Tag Archives: The ashes

Warwickshire fans launch name change campaign

by Sam Blackledge

FANS of Warwickshire County Cricket Club have launched an online campaign and threatened to boycott matches following the decision to re-name the team for next year’s domestic Twenty20 competition.

Yesterday chief executive Colin Povey revealed that the club will drop their county name for the NatWest T20 Blast tournament, and will be known instead as the Birmingham Bears.

But within hours of the announcement, an online petition had been set up by fans claiming Edgbaston bosses have “sold out”.

The campaign was started by 32-year-old catering manager Adam Veysey from Shrewsbury, who says he is “deeply offended and disgusted” by the decision.

He said: “As members we were not consulted in any way on the name change of our cricket club. I come from outside of Birmingham to watch my county cricket club play, outside of Warwickshire in fact, and I don’t feel it’s right that I and other members outside of Birmingham should pay to watch their team play under a different name. I also have friends and fellow members that live in Birmingham and they feel exactly the same.

“As a club they should be contacting fans’ organizations and members about changes such as these. In general myself and fellow members feel that our county cricket club has sold out, and I’m doing this so other counties don’t go the same way, and hopefully we can get this changed.

“Warwickshire have try to justify that they think it will bring in a younger crowd, but how? I take my five-year-old son, who lets face it is the future of cricket and he should be able to watch the history of our great county at Edgbaston and become the future of county cricket.

“If I wanted to support a city or town club I have many closer venues I could choose from, but I don’t. Warwickshire is my county and long may it continue.”

By 9am today the petition had attracted more than 200 signatures, with 168 people joining a group on Facebook.

A statement on the page says: “This is our club, and I for one will not be attending any game (or) purchasing any merchandise that has the Birmingham Bears on or in it.”

Defending the decision, Colin Povey said: “Birmingham and Edgbaston has been the club’s home since 1886 and we believe that adopting the Birmingham Bears name for the NatWest t20 Blast presents a great opportunity for us to engage even more closely with fans living and working at the heart of the city.

“Asian families, business men and women working in the city’s commercial districts and local cricket clubs are three particular audiences the club is seeking to work with more next season.

“However, despite our T20 name change, we will continue to maintain the proud history of the club and play under the Warwickshire banner in the other two more traditional formats.”

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The Ashes: Karma, pride and the pantomime press

England were completely outplayed in the first Test at the Gabba, and deserved their heavy defeat. But this is a long series, and Alastair Cook’s side have a history of bouncing back. They will need to draw on that over the coming weeks.

On the pitch, the match was won by the Aussie bowlers. Mitchell Johnson was quick and hostile, Harris and Siddle were steady and accurate and Nathan Lyon exploited a bouncy Brisbane pitch and scrambled English minds.

Away from the action, the traditional hostilities between these two old foes have resumed with a bang. Stirred up by Darren Lehmann’s radio rant, the Aussie media – in particular Brisbane’s Courier Mail – went for Stuart Broad. They refused to name Broad, referring to him simply as “a 27-year-old English medium pace bowler”. The paper attracted some fierce criticism for this approach, particularly from rent-a-quote Shane Warne, who described it as “ridiculous” and “childish”. This from the man who named Ian Bell after a character in American Pie and asked Paul Collingwood if his MBE stood for “Must Be Embarrassing”. The legendary leggie seems to be suffering a sense of humour failure in his old age.

o-COURIER-MAIL-BROAD-570 o-STUART-BROAD-COURIER-MAIL-570 courier-mail

I would argue the Courier Mail’s “campaign” was a bit of fun, and actually turned out to be a marketing masterstroke. Editors spend hours scratching their heads over how to entertain and engage their readers, while increasing the reach and circulation of their paper. Very few campaigns in regional media are unique, and most “off-diary” stories are simply recycled ideas. After his eye-catching front pages had been seen around the world, the Courier Mail’s editor, Christopher Dore, issued a po-faced “defence” of his editorial stance. He described Broad as a “wickedly good cricketer,” saying his “dastardly deception” had cost the Aussies the previous series. You can almost picture Mr Dore rubbing his hands together and sniggering behind his desk. The whole thing could not be more of a pantomime if Christopher Biggins had popped up at silly mid off.

