Keaton Jennings, Gwyneth Paltrow and the Sliding Doors conundrum 

by Sam Blackledge

My two-year-old son has a pair of toy cars he likes to race around the living room.

We wind them up, set them down on the carpet, and shout: ‘On your marks, get set, go!’

They never make it to the other end. One of them will invariably fall down a hole, veer off into the sofa, grind to a halt or find themselves lifted into the air by a giant toddler hand.

Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings are at the start of their respective cricketing journeys. Who knows what obstacles await them along the way.

So much of life comes down to dumb luck; cricket seems to take that theory and blow it up on a giant multiplex cinema screen.

What if Hameed had evaded the ball which broke his finger at Mohali? What if the damaged digit never properly recovers?

What if Jennings had not been on the Lions tour in Dubai? What if Karun Nair had held on to that chance at gully when he was on nought?

You can trace it back through the ages, and drive yourself quite potty.

Alastair Cook only made his debut in Mumbai ten years ago because of Marcus Trescothick‘s personal problems.

English cricket would be an entirely different place if Shane Warne had caught Kevin Pietersen for 16 on the final day of the 2005 Ashes.

And don’t get me started on poor old Athers and his half-and-half spikes at Lord’s.

Like Gwyneth Paltrow missing the tube in Sliding Doors, these moments have the potential to completely alter history.

But you need a bit of talent in there somewhere too; I can’t imagine Gwyneth’s reverse-sweep is much to write home about.

The list of England’s recent debut centurions – Trott, Cook, Prior, Strauss, Thorpe – suggests Jennings is on to a winner. But there are no guarantees.

Nasser Hussain used to talk about being choked with anxiety before walking out to bat. Flintoff, Gilchrist and countless others have written of sitting in the changing room in floods of tears while the game carried on around them.

In the bad old days, one poor performance or rotten decision could see a player relegated to the County Championship until benefit year. Thankfully, things seem to have moved on.

The England management appear to have got much better at taking the pressure off the players, allowing them the freedom to go out and “express themselves”, safe in the knowledge that one duff swallow won’t spoil a summer.

Young though they are, Hameed and Jennings will be well aware of the path they are treading.

Andrew Strauss, now the man in the suit doing the hiring and firing, still casts a substantial shadow over the non-striker’s end.

Many pretenders have come and gone. Most of them were given at least six or seven Tests to make an impression, and some made a decent fist of it.

We all have our favourites; the one who got away, the man who could have been. Personally, I still have a soft spot for Michael Carberry. Plucked from the toy box, wound up and placed on the start line, only to be thrown off course by a giant pulsating Johnson.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh, yes. The new kids on the block. Good luck to them. And remember: if you see the tube doors about to close, run a bit faster. You never know what might happen if you get left behind.

This piece was first published at Last Word On Cricket. 

Journo Talk 6: ‘Maybe George Orwell was right!’

by Sam Blackledge

CxUqs9iWEAE8PSB.jpg

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.”

CeY2IgiWwAQPOMU.jpg

 

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!”

1.jpg

 

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.

Are you a cricket journalist? Would you like to be featured?

E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Journo Talk 5: The man behind the camera

by Sam Blackledge

pb

The first Test between Bangladesh and England, as thrilling as it was, probably won’t be remembered for long.

But one particular image from Chittagong is likely to stick around for years to come.

It shows Shakib Al Hasan aiming a drive through the off-side, the sun glinting off his bat and dust flying up around his feet.

The man behind the camera, freelance photographer Philip Brown, worked hard to capture the moment.

“I found myself moving almost every couple of balls,” he says.

“Masses of dust was visible towards the end of the day and I kept moving slightly to try to get the best available background depending on the batsman’s stroke.

“Luckily Shakib played an attacking shot, the dust flew, he looked back, and in one frame of the five taken the sun reflected off his bat.

“A pleasing shot, but if I think about it I had worked very hard to create the opportunity to capture it.”

The picture was shared around the world, and now takes pride of place at the front of Brown’s website.

Bangladesh v England - First Test: Day OTwo

Hailing from Canberra in Australia, Brown came to London to cover the 1989 Ashes and has since become a regular fixture on the international scene.

When I ask whether England now feels like home, it seems he hasn’t given it much thought.

“I think it is more the case that a cricket boundary feels like home,” he says.

