Stumps: England 259-2. West Indies 370
Here’s a real problem within English cricket: only ten per cent of state schools play cricket. Many thousands of children are missing out on the opportunity to enjoy the game – and maybe contribute to its future in England – because they have no access to it, either from free television or on the playing field.
That’s an issue on our minds thanks to the Chance To Shine charity, who we were talking to a couple of days ago. They work to give disenfranchised state school pupils the chance to play cricket – and we’ll be telling you more about their valuable endeavours next week.
But for now the point is, this is a real problem for cricket – one which affects the whole English game, from top to bottom, and not only now but for years to come. Do the ECB care? Not really. But I’ll tell you what they do care about: KP slagging off Nick Knight on Twitter.
In case you missed this story earlier in the week, Kevin Pietersen Tweeted the following remark:
“Can somebody PLEASE tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for Home Tests?? RIDICULOUS!!”
These are hardly very explosive words. KP wasn’t cruel or abusive. He made no damaging allegations. He merely questioned Knight’s credentials, and most Sky viewers would concur. Knight is a reasonable broadcaster in some respects, but he’s also fairly dull, and unlike his colleagues in the commentary box, had only a very modest international career. Reportedly, what actually annoys the England team about Knight is the latter’s habit of quoting them on air from private conversations. But whatever – the point is, no one died. All KP did was say something.
The ECB’s response was to fine him an undisclosed sum, believed to be £2,500 with a further £2,000 suspended. According to the Daily Mail, Pietersen was “hauled before England team bosses Andy Flower and Hugh Morris on Wednesday, when he was informed of his punishment and reminded of his obligation to treat key sponsors and partners respectfully”.
The message is clear. However progressive and enlightened the modern ECB pretend to be, it takes very little for them to give the game away and demonstrate how virtually nothing has changed in their mindset since the 1930s. All that matters to them is maintaining appearances, keeping the players in line, and playing the political game. To use an extreme parallel: in 1968 the ECB’s predecessor dropped Basil D’Oliveira to avoid embarrassing their mates on the South African board. In 2012, they fine KP for fear of offending Sky.
When it comes to difficult underlying problems in English cricket – such as state school access, recreational facilities, free TV coverage – the ECB’s responses are half-hearted, lethargic and tortuous. But if an England player says something untoward on Twitter, they leap into action like lightning. It’s very clear where their priorities lie, especially because the injured party in NickKnightgate is Sky Sports, who pay the ECB £260 million a year.
It was reported yesterday that Sky itself made the first move in the process which led to KP’s fine. According again to the Daily Mail: “It is understood that Sky’s head of sport, Barney Francis, made representations to ECB chairman Giles Clarke early last week when he made it clear that he did not believe it was appropriate for a senior England player to denigrate his organisation in public”.
In return for Sky’s cash, English cricket has surrendered to some form of brainwashed Stalinist totalitarianism, in which free speech is outlawed. Pietersen has been punished for a very vague criticism of Sky’s commentary team. Would he have been reprimanded for similar comments about anyone else? KP does not work for Sky; he is paid to play cricket and within reason can say what he likes. Sky do not own or run English cricket, and the ECB are pathetically allowing themselves to be bullied into the position of instituting a thought-crime. One must not think ill of Sky. Sky is good. Sky loves you.
Where is this leading? Will we all -as English cricket followers – be forced to wear electrodes which monitor our brain activity whenever watching Sky Sports coverage? If the graph reveals a negative reaction to Ian Ward’s opening link, will we be ‘disappeared’ during the middle of the night? Exiled to a correction centre? Locked into Room 101 with a DVD boxset of ‘Sir’ Ian Botham anecdotes?
If only the ECB cared half as much about something which actually matters. But the Lord’s top brass never see problems if the test team are winning, and England now seem fully in control of events at Trent Bridge. At the close of Friday’s play, our side were criticised for losing initiative in the field. West Indies were praised for compiling a decent total. In truth, though, 370 is still significantly below par in such benign batting conditions, as Strauss and Pietersen proved on Saturday afternoon. The pair put the conditions – and the criticism – into context. As at every stage of this series so far, West Indies are playing better than they’ve done for years – but England are always several steps ahead.
With hindsight, England’s bowlers actually did well to dismiss the West Indies for only 370. Our expectations are sometimes too high nowadays; we’re not going to skittle the oppo every single innings. Bresnan took most of the flak for the slack periods on Friday, so it complicated matters that he eventually dismissed both Sammy and Samuels and finished with the best figures of the attack. Unlike my TFT co-editor, I’ll still argue that Bresnan is a better option that Finn as third seamer to Anderson and Broad. Finn is too similar in style to the latter, and just like he was early in his career, is too given to ‘pretty’ bowling rather than genuine wicket-taking deliveries. Graham Onions, however, is another matter, but the real question is – who would Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, and Jacques Kallis, least like to face?