A select XI: cricket blog posts of 2013
I have no firm fix on the number, but pressed to come up with an estimate, I would guess I have read somewhere between 250-350 cricket blog posts in the last year. What follows is a personal selection of eleven posts that particularly deserve either a first read if you have not come across them before, or a return visit. Each is a really fine piece of composition, but are they the very best? Probably not, they’re just my preferences. I encourage you to submit by comment or tweet the posts you think also deserve an end-of-year mention.
Opening for the select XI is a post by Devanshu Mehta on his Teesra ‘fake cricket news website’. This piece wasn’t fake news, though, but an inventive reappraisal of India’s failure to pursue victory in a Test against the West Indies: Let’s Talk About Dominica. In a scramble of quotations, newspaper cuttings, images, varying font types, sizes and white space, it builds a coherent argument for what went on that day in July 2011. The format of Declaration Game is too conventional to replicate meaningfully any of Mehta’s fresh composition – it needs to be viewed and enjoyed in its own context.
Retirement, for obvious reasons, was one of the commonest topics in blog posts this year. In my view, the outstanding piece was about a cricketer you may have thought had already ended his playing career – Steve Harmison – who was a cricketer about whom I came to be ambivalent. Brian Carpenter’s (Different Shades of Green) piece, ‘Unlikely Looking Lad‘, captured so precisely Harmison’s highs and lows, the frustrating combination thereof that explains my ambivalence. Here is one of the highs:
Harmison has been bowling at or around 90 miles per hour but this time he decides to throttle back and bowl the most perfectly-timed slower ball any England fast bowler has ever delivered. Clarke, in and set, is nearly up to the challenge. Normally a batsman plays early at a slower ball but Clarke sees it for what it is. However, recognition is one thing, combatting it very much another.
The quality of writing about cricket governance increased in inverse proportion to the practice of the topic. Nishant Joshi, Freddie Wilde, Devanshu Mehta are amongst the best to have landed blows on the activities of the authorities. The most consistent contributor and often radical thinker is the Dean-in-waiting of the yet-to-be established university department of cricket studies, Russ Degnan (Idle Summers). ‘Observations on Cricket Finance,’ commences thus:
What follows is necessarily inexact. Perhaps very inexact. Cricket has many issues that confront it, but by far the biggest is a lack of transparency.
Degnan proceeds, through extensive research and informed assumptions, to plot the flow of money around the cricket world, before offering a string of critical observations, perhaps best summarised by the statement: “cricket’s finances are fundamentally unstable”. Amidst this earnest examination sits a thing as beautiful as it is significant: Degnan has created a graphic to depict the movement of money between cricket’s nations. I stared at it, just as I used to study maps of trade routes and early modern ‘discovery’ voyages to the New World.
Russell Jackson (Wasted Afternoons) wrote the piece that made me laugh most. It is part 2 (the 1980s) of a triptych ‘History of English Cricket Advertising‘ – all of which should be read. Jackson explains his method in part 1: “a good excuse to pull boxes and boxes of ‘Cricketer’ and ‘Wisden Cricket Monthly’ magazines out of the garage and indulge in some whimsy.” There is something of Clive James in Jackson’s ribbing of another culture, knowing when to let the artefact stand for itself and when to nudge it towards deserved ridicule.
For followers of English and Australian cricket, their teams’ contests have dominated the year. An Australian account, written after the Brisbane Test, soared as the most readable, exciting piece of the Ashes year. Matt Webber’s (Matt Webber Writes) ‘Class divide defines this Ashes battle‘ delved into the writer’s own cricket background to illustrate the difference:
The Sydney Grade cricket competition remains a fierce cauldron. Week after week, boys filter in and confront men unwilling to make way. Bullies dish out hard lessons in the manner of their father’s fathers. Young resolve is either cracked or reinforced by memories of bruised ribs and stinging barbs all playing out on some hell forsaken backblock of a ground in a suburb that only just snuck in on the last few maps of the street directory.
To have played that cricket and to write about it so vividly makes Webber a rare all-rounder.
David Mutton (Silly Mid-Off) has (at least) two distinctions as a cricket blogger. The first is his authorship of as close to a definitive guide to cricket blogging as you will likely ever find. The second is his role as conscience to the English cricket follower. Mutton, at the height of England’s recent success, reminded us of the unsavoury backgrounds of the coaching team around Andy Flower. On the 80th anniversary of the Bodyline tour, Mutton argued that two great pillars of the English cricket establishment, Plum Warner and Gubby Allen, were the true villains. This piece, Two scoundrels, is a magnificent polemic.