“Whether it’s Cape Town, Lord’s, Melbourne, or Dhaka, that’s where I feel most at home.

“There is a lot more cricket in the UK, so I can’t see myself ever moving away from here or back to Australia.”

He says the key to a great cricket photograph is simplicity, pointing to the famous image of the 1960 tied Test between Australia and West Indies.

“Apparently two photographers with old style ‘plate’ cameras made an agreement before the last ball of the match,” Brown says.

“One would ‘drop his frame’ as the ball reached the batsman and the other would ‘hold fire’ in case something happened after that. He came up trumps.

“I think my very favourite cricket photo was one taken by my friend Gareth Copley-Jones of Jonathan Trott being run out in 2009 at the Oval against Australia.

“All the elements are there: a diving Trott, his face looking particularly concerned as the throw disturbs the stumps, the bails are flying, and importantly there is nothing distracting in the photo.”

If, like me, you don’t know the first thing about photography, Brown’s regular Cricinfo blogs are a must-read.

He says his favourite players to shoot were Flintoff, Warne and Pietersen, while Marcus Trescothick could be “quite difficult”.

He does not shoot every ball of a day’s play – apparently that is frowned upon – but often uses a remote camera stationed on a gantry or near the TV cameras.

The world of cricket journalism, I am discovering, is as much about who you know as what you can do.

I am keen to find out whether there is quite as much schmoozing among the photographers.

“I form relationships with everyone,” Brown says. “Officials, players, journalists, other photographers and even the public.

“I’m a naturally friendly person and not doing it for gain of any sort.

“Of course it helps when you want a private shoot with Joe Root or Alastair Cook that they know you pretty well.

“The England team at the moment are very friendly and brilliant fun, a great bunch of lads.

“It’s also important to not have a camera sometimes, especially if you’re in a bar after a win.

“I’m very pleased with the fact that a lot of the experienced England players trust me to take photos when it is appropriate and they realise I’ll be off duty sometimes.

CjdqUcpWUAAbGDu.jpg

Brown feels the art of sports photography is going the same way as the written form – quality suffering at the hands of under-pressure executives.

“There seems to be an insatiable appetite for speedy content these days rather than quality content,” he says.

“Perhaps one day it will change back to quality rather than quantity. Who knows?

“I’ve been lucky enough to shoot cricket for 28 years and truly believe it to be the best job in the world.

“I was lucky to be given the opportunity to shoot sport but I know I’ve also worked very hard at it.  I love what I do. “

Are you a ‘proper’ cricket journalist? Would you like to feature in Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Complaining about selection is one of the joys of being a cricket fan

by Sam Blackledge

 

After England’s defeat to Bangladesh at Dhaka, fans were quick to voice their dismay at the balance of the team.

Some might say we should give the selectors a break. They’re trying their best to cope with a ridiculous international schedule, and they are a darn sight more qualified than the rest of us.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to sit on our sofas moaning that the likes of Ansari, Ballance and Rashid are not cut out for Test cricket, as if we have been anywhere near that level ourselves.

But then again, complaining about selection policy is one of the great joys of being a cricket fan.

Perhaps it’s a peculiarly English thing, like queuing, talking about the weather, or existential self-loathing. Or maybe cricket fans worldwide think they could do a better job with a scrap of paper and numbers 1 to 11 left blank.

It’s why the fantasy football industry is still thriving, and it’s a major reason why we all still love sport. The feeling that if only those in charge would ask us, we could sort it out.

 

The comedian Dylan Moran put it best.

He said: “Look at the people who give it everything. The Beckhams or Roy Keanes of this world. Running up and down the field, swearing and shouting at each other.

“Are they happy? No! They’re destroying themselves. Who’s happy? You. The fat f**ks watching them, with a beer can balanced on your ninth belly, roaring advice at the best athletes in the world.”

Social media, of course, has made all of this so much more visible.

When 43-year-old John Emburey was recalled to the England Test team in 1995, I have a vivid memory of seeing the news on Teletext, turning to my dad and simply saying: “Emburey?”

If that happened now, I probably wouldn’t even turn around. I would reach for my phone and spew my thoughts straight on to Twitter, and they would immediately be buried under the thousands of others doing the exact same thing.

The selectorial merry-go-round is sure to be in full flow as England kick off against India on Wednesday.

