The Wednesday Wensleydale

Afternoon all. And welcome to the latest edition of the Wednesday Wensleydale – the weekly roundup that’s mature, tasty, and tends to crumble on close analysis.

We’ve chosen a Yorkshire cheese because the white rose county are very much in the news this week. They’ve signed 26 year old South Africa paceman Duanne Olivier – a man who’s taken 48 wickets in just ten tests at an incredible average of 19 – on a Kolpak deal for next season. This means Olivier has turned his back on his fledgling international career.

This is obviously good news for the Yorkies but terrible news for South African cricket and arguably world cricket in general. One can’t blame Yorkshire from doing their best to strengthen their squad, especially as so many other counties have signed Kolpaks, but what grates is that Olivier is very much entering the prime of his career.

This isn’t Kyle Abbott or Morne Morkel we’re talking about – bowlers in their 30s with their best years arguably behind them – this is one of South Africa’s top bowling talents. It’s an absolute hammer blow for them to lose him. And it does test cricket no favours either. World cricket needs a strong South Africa team and the best players playing regularly.

No doubt many people will blame Olivier himself for turning his back on his country. However, I do have some sympathy for him. In turning away from international cricket he’s turning his attentions towards his family’s financial future. And it’s hard to blame an athlete for doing that.

Yes critics will argue that Oiliver could have represented his country for another 4 or 5 years before picking up a lucrative contract in county cricket or elsewhere, but fast bowlers are notoriously injury prone. It’s a short career. Perhaps Olivier is simply a nervous character eager to minimise risks?

This is such a tricky issue. There are strong arguments on all sides and it’s not black and white. What it is, however, is a massive shame that inequalities in world cricket continue to dog the game.

What’s more, as England fans who moan when our test stars get tempted to play in the Big Bash and the IPL, we can’t ignore our nation’s role in this. We get up in arms when IPL franchises lure our best stars away from championship cricket. Well here’s an example of one of our clubs screwing over a national side. It all feels very uncomfortable.

Next up on the agenda is Tom Harrison’s latest comments on The Hundred. This bloke is wasted in administration. He should be in the test team itself judging by his ability to spin things prodigiously. He must have a very strong wrist. Ahem.

According to Harrison his harebrained have a hit “has been a success already”. And apparently “it’s something cricket fans all around the country will flock to see”.

I’m sorry Tom but this is BS of the highest order. Thus far HHHH has only succeeded in pissing cricket fans off. And as for his comment about attracting fans from around the country – presumably a swipe at critics who argue that having franchises in just 8 major urban centres makes the tournament inaccessible compared to country cricket – he’s obviously living in cloud cuckoo land.

So I ask you this, Tom. How many Worcestershire fans do you know who are planning to drive to Birmingham specifically to watch this stuff? And, more to the point, how many Somerset fans do you know who are planning to make the arduous journey from Taunton to Cardiff? I bet he doesn’t know a single one.

The quote that really had ECB critics in stitches, however, was Harrison’s following comment towards the end of his interview:

We’re getting people to re-appraise cricket in terms of their perceptions of what the game means to them, and ultimately addressing the complexity of cricket – presenting it in a simple way.

Eh? Talk about incomprehensible. If Harrison is trying to simplify cricket one might have thought he’d drop the corporate speak and use simple language too.

In other news, it was revealed the other day that James Motley, who was previously head of PR at Sky, has been appointed as the ECB’s head of communications for The Hundred. Hmmm.

I have absolutely nothing against Motley personally but I do worry about the close relationship between Sky and the ECB. And this seems to be another example. It’s a worry. Broadcasters covering our sport should be completely independent in my opinion, as otherwise who is going to hold cricket’s administrators to account?

I have to say that alarm bells start ringing when I hear the ECB describe Sky as a “strategic partner”. What next? Journalists covering the team working as strategic partners rather than independent observers? it just doesn’t sit right with me.

At the end of the day cricket is supposed to be a democracy. The game belongs to the people after all. And healthy democracies require independent voices critiquing decisions.

Although I have no doubt that Motley got the job because he was a strong candidate with the relevant experience required, cynics will see this as a bit, well, cushy (for want of a better word). Obviously Motley doesn’t exactly commentate on games but it just doesn’t feel right when prominent figures are going from one organisation to the other. It highlights how the ECB and Sky are becoming more and more inseparable in the minds of supporters.

The next item on today’s agenda is Alastair Cook, who received his knighthood from Lizzy on Tuesday. How nice it was to see a cricketer – albeit an establishment favourite – finally get some recognition for his outstanding service to his country.

Live cricket has been hidden behind a paywall for so long that I suspect the broader public have forgotten what cricket is. Just look at cricketers’ anonymity in BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year awards over the last decade. Consequently it was good to see Chef attract some much needed publicity for the sport.

