Reversal of fortune

October 11th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

When Sri Lanka’s third wicket fell in Sunday’s World Twenty20 final, Mahela Jayawardene turned his eyes upwards. With 51 runs on the board at the halfway stage and chasing 138, it could have been a plea for divine intervention. It could have been simple exasperation. To all the rest of us watching, it signalled the tantalising – and momentous – possibility that the West Indies’ long, turbulent years in the international cricket doldrums might finally be coming to an end.

It was a notable reversal of fortune from the previous time the two sides had met in this tournament: in their Super Eight game Sri Lanka had won by 9 wickets, with only a 65-run partnership between Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels saving the Windies’ blushes. In the final, it was Marlon Samuels again who stepped up when everyone else – including the big-hitting Chris Gayle – fell around him. From 32-2 after ten overs – an uncharacteristically slow start for the West Indies if ever there was one – he managed to drag his team to a total not only respectable but, as it turned out, defendable. Sri Lanka were all out for 101 in 18.4 overs and the riotous celebrations began. A harsher critic might say that the Lankans bottled it, but it was tough not to feel for Jayawardene when he resigned his captaincy soon afterward; rarely do cricketers come classier than him and, up until Sunday, his team were arguably the best allround side on display throughout the competition.

But nowhere is the spirit of carpe diem more important than in T20, and in a game where moments prove decisive and a well-timed runout or booming six into the stands can turn the game, the Windies seized every opportunity as the Sri Lankans faltered.

While it’s premature to talk about a new dynasty in West Indies cricket, boy was this victory great to see. Marlon Samuels’ continued rise in stature and maturity will come as no surprise to those who saw him in England earlier this year, and Darren Sammy may be a cricketer of limited talent but has proved an inspirational captain, truly the raising-agent in the West Indies’ recipe for success. Both men spoke from the heart in the post-match presentation about how much the victory meant to them, Samuels almost defiant in his jubilation. “We will celebrate as long as possible and enjoy the moment. This is a moment to cherish, and cherish forever. The entire Caribbean embraces it. The sky is the limit and words can’t really explain it. It means the world to us.” Perhaps most encouragingly, he added, “We want to be on top, even in Test cricket, as Test cricket is the best.” While that will take some leap, and considerable domestic and administrative reorganization for that to happen, what is most important is that this is a team that now knows it can win. It has started to believe.

I have to say I enjoyed this year’s World Twenty20. Reservations about the format remain, and while the concerns of the administrators of Associate nations who want their sides to face Full Member opposition more often remain valid – how else are they to improve? – the fact the “minnows” failed to punch above their weight will, sadly, have provided ammunition to those who are against an expanded format. But set against the interminable 50-over version, this was a short, sharp, enjoyable tournament with cricket of high quality. The likes of Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Ajantha Mendis and Virat Kohli displayed superlative skill and gave us great entertainment.

England, on the other hand, failed to get the pulse racing, with a campaign that, with the exception of their victories over Afghanistan and New Zealand, careened from the merely lacklustre to the downright clueless. Over the last few months, team England has started to resemble a punctured tyre with the air slowly leaking from it; with the absence of Kevin Pietersen their stumbling route to the exit proved a flat affair indeed. Andy Flower tried a few different patches to slow the bleeding, but it all smacked of desperation. Samit Patel, dropped for the New Zealand game because he’d been tonked round the park by Chris Gayle in the previous match and gone for 38 runs, was replaced by slow left-armer Danny Briggs, who ended up being tonked around the park by James Franklin to the tune of 36 runs; Patel, brought back for the match against Sri Lanka, ironically proved to be England’s standout batsman with a fine knock of 67. Equally baffling was the selection of Ravi Bopara who, chronically down on confidence and runs, couldn’t get back to the pavilion fast enough when he was bowled by Jeevan Mendis. Sadly, that ill-timed call-up may have torpedoed his international career for good.

Lasith Malinga was magnificent in that match, putting paid to criticisms that he’s lost his nip, but it was England’s woefulness against spin that had fans tearing their hair out in despair, especially looking ahead to the winter tour to India. The matches against Sri Lanka and India showed England at their very worst: an inexperienced batting lineup unsure whether to defend or hit out in a display akin to a headless chicken running erratically around a farmyard while its executioner calmly waits for it to exsanguinate.

Pietersen impressed as a pundit in the ESPN studios when he should have been playing. It’s hoped he’ll be added to the squad for India, but this is dependent on the results of a “process of reintegration” he must complete before he is welcomed back into the fold. After boggling at the bizarre nature of the press conference in which ECB chairman Giles Clarke compared Pietersen to a criminal being reintroduced back into society – this from an organization all too quick to jump into bed with a crooked Texan billionaire – I was wondering exactly what this process might entail. My eyebrows having been further raised by David Collier’s comment that South Africa “provoked” Pietersen into sending the texts that saw him dropped for the Lord’s Test, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say they fair leapt off my forehead when I read in this week’s edition of The Cricket Paper that Pietersen, currently in South Africa for the Champions League T20, “is set to remain with the Delhi Daredevils for as long as they continue in the tournament, but he is also expected to undertake a potentially exhausting series of long-haul flights to and from the UK, in order to try and make peace with players on an individual basis, possibly with the aid of a ‘trained disputes mediator’.”

