Tag Archives: england

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Plymouth paceman Ben says signing Notts contract is ‘best feeling’

by Sam Blackledge

32851343.JPG

A hotly-tipped Plymouth cricketer says signing his first professional contract with Nottinghamshire is the best feeling ever.

Ben Kitt, aged 21, took 101 wickets in 2nd XI and academy games for his adopted county this summer, and has been rewarded with a two-year deal.

The fast bowler started playing for Tideford under-11s when he was just five, progressing to first team men’s cricket with St Austell and then Cornwall.

The former Saltash.net pupil moved to Nottingham at the age of 16 and has impressed the Trent Bridge coaching team ever since.

Speaking to The Herald from New Zealand, where he is spending the winter playing for Auckland University, Ben said he was delighted to put pen to paper.

“From the age of five when I first started playing cricket it’s all I have wanted, so I can’t imagine there is any better feeling than signing for two years at a club I love,” he said.

 Ben Kitt played for Cornwall as a teenager

Ben was named young player of the season last month – but says making the transition from academy to second team cricket was a steep learning curve.

“It was a big step up,” he said.

“Obviously the margin for error I’d had through all of my age group cricket disappeared because of the standard of batting, and also the bowling was a lot faster and shot selection became a lot more important.

“But the more second team cricket you play you learn players’ weaknesses and learn to bowl to your strengths.

“Also a lot of technical work in those first couple of years helped with my accuracy a lot and added a bit of pace.”

He makes no secret of his ambitions, having already set his sights on international honours.

“Obviously to start with I would like to cement a first team spot,” he said.

“That has to come first, but like any cricketer in the country I want to represent England in all forms if I can.

“Again that’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was very young and I still want to do it now.”

As a youngster Ben looked up to former England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff – and it wasn’t just Freddie’s on-field exploits which caught his eye.

“I loved everything about the way he played cricket, he was aggressive and skilled,” he said.

“He also enjoyed himself off the pitch which may have given him a bad reputation, but I feel that was undeserved.”

 Ben was named Nottinghamshire’s young player of the year last month

There is no shortage of fast bowling heroes for Ben to emulate at Trent Bridge, from Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee to Harry Gurney and Stuart Broad.

The recent rise of Jake Ball, who made his Test bow this summer and took five wickets on ODI debut earlier this month, has inspired Ben even further.

“I love to watch Jake bowl,” he said.

“I think I am similar to him in the way I bowl and to see how far he has come in a couple of years is amazing. I’d love to do the same thing.”

A devoted Plymouth Argyle fan who grew up on the banks of the Tamar in Saltash, Ben says the South West will always have a special place in his heart.

“The support us Cornish lads get from the people in the two counties is amazing,” he said.

“Speak to Jake Libby and Liam Norwell and they will tell you the same thing.

“All of my family are down in Cornwall still, it’s the place where I learned to play cricket, starting with my grandad in the back garden.

“It means a lot to me and I love being down to visit.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Journo Talk 1: Jarrod Kimber tells me to get real

I am hoping this might turn into a semi-regular feature, in which proper cricket journalists talk about their jobs while I grow increasingly jealous and bitter.

First up, it’s ESPN Cricinfo’s Jarrod Kimber. 

14102588_10154493692008923_5365766146789414787_n

By Sam Blackledge

When Jarrod Kimber replies to my e-mail, I feel a twinge of excitement.

This could be it, I think. My ticket to the inner sanctum. Another step closer to the dream.

Then I read his answer to my first question: ‘What advice would you give to a budding cricket journalist?

“Find a niche,” he says.

“Just being a cricket writer isn’t going to get you anywhere unless you are lucky enough to pick up a gig with a newspaper, and even then you probably need to be known for something to get a foot in the door anywhere.

“You need to specialise in something and be known for that, because cricket is so big, so vast, that trying to make it without something you are known for would be very hard.

“So your best bet is to find something that no one is covering or focusing on, and do that.”

Translation: good luck, kid.

1

 

In the space of a few years Jarrod has gone from the enfant terrible of cricket blogging, littering the web with snarls of ‘fucken’ this and ‘Christ’s sake’ that, to an established – if not quite establishment – journalist.

He insists the potty-mouthed voice of Cricket With Balls, the anarchic site where it all started, was just a character.

“It was never really going to cross over to the mainstream,” he says.

“The way I write now is probably more like how I wrote before I wrote about cricket: long form pieces, telling stories.

“If anything it just took me a long time to come back to that in cricket, partly because I created this other identity.