Perhaps more relevant to the rest of the series were David Warner’s comments on the third evening of the first Test.  “England are on the back foot,” he said. “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment. The way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak.” Trott’s dismissals in both innings were disappointing, bounced out in inevitable fashion by a rampaging Johnson. It’s a technical problem, highlighted by some excellent bowling. Poor? Definitely. But scared, and weak? As the words came out of his moustachioed mouth, Cricket Australia’s press officer visibly cringed, perhaps recalling Warner’s history. Punching an opponent in a bar. Ranting at journalists on Twitter. Skipping a match he was due to play in to spend a day at the races.

Warner had his day in the sun at the Gabba, backing up his words with a belligerent century. I’m all for players breaking the trend for bland, media managed press conferences. But perhaps he should concentrate on his own game, and leave the “poor” “weak” English to concentrate on theirs. As that great sage Andrew Flintoff once observed, “This game has got a funny way of biting you up the arse.”

As England’s top order came crashing down on Friday afternoon, TV producers raced into the archives to sift through the folder marked “collapses we have known”. After Mike Atherton’s side were skittled for 46 by Ambrose and Walsh at Trinidad in 1994, the selectors kept faith with the same batting line-up for the next Test, the theory being “you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.” Alec Stewart scored two centuries, Angus Fraser took eight wickets and England won. Almost 20 years on, Alastair Cook finds himself in a similarly tricky spot. For the last three Ashes series England have largely had things their own way. Now their backs are against the wall and they must show what they are made of.

An afterthought: Towards the end of the match a stump microphone caught Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken fucking arm”. This comment is being reported in isolation and blown up by English newspapers. My view is that all sorts of things get said on the field in the heat of battle, and the players on both sides give as good as they get. No big deal.

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The Ashes: A winning habit

THEY say familiarity breeds contempt. Too much time spent in the same company – whether it’s chattering work colleagues, bickering family members or the same old strangers on the bus every morning – will eventually drive you mad. But in recent years the England cricket team appears to have discovered that the team that tours together wins together.

As the Ashes hoopla kicks into gear again, less than three months after the last series ended under the Kennington floodlights, this seems like a good time to reflect on how far England have come in the last 20-odd years.

In November 1990, Graham Gooch’s side arrived in Brisbane hoping to recapture the little urn. Gooch was injured and sat out the first Test, forced to watch as his side were bowled out for 194 and 114, losing by ten wickets inside three days. They lost the series 3-0.

Four years later they were back, with just two surviving members from that hammering  – Michael Atherton, now captain, and Alec Stewart. England lost the Test, and the series 3-1.

In 1998, Atherton and Stewart swapped captaincy duties and returned for a third shot at glory on the old enemy’s turf. This time they brought along two more battle-weary warriors from the previous tour, Graham Thorpe and Darren Gough. England escaped with a draw thanks to an almighty thunderstorm on the final day, but surrendered the series 3-0.

Stewart, who by this time must have claimed himself a regular window seat on the flight down under, took his final Ashes bow on the 2002 tour, with only Mark Butcher and captain Nasser Hussain remaining from the ’98 team. Hussain famously won the toss on the first morning at Brisbane and chose to bowl, firing the starting pistol for a 4-1 defeat.

In 2005, of course, everything changed. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff discovered that winning was actually quite fun when you got used to it, especially when you could legitimately hit Ricky Ponting in the face.

Amid the champagne-soaked euphoria following that now legendary series, nobody seemed to much care about the future. So along came Brisbane…and the old curse struck again. From the team that started the 2002 series, only Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard remained in 2006. They watched Steve Harmison bowl the first ball to second slip, but neither of them would still be there at Sydney to witness the fifth nail in the whitewashed coffin.