One of Pietersen’s supporters through all of this has been Chris Gayle, back destroying bowlers on the world stage after a bitter rift between himself and the West Indies Cricket Board. The Windies are a better side with Gayle in it. England, similarly, are a better side when Kevin Pietersen goes out to bat for them. Surely, it’s time now to move on from all this nonsense.

Smells like team spirit

September 2nd, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

So farewell, then, England’s Test supremacy; farewell too, to Andrew Strauss, a man who, in his role as captain, took England to the top, and who enjoyed a fruitful opening partnership with successor Alastair Cook until everything began falling apart.

A decent, quietly dignified man, Strauss leaves the team ironically in the same state of turmoil it was in when he accepted the captaincy, but between then and now he, along with Andy Flower – the Steve Jobs to Strauss’s Tim Cook – made a team that proved greater than the sum of its parts through a vision that hinged upon keeping things simple. He deserves respect for his 7037 Test runs, the 24 matches won under his watch, the 3-1 Ashes series win and the first by an England side Down Under in 24 years. He deserves respect for his statesmanlike steering of the team through the rocky rapids of the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal, and, because he strikes me as an honest, plain-speaking bloke, I’m inclined to believe him when he says his decision to resign and retire from all forms of professional cricket had nothing to do with the recent ruckus surrounding England cricket’s current bête noire Kevin Pietersen.

Strauss’s successor, Alastair Cook, may not be the most inspirational of leaders, or of speakers, judging by Wednesday’s presser – “you have to throw yourself into it and meet the challenge head on – I hope I have it in me,” isn’t exactly the “we happy few, we band of brothers” stuff that fires the blood. But then, given he’s inherited a dressing room currently missing its best batsman, riddled, it would seem, with cliques and raging egos (and I’m not just talking about Pietersen’s), and a team on the receiving end of a comprehensive Test series beating, perhaps simply throwing oneself into it might be the best and simplest strategy. As Joe Cabot says in Reservoir Dogs, sometimes you just gotta shit your pants, dive in, and swim.

Strauss, not the most tactically imaginative captain, succeeded largely because he was utterly unflappable. On the field of play, this worked extremely well – there can be no greater contrast in terms of “game face” than Strauss’s arm-folded inscrutability at slip when a carefully laid plan resulted in a bowler being smashed for three consecutive boundaries, and Andrew Flintoff’s public, near nervous breakdown in the field at Adelaide in 2006.

Cook’s Bambi-eyed demeanour doesn’t quite inspire the same confidence, though. It’s not just the on-field stuff he has to control, it’s the dressing room environment as well, the “behind closed doors” nonsense we’ve unfortunately been hearing a lot about lately. The fact that Strauss said in a televised interview before Lord’s that the dressing room tension alluded to by Pietersen “has all been a bit of a surprise to me” is rather worrying. Plainly tensions did exist, as evidenced by the “KP Genius” Twitter account set up by a friend of Stuart Broad purely for the purpose of having a laugh at Pietersen’s expense. A parody account set up by a fan is one thing; an account set up by a friend of a team mate, likely with that team mate’s knowledge, makes a mockery of the “trust and mutual respect” demanded by the England management in response to queries regarding the timescale – or indeed any possibility – of Pietersen’s reinstatement.

Graeme Swann provided another example of hypocrisy at work; he was less than complimentary about Pietersen in his autobiography, but somehow, his book – released in a print run of thousands, available in paperback now, at a WH Smith’s near you – was deemed less damaging to team unity than private texts sent to a couple of mates during a moment of pissed-off indiscretion. Given Broad is already captain of the T20 side and Swann too, for all his jack-the-lad image, has captaincy ambitions (he led the side in the absence of Broad for three T20 matches against the West Indies and India last year) it’s all starting to suggest a pack struggle, a jostling for a higher rung on the dressing room hierarchy, the kind of playground unpleasantness that too often goes hand-in-hand with a group turning on one of its own. If Andrew Strauss was unaware of this, then Alastair Cook seems even less likely to be able to keep a lid on it.

The Pietersen problem is one that demands an urgent solution. Examining how the situation reached this state of urgency is instructive. How Pietersen’s very reasonable concerns over a congested international schedule degenerated via tweets and “derogatory texts” (since believed to be sent via Blackberry Messenger) into the current block-headed stalemate is an interesting study in tabloid media sensationalism, knee-jerk pettiness, mob behaviour, and group-think.

It has also demonstrated that if you repeat something often enough, it becomes accepted as truth. Take the infamous text messages, for example, reportedly sent to Pietersen’s friends in the South African team, reportedly “derogatory” towards Andrew Strauss and believed to contain encouragement to Dale Steyn to get him out, and later reported to contain advice on how to dismiss Andrew Strauss. Later, the tabloid that first broke the “exclusive” of these texts, admitted the messages contained no tactical information. Nevertheless, the damage has been done – the myth that these texts contained tactical information sent to the opposition persists on social media networks and “under the line” comments as sufficient reason for Pietersen’s permanent banishment. It has been an unsavoury, grubby saga of hearsay, leaks, innuendo and allegations, with precious little substance behind the hyperbole. Pietersen has since admitted sending texts, but the fact that it was not then – and still isn’t – known exactly what they contained while being cited in an ECB press release as a reason for his omission from the Lord’s Test is a quite staggering example of trial by tabloid in the absence of concrete proof.

