Thinking the unthinkable


As Clivejw commented on our last post, “isn’t it great to have some test cricket again today?”

Australia are in Dubai for a two-test series against Pakistan, after which they head home for a summer itinerary which offers scant comfort to those who fear for test cricket’s future. The Baggy Greens host South Africa for five ODIs and three T20s, but play only four home tests in their entire 2014/15 season, all against India.

Meanwhile, next spring England have a truncated tour of only three tests to West Indies (assuming they don’t pull out), followed sixteen days later, in a masterpiece of scheduling, by the first of two home tests against New Zealand.

And then it’s the Ashes. They’re only eleven tests away. Eleven tests separate us from a series which promises to answer a sizeable raft of questions.

English cricket is still at civil war. Will the unique power of the Ashes act as a unifying force and bring people back together? Or just increase the acrimony?

The 2015 Ashes will serve as a kind of judgment on Downtonianism. Everyone probably recognises that. An English victory might seem to vindicate his entire strategy: the resurrection of Peter Moores, the iron-cladding of Alastair Cook, and everything else.

It would surprise absolutely no one if, should England reclaim the urn, Downton suddenly loses his shyness of interviews and emerges beaming from the shadows to soak up the glory.

Certainly, for ECB supporters it would be their Francis Fukuyama moment.

A catastrophic defeat, on the other hand, would finally terminate Cook but might not quite see off Moores. Would there be consequences even more profound?

Perhaps the very worst possible result, for everyone, would be a narrow defeat. Michael Clarke flies home with the urn while our Dear Leader talks of upskilling and positives taken – and nothing would actually change.

This summer, for the first time ever, we encountered England supporters – in significant numbers – who cheered on the opposition and wanted “us” to lose.

Could that happen next year? With the greatest respect to Sri Lanka, Australia are a different emotional proposition.

Imagine the sight of Alastair Cook lifting the Waterford crystal replica at the Oval. Then imagine Michael Clarke doing the same. How do the two contrasting visions make you feel?

And which is more likely? On both sides of English cricket’s schism, the assumption is that Australia are clear favourites, and the bookies agree. Johnson and Harris will obliterate a fragile batting line-up who were flattered by India this season.

But looking at Australia’s current line-up in Dubai, doubts creep in. They are an ageing team, shrouded in question marks.

By the time the series begins Johnson will be nearer 34 than 33. And will his radar still be functioning? Ryan Harris, who’ll be nearly 36, hasn’t yet returned to cricket since a knee operation. He says he’s “one bad injury away from retiring”. Peter Siddle, surely, won’t bowl England out alone.

Among the batsmen, both Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin will be nearly 38. Shane Watson is still working his way back from injury and may not regain his place from Mitchell Marsh, who has a strong claim to the most Australian-sounding name in cricket history. A debutant in the current match at Dubai, Marsh is as yet an unknown test quantity.

Michael Clarke has played fifteen Ashes tests in England but only once made a first-innings century. Steve Smith is, well, Steve Smith.

For England, the weakest point is probably the captain – judging by his record in home Ashes series. Cook made 222 runs at 24.26 in 2009, and 277 at 27.7 last year. He could probably do with finding out who he’ll open the batting with; Sam Robson wasn’t given a central contract and the now selectors are back to square one.

So you get the feeling the series might be determined by England’s middle order. Buttler seemed to change the whole mood of the team when he arrived on the scene. Everyone likes Moeen, bouncer problem notwithstanding.

But Ballance and Root are the main men. The arguments are well rehearsed. Will their back foot techniques be exposed (again, in Root’s case) by genuine pace? My hunch is that (a) Ballance is tough enough and classy enough to prosper regardless and (b) Root has tangibly grown in stature.

The 2015 Ashes will test more than just the relative strength of the teams. It will take the temperature of the English cricketing public. Will the grounds be sold out? Do people still want to support England? Are the Ashes still special? By the end of the series, England will have played twenty seven tests in twenty six months – fifteen of them against Australia.

