Leadership means leading, not turning a blind eye

A leader asks not commands, says ‘let’s go’ not ‘go’, develops people rather than orders people… a leader sets the tone, the culture, demonstrates the core values, which begets behaviour.

A leader can’t be everywhere, do everything. So it’s crucial that they communicate clearly what they want the organisation or team to do, what the goals are, how we are going to get there, while also listening and learning.

Perhaps their most important job is to select the best people and let them get on with it. Which does not mean you turn a blind eye to things, nor have no control. Quite the opposite.

Effective leaders know what’s going on, what’s happening, and how to judge and analyze. They walk around and listen. They engage. They are open and approachable. They ask good questions.

Bad culture

So when analyzing the recent failure of leadership among the Australian cricket team, one might ask how did it come to the point that they felt cheating was the answer?

When the “leadership group” (which seemed to be code for David Warner) decided to cheat, gets his young opening batsman colleague to cheat; when the captain asks ‘what are you two up to?’ (knowing its nefarious) and then says ‘I don’t wanna know’ then the culture has become one where winning (or the fear and perceived humiliation of losing) seems greater than the importance of playing the game within the rules.

There’s never any disgrace in playing hard and fair, and knowing you’ve done your best, yet always have things to improve on. Sometimes the opposition plays better as a team. You can’t win everything. No one does. Losing provides valuable lessons. Failure is knowing you could have performed better, and didn’t. That’s when you go away and put in the hard work.

Events like we have seen recently are not one off isolated incidents. It’s the result of a build up of an organizational and team culture. Many have argued that it stems from a humiliating defeat in Nov 2016 in Hobart against South Africa. Incidents and issues have grown since. The snarling and sledging have been on the rise.

Pushing the line between right and wrong, bending the rules as far as they can go, to get an edge, means that, unchecked, an event like this becomes inevitable.

When the leadership is so bereft of ideas that they resort to cheating to turn around a game, then the leadership has given up on leading.

Reap what you sow

And so the leaders and those directly involved have been stepped down. National disgrace has resulted. Tears of shame have been shed. The public humiliation has perhaps been far worse than losing a game of cricket. They have lost lucrative overseas contracts including the riches of the IPL. They will forever be known as cheats. It’s been a very public, global story.

Something tells me they are more ashamed of being caught out, than the actual things they did. This speaks volumes in itself.

Naturally, there’s been a backlash from supporters and those who cannot accept the sentences handed down. Or feel it’s a bit over the top. Mainly this has come from former players. QED.

No doubt, authorities wanted to stamp down on this and be seen to do so. They had to be seen to be doing something dramatic. A 12 month ban seems harsh, except there is little international cricket in the next 6 months anyway, and so all they miss is next summer’s home internationals. They will all be available for next year’s World Cup and Ashes in England. If they’d been made to miss that as well, then perhaps you could argue it was a strong punishment. But something tells me, Cricket Australia would like to be competitive in what are the two major prizes that only come around every 4 years – a world cup and winning the Ashes in England (the latter being something they’ve not done for what will be 18 years).

‘A little cheating’ is still cheating

While part of me sympathizes with the players involved, and the situation that drove them to take this action, I am someone who firmly believes that when you know you’ve edged the balled to the keeper, you walk. In the same way if you knocked the ball to any other fielder and they caught it, you’d walk.

I was stooped in the spirit of the game being as important as the laws of the game. HOW you played the game was the appeal, as much as winning or losing. Losing graciously, and winning graciously for that matter, was a life lesson.

I think everyone would agree that you’d look a bit stupid standing your ground if you smacked the ball directly to a fielder, who caught it, so why is a little nick (that you know happened) any different? Because you might get away with the latter, that’s why.

Exactly.

Push the boundaries between fairness, justice and law and you will then look to push them a little more, and a little more. The end result is sandpaper being taken onto the ground and being used to tamper with the ball to effect that damned illusive reverse swing, and who knows what else happened in the lead up to this that we don’t know about?

To me, not walking and ball tampering are both cheating, plain and simple. You are trying to get an illegal edge over the opposition, and cheat. It’s got nothing to do with how skillful you are with bat and ball.

A little cheating is still cheating. In the same way you can’t be ‘a little pregnant’ (you are either pregnant or not) it’s no defence to say it’s just a ‘little cheating’.

I also loathe sledging (repeated personal abuse of the opposition). Let the bat and ball do the talking. If you’re not winning with that, acknowledge the opposition played better. Shake their hand and have a beer with them after the game. Then go away and learn how to get better.

Aussie cricketing friends of mine cannot fathom my belief on walking (or sledging). They never walk, and if you do walk, you are weak. It’s part of the culture.