“But also things change. I’m a father now, I’m almost ten years older than when I started.

“I also learnt too much about how the cricket administration sausage was made, which meant I stopped being comfortable making the players into villains.

“I still have the character of Cricket With Balls, and am working on a novel in his voice, but for now am happy with how I am writing.”

The contents of the sausage were revealed in Death of a Gentleman, the 2015 documentary Jarrod made with fellow reporter Sam Collins.

They set out to explore the future of Test cricket, but stumbled into a murky world of secret ICC meetings, questionable financial governance and intimidation.

I ask Jarrod whether, given the growing awareness of corruption, drug abuse and dodgy dealing, sports journalists are now required to think more like news reporters.

“One of the things I love about writing on sport is that you always get the chance to write about other things within it,” he says.

“Business, power, race, politics, all of it is right there.

“The problem with many sports writers is that they started working when their job was turning up at a ground or a press conference and reporting what happened.

“You would hope the future involves more sports writers breaking stories and not fearing retribution (which does happen), that more people look into the bigger picture, not just the day-in day-out nature of it. But you could say the same of pretty much all of society.

“Sport is corrupt. It is poorly run. The best interests of the sport are not being looked after and there are tonnes of stories out there.

“Sport has never been this corrupt, and there are more sports journalists than ever before.

“Instead of just regurgitating content they should be questioning people and organisations.”

I became slightly obsessed with Jarrod and Sam when they teamed up as ‘Two pricks at the Ashes’ and later ‘The Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths’, trying not to corpse their way through a series of video blogs from Test grounds around the world.

Their mock homo-erotic relationship, and the simple fact that they appeared to be having the most tremendous fun, brightened up many a dark winter night.

These days Jarrod is still hovering around the boundary edge, soaking up the atmosphere and putting the cricket into perspective with typical panache for readers of Cricinfo and listeners to his TalkSport podcast.

I’m interested to know whether, like many news reporters, the cricketing press pack are worried about the way the industry is heading.

“I think clickbait is dying a natural death at the moment,” he says.

“It will be replaced by something else, perhaps worse. The listicle is the thing now, but even that is not as full-on as it was a year or two ago.

“Long form has actually had something of a comeback, and I would say now there are more long articles written about cricket than at any time in history.

“I think what will go from cricket writing is match reports being the major form of writing.

“We can see the highlights now easier than ever before. What we need is the analysis, the context and the story.

“The best match reports often did this, but there is no need to give the entire story of a day’s play anymore, just take out what matters.”

Twenty20 has revolutionised the modern game, but it’s not just players and coaches who have had to adapt their approach.

Jarrod says a T20 match report is “about as important as a fart in a mooncup”, and believes journalists must keep pace as the game continues to evolve.

“The sport will dictate the changes and the writers and editors will follow,” he says.

“There won’t be many in the media leading the way, just like the administrators don’t lead the way.

“The sport leads, the rest follow.”

Follow Jarrod on Twitter here.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Mark Nicholas’ cunning plan to save cricket from itself

by Sam Blackledge

Mark Nicholas is worried about cricket’s future – but has a cunning plan for how his beloved sport can survive and inspire the next generation.

The former Hampshire captain, now known to fans worldwide as a respected TV commentator, believes the longer form of the game is in danger amid the rising popularity of Twenty20.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Guildford Book Festival on October 14, Nicholas says he fears cricket is “losing its magic”.

“T20 is a fantastic game for what it has been able to do for cricket,” he says. “Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

“But the beauty of cricket comes from its orthodoxy more than its unorthodoxy. The great skills of the game – from a perfectly executed cover drive to a leg break – are threatened by the lowest common denominator of T20.”

Nicholas’ natural enthusiasm shines through in his new book, A Beautiful Game, which is more than just another sporting autobiography.

He rattles through his own playing career, from the highs of winning four domestic one-day trophies to the lows of injuries and dressing room bust-ups, before delving into the quirks and characters which bring the game to life. 

“When I was at Hampshire, I was 101 per cent at Hampshire,” he says.

“I threw everything into every moment of my life there. You search for a place in the world and an identity in various ways, and that was mine.

“The book was a chance to get some stuff out that been going around in my head for a long time. The idea was to celebrate cricket and my involvement in it.

“With the benefit of hindsight you look back and realise that you got things wrong or you got things right. You are able to look at them dispassionately and objectively. At the time you’re so subjective that it’s sometimes hard.”

Anyone who has heard Nicholas on commentary duties will recognise the passion and joy he has for the game.

