Milestone, not millstone

Thirty is not a conventional milestone in cricket. The only occasion that comes to mind when the thirtieth something was celebrated was when Sunil Gavaskar exceeded Don Bradman’s record total of Test match centuries, making an unbeaten 236 against West Indies in Chennai in December 1983.

In most of the cricket that I now play – over 40s twenty over contests – thirty matters. It’s the score at which batsmen must retire. It’s an effective load-balancing rule. It mirrors the familiar limit on overs per bowler and enables the league to accommodate talents such as Neil Fairbrother, without his like running away with every match. It does throw up some anomalies. My team, the Silverbacks, won a match in our title run in 2011 without taking a wicket: the opposition’s openers were both retired 30; numbers three and four batted through but were tied down, setting a total that we achieved for the loss of six wickets.

This post marks a self-reflective and indulgent thirty: the number of posts on Declaration Game. What follows are some of the things I have learnt.

There are four distinct pleasures to blogging. 1) the emergence of an idea – a juxtaposition, contradiction, or connection within cricket or to something outside the game that throws light back on it – and fleshing it out. 2) writing – attempting to construct an argument, supporting it with images. 3) publishing – being out there and being read. 4) discussion and connection – finding out what readers think of my views and contributing to theirs.

The first pleasure was available to me before Declaration Game. The difference now is that I consciously seek themes, even plan them to coincide with upcoming events, as well as responding to news in the cricket world. Car journeys, my daily commute, are fruitful environments. I have become even more wrapped up in the game and aware that my own knowledge of this worldwide game is narrow and shallow.

Years of work have made my writing style functional, so it has been enjoyable regressing and trying different ways of expressing myself about something that excites my passion. I am aware that I don’t describe the activity of cricket well. There are only three or four descriptions of how a batsmen bats or a bowler bowls across the thirty pieces. I think it stems from a deficiency in how I watch and appreciate cricket that needs some work – not just for the blog, but if I am to be an effective coach of junior players.

Pleasure number three is the driver. My cricket obsession, for which this blog is an outlet, has spawned an even sharper obsession: how many visits the blog has had. I understand the shortcomings of the stats, but just as a fast, rising delivery ‘gets big’ on a batsman, so these numbers have become big for me. (If you want to cheer me up, click on the links to individual posts, rather than use the scroll bar.) And are my numbers big? In the context of 2.2 billion internet users, 1 billion cricket fans and a whole host of less demanding contexts, ‘no’.

A first lesson in gaining an audience is to build from the base of an existing on-line social network. Starting a blog and social network from scratch at the same time left many of my early works, shall I say, overlooked. My first tactic was to try to engage the audience of the blogs that I enjoyed: commenting and trying to get reciprocal blog-roll acknowledgement. But blog-rolls fall into neglect and as I have seen from my own site statistics, few readers use them as jumping off points to find new writers.

It should not have been a revelation that what draws readers is a trusted source’s recommendation to read a specific piece. Out there are a number of well connected enthusiasts who act as brokers between bloggers and potential readers. A single plug from Testing Times, mspr1nt and others is worth any number of my own carefully crafted teasers on twitter or Facebook.

The second source of numbers have been forums (let’s keep ‘fora’ for the non-digital variety). But I have been thrown out of more forums than I was pubs as an underage drinker. They don’t welcome ‘advertising’, even of something as non-commercial as Declaration Game. My ballsiest venture was to climb aboard middle England’s most influential network: Mumsnet. I had written a post about cricket passing down the generations of my family – Old Father Makes Time. I set up a thread on Mumsnet asking whether parents should encourage their children towards the hobbies or activities enjoyed by the parents, or let the kids make their own way there. Quickly, there were half-a-dozen excruciatingly earnest replies that nothing good could come of pushing my children towards something just because I enjoyed it. Then I was rumbled: ‘Are you really interested in our opinions or are you just looking for more visitors to your blog?’ More visitors to my blog would be super, I agreed, before withdrawing from this away fixture.

I have found that an established blog attracts a level of passing traffic. In recent weeks, google searches have often accounted for over half of a day’s visitors. I am often baffled how these surfers have been directed here and doubt that they will find what they set out for (but I hope you feel welcome), few more so than the seeker of ‘kp pussy’.

The readership of a piece (through the interest of brokers and forum lurkers) is related to its subject matter. Posts about current matches, players and controversies are bigger sellers than personal pieces or views of the game through a sociological lens. Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t appeared in Declaration Game until this sentence. To pander or not to pander?

Fortunately, with nothing but pride riding on my visitor figures, that’s not a dilemma. But, Declaration Game has provided me with some insight into the challenges of running an on-line business. It has occurred to me that, if my income depended upon the blog, the kids would be going to bed hungry most nights. To earn a minimum wage from the time spent on the blog over the last six months, each visitor, I estimate, would need to pay £0.50 for the privilege. Incentive enough for me to keep the day job.

Web 2.0 is all about pleasure number 4 – interaction, the consumer as producer. But, I contend, most bloggers (myself included) are more motivated by being read. It’s poor form not to respond to comments but it’s something I have done and had done to me.

I have selected my favourite bloggers under the heading Senior Pro’s in the margin on the right. I prefer writers of essays rather than match reports and all of those listed offer original perspectives on our much chewed-over game. I want to highlight the contribution of a few, who are better attuned to the potential of the internet for discussion, debate and even campaigning. Brian Carpenter (Different shades of green) is a generous and reliable provider of comments and comment responses. AER Gilligan and aotearoa are notable bloggers, often with attitude, and excel at twitter exchanges. Ducking Beamers has an enviable knack of writing brief posts that provoke readers to contribute their thoughts as comments. They are international class web 2.0 exponents.