Nobody seems to know whether we stand a chance against the might of Kohli, Ashwin and the rest.

But one thing is for sure: if we couldn’t complain, we wouldn’t be half as interested.

This piece first appeared at Last Word On Cricket

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Journo Talk 4: Ireland ‘must test ourselves against the best’

By Sam Blackledge

 JBT FOODTECH

This should be one of the most exciting periods in Irish cricket history.

The country is seemingly on the cusp of entering the Test arena, and last month its domestic game was awarded full first-class and List A status by the ICC.

But Ian Callender, cricket correspondent at the Belfast Telegraph, is not getting carried away.

The 57-year-old, once described as “the doyen of Irish cricket journalists”, started his career at the now defunct Carrickfergus Advertiser in 1980.

Ireland’s recent nine-wicket defeat to Australia – their 12th loss in 15 matches – was the 509th international Ian has reported on.

It’s little wonder he is in sceptical mood, and he pulls no punches when asked about the reason for this alarming dip in form.

“The big change has been since (former coach) Phil Simmons left and John Bracewell has come in,” Ian says.

“I am sure he is under a bit of pressure to hold on to his job. We just have not got the results.

“It’s gone downhill ever since he came on board and I don’t think it’s a coincidence unfortunately.

“The fielding has obviously suffered, there is not as much work being done on that.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it to tell you the truth. I haven’t really been able to work it out. The batting has not been able to get partnerships going, we rely too much on Ed Joyce, our one class player.

“Boyd Rankin is a big loss as well. We probably have not been able to get our best team on the field, particularly after the retirement of Trent Johnson and John Mooney.

“There are a lot of young players coming through, but they are probably going to take a year or two yet to make it on the international stage.”

 

Ireland hope to play their first Test as early as 2019 – possibly against England at Lord’s – and Ian says it would be welcome reward for years of hard work.

“The 2007 World Cup was the big changeover,” he says.

“People watched that Pakistan game who had never watched cricket before. Ever since then it has taken off, both on and off the field, and has become a lot more professional.

“Now the three-day game has been given first class status, that’s put us into the professional records.

“It’s going to be more professional setup, a lot more money so we can have more contracts. There are 23 contracted players at the moment, so that will go up a bit. A lot of players are still doing other jobs and having to take time off.

“We have dominated the four-day game, we’ve won four Intercontinental Cups.

“We will need to test ourselves. We’ve got people like Ed Joyce hanging around hoping to play Test cricket, he will be 40 by that time.

“Whether there are enough people coming through to hold their own, that’s still to be proven.

“We need more experience in the longer game.”

 

Like my other Journo Talk subjects, Ian fears for the future of traditional cricket journalism.

“It’s getting harder and harder, papers are losing advertising and losing circulation,” he says.

“The web-based stuff is the way to go. I do ball-by-ball commentary with Cricket Europe, so that helps me.

“It’s a big ask for people trying to break into newspapers.”

Would Test status boost Ireland’s interest in cricket, and therefore lead to more demand for coverage?

“That’s what we’re hoping for, that’s what everybody is hoping for, but only time will tell,” Ian says.

“The newspapers will have to grasp it and the TV as well. Cricket is such a time consuming game, it takes a lot of commitment to follow it.

“If there’s a big rugby or football game, cricket is always going to be relegated. It needs a big win, then you get the coverage. If you lose, you don’t. It has always been results-based.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to feature on Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

Tagged , , , ,

Facing up to a dangerous obsession

By Sam Blackledge

 

I need help. I think cricket is taking over my life.

It has become so bad that I’m seeing everything that happens to me through the prism of the game.

I wake up ready to face a new day and peer through the curtains. Ominous clouds suggest a patchy session; bright sunshine could mean a chance to make hay.

I commute from dressing room to crease. Deep breaths, getting my head right, picturing the first delivery from my boss, angled across my desk and shaping in a fraction.

In the office, I am Nasser Hussain at Lord’s in 2004. A self-centred, driven senior player, too wrapped up in his own career crisis to enjoy being part of a young and exciting team.

I keep my head down, focus on grinding out another ugly win and occasionally let slip a grumpy expletive when something – or someone – malfunctions.