Satire is another strategy with which to irk the powerful. James Marsh (Pavilion Opinions) is cricket’s satirist in chief, writing from somewhere in Bohemia (presumably, exploiting some loophole in Anglo-Czech extradition agreements). The subject that prompted this particular piece – the ECB’s official Ashes poem – in no way deserved satire of the quality Marsh concocted in The Ashes: Alternative Poetic Bashes, in the form of five short, sharp and witty verses including titles: ‘O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman (as adapted by Ed Cowan for Shane Watson)’ and ‘Not Waving but Drowning by Stevie Smith (as adapted by Frederick Flintoff)’.
Some famous writer once wrote something about knowing nothing about cricket if cricket’s the only stuff you’ve a clue about, I think. A piece by Backwatersman this autumn brought me up short with its sudden switch of the lens from its cricket subject to our own lives. An habitue of county and club cricket, Backwatersman was making a rare trip to the international game, via a photo of the Cricketers’ Wives of some of the England squad-members on the 1981 tour of West Indies. The roll-call was given thus – the names giving clues to the more serious under-current:
Mrs Kathryn Botham (looking wary, as well she might), Mrs Gail Bairstow (feisty, though I don’t think the word had been invented then in England), Mrs Brenda Gooch (regal), Mrs Sue Emburey (not unused to posing for the camera, I’d say), Mrs Elaine Gatting (apprehensive and possibly weighed down with jars of Branston’s), Mrs Helen Dilley and Mrs Angela Stevenson (perhaps, having seen Mrs Gooch, feeling a little under-dressed).
This year, the memory of cricket matches watched has been written about arrestingly by Brian Carpenter and Gary Naylor (99.94). A blog piece by someone who really has no need to blog, Jarrod Kimber (Cricket with balls), stood out. Sobers’ 254 and my Dad’s 252 at the G is a Kimber family tale and a celebration of the MCG and of Gary Sobers. But it’s the shaping of the memory and Kimber’s nagging of his Dad to validate details that elevate the piece.
When I ask my dad who else played in that World XI, he has no idea. He has no real memory of who was on either side. He thinks Dennis Lillee was there for Australia… Part of this is down to age. My old man is past 60. Partly it’s to do with the way Sobers has taken over that game in the memory of anyone who was there.
David Warner has had a packed 2013 – so busy that you may have forgotten that back in January the most controversial thing about him was his running between the wickets. Michael Wagener, on his Cricket Geek site, analysed the impact of Warner’s risk appetite for running runs. In a very neat calculation, the reward is shown to justify the risk: Warner.. “is effectively about 54% better than the average opener at finding runs in the field. This is a massive difference.”
Very many of the cricket stats posts around the internet are exercises in computation and list creation that are ultimately aimless. This piece appeals because it addresses an issue and, without overly-complex method, provides a clear answer. The Cricket Geek is the home of many similar, well-structured enquiries into the cricket we view, as well as the mini-session Test match analyses. Wagener isn’t just a stats man, though. His views on ethics and wrist-spin bowling are also worth absorbing.
It would infuriate the Old Batsman (“They’ve come to watch me bat, sir..”) to be positioned in the very tail-end of the order, although Jon Hotten may be less fussed. Ghost grounds, I imagined when I clicked the link in March, would be Hotten’s view on the sparse crowds that Test cricket is played before in much of the world. It wasn’t, it was much more satisfying.
It’s hard to write about a feeling as elusive as this one, yet it’s that elusiveness that makes it both rare and worthwhile. It happened the other day, for the first time in a couple of years.
Hotten has spied a cricket ground from his car that triggers a series of memories, although he cannot be sure they are really associated with this field. It connected with me because of the ever presence of cricket in his, my and possibly your mind. Sometimes below the surface, but liable to break out at any sensory stimulus.
Do read these posts and do let me (and others) know which other blog posts of 2013 you believe should be revisited by means other than some random google search result.
Thank you to the cricket bloggers – some listed as blognoscenti in the side-bar to the right – for the free insight and entertainment provided. Keep on keeping on in 2014.