Precisely.

~~

“The Spirit of Cricket (from the MCC)

Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.

Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself.

The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains…”

(Emphasis added.)

Knowing when to stop loss

Better to do something than nothing

The stop loss‘ decision is one of the hardest to make, whether it’s in management, sport, or in life generally. When something is not going well, your early inkling can be put any nerves down to ‘post purchase’ fear, but as things continue to pan out not quite as planned, you look increasingly bad if you persist down the same path. People look to you for an answer, for a change, for hope.

In some cases, things improve, and the leader is then revered for their deftness of touch, and resolute manner, winning through in the end. Sometimes things take time.

In other cases, you’ve just made the wrong decision. Maybe it was OK at the time given the information, but as things go from bad to worse, it’s obvious to most that things need to change. It is time to stop loss, to prevent further bloodshed. Often the stop loss decision is put off, in the (sometimes false) hope that things do ‘turn around’. Usually leaders cannot admit to themselves or others that they got it wrong, so they persist with arguments that the original decision was correct. We see this in politics as much as in business.

Escalating commitment to a bad decision can make leaders dig their heels, and try to ride it out. They can make it sound like firm decision-making (“We are in this for the long haul“) and strong leadership (“You turn if you want to”), but continuation down the incorrect path, when the results show the direction is wrong, is pure pigheadedness.

The best leaders know when to pull the plug. And do so.

Take the decisions in recent months of the British Labour Party and the English Cricket Board (ECB). I would argue both organisations put off taking the hard decisions (the ‘stop loss’ decision) and left things until they are too late. Both have enjoyed great success in recent years and decades, only to plunge to new lows. This is the most galling, as you don’t have to look far back into either’s history to see how and why they became all-beaters in the first place. How could they forget so quickly?

It was only 3 years ago that the English cricket team was number one in the world in all 3 formats of the game. But this success was underpinned with a 10 year stint prior where they amassed a solid team of talented performers, that they backed. Results steadily grew, and with it confidence. Before too long the team was beating even the all powerful Australians (three series in a row in fact 2009-2013). How could they have mucked it up so badly since?

It was in the late 1990s and up to 2005 that Labour won three successive general elections (giving its party a commanding overall majority 1997-2010). It seems they too have both forgotten how they got there, the hard work that was done from the late 1980s onwards, and how to stay there.

If Labour thinks it was not ‘Labour enough’ to win back power this month in the General Election then they have completely forgotten the lessons of the 1980s and 1990s when they were a political joke. Lurching to the left after the Thatcher landslide of 1979 only made them unelectable for a generation, and a split into the Social Democratic party (which then merged to form the Liberal Democrats, who then formed a coalition government in 2010 as Labour lost… perhaps the ultimate ignominy?)

Tony Blair knew instinctively what needed to be done, and put in the hard work as Leader of the Opposition in 1994-1997. He’d started earlier, and the first time I saw him, he made a strong impression. This guy was intelligent, determined, competitive. He rebranded, tossed out the screaming leftist policies and nutters, and took Labour to the centre, where every government needs to rule from. In electing Ed (not David) Miliband in 2010, Labour lurched away from Blair (who’d become distrusted post Iraq War) and the party has never looked electable since. Ed did not look or talk the part. Unless Labour elects a centrist leader who is articulate, strong and knows how to move the party to the middle, Labour will be out of power for another generation. They’ve lost Scotland, now they have to win the home counties of England. Wales, for now, and major English cities, are still theirs.

Personally, I’d get brother David Miliband (he’s not yet 50) back from New York. But they won’t do it. Sometimes the screaming obvious (like removing brother Ed 2 years ago) is the stop loss no one would countenance. They would prefer to lose an election than deal with their ineptitude.

Which brings us to the ECB.

It was clear early on that Paul Downton (Director) was not the right person for the job, nor was Peter Moores (Coach), yet we had to suffer a year of these two mismanaging things (sacking KP for one) and some deeply embarrassing results. Captain Cook could not score a run in the one day game for two years (it’s not his format!) and yet they left him there, getting worse, losing games and totally squandering the time that could have been used to develop a team for the world cup, only to sack him a few weeks before it started.

If they can persuade Justin Langer to leave Perth, then he’s my choice for England coach. He’s the sort of no nonsense, hard working leader English cricket needs. I hear everyone feels sorry for “nice guy” Cook. Sorry, I don’t want my cricket captains to be nice. I want them to the nastiest, vicious b***ards, who are going to get under the skin of the opposition, take no prisoners, but speak well at the end of game interview (that last bit is a ‘nice to have’).

