Hello there. Been a while, eh? We promised that we would blog erratically, and we have kept that promise with flair, we think. Our excuses for not updating this blog since July are the following:

1) We’ve both had work and general lives on.
2) I’ve moved away from the rolling hills and parochial racism of Yorkshire, to the concrete hills and urban racism of London.
3) Mr Tickner has been involved in a burgeoning and increasingly sweet internet romance with another man called Miller. Peter, I’m not jealous. Although I will cut you if you hurt him.
4) We’ve got a gig writing anti-English gags for Malcolm Conn. It’s a lucrative line of work – you should give it a go.
5) I dunno. Fuck you – you’re not our real dads. Unless you are actually our real dads. In which case, hello dads. And sorry for swearing.

Since we last spoke, England won the Ashes and about two hours later flew out to Australia to defend them. So on the eve of another series, we are faced with the question of overkill – can you have too much of a wonderful thing like the Ashes?

In this case, the answer is no, you cannot, and the reason for that is largely down to Stuart Broad.

Those of you who have been with us from the start will recall that our opening piece on this blog was snappily titled ‘Is Stuart Broad any good or a bit of a dick? Or both? Or neither?’ The conclusion was that he was indeed a bit of a dick, and this was a bad thing. However, while his dick status has not significantly altered, this is now unquestionably a good thing.

There has been a sense recently that there are a few too many likeable players in the Australia team. A few too many decent guys. This will, quite obviously, not do. Australian cricketers are not there to be liked. They are there to be hated – hated because they’re arseholes, because they’re too good or because both. Australia and England should, for the purposes of cricket at least, despise each other. It should be Merv Hughes calling a procession of sub-standard batsmen arsewipes. It should be Mitchell Johnson goading Jimmy Anderson into taking a wicket. It should be Ian Botham and Ian Chappell wrestling in a car park.

The Aussies seem to get this too, and have embarked on a concerted pre-series campaign to make them as objectionable as possible, whether that’s through Michael Clarke’s surreal performance art piece/’I seen Alastair’ announcement of England’s team (incidentally, if you watch it closely, you can see the exact moment when something drops behind his eyes and he thinks ‘Aw, this isn’t as good an idea as Warnie said it would be’), Johnson saying he was going to break England batsmen’s fingers, Peter Siddle eating 15-20 bananas a day in a flagrant attempt to use up all the potassium in the southern hemisphere, or David Warner. Chuck in the apparent obsession with England somehow being underhand by playing quite conservatively and winning, rather than Australia adhering to the true ethos of the game by being creative free spirits and losing, and you’ve got yourself a team spoiling for a fight.

This is why Broad’s status as a weapons-grade bell in Australia is a wonderful thing for the series, because he creates antipathy between the two sides. The legacy of his non-walk at Trent Bridge will be 50,000 dribbling drunk Aussies screaming all sorts of uncouth and unintelligible things at the Gabba, in the hope of turning him into the meek little boy that, frankly, he looks like.

Of course, this is an impotent act of barracking that will in all likelihood only serve to inspire him, rather than put him off in some way. There seems little doubt that Broad loves being the heel, loves being the man to wind-up the opposition. Take him actually walking when he was out for the second time in that innings at Trent Bridge, the morning after a tsunami of bullshit had been sprayed all over the pages of our national newspapers after he failed to do the umpire’s job for him. What is that but an absolutely terrific act of trolling?

And how about his interview with Michael Vaughan last month, in which quite correctly expressed absolutely no remorse for the non-walk, commenting that if he had then England might have “only won 3-1 or something.” I damn near applauded when I heard that – a magnificent statement, akin to spitting in an angry bear’s gazpacho, after the bear had just about come to terms with the concept of cold soup.

Broad knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s half man, half itchy pair of underpants on the bottom of Australia, set on a mission to make life as annoying as possible. Only, unlike the underpants, he’ll probably take 25 wickets and bowl an unplayable spell at some point to win a Test for England.

Stuart Broad is still a bit of a dick. But he’s our dick now, and we must celebrate the damage he is doing to Anglo-Australian relations.

NM

I won’t keep you long. I’ve got a train to catch and I haven’t really packed. And in any case, this is another piece about Stuart Broad, and you’ve read quite a few of those recently.