It is hard to imagine him losing interest in a passage of play, no matter how dull or inconsequential, or ever allowing himself to become bitter and cynical. At heart he is a fan, like everybody else.

During our brief conversation he waxes lyrical about the “unbelievable” climax to the county season, and enthuses about the recent Test series between England and Pakistan which had “everything on show”.

But he still frets about the future – and here is his three-point plan for what should happen next.

“A Test championship is absolutely imperative, so everybody plays towards something,” he says.

“It should be a festival of the game for maybe three weeks in a major city. The top four teams play two semi-finals and a final. The cricket world would come together. Seminars would be held, parties would be held, demonstrations would be held.

“The game would be able to talk as one, to discuss all areas of cricket.”

Point two – he wants Test cricket to take centre stage.

“All the marketing is about Twenty20 when that’s the one that sells naturally anyway,” he says.

“It’s the one that is not selling, the long form of the game, which needs more intelligent marketing.”

Point three – youngsters should be given free access to matches in order to spark their interest.

“If you are under 16 you should not have to pay to watch the longer form of the game,” he says.

“We should do everything we can to get people in through the gates: encouraging young people to come for the day, making ticket prices cheaper for adults so they will come with their children.

“Test cricket has to become much more important. People have to be inspired by the idea of Test cricket. At the moment I’m not sure they are.”

As far as Nicholas’ own part in turning this vision into reality, he is happy to simply be an ambassador for the game.

“I will continue to try to sell cricket, as simple as that,” he says.

“I do the best I can through my TV work and the words I write. In the book I have tried to make cricket interesting by telling people about all the great players.

“Hopefully my enthusiasm for the game is something other people can catch. I just want to share cricket with everybody.”

‘A Beautiful Game’ is out now. This piece was first published on getsurrey.co.uk

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Single-minded Steph has eyes fixed on England honours

by Sam Blackledge

A talented young cricketer is hoping to take a giant step towards the ultimate dream of representing her country.

Steph Hutchins, who turns 18 later this week, has long been touted as an exciting prospect with bat and ball, having progressed through the youth section of Yelverton Bohemians.

Now the sports-mad teenager, who has played football for Plympton and Tavistock and is also a qualified referee, is hoping to be added to the Western Storm development squad.

Taking a break from studying for a double diploma in sport at Tavistock College, Stephanie tells The Herald her passion for cricket started early.

“In Year 5 we had a new head teacher,” she says.

“There was a Kwik Cricket competition and he entered a girls’ team and a boys’ team.

“My brother started playing at Yelverton, I watched him and thought ‘I really want to start playing’, so I joined the school team.

“One night at my brother’s training session the coach’s wife said ‘She should go for county trials, she’s got real potential.’

“The first time I played hard ball cricket was at the trials, and it went from there.”

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph, who lives in Horrabridge, says the game came naturally to her at first but she was more interested in football.

She had junior trials with Devon at the age of 11 and immediately volunteered to keep wicket – an early sign of her go-getting approach to life.

“I really wanted to drive and be better, that’s how I’ve always been, whereas my brother was quite happy playing where he was,” she says.

At an age when most teenagers are pinning posters of pop stars to their bedroom walls and fretting over homework, Steph was busy setting herself targets.

“Back then it was to play in the age group squad,” she says.

“Then it was to play with (Devon captain) Jodie Dibble; then to play with Devon women in the full squad; and now it’s Western Storm, the England development programme and then England.”

Steph discovered she had a knack with the ball when she graduated to the Yelverton men’s team three years ago.

“I was in the nets with my brother doing a training session with James Carr at Tavistock,” she says.

“My brother was batting, I was bowling. James said: ‘You should bowl spin more often, you’re good at it’.

“He told his brother, who at the time was my county coach.

“Since then they’ve really worked hard on my bowling, making sure I had the right posture and everything, and it’s just become natural. I’m a bowler now.”

That was the moment everything started to click.

Her idol was Plympton’s Cait O’Keefe, who is just a year older but was part of the Western Storm side which made it to the final of this summer’s Kia Super League, and has also represented England Under-19s.

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph’s journey has not been all plain sailing, however.

She fractured her left shoulder during her first year playing for Devon and is wary of injuring it again.

But it will take more than the odd niggle to stop what feels like an inevitable progression to the highest level.

She is awaiting news of the next England development programme – does she think about wearing the Three Lions on her cap one day?

“I’ve always had it in my mind,” she says.

“I went for trials in my first year of bowling but I just didn’t quite feel ready. I had probably only been bowling for a month or two.

“Now I feel more ready, I feel like a have a shot at getting in, I just need to keep developing and training hard.”