As if this weren’t enough, we’ve been subjected to the deranged rantings of those such as Michael Henderson, who in a shrill, hectoring interview on BBC Radio, launched an unstoppable stream of bilious invective at Pietersen’s background, personality and motivation for playing for England. He referred to Pietersen’s replacement, Jonny Bairstow, as “a true Englishman” and justified his stance by saying it was one shared by those he spent time with while in the MCC President’s box – “no riff-raff”. Henderson has never considered Pietersen a “bona fide Englishman” and has grasped this controversy with relish, providing as it did another opportunity for him to air his xenophobic opinions. It was jaw-dropping, deeply offensive, and if you felt like having a hot shower and scrubbing yourself with a wire brush afterwards, you weren’t the only one.

Have we become so cynical that we accept that this is how the media can make or break a man’s career? Pietersen’s gaucheness may be to his disadvantage when it comes to his relationship with the media, but God help us all if a cricketer were ever to commit a truly heinous infraction such as murder or kidnapping – having already used up every known variation on words such as “vile”, “traitor”, “scandal” and “outrage” one tends to think a few of the sports commentariat have in this instance rather overreached themselves. But this, we are loftily assured, is how journalism works. It’s the way things are done. You’ll excuse me if I’ve had my faith in humanity, and my love for English cricket, dented slightly as a result.

Now, Pietersen is in the position where he is vilified if he says anything – no matter when he said it, or in what context – and castigated if he says nothing. That is how ridiculous it has become. He’s made a few mistakes, but isn’t it about time to get off the guy’s back and make a concerted effort to find a solution rather than letting it drag on?

From football-style tabloid sensationalism to the reinforcement of the stereotype that cricket is a game for public-school toffs who use servants as footstools and for whom the President’s box at Lord’s is the inner sanctum off-limits to those deemed “not one of us”, it’s fair to say the last few weeks have not been a shining advertisement for the sport.

Pietersen was due to sit down yesterday with Andy Flower in the first of a series of meetings that will, if pragmatism prevails, hammer out some kind of resolution that will allow the black sheep to return to the English fold. One hopes there will be compromise from both sides.

Kevin Pietersen may look back on this in time and know there were things he should have done differently. But he did not solely create this situation, or indeed the disunity within the team. He has only lifted the rock – or rather, kicked it over – and shown what is scurrying underneath.


Kevin Pietersen's future remains uncertain

Kevin Pietersen's future remains uncertain

Bridge down, troubled waters ahead for KP and ECB

August 7th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

On any other day, I’d be writing this article about Kevin Pietersen’s batting.

Speaking on Saturday evening, after his inspired 149 that lit up the Headingley gloom and breathed life into a generally moribund England innings (James Taylor’s assured debut and Matt Prior’s feisty 68 aside) Pietersen was asked where he saw himself in a year’s time. “I don’t know,” he said, “we’ll see.”

It was an interview described as cagey and evasive, but, perhaps unsurprisingly given his at-times uncomfortable relationship with the English media, he seemed to me like a man terrified of saying something that could be construed as boast or bluster.

He obviously didn’t have to wait long for that to happen anyway, as, after receiving his Man of the Match award on a final day that briefly promised excitement and unpredictability but fizzled into an unsatisfactory draw, he faced the media at the post-match press conference. For about seven minutes he was bombarded with questions regarding his future; he made it clear he didn’t want to discuss his ongoing negotiations with the ECB regarding renewal of his Test contract, but nevertheless the questions continued. If you’d ever wondered what cricket’s version of bear-baiting looks like, this was it.

At last, irritated, he obliged. “For me, the saddest part about all this is that the spectators just love watching me play and I love playing for England. But the politics is what I have to deal with personally and it’s tough being me in this dressing room. Playing for England is tough. We’ll see.”

It’s tough being me. You could almost visualise the smoke pouring from laptop keyboards. Who in the hell does Kevin Pietersen think he is?

Pietersen is a Marmite cricketer. He rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. I wrote about this back when the storm clouds began to gather. I’m not really sure why some people have a dislike for him that sometimes is so vehement it borders on the irrational. Perhaps their constant calling for him to be thrown out of the team would have some justification if he was a shit batsman. Everything aside from that – and that should be the main criterion – is down to management, or, in this case, bad management.

One thing I suspected at the time was that the details of Pietersen’s contract negotiations that appeared in the press were leaked strategically by “ECB sources” (to whom the details were attributed). Pietersen alluded angrily to this in yesterday’s press conference. “I was blamed before the Test series for grabbing the headlines. But did I leak anything? I never spoke to the media for one second. I never said anything about what was said behind closed doors.”

Behind closed doors is where you would reasonably expect negotiations between employer and employee to remain. But of course this isn’t the first time it has happened. Pietersen says he still doesn’t know who leaked details of his row with Peter Moores back in 2009 either. What all this boils down to is the manipulation of public opinion as a negotiating tool. Now I don’t know about you, but if my boss leaked selected details of a contract discussion, which, without the benefit of all the facts being known, might be calculated to paint me in a bad light, I’d be pretty damn pissed off too.