It’s easy to manage when things are going well. But if they’re not, be decisive. It’s where you earn your money. If need be, stop loss. Because things can only get worse if you let them.

Richie

Richie

Looking back, it seems odd that an Aussie would be anchoring live cricket on TV in England from the 1960s onwards. 50 years and 500 test matches in all. Could the old dart not find a homegrown talent to front the game? (I doubt it would happen in any other sport.) Richie Benaud’s professionalism seemed to personify the coverage way back before T20, pajama cricket and IPL took over. These days, it’s all superlatives, laddish laughter and mass exaggeration. You have keep the ratings up, so whatever game you are ‘calling’, it has to be incredible, brilliant and tragic all at the same time. Not for Richie. Richie’s tone was measured, informed and educational. His golden rule – ‘don’t talk unless you can add to the pictures.

Perhaps only John Arlott was in his class, although John was a radio man, all rasping poetry laced with red wine (“the field is spreading like missionaries”). Richie was a TV man, pressed jackets and perfectly groomed hair (which in itself was a piece of work, in the Donald Trump vein of carefully crimped ear comb over). My Dad would call him ‘frog face’ (mainly to wind up my Mum, who adored him), and my Mum would reply ‘Oh he’s lovely’. My wife thought he looked a bit like a Chinese Auntie.

But we could all listen to Richie all day. From his crisp welcome (‘Morning everyone‘) to his well chosen phrases (‘he’s hit that into the confectionery stand and out again‘) and signature ‘Marrrrvelous‘. The sideways glance (was his deaf in one ear?), the curled bottom lip (did the top one ever move?) Richie was the first to eschew convention and look directly into the camera when answering a question made by a fellow commentator (he never forget the audience at home mattered the most). He was a pro from head to toe, unruffled, and could fill 6 minutes or 6 hours keeping the viewers engaged and educated. He knew when the detailed exposition of the LBW law was required, and when it was not. He knew when words were needed and were not. Often, they were not. He was the master of the pause. The well timed punchline.

After 1985 Ashes series, the British commentators were up in the open air toasting the English victory. Richie was there as the only Aussie. As the English buffoons gloated, Richie sipped his champagne. ‘How does it taste Richie?’ asked an English colleague. ‘Of Ashes’ replied Richie. After that Australia would win series after series for almost 20 years, and never once would Richie become partisan. His commentary was always straight down the middle. No one seems capable of doing that these days.

I never got to meet him, but I did once see him in person. In the mid 80s he and his wife Daphne were on holiday in Italy. I was there too, at the end of a long summer. I did a second take as I spotted the great man queuing (like me) at a museum or somewhere. He looked back at me and half smiled. I did not want to interrupt the great man, and his lady wife, while on holiday, and he half nodded perhaps in recognition of the fact. I doubt many in Italy would have recognised them, perhaps that is why they were there.

I doubt the world will see his like again, and for that, the world is a little poorer.

Richie’s last appearance – for Aussie Day lamb… a classic

Richie Benaud highlights

Why walking is the right thing to do

Interestingly, one of the most famous 'walkers' was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs 'Walking to Victory')

WALKER: One of the most famous ‘walkers’ was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs ‘Walking to Victory’)

It’s not the cheating that got me, it was the feeling I had got away with it.” I’m not sure what movie that’s from (do please tell), but when I heard it I understood the meaning. The guilt, the knowledge that your victory had been sullied, that you had not played fair was all consuming.

I know many of my posts are about cricket, but it’s the world cup final tomorrow, and as the season draws to a close (mine as cricket coach, backyard player and avid watcher), I get to thinking about the old game and it’s life parallels.

For those who do not know all the ins and outs of the game, over the centuries cricket developed it’s own ‘spirit‘, as embodied by the great Sir Don Bradman (Aussie, best player ever) who had this to say on cricketers’ virtues:

“When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill. They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness. “

He also said:

‘It is the responsibility of all those that play the game (the custodians) to leave the game in a better state than when they first became involved’.

Bradman was by all accounts a genius, extremely argumentative and loved nothing more than “grinding the English into the dust”. He was not the most likable chap, he was very competitive. He ended up with a test batting average of almost 100, way above all over players (the next best are in the low 60s; a ‘great’ batsman is considered such if their average tops 50.) But to him conduct, integrity and leaving the game ‘in a better state’ was the most important thing.

I have played cricket in England, Singapore and Australia, and one thing that sets your average weekend English social cricketer apart from their Aussie counterpart is the issue of ‘walking‘.