These days, with England bidding for a fourth consecutive Ashes victory, it’s easier to list the players who have not survived the period between Australian tours. Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Anderson are on their third trip in a row. Of the XI that ground the Aussies into the dirt at the Gabba in 2010, only the retired Strauss and Collingwood are missing from this year’s touring party.

England have slowly but surely turned themselves into a cricketing family, a dynasty whereby as one player retires, another comes in to fill his spot – just as Steve Waugh’s Aussies used to do, in fact. It hasn’t all been plain sailing – they have yet to settle on a permanent replacement for Strauss at the top of the order and they don’t seem to know who should bat at number six – but it’s a world away from the touring merry-go-round of the 1990s.

Central contracts, better fitness regimes and an all-round professionalism have all contributed to England’s rise over the last few years. But one of the most important factors, often overlooked by fans and commentators looking for a quick fix, is consistency of selection.

There is talk that this England side – which will surely be judged in hindsight as being a golden generation  – is growing old. But don’t be surprised if the trend continues and most of them are back in Brisbane in four years’ time to compete for the urn yet again.

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The Ashes: The dreaded yips

EACH day thousands of cricket fans all around the world write millions of words about the twists and turns of Test match cricket. Other than a select few who have made the transition from the crease to the press box, most are speaking from a position of relative ignorance. You can watch all the cricket you like, but you will never really feel what it’s like to play at the highest level.

On the first day of the final Test at The Oval, this merry band of naive bloggers – myself included – found themselves in a rare position of empathy as Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes took the field. Having watched England cultivate such a successful, settled side over the last few years, it was quite a shock to the system to see two young, untried bowlers making their debut in an Ashes Test. There will have been a few red faces among the aforementioned player-turned pundit corp on Wednesday as the team was revealed – not least those who had confidently written in that morning’s paper that Chris Tremlett was set for a return to the fold. Beware the leaking source.

Kerrigan’s platter of head-high full tosses and slow long hops were brutally taken apart by Shane Watson, suddenly transformed from walking wicket to playground bully. The crowd winced and looked on with pity. If you have ever bowled a spell at any level of cricket in which things have gone horribly wrong, you will know exactly what Kerrigan was going through. Particularly if, like yours truly, you specialise in spin.

Every new match starts full of hope. The captain throws you the ball and you have a blank sheet. Anything could happen. You try to land it in the right spot, just to find your rhythm. But before you can settle you’re craning your neck to watch another six sailing into the trees. You try to fire in a quicker ball, but it pitches halfway down, maybe bouncing twice on the way. You give the next one some air, but overcompensate and send down an airborne missile. In my first over of this season with a new club, having not bowled since the previous year, I launched a floating beamer towards the batsman’s head. No harm done, no ball called, sheepish apology offered. Did I mention the batsman was a girl?

It is difficult to understand or explain the mechanics of this peculiar phenomenon known as “the yips”. The one thing that can’t cure it is trying harder. Your grip tightens on the ball, your release point changes, you start modifying your run-up, never a good idea when you’re in the thick of the action.

One of the most famous examples of the chronic yips is Steve Harmison’s delivery to kick off the 2006-07 Ashes. The delivery went straight from Harmison’s hand to his captain, Andrew Flintoff, at second slip. Looking back on the moment that many believe defined that entire series, Harmison said as he stood at the top of his mark he didn’t want to let the ball go, and had no idea where on earth it might land. In the final of the 2001 C&G Trophy, Leicestershire’s Scott Boswell suffered an outbreak of the raging yips. He sent down a 14-ball over. Six of the first eight balls, including five in a row, were wides. Boswell was reduced to a YouTube footnote.

When the yips get you, time slows down. Your action feels alien, like you are a newborn baby learning how to walk. When you do let go of the ball, you automatically take a step back, just in case the batsman should choose to send the ball hurtling back in your direction.