In other news, you might already have seen our open letter to Waitrose. This has now been despatched and hopefully will eventually reach the office of Mark Price, their managing director. If you agree with its sentiments, please add your comments – because the more voices, the better the chance of getting the point across. Thanks to everyone who’s already contributed.

The letter caught the eye of Jonathan Agnew. In this week’s edition of Waitrose Weekend, he writes:

I view the forthcoming series against Australia as being absolutely crucial in the battle that the ECB faces in winning back its many disenfranchised supporters.

The board has had a rotten year in terms of its public relations, starting with the pompous statement that referred to the criticism of Pietersen’s departure as coming from people “outside cricket.” That observation rightly made a lot of cricket lovers very angry – and not just those in Pietersen’s camp.

Fans who support England religiously and buy tickets every year suddenly found themselves wondering if they, too, were considered to be outside cricket. The various leaks along the way, particularly the dossier containing Pietersen’s alleged misdemeanours in Australia, made the ECB look petty and vindictive.

These scars will take a long time to heal. Not as long as it will take for Pietersen to feel welcome again, but he does not appear to be bothered about that. The relationship between England cricket and its supporters must be at the top of the agenda for its new chief executive, Tom Harrison. A shrug of the shoulders and a ‘they’ll be back’ approach will not do. The division runs far too deep for that.


  • As a supporter of the Australian cricket team (please put the burning torches away), my best hope for the next Ashes series is a draw. The team that wiped the floor in 2013-14 was, as this article discusses, aging and prone to injury. It’ll be worse next year, particularly if some of those players participate in the World Cup.

    • Now don’t be hard on yourself. I love the Aussies. Me & my old man were talking about them today. Best Aussie cricketer (my choice) was Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, and Glen McGrath. My old man’s choice: Adam Gilchrist, Keith Millar, Ray Lindwall!

      Keith Miller was such a wit: After a match, commentator asks Mr Fletcher: “Well, did you feel the pressure out there Mr Fletcher?” Fletcher replied: “Pressure? Nah. Messerschmitt up yer arse, now that’s pressure!!!” As you know Mr Fletcher was a pilot in the Second World War. Luvvly aye?

  • Mitchell Johnson reminds me a lot of Steve Harmison – when he was on form he was utterly unplayable (7 for 12), but he spent a lot of his career bowling utter dross. England’s victory in 2005 happily coincided with a Harmison purple patch just like last winter for Johnson.

    With their insistence on sticking with Cook as ODI captain, I think the selectors have actually endangered chances in the Ashes. They could have given him the winter off and time to recharge to try and get back to his best as a test opener, which is where he belongs. Instead he’s spending a winter at the forefront of a format that he, and England, are not likely to be successful at. Good preparation for facing the Aussies? I don’t think so.

    I think a lot will come down to the bowling attacks – I thought Australia’s success was largely due to the fact that the ‘3rd’ seamer in Siddle was a serious wicket taking threat – there was no respite after Johnson’s bursts and Harris’s sustained excellence. England badly need Finn back to his best and / or one of Jordan, Woakes and Stokes to step up to support Broad and Anderson.

  • As far as I’m concerned, the scars won’t ever heal and KP is always very welcome. Additionally, I don’t care anymore how well we do in the next Ashes or any other marches. Hope that helps.

  • and what, Mr Agnew, are the reasons that a well respected Company like Waitrose should now wish to be seen to be sponsoring such a petty, vindictive, and totally unfit to govern, body such as the ECB?

  • Credit to Jonathan Agnew for recognising the discontent at least. I can’t think of any other cricket pundit who’s done so.

    • Agreed Tom. I reacted prematurely with my post but I applaude JA for recognising the discontent with the ECB (The cause, not the symptom), and also for bringing to the attention of Waitrose what they are associating themselves with, and thus underpinning the Letter to Waitrose! Well played Aggers!!

      • It’s a good summing-up of the situation by Jonathan Agnew and very fair.
        I think Pietersen is very bothered, actually, but never mind – the point to make is that: “The relationship between England cricket and its supporters must be at the top of the agenda.”