The one thing that did slightly irk me, however, was his refusal to rule out a comeback one day. This is the second time he’s basically said “never say never” when asked if he’d consider playing for England again.

Although I don’t think that Cook will actually make a comeback, I do think it’s possible. This is because he’s bound to score millions in county cricket. He’s probably the best accumulator of big runs against mediocre bowling that I’ve ever seen. The bloke is relentless and won’t toss his wicket away when the opposition isn’t good enough to get him out.

Consequently, I think Cook has given the media enough ammunition to make this a huge ongoing story over the next few months – particularly when thoughts turn to the Ashes of course. The media has always adored Cook and they’ll love nothing more portraying him as England’s saviour in waiting.

The problem with this, of course, is that it will put extra pressure on the likes of Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings, or any other opener that England try. There will always be Cook’s legend in the background. Some might even hold the fact that they’re not Alastair Cook against them.

Because of this I’m slightly disappointed that Alastair didn’t pour more cold water on the prospect of a comeback yesterday. I haven’t seen all the interviews he’s done – apparently he all but ruled out the prospect in one of them and only really hinted it was possible when pressed – but I don’t think using the phrase “never say never” is particularly helpful. After all, if a politician said “never say never” in answer to a question then the whole country would assume a u-turn is imminent.

Instead of saying there’s some possibility of a comeback (no matter how unlikely) I would’ve preferred Alastair to say something like this: “Look guys, I’m retired. And I retired for a reason. I just wasn’t getting the runs the team needed anymore. And I couldn’t play at the same level I’m accustomed to. I think it’s time for the selectors to put their faith in the younger guys and really back them. Speculation about my future really doesn’t help anyone.”

Had Alastair said something like that then he would’ve shut down story there and then. Instead by saying ‘never say never’ he gave the headlines writers a small window of opportunity to stir the pot. And he must have known this would be their response.

It’s all a little curious if you ask me. It makes me think that there’s actually a small part of him that’s intrigued by the idea.

If Cook is mulling a return, or perhaps mulling the act of mulling a return, it wouldn’t surprise me entirely. His home Ashes record is actually quite poor: he averages just under 30 and has never made a home Ashes hundred. I’m sure he’d like the chance to rectify this blemish on his CV.

Finally I should quickly mention the ODI in Grenada. At the time of writing England have just made 418-6 with Jos Buttler making a superb 150 off 77 balls. I assume we’re going to win from here!

I’ve long said that Buttler is the best ODI player I’ve seen in an England shirt so this doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s a freak. I do, however, find all these big totals a bit, well, boring to be honest.

The best cricket comes when there’s a balance between bat and ball. The pitch in Grenada looked so flat, and the bats they use these days are so meaty, that the bowlers are basically cannon fodder.

The ICC believe that serving up run-fests is exactly what the people want. However, I’m not so sure it will work out this way in the long run. The more sixes one sees the less special they become. And the more teams score over 350 or 400 (partly because there’s two new balls, fielding restrictions etc so the game is rigged in their favour) the less special they become.

My wise old Mum, who being a mother may well be the target audience for The Hundred (!), once told me it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. And I think she was right.

She also thinks HHHH is a load of old bollocks.

James Morgan


  • Brexit is likely to bring an end to Kolpak contracts. What will Olivier do then? And it’s not long since Andrew Gale was banned for calling Aslwell Prince a “f*****g Kolpak”, so why have Yorkshire betrayed all the county’s young cricketers who are trying to rise through the ranks?

  • Whilst leaving the EU will mean no further new Kolpak contracts, surely those already signed will continue as to end them would mean retrospective legislation, something we generally don’t do. That might explain Ollivier’s decision to join Yorkshire now.

  • “In turning away from international cricket he’s turning his attentions towards his family’s financial future.”

    And trying to escape white genocide.

    • We all engage in hyperbole from time to time but the use of the word genocide does have a very accurate meaning and it’s offensive to use it when nothing remotely like that is happening in South Africa.

  • Can we please leave the “B” word out of this excellent blog? It’s bad enough having it rammed down out throats as a excuse for anything that goes wrong without it creeping into cricket threads.

  • Seems to me that Olivier has preempted Brexit, as whatever is decided about our leaving terms, players already signed under those contracts will have to see them out. The next few months will determine in what form, if any, any Kolpack can continue. Don’t think it’s right to compare this with IPL, which doesn’t stop anyone playing for their country long term. It’s not a career thing, just a money maker for established talent.

    As to the Hundred, we all knew close links with Sky and it’s cricket channel were key to its success. Harrison’s assertion that it has public support amongst existing cricket fans bears little scrutiny, but his reasoning has always been that it will bring a new audience to the game, so if the game is to ‘belong to the people’ it makes sense to create a form which is designed especially to appeal to the people, not just the purists. I would be in favour of the hundred if we didn’t already have the 20-20. So why not tinker with that?