Each boundary is met with silence from your team mates. There might be the odd “keep your head up” or “back on it now”. But there is nothing anyone can say. You turn crimson. You feel like you’ve turned solid.

Getting out for a duck, an area in which I also have plenty of experience, is unpleasant and embarrassing. But at least you can walk off the field and bury your shame in your kitbag. In the midst of attack of the yips, the bowling crease is probably the loneliest place a cricketer can be.

Simon Kerrigan is, by all accounts, a quality bowler, and may well go on to have a long and successful career. If there is a positive side to his first day on the job, it’s that it gives hope to club cricketers all around the world who have ever stood at the end of their mark thinking “what next?”

Chin up, Kegs. It happens to the worst of us.

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The Ashes: Media management and biting the hand that feeds you

WHEN Joe Root takes a wicket, he wheels around like a giddy schoolboy who has just scored the winning goal in a playground recreation of the FA Cup final. When Ian Bell reaches a century he removes his helmet and leaps into the air, throwing a wild punch in a violent release of nervous energy. There is such a lot at stake for these players and their teammates, who have dedicated their entire lives to succeeding at the highest level. It’s no wonder they get a bit excited.

Yet when they come off the field and line up to fulfil their ever-growing list of media requirements – TV, radio, print, even a soundbite for the ECB’s YouTube channel – they sound like they’re rehearsing for their village am dram performance of the dullest show on earth.
The old cliches roll off the tongue in defeat – ‘Take the positives’, ‘Move on’, ‘Keep working hard’ and the much-hated ‘We’re a young side and we’ll learn from this’. Nobody expects a defeated captain to call his team an absolute shower or break down in tears a la Kim Hughes. But you would hope for a bit more when basking in the glory of another thumping victory.

Root’s interview demeanour could not be more at odds with his on-field antics. Chirpy and hyper one side of the whitewash, he seems to stare off into space when confronted with a microphone, delivering the same old rehearsed lines. His breathtaking debut Ashes century, converted into a matchwinning 180, was “nice”. It was “good to contribute” to the win. He paused slightly when asked about how the team would enjoy the victory, at which point a speeded-up montage of pedalos, dentist’s chairs and dwarf-throwing parties may have scrolled across his vision. But showing the maker’s name, he straight-batted the spitting cobra down the track. “I’m sure we will enjoy it.”
Root’s doe-eyed innocence is endearing, and he will have to grow more comfortable in the limelight if, as many are predicting, he is to occupy the top of the order for many years to come. He may even be next in line as captain. But let’s hope he has a bit more charisma than his current boss.
Alastair Cook is clearly a very driven, determined cricketer. His powers of concentration are remarkable, and he has already shown a quiet authority and ruthless streak as skipper. But like Root, his post-match briefings leave a lot to be desired. He ends every monotone sentence with pursed lips and a cocked head, as if to say “Next question, let’s get this over with”.

If all this is seen as a criticism of the players, it is not meant that way. They are professional sportsmen, paid to do a job on the field and doing it pretty well right now. They are not necessarily natural speakers. But over the last 20 years or so, since the advent of Sky TV and the growth of media power in sport, the public want to hear what their heroes have to say. And left to their own devices, they are liable to say something that might get them, or their colleagues, in trouble. Ian Botham was rarely off the back pages in the 1980s as he boasted of his sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle. The late Tony Greig is probably best remembered for threatening to make the West Indies “grovel” before his England side succumbed to a 5-0 drubbing. And more recently Kevin “It’s not easy being me” Pietersen became a high-profile liability who threatened to destabilise the entire English setup.

The ECB has become much more professional since the turn of the century, and this approach – along with consistency of selection and central contracts – has transformed the national side. But like all good risk managers, they take a cautious approach towards anything that can be seen as a potential banana skin.