        Must remember to copy that piece and post it in response to certain irritating BTL contributors who like to make out that nobody has problems with the ECB except half a dozen eccentrics and P Morgan.

  • “Steve Smith is, well, Steve Smith.”

    I’d appreciate some clarification here. Steve Smith is, well, that chap who has made three hundreds in his last six Ashes Tests! As many as Cook has made in his last fifteen, Bell in his last ten and two more than Root has made in his nine. And those three will in all probability be the only English batsmen with an Ashes hundred to their name when the series comes around. Unless Stokes plays, which seems far from certain.

    Meanwhile Clarke has seven of them, only one coming in defeat. Of players to make their debut in the last thirty years, only SR Waugh and Ponting have more, and no English batsman since Gower has more than four. Haddin, Smith and Rogers have three; Watson and Warner two. Of those thirteen, five came in a losing series, but only Rogers’ at Durham came in a losing Test.

    Finally, if I were a betting man, I’d suggest that a man with 62 wickets at 15 in his last nine Tests (or even 80 wickets at under 20 in his last 15 matches since November 2011) is far more likely to be a key figure than a man with no century in his last seventeen Tests, no home Ashes century ever and a home Ashes average of 26.26(the worst by an England opener who has played at least two full home series in my lifetime – yes, worse than Atherton’s). But, the English media being what it is, I’ll expect them to ask far more questions about whether Johnson can hit the cut strip than whether Cook can actually justify his absurdly high reputation against this opposition.

    • I completely agree re Cook – hence my citing of the stats above. He has failed in four of his five Ashes series, and apart from 2010/11, has made only one century in twenty Ashes tests.

      Re Smith and Clarke, I think it’s valid to draw a distinction between home and away performances. As Simon alludes to below, while home advantage has always been influential in the Ashes, it seems to be much more so nowadays. Since and including the 2002/3 series, six out of seven series have been won by the home side.

      Maybe I was being a little harsh on Smith, but to my eye, in 2013, he looked out of his depth as a test batsman. In the first four tests, while the series was live, his scores were 53, 17, 2, 1, 89, 19, 17 and 2. His century came in the dead rubber fifth test, when England had taken their feet off the pedal, and against an attack featuring Woakes and Kerrigan.

      I’m struggling to think of a Michael Clarke innings in England which has won a test match. One of his three centuries here, at Lord’s 2009, came when the match was effectively already lost. In the following test at Edgbaston, the rain-affected match was arguably by that stage already heading for a draw. Old Trafford 2013 was also a draw.

      I’m not suggesting that Clark isn’t an extremely accomplished batsman of the highest pedigree – just that in England I’ve not found him wholly convincing. He has a tendency to get caught up in collapses. And in the pivotal tests of 2013, the first two matches, Clarke’s scores were 0, 23, 28 and 51.

      Despite his spectacular form in the last twelve months, I’d still argue that Johnson’s mercuriality is a valid issue. But we’ve never been complacent about him on TFT – here’s what I wrote shortly before the Brisbane test last year:

      • Smashing bit of forecasting by James on that post Maxie he should take up fortune telling.

        Has he got a preview of Mitch for us for the next Ashes. :-)

      • I too have written and spoken things about Johnson in the past; and he did indeed have an awful period. However in spite of this, overall he has taken more wickets at a quicker rate than Malcolm Marshall. He’s been very excellent in his career more than he’s been very poor. He’s the stand out bowler from either side, unless Harris plays. Broad and Anderson are not comparable.

        • “Overall he has taken more wickets at a quicker rate than Malcolm Marshall”.

          Not too sure how you can argue this – Macca took 376 Test wickets and Mitch has 264. Macca’s SR was 46.7 and Mitch’s SR is 50.1. Also bowlers’ figures usually decline near their end of their career (that is, after all, why their careers end) so it can be misleading to compare a finished career with an ongoing one.

          Mitch, at his best like in Jo’burg, is a fantastic bowler but nobody can compare to the great Macca.

