A select XI: cricket blog posts of 2013

elevenI 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.

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About chrisps

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

16 responses to “A select XI: cricket blog posts of 2013”

  1. David Mutton says :

    Chris, sincere thanks for including me in this end-of-year retrospective. My choice of those not already on your lists would be Sahil Dutta. He wrote an excellent piece for Wisden India on television/internet rights: http://www.wisdenindia.com/cricket-article/broadcast-biggies-wary-pirate-streams/64065, plus a wistful post about Monty Panesar: http://ashesinsomniac.blogspot.com/2013/08/panesar-deserves-support.html.

    Your look back has also made me think about the best defunct blog (I don’t mean where somebody has moved on to Cricinfo or another site, but given up the whole schebang). I remember Last of the Summer Whine was pretty good when I started up in around 2009, as was Get a Hundred. And – not that it quite fits into the category – Patrick Kidd’s Times’ blog is much missed. But I am sure I have forgotten lots.

    • chrisps says :

      David, thank you for those leads. I have now read and enjoyed Sahil Dutta’s pieces. Last of the Summer Whine and Get a Hundred didn’t show up on the first three pages of search engine results, which is tantamount to extinction. Your mention of defunct blogs has made me wonder how bloggers close their blogs? With an announcement, or just left hanging, with the most recent post drifting further away and further down search engine results. It’s not something I’m planning to do soon, but interested if there’s a convention.

  2. backwatersman says :

    Chris, many thanks for my inclusion in your XI and indeed all you do to keep the cricketing blogosphere connected. It’s good to see that it seems to be in rude health at a time when it strikes me that other sections of the blogging world are ailing a bit.

    Might be worth highlighting the triumphant return of http://downatthirdman.wordpress.com/ after a period of silence? Highly recommended to anyone who doesn’t already follow it.

    And a Happy New Year to you all.

    • chrisps says :

      Nick, thank you. I need to dedicate some time to TM – it’s not a blog to skim read.
      I wonder what lies behind the ailing of other sections of the blogging world? Are podcasts and videocasts now the creative centre? Or has twitter condensed everything they need to say? Happy New Year. Chris

      • backwatersman says :

        I think Twitter is the main culprit, yes, though of course it can be a useful tool for building up a readership as well. I think if you go back a while (pre-Twitter) bloggers used to communicate with other primarily blog-to-blog (by commenting) whereas now bloggers’ voices tend to get lost in the general Babel of Twitter and the old sense of community (or, as they used to say, “Collegiality”) is lost. Younger people, I think, are more likely to prefer Twitter, Tumblr etc. to old school long form blogging. As I think you once pointed out, most cricket bloggers are no longer regulars for their club’s first XI, which goes some way to explaining the rude health of the cricketing blogosphere (if not necessarily the bloggers).

  3. Brian Carpenter says :

    Of course, many thanks for my inclusion, Chris.

    I have a worrying feeling that I may have read even more blog posts about cricket than you in 2013, and when it gets to the end of the year it’s pretty hard to recall very many unless you made notes at the time (something which I may do this year to enable me to write a similar piece at the end of 2014).

    However, it’s impossible to forget the subject which prompted the most column inches on blogs over the last year. The overall quality of the tributes to Tendulkar was very high, but my favourite from the ‘blogosphere’ was this, from a blog which is rarely added to these days but which has always been outstanding (if widely unrecognized);

    http://nonstriker.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/learning-atheism-from-sachin-tendulkar/

    From a non-blog source, there was also a typically elegant piece by Rahul Bhattacharya in India Today about his final Ranji Trophy game, complete with magnificent photos:

    http://cricket.yahoo.com/news/among-the-believers-092931371.html

    Elsewhere, a new blogger who made a real impression on me in 2013 was the very talented Christian Drury (‘A Domestic Ghost’). His Tendulkar tribute was also outstanding (and someone added a superb comment which enhances it even more):

    http://adomesticghost.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/the-faceless-icon/

    I feel that the range and quality of the writing about cricket in the blogosphere is remarkable, and much better than what’s widely available in the mainstream media. This is where the likes of us and others really benefit from being able to write about what we want at whatever length and in whatever style we wish. There are no house rules. What most of us lack, of course, is readers, but enough people seem to see and like my stuff to make me feel it’s still worth doing it, and I hope you feel the same.