With this leak followed by a press conference that, it could be argued, was allowed to go on way too long, it’s starting to seem very much as though the ECB are not just intent on watching Pietersen dig his own grave, they’re even handing him the shovel.

One outcome is that, in common with many other national boards, the ECB may eventually become more flexible and accepting of the IPL and their players’ participation in it. Unfortunately, the way things now stand, with a headlong race towards a messy divorce now inevitable, it seems as though Pietersen’s career as an England player will be the price.

Can England do without KP? Inasmuch as they will have to, yes. Is sticking to principle more important than coming to some kind of compromise via a sensible, non-combative – and carried out in strict confidence – discussion with one of the greatest batsmen ever to take the field for this country? The future of England cricket depends on their answer. Given their now tenuous hold on the number one Test position, now is not the time to diminish this England team’s strength.

South Africa’s best laid plans make mice of England’s men

July 25th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

South African cricket writer Neil Manthorp told a wonderful story on Sky’s Cricket Writers on TV the other day.

He told how, on the Proteas’ tour of England four years ago, Morne Morkel, stressed, worried, and having a bit of a rough time of it with his bowling, knocked on Hashim Amla’s hotel room door.

“What can I do for you, Morne?” said Amla.

“Nothing,” Morkel said. “Can I just come and sit in your room?”

He did nothing for the next half hour or so but sit quietly in Amla’s room, watching while the devout Muslim South African batsman of Indian descent prayed. Morkel would say later that the calmness and serenity exuded by Amla helped settle him, made him feel less anxious.

I imagine batting with Hashim Amla must be equally as calming. Manthorp said: “If you’re in his presence, your worries just disappear.”

He certainly made the ball disappear, during his marathon 13-hour innings of 311*, running England’s below-par bowling attack ragged as they failed to live up to their pre-match reputations.

Amla is all soft hands, swivelled wrists and perfect timing, “minimum of effort, maximum of effect”, as CB Fry once said about that other great stylist, Victor Trumper. Regardless of whether or not you have Amla’s level of faith, just watching him on television is an experience spiritual  enough to confirm cricket as your religion; his batting makes converts of us all.

Gary Kirsten said before the Test that preparation isn’t about runs and statistics and warm-up matches against counties. It is about mental readiness. It is about the focus and intensity that is only experienced in Test matches, and can only be honed by playing international cricket at the highest level. Amla is the most conspicuous example of this focus; captain Graeme Smith, an impressive, imposing individual who leads from the front, personifies its steel, and if you want an example of intensity, look no further than Dale Steyn’s scream of celebration when Graeme Swann became his 5th wicket on the last day.

So much for an “undercooked” South Africa. With the exception of the first day, the rich fare they served up proved too spicy in the end for England’s weak stomachs.

The sheer extent of England’s capitulation at the Oval – and a comprehensive defeat by an innings and 12 runs is even worse than it sounds, and is about as humiliating as it gets if you’re the world’s No. 1 ranked team – was surprising, and if you’re an England fan, not a little worrying, especially when you consider that of the nine Tests England have played since beating India and attaining top spot, they have lost five of them. That, beyond the specifics of this Test that make especially grim reading, is concerning. Andrew Strauss talks a good game, and is always careful to warn against underestimating the opposition, but a few of us will have considered the possibility of complacency, before hastily smothering that thought, lest voicing that accusation make it true.

The simple fact is that a batting surface that Matt Prior called “attritional” and on which he hoped England’s bowlers would get wickets “in a cluster” proved the most benign of surfaces for South Africa’s batsmen, and while Dale Steyn steamed in like the last rhino in Africa faced with the poacher’s rifle and determined to make a fight of it, England’s quicks looked down on speed and devoid of aggression. South Africa took 20 wickets; England could manage to take only 2 over the course of the five days. Graeme Swann, worryingly, is having a dismal summer: in home Tests this year he has taken only 6 wickets for 433 runs. That is only 2 more wickets than his South African counterpart, Imran Tahir, took in this Test.

It’s too early to panic, of course. We wanted a competition, and we’ve got one. England have not ascended the Test tree without showing they have their own inner steel and the mental fortitude to bounce back from setbacks, as they demonstrated after their drubbing in the 3rd Ashes Test at Perth.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is being a pretty resilient bunch,” said Strauss at the time. Subsequent events were, of course, to prove him right.

The Proteas may have made mice of England’s men at the Oval, but now these mice must roar at Headingley.

If they do not, then might be the time to start panicking.


Hashim Amla in action at the Oval

Hashim Amla in action at the Oval

South Africa’s sons bring summer at last

July 18th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

When, after Australia’s 4-0 ODI defeat by England, Mike Atherton asked captain Michael Clarke what, if anything, he has taken from the series, the more facetious among us may have been tempted to fill in our own answers: trench foot; double pneumonia; the gloom that settles in one’s soul due to the constant drip, drip of prolonged and unseasonable rain.

Gods, it has been an awful summer, and Australia’s five-match tour was as damp and drab an affair as the weather that accompanied it. The batting of the visitors was rickety; their bowling as penetrative as a soggy cocktail umbrella at a washed-out garden party.