Indeed, you may have read one this very morning that compared Broad to Lance Armstrong and Tyson Gay, about which you can draw your own conclusions. But agree or disagree with that, much of the debate around Broad focused on a rather basic misunderstanding of what he did. Broad has been described as a cheat for not walking, with the most frequent comparison from those who require this to be grounded in something they know (i.e., football) being diving, or perhaps Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986.

That’s not what Broad did. Diving and handball are both acts of cheating – nicking to the wicketkeeper (another thing that has been lost – Broad nicked to the keeper, not first slip) is not. If one must draw a comparison with football, the equivalent is knowing the ball has crossed the line and pretending it didn’t. How many furious op-ed pieces did you read declaring Roy Carroll was a revolting cheat after this?

Quite rightly, the criticism in that instance was against the officials for not spotting the goal, so why has Aleem Dar not been given a sound thrashing in the papers for a rare moment of complete incompetence? If Dar had done his job and given a non-walking Broad out, nobody would have noticed he didn’t instantly turn on his heels and lope to the pavilion, none of this furore would have happened and those of us who watch the game more often than once every two years would have been spared smashing our heads against a wall for the last week. Broad was basically stitched up by Aleem Dar making a mistake. Oh, and as my colleague Mr Tickner points out, Michael Clarke as well, who’d spunked his two reviews up the wall so lost the chance to get the right call.

“I hit the ball so I knew what result was coming.”

Brad Haddin said that yesterday, about the wicket that won the Test for England. He knew he hit the thing as much as Broad did. Neither walked, but nobody gave a shit that Haddin didn’t because he was given out.

Anyway, I’m off to find some clean socks.

NM

Hashim Amla is good at cricket. You’ll have picked up on this. He has a highest Test score of 311, and an average of 52. In 15 Tests since the start of 2012 he has 1,526 runs at 72. He’s decent in one-dayers too, averaging 56 with a strike rate above 91.

He does all of this while looking wonderful, too, with an on-drive that could launch a thousand ships and a range of shots to send fellow players insane with jealousy. He also has the confidence of a man unconcerned about getting out, because he knows he probably won’t do so that quickly. It’s not arrogance, but rather knowledge – an awareness of the facts at his disposal, rather than the proud self-belief that many of his less-talented contemporaries have.

And yet, my first thought about Amla is not one of the best players in the world today and potentially one of the finest South Africa have ever produced, but rather that of an uncoordinated mess, a Bambi-esque walking wicket who provides absolutely no threat to anyone and has no place at this most hallowed level of sport.

This is because that’s exactly what he was when he first got into the Test side. Against England in 2004/5, Amla was unfinished, a cricketer still with the scaffold around him with huge holes in his game and a front pad so big it seemed as if it was from a cartoon about inept cricketers. In his first six innings he scored 24, 2, 1, 0, 25 (from 75 balls) and 10, and his nascent Test career was temporarily put out of its misery halfway through that England series.

It’s not just Amla, either. Jimmy Anderson is still a talented but too-often innocuous young colt who’ll never quite make the most of his talent. Dale Steyn still the raw tearaway who’s just as likely to send the wicketkeeper flying as the stumps. Shane Watson is still the answer to Australia’s all-rounder problem.

This is all because of snap judgements, of first impressions. First impressions are a powerful thing in cricket, perhaps above that of most other team sports. I know that all of the above statements are now untrue, and the subsequent performance of those players is true reflection of their ability rather than the picture in my mind, but these remain my initial reaction when seeing them walk out to bat or mark out their run-ups.

It’s not the case in football. When Thierry Henry came to England he was almost comically bad, his pace only serving to exacerbate his other flaws, because it would get him into more positions where he could mess up. But when I see him I think of perhaps the most thrilling footballer I’ve ever seen in the flesh, not the man described as the French Perry Groves back in 1999.

So why is it different in cricket? It’s perfectly possible that it’s just something not quite right in my brain, but there must be logical explanations. One could be that, although cricket is a team sport, it relies so much on individual performance that we concentrate on single players very intently. For each ball it is, for a moment, only about two players, and our attention is so firmly on those players that they have time to make an impression, to form a picture that is therefore difficult to shake.

