This 2018 selection of cricket blog posts features topical issues, stories from the past, the minutiae of the game, insightful numbers, artful descriptions and the deeply personal. All the pieces selected have in common that they are independent and unremunerated writing from the web (note 1).
Leading off, we have a measured and expert riposte to the ECB Chairman’s comments about the demise of the junior game. Neil Rollings addresses the question ‘Is Youth Cricket really dying?’ unswayed by nostalgia or any agenda other than giving kids the opportunity to play.
It is not batting and bowling that have become unfashionable, but sitting on the side or fielding in redundant positions. Seeking ever shorter formats does not address this fundamental issue.
Junior cricket and its wider lessons, even if unheeded by the adults who attend games, is the subject matter of a letter written by the 17th Man to his 15 year old nephew (‘Diary of the 17th Man’). Whilst the letter refers to incidents in the young player’s matches, it was written in early April, days after this advice could have averted the year’s biggest cricket drama:
When you are an adult you see how people behave and shift their ideas about what is right or wrong, fair or unfair, depending on the situation or the advantage they can extract from it…
When you know you have done the right thing your conscience is always clear. That is something to cherish.
Blogger ‘Cricket Stuff’ responded to the ECB’s ‘the Hundred’ proposals with a look back at the Lambert and Butler Floodlit Cup, held at football grounds in 1981, concluding: “It had been new, it had been inventive, but it had not been right.” Having introduced Cricket Stuff, I can’t recommend highly enough his work in another medium: the podcast series ‘Cricket and England Through Five Matches’ – a highlight of my cricket consumption this year.
The CricViz initiative made available regular innovative use of game data and quality analytical writing in 2018. While acknowledging the excellence of their work, I have selected a trio of independent statistical posts for this eleven:
- Introducing a T20 captaincy metric: Joe Harris (White Ball Analytics) is a data scientist who makes the most of the compressed and systematic T20 format to explore deep patterns and possible areas of advantage in the short-form game. In this case, Harris proposes a method for measuring the impact skippers make through their bowling changes.
- 1 schoolboy error that even elite batsmen make, also probed an aspect of T20 cricket – specifically, should a batsman try to hit a wide ball? The answer reached by ‘No Pictures in the Scorebook’ is, ‘no’ and in this respect, if no other in 2018, Virat Kohli’s batting was found wanting.
- No place like home, relied on fewer statistical techniques but on Kit Harris’s (@cricketkit) time-consuming research to trace the backgrounds of all 392 professional cricketers in the English county game. The outcome is a picture of the global and local in balance.
Another trio of pieces concerned the game most of us play: recreational, club, mixed age, mixed ability, weekend cricket.
With Quantum of Cricket (‘The Raging Turner’), Liam Cromar relishes the context (playing alongside his old junior coach, six youngsters and a dad), the anticipation and the tiny moments during and around the game (a balanced scorebook!), above all the catch:
The ball starts to die. Staying stationary will result in a half volley. At the last moment, I fall forward to the ground and pouch it at arm’s length a few inches proud. I rise and hold the orb aloft with one hand.
The entire movement forms a perfectly natural, fluid, indivisible quantum of cricket.
The description and the meaning of the moment communicate so clearly why we continue to play, despite age, dubious competence and our busy lives.
It is a theme rendered in verse by Marco Jackson (‘From inside right’): Ode to a Saturday village game. Four stanzas of four lines capture the game and its significance lightly and economically.
‘The Wait’ described by Hector Cappelletti (‘Yahoo over cow corner’), dives deeply into a rarely considered aspect of the game, as true of international players as it is of the club player who is being observed. The no.3 batsman, impatient and anxious, is followed from the the start of the innings until the seventh over when, after expending a lot of nervous energy he finally goes out to bat.
Rounding off the XI are a pair of moving, personal pieces. In 1982 Nick Campion (‘Smell the Leather’) recalls the emotional pinnacle of a dads v lads game of cricket. Nine year old Nick faces his first ball, bowled by his Dad:
I remember as I swung my bat with vigorous abandon being aware that the expected moment of impact had come and gone. There was that awful moment between missing the ball and hearing it hit the stumps when you manage to generate a nanosecond of optimism before the devastating sound of leather on ash crashes through your hopes.
Writer and broadcaster, Cate McGregor provides the most tender and revealing account of cricket’s role in her life. Mystic chords of memory exhibits enormous integrity, while writing so attractively about the difficulties of an extraordinary life.