The professionalisation of the women’s game, and its increasing popularity, has been a huge boost for the sport.

But Steph admits it makes the competition much fiercer than ever before.

“With the England development programme, because there are so many girls at a good standard of cricket it’s getting harder to break your way in,” she says.

“You’ve got more quality coaches coming into it, the training is better. It’s a lot harder now than what it was, but you’ve just got to keep working.”

Chris Cottrell, senior player and coach at Yelverton Bohemians, says Steph is one of the most gifted young cricketers he has seen.

“She is dedicated and passionate about the game,” he says. I can see huge talent there.

“She wants to know everything and she is a lovely person.

“She is not a girly girl, she is quite unassuming but single-minded, she just gets on with the job.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

City-based T20 is the future, says international fielding guru

By Sam Blackledge


County cricket must move with the times and embrace city-based T20 franchise tournaments, according to an international coach.

Former baseball player Julien Fountain, who has coached top cricket teams around the world in all formats of the game, says administrators should recognise a growing “instant gratification culture” while keeping sight of the appeal of Test matches. 

“I think the city-based T20 option is the one that works in most places around the world,” Fountain tells Learning is Fun.

“You only have to look at other sports and the majority of teams are city-based. Spreading the entire tournament across an entire summer and eighteen teams makes it impossible to involve large numbers of foreign international players, which is part of the T20 attraction.

“A one-month condensed tournament suits everybody and is the way forward. County cricket must move with the times.”

The 46-year-old, who played baseball for Great Britain between 1988 and 2002 before moving into cricket coaching with the West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh, says the way fans watch the game is changing. 

“Cricket has to contend with the same social factors as everything in this era,” he says.

“People have different expectations for their leisure time. Back in the 80s when I was a kid, it was completely OK for boys and men to spend their entire weekends at a local cricket club or watching a professional county fixture.

“Now, the thought of spending an entire day watching cricket draws gasps of amazement from many people.

“This culture of immediate gratification, whilst not being the best attitude, must at least be understood and factored into the enhancement of cricket in all formats.

“T20 is a great platform for introducing people to the game, but the precise nuances and the depth of tactical battles in a Test match should also be marketed.”

Fountain’s specialist area is fielding, an aspect of the game which has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years. 

“All coaches are working towards creating the most athletic and skilful fielding team possible,” he says.

“Practices involve skill execution and often involve stop watches and speed guns. The margin for error is so small that everybody is striving to achieve the fastest and most accurate piece of fielding possible.

“The speed of the ball; the distance of the throw versus the speed of the batter: margins are incredibly tight

“I always tell fielders: ‘If we can make the runners stutter through indecision, it increases the time for skill execution, and consequently increases our chance of success.”

Expectations have changed, Fountain says, to the point where every player is required to be athletic.

“In the 70s and 80s if a fielder dived to stop a ball they were in the minority,” he says. 

“Now it is considered the norm. Having players that simply cannot field at all has become virtually non-existent, as captains and coaches have realised each run saved in the short format is vital and errors can be very costly as the game reaches a conclusion.”

Fountain believes that while crowds love to see sixes raining down into the stands, the balance between bat and ball has shifted too far. 

“I hope the powers that be start to take the bowlers into account when they think about game improvements, as there currently seems to be a batter-friendly attitude,” he says.

“Fans want action, but it must come from both batters and bowlers. Bowlers are not merely glorified bowling machines and should be treated fairly by legislators.”

He warns against the assumption that successful cricketers will go on to achieve great things as coaches. 

“Having played cricket at a high level can help a coach, but it can also hinder them,” he says.

“Many coaches today are awarded their positions because they have played the game at a high level. Which is great because they bring with them some first hand experience of competition.

“But you should consider that their career has been spent looking after themselves and not worrying about how other players do things.

“Good coaches are able to enhance the performance of a cross-section of players with varied abilities. It is not about simply ‘Do it my way’, because their way may not be appropriate for some players.”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Champagne and heartbreak at the Home of Cricket

by Sam Blackledge

They talk about it like a place of worship.

The pilgrimage up St John’s Wood Road; the Grace gates; the hallowed turf. The Home of Cricket (their capitals) emblazoned across every tie, every programme, every souvenir fridge magnet.

Lord’s is special, no doubt. But for me it was never about the tradition, the history, or what blogger Alex Bowden pithily calls the “great swathes of flowery sentimental guff about a load of grass surrounded by plastic seats.”

For me it was always about the cricket.

