himself look ridiculous. Last week, he pointed out that the one time Alastair had a full-strength one-day side, England reached the Champions Trophy final. Fair enough.

So why did he sack Ashley Giles as England’s one-day coach – and selector – this year? Giles only once had a full-strength one-day side, and when he did England reached the Champions Trophy final. In the last 12 months the ECB have sacked [Kevin] Pietersen, England’s best player ever, at the age of 33.

I believe Cook didn’t need one-day cricket in the summer, when he had so many other things to deal with. That’s when the board should have told him to just concentrate on Test cricket.

Meanwhile, Andrew Flintoff, who hardly seemed very sympathetic to Pietersen, shattered the stumps with this:

What Kevin’s done can’t be as bad as what’s been portrayed and it’s time the ECB told us, the paying public who are missing out on watching him, what went on.

I think Kevin is somebody with immense talent who people are quick to praise when he is good, and jump on straightaway when he has a bad game or something doesn’t go his way. He was challenging at times because sometimes he wants to do things his way but as long as it is working out in the middle, that’s fine.

He was the hardest trainer so Kevin was never a problem for me, and as a player I’d have him every day of the week.

We’re not talking keyboard warriors here. These aren’t the deranged rants of a lunatic fringe. Heavyweight figures are piling in. But what would they know, huh?

Say something like this to Downton, and he tries to shrug it off as the most obtuse point in the universe.

We parted company with Kevin in January because throughout the ECB management, from the dressing room up to the board, it was felt that it was the right decision to go in a slightly different direction.

If anything more bridges have been burnt by Kevin’s book. There is no interest from our point of view in going backwards.

Pick the logic out of that. So if Pietersen had written a nice book, he might be back in the frame? Downton’s use of retrospective evidence is snide and unsavoury.

In the same media round, on Saturday morning, national selector James “one test” Whitaker bit the head off anyone who dared mention the P word.

The ECB management made this decision in January and it is the same decision now. There is no way that Kevin Pietersen will ever get back into an England team.

He said this without explanation or elaboration. His words translate as “it is, because I said it is”.

In an interview for the ECB website, Whitaker unwisely waded into the most dangerous territory for any sports administrator: telling supporters what to think and do.

Every England supporter should have respect [for Alastair Cook]. The guy’s been a remarkable captain. England cricket fans should be grateful they’ve got someone of that integrity and honesty that leads the test team.

I suspect a straw poll right now of England followers would not reveal gratitude to be the abiding emotion.

Simultaneously, on the other side of the Nursery Ground, Downton was trying to dig his way out of a landslide with a toothpick. It was a heroic battle against the odds. Impossibly outflanked by the massed allied forces of (a) common sense and (b) things he’d said three days earlier, our man went into battle armed only with the flimsiest weapon imaginable – his powers of rhetoric.

His challenge was to persuade us that he’d said something completely different from what we’d all heard him say earlier in the week. Namely, that Cook would remain in post.

What I said then was that the decision to make Alastair captain in Sri Lanka had taken a lot of discussion with James and the other selectors. The decision that Alastair was the right man to take us to Sri Lanka and by implication the World Cup was made because of his track record over a long period of time in Australia against two white balls and because of the type of cricket we wanted to play out there.

That was the plan and we thought consistency was the best thing to do. We could also see some young players coming through and stability at the top end with some shot players around him would be the way to go. But as Sri Lanka continued it just became clearer that he wasn’t performing and if a plan’s not working eventually you have to change it.

You can see his point. Things became so much clearer between the sixth and seventh ODIs. In Downtonian, “eventually” means “tomorrow”.

For his next trick, England’s MD attempted to have his cake and eat it.

While it wasn’t my decision, I completely endorse what the selectors have done. There seems to be a myth that I’m in charge of everything. I’m at the heart of an England management team of which the selectors are an integral part.