Whether the individual blogger is interested in debate or just being read they are giving entertainment and enlightenment for free. Maybe you will join me in a resolution to record your appreciation of every blog you enjoy with a comment, a like, a facebook link or a tweet. In this world we inhabit, those are the hard currency of reward.

In the cricket I play, thirty is the point of enforced retirement. This activity has no such rigid rules and so I will blog-on. But with the season about to start, participation in playing and coaching means Declaration Game will slip a couple of places in the order. Visits to the crease won’t be as frequent but the time spent on the other side of the boundary won’t be wasted.

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

9 responses to “Milestone, not millstone”

  1. David says :

    I am honored to be a senior pro, a position I never graduated to in cricket (or much else come to think of it.) Oh, and nice piece Chris, a succinct summary of the pleasures (and occasional frustrations) of blogging.

    • chrisps says :

      David, I would feel particularly guilty about not keeping to my resolution and commenting on your posts – but I’ve tried and just can’t seem to make the comment function work on your site. I even had an anecdote about Selvey and his benefit season, but that will have to wait for another day! Thanks for the kind words. Chris

      • davidr1534 says :

        Hi Chris, I am not sure why you are having problems posting in the blog -it is a regular Blogger template and I checked the settings and they seemed fine. If you are still having issues feel free to post the Selvey anecdote here!

      • chrisps says :

        David, in your piece on county benefits, you quoted Mike Selvey, who found his benefit year, ’embarrassing, humiliating, demeaning…’ My Father, a man who bears grudges, would snort were he to read that. He skippered young Selvey in club cricket while the latter was still at school. A few years later, when Selvey was first picked for England, my Dad wrote to congratulate him on his achievement. My Dad was unimpressed that he received no communication in acknowledgement for his letter. Moving forward another few years, a letter in Selvey’s name arrived, asking for contributions to his benefit season. It became exhibit A in my Dad’s case for the decline in standards of modern sportsmen. Selvey, my Dad would argue, would have found his benefit year less embarrassing were he to have attended to some basic courtesies during his career. It took years for my Dad to concede that Selvey was really responsible for the excellent pieces that appeared under his by-line in the Guardian.

        There you go – just a digression, rather than a contribution to your argument against the continuation of the benefit season tradition. My own thought on that subject is that, if the benefit season brings professional cricketers closer to their fans, it does some good.

        I’ll keep trying to comment. Rest assured I will have read and enjoyed.

  2. Aotearoaxi says :

    Senior pro – flattered. I’m not sure I’ve reached 30 yet… This Is a fantastic piece – a blog about blogging, and a great read.

    • chrisps says :

      Mr Long white cloud, I shall put my mind to an alternative blog-roll heading that does justice to your and other bloggers’ youth – and that most of us don’t earn a crust from the writing. Many thanks for the feedback.

  3. Brian Carpenter says :

    Chris,

    Like the others I enjoyed this and am flattered and grateful to be regarded as a ‘senior pro’. I can certainly lay claim to be senior as I’ve been doing this longer than most, although the quantity (if not, hopefully, the quality) of my output tends to disappoint me these days.

    I enjoyed what you had to say about the way your posts develop, as I’ve always tended to just sit down with a subject in my head and more or less see what comes out. I think this both suits and reflects the style I’ve developed which tends towards the descriptive and lyrical rather than the analytical, although, if I have an ambition directly related to my writing, I’d say it would be to marry the analytical and descriptive in something approaching the style achieved by ‘The Old Batsman’, who, to me, is simply peerless – Lara to my county pro, perhaps (or maybe I’m too modest).

    Another thing which strikes me is that it’s much easier to get noticed than it was when I started (very few people used Twitter in 2006 and I’d never heard of it), but harder to make a really strong impression as there’s just so much stuff out there. There are far more blogs – and far more good quality ones – than there were back then so all you can do is attempt to spread the word (and congratulations for mixing it with Mumsnet and living to tell the tale) and hope some of it chimes with people.

    And it’s great when it does. I’ve been writing in various places since the eighties, but my readership was always limited. On the Web it’s virtually unlimited and it’s great to feel that people all over the world are picking up on what you’ve written, or at least have the opportunity to do so. Soon after I started I had a comment from a guy in Sri Lanka who mentioned reading some of my stuff but referred to the fact that he kept losing his electricity after air raids (the Sri Lankan Civil War was still going on). It was great to feel that someone on the far side of the cricket world, in difficult circumstances, was reading what I had to say. I agree, always try to reply and thank people for their input, as that’s what really makes this worthwhile.

    A final thought might be that writing for yourself (rather than for a Sports Editor) means that you never have to pander to anyone (unless you want to, of course). Which in turn could open up an interesting debate about the relative merits of writing for pleasure or to earn your living. For another day.

    Thanks for reading and apologies for any self-indulgence. I should probably have made this a post elsewhere, but there you go.

    • David says :

      I read an interview with Lawrence Booth and he said a similar thing to you: the freedom of the blogger is the ability to choose to write about whatever interests you as opposed to the endless match reports/tabloid fodder of the day. Of course the trade off is that us bloggers get paid nada for our scrawlings!

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I’m delighted you chose to lay out your thoughts here. I would be interested in reading more about how and why you, and other bloggers I admire, came to write.

      I have only recently appreciated that the transformative potential of the internet isn’t just about reducing the costs of retail activity. There may be thousands of cricket bloggers, but they do have a potential audience of millions of readers. It has just occurred to me that my only published writings on cricket prior to 2011 were, as an undergraduate, an article in the University paper on my college’s defeat in a cup fixture (I name-checked myself for top-scoring in the unsuccessful run-chase) and a couple of pieces for a club handbook in the 1990s. Any barriers that existed before have been swept away. After the England Test team’s winter, I shouldn’t be conjuring images of sweeping.

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