Imagine you’ve just nicked the ball off your bat’s edge (you’ve heard it, everyone has) and it goes through to be caught by the keeper. Most Englishmen will walk, knowing they are out, just as if their stumps had been knocked over or if the ball had been cleanly caught by an outfielder. It’s clearly out. Why hang around like a goose? You just look stupid. To wait around and hope the umpire might somehow miss the edge (knowing you’re out) is tantamount to cheating. In fact, it is cheating. In the rules, you’re out, fair and square. Walk off.

To an Aussie though, this last paragraph is pure heresy. “Umpire’s got a job to do mate,” they say, “they make mistakes, so do we as players, often I’ve been given out when I wasn’t so I’m not moving if I know I’m out; I’m waiting for the umpire to give me out.”

OK, I get the logic, but you wouldn’t wait around if you were clean bowled, run out by a mile, played on, or had been caught out by an outfielder, or even a slip or gully would you … so what’s the difference between a clear nick to the keeper, that you know is out?

The difference is that you’re trying to get away it. You’re trying to cheat. By the rules you are out, but you are hoping to stay. You felt the ball snick the edge of your bat (believe me, batsmen know 99% of the time). So go. Umpires usually give the batsman the benefit of the doubt anyway, and it’s this that the non-walker is preying (praying!) on. It’s out and out cheating.

If the situation was reversed, and you heard the nick, you’d be giving the batsman all sorts of abuse if they stayed around. So you’re being two-faced as well.

The same goes for appealing for catches, run outs or LBWs that you know are not out, in the hope the umpire might get it wrong.

If you walk every time, you are not going to be given out as much by umpires (after all, when you nick it, you walk). I walked, and I can’t remember ever being given out incorrectly for a nick behind. A few dodgy LBWs perhaps (edged into the pads) but then again how many were given not out when they may have been? No one walks on LBWs, but on everything else bar a mighty close run out when you’re not sure as you’re diving your ground, get out of there.

I also quite liked the abrupt turn and move off the pitch, as if to say “Yep, good ball, I got that wrong, I’m out of here”. I played hard, I played fair. (I could get annoyed with myself in the sanctity of the changing rooms, but I would be dignified in my public exit!)

Afterwards, you know you’ve done the right thing. You’ve set the right example. To yourself, the team, opposition, spectators and your children. Winning fairly is a great feeling, when you’ve played well. Winning on a cheat is not winning. Losing on a cheat is utterly galling, but never lower yourself to those standards.

What’s true in sport is the same in business, love and life generally.

I’m as competitive as the next bloke, but I see ‘not walking’ as clear cheating. Always have, always will. I lose respect for anyone who does not walk (they look ridiculous when DRS proves them wrong), and I think less of them. I’m a walker, are you ..?

Lessons from history – part two (the conclusion)

Rainy Singapore

In my previous post I related the story of my history teacher Peter Sibley, who we suspected was not exactly reading every (any?) word of our essays, over 30 years ago.

15 years pass. I am now a teacher myself, in far flung Singapore, and have helped organise a cricket tour back in the old country, including a game against the MCC (no, not them, but the Monkton Combe Cavaliers), a team of teachers and friends, played at my old school pitch. Picture the scene – a tricking stream running past a thatched pavilion, proud chestnut trees waving in the breeze, a viaduct tramping across the valley, and (typical for England) the threat of rain. We batted first, were in trouble, and somehow managed a half decent score. Which was immaterial as the threatened rain duly arrived and we repaired to the nearest pub.

Over a few pints, Peter then asked me if I might make contact with a visiting hockey tour he was organising for a nearby school. ‘They’re a bit high maintenance,’ he said, ‘but if you could maybe meet them or say ‘Hi’ it will allay their fears. Everything – hotels, games, flights, transport, meals… – is organised, so there’s nothing to do.’ Sure, I’d be happy to, I said.

And so it was a few weeks later, back in the tropics, I got a call from one of their teachers, and said I would be happy to meet them for a drink in a local pub to see how they were travelling. ‘Oh, you’re just an ex teacher of Pete’s then?’ they said, ‘we thought you were his ‘man on the ground’, a member of his staff over here …’.

‘Err, not exactly’ I said, ‘but if I can help in any way, do let me know.’

‘Well, there is something you can help us with – we have to get from our hotel to the railway station on Saturday evening because we are taking the night train up to Malaysia for our game on Sunday afternoon.’

‘I can arrange that, I’ll get permission for our school bus company to drop you guys off,’ I said. By amazing coincidence, our deputy head had taught with one of their teachers many years ago, so he was happy to oblige.

That Saturday evening, I am sitting down for a drink on the balcony with my parents, who are out for a visit, watching the evening tropical downpur. I receive an agitated call from the school’s teacher, ‘The bus never arrived! So we have now missed our train, and now have nowhere to stay the night. We’re stuck! Peter Sibley better pull something out of his hat right now, or there will be hell to pay.’