Players at the highest level these days are media trained to within an inch of their lives. They are coached in what to say and how to say it, how to deal with journalists and how to survive in the public eye. This often means that all their character, passion and personality is left at the crease, and we end up watching and listening to a bunch of corporate suits dressed in cricketing whites. Occasionally a player will resist the training – or maybe he will be encouraged to “be himself” to appease the press pack. Graeme Swann is a case in point. Reporters breathe a sigh of relief when Swanny is wheeled out for a press conference. He is funny, witty, self-deprecating and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Just as the players’ dead-eyed responses are a result of media training, they are also a sign of their distrust of the fourth estate. Not too long ago pro cricketers in England would be on friendly terms with all the regular journalists on the circuit, and would think nothing of a quick interview for tomorrow’s paper or a soundbite for Test Match Special. Not so nowadays, it would appear. Last week the Sun’s John Etheridge said: “It is almost impossible to speak to anybody in the England team away from press conferences without paying money or plugging a sponsor.” This is partly due to the fact that the game is increasingly controlled by cash. But it could also be because the tabloid media – and sometimes the broadcasters too – don’t help themselves.

When Stuart Broad edged a ball to slip in the first Test and was given not out, he didn’t walk. This ‘incident’, of which there are dozens every day in every form of the game, from international to village, was blown out of all proportion. The headline on the back page of the following day’s Daily Mirror was ‘BAN STU’, a reference to comments made by Sky’s Michael Holding. The wheel comes full circle. The media appears to be undermining the interests of the national side in the pursuit of a sexy story, quoting itself. The players see the headline and retreat further into themselves and their group. And the next time that reporter approaches a player for a quote? “Very pleasing. Put them under pressure. One game at a time.”

The whole ludicrous situation was neatly demonstrated by Broad himself this week. After James Anderson was sent out to bat at number eight on day one, apparently protecting the more competent Broad and Swann, the vultures began to ask questions. Responding to Simon Hughes on Twitter, Broad quipped: “Wasn’t a nightwatchman. Swanny and I banged heads while making a brew and were dazed so Jimmy took it on”.

Hyped up on Ashes fever, many journos fell for it hook, line and sinker. An amusing and telling moral victory for the embattled all-rounder. No doubt he will take the positives and move on.

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The Ashes – Office ball games

WHEN you have been obsessed with a particular subject for as long as you can remember, what do you do when everybody else starts taking an interest too?

During the summer of 2005, many English cricket fans who thought they were part of a small, elite group suddenly realised they were not alone. For so long football had dominated the back pages – and often the front pages too – as we griped and moaned about how the real beautiful game never gets a look in. When Ashes fever gripped the nation, everything was different. Jonathan Agnew recently observed that the way people watch cricket in this country changed that summer.

Luckily for us precious die-hard fans, those nice people from Sky were kind enough to come along and remove cricket from “normal” TV, restoring once more the sport’s long-held image of elitism that it had worked so long and hard to shed.

My company recently moved into a new office, and within clear view of my desk there are two large plasma screens. This is not uncommon in a newsroom – we need to keep abreast of any breaking national stories. But just before the first Test began, both screens were re-tuned to the newly and entirely pointlessly re-named Sky Sports Ashes.

Weekdays during Test matches have now become something of a personal war of attrition. One one hand, I have a busy and demanding job which requires concentration throughout the day. On the other hand, the Ashes is on. Every time the bowler reaches the top of his mark, my eyes shift inevitably from my PC screen to focus on the bright light in the middle distance. I don’t even have to turn my head.

Then there are my co-workers. The editor-in-chief of my newspaper’s sister paper is a cricket nut. Obsessed with the game. This I can cope with. This I can identify with.

His news editor operates on a similar level, but seems strangely able to focus on his work even when Australians wickets are falling above our heads.

The guy sitting directly opposite me is Canadian. Yesterday he told me he made an effort to watch the cricket when “Stuart Smith” was batting, but struggled to understand the scoring system and found it all a bit boring.