Confirmation bias also plays a part – if you’ve decided that someone is an lbw candidate, then in an over in which they clip five boundaries off their pads but get caught in front on the sixth, the chances are you’re likely to latch onto the final ball rather than the preceding ones. ‘Told you so, he plays all around that front pad,’ you might say. It’s also possible that in this age when everyone must Have An Opinion on something, you want to stick to that opinion, lest you look like an indecisive buffoon who knows nothing.

It’s similar when you’re introduced to a new person, and decide instantly that person is a cock, quite often irrationally. It then takes quite a lot of non-cock behaviour to convince you that said person is not in fact a cock, whereas something as minor as failing to adequately cover their mouth when yawning only serves to prove your initial cock diagnosis. ‘Look at that cock with his big yawning mouth, the cock.’

This might be bullshit. I might be the only one. You lot might be perfectly able to consider the altogether more relevant evidence of today than an impression hastily formed some eight years ago, and if so well done. I know Hashim Amla is good at cricket, it’s just for a second I don’t think he is.

NM

The Daily Mail’s cricket desk risked being compared to the rest of the internet-baiting hits-by-astonished-outrage Mail Online website by publishing a non-story about Kevin Pietersen turning up to watch his colleagues face New Zealand on Sunday at Lord’s – when they were on the verge of victory.

Mail Online has been mocked for dressing itself up as a news website despite not being involved in news.

Injured England batsman Pietersen showed up at the head office of his employers and was pictured with England coach Andy Flower, fitness coach Huw Bevan and batting coach Graham Gooch.

“The controversial batsman has been antagonising the ECB recently; he did not turn up to the England Player of the Year function at Lord’s on Monday,” wibbled the Mail article as it got momentarily confused about whether it was annoyed about the high-profile, opinion-splitting, hit-generating batsman turning up to things or not turning up to things.

But maybe the cricket desk won’t be upset by the comparison – after all they are part of the same website.

It continues to frustrate Mail Online that Kevin Pietersen is England’s best and most exciting batsman despite being a bit foreign, while pictures of the wealthy man in exotic locations incensed them so much they had no choice but to reprint them to accompany their drivelsome moaning.

The attention-seeking non-stories about Pietersen while a thrilling Test was about to be won by one of the finest new-ball spells ever seen at Lord’s don’t help their cause, either.

  • For reference, the original article can be found here, but we’ve already clicked on it twice to write this pish. And that’s surely plenty. Remember, clicking on the link means supporting the Mail’s audience-hating business model. Be stronger than us. Resist.
  • As two men who grew up watching cricket in the 1990s, you would think that the authors of this blog would be more or less immune to the horrors that supporting England could bring. We watched Port of Spain in 1994, the Oval in 1998, the Oval in 1999. We saw collapses, wrong-headed selections, clueless bowling, rank unprofessionalism. We watched England flatter to deceive, give hope but fail, our national game become a punchline, We saw beatings by the West Indies, humiliations by New Zealand and most of all, 18 long years of severe, demoralising shellackings by Australia.

    You’d think that nothing could surprise us, or leave any other indelible marks on our consciousness. And then there was Adelaide.

    Some six years ago I had just started working for Sporting Life, and arrived in the office shortly after the catastrophe that was the second Test of the 2006/7 Ashes had come to its repulsive, stomach-churning, bile-inducingly appalling conclusion.

    I had never – nor have I since then – seen anyone going through such a complex mixture of emotions as the other half of The 73 Overs, the great man Dave Tickner. Dave had worked through the whole sorry mess, covering the match on his own in a strip-lit office, and this had understandably taken its toll – on his face there was anger, disbelief, sorrow, the desire to hurt things, the desire to drink heavily (this was around 7am), confusion, all combined with a certain amount of professionalism.

    “I’m going home,” mumbled a barely coherent Tickner. “I’m too angry to write anything now.”

    And go home he did, shaking his head, utterly unable to comprehend the rancid shambles that had unfolded before his sleep-deprived eyes. If you stayed up through the night to watch that Test and think you felt bad, imagine doing it in an empty office, with only the water cooler and a series of increasingly vicious energy drinks for company.