Hardly Peter’s fault I thought; what on earth had happened? I rang the bus company. No reply. I had to get the team into a hotel somehow (not easy on a rainy Saturday night in Singapore, when you are talking about 30 staff and students). On about the 12th attempt I find somewhere that will take them; they pile into taxis and get the train in the next morning. I contact the place they are going to saying they will be half a day later than planned. I find out our bus company had got the timing wrong, had turned up at 8am in the morning, not the evening as it should have been, found no hockey team and thought they were not needed. Huge apologies all round on Monday when I went into school.

Karma for Mr Sibley not reading my essays? You be the judge.

Willing on the minnows

minnows
Like many, I have been willing on the ‘minnows’ in the current World Cup of cricket.
Of the 14 nations participating, 8 have full test playing status and so half the initial pool games involve an ‘Associations’ nation playing against their ilk or a much better resourced and experienced full time professional team. Already we’ve seen Ireland beat the West Indies (who seem to blow hot and cold almost at will). Afghanistan played a close game against Sri Lanka. My bet is England will be downed by either Bangladesh or Afghanistan, having lost all their 3 games so far to test playing nations.
18 years ago, I played for the Singapore team in the ICC Trophy 1997. Back then, the Association playing nations were all grouped together in their own competition (with Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Canada, USA, etc…) with the top 2 teams then gaining a berth to the 1999 World Cup in England.
I was but a very average league cricketer, and only sneaked into the team by virtue of an ICC ruling – players had to be either born nationals or residents of 5+ years standing. (Allegedly, in a previous competition, UAE had stacked their team with former Pakistan test players, having given them PR status only weeks before.) Not many cricketers in Singapore had been there 5 years or more.

We were all amateurs (in the truest sense of the word) and in game 2, we were up against a well trained, athletic Kenyan team who had beaten West Indies the year before, were to be runners up in this tournament and go on to play in that 1999 World Cup in England.

We batted first, and I was in at number 3 in the first over. Somehow I clung on and made a very ugly 13 in an hour (I did not know it at the time but my bat was breaking – in the next but one game against Ireland it completely snapped), and we were bowled out for a hopeless 89. Our opening bowlers then tore into the top order and at one stage we had them 52 for 7, only for them to crawl over the line with 2 wickets left. Almost an upset.

We even made it onto the sports broadcast of that night’s BBC World Service sports roundup. What might have been.  2 years later I’m watching Alec Stewart smash Kenyan opener Martin Suji all over Taunton, making him look like a medium pace trundler. To me he was searing pace and could make it move late almost at will.

The gulf between professional sport and amateur is a chasm, but for a moment we glimpsed into the light… go the minnows! 

English cricket sinks to another low

Rooted

The long English suffering cricket fan had another reason to shake their head and shrug a saddening smile yesterday as their one day side subsided to their equal worst ever defeat, and in an important World Cup game, against New Zealand (population 3 million, lest we forget England & Wales’ combined population of 56 million, plus a few imported Irish and South African players).

I had this post half ready to go last week, in which I predicted a loss to the Kiwis (but even I could not imagine the annihilation they were to suffer), and further probable losses to Bangladesh, a close scare against Scotland, a win against Afghanistan and a possible win against Sri Lanka (… now I’m not so sure). The week got away with me, so here I sit with another anemic performance. Let’s not forget England are one of the highest paid, best supported teams in history. Legions of support staff, thousands of lines of computer code and a 7 month diet of one dayers in the lead up to this World Cup were all designed to prepare the team for their best chance in decades. An Ashes test series was cleared away to give the one day team the chance to concentrate on this format. After non performances in all world cups since 1992 (where they made the final, as they did in 1987), this was going to be their best chance to shine.

Instead, we witness a shattered team lumbering about 10 years behind other sides in thought and deed, despite having some exciting new players in Ali, Buttler, Taylor and Root. It’s all come to naught, and by my reckoning they will do extremely well from here to even qualify for the quarter finals, where they will probably lose to South Africa anyway. Last week I had them as 3 or maybe 4 wins from their 8 pool matches, now it looks like 2 or 3 wins and that won’t be good enough to make progress.

None of this need be the case. So much cricket is played by England now (around 300 playing/travelling days a year) that coaching and playing squads are simply worn out. In the chase for the almighty Indian and Australian TV dollar, Ashes series are now run every 2 years, rather than 4, and even back to back. India, England and Australia have carved up the game to take the spoils, but the impact is (for England, the only northern hemisphere test team) of all year round cricket, and players not coping. They don’t have any chance to go back to country cricket to repair, or take any time off. It’s a continuous merry go round in the gold fish bowl (to mix my metaphors).