I’m not a selector. I will offer help if I can and as long as the processes are working well I’m happy. I don’t go to every selection meeting. I go at the invitation of James and the selectors and if asked I will provide an opinion. I don’t look in any way to interfere with what the selectors decide because they watch far more cricket than me and are better qualified than me.

But I am a cricket person and I can sometimes offer up a different perspective but as long as the process is thorough, which it always has been, then I’m happy with whatever decision the selectors come up with.

So what’s his exact role in these meetings? Biscuit monitor?

Can you imagine him sitting there meekly, waiting for Mr Whitaker’s permission to speak?

Downton is trying to distance himself far enough from the fray that if things go wrong, it’s not his fault – but still stay close enough to bask in the reflected glory of any success. He doesn’t do the dirty work. But he’s in charge. Sort of.

Dmitri made some very important points in the posts referenced above. The crux is that Downton is making heavy weather of how the selectors, not he, make the big cricketing calls.

Hang on a minute.

What did Downton told Jonathan Agnew, in the TMS interview in May? That he fired Pietersen for “cricketing reasons”.

Whitaker takes no responsibility for what happened. “The ECB management made this decision”. Not him. At the time, one of the other selectors was Ashley Giles, who on 15th January named Pietersen in the provisional World T20 squad, and said:

There was no discussion about leaving Kevin out. He’s another million pound asset, at least. He might be worth a bit more than that.

Downton has colonised and corrupted the selection system to ensure he gets what he wants but has plenty of places to hide and other people to blame when the cops arrive with a search warrant. He slithers from one tendentious position to another, protesting doe-eyed innocence while the blood drips from his hands.

Soon he’ll have at least one new boss, probably two. Next month Tom Harrison starts work as ECB chief executive. Colin Graves will likely become chairman in March.

I wonder what on earth they’re making of all this.

39 comments

  • If Colin Graves and Tom Harrison have the good of English cricket at heart, they must remove Downton, Moores and Flower.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Maxie, James and all who visit this blog.

  • “There is no way that Kevin Pietersen will ever get back into an England team.”
    That really is an extraordinary statement.

    It wouldn’t be extraordinary if Pietersen had been match-fixing, or permanently drunk, or caught snorting cocaine in the Members’ loos at Lord’s. But given that he seems to have been permanently excluded basically for being annoying, to put it like that is just weird.

    As the various cricket heavyweights have pointed out.

    It’s possible, of course, that what Whitaker’s trying to express is not his own position but that of other people whom he can’t ignore, even though he is the National Selector.

    • Indeed. There should be two statements printed in bold at the top of each selector’s blank team sheet before a meeting:

      1) No England-qualifed player is undroppable
      2) No England-qualified player is unselectable

      • Hear hear. Absolutely spot on. This is an immutable principle of sports selection (barring the kind of extreme misconduct to which Zephirine refers).

        Thanks, Tom, for this and other comments recently.

    • Leaving aside Whitaker’s complete lack of international pedigree, and the fact that he went to the same school and played for the same county as the country’s highest-profile cricket journalist (mark my words, that connection will come up again in 2015!), I have a big problem with this comment, especially when juxtaposed with him telling us we should be grateful for Alastair Cook.

      Why is one a pariah and the other a deity? It wasn’t us that made this about Cook v Pietersen, it was them, with statements like this throughout the year.

      I am not on Twitter, but I use it frequently to gauge what cricket fans are thinking. And of course I’ve been around the block a few times BTL on the Guardian.

      I would not be at all surprised if there are a lot of people who still believe the following:

      – Cook has a higher Test average than Pietersen
      – Cook has a higher Ashes average than Pietersen
      – Cook has more Ashes hundreds than Pietersen
      – Cook has played in more winning Ashes sides than Pietersen

      All of these are demonstrably FALSE.

      Even leaving aside the fact that Pietersen remains England’s highest international run scorer, and ended his career with the highest Test average for an English batsman since Geoffrey Boycott, he – alongside Ian Bell – is the first England cricketer in a generation to play in four victorious Ashes series. I’m actually incensed that someone like Whitaker has the gall to talk about Pietersen in this manner. I’d say the same if he were denigrating any of the great England players of the last ten years, except we know that isn’t going to happen.