    Even after all of the calamities in the 90s, Adelaide 2006 was the lowest. Being terrible was depressing, but relatively easy to stomach – this was different. The way England didn’t so much snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, rather reach down victory’s gullet, shift a tonsil aside and drag it out, was soul-destroying. In the intervening years, whenever it looked impossible for England to lose, a klaxon would go off in my head that simply screamed ‘ADELAIDE! ADELAIDE!’

    But then came 2010. From the very first overs, when Australia were 2-3, England were in control. A simple win might not have quite released the demons, but this was a mauling. A battering. A bottom-spanking of the first order. Of the 12 sessions played in the Test, England dominated 11 of them. An innings and 71 runs. A total annihilation.

    After that, Adelaide was no longer a dirty word for England fans. No longer does it represent the very worst that cricket, sport, even human existence itself can muster. No longer is it synonymous with defeat, failure and a choke that even South Africa would baulk at.

    On a cold and objective level, this win cannot compare with one against the Australia of 2005. Indeed, winning the Ashes in Australia, for the first time since 1987, cannot. Nothing will ever beat that summer. How could it? How could one be as satisfied with beating Doherty, Bollinger and North as beating Warne, Gilchrist and McGrath?

    But this wasn’t so much a victory for England, more an exorcism. It cleansed a ground, a city and a name, and made us not fear ‘Adelaide’ again. In The Guardian a couple of years ago, Rob Smyth likened England cricketers using the word ‘Adelaide’ to actors saying Macbeth – you feared that just the mention of the word would release all sorts of ghouls and demons into the air, a bit like when Walter Peck orders the Ghostbusters to shut down their containment grid, and the ghosts are unleashed on New York.

    Pain and disappointment are as important to the sport fan as victory. Unless you support an especially dominant side, the former happens much more often than the latter, so you have to get used to it, and there are some defeats that transcend the rest. And that’s why this blog is named after such a defeat, rather than one of England’s brilliant victories that the past few years have brought.

    Dave and I aren’t friends just because of Adelaide 2006 – that has more to do with a similarly puerile sense of humour and my boss’s continuing attempts to persuade us to ‘go Brokeback’ in a tent – but it helped. Even after the exorcism, the scars that the 73 overs it took for England to collapse on that day remain.

    NM

    This is a modified version of an article that appeared on Cricket365 in 2010. You can read the original here.

    I’d got this piece all planned out: a needlessly vitriolic and unpleasant personal attack on Dickie Bird to mark his 80th birthday, a piece that would have said far more about me than it would an essentially harmless old duffer from Barnsley.

    It was to be the usual sort of thing that the four of us in Britain who have no time for the National Treasure and Yorkshire Billy Bowden come out with. Chuntering about his professional Yorkshireman, everything-was-better-in-my-day witterings. Unease at the way his gigantic ego is seen as endearing and lovely and wonderful while the far smaller ego of, say, Kevin Pietersen is evidence of just what an appalling shit of a man he is (Here’s a game: imagine the press reaction if KP ever said “It stands on the exact spot where I was born, 100 yards from the town hall – trips come from all over to see my statue” or “They all rated me the best: Sobers, Richards, Lillee and Botham”). Furious anger at the highly scientific poll I’ve just conducted in my head that reveals a sodding umpire ranks behind only Ian Botham, and possibly Mike Gatting’s squashed nose, in a list of English Cricketing Figures People Remember From The 80s, and some general bewilderment at the fact his autobiography sold more than a million copies.

    My dormant Bird-disliking fire was lit by a piece on the birthday boy in Thursday’s Telegraph that contained the line about his statue in Barnsley (imagine, JUST IMAGINE, that we live in a world where people go on trips to look at a FUCKING STATUE of DICKIE FUCKING BIRD in FUCKING BARNSLEY) and an altogether less offensive, or so I thought, Dickie Bird all-time Test XI presented in traditional click-generating photo gallery form in case you don’t know what a Viv Richards or Shane Warne looks like.

    While I chortled at the depth of thinking Dickie had put into the project and the detailed analysis behind his selection of Sunil Gavaskar to open the batting (“Sunil was one of the two best opening bats I saw”) before briefly raising my eyebrows at the omissions of Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman, I quickly moved on with my life and returned to the more important business of getting myself all worked up about the concept of people going on day-trips to see a statue. Of an umpire. In Barnsley, I mean for fu…

    But this morning, everything changed.