The solution is fairly simple, but probably a stretch for the ECB to imagine. Just as rugby players do not play the sevens format as well as the full XV game (it’s a different game!), so cricketers should specialise in the full or one day format. Different players, different coaches, different formats. Split it down the middle and never the twain shall meet.

Simple.

You still have all the TV spoils, still have wall to wall cricket, but the test players take a break when the one dayers and T20s are on, and vice versa. Importantly, the one day players are all automatically available for the Indian Premier League (where the best one day players learn their trade in the ultimate T20 cauldron). As Adam Smith once said (in 1776!), “division and specialisation of labour” is key.

T20 has revolutionised one day cricket in the last few years. Teams now think nothing to hitting (or chasing down) 120 in the last 10 overs. 180 off the last 20 is a doddle (it’s just a reasonable T20 score). They simply take the batting power play from 15 overs out and then ride it all the way home to the finish at 10+ an over. They have effectively put at T20 game inside a 50 over format in the last 40% of the innings. Just as Sri Lankan openers and then Adam Gilchrist revolutionised the first 15 overs in the 1990s regularly blasting 100+, now teams are playing cautiously in the first 30 knowing they can get almost anything in the last 20 because that is the format they all know (and come from).

While England looks at one dayers from the test team down, all other teams look at it from T20 up, which is the right approach.

It means teams can be 160 off 30 overs (just over 5 an over) and chase down (or post) 340. 300 is no longer the Rubicon. It’s the new minimum, and not easily defendable. The plucky Irish chased down 300 on Monday against the once all conquering West Indies (who are now almost as shambolic as the English and will probably join them in leaving this tournament early).

Imagine having 2 coaches, 2 teams and complete separation of test from one dayers/T20s. Imagine the specialisation and increase in quality that will go on. Tell Cook, Ballance, Bell, Anderson and Broad to play test cricket only and let them go and score 10,000 runs each and take 500 wickets. Give them huge swathes of time off. Even with this idea, England play no less than 17 tests in the next 10 months. Yes, 17!

How on earth can Ali, Buttler, Root et al play all this and the one dayers? Get Carberry (playing in one of the most successful T20 sides ever, the Perth Scorchers) and KP into the one day format. They have 3 years left in them. Make KP captain.

The one day game is now far removed from the test cricket as you can imagine, and that’s due to T20 and the IPL. We can bemoan it (I don’t actually), or we can just live with it and adapt. Be innovative, “think different” as Apple one said. The crusty old establishment that is the English Cricket Board will not do this of course. Or maybe they will, sometime in 2025, but by then the world would have moved on… again.

For the record, here are my 2 teams:

England One Day and T20 team         

1. Hales
2. Carberry
3. Taylor
4. Pietersen
5. Morgan
6. Bopara
7. Kieswetter
8. Jordan
9. Woakes
10. Tredwell
11. Rankin

Test side

1. Cook
2. Robson
3. Ballance
4. Bell
5. Root
6. Ali
7. Buttler
8. Stokes
9. Broad
10. Finn
11. Anderson

In praise of the Big Bash

Perth Scorchers celebrating their back to back BBL win

Perth Scorchers celebrating their back to back BBL win

Many of us were on the edge of our seat last Wednesday when the Perth Scorchers won the 4th Big Bash Trophy off the last ball of the game, to successfully defend the league title they won last year, in what was their 4th successive grand final.

cg-ag

Me and the son at the BBL semi vs the Stars

Being a Scorchers fan, you would assume I would get all warm and fuzzy over Australia’s T20 (20 over) cricket competition. In fact, I had no expectation that the team I support would even make it to the final. A week ago I trundled along to the semi at the WACA with my 11 year old son. Perth were playing the much vaunted Melbourne Stars, laden with international players, who were on a 5-game winning streak having beaten the Scorchers the previous week. Somehow Perth got over the line, despite not scoring a single run in their last over and lurching to 144 (160 is seem as a bare minimum score at the WACA, where the average winning score is over 170.)

To be honest I did not care all that much about who won, I was just loving the tournament and everything about it. Even my 13 year old daughter was into the Big Bash, as was my wife, and we watched almost every game, no matter who was playing, throughout the summer holidays, even when we were on holiday. We went to three T20 games at the WACA, one game all 4 of us went along, and we all loved it.