          • Sorry Simon, hands up-> I’ve got this one completely wrong. I think that I meant either Joel Garner or Michael Holding, I made a mental note when Mitch reached 250 that he was about to pass a W.Indian great at a better rate – I’ll stat check this when I get home and onto a better device!

      • Clarke’s 93 at Headingley in 2009 is probably his most effective innings in England, but the 91 in the 2nd innings at Lords in 2005 went a long way to enabling Anstralia to build a total that England crumbled against

        • Fair enough – two very good examples I’d overlooked. Although I’d still argue his overall record in England is modest compared to his overall stature and achievements.

    • Agree with your post until the last point. The mainstream press love simplification, and I think the simplification they grabbed onto last winter was “Johnson mows down incompetent batsmen”. It enables them to further ignore long-term inadequacies in our team. So, I fully expect the attention on a possible repeat to at least match the focus on our more experienced opener. Time will tell which of us has it right, though.

      • Too little attention has been given to Cook’s almost total inability to deal with Johnson. Carberry played him miles more effectively, and batted for twice as long in terms of balls faced. So they dropped him.

  • That article by Aggers is good and I hope that makes it on to the BBC sport website or somewhere more mainstream than the Waitrose magazine.

  • Fair play to Jonathan Agnew for writing what he did. I think the Dodgy dossier (as opposed to KPs book) shocked quite a few people on the other side of the debate. They are never going to accept KP but they found the compiling of the dossier as he says “petty and vintictive.”

    In many ways the governing bodies of cricket are managing the decline of Test cricket. The way things are going I can see hardly any tests being played in 25 years time. Sad, but we live in an age of the tyranny of the free market. If it does not make money, it does not get done. The world and his wife seem to love 20/20 cricket. But do they REALLY? Certainly India does at the moment, but should everything be run to please India? (David Collier thinks so. He was boasting about 1.4 billion TV audience for England’s domestic 20/20 finals day.)

    Perhaps we will have to wait for India to go off 20/20. After all,they only fell in love with the game after they won the 20/20 World Cup. They did the same with 50 over cricket after they won the ODI World Cup in 1984. When the ECB come up with their latest money spinning effort of 10/10 over cricket, and India win that, 20/20 will hit the scrap heap.

    The cricket authorities make so much money from TV, maybe the time has come to open up the gates and let people in for free at Test matches. Certainly in places where the game seems to be fading. Waitrose and supermarkets know all about running loss leaders.

    • “David Collier thinks so. He was boasting about 1.4 billion TV audience for England’s domestic 20/20 finals day.”

      It was the 2013 Champions Trophy final he was referring to. I made the same error and have since corrected it every time I see it. If we’re not careful, this will end up becoming the cricket equivalent of Bob Holness playing the sax on “Baker Street”…

      • Apart from the issue of how many of those viewers were in the UK, I’d like to know where does this figure come from? We know the claim that India generate 80% of the revenue of international cricket was repeated endlessly by adminstrators and the media as the unquestioned truth but it turned out to originate from an ICC document with no substantiation and serious Indian cricket writers don’t believe it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this figure turns out to be something similar. It also says something about the media that Collier can repeat it without being challenged – and that something isn’t particularly flattering.

        • Good point – but it was also a total red herring on Collier’s part. How can the health of English cricket be judged by the global audience for the Champions Trophy?

          • Exactly Maxie. He was using the figures to cover for the fact that 8-9 million people watched the 2005 ashes on free to air TV. He was being challenged about how few people were watching cricket in the UK these days.

            So he pulled this figure out of his arse. It is irrelevant regards domestic audience.

      • Thanks very much for that correction Arron. I should have questioned it myself. The idea that 1.4 billion people are watching English domestic 20/20 is absurd. But these days all kinds of nonsense comes out of the ECB. Thanks again!

      • It won’t happen here in England (YET) because Test match tickets still sell. But in places like the sub continent where hardly anybody seems to be at the ground surely this might encourage people to come. At the very least give people a chance to find test cricket again.

