Sun’s out…


Anyone for Cricket?

The cricket season is here. How do we know? Well, the sun’s out of course. At last, we can finally add cricket into the conversations about the perpetual gloom outside and the length of winters past. This allows us to reflect on the close season, gaze into the future, wonder quietly about forthcoming trips to Lord’s and even whether you might still be able to hit the ball as far as you did last year.

So how about that ‘close’ season? Well, it turned out not to be closed at all if you were an international cricketer. The England side played 7 test matches, 10 ODIs and a smattering of T20s just for fun. They were away for much of the winter.

It would be fair to say that the results in the Test Matches were certainly not to be celebrated. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s virtually impossible to win an away series now. Certainly, none of our famously supportive pundits gave England any hope at all Down Under. Not that any of that dampened the enthusiasm of any of our clients. After all, it is just a game and Australia is a fantastic place to tour and an even better place for Christmas.

However, the team’s performance in the ODIs was to be celebrated. Not much of a surprise either. After all, Mr Bayliss was employed to turn around the dismal results of the previous regime. Under the expert captaincy of Eoin Morgan we can probably head to the home world cup next year as favourites. Can they handle the pressure? Who knows but expect much discussion on the difficulties of entering a major tournament as top dogs.

Off the pitch, we had men treated as such and behaving like errant schoolboys on the top deck of the night bus. Heads came together in friendship, beer was tipped on old Jimmy’s head and some of the sledging crossed the line. As usual. Even coach Trevor went on tele and got cross.

What of our much vaunted and equally disliked opponents? Well, they certainly deserved to regain the Ashes. They were just better than we were in every facet of the game. Skipper Smith certainly got one over his counterpart in the batting stakes and that superiority was repeated throughout the side. High on the Englishman’s wish list must be a very fast bowler or three.

Following their victory the Baggy Greens headed across the Indian Ocean to South Africa with an additional boing in the Kangaroo. There they were met by a fiercely competitive side who would not be taking any of their opponents’ efforts at ‘mental disintegration’ lying down. No boet.

The result? Rabada went wild at any dismissal and was censured once then banned when he couldn’t keep it in check. Old Davey W took exception to a de Kock jibe and threatened to knock his head off before tea. Even the pugnacious Darren Lehman claimed the Proteas had overstepped the mark. The very cheek of it. Out sledged, Boof? What would the leadership group do about that?

If it hadn’t have been for the very beady South African cameramen we may never have found out. They spotted old hard head Bancroft with a little piece of paper in the palm of his hand. And then filmed him humiliatingly popping it down his jock strap. As if the sniffer dogs wouldn’t look there. Clearly in his very hard head was not a very big brain. Once rumbled it transpired that the equally cerebral vice-captain had decided to try and alter the state of the ball with sandpaper. And captain Smith knew.

The outpouring of indignation was enough to power a small city for a couple days. To his credit (?) Steve Smith came out with Cameron Bancroft and admitted the whole thing. It seemed initially they were a touch more disappointed to have been caught and not that sorry at all. Cue more sighing, hand wringing and head shaking across the world’s cricket media. Everyone got involved and lamented the end of gentlemanly conduct. Then they were sorry. And sent home. In disgrace. Mid-series.

Then the tears came. Steve Smith sobbed, Cameron Bancroft howled, David Warner tried his hardest not to then cried. And still Darren ‘I hope they send him home crying’ Lehman declined to budge. Then came the sanctions. A year ban for the skipper and vice-captain, 9 months for Cammie. Plus, a bit of cricket community service. Then more tears.

Cricket Australia were damning in their summary of the events. The Australian public were heartbroken. Even the Prime Minister got involved. Jim Maxwell sobbed as he went over the sorry state of affairs. Finally, Darren Lehman agreed that it might be best if he left his post. And then cried. Terrific stuff for the English cricket fan. And certainly, those in South Africa.

More seriously, the whole thing was very unedifying from start to finish and we are pleased to see the back of it. The banned triumvirate will be back in time for the Ashes in 2019. Expect some very fine song writing at cricket stadiums near you. Lest they try and forget.

So, what is new? England have finally changed the selectors. Smarty pants Ed Smith put his mortar board in the ring along with Andy Flower and has been selected. I think he’s a pretty good choice. Michael Atherton agrees. He’s been an excellent part of the team at TMS. He enjoys looking at empirical evidence as opposed to subjective judgement on someone’s form and, while this isn’t a precursor to success, he has got to better than his predecessors and their methods. Hooray for proactive change.

Naturally there are many who think he’s only got the job because he’s rich, has a double 1st from Cambridge and is friends with Straussy. Some things never change. Imagine if Andy Flower had got the gig? Even more melodramatic cricket outrage and ‘jobs for the boys’ jibes.

Top of Ed’s list? No’s 2, 3 & 5. A spinner and a couple of fast bowlers ready to step up and frighten the opposition and in the long term to take over from our opening bowlers. Sound familiar?

What about a replacement for Darren Lehman? News is that Justin Langer will get the job. I think we can all be certain he will be excellent. Australia will be strong once more on and off the pitch. The more remarkable appointment is their new captain. Tim Paine will take over from Steve Smith permanently. Not long ago he was being laughed at by his own people for being, well, rubbish.

Timmy has already spoken about reducing sledging and he’ll be keeping Smith “in the loop” about the change in culture. Anyone else hear the laughing on social media from here? Let’s wait and see. They will be in England this June for an ODI series. Should be a quiet affair. 

Finally, not for the first time, News Corp have outbid the BBC. Talk Sport will cover the away series in Sri Lanka this November and then again in the West Indies next March. For some the end of the world is nigh once more and for others a bit of competition is a good thing. Aggers has already said sorry to his fans and picked a fight with his counterpart at Talk Sport. Expect a couple of familiar voices to appear on their coverage. If it still upsets you that much it could be time to jump ship yourself and join us in either Sri Lanka or the Caribbean. They’re both fantastic destinations.

Right, that’s enough of that. All this talking is exhausting and we haven’t even touched on Ben Stokes. Shall we go out and play? The sun is shining after all.

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