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Perth win the semi so go onto the final where #back2back cup wins results

The Big Bash League was invented in 2010, after research showed that Australian cricket was in danger of losing an entire generation to the game. The young ones, and females of all ages, were simply not interested. Despite a T20 comp already in place, Cricket Australia, the governors the game, decided a major revamp was required and a franchised city-based T20 comp was designed, with the specific aims of bringing in spectators and fans who would otherwise not give cricket any attention at all. And boy how it has worked. This year, the 4th iteration of the BBL, has seen crowd attendances at games rise 20% year on year. Adelaide famously had 50,000 at its home games, in Sydney records were broken for all domestic game attendances with over 40,000 attending at the SCG (this beats the crowds that turned up to watch Don Bradman back in his heyday, well before TV made it easier to watch from home). Even over in Perth, the WACA creaked to 19,000+ in attendance last Sunday night, far more than turned out to see quality international teams like England play against India at the same ground 5 days later (the crowd there was a little over 7,000).

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Me with the Big Bash Trophy

This all reminds me of what Channel 9 and Packer did back in the 1970s – they took the game by the scruff of the neck, invented day/night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and wall to wall marketing. 40 years on, if cricket is to survive, it simply has to make the most of the 20 over 3-hour format. It packs grounds out (a full house but with only 4 hours to serve rather than all day), brings in new spectators, new investors, new sponsors and a whole new audience. You can get down to the ground after work (they typically start around 7pm) and watch the game. It’s pumped out on free to air TV at prime time. There are colourful characters, great catches, huge sixes, frenetic running, skillful bowling. Even the commentators are more youthful, with open neck shirts and howls of laughter, a mile away from the besuitted Ch9 crew, who now look old and creaky in comparison. How the world turns.

I am a cricket tragic, a traditionalist (Test matches are still the thing for me) and yet absolutely love the T20 format. Invented by the British to revitalise the game over in the UK over 10 years ago, it’s been India and Australia (followed by South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand) who have developed their own leagues that attract players from around the world, showcasing yesterday’s heros and today’s up and comers. In the meantime, as is their wont, England have dropped the ball and put their T20 on successive Friday nights over a 3-month period. Guess what? 7,000 people show up at best (average attendances across Australia, with a far smaller population was three times this per game). England need to rethink things quickly, or become an afterthought.

So, all hail Cricket Australia, and Big Bash league, all power to you.

Managing Flair

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KP contemplates Ashes defeat, alone on the WACA boundary, Dec 2013

The other cricketing nations must be laughing at the mess that is English cricket right now. How a mighty side has fallen, having been ranked #1 in all formats of the game (Test, ODI and T20) in 2011, including a world T20 title to boot. Blessed with some workmanlike reliables (Cook, Trott, Prior, Strauss) mixed in with some flashy class (Pietersen, Bell, Swann, Anderson) and some brutish try hards (“we never left anything art on the field guvna!” – Broad, Bresnan) it was a golden era for English cricket, which had been the laughing stock through much of the 1990s and into the 2000s. 17 test series in a row with barely a defeat up until the end of 2013.

Then quite suddenly, it’s all gone to pot. Strauss gone, Trott gone, Cook out of form, Ashes gone (after three fairly easy series wins in a row), Swann retired, Prior dropped, Bresnan weakened after too many operations, Bell out of form, Anderson has lost his mojo. Only newboy Stokes and firebrand Broad look up to the mark.

And then the ECB fires KP. Not dropped or rested. Gone. Discarded. The highest international run scorer for England in the history of the game. Still only 33 years of age. More test hundreds than anyone except Captain Cook. More test hundreds than Boycott, Cowdrey, Gooch, Atherton, Gower, … AND IN FEWER TESTS than any of them. More than Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Herbert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington (true, in more tests, but in shorter time). More test runs than anyone (even Cook) except Gower and Gooch (but with a far superior batting average). A far superior conversion of 50s into 100s than nearly any of those mentioned.

But KP is more than stats. Not since Botham, and maybe Gower, could an English player fill a stadium single handedly. (Sport is entertainment isn’t it?) And like Botham and Gower, his employers could not work out how to manage him. Which is their job, after all. All 3 ended their test careers too soon.

Why does corporate management these days have issues with employees of flair? People who can do the seeming impossible, and yet they do it right in front of you. Are managers that lazy they want an easy job, only wanting to manage the machines, the dependables? Where’s the joy in that? Steve Jobs was not easy to manage, and seemed to be a very difficult person all round, had various fall outs with managements and was prone to tantrums, but any manager worth their salt should be able to handle this. For what else is management than the skill of managing people? People are not machines, furniture or lines of code, they are often irrational, emotional and needy. Many things are going on in their lives (and yours) simultaneously. So what? Manage this!

