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.