      Here is an oft-forgotten part of that infamous press release:

      “The ECB recognises the significant contribution Kevin has made to England teams over the last decade. He has played some of the finest innings ever produced by an England batsman.”

      This is the closest any of the management group have come to praising Pietersen since his sacking, and I’m sorry, but it was nowhere near good enough, especially when you compare it to what they have said on the record about Cook and Flower. Many of us will remember Selvey’s piece in the week after Pietersen’s book was released, and particularly the following quote:

      “I do know the intention was to have feted him properly when the dust settled.”

      This riled people all over again. The casual disrespect – for Pietersen and for those who believe England should have been more grateful – is sickening, and for my money it completely dwarfs the sum total of everything he’s been accused of. I would argue that you could only reach a place where Whitaker can make his comment, and Paul Newman can say on BBC radio (September 5th) that a player with Pietersen’s overall record “will be remembered more for the last year than for everything he’s achieved”, if that player has been the subject of a hostile propaganda campaign. Most damningly, in my view, you could only reach such a place in England.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all, and thanks for a great blog.

  • One of the joys of 2014 is discovering this blog and Dmitri and keeping track of all the events that have made this year so incredible. The pressure must be kept on the ECB to explain themselves and to show they are not, nor ever will be, forgiven for their despicable and craven behaviour.

    Merry Christmas to you all

  • Just had to google the difference between an MD and a CEO, because I always thought they were the same thing – and I’m more confused now than I was before! Sounds like the same role but for different audiences? Who knows. Must make it bloody hard to run anything.
    As for the rest…. I’m just over it. Tired of the whole mud-slinging, he said-she said, spiteful, embarrassing mess. I’m beginning to think KP and Downton deserve each other – if you gave them both a gun, they’d shoot themselves in the foot. One managed to authorise 300 pages that confirmed exactly why so many have such a low opinion of him. The other is – as Maxie says – Comical Ali, spouting nonsense and becoming a laughing stock.
    It’s impossible to talk cricket without having the conversation polluted by this ongoing rubbish, and that’s just desperately sad. God knows what it’s going to take for English cricket to move on from this, but whatever it is would be a price worth paying. In the meantime I’m on the verge of supporting New Zealand, until English cricket decides to stop tearing itself to pieces.

    • Thanks for bringing your usual good sense and balanced comments to the debate. Please do go on supporting England. It’s the players who matter most. Hope you have a happy Chritmas and that we hear from you again in better spirits after the break. Be of good cheer now!

      • Thanks Jenny. Much appreciated :)
        It’s been a pleasure chatting to you both here and on Twitter over the last couple of months. Let’s hope that at some point, some form of good sense prevails, and we can all move on.
        I’ve got my tickets to the Australia WC opener at the G, and to the final, and I’ll go to the first expecting the worst but hoping for the best. It’ll be good to have some cricket to talk about at least.
        Happy Christmas to you and yours, and let’s hope for a less rancorous and more successful 2015!

    • They are broadly the same thing. MD is generally a more British term, CEO more American. In a British context, CEO is more likely to be applied in a publicly listed company.

      However, some companies simply apply terms in an idiosyncratic way with no particular logic.

      In this case, Paul Downton is in charge of what they call the England Cricket Department; essentially the national teams’ set-up. The Chief executive – soon to be Tom Harrison – is executive head of the entire ECB; all cricket in England and Wales, national, domestic, and amateur.

      • Ah. That explains it perfectly. Thanks very much for taking the time to clarify. Much needed – and appreciated!

  • Downtown and Whitaker are so definite in their statements that KP will never come back but still can’t tell us what he has done to deserve such harsh judgement .They leave themselves wide open to being shown the fools they are If someone. (Who???) stands up and thinks of the team first and their petty hatreds second and should bring KP back into the fold.A happy Christmas to all of you who make me feel I’m not the only one banging my head against a brick wall.Will be back in the New Year ready to continue the battle with these silly men who are just being lead by a man who has to be removed Andy Flower,so full of hatred for KP.He has cost England dear.

