How low can England go?

The team is as low as Michael Vaughan has seen them. Meanwhile, as I write, New Zealand are making a good fist of chasing down 344, and even if they do not get there, New Zealand will take some heart from how well they are batting.

I do not think that England do themselves any favours by making it so plain that they do not like one-day cricket. Australia do not particularly like it either, but they really do like winning, and the best way to win is to keep winning. It becomes a habit.

I will take the positive view and say that England did have a plan entering the Commonwealth Bank Series, but either it was blown out of the water by Kevin Pieterson’s injury, or it has simply been blown off course by their total lack of confidence. Certainly there’s not been any backup plans.

Given England’s total disarray, they could do worse then to talk to the likes of Michael Atherton. I do not think Atherton’s plan is going to win the World Cup for England, but at least it is a plan. At the moment, England look like they are working out their plans with a dart board.

Ghosts in the Machine

The ghost-written sports column is as old as sports columns. It is where the sportsman talks to a reporter, who converts the players views into a column that is fit for printing. Or so goes the theory.

Michael Atherton lifts the lid on the ghost-writing process. It is quite an eye-opener to see how the process works. He comes out against the practice, and I have to say that I agree with him.

Just by the by, is it not odd that the cricketers who are often the dullest to watch are often the most interesting sort of people off the field, and vice-versa?

The Donald-Atherton video

That over between Allan Donald and Michael Atherton. Click here if you can’t see it below.

Atherton in public “fuck” shocker

Accepting an award on behalf of Channel 4′s coverage of the Ashes last year, Michael Atherton yesterday announced:

Before I joined Channel 4 I played for a team that won f*** all for 15 years

[via Patrick]

On ya, Mike.

The importance of being earnest

Tim de Lisle opened up in Cricinfo with an interesting post relating to independence in the media.

Trescothick is much liked, and even after his story changed, most commentators were gentle with him. But one pundit was conspicuously tough: Mike Atherton, cricket columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, who said Trescothick’s virus line was “so utterly implausible” that “ridicule is the only proper response”.

Atherton used to open the batting for England with Trescothick. He was a team-mate for years at Lancashire of Trescothick’s agent, Neil Fairbrother, who also came in for criticism in Atherton’s piece, albeit unnamed. The condemnation possibly went a touch too far, but it came from the right place: a belief in honesty. Atherton can’t stand spin – of the PR variety – and he is right to highlight the way it is spreading through the sports world.

Atherton is one of the best ex-player pundits for three reasons. He wants to get better; after a tentative start, his writing has steadily acquired more scope and flair. He is curious: he asks questions, while some ex-players still wait for the questions to come to them. And he has a clear grasp of the importance of being independent. He knows he is now batting not for England, but for his readers.

In a free press, that distinction is straightforward. In televised sport, it is becoming a grey area. The ultimate producer of cricket in India is now the Indian board. Atherton, who commentated for Sky on the India-England series, says local commentators were “asked not to mention sensitive subjects”. This provoked denials, but it will continue to be an issue. And some ex-players just don’t seem to see that it matters.

I posit that it is not quite so simple as this though. As a general rule of thumb, in whatever field you work in, you do not crap in your own nest. Cricket authorities are different in various places but all of them expect their broadcast partners to be supportive. And the management of the broadcasters themselves would be most displeased if the commentators were to disparage the game, lest they invite viewers to change the channel.

After all Michael Atherton would hardly expect the Sunday Telegraph to be very friendly to him if he bagged the paper in his column.

That is why there will always be a role for newspapers and blogs in cricket and indeed, in many other areas. We can ask the questions that broadcast media can not ask.

Athers: “Offspinners were crap in my day!”

If it’s Sunday, it must be time to see what Mike Atherton is writing in the Sunday Telegraph.

Mike, if you read this, I pick on you because your good. I don’t do this to Roebuck or any of the other hacks out there.

This week, our hero is writing about England’s dire spinning options heading to India. No doubts there. But not to worry, no English spinner was ever going to bowl out Dravid, Tendulkar and co. England’s strength is in their pace bowlers. If England are going to win in India, it will be Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff that are the men to do the job

But Athers goes into his own memory to make a point:

The best off-spinner that I played against, Tim May, didn’t bowl a ‘doosra’ but he did grasp the need to vary his pace and his flight, change his angle on the crease and give the ball such an almighty rip that a huge, bleeding gash was routinely opened on his spinning finger each time he started a spell.

TIM MAY????