Our chief sub-editor is a rugby man, but recently revealed that he is a demon bowler for his Twenty20 midweek team.

At the other end of the scale, there are those who can’t stand the game. Our crime reporter pulls a face whenever it is mentioned. The web editor doesn’t like the sun, or going outside at all, never mind any kind of sport. Arriving on Monday morning, he greeted me by asking: “Is that the end of the cricket now then?” When I said there are nine more Tests to go before January, each of them five days long, he sighed.

Then there are the Johnny-Come-Latelys. When our head of news discovered my love for the game, she mocked and called me a geek. But as the first Test was drawing to its dramatic conclusion, I received an excitable message asking how my nerves were holding up.

Wading into the growing debate, one of our trainee reporters described cricket as “just rounders in a straight line, innit?”

I don’t yet know how I feel about my colleagues’ sudden interaction with my lifelong passion. Sometimes I want to jump out of my seat and shout “You don’t understand! You weren’t there at the beginning! It wasn’t always like this, you know! Do the words Mark Lathwell mean nothing to you people?”

But for now I will content myself with the thought that I know more about what’s going on than most of them. And if any of you are reading this in the office, which I expect you are, my message is this: Please don’t change the channel. I promise I’ll get back to work. Just one more over.

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The Ashes: First Test day 5 – Out of range

SOMETIMES it’s the things we don’t witness, rather than the things we do, which stick in the memory. On the final day of the second Test at Edgbaston in 2005, I was standing outside a small theatre in Edinburgh waiting to take part in a dress rehearsal for a play. Glued to my portable radio, I was beckoned inside as Australia got within 12 runs of victory with one wicket remaining. That’s that, I thought. While the greatest Test finish of the modern age was playing out in my home town, I was prancing around a dark Scottish studio pretending to be Franz Kafka.

A week later, I missed the entire final day of the Old Trafford Test. Having avoided the score, I sought out an Edinburgh sports bar for the soundless highlights as the Aussies scraped a draw. I still see Ricky Ponting’s giant plasma face looming over me in my dreams.

I heard the end of that year’s Trent Bridge Test perching on a steep cliff in deepest Cornwall, before actually managing to find a screen – this time back at university in Hull – for the last rites.

At the start of the ill-fated return series in 2006-07, my main memory is wandering around East Yorkshire trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, to find a pub showing the cricket in a town of football and rugby league. The rest of that series has been erased from my mind. Can’t think why.

In 2009, I thought my bad luck had ended when I made it to a couple of days of the Edgbaston Test. I even had a ticket to the fifth day at The Oval, which was shaping up to be a victory parade for the home team. But they were too good. Swann, Harmison and Andrew Flintoff’s famous run-out of Ricky Ponting ensured a fourth-day win – and I missed it all, again, stuck on a slow train from Cornwall to London.

This year I vowed it would never happen again. I invested in Sky Sports, and was all set for a thrilling summer stuck to the sofa while all the other children played outside. But having closely followed the opening four days of the first Test, I was dragged away at the crucial period.

With Australia eight down and needing 100 to win, I set off on the road to a family barbecue. No matter, I thought, TMS will keep me informed. The ninth wicket fell and we lost signal. Out of range for the best part of an hour, I was fearing the worst. We arrived at our destination and immediately asked our host how the cricket was going. “Abysmal”. 20 to win.

We sat in the garden, the faint sounds of Aggers and co drifting out from the kitchen. When the final wicket fell, a confusion of DRS, hot spot, snicko and an overturned decision, I didn’t know what to do. For the last four days I had been yelling, screaming and punching the air at the fall of every wicket. At one point my neighbour was heard to remark “It sounds like you’ve got the Barmy Army in there.” And now, at the most crucial time, I was surrounded by in-laws who have at best a passing interest in the game.

I stuck another sausage in a bun, reached for the ketchup and allowed myself a smile. It’s going to be a long summer.

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