Sometimes I know it’s not my day before I even take guard. My confidence is shot, my technique is in tatters. I can’t get moving. Maybe I want it too much. Think late period Ramprakash, or poor old James Vince and his recurring cover drive.

The phone rings. I leave it alone and hope I can get off strike.

Occasionally it clicks. I’m invincible Vaughan in ’02, fearless Freddie in ’05. Pitching ideas to management, zinging one-liners to colleagues and hitting my deadlines right between the eyes. Everything is coming off the middle of the bat – I never realised the game could be this easy.

Back home I am Graeme Hick. A real trier, essentially a good guy, but prone to silly mistakes which provoke howls of exasperation in those around me.

I can almost hear the commentators now. “He’s put the washing machine on the wrong setting again.” “What a waste. So much talent.”

See what I mean? It’s getting worse.

When I was a kid I would spend hours in the back garden bowling to imaginary opponents. Walking down the street, I would turn my arm over with a Warne-esque cock of the wrist, follow through and glare at the lamppost which wasn’t good enough to edge my invisible zooter.

I thought it was just a childhood phase. I would grow out if it. Real life is more important than silly old cricket.

Anyway, must dash. My wife wants me to mow the lawn, take out the bins and hoover the staircase.

I wonder if I can claim the extra half hour?

This piece was first published at The Full Toss.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Journo Talk 3: ‘Some might say I’m bolshy – I call it passionate’

By Sam Blackledge

lizzy-ammon.jpg

“I wish we didn’t have to do the woman thing.”

Lizzie Ammon, speaking to her 29,000 Twitter followers, has pre-empted my question.

A freelance writer and broadcaster for The Times, the BBC and The Guardian among many others, Ammon is far from your typical cricket journalist.

The “woman thing” is impossible to escape, so let’s get it out of the way.

“I guess while women are the minority in sports journalism it’s going to be a thing if you are one,” she says.

“I’m a single mum and I won’t pretend doing this job and trying to look after a small child is easy, it isn’t.

“It requires having a very understanding childminder, being completely organised in terms of logistics and being able to cope with the guilt of not seeing your child much.

“But I am quite passionate about demonstrating that you can be a mum and a sports journalist, even though the hours are a bit erratic and sometimes long, particularly in cricket.”

Ammon says she “fell into” the job, having followed the game from a young age as scorer, junior coach and county member.

She blogged and got the occasional gig with a newspaper “more by luck than judgement”, but says being in the right place at the right time is just the start.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of people who want to write about sport for a living,” she says.

“You can’t expect a sports editor to employ you to just sit all day watching cricket in the sunshine and filing 500 words on what happened.

“You have to give them something they can’t get from Press Association reports or from any other writer.”

csoi6ylxyaad9kv

We move on to the subject of social media.

My own day job requires me to follow a stream of chattering political types, clogging up my feed with endless squabbles over Brexit, Corbyn, Trident and the rest.

With 230,000 tweets and counting, ‘LegSideLizzy’ gives them all a run for their money.

Her messages appear as a stream-of-consciousness: one minute she’s sniping at ECB bosses and the lunacy of international schedules, the next she’s gleefully tweeting along with Cold Feet and posting pictures of her sausage casserole.

“I know a lot of my colleagues hate it,” she says. “I have a love-hate relationship with it but I am very active.

“It’s a useful tool for spotting trends, opinions and news; it’s also a great way of engaging with everyone, from county chairman to county members or a player’s best mate.

“I try to use it to both impart what I know and give my opinions. I’m afraid I have had some horrible experiences on Twitter – everything from rape threats to personal abuse about my looks.

“It kind of goes with the territory, and on balance I think it’s far better to be on social media than not, particularly if you are trying to build an audience and get noticed.

“Sometimes I get told I am too much of a self-publicist, but I figure if you want to try to pursue a career sometimes you have to self-publicise.”

ClKvCRMWAAALZT_.jpg

Does her online identity reflect who she is in real life?

“I’m probably not the best judge of that,” she says.

“I am outspoken, perhaps far too outspoken at times. Some might call it bolshy and opinionated; some might call it passionate.

“I am certainly passionate about cricket, particularly the less than glamorous world of county cricket.

“Some of that is because you form genuine affinities with the players, coaches and supporters in county cricket.

“It’s not like football, it’s a small enough to really feel like it’s something worth fighting for.”