        I read Tony Cozier saying the WI played New Zealand in some tests earlier this year and at one match only about 600 people were at the ground. The game is dying. You have to try something.

        • “In places like the sub continent where hardly anybody seems to be at the ground”.

          I watched a fair bit of the SL v P series and the matches seemed well attended. Mahela’s farewell may have been a large part of it but the ground and the walls of the fortress at Galle were packed out for the finale! The end of that match with Angelo Mathews blasting a couple of sixes to win just before the heavens opened was one of my cricketing moments of 2014.

          The Triangular ODI series in Zimbabwe also seemed well attended and produced some cracking cricket.

          • SL do tend to get good test crowds, but that’s compared to tests in India where sometimes (but not always) you see enormous swathes of empty seats. The stadiums are much bigger of course, which distorts the impression, but then again their cities are more populous.

            It doesn’t help that Pakistan have to play their home matches in a foreign country.

      • Back in (IIRC) 2000/01 I and quite a few others were given free tickets by the series sponsor for day 4 of NZ vs England in Christchurch. Which meant I got to watch one of the greatest innings in a losing cause of all time, Astle’s lightning quick 222

  • A few random thoughts:
    1) Clarke’s “only once made a first innings century” is right out of the top drawer of selective stats. He averages 48.5 against England in England. only slightly below his career average. He averaged 37 on his first tour against a great attack (none of whom still play) but on the last two tours against Anderson and Broad he averaged well into the fifties.
    2) Root averages 33 against Australia (if he had been caught early in his 180 it would be nearer 23). Ballance averages 12 (okay, based on one test).
    3) Harris might be unavailable because of injury. How is Stuart Broad?
    4) Australia are currently not doing too well in the UAE against Pakistan. How did England get on last time they were there?
    5) England are in a hole next summer – say Australia have 400 on the board and England are 20-2. Who would you like, and Australia least like, to be walking to the crease?
    6) More seriously, and with an eye to the game’s long term future, home advantage is becoming a serious issue now in Tests. How long before there is a proper discussion about neutral groundsmen?

    • Hi Simon,

      1. See my response to Arron’s related point above. My argument is that Clarke has rarely if ever delivered, in England, the key innings which win test matches.

      2. Well, yes. He might be found out again next summer. My feeling he has grown in stature, but I could very easily be wrong!

      3. True, but Broad seems more replaceable, somehow. In 2010/11, we might not have won had Broad played the full series, as both Tremlett and Bresnan were more effective. Harris missed the Trent Bridge test last year, which we only won by 14 runs. What might have happened had he played? He was also absent for the Brisbane and Sydney tests of 2010/11, and injured for much of the Melbourne match.

      On the other hand, of course, Broad’s 2009 Oval spell arguably won the Ashes!

      4. Good point!

      5. Please see almost every post by me on this site since February 4th.

      6. I mentioned this theme in reply to Arron above. I can’t find, quickly, the precise facts right now – but weren’t only two tests won by the visiting side in the whole of 2013?

    • Simon,
      With respect I hope you’re wrong about neutral groundsmen. I have no problem with pitches giving teams home advantage. Part of the joy of cricket to me is watching Indian spinners on a turning pitch, trampolining bounce in Perth etc etc. The fact that so many test pitches are now slow and low (what’s the phrase? A Chief Executive’s pitch….) is one of the saddest developments of all in world cricket to me. Players battling to overcome foreign conditions is what “test” cricket is all about.
      Of course, that assumes those players have had enough time to at least get acclimatised to those conditions – and that’s the crux of the problem. No team can turn up, have one game and a couple of net sessions and expect to be at their best. OK, the home team may only have flown in in the same week, but they have years of experience in the conditions and muscle memory to call on.
      One-sided series favouring the home side – something else we can blame the schedule for.

      • I’m open to persuasion either way on neutral groundsmen. I’m not convinced it is practical or desirable but I think it is an issue we are going to start hearing about.