    The problem for Cook is that he’s still a relatively young man and quite capable of performing at the top level. He can see we are struggling to find a suitable top order for tests, so if he has a good start to the county season, why not, as long as he is prepared to commit long term and not just as a temporary shoe in. He would just be the latest in a long line of sportsmen who regretted ‘early’ retirement.

    My mum would have gone along with dad, as she did to the John Player matches on a Sunday afternoons, taken her magazines and knitting and nodded her way sagely through proceedings, whenever dad expressed a view. When I was a nipper going with them the ‘clip clip’ of her needles will always be associated with those ‘hazy, lazy days of summer’, when somehow the sun seemed to shine more often.

  • Cook. – I actually hope he does score what full of runs and shows up the lack of quality in county cricket (baring in mind April wickets too).. that will show everyone not how good cook is but his bad the current top order players are ..

    Buttler.. great hitting.. can’t knock his ball hitting but it’s not really batting.. it’s baseball

    Balance between bat and ball in white ball especially has long since died, every so often the geoundsman will mess up and produce a wicket but 99% of the time is always a one sided affair. Is this what people want ? (Same with shorter more hitting win lose cricket at amateur level).. the truth is no one knows for sure so it’s all guesswork..

    All I know is participation is dropping overall and shorter hitting formats are making no difference because formst literally doesn’t matter.. it’s a lifestyle change that’s caused it, not formst.

    I watched lovemfor my 2 hour run but having seen the score st the timemetc, I didn’t watch any more as it was just baseball and if I wanted to watch baseball I’d watch., well., baseball

    • There aren’t usually that many home runs hit in baseball. ODIs like yesterday are more like seal-clubbing.

    • Surely it’s up the bowlers to find a way to make them more difficult to hit. They’re supposed to be the cream of the crop. I never heard the likes of ‘Big Cat’ Clive or ‘King’ Viv criticised in this way when they went on their frequent cross batted hitting binges, taking balls from outside off stump and depositing them over mid wicket, moving well before the bowler bowled and not getting their foot specially near the pitch of the ball.
      If it was as simple as small grounds and heavy bats why isn’t everyone making big hundreds? Butler is not a brutal hitter, he is a timer and stroke maker and we should be appreciating him whilst he’s around. Anyone who has ever tried reverse sweeps and flicks over the keeper knows how fiendishly difficult it is, every bit a skillfull as any shot in the book if you’re not going to get out.

      • I was t around when viv and co played but if it’s anything like the early 2000’s.. the difference in seeing harmisson, Jones and co slog a few was becuse it was fun.. they didn’t come off regularly and you knew they weren’t batsmen .

        Now, every player walking out is a hitter pretty much (odd exception) so it’s not special.. it’s just one power hitter after another. There is rarely an actual close game, very little to play for in most second innings as the game is (99% of the time) pretty much a forgone conclusion by over 20 etc.

        Butter is a fantastic ball striker for sure but the point isn’t about a player.. it’s that the ODI game now is basically the same each time,, go out biff.. comes off or they are skittled

        • I think you’ll find it difficult to back up assertions like ‘very little to play for in most second innings’ with stats. There are plenty of games where the side winning the toss prefers to bat second as many sides find it easier to pace their innings with a definite total to aim at. The big disadvantage to batting second is when the game is a day nighter and batsmen have to deal with changing light conditions, but in contrast when disruptions reduce the overs to a D/L target it is often an advantage, however in a normal uninterrupted day match the pitch remains the same throughout, so there are no particular advantages one way or the other.

  • I agree about flat pitches ODIs – they will end up losing skills. Not just bowlers but batsmen having a false idea of their own ability. Getting runs on tougher wickets? Given that our England side has shown a weakness in this regard we should be hoping for contests on low scoring wickets. England assume the pitches will be flat for the World Cup but you only need a spot of awkward weather to upset that.
    As for the Hundred as much as they try to sell it the Uglier it becomes. Which is a sign of desperation. We have to support it otherwise it will fail and all cricket bear the brunt! This is the latest message. Cricket isn’t simple that’s the joy of it. But the money men think in terms of cricket as an action movie. Hence the art of bowling takes a back seat. Ditto the art of captaincy, fielding, batting, reading the conditions. In a way they underestimate fans even potential ones. But you look at the T20 franchises and you get a very different picture. The studio experts in the PSL for example talk about the importance of accumulation, rotating the strike, glueing the innings together as well as master blasting. It takes all sorts to win a game when good bowling is a real factor. This isn’t the Hundred blueprint beloved by Harrison and Co because it demands cricket knowledge not possessed by mythical new fans. T20 depends heavily on the real cricket learnt and played in the longer game.
    The Hundred is a monster born out of PR men and cheap goods salesmen.