The jet stream, which has hung over Britain like the albatross round the neck of the Ancient Mariner, is shifting and it finally seems that from next week warmer temperatures and bluer skies will be in the offing.

Just in time, then, for the commencement of a series that promises to be the sizzling braai to the international season’s so far soggy sandwich of a summer.

Much has already been written of the mouth-watering head-to-heads between the England team and their South African counterparts: Anderson versus Steyn; Broad versus Morkel; Strauss versus Smith; Pietersen versus Kallis.

South Africa are fired up after an arbitrary, unfortunate demotion recently in the Test rankings to 3rd position, and motivated by a strong desire to pay tribute to their fallen comrade Mark Boucher, forced into early retirement after a flying bail punctured his eyeball at Taunton – a horrific injury and one from which he will hopefully recover fully.

For England’s part, Andrew Strauss has admitted that his team’s humiliating defeat in the UAE over the winter still stings, and he knows they cannot rest on their laurels simply because they are number one.

Before the Australia series, I was reluctant to tempt fate by predicting victory for England, and the same still applies. But, if forced to nail my colours to the mast, I’d say England have the edge. While Strauss’s sentiment (often expressed since England reached top spot) that you should never underestimate the opposition is worth heeding, maybe it’s time to recognise that England really are that good. But you can bet that if the spoils go to the visitors, it’ll still have been a cracking series, so in terms of great Test cricket, we’re all winners, really.

The battle of the bowling attacks will be interesting; the swing of James Anderson versus Dale Steyn’s raw speed has been given top billing, but look for Vernon Philander and Tim Bresnan to make their mark as well. Philander has taken over 50 Test wickets so far in a career that’s only 7 Test matches old. He is accurate, gets the ball to move through the air and off the seam, and looks well suited to English conditions. Tim Bresnan is used to playing the support act to the headline stars, but surely the hackneyed view of him as a good, honest Yorkshire cricketer is starting to sound just a little patronizing. Averaging 26 with the ball and 40 with the bat, with two nineties to his name, he deserves to be regarded as more than just the yeoman dray horse to Broad and Anderson’s thoroughbred royalty.

One man above all will be fired up, and if his 234* for Surrey against Lancashire the other week is a statement of intent, then god help the opposition. That Kevin Pietersen is in the news again is not really news these days, but in leaving him out of the provisional 30-man squad named today for England’s defence of the Twenty20 World Cup, Andy Flower has underlined his intention to make no exception for players who do not wish to play all three formats. The latest ruckus over KP is that, in his willingness to come to some agreement with a view to carry on playing Twenty20, one of the proposals his management team have put forward to the ECB is that he agree to play some ODIs if he can be allowed to play in the IPL in its entirety, which would mean missing the two-Test series against New Zealand in May.

The timing and reporting of all this admittedly has me a little uneasy. Details of Pietersen’s “demands” have apparently come from sources within the ECB, among whom it is known that Pietersen does not have many friends. An off the cuff remark, or a strategic leak calculated to turn public opinion against a man who needs to be loved as a way of forcing him to reconsider his position? God knows it does not take much these days, but it seems that once again we are all Foaming At The Mouth About Kevin.

Andy Flower has said Pietersen may look back in years to come and regret not going to the 2015 World Cup, but regret is a double-edged sword that can cut both ways; all is rosy in England’s limited-overs garden at the moment, but come the Twenty20 World Cup in September and England may wish their Player of the Tournament in 2010 was still with them. Regardless of who you think is the more principled, the more arrogant, or the more inflexible, that it has come to this is sad indeed.

Before all that, though, there’s a Test series to be won, and boy, will this be some contest. Something to set this summer alight at last.

Greig wades in

June 27th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

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

June 1st, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

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.

Calypso conundrum

May 15th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

Amidst all the dire weather we’ve been having lately, one thing that has brought a smile to my face was an article by Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times last week.

In it he wrote of his slow recovery from illness, which has involved chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a series of seven operations. He won’t, he says, be able to attend the first Test at Lord’s next week, but is looking forward to watching it on TV, with great anticipation: “Never, truly, have I so looked forward to a Test match.”

It’s an article that gladdens the heart, not just because CMJ is on the mend, but because his joyful anticipation of the start of England’s international summer crystallizes all that is good about cricket and being alive to see it.

Not only that, but with the weather set fair for at least the next few days, it seems, after a false start involving much rain and many interrupted days of county cricket, with the first Test against the West Indies only days away, like we might be getting a summer after all.

I wish I could be as optimistic as CMJ about the Windies’ chances, though.

Their preparation has been shambolic. They arrived in the the UK last week in dribs and drabs due to visa cock-ups, and an eleven minus captain Darren Sammy were comprehensively demolished by England’s second string in the Lions game at Northampton. True, their batsmen did put up a better showing in their second innings, and Darren Bravo’s 57, following on from his 51 in the first innings, gave the pundits a chance to dust off those Brian Lara comparisons. But one respectable innings total and a couple of decent individual performances won’t win you a Test match, and certainly not against a full-strength England side.

That’s not to say there isn’t talent in the West Indies ranks – far from it. Their seam attack in English conditions could cause the home side some problems, though our batsmen have been more vulnerable to spin recently, as that embarrassing winter tour in the UAE demonstrated. But even then, bowling out this formidable England batting lineup twice seems like a mighty big ask, and their own batting looks brittle and inexperienced; one fears Shiv Chanderpaul will once again be asked to bear a heavy load on those diminutive shoulders.

