Tag Archives: sam blackledge

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

By Sam Blackledge

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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

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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.

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Moeen Ali is proving doubters wrong, says cousin Kabir

by Sam Blackledge

Former England seamer Kabir Ali says his cousin Moeen is proving the doubters wrong – and believes their family could continue producing international stars for years to come.

The 35-year-old, who retired from first-class cricket last year due to injury, watched on proudly as Moeen scored his third Test century against Pakistan at The Oval.

Kabir says it was a “brilliant” innings – and insists Moeen is ready for a promotion to strengthen England’s brittle middle order.

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“Obviously we’ve known him since he was a baby, he’s always been talented and gifted,” Kabir says.

“We knew he would play for England at some point, it was just a matter of time.

“He is batting well at seven but maybe if they push him up the order he will go on to bigger and better things.

“He bats at one down for Worcestershire, there’s no reason why he can’t bat up at number three, four or five for England.

“If you look back to the Sri Lanka series (when Moeen scored an unbeaten 155* at Durham) he batted all day, that just shows he’s mentally strong enough.

“He’s proved quite a few people wrong. They are always pointing fingers at him but he’s done very well.”

Moeen struggled with ball in hand against Pakistan, picking up 11 wickets at an average of 46.

Kabir believes the visitors went hard against his off-spin because they saw him as a threat.

“He is definitely a batsman-cum-bowler, without a doubt, but he has bowled well against Australia and India,” he says.

“As soon as he came on they saw him as someone they could look to target and attack.

“When there was a bit of pressure on them to play with a straight bat he picked up a few wickets, he looked quite dangerous.

“I think that’s why they target him quite hard. If they played more proper cricket shots he would have done well.

“They just picked on him a bit. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad bowler.”

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Moeen’s success may prompt Kabir to reflect on his own brief England career – but he says he has no regrets.

“I try not to look back too far,” he says. “I am very proud that I got to play a Test and 14 ODIs.

“I got a five-for in an ODI, maybe I should have played more. That’s history now, but nobody can take that one Test away from me.

“I am very proud, and now that Moeen has gone on to play more I am just happy.”

Along with Moeen’s brother Kadeer, who played more than 100 first-class matches for three counties, the Birmingham-based family have created a cricketing dynasty – and Kabir says there is more to come.

“We are looking after the youngsters now, they are the future,” he says.

“We have got quite a few family members coming through in the under-12s and under-13s, nephews and cousins.

“Me and Kadeer and Moeen have all got kids now, all of a similar age, so I am sure at some point they will pick up a bat and ball.

“You never know what can happen in the future. If they keep working hard you could see more Alis wearing the three lions.”

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New man in

There is nothing quite like walking off a cricket pitch flushed with success to find the person who has come along to watch you for the first time has done a big poo.

Let’s start at the beginning. My baby was due to enter the world on February 18th, just a few days into the World Cup. Not ideal timing, but at least he wasn’t interrupting The Ashes.

In the end, he was late. Five days after the scheduled start of his innings, at risk of being timed out, things began to stir. We were just getting used to the comfortable preliminary rounds, experimenting with fielding positions and fine-tuning the batting order, when the situation suddenly became a bit more serious. Flashing lights, pained expressions, screaming and shouting – we were now well and truly into the knockout stages.

You can do all the net practice you like, but out in the middle it’s a different matter. I proved myself a useful partner at home, picking up singles and keeping the partnership ticking along, but once in hospital I froze.

All padded up with nowhere to go, I stood paralysed at the non-striker’s end as my darling wife held firm in the face of an almighty onslaught. Time and again she went down; the physio told her to retire hurt, accept a runner, but she would not budge. She stared back at the bowler with a determined glare, took a deep breath and re-marked her guard.

Presentation1Finally the pavilion doors opened (that’s probably a metaphor too far) and out he came. The moment of triumph was strangely muted. Despite having had my eyes fixed on this life-changing landmark for so long, I hadn’t really considered how I might react when it finally arrived. Should I look to the heavens and thank the Almighty? Get down on my knees and kiss the pitch? Or embark on a lap of honour, arms aloft, twirling my bat to the four corners of the stadium?

They say you never forget your first – a monkey off the back, an unsullied glimpse of a dazzling future, your place in the team secured forever. There will undoubtedly be low points – dips in form, temper tantrums, bad decisions, horrific collapses, entire days lost to bad weather. But a platform has been set, and now we must make hay while our son shines.

He is now two months old, and last weekend he attended his first match. Quite what he made of our chaotic 25-over, 12-man-a-side friendly against Liskeard Teachers, I’m not sure.

We batted first and he saw his old man get clean bowled for zip as we made 170-odd. When I picked up two cheap wickets opening the bowling I peered over to the pavilion, hoping for a sign of approval from the lad. He was either asleep or bored senseless.

They told me once I had a baby nothing would ever be the same again, and they were right. My hand-eye coordination, dodgy at the best of times, has not responded well to sleep deprivation and emotional overload. But the new season is here at last, and I’ll be damned if a few dirty nappies and fiddly car seats are going to stop me now.

Sam Blackledge

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Poison pens, viral dates and Twitter overkill

by SAM BLACKLEDGE

IT has been a funny old week in Twitter land. Once again I was reminded of the extraordinary power of everyone’s favourite social network/timewasting tool.