    Because this morning, I found this.

    It has instantly and undoubtedly become my favourite ‘news story’ of all time. Every time I read it, I laugh at something new. If you’ve just read it, go back and read it again.

    See? It’s truly the (Dickie’s 80th birthday) gift that keeps on giving.

    There’s just so much to enjoy, from the gumption in claiming the views of two ancient former players as representing the righteous anger of “the cricket fraternity of India”, to describing a team clearly scribbled on the back of a fag packet following about five minutes’ thought by an 80-year-old man as “controversial”, and the accusations of bias from Indians demanding the inclusion of more Indians in an Englishman’s team that contains the same number of Indians as it does Englishmen. Or just the simple pleasure of the phrase “he said with a sarcastic tone”.

    Then there’s also the seemingly genuine concern that this XI – a team that is, and this shouldn’t really need saying, fictitious and will never actually take to any cricket field – lacks proper balance. And the fella essentially telling Dickie that his opinion is wrong and in order to select the “ideal” team he really out to have included Adam Gilchrist rather than Alan Knott.

    Or perhaps you particularly like the bit in the fifth par when they work out Bird has only picked from players he saw display their greatness at close-hand (which is as sensible a criterion as any to employ when attempting to distil all the great cricketers, which after years of study I can confirm is a number significantly greater than 11, into one team) yet still plough on as they explain precisely where and why and how badly the old man’s opinion is so very, very wrong.

    It is, as Ashley Connick put it on Twitter, “two people saying ‘I disagree with your fantasy XI, here’s my own.’ But angrier.”

    So much anger. So much pointless, hilarious anger. Getting worked up about someone’s all-time XI? You might as well get annoyed about daylight, or which type of cheese someone prefers, or a statue.

    There might be a serious point to be made here. Something about caring so much about such total insignificance while actual important events go unchallenged and unreported. Or about the drivelsome and tiresome accusations of bias that screech from the mouths and keyboards of actual grown adult humans whenever they are presented with an opinion about their favourite team or bestest players that differs from their own clearly far more considered, nuanced and impartial viewpoint. The sort of spittle-flecked nonsense which means that, for example, my colleague Nick Miller – as nice and fabulously bearded a man as you could ever wish to meet – should probably not go to Hull. Which would definitely be Hull’s loss.

    But tits to all that. Balls to making serious points. That’s not what this site is or ever will be about.

    No, here’s what matters: Dickie Bird picked a team of cricketers that led directly to a news story containing the phrase “he said with a sarcastic tone”.

    And with that, Dickie, everything is forgiven. Happy bloody Birthday. Please tell us again about how much better things were in the old days, when the internet was in black and white and a Decision Review System was you thinking for an extra second before turning down that lbw shout.

    Tell us again about how many times you’ve met the Queen, and how many hours early you were, you endearingly eccentric national institution you. Remind us of that time Merv Hughes done a shit in your coat pocket for the now-lost and much-lamented banter and lolz (I may have made that one up). By all means release yet another inexplicably popular book containing these and many other frequently-heard-before tales (Foreword by Michael Parkinson).

    But first, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fucking Barnsley to look at a fucking statue.

    DT

    There was a moment on the third morning of the Auckland Test that seemed to sum Stuart Broad up rather perfectly. As England were being lightly flayed by Peter Fulton for the second time in the same match, Broad bowled a leg stump half-volley that the New Zealand batsman briskly clipped to a very fine leg for four. Broad was aghast – not with himself for generously donating a boundary to a tall man, but aghast with Monty Panesar, who had been deliberately placed by his captain at a wide fine leg, meaning he had no chance of stopping the thing at the best of times. And when Monty is in the outfield, no time is the best of times.

    That Broad was so upset – and boy was he upset, pouting with hands outstretched and a baffled look upon his pretty face – is hardly a surprise, because nothing is ever Stuart Broad’s fault. When he gets out, the look on his face suggests he is batting on the Sabina Park pitch, 1998 vintage. When a catch is dropped, the his demeanour screams ‘Why do bad things happen to awesome people?’