        I don’t see that neutral groundsmen would destroy local conditions. I don’t want homogenised cricket but aren’t soil conditions and climate the main factors? Perth would still be baked in the heat and tend towards pace and bounce! As for slow and low pitches, I agree these are the bane of modern cricket but as these have been produced by local groundsmen in recent years I don’t see how that is an argument against neutral groundsmen.

        I suspect when the issue rears its head many of the English media arguments will be exactly the points they made against neutral umpires (we tend to forget how much the English cricket establishment were against those). Ours are the best! Change is bad! It’ll cost too much! etc etc.

  • I seem to have been sensored? My post about KP’s newly disclosed South Africanness, as opposed to Englishness, from about 10 minutes ago, seems to have been deleted.

    What gives?

  • Anyone else contemplating the unthinkable…supporting Australia in the Ashes for the long-term good of English cricket?

    It wouldn’t take much for me. Clarke and Smith are two of my favourite players. George Bailey is an easy man to like. You can’t help but marvel how Warner breaks every rule in the book and comes out on top. Who can deny that Johnson has shown enormous character to turn himself from a figure of ridicule into one of fear? And Rogers is almost one of our own. One last hurrah for the old boy would appeal to the romantics. And you just can’t keep Haddin down.

    On the other hand, it’s hard to wish defeat on blameless newcomers like Ballance, Root, and Buttler, who gave us a lot to cheer about last summer at a time it was most needed. Moeen Ali is just about the most level-headed and mature character in sport, a truly admirable person. And I still feel a kind of fatherly pride for Jimmy, having watched him for more than a decade. I want to see him break Botham’s record and go on to become the first England bowler to take 400. Stuart Broad is admirable in more ways than he is unlikeable. And the blameless Ian Bell surely has another great series in him.

    It’s tough.

    • Clive, I’m not going to support Australia or any other country for that matter. But that does not mean I will not laugh my head off if England get well beaten. There is a slight difference.

      I blame the ECB for that feeling.

      • Well put, Mark. I couldn’t back the other team, but at least if the team goes down then “that bugger Barnes goes down with us” (or whoever it was said about on the boat to Aus all those years ago, and replacing Barnes with “Moores, Clarke, Downton etc”.

    • Just imagine the tears In Alastair Cook’s eyes as he tries to explain another drubbing and a personal average of 13.56 just before he resigns the captaincy. That should help you.
      For the long term good of the England team, you understand.

    • This is the nub of the issue for me, Clive.

      You make a very strong point about the newcomers – if nothing else, defeat to Australia would harm their individual careers and reputations, and inculcate a mental culture of inferiority.

      On the other hand, could short term pain be for the greater good?

      • Perhaps have a clear-out and remove all the players associated with the calamitous Ashes debacle? It might seem a bad idea but short term pain for the greater good?
        This comment will probably receive derision but I think the idea does have some merit…..

  • I think the ODI’s in Lanka will become enormously significant now. There is no doubt in my mind at least, that it is now the Corporate Cricket Club, captained by the “patsy” and the results (or not) and the manner of play could have enormous ramifications, one way or t’other….it’s all to play for!!

  • Here is a bit from Mark Nicholas cricinfo piece about the WI mess…..

    “Indeed, much of the angst that is circling around cricket right now might be attributed to the IPL. The Gayle example; the Pietersen book (after all, the key issue in the Pietersen story is the question of IPL or ECB, and for KP that is a no-brainer); India’s appalling capitulation on tours to England and Australia (might the ECB seek compensation from the BCCI for the unnecessarily early finishes to the fourth and fifth Tests of the recent tour to England?) Did MS Dhoni’s response to the question about the weight of defeat Old Trafford – he said the team could do with the rest – suggest an indifference to his accountability as captain? Is the IPL a drain on India’s capacity and interest at Test level? And a drain on the captain?

    When you consider the overall effect of the IPL and the extraordinary way in which the players have embraced it, you wonder if the game is ripe for another coup. Many years ago Kerry Packer found it just as easy as the IPL does now to seduce the best cricketers in the world.”

    Perhaps all the governing bodies will be swept away.