When this West Indies team takes the field at Lord’s, it will be notable more for its absences. Chris Gayle, of course, is the most high profile. To a neutral, the conflict between him and the West Indies Cricket Board has been a long-protracted soap opera, a jaw-dropping saga of board-versus-player pettiness and pomposity. That finally seems to have come to an end now, with Gayle likely to be selected for the limited-overs matches that follow the Tests, though it seems the board administration took one more opportunity to place Gayle on the naughty step when it questioned his attitude for requesting clarity regarding his international future before turning down a T20 contract with Somerset.

Other notable absences include Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine, who, along with Gayle, are currently making the most of lucrative contracts in the IPL, the tournament that to the WICB represents such a huge stumbling block on the road back to the glory days for its national team.

In an article in The Cambridge Companion to Cricket, published last year, Hilary Beckles, a director of the West Indies Cricket Board, wrote: “No previous generation of West Indian cricket leaders has had as divisive an impact on Caribbean development discourse as that of Lara and Gayle. The failure of their teams to compensate for the spreading sense of despair in West Indian socio-economic decline and political disillusionment led to an intensely critical perception of both as politically unfit for the role of leadership. The public feels, furthermore, that despite its insistence on the team having an important political role ‘beyond the boundary’, the game has been hijacked by an uncaring cabal of mercenary money seekers, players without attachment to traditional sources of societal concerns.”

This, in a nutshell, is the conflict that lies at the heart of the mess West Indies cricket is in. To reinforce the credo of country before self the WICB has taken a route that favours the dictatorial over the constructive, and as far as individual player selection goes has discarded the disruptive in favour of the malleable.

It’s not an approach that makes much sense. It seems counter-productive to dispense so drastically with experience for the sake of unquestioning obedience. There also seems to be a lack of transparency as to why certain players have been discarded. The most notable of these are two players currently plying their trade – and scoring runs – in English county cricket.

Ramnaresh Sarwan has so far been a valuable addition to Leicestershire’s ranks this year, and while he could have been forgiven for rethinking his decision to sign for the Foxes in light of April weather that required a minimum of three jumpers, he quickly figured out the best way to keep warm at a chilly Grace Road is to score runs, and lots of them. You’d think his 105 against Derbyshire a few days before the squad was announced, as well as a Test average of 40, might have put him in with a shout of selection, but it seems other factors might have told against him.

He cites his closeness with the West Indies Players’ Association, which has a long history of conflict with the WICB, as the likely reason. “There are a few in the Caribbean who have been targeted and I am one of them,” he says. “I am trying not to focus on it too much, I am just happy to be here at Leicestershire. I do not have to worry about any coaches telling my fellow players that he wants me to fail and that he does not want me in the team.”

Brendan Nash, dropped from the West Indies squad last October while vice-captain, became so disillusioned with his treatment by the WICB that he moved back to Australia to play grade cricket for Melbourne’s Doutta Stars, saying he had no intention of returning to Jamaica in the near future. He is now scoring runs for Kent, and like Sarwan his experience has proved invaluable. He admits now his international career is probably over, but is still not sure entirely why.

“Looking back on my five years in West Indies cricket, it is a structure that is designed to make you fail,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of guys when I say they are unsure what they need to do and why some people are selected, whether they are just from the right island, or what.”

Given their bowling attack, and the erratic but undoubted talent of the likes of Darren Bravo, green shoots of recovery do seem to be appearing for the West Indies, and – credit where credit’s due – Darren Sammy has grown into the leadership role beyond that of specialist coin-tosser to instil some team spirit into his troops. But when coach Ottis Gibson states: “If we can take this Lord’s Test to four days, that will be great,” it seems those shoots may yet be rooted in shallow soil.

Come Thursday, England’s goal will be to make them wilt.

Book review: It Never Rains… A Cricketer’s Lot by Peter Roebuck

May 2nd, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

It Never Rains

“I suppose it would be dull if one’s fortunes in cricket flowed along happily, roses all the way. But it’s most discouraging to do badly and worse, it preys on the mind. Unless runs come soon, it will become an obsession. It’s very hard to disassociate one’s human worth and one’s success with a lump of wood in one’s hand.”

In 1983, Peter Roebuck kept a diary of his year with Somerset in domestic cricket. With his death in controversial circumstances last November, It Never Rains… A Cricketer’s Lot has become increasingly hard to find. Written by a man who, by all accounts, was something of a difficult enigma, this is generally acknowledged to be his most honest and revealing book.

Cricketers’ diaries are ten a penny now, mostly consisting of ghost-written and vacuous PR speak that pay mere lip-service to revealing what goes on behind the heady heights of international success or the often-misleading glamour of a sportsman’s life.

The most notable break from this trend recently has been from the pen of Tasmanian cricketer (and now Australian opening batsman) Ed Cowan, and the direct and revealing honesty with which he writes of the fears and insecurities that can bedevil a professional sportsman is perhaps not so surprising given Roebuck was Cowan’s mentor.