My team, Warwickshire, have appeared in 11 Lord’s finals since my first visit in 1993, when they beat Sussex in a famously thrilling last-ball finish.

I was eight years old and it was my dad’s 34th birthday – three years older than I am now. This fact has just hit me for the first time and I feel a bit dizzy. Trust a pocket calculator to spark an existential crisis.

587914626.jpg

Many of our cricketing memories are, of course, bound up in Edgbaston. We lived a few miles away from the ground and were season ticket members throughout the Bears’ glory years.

Edgbaston was our second family home, the place where – like cleaning the toilet and changing the bedsheets – we got on with the everyday work of winning championships and Sunday League titles.

But the big stuff – the champagne and heartbreak – always took place 100 miles south.

We attended eight finals in 12 years: four wins and four defeats. I’ve just made a list on my notepad, and I barely had to employ the services of Google.

I’m not sure I could point to any particularly memorable home match during that period, except for Lara’s 501. Something about Lord’s just made it all a bit more special.

lords-pavilion.jpg

In 2004 we saw Wigan play St Helens in Rugby League’s Challenge Cup final, a showpiece event traditionally held at Wembley. But the twin towers had come down and the new arch was still under construction, so the final found a temporary home at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

I don’t remember feeling much different. The burgers were just as overpriced, the action on the pitch just as brutal and pulsating.

I have been to Lord’s for other games. A couple of Test matches; a Twenty20 group match; a one-day final between Surrey and Somerset. All were pleasant experiences, but nowhere near the same as seeing my boyhood team fighting for silverware.

On Saturday my dad and I will take our seats in the Edrich stand for yet another final.  We will gaze approvingly at the pavilion and pay our respects to Old Father Time, but at 10.30am our attention will be fixed well and truly on the men in the middle.

Tagged , , ,

444-3. Extraterrestrial cricket. But where will it end?

By Sam Blackledge

“Dad,” my kids will say one day, leafing through Wisden 2016. “Do you remember 444-3?”

I will smile and gaze off into the distance, before answering: “No…not really.”

The radio squealed out from the kitchen. “There it is! England have broken the world record!”

I nodded and raised my eyebrows, before turning my attention back to Thomas the Tank Engine.

It was snowing on the island of Sodor, and Thomas was stuck in an avalanche.

image.jpeg

I remember all the others. Gooch’s triple Nelson at Lord’s. Robin Smith’s forearms biffing the Aussies for 167 at Edgbaston, a record which would stand for 23 years.

Then came Lara, Hayden, Lara again. I even felt a tingle on hearing the logic-defying scorecard from Johannesburg in 2006.

But 444-3. There in black and white, forever more. It has quite a nice ring to it. But what does it mean? Where is the context?

In 10 years’ time, who will remember this game? Those who were there, maybe. And the statisticians. But no matter how sweet the taste, there are only so many jam doughnuts one can devour before one starts to feel tired and bloated.

England will not get a chance to officially prove their worth in this form of the game for another three years. Anything could happen in that time.

“Why have England never won the World Cup, dad?”
“Well son, they smashed it in bilateral ODI series between 2015 and 2019. But when it comes to the crunch they tend to fall apart.”

image

444-3. It’s ridiculous. Inconceivable. Extraterrestrial cricket. When he was on 60-odd, Alex Hales hoicked one straight up in the air and was dropped by third man. It was a horrible shot. I shook my head and whispered: “What are you doing? Play properly. Plenty of time.”

Then I remembered the world we’re living in. This is just how things are now, like it or not. Go hard or go home. There is no in-between.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bowler, but I don’t necessarily think ever-increasing totals and buckets of sixes are the best form of entertainment, or even particularly good for the game. Give me a low-scoring arse-nipper on a wet Wednesday in Derby any day.

I hate to be a killjoy. It was a wonderful performance from what is surely the most talented and exciting England team in history.

God knows, we’ve earned it. We put in the hard yards when Neil Smith and Phil DeFreitas were the best we could muster in the way of pinch-hitters. Even as recently as 18 months ago when Peter Moores and co were trusting the data to tell them 250 was a decent score

Where will it end? 500 from 50 overs can’t be far away. How about a boundary off every ball? Perhaps the money men – who must have wet themselves with delight when India and West Indies shared 480 runs in a T20 in Miami last week – will raise the stakes. Eight runs for clearing the sightscreen? Ten for out of the ground?

Maybe it will reach a tipping point. Perhaps a score like this will eventually stand in perpetuity, as bat widths reduce and the regulations are weighted towards the bowlers. Don’t count on it.

Tagged , , , , , ,