    • Mr Nicholas is Mr Nice-but-dim, isn’t he. IPL v ECB for Pietersen was a no-brainer. He chose the ECB, unfortunately for his own interests. Perhaps he should have been as egotistic as Messrs James and Nicholas think he is.

      • Blimey! I thought we won the tests against India through The Patsy’s great innings and captaincy. Being a cricketing outsider I wouldn’t have dreamed it was because India threw the towel in?? :-/

    • “The key issue in the Pietersen story is the question of IPL or ECB, and for KP that is a no-brainer”.

      Pietersen made 177 appearances for England in all formats, and 28 in the IPL.

  • I’m so bored of playing India and Australia. When is the next big series – the five test thriller against Pakistan or South Africa?

  • Perhaps the Ashes will come down to the strength of the two opening partnerships.

    Since the start of 2013 Australia have recorded six century opening partnerships, England have one (despite playing more innings).

    We’re doomed. I blame that KP.

    • All the more so given that Aus have such a settled partnership (another 100 between them yesterday and a ton for Warner), while England don’t even have a partnership. Who will open with Cook in West Indies? The selectors still don’t have a clue.

  • Before we all get too gushing about Jonathan Agnew’s piece in ‘Waitrose Weekend,’ let’s not forget that his freelance work for Waitrose puts him in a very awkward conflict-of-interest situation.

    Agnew earns a crust writing for Waitrose, which is the principal sponsor of England cricket, which Agnew is meant to report on in a balanced, disinterested manner as the BBC’s chief cricketing correspondent. Read the BBC’s own editorial guidelines. This three-way nexus is extremely dodgy.

    It was only a few months ago that Agnew was rounded on for doing a TMS-style voice over for an ECB-Waitrose promo video. Selvey tweeted that it was OK because Agnew was a freelance. Agnew said it was OK because it was not intended for public broadcast. Except it featured on YouTube, and Waitrose’s and the ECB’s websites. But it wasn’t all right, and I recall that Agnew admitted regretting his lapse of judgment in his interview with Maxie for The Full Toss a few months ago.

    With regard to Agnew’s relationship with Waitrose as a freelance writer, back in June the BBC said “Jonathan has stopped writing his Waitrose column for the time being. If it is resumed, he and the BBC will ensure it continues to comply with the BBC editorial guidelines.” Well Jonathan has clearly resumed writing his Waitrose column, and I would be interested to know how Agnew and the BBC have resolved the obvious conflict-of-interest issues.

    Agnew may feel that by filing a piece gently critical of the ECB, he is proving that he can be trusted to be impartial. But that would miss the point. Laudable as his acknowledgment is of the breakdown in the relationship between the ECB and a significant portion of the fan base, the whole bleeding point about conflicts of interest is the position you put yourself in, not what you say.

    Bear in mind that Agnew has tweeted me to say that it is not his job to hold the ECB to account. His own Twitter timeline includes this gem on 6 October: “Any response to KP claim of bullying culture in England dressing room must come from ECB/coaches/players. Not a journo’s domain.” I personally find quite worrying and frankly astonishing these two glimpses into Agnew’s understanding of his role as a journalist and as the BBC’s chief cricketing correspondent in particular. If these comments are representive of his journalistic philosophy, then it is even more important that he is, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.

    • Do we know how he acquired this gig with Waitrose? Did he get it off his own back or was it given to him via the ECB? (Wheels within wheels)

      Personally I find it difficult not to like JA. I do think his heart is in the right place. He can go off on one sometimes which seems completely crazy, as he did with you Tregaskis. I think being the BBC correspondent is quite difficult (particularly at the moment) because he is expected to be reasonably impartial. Certainly more so than Newman or Selvey or Pringle.

      He does at least acknowledge there are problems, and that the ECB have made mistakes. He also admits there is a big divide among fans. You won’t get that admission from the likes of Newman or Selvey.