I was never the biggest fan of Peter Roebuck’s cricket reporting. Most of it seemed skewed either by the grudge he bore against England after leaving the country in the wake of his conviction for caning three young South African cricketers, or controversial rabble-rousing, often for the sake of effect – a suspicion confirmed upon reading that he liked to draw up a list of ten contentious statements which he would then try to shoehorn into whichever article he happened to be writing that day. The apex (or nadir) of this journalistic approach came when he called for Ricky Ponting to be sacked as captain of Australia after the ill-spirited Sydney test against India in 2008. Shrill, bombastic and completely over-the-top, it came across initially as a reaction to be filed in the “knee-jerk violent enough to cause tendon damage” category, but there also remained the suspicion of cynical provocation. “Sacking the captain was the only story remotely dramatic enough to bring everything out into the open,” he wrote later, a statement which did little to disabuse me of this notion.

So, when I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of It Never Rains, it surprised me how much I enjoyed it. It is honest and without artifice. Absent is the bluster and the bombast, the grandstanding and the rabble-rousing; in its place is self-doubt and an outsider’s not always successful attempts to be comfortable in a team environment dominated by alpha personalities; a man trying to find his way (and himself) in a sport he’s not even sure he wants to succeed in. “It’s strange that cricket attracts so many insecure men,” he wrote. “It is surely the very worst game for an intense character… There must be some fascinating stimulation in the game to make so many of us, so ill-prepared for turmoil, risk its ugly changes. Otherwise we’d never tolerate its bounce of failure. And it is mostly failure, even for the best.”

The start of the 1983 season was, like the current one, ruined by rain, with the inevitable introspection that comes with much sitting around, waiting for play to be called off for the day or the match to be abandoned. Most of the concerns that cricketers fretted over then were the the same as they are now, and despite the eighties trappings of Austin Maestros, John Cleese and gammon and chips (no Nando’s in those day) there was still too much cricket, too much travel, burnout by season’s end, fretting over form and weather, the difficulty of having to adapt one’s game from a limited overs match one day to the resumption of the Championship on the next. Not much changes.

The glimpses of Somerset’s two big galacticos in those days, Ian Botham and Viv Richards, are fascinating when seen through Roebuck’s eyes, especially in light of the internecine warfare that was to tear the club apart three years later. Richards, especially, is portrayed as a force of nature, a man deeply admired but also to be regarded with respectful wariness: “I can remember the day in 1978, after our defeats in September, when he went into the bathroom and in his despair smashed his bat to pieces. You don’t meddle with people like that.” When Richards commiserates with Roebuck on his lack of runs, Roebuck is almost abjectly grateful for the concern, like someone finding himself sharing a cage with a man-eating lion that’s decided not to rip his face off.

It’s in the frank discussion of the depression that hit him that Roebuck was so ahead of his time, and it is an appalling indictment of professional sport, not just cricket, that it is only recently that cricketers and other sportsmen feel they can be open about an illness that has caused so many to suffer in silence. The search for form becomes futile,  the walls of hotel rooms start closing in, the slog of a long season becomes a never-ending treadmill. The shadows descended upon Roebuck with a vengeance in July. “I’m stuck in a swamp, being sucked down and waving my arms around in desperation, hoping that someone will notice.” The day that was surely the darkest, Monday 1 August, contains only two words: “No entry.”

Roebuck had his demons. He had friends, who, during those black dog days of August in 1983, helped him beat them back for a time, but, in the light of the way he met his end, and the allegations that followed, there was no-one, it seemed, who really knew or understood him. He certainly seems not to have made it easy for people to get close to him.

And there’s the rub – reconciling the openness with which he wrote his 1983 diary and the controversy that dogged him until his death and which still surrounds him.

They say never speak ill of the dead. My experience in the funeral business has taught me the implications that often lurk beneath the euphemisms when it comes to remembering the deceased. “Straight talking”: boorishly opinionated. “Would give you his last penny”: easily taken advantage of. “Life and soul of the party”: raging alcoholic.

I’ll admit the gushing eulogies that appeared after Roebuck’s death, and in most cases the complete airbrushing out of the controversial events in his past, made me uneasy. One blog that did venture another view reeked offensively of homophobia – and that just made me angry. What troubled me was that even-handedness, a picture of the whole man, seemed in very short supply; it seemed easier to fall back on those timeworn cliches: “troubled”, “conflicted,” “complex”, “tormented”.

“He did not crave partners on an equal footing but followers,” wrote Derek Pringle. Perhaps, in his struggle with his sexuality, he found a refuge and ordering of his inner chaos within the strictly defined frameworks of mentor and pupil, master and apprentice, and in his role of father-figure to adopted African “sons”.  But abuse of authority is abuse, regardless of gender or sexuality, and it is this need for control that seems to have been inextricably bound up with his sexuality, and which at times seems to have made others do what they would rather not do, that does not sit easily with me.

Roebuck could be open about his depression but feared the glare of the spotlight of public attention. When asked at one point whether he’d ever want to play for his country, he wrote: “I suspect I could tolerate the pressures of Test cricket; it’s the exposure I’m not so sure about.”

When he threw himself from the sixth floor of a South African hotel on the evening of November 12th, 2011, it would seem that this fear of exposure extended to his life off the cricket field as well.


