Archive for June, 2012

Greig wades in

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

In terms of eloquence, it was never going to match Kumar Sangakkara’s wonderful tour de force last year, but Tony Greig’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture certainly pulled no punches when it came to India and its influence on the world game.

In a room filled with cricket’s great and good and redolent with the smell of smoke from burning bridges by the end of it, Greig’s forty-minute speech used the word “India” fifty-two times in total as he took the BCCI to task for its self-interest and greed and for pursuing a policy bent purely on the maintenance of power and of getting one over on its erstwhile colonial oppressors.

“India is preoccupied with money and Twenty-20 cricket, and sees its IPL and Champions League as more important than a proper international calendar,” he said. “To compound the problems, India has not only sold part of the game to private interests but some of her administrators are seen to have a conflict of interest, which makes it more difficult for it to act in the spirit of the game… The net result of this is Test cricket is suffering… We can huff and puff as much as we like and have all sorts of external reports but this situation can only be resolved by India accepting that the spirit of cricket is more important than generating billions of dollars.”

Strong stuff, but after the initial collective thud of jaws dropping you got the feeling there may have been one or two heads in the room nodding in agreement.

He also took aim at the BCCI’s resistance to umpiring technology, its “indifference” towards anti-doping and corruption and problems which “could be resolved if India invoked the spirit of cricket and didn’t try and influence its allies in how to vote”.

Greig, of course, isn’t the first to criticise the Indian board for its selfish lack of interest in the wellbeing of the sport – Lawrence Booth issued a reminder to the BCCI not to abuse its “special gift: the clout to shape an entire sport” in his notes to this year’s Wisden Almanack – but no-one does “damn the torpedoes” quite like Tony Greig, and whether he will ever be invited back to India for a commentary stint in the future is anyone’s guess. You might think it, but Tony will damn well say it, and let’s be honest, many of us agree with him that India’s control of the sport at the highest level is deleteriously disproportionate.

Having said that, there is something slightly incongruous about a man taking a cricket board to task for its blatant commercialism, and the damage caused by government interference in the sport, when, as “tourism ambassador” for Sri Lanka, he managed to shoehorn a thinly-disguised advert for a hotel into his commentary during England’s recent Test series there. He also, unfortunately, joins the ranks of those bamboozled by bullshit and bad science in dragging up that long-discredited old chestnut of lie-detector tests to root out corruption. That and the fact that Greig – the man who was involved in the notorious 1974 runout of Alvin Kallicharran – was the man delivering the speech, and Stuart Broad – a man who thinks every lbw he goes up for is out, and when he is batting he never is – was involved in the panel discussion afterwards, might have made you do a double-take on seeing their names attached to a “spirit of cricket” lecture.

Anyway, whether or not you agree with what Tony Greig had to say, his speech was certainly not dull, and you can read the full transcript at the Lord’s site.

And so we come to that part of the year when students the length and breadth of the country are goggle-eyed through too much revision and Red Bull, and the “mid term report” metaphor gets trundled out and applied to England’s performance halfway through the international summer. The consensus seems to be Team England haven’t just performed with flying colours so far, but are on course for an A+ grade by season’s end.

Let’s not get carried away. The West Indies series was less a prelim than an open-book exam; for all our fervent hopes that the Windies would present England with some semblance of a challenge – and that’s not being patronizing though it’s easy of course to be magnanimous when you’re winning –  a competition never really materialized. Comprehensive victories by England were expected in the Tests, but less so in the ODIs and certainly the T20 match last Sunday was expected to provide a more level playing field, but only served to highlight the Windies’ frailties. Last time the West Indies visited England it was Shiv Chanderpaul who was the side’s star; this time around Marlon Samuels won cult hero status – that doughty, crease-occupying 76* at Trent Bridge showed how much he has matured as a Test batsman. Tino Best provided some entertainment as well, and you’d have needed a heart of stone not to feel for him when at Edgbaston he fell just 5 runs short of the first century by a no. 11 batsman. But the team never really clicked as a unit, and in the case of offspinner Sunil Narine, preceded by a large amount of hype on the back of 24 wickets in the IPL, there was only disappointment and a distinct lack of the “mystery spin” we were promised, though conditions weren’t exactly beneficial for him.