      • I believe Agnew was writing for Waitrose before the supermarket started its sponsorship of England cricket. There is absolutely no question mark against Agnew’s integrity in terms of how he built up his portfolio of freelance clients. But as soon as the sponsorship deal was signed off, Agnew should have severed his freelance activities with Waitrose.

        It has nothing to do with his heart being in the right place. It is about fundamental journalistic ethics of not putting yourself in a position where your integrity could be questioned due to a conflict of interest. It’s the first thing they will teach you at journalist school, and it’s the first thing that I want to feel confident about given the power, privileges and responsibilities of the fourth estate.

        • I agree with you about conflict of interest, and I was not meaning to suggest that if his heart was in the right place then that was ok. I was just making a general point about my view of him.

          While I agree with you about journalist school, I do wonder these days if anything that is taught at such schools is even relevant in today’s media. Conflict of interest seem to be everywhere. Look at Murdoch. All his titles promote other parts of his empire and attack his competitors regardless if they are right or wrong. Murdoch owned film studio makes films, which are then reviewed by reviewer in Murdoch owned newspaper, and then sold to the punter on Murdoch owned TV stations. Public relations seems to infect almost every aspect of the media. But the BBC you would hope still strives for some sort of impartiality.

    • Given that Michel Roux Jr wasn’t allowed to judge Masterchef The Professionals because he flogs potatoes, I’m very surprised the BBC have allowed it.

    • Entering this late, but does anyone know why the BBC Cricket Correspondent is not a salaried position? Is it a historic oddity or did JA want it so he could keep his other gigs.

  • Firstly thanks for your efforts to keep pushing this, I agree it is hugely important.

    One thing not mentioned much is the lack of ability to manage talent generally in British sport.

    I wrote the below to Ed Smith via his website and given the (to be fair not unsurprising or unreasonable) lack of reply, I thought I would share it here…

    Dear Ed

    Firstly can I apologise for the direct approach of a stranger, but I feel you are the ideal person who may be able to answer my below question in the form of an article in one of the publications you work for. I say that because of you approach to writing and what you usually write about…!

    Here’s hoping anyway!
    With the omission of Danny Cipriani and Chris Ashton from the England set up – not to mention the removal of KP from the England cricket team, I wanted to see if you would consider doing a piece on “Is there a place for a maverick (read that to mean individual genius who is unlikely to confirm) in (English/British) professional sport?”
    I realise that there are a huge number of issues in the above question – what is a maverick, is this as uniquely British/English question, what would other countries do?, what is the role of professional sport – to win or to entertain etc, and this is why I thought I would ask if you had the time to do a piece on this for one of the publications you work for?
    If appears that increasingly that there isn’t and that sport, in my view the paying public will be very much the loser if the apparent trend for the “machine” sportsperson continues.
    From a cricket fan’s perspective, I ask this as I look at the likes of Jos Butler, Joe Root and Alex Hales who have huge talent, but I suspect with that will require a level of nurturing that English cricket may be unable to provide – I look at how Joe Root was dumped “for being chippy” in Sydney, or how long it took to get Alex Hales into the one day team or Jos Butler into the test team (which arguably cost us the test series)

    And I haven’t touched on any of the young football talent!
    I would love to read your thoughts.
    Philip Chapman

    I feel this is relevant to the debate

    • Hi Philip – welcome to the TFT comments board, and good to have you with us.

      I find Ed Smith one of the most disappointing figures in the mainstream press.

      He is portrayed as a free-thinking, ultra-bright, scholarly, cricketing intellectual, a reputation I doubt he disavows. He is fairly young, and independent – not one of the old lags.

      And yet the actual stuff he comes out with, on the Pietersen affair, when you strip away the essay-style introductions, is standard golf club bar bore. His fogeyish observations sound quarter-baked and based on very cursory reflection.

      Far from being cricket’s David Hume or Thomas Carlyle, he’s just Jim Davidson with a posh voice.

    • Im really not sure that Ed Smith is qualified to answer your very pertinent question given that he spens much of his time ruminating up his own backside. You’d get a much better response from Popeye or Deputy Dawg or indeed Homer Simpson


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