Great captains of old, like Mike Brearley or Michael Vaughan, would have been able to handle KP, as Brearley did with Ian Botham (most famously in 1981) and Vaughan with Flintoff (2005). Sure KP, Freddie and ‘Both’ have big egos, but it’s that same self belief that sees them through the tough times, and let’s them try the impossible. Let them have a dash where others fear to tread.

And it’s not that KP was being especially problematical on the recent Ashes tour. By all accounts he was helping the younger players out in the nets more than ever, staying long after others had gone to help someone with their technique and pass on his experience. On the very day he was sacked, he was holding a coaching clinic with his Surrey teammates. Although he did not soar to his usual heights downunder, he was the leading scorer on the tour, and you should give some credit to the Aussie bowlers who were sensational. They are currently destroying the South African test team (who are ranked #1 at the moment… but for how much longer?) so perhaps it would be better to take this on the chin and say “Fair call – Aussies were far better, well played.” And learn from what they did … as the Aussies did from their previous 3 defeats.

During the recent Ashes series, I watched him at the WACA. In the nets, around the ground and on the field. With a bat in his hand, he was trying what he knew best. He was the one trying to bust out, and yet had the impossible task of trying to take the battle to the Aussies while being berated should he hole out at mid off. He played some of his slowest and most measured innings’ for England in this series, straining at the leash, always looking for an answer to Australia’s superb line and length. Watching him and Cook taking on Johnson at full steam on a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon last December, they ducked and dived and survived the onslaught for over after over, only for Cook to get out meekly to the spinner Lyon when the pressure had been relieved. A few minutes later KP was out to a mishit pull off Siddle to (that man again) Johnson at mid on. Having been 2-136 chasing Australia’s 385, the innings subsided to 251 and it was all over red rover. Ashes gone. Later in the field, I saw KP consigned to the boundary, where for hour after hour he was barely interacting with his team mates. What was the point of that? The guy’s played 100 tests, he should be drawn into the team, not pushed away from it.

Captaining a team, moving the field around, analysing the opposing batsmen, sensing the moment, changing the bowling, saying a word here and a word there… is what captaincy is all about. In no other sport is captaincy so crucial. It’s instant leadership and management of people. What you try either works right there or it does not. Not everyone is up to this task. I don’t think Cook is.

What would I have done? I would have made Cook test captain, and KP vice captain. (Someone else, maybe Morgan or KP, could be one day captain, and run two very different teams – a test squad and a one day squad, with very few – if any – players in both.)  Mixed solid with flair. Get them to work together. Ying and yang. Creative differences are good. I would have rebuilt the side with the dependables, some new boys and the flairs. To see how it’s done, just look at how brilliantly John Inverarity has rebuilt Australia with a perfect blend of the old/dependable (Rogers, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Lyon), flair (Johnson, Warner, Clarke) and the new boys (Smith, and now Doolan, Marsh). And he’s done it from the depths of the crushing Lord’s defeat (which was only 7 months ago). I wrote then ‘Do not overreact‘ Australia! Same is now true for England.

Management – blending flair with reliability. Is it really that hard?

Ashes to Ashes

The Ashes - WACA test 2013

And so the Ashes have changed hands. It’s not taken all that long for the Aussies to regain them, but it has been 3 and a half series. It’s just that the series are now packed in tighter, and the next one is but 18 months away.

I went to sections of the first three days of the test that has just concluded, and as always an Ashes test was a great spectacle. The travelling fans from England add a touch of colour and humour to the occasion, and there’s history to be made. The tustle goes back to the 1870s, one of the longest running in sport. It’s the only cricket series to be played over 5 test matches these days, and for those of you from non cricketing backgrounds, each test is 5 days long. It’s a test alright. Especially in 40-degree heat as it was from the onset of this match. The sun has an extra bite once it gets up to that temperature, and does it day after day after day. Everything heats up. Whole houses heat up – the bricks emanate heat during the night. Concrete floors heat up. There is no respite.

I’ve been living in Perth since 1997 and have seen various England teams come here and get pulverised. This one was little different. The only time England has won a series down under during that time (2010/11) they still got smashed in the Perth test.

Watching Mitch Johnson tearing into two of England’s finest batsmen last Saturday afternoon was an awe inspiring sight. The sheer speed (150 kph+) and the guts it took to withstand the onslaught was incredible. Both batsmen got through it, but then tamely surrendered to lesser bowlers a few minutes later.

Australia thoroughly deserved to regain the Ashes urn today (the symbolic trophy that is fought over and means so much to each country). They held it from the Perth test of December 2006 through to the Oval test of September 2009. England had held it since, but today it was rested back from their grasp, and how.

Ashes history continues…