    • Read harry gurneys twitter.. apparently ALL amateur cricket should be 2020.. everyone would love it and participation would rise..

      I think they live in some alternate universe.. they really do want to near enough kill the game

  • There’s nothing more that I can say about Harrison without the risk of incurring legal action.
    I can’t tell where Sky begins and the ECB ends.
    A brutal performance from Buttler but rightfully compared by another poster to seal-clubbing.

  • The closest links between Board and Broadcaster is the BCCI, who basically employ Shastri and Gavaskar, who in turn can’t criticise the team (or the selection). Don’t think we (apart from the ECB) want to go that way.
    Cook has retired, and he’s not Shahid Afridi. Stay that way, but thanks for the memories.
    I agree Olivier’s “defection” is sad. I know County Cricket has taken foreign talent for years (I saw Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge opening for Hampshire 45 years ago, and Viv, Garner and Botham effectively won several one day trophies for Somerset), but it didn’t stop those players from playing for their countries (obviously, Richards had other problems with it). Olivier is a talented bowler, who bowls a “heavy ball”, and added something to an already potent SA attack (Steyn, Rabada and Philander). The ICC needs to find a way to stop this leakage, but the “big 3” will vote against it. it’s similar in many ways to the West Indians playing T20 leagues (though CWI seems to be getting its act together a bit on that issue).

    • As a cricket fan who is more interested in seeing players live rather than watching them on TV, it has always been a boon to see so many foreign stars playing county cricket over the decades. How often would you get the chance to see them if they just played on tours over here? I can fully understand the counties being more interested in having these stars play regularly, rather than losing them to a rival interest and yet still paying wages. We now have to my mind the totally unacceptable practice of mercenary hiring for a few weeks of the year to boost a county’s chance of a white ball trophy. I know cricket has special problems as international matches are played as part of long tours, not one-offs like in footie, but if I was a county chairman I would be ok with the Kolpack ruling from a business point of view. If you are an employer in any field you are primarily concerned with getting value for money out of your invested assets.
      In the 1970’s there were dozens of overseas players willing to commit themselves to the county circuit, many even ended up bringing their families over and living here. Sport can be a short career, as the saying goes; ‘you are only 1 injury away from oblivion’, so make hay whilst the sun shines.

  • Having just read through Harry gurneys twitter and the replies…

    Humour me peeps

    So, we in cricket have a load of current issues including (but not exclusive)… lack of quality test cricketers, lack of quality red ball cricketers, participation is falling year on year and the standard of local cricket is also declining.

    Up side… there is more tv money than ever and the quality of white ball is higher than ever at pro level.

    Participation alone.. what we are being told is ‘no one’ likes long formst cricket now but ‘everyone’ wants to play 2020. Locally we know the 2020 scene is dropping as fast as any other which indicates formst has little to no relevance as to why people are choosing to not play.

    We have a wide variety of players who all have different aims, objectives and skills for their cricket. Why does everyone want to stop playing certain formats which we know essentially stops some wanting to play.. why don’t we run two distinct league systems ??

    Say 10 divisions ranging from 50 over draw down to 40 over win lose and then a 10 div 2020 system (played on local Astro wickets ( maybe have a retire at 30/40 type thing to increase active players )(ease of set up, low cost etc) probably with coloured clothing and white balls…

    This would provide a game and formst for every type of player, style and taste and there is a 2020 system for those who either prefer the formst or don’t have time for longer formst stuff. The cost is kept low by using astros and the retirement at 30 means more players get a game)..

    What is genuinely wrong with this basic theory ?? Why doesn’t it seem to ever get mentioned … AND YET taking all the leagues down towards more hitting and more 2020:type stuff seems to be the accepted norm now..

  • I must say that I am sick of hearing the usual commentators and hosts on talk sport etc saying what a great product the hundred is, and of course, since it will be on the BBC as well, even their presenters are equally biased. The only person on the radio who seems to share his personal opinion was on one discussion including George Dobell, who, as journalists of integrity are supposed to do shared the many misgivings that he felt about the situation, a lone voice amongst all the other paid cronies of all formats.
    As for “SIR” Alastair, who only lasted so long because he was the right sort of bloke and the cupboard was bare should definitely start playing in the test side again so that we don’t have to listen to his drone on test match special this coming summer. I just cannot stand listening to him but I gfuess the cubboard must be bare for radio presenters as well.

  • The new Kolpak signing is a slap in the face for Yorkshire’s up and coming young bowlers, just as Jofra Archer’s fast tracking to the England side is to up and coming bowlers from all counties. And people wonder why the majority of the country voted for [word redacted].


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