  • From the moment Cook was sacked all the pro Cook people suddenly turned on the ECB. They have been defending this institution all year. However, now they have realised what we knew all along. Cook was the patsy, and as soon as he was of no use to them they dumped on him. “Iron Rod” was the lightening conductor. But once the lightening started to hit closer to ECB home he had to go.

    Whatever side of the KP fence you sit on, the ECB is not fit for purpose. We finally can find something we agree on.

  • Ed Smith has weighed in on England’s ODI woes:

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/812521.html

    “England’s bad ODI form is not about Alastair Cook. It is not about Peter Moores. It is not about being too loyal to the captain or too attached to outdated plans. The real problem is the England team. It isn’t that good. Hasn’t been for a long time. Especially in ODIs. Especially abroad. This is a difficult conversation, tending towards the nihilistic. So we talk about planning and tactics and captaincy instead.”

    • “England’s bad ODI form is not about Alastair Cook”

      Alastair Cook was a significant part of the reason for England’s poor ODI form. Regardless of their other problems, the team is better off without him.

    • I hated that Ed Smith article. He’s basically saying that anyone who thinks tactics win sports matches is a moron. Hmmmm. He’s got a point that it often comes down to the players playing well, but to suggest that tactics, strategies and plans are completely irrelevant is simply bizarre. I wonder what Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho would make of Smith’s comments? ‘Sorry Jose but you’re not a tactical mastermind because tactics are irrelevant to the outcome of matches. In fact, I have no idea why you bother analysing the opposition and coming up with game plans at all … it’s waste of time mate’. You might want to rethink that one, Ed.

      • That wasn’t the impression I got from the article. I thought his main point was that all the plans in the world won’t compensate for a bad (or “not good” or “underperforming” or “not as good as the opposition”) team. Or at least, will only do so on rare occasions.

        His other point which is perhaps more relevant for this site is that all of the talk about “plans” and “strategy” that comes up regularly in the media talking points is just the spin doctors trying to cover up the fact that the players weren’t playing very well.

        Is he correct? I’m not enough of an expert to be able to tell whether the current English ODI team has “good” players or not. All I really know is that they’re all better cricket players than I am. Others may be able to say whether the team can be better than they are or if certain players are just not “good enough” to be playing at that level, I certainly can’t. But I do think that we, as fans of cricket, have to be suspicious whenever a coach or captain starts talking about “plans” in the post-game press conference following a loss.

        Flower had plans, and spreadsheets, and strategy, and research on opposition teams. He also has a 5-0 whitewash on his permanent record. What he didn’t have in Australia in 2013-14 was a team that was performing nearly as well as it should have (or maybe even could have) done.

        • Wherever the players and strategy actually matches up in absolute terms, there are still conclusions that can be made based on logical consistency and consistency with good practice elsewhere in the world.

          So you can say, well, I don’t know how good player X is but I’d have a much better idea and /also/ he’d have performed much better if I had selected him consistently/batted at the same place in the order/bowled him consistently/ etc.

          So, basically, *that*. Irrespective of any on-field outcomes, are, when you are shooting, failing, at least to hit yourself in the foot?

          The ECB has lately rarely failed to miss its foot in these respects.

    • Ed Smith hits the nail on the head; he’s absolutely right. The question that he doesn’t answer properly is why that is. For that you have to look at the hopeless county development system that spurns home grown talent in favour of foreign imports and the ECB’s laughable ‘Elite Player Development System’ which isn’t and doesn’t. A prize to anyone who can remember the last time an England U19 side reached the World Cup Final.

  • I’m not going to comment on article or posts just now, peace and goodwill etc.
    I will return in New Year fully charged and ready to go.
    I hope you all have a merry Christmas and an even merrier Hogmanay.