    And of course, his liking for a review has become both a punchline and a handy indicator for any viewer or prospective captain – if Broad asks for one, assume it was not out and don’t waste a precious trip upstairs. If Broad says it was knocking middle out halfway up, nod and know it was missing a second set.

    Part of this might be an insatiable desire for wickets, part of it might be delusion, but it also might be a particular form of arrogance that Broad believes something must be seriously awry if he isn’t taking wickets. Perhaps he thinks ‘Not out? Not out!?!? Well, I’m bowling, so that can’t be the problem. I can only assume the umpire has made some sort of dreadful error. Let’s check Hawkeye.’ This also manifested itself in that dreadful habit of celebrating an LBW or caught behind rather than going through the dreary rigmarole of actually appealing to that chap in the white coat. It’s a habit that has dissipated, but still pops up occasionally.

    There are things I know about Stuart Broad and there are things I don’t. In the former category, in answer to question ‘Is he a bit of a dick?’ I say ‘Yes. I know this. He is.’ See above for my working on that one. But in the latter, we have the quandary of whether or not Stuart Broad is actually any good. You see, I have no idea if Stuart Broad is actually any good.

    Broad’s figures are actually perfectly respectable. In 55 Tests he has taken 183 wickets at 31.92, with a batting average of a neat 25. Nothing exceptional, but those numbers tell the tale of a good Test bowler who can bat reasonably well at eight or nine.

    And yet, for long spells Broad looks awfully, painfully, tediously innocuous. Innocuous to the extent that one often gets frustrated that this man is taking up a place where a bowler with more obvious tools – the swing of Tim Bresnan say, or the height of Chris Tremlett perhaps (yes, I know they’re both injured at the moment – hush and leave me in the World of Hypothetical) – could be. That’s the problem with Broad – he has no obvious huge single strength. He is quick without being lightning fast, he doesn’t really swing the ball, he tends not to bowl short enough to take advantage of his height, he isn’t a McGrathian nagger. He’s just…competent at most things a fast bowler needs to be competent at. And who can get excited about that?

    And yet, Broad has a handy knack of coming up with his best performances when he is seemingly on the verge of being dropped. That five-fer in 2009 came shortly after a significant bout of ‘What’s he for, exactly?’ talk. The century against Pakistan was really the first score of any note since a couple of 60s in a losing causes against Australia and South Africa, after which he was touted as an all-rounder. In the 18 months before India arrived in 2011, Broad had taken 34 wickets in 13 Tests at 40.29. He probably would have been left out of the 2010/11 Ashes side had he not picked up an injury at Adelaide. There are plenty of other examples too.

    This is the thing about sport, but particularly cricket. Pressure builds over time, but all it takes is one good performance, a century, a five-fer, for that pressure to be relieved and the clock is reset. Depending on previous performance, one good Test probably buys you at least a series or two of good will, and Broad seems to have developed this extremely handy habit of pulling something out of the bag when the pressure is about to reach dropping point.

    Another thing is that, of the three defining moments of his career – the spell at the Oval against Australia in 2009, the century against Pakistan in 2010 and the hat trick against India in 2011- two are tainted in some way – without wishing to piss on anyone’s chips here, you understand. The 169 had the edge taken off by the spot-fixing story that emerged during the game, and the hat trick was quite the travesty and would have been struck off if Stuart’s beloved DRS had been in place against India, thanks to Harbhajan Singh hitting the cover off the ball as he was given out LBW for the second wicket. These things are obviously not Broad’s fault, but there they are.

    All of which adds to the conundrum of whether he’s any good. With most of the England cricketers of recent years you can offer definitive answers to that question – James Anderson (yes), Matt Prior (yes), Alastair Cook (yes), Darren Pattinson (no), James Tredwell (bless him) – but Broad…not so much. And in this age when grey areas are not allowed and you absolutely must be violently for or against something, I demand clarity.

    Maybe I’m just jealous. Broad is, after all, a successful, wealthy and handsome young sportsman who used to step out with her out of off of The Inbetweeners and her out of off of The Saturdays. I am a chronic overdraft-dweller who is occasionally mistaken for Daniel Kitson and shares a cricket blog with a sweary malcontent from Cambridgeshire.

    It probably isn’t jealousy, though. He just confuses me. Stuart Broad, make your mind up. Or rather, make my mind up.

    NM

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