    I hope to see you at Lord’s in July. And won’t it be interesting to see what the England team looks like? Apart from the obvious casualties, not very different from the one which has been dismembered in Australia, I reckon, which really can’t be a good thing.

    Lastlly, I second Backwatersman’s comment about ‘Down at Third Man’, even if it’s frequently just too oblique for me.

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, thank you for those suggestions. I didn’t read a lot about Tendulkar at the time of the retirement. It felt a little like intruding on other people’s emotional moment. But I have enjoyed each of those you linked to.

      I think the limitation of the mainstream media, as opposed to bloggers, may be evident from Jarrod Kimber’s piece. I’m guessing he felt that a personal story about the MCG, even during the Boxing Day Test, wouldn’t get published unless he put it on his own blog. Cricinfo’s loss. Amusingly, he linked to this post in a tweet saying something like, “Support your local cricket blogger.”

      Look forward to catching up in person in the summer (along with, as you predict, a lot of familiar Eng cricketers) and corresponding in the meantime.

      Chris

  4. Sahil says :

    Chris, this is a lovely format for an end-of-year review. There is so much written (and now spoken) on cricket it’s so easy to overlook a post here or there. Especially from writers outside the mainstream.

    David, thanks plenty for that, very kind.

    Aside from the writers mentioned I’d go for a this http://sidveeblogs.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/india-v-australia-a-chronicle-of-a-series-foretold/ by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan. He’s a wonderful writer but this was one of many good articles focussing on cricket’s governance woes written by bloggers.

    Bloggers did a lot this year to keep pushing questions of cricket’s governance. While they were in sync during the CSA-BCCI nonsense, there was an excellent dynamic where mainstream journalists were reporting and breaking news on governance, and bloggers would analyse and comment.

    Another writer I’d mention is SB Tang. I enjoyed this http://astraightbat.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/australian-autodidactism-dying-but-not-dead-yet/ especially, but all his articles were well worth reading.

    Finally, for his tireless work on Associate cricket and the challenges it faces from the ICC, Andrew Nixon deserves a mention. Though not strictly a blog there was plenty of research and insight in this article, for example: http://www.cricketeurope4.net/DATABASE/ARTICLES6/articles/000053/005378.shtml

    • chrisps says :

      Thank you Sahil. SB Tang is one of the Australian writers whose prominence in UK is a beneficial spin-off of the Ashes overload. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan has, deservedly, one of the most dedicated and informed followings – the comments to his pieces are worth the visit alone. Given the focus on Test and ODI cricket, it’s great to have Andrew Nixon’s work acknowledged.

  5. lolly says :

    I’ve never read this blog before but these are excellent suggestions. I read the Old Batsman and Idle Summers regularly but hadn’t heard of some of the others. Russell Degnan’s stuff can be quite mind-boggling if rather academic for an online sports blog.

    I with Short of a Length would start up again, he regularly used to make me howl with laughter when writing on Indian or Pakistani circket and subsidiary issues.

    Jarrod Kimber isn’t as funny now he’s joined the establishment but we all would like to make a living commenting on cricket so more power to his elbow.

    The cricket blogosphere has some extremely fine writers regularly putting out articles that would put the press to shame.

    • chrisps says :

      Lolly, thank you for those comments. I’d not heard of ‘Short of a length’ – I’ll see if I can find an archive.

      I hope you will visit Declaration Game again – as well as the other blogs to which you were introduced by this post.

  6. Brian Carpenter says :

    As a late follow-up to this I’d like to agree with Backwatersman’s comment above. It seems that these days fewer people comment on blogs. If they like something they retweet or favourite it, rather than taking the time to engage with it to the extent of commenting.

    Retweets, especially from people with large numbers of followers, are obviously very welcome as they give you a much greater potential readership, but I’d much rather receive comments.

    Interestingly, there’s never much correlation between numbers of comments and numbers of readers. I’ve had posts read by twenty or thirty people that have received several comments and posts read by hundreds that have received none.

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