by Sam Blackledge
Cricket journalism, despite what the BCCI might have us believe, is no longer simply confined to newsprint.
Barely 20 years ago, a report in the morning paper and a flick through Ceefax was the only way to find out what was going on.
Now there is so much content pouring from various new media platforms, it’s difficult to keep track.
At the forefront of this revolution is a growing community of cricket bloggers.
They might not have mastheads over their names or a 30-year playing career behind them, but some believe they are becoming just as influential as their cohorts in the press box.
Dan Whiting and Liam Kenna founded The Middle Stump four years ago, attracting almost 750,000 hits and a loyal worldwide following.
The site is bolshy, irreverent, goofy and not afraid to speak its mind.
Where else would you find a rude joke about Lenny Henry sandwiched between references to Hawaii Five-O and Sooty and Sweep? Certainly not in The Daily Telegraph.
Dan, who lives in North London, played club cricket for more than 30 years and started blogging as an idle hobby.
“I have tried to write from a different angle, and people seem to enjoy reading about the game while having a bit of fun at the same time,” he says.
“I don’t want to write standard match reports; I wanted to write about the game in a way that no-one else does, and that seems to resonate.
“The stuff I write is original – whether that is good or bad – but I haven’t plagiarised or borrowed ideas from other blogs. Not all writers can say that.”
Dan believes the decline of cricket in mainstream print has left a gap in the market.
“The desire from the public is out there, and if they aren’t getting their cricketing fix via the national press then bloggers can fill it,” he says.
The blog led to work with The Cricket Paper, where Dan recently completed an 18-part feature on county out grounds.
Has he learned to adjust his writing style for his new bosses?
“Massively!” he says.
“Carter-Ruck, Schillings and all the libel lawyers in the country would be involved if I wrote the same way.
“You can still write differently for proper work – just maybe cut out the swear words.”
Back in September Dan penned a furious open letter to the ECB, saying their decision to pursue a city-based T20 tournament was “the day English cricket sold its soul to television”.
Looking back, he has no regrets.
“Too many mainstream publication pieces are factual and there are not enough opinion-based pieces out there,” he says.
“Blogging does give you the freedom to do that. I had some feedback from people ‘within cricket’ who loved the piece but couldn’t publicly say.
“Are journalists scared of losing their accreditation with the ECB by saying the wrong thing these days? If so, we are living in sad times. Perhaps George Orwell was right!”
In April 2013 Dan and Liam published a book called ‘Cricket Banter’.
I received it as a Christmas stocking filler the following year, but it soon found its way to the charity shop.
I felt the book was trying to turn my beloved game – a strange, thoughtful, nerdy pastime – into a laddish playground knockabout.
“You’re not the only one to say that,” he says.
“It’s like music – some people like indie, some house, some classical.
“Likewise, some people loved the book and others hated it. Jonathan Liew panned it in The Telegraph, although it did wonders for sales.
“As for being laddish, well I enjoy a beer at the cricket and writing from that angle. I hope I didn’t ruin your Christmas though!”
Dan recently released a self-penned book, ‘The Definitive Guide to Club Cricket’, which seems to be much more heartfelt and based on his own experience.
He describes it as “an anthropological study of club cricketers”, with a foreword written by Yorkshire seamer Jack Brooks.
“Every club has a weird scorer, a beleaguered skipper struggling to find players on a Saturday morning, a boring AGM, a bent umpire, so clubs identify with the characters involved,” he says.
“There are some serious articles in there too, such as Sunday cricket slowly dying and money coming into the game at club level.”
What advice would Dan offer to other would-be bloggers hoping to break into his world?
“Be yourself, be original and be interesting,” he says.
“No one cares what you think really, so make them sit up and take notice.”
Journo Talk is taking a break while it goes on paternity leave, but will be back in 2017.
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