It’s infuriating when there’s a missing ingredient that stops true potential from coming to fruition and producing success, but from a Leicestershire fan’s point of view it was nice to get a glimpse of that potential when the Windies played a tour match at Grace Road and Darren Bravo, who never really fired in the Tests but made 66 against Leicestershire, gave all of us watching a reminder of the beautiful strokeplay that brings out those Brian Lara comparisons.

Darren Bravo at Grace Road

England now face Australia in a series of five ODIs, starting on Friday, and while Bill Lawry might be taking things a bit far in trumpeting Australia’s seam bowling attack as the best in the world, they’re sure to provide a far stiffer examination, and better preparation for facing a South African squad that looks, quite frankly, intimidating in its strength and depth.


I’m aware that this post is starting to resemble a smorgasbord, or a salmagundi if you will (hodgepodge if you want to be less charitable) but it’s a been a mixed fortnight in terms of cricket news, from the tragic (the passing of Tom Maynard) to the ridiculous (Andrew Flintoff’s reference to Mike Atherton as a “fucking prick”) and the downright predictable (yet another kiboshing by the BCCI of a move at ICC Board level to make the decision review system mandatory across the board).

Tom Maynard’s sad death deserves more than just a footnote, but as yet it’s hard to make sense of the sequence of catastrophic events that led to a talented young cricketer being hit by an underground train in the early hours of Monday, June 18th. What made the news harder to take in was the fact he’d only been on television a couple of days before, talking about a future which he was hoping would involve playing for England.

Last week I wrote my own tribute to another bright light that was snuffed out too soon for World Cricket Watch on my favourite cricketer, Victor Trumper. Trumper accomplished much in his short life before he was taken by illness at the age of 37. With Tom Maynard, only 23, we will never know what he could have gone on to achieve. We like to believe that life, most of the time, and discounting the odd random variable, is something we can more or less control. But when events like this happen, everything we think we know about the natural order of things is thrown into chaos; death becomes, in the words of writer Edward St. Aubyn, “a scandal, a catastrophic design flaw; it ruins everything”.

Rest in peace, Tom.

Know your place

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Kevin Pietersen announced yesterday that he is retiring from all international limited-overs cricket, with immediate effect.

At least, he has voluntarily retired from one format – ODIs – and been forced into retirement from T20s, due to an ECB contractual obligation that stipulates he be available for selection for both or neither.

A press release from the ECB states the following:

“The terms of the central contract state that any player making himself unavailable for either of the one-day formats automatically rules himself out of consideration for both formats of the game as planning for both formats is closely linked.

“This is designed to reflect the importance of one-day international cricket which is a strategic priority as England look for improved performances in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.”

Interestingly, the statement also includes this comment from Pietersen: “For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played for England in the upcoming World Twenty20.” Sky Sports News also reported that Pietersen’s management has expressed the desire for some compromise to be found, a way in which Pietersen could be given a “special contract” for the World T20, as he is very keen to take part in the tournament, which starts in September.

The ECB are unlikely to budge on this. The message they seem to be sending out is that you cannot pick and choose; that you cannot cut your England cloth to suit yourself.

I have several problems with this. I cannot escape the suspicion that this isn’t a stance taken purely from a position of principle, but that it also contains an element of the personal.

For one thing, the inflexibility of the ECB’s position seems at odds with the latitude afforded other players, notably Andrew Strauss – who could not only pick and choose his formats (retiring from T20s while still playing in ODIs) but also which Test series he played in, when he was rested from England’s tour of Bangladesh in 2010.

Similarly, the ECB’s comment on the “closely linked” nature of ODIs and T20s doesn’t really wash when you consider the different selections made for the two sides, including, in 2010, the use of “T20 specialist” Michael Lumb.