Ammon has built an enviable portfolio of scoops, including digging into the fallout from the ECB’s decision to relegate Durham from division one of the County Championship.

She says newsgathering is “the only thing I am any good at”.

“I am self-aware enough to know that I am no Michael Atherton or Gideon Haigh.

“I don’t write pretty words or have a nice turn of phrase and I’m not a technical expert. Inherently I am a massive gossip, which isn’t a bad trait for a journalist.

“I like finding things out, pursuing things to their end. I believe one of the most important roles of a journalist is to hold authority to account for every decision they make, to uncover things, and most importantly to tell your reader something they didn’t already know and couldn’t find out somewhere else.”

CmiJqCIWYAAbWah.jpg

Given she has not come from within the game, like many cricket writers, does she feel more able to challenge those at the top?

“I am not scared of authority, although of course if you annoy powerful men they can make life very uncomfortable for you,” she says.

“I guess in a sense I don’t have anything to lose by challenging authority, but at the risk of sounding pious, it isn’t solely about that.

“I try to find out the truth and write about it, and if some of those truths make life uncomfortable for those in power then that is not really my problem.

“The current ECB administration often verges close to bullying territory and that gets my back up, so I will continue to stay across what some see as the minutiae of county cricket and continue to try to hold the ECB to account for the decisions they are taking.

“I do try to give credit where it is due too, although perhaps not as often as I should.

“But no-one wants to read ‘Isn’t everything great and didn’t they all do well’. That doesn’t sell newspapers.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to feature in Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Review: ‘Unguarded’ by Jonathan Trott

By Sam Blackledge


My shelves are groaning under the weight of cricket autobiographies.

The best – among them ‘Coming Back To Me’ by Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain’s ‘Playing With Fire’ – are well-thumbed. 

The others tend to blur together. Tales of pushy parents, age group potential, Test debuts and tearful retirements can almost be written by numbers.

If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, give Michael Vaughan’s ‘A Year In The Sun’ a whirl. Bet you won’t make it to the end without chewing your own face off. 

When Jonathan Trott’s new effort appeared on my doormat, I raised a sceptical eyebrow. Would this tell me anything I didn’t already know?

I needn’t have worried. ‘Unguarded’ is a wonderfully honest, brutally painful account of how one of England’s most reliable batsmen decided he could bear the pressure no longer.

As a long-time Warwickshire fan, I have followed Trott’s progress since his county debut but never entirely warmed to him.

Regular readers will know all about my obsession with Trott’s middle order colleague, a chap named Ian Bell.

While Bell flashed, dashed, posed and perished, Trott was the guy at the other end. A solid plodder, quietly getting on with the job.


Needless to say, as the years went by he became a firm favourite. He proved you don’t have to be a show-pony to win the hearts of England fans; you just need to score runs. Lots and lots of runs.

Most sportsmen and women sit in press conferences and burp out platitudes about how their chosen discipline has come to define their very existence. 

“It means the world to me,” they gush. “I’ve worked so hard to get here.”

This is the story of a man who became so consumed by cricket that it swallowed him whole.

Alex Bowden at King Cricket once wrote an amusing piece of fiction in which Trott plays his kids at table-tennis for two whole weeks, relentlessly refuses to let them win a game and “feels immense satisfaction with his performance.”

Reading that again now, it takes on a whole new perspective. Living every second for cricket is all very well when you’re churning out the hundreds. When things started to go wrong, there was nowhere else to turn. 


The book is structured in an odd way – it might have made more sense to tell the story chronologically rather than jumping around – but there is no disputing its power.

Wisely, he decides not to spend too much time on his childhood and dives straight into the beginnings of what was later diagnosed as situational anxiety. 

Unusually for such a self-centered genre, each chapter features contributions from Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ashley Giles, Andy Flower, and Trott’s wife Abi. 

The other voices only serve to reinforce Trott’s fundamental character traits: decency, modesty, determination and a hard-won sense of self-awareness which was perhaps lacking during his international career. 

This piece first appeared at King Cricket. 

Journo Talk 2: There’s life in the old Selve yet

By Sam Blackledge


A 16-year first class playing career, followed by 32 more as broadcaster and writer, makes Mike Selvey one of the most respected voices in the cricketing world and well qualified to offer advice to newcomers.

But right now all that experience seems to be weighing heavy on the former fast bowler’s shoulders.