April 19th, 2012  / Author: legsidefilth

I’ve not yet sat down and watched an IPL game all the way through this year.

I didn’t mean it to work out this way. There were things I wanted to see, such as Rahul Dravid’s swansong before he sinks gratefully into the rocking chair of retirement, Jesse Ryder’s timeout from New Zealand cricket after another boozy misadventure, the ridiculous ongoing KKR soap opera and gauging how badly they are doing by the point at which Shahrukh Khan stops turning up to their matches.

I have caught a few passages of play here and there, but the thing that’s struck me most, though, are the uncomfortable juxtapositions that have been occurring lately. One could even call them examples of dramatic irony. On the day that Chris Gayle went ballistic for Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy versus Pune Warriors – a scorching innings of 81 that included five sixes in one over off the hapless Rahul Sharma – Shivnarine Chanderpaul was determinedly grinding out the runs at Port of Spain to steady the Windies ship after a diabolical start where their first three wickets were lost for only 38 runs. These two innings, Gayle’s and Chanderpaul’s, and the 9,000 miles that separated them, represent the fault-line that divides the game. Sometimes, it feels as though you must be on one side or the other; as a fan, straddling that divide is uncomfortable, if not impossible.

The West Indies could have done with Gayle in their ranks during their hour of need, but he is where he is due to a chain of circumstances not entirely of his own making. In the form of the West Indies Cricket Board, it seems this unstoppable force managed to find its immovable object. There have been encouraging noises coming out of the Caribbean lately regarding a rapprochement between the two, but it seems wrong that Gayle should be in India while Chanderpaul takes the burden of his country’s Test hopes on his shoulders.

Kevin Pietersen too has entertained, but he has brought with him his own controversy, the way that only KP – genius, mould-breaker, shit-magnet – can do. He got himself into a bit of hot water the other week when he ascribed English attitudes to the IPL as jealousy. There was some confusion as to where and when (and if) the “jealousy” word was uttered, since Pietersen seems to have done more than one interview that day, but it provoked a fair amount of blustering and sputtering in the UK press. Coming so soon after his 151 against Sri Lanka at Colombo, lauded as one of the finest Test innings ever seen, and while English county cricketers ply their trade in freezing wet conditions on seaming spring wickets, it’s been another stark and discombobulating contrast. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and we’re not at The Oval freezing our extremities off, either, while waving arthritically to the pavilion for another jumper and a pair of hand warmers.

Judging by all the tub-thumping that occurs on Twitter and forums this time every year, there doesn’t seem much room for doubt in this brave new world – you’re either a clued-up progressive who moves with the times and accepts the IPL and all its various copycats as a logical, entertaining result of the sport’s snowballing commercialisation, or you’re derided as an antediluvian dinosaur (the term used to be “purist”, but you’re more likely now to be branded simply a snob) if you dare to venture a preference for the longer form. Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket has been cited many times in comparison as a similar gamechanger – once the dust had settled players were better paid, scoring rates in Tests became faster, the world did not end – but I’m resistant to the simplistic view that history repeats itself. True, both tournaments had their genesis through a desire for money and power, but the riches and influence have changed hands since Packer’s time. The lure of a large pay-cheque for a few week’s work continues to provide a headache for county and national administrators when it comes to fixture clashes and player availability. It’s an issue that’s grumbled about but continues more or less to be tiptoed around, lest the inevitable “restraint of trade” threat raises its head. You cannot blame Chris Gayle for helping his bank account by plying his trade in a variety of T20 tournaments. Hell, he’s great entertainment, and he’s making the most of the opportunities available to him. But he will be helping his country – and cricket – more when the WICB allows him back into the Test fold rather than treating him like a rebellious teenager.

The IPL isn’t Packer Version 2: it is less revolution than evolution, and whether it will prove a dead end in that respect is still too early to tell. Like the Titanic, it could end up being sunk eventually by the iceberg of indifference, a victim of its own hubris and bloated hype, as viewing figures and advertising drop off. Whether there will be any pickings left for cricket after it’s done pursuing its scorched earth policy through aggressive scheduling and self-interest is the main concern.

The death of Test cricket has been predicted before, and fair enough, it is still with us, but one could also say it’s these continually raised concerns that have reminded us of how much in the way of tradition and history we stand to lose. The erosion, though, has now reached a point of insidious acceleration. Pietersen was bought during the transfer window for this year’s IPL by Delhi in a deal reportedly worth US$2.3 million. For becoming the number one Test team, England received a cheque for US$175,000. Add to that the increasing frequency of two-Test series and the cancellation – sorry, “postponement” until 2017 – of the ICC Test Championship, and while it’s not quite barbarians-at-the-gates stuff, Test cricket’s fortifications could definitely do with some strengthening.

I do enjoy the IPL, albeit in moderation – like the coke-snorting yuppie who gatecrashes your party and drinks all your champagne, it does tend to go on a bit. I’m all for embracing change and accept that the game must adapt in this current economic climate. But some things are so valuable, you cannot measure them in money, and you cannot tear down a load-bearing beam in your house because the woodworm have taken a chomp at it and it doesn’t quite fit in with your snazzy new decor. It’s all about balance. Sure, you could probably make a home in the rubble if you needed to, but would you really want to live there?