On Monday I posted a picture of a reader’s letter from The Herald. The content of the letter, and whether we were right to print it, has already been debated to death. But what happened next made my head spin. The picture was picked up by one Jeremy Vine. Panorama, Newsnight, giant of journalism, housewives’ favourite.

Jeremy – for we are now on first name terms, naturally – is a prolific tweeter. With more than 201,000 followers, anything he chooses to promote has a decent chance of going viral. And so it did. For the next three days I stared at my ubiquitous handheld mobile device as the re-tweets, mentions and favourites just kept rolling in.

For a lowly regional journalist, Jeremy’s endorsement was the perfect storm. It contained an immediate visual hook for anyone idly browsing through their feed. It was contentious, playing perfectly to the gallery of eager punters just waiting to be outraged. But most importantly, it came from Jeremy Vine. Eggheads, Points of View, Radio 2, beast of broadcasting.

The relative mayhem sent my Klout score, the measure of social media influence between people who care about this sort of thing, soaring from a trifling 56.14 to a whopping 59.48.

On the same day as my viral Vine encounter, I came upon the tale of Plymouth singleton Ralph Ferrett. Ralph became an online sensation when his friends vowed to help him find love using the power of Twitter. He went along with it, and the campaign worked – he got himself a date.

But after a couple of days of media attention from the likes of Time magazine, the Daily Mail and the BBC, Ralph, who describes himself as “impossibly shy and totally lacking in confidence”, admitted feeling “completely overwhelmed” by the attention.

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What started out as a drunken bet among mates spread like wildfire. The #GetRalphADate tag was used by people in the USA who didn’t even know what was going on. Someone created a worryingly convincing spoof movie poster.

By the end, the man himself said he wanted to “built a fort at home and hide from Twitter in nervousness and embarrassment”. Ralph, I know exactly how you feel.

I first joined Twitter as a trainee reporter in 2008, and my interactions have always been fairly parochial. But this week I got a glimpse of a forbidden land, where there are an awful lot of people sitting around idly fiddling with their phones. It was as if I had been playing on a casino slot machine for the last five years and this was the day it decided to pay out. But the coins were all covered in a thin layer of regret. (At this point I may have run out of metaphor.)

I love technology. I love how it looks, I love how it feels, I love its potential, the electricity it generates – both literal and metaphysical – and its addictive nature. Nevertheless, all this freaked me out a bit. I felt like I needed a break.

In his superb Channel 4 show How Videogames Changed The World, Charlie Brooker referred to Twitter as simply another “massively multiplayer online game.”

“You choose an interesting avatar and roleplay a persona loosely based on your own, attempting to accrue followers by repeatedly pressing lettered buttons to form interesting sentences”, he said.

“Gamification means applying to rules of videogames to real life. Often this comes down to incentivising people to perform the same action over and over again.”

Brooker says the way Twitter is designed “compels you to interact over and over again”.

“These are games we don’t even realise we are playing.”

Perhaps it’s time to log off, go outside and take a breath of fresh air.

Mmmmm. #FreshAir.

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The spirit of Gordon Gecko lives on in web analytics

by SAM BLACKLEDGE

BACK in the 1980s, when hair was big and house prices were low, the financial world was ruled by men wearing pinstriped suits, braces and garish ties.

Rows of slick-haired, sharp-eyed stockbrokers would stare up at giant illuminated screens showing blinking charts and scrolling numbers, shouting into primitive, oversized mobile phones, buying and selling to fuel their egos and boost their payslips.

The fashion might have moved on slightly, but our obsession with tracking progress through data remains as strong as ever. Every pair of eyes on our newspaper or website is another potential customer for the advertisers, who essentially pay our wages. So it’s in our interests to keep tabs on the ups and downs of daily traffic.

A few months ago I was introduced to a system called Omniture, an online web analytics tool operating within the Adobe Marketing Cloud. It allows us to keep track of exactly how many people access our website each day, which stories are receiving the most clicks, and what our readers are searching for. We can see which device you are using, how long you spend on each page and whether you are a regular customer.

Given the continued revelations about the surveillance activities of governments and corporations around the world, all this might sound a bit familiar. Here come the comments – The Herald is spying on us! They can see our every move! Nothing is private anymore!

We can assure you we are not the slightest bit interested in what you’re Googling, unless it’s the latest top notch local news. But such is the intricate detail available from Ominture, it can sometimes be difficult to tear ourselves away.

We are constantly tweeting links and posting stories to Facebook in a desperate attempt to send our favourite stories rocketing up the league table. Our reporters slave away on vitally important public interest stories – abuse victims tell their stories, crumbling car parks are shut down, criminals are brought to justice. But it would seem the people of Plymouth want just two things – sex and celebrity.

On October 30 we published a story entitled ‘Plymouth police hunt condom thief’. It was a three-paragraph police statement, turned around and published by our team of web-trained monkeys in about 30 seconds. Over the next three days it was easily our top story, gaining more than 7,500 hits. Likewise when Tom Daley announced he was dating a man, traffic went through the roof, breaking all previous records.

We clutched our smartphones, straightened our ties and gazed at the daily reports with a mixture of pride and resignation. “No matter how hard you work”, we sighed, “the markets have a mind of their own.” But still we keep watching the screens and searching for the hits.

So next time you’re enjoying a leisurely surf, give us an extra click. In the words of the ultimate 80s city slicker, Gordon Gecko, greed is good.

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald

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