“I’ll be really honest,” he says. “I’m not sure I would want to be starting out now.

“There are plenty of people, brilliant young writers some of them, wanting to write about cricket, but traditional outlets are shrinking and the openings are just not there.

“The way forward for aspiring writers has to be digital, and within that to find a niche, either in style or in areas that others do not cover.

“For example, there are some who have made a speciality out of women’s cricket, which I think will expand massively during the next decade.

“The same applies to T20, in which I believe lies the game’s future.

“But also remember the adage: ‘It has never been easier to get published and never harder to get paid for it.’ Aspiring writers or journalists will find it a tough market place.”

Selvey, who moved into the Test Match Special commentary box after hanging up his bowling boots in 1984, says the job of a cricket journalist has changed “beyond all recognition.”

“When I started there was of course no internet,” he says.

“The newspaper industry was in a state of flux with new outlets starting. The business was still hot metal: typewriters, copy takers, finding phones to get copy through, using telex when abroad.

“Match reporting is still important but, sadly, largely around international cricket.

“Beyond that, there is an increasing emphasis on hard news stories (often not real news in an accepted sense, but self-generated ‘issues’); quotes stories (I have generally shied away from these, believing I was paid to give my opinion rather than parrot that of others); and clickbait, where internet traffic is now seen by some managements as a measure of journalistic worth.

“Writers in all outlets have to be mindful of what will attract this traffic and how it will be presented.”

He laments the fact that financial resources have not kept pace with the 24/7 nature of the job, saying the competition with football in particular is overwhelming.

What happens off the pitch has become just as important as events out in the middle, but I sense Selvey feels the balance sometimes tips too far towards breaking news.

“There have always been hard news stories – World Series Cricket, the D’Oliveira affair, match fixing – and it is important that the game is held to account when necessary, as long as it is done in an informed rather than simply emotive way, he says.

“Cricket, indeed sport, has always been about strong debate and opinions.”

Selvey left his job as The Guardian’s chief cricket correspondent last month.

He is not willing or able to discuss his feelings about this on the record, beyond saying he is “saddened” at an “undignified end” to a distinguished career.

Asked what the future holds, he says he has no intention of disappearing into the shadows.

“I’m 68 years young and have three 19 year olds, two of whom are at university and one who is applying for acting school, so I’m not ready for pipe and slippers yet,” he says.

“I suppose the freedom I have now might send me in directions I had never considered before.

“The one thing that has astounded me in recent weeks is the regard in which I seem to be held by colleagues, administrators and players.

“I have received overwhelming support, surprise dinners, unexpected awards. It has all been very humbling but at the same time a nice confidence boost for someone who has lacked that all too often.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to be featured on Journo Talk? Email samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

Tagged , , , , ,

Plymouth star Steph named in Western Storm development squad

by Sam Blackledge

15596038-large

A Plymouth cricketer has made it on to a list of 12 young talents chosen to train with Western Storm.

All-rounder Steph Hutchins, aged 18, plays for Yelverton Bohemians and Devon Women.

Taunton-based Western Storm, captained by England skipper Heather Knight, have chosen Steph in their development squad, along with her Devon teammates Daisy Meadowcroft and Evie Pitman.

Western Storm general manager Lisa Pagett said: “There are 12 girls on the programme and they have been selected from all across the region.

“There are players from Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Wales in the squad and they have all been nominated by their respective counties as players of genuine potential.

“30 players were nominated from within the South West to attend a talent observation day where they were put through their paces by the Western Storm Coaches, under the watchful eye of ECB scouts.

“We consider the 12 players who have been selected on this programme to have real potential and moving forward could well develop in to cricketers who will play for the Western Storm or be involved in ECB programmes in the future.”

The year-long programme is not solely about cricket, Lisa says.

“As well numerous training days, which will be spread across the region to include the Cooper Associates County Ground, the Brightside County Ground and the University of Exeter, there are various other elements to the initiative in place in order to help these players to develop in the best way that they can,” she added.

“There will be strength and conditioning support, nutritional advice, plus work in to the psychology of the sport.

“It’s not just about them developing as cricketers, it’s about helping them to develop as people.

“There is much more to the programme than just playing cricket, it’s about helping to educate the players as well.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

Tagged , , , , , ,