  • Let’s hope that 2015 sees a settled England batting line-up that is able to compete against the best bowling attacks in the world, that the egos at the ECB take a back seat and let the players get on with things, and that the whole sorry KP saga comes to an end
    I’ve really enjoyed this blog this year – Happy Christmas everyone :-)

    • The ONLY way that the KP saga will come to an end is if he plays again for England and gets a sendoff befitting the highest ever run scorer for England. People still haven’t forgotten how Gower was discarded over 20 years ago, but this is infinitely worse. All in my opinion of course. Those inside cricket may beg to differ, but I view each and every one of them with complete and utter contempt. This will never go away, or diminish, as far as I’m concerned. A Very Merry Christmas to all on here and over at Dmitri’s who have at least tempered my anger. Let’s hope for a better 2015.

  • Just called in to say happy Christmas to James, Maxie and the mob. (!) Very much enjoyed the brilliant writing, absorbing articles and the respones. So pleased to have found you. Have even come to agree with you on certain points.

    • Happy Christmas Jenny.

      I am afraid You are just going to have to take Cooks poster off your wall now. And give away your life size Alasdair Cook duvet cover with Waitrose sponsors logo.

      And that poster of Cook saying “Do you feel lucky Punk?” will have to go too. Oh wait, sorry that was your Clint Eastwood one! ;-)

  • To James, Maxie and yours, best wishes and a Merry Christmas to you all. I have enjoyed this site tremendously since I learned of it from Dmitri’s site. Hope 2015 brings you all the best and look forward to reading your future comments which hopefully will be of a happier nature than this years sagas.

  • To Maxie and James. A very happy Christmas to you both. You have been an oasis of sense this year in a cricket world that had gone completely insane.

    Keep up the good work because who knows what idiocy the ECB/media will throw at us next year.

  • Thanks Maxie for putting this all in its historical context. Having said that I feel ashamed to be an England Cricket supporter, right now with its core management presiding over the worst period I have ever known in cricket. I feel deeply ashamed by the way the ECB management has chosen, and I do mean chosen, to act so shamelessly with OUR national team. The reputation of England Cricket right now is in the international sin bin. The way Downton and Clarke have acted through this past year has been nothing short of a disgrace. They have both treated England players like pawns in their ludicrous “games!” They both absolutely disgust me. Now we have the “Selectors” weighing in to the fray. James Whittaker is utterly appalling. Of course we then have the ECB press who seem to be contemptible in their destruction of one of our most exciting players since Botham. They also damaged other players reputations and their ability to play well: Finn, Barstow, Carberry, Panesar, and others who have seemingly lost their talent. Not forgetting the appalling way the ECB treated Ashley Giles. These miscreants have chosen to lie and make up stories that tears apart talented players. Then to add insult to injury the ECB decide to call supporters, who question the veracity of their words and actions, “outsiders!”

    I have been so appalled by the ECB press and media cronies – because many of them are nothing more than cronies! Some of these people have been so nasty, rude and aggressive towards fans who simply ask questions. They have caused very sensible, knowledgable and long-standing cricket fans to become so angry. These press people are, in my opinion, and utter disgrace to their profession. It is one thing to be upset when fans show their frustration towards the ECB and the media on newspapers threads and social media, but it is something else when these same media cronies start to attack fans with such venom and aggression because they ask questions that seems unpalatable. I have personally felt very aggrieved by Mr Agnew laughing at me on Twitter. I had so respected him for so many years, but he has shown himself to be utterly disgraceful in the way he has attacked those who wanted honest answers from the ECB. The ECB has absolutely no integrity whatsoever.

    In my opinion, if the whole crowd of present ECB incumbents is not sent packing then England Cricket may not, if ever, recover. If the new people do not have a thorough clean out then England Cricket will be finished. County cricket is already on the ropes, big time. Moreover, the press should never again become so close to the ECB, or allowed to become so close, that they refuse to see the King isn’t wearing new clothes but is actually “naked as the day he was born!”

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