Pietersen has long had an uneasy relationship with the England management, ever since his falling out with Peter Moores. Yesterday’s announcement came at the end of a particularly eventful couple of weeks for KP. According to the ECB, Pietersen “discussed his position” with the board during the recent Test at Lord’s. On the Wednesday following the Test he attended a disciplinary meeting which resulted in a fine for his less-than-diplomatically expressed Twitter critique of Sky pundit Nick Knight’s commentary. The timing of all this, culminating in the retirement announcement, is interesting, and perhaps not insignificant. Pietersen has for a long time given the impression that ODIs are his least favourite format, and England will be playing 13 of them this year. Plainly something came to a head at some point. Whether the Twitter fine was a reaction designed to put him in his place – and an over-the-top reaction it was at that – for the audacity of daring to ask whether he could have some time off, or of picking and choosing, as the ECB would doubtless prefer to see it, is anyone’s guess.

One could easily dismiss this as a conspiracy theory. But where Pietersen is concerned, it seems conflict is never far away, and if Mooresgate was anything to go by, more details may yet emerge. While the timing is puzzling, given Pietersen’s spectacular return to limited-overs form lately, it’s hard to escape the feeling there’s more to come from this.

The reaction to Pietersen’s announcement has been interesting, and in many cases predictable. When it comes to his batting, few players put bums on seats quite like he does – and no one divides opinion quite like he does. But it doesn’t seem to have taken very much to bring some of the old prejudices back to the surface with knee-jerk rapidity. Mercenary, show pony, traitor. Selfish. Not a team man. Disruptive. Not English enough. If you’ve heard them all before you can bet they’ll all have been given another airing in the light of yesterday’s news. Michael Vaughan’s article in the Telegraph echoes the sentiments of more than a few when he says “my gut reaction was he should never play again and kick him out of the team”. This is a quite ridiculous statement, given Pietersen’s undoubted value to the England setup – something which Hugh Morris, when he said he was “disappointed” at Pietersen’s decision, makes clear enough.

It’s been pointed out that Pietersen would have known what he was agreeing to in terms of his central contract when he signed it. This is true. But given the fact that in most other walks of life, contracts and conditions of employment can be renegotiated due to life changes such as family, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, one wonders why the same cannot apply to sport. The notion that anyone who plays for a national team should constitute a pliant, forelock-tugging workforce grateful simply to represent their country is outmoded and needs to change, and that can come only come through compromise, discussion and negotiation. Professionals stopped walking onto cricket fields through a separate gate years ago – flexibility needs to be a two-way street. It’s time cricket boards accepted the reality of today’s economic climate and faced the fact that sportsmen will occasionally make decisions based on something other than what is best for Team England.

And this is where we touch on what is really riling some commentators – the idea that Pietersen has made this decision to free himself up for lucrative T20 tournaments, such as Australia’s Big Bash league which takes place in January, during which England will be playing ODIs in India. To brazenly admit one’s intention to chase after filthy lucre is frowned upon; to not admit it, it seems, constitutes an even greater sin, that of avarice compounded by deviousness. We need to stop collectively clutching our pearls every time a player makes a decision that may partly be influenced by the financial. As Michael Holding has said, you cannot take national pride to the supermarket, and it’s not going to put food on your table. T20, with its frequently-reviled technique-ruining hit-and-giggle slogathons, its cheerleaders and its vacuous commentary, its big bucks and its naked commercialism, may not be to everyone’s taste. But it isn’t going away in the foreseeable future and cricket boards need to accept that, not bury their heads in the sand hoping it goes away, and scheduling series that force players into making a decision as to who to play for.

Given all of this, it is especially ironic that the Pietersen announcement should come at a time when all the talk lately has been of the impact of the IPL on West Indies cricket, of player attitudes, and the WICB’s inflexible and dictatorial response.

And look how well that approach has worked.