*scott falls on the floor laffing*

Truly, your kidding, right? Actually, “Mayhem” was a pretty decent offspinner, who never took himself very seriously at all. It’s one of the funny things in life that Tim May, who was a affable joker of a player has transformed into the uber-serious head of FICA, the cricketer’s union.

The first Test I ever actually went to was Australia vs West Indies, 1992-93 (yes THAT one, where we lost by one run.) I had to catch my train back to the country town I was living in, so I had to leave the ground with an hour of play to go. As I regretfully walked out the Victor Richardson Gates at the Adelaide Oval, May was just coming on to bowl. He took 5 for 9 in that hour, routing the West Indies, and causing the rest of Adelaide to lose the plot. And I missed it! And Tim scored 42 not out to nearly take Australia to the Frank Worrell Trophy. There was real steel under that goofy grin, and real talent, too.

But I still want to know how much Mayhem paid Athers to write that. All of Tim May’s friends, family and fans want to know!

Athers on Vaughan, captaincy and India

I don’t know where Will is either. Probably drinking or chasing loose women or something. You know how young men run amok these days. Anyway, after a bad effort last week, Athers is doing much better this Sunday, a good column where he interviews Michael Vaughan. They talk about leadership, batting, going to India, and all that sort of thing

Periods of the England captaincy brought on mouth ulcers and sore throats for me. Does Vaughan suffer any physical symptoms of stress? “Throughout the Oval Test I had a lump in my stomach. It was more than just the knotty feeling you get when you’re nervous, and it just sat there and wouldn’t go away. I didn’t enjoy that match at all. I felt physically sick for most of it. I knew we hadn’t got enough runs in the first innings and that it was going down to the wire.”

Vaughan’s great achievement, of course, was to hide all these signs from his team and the general public. He looked as if he was enjoying the pressure and revelling in the occasion. It enabled his team to do the same. The Ashes victory, more than anything else, was a personal triumph for the captain.

Yeah, well, I was feeling physically sick just watching it. Since as an Aussie we were on the losing side, I felt worse afterwards.

And if any readers find Will, can you post bail and return him to work? Thanks in advance.

Michael Atherton’s Alphabet

It’s getting near that time where everyone does a 2005 in review- Michael Atherton’s version is quite good. But then I am biased- I think Athers is clearly the best writer and broadcaster to come out of England in many years. He’s the only former England player to consistently maintain a professional standard.

England’s loss to Pakistan

I just put up Andrew Miller’s latest diary on Cricinfo. In it, he refers to England’s plucky band of die-hard supporters, myself included, who have endured years and years (a lifetime, in my case) of torment, depression and anxiety. And not forgetting the dreadful cricket, too – HA! Sorry.

But seriously – these past 13 years, or so, of watching England play Test cricket have been as memorable as they have depressing. Each Test win, up until their frequency became more regular, was celebrated in my household as A Great Event, such were their rarity. As big, I imagined, as footballers winning the world cup. Fraser, Stewart, Croft, Ealham, Gough, Tufnell, Peter Such’s batting reducing Australia commentators to tears, losing 7 wickets in about an hour – and then, about once a season (or less) we were treated to a draw. Or, on special occasions afforded the luxury of tasting a victory. It was almost like going to a posh dinner and not realising it was a black-tie ‘do’: you look out of place, feel vastly uncomfortable but can’t resist getting boshed on the champers.

My elation and my Dad’s was unbounded – and I watched other Test nations (Australia and South Africa, but Pakistan and India too – and of course the West Indies) beat England, and eachother, with monotous ease and regularity. More depressing, though, were the lack of respect England afforded, and the reaction of opposing teams. “You invented the game yet you can’t even play it yourselves! You losers!” they said. Well, they might have well done.

Quite why I’m going to say this, I don’t know – but nevertheless, England’s loss to Pakistan was like the good old days. Chirpy English confidence sapped by dangerous opposition; underestimating the opposition; feeble batting; poor preparation; jubilant opposing supporters stamping on the makers of the great game; a cocky fast bowler urgently needing wickets, and getting them. “Oh, for the sake of W.G. – show some bottle England. What are you doing?” I haven’t said that for ages – and it felt good.

These things all make up the comfort blanket of an England supporter, raised on a 1990s diet of recession, Gulf War I – and M.A.Atherton. The England Collapse may not have returned to its former miserable glory but, in an odd way, amid all the success this excellent side have produced in the past two years, this arse-kicking at Multan did at least raise a smile to one saddo here.