As a bereaved kid it [cricket] gave me a quiet solace and a respite from bullying. As a trans woman it has given me acceptance and a renewed faith in the goodness of humanity. By choosing to live that night in Adelaide I earned a second innings. I am following on.
With my XI selected, I must make my annual injunction that you should read not just these pieces but other of each bloggers’ material and continue to follow their blogs in 2019.
Finally, my nomination to the accolade (borrowed, of course, from Wisden) of World Leading Cricket Blogger of the Year (note 2). The honour goes to King Cricket. If the King (and his court) is not known to you, may I humbly suggest that you are not doing this cricket blog following thing correctly. Long may he reign.
Note 1: the qualification for the select XI is that the blogger must (to the best of my knowledge) be unremunerated for the post, which must feature on an independent website and the blogger must not have featured in any of Declaration Game’s six previous end-of-year blog post selections.
Note 2: the ‘World Leading Cricket Blogger of the Year’ as a self-consciously over-blown title to award to the blogger whose work I have most enjoyed reading over the previous 12 months. The two past winners are Backwatersman and My Life in Cricket Scorecards.
Eleven pieces of writing, independent and unremunerated. All from the last twelve months and, in Wisden-esque fashion, excluding any bloggers featured in my four previous annual selections. Please read, enjoy and remember to support your local (i.e. global) cricket blogger with comments and social media plugs.
SPIN: A New Zealand Story (on the Mind the Windows website), by Devon V. Mace, manages to be both the story of the Vettori Era, and of the history of New Zealand spin bowling. It is a tour de force, intertwining its two narratives, with one clearly the culmination of the other. Nothing I read this year was more meticulously prepared and it repays a long, detailed read.
Jeremy Henderson’s Guerillas in the Night (Pointless Beauty) celebrates something very different: the drunken, impromptu broadcast by a pair commentators on the Internet’s insurrectionist Guerilla Cricket.
What a perfectly shitty morning it was – I’d just been to the vet, and held my beautiful 16 year old dog as she breathed her last. Tears, grief, gratitude and love were bouncing around my head. It was 44⁰ in the shade, and my mind was melting.
And then the extraordinary happened. Playing in the background was the stream of the previous night’s match between South Africa and England on Guerilla Cricket, when, all of a sudden everything changed. Two very familiar, and extremely slurred, voices materialised, announcing that, as it was 4.00 am and they were at a loose end, they had decided to commentate on England vs Namibia Under 19s. Thus began six hours of what may well go down as the most remarkable world wide cricket broadcast in history.
The next two posts were inspired by the very same match: the World T20 contest between India and Australia. Traveling On An Indian Match Day (The Chheeman blog) by @Risabhism describes the seven hour journey from Plibhit, famous for its flute manufacture, to Delhi, delayed by traffic jams, “the Shahid Affridi of road journeys”. Will he arrive in time for the match?
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, a respected and experienced writer on cricket, recorded on Sidvee Blogs the match-winning performance in The remarkable Mr Kohli. Kohli’s combination of ultra-attacking orthodox stroke-play and, as in this extract, restless gesturing, are captured vividly:
Virat Kohli grimaces. He is wearing a helmet but camera technology is advanced enough to show us his facial contortions. We are in the 16th over. The asking rate is two runs a ball. And Kohli has missed an offcutter from Josh Hazlewood. This, he seems to be telling us, is unacceptable. He practises the cover drive (which he had wanted to play), then imitates Hazlewood’s wrist-tweak.
Lev Parikian, in The Wisden of Solomon, wrote about fulfilling his lifetime’s ambition of featuring in Wisden – by entering its Writing Competition. He shares with us his two competition entries, the first of which, set a couple of hundred years in the future, looks back, with wry detachment, at cricket’s demise.
Despite its many faults, Cricket enjoyed the devotion of a significant, if localised, pocket of followers. But the rapid rise and global domination of Slog™ left its sister sport gasping for breath. So where did it all go wrong?
…Cricket died a quiet death. The last international game was between Slog™ minnows England and Australia.” (England won by an innings and 498 runs, whatever that means.)
Notes from a Cricket Novice, by NJ Brown, was the new blog I returned to most often in 2016. Brown had decided to take an interest in cricket for the first time in nearly 20 years; an interest that had him attending Lancashire county fixtures regularly. As Brown’s (and Lancs’) season unfolded, we found out more about the author. Reporting from Lancashire v Surrey, 23-24 May 2016, he writes about one of the passions that distracted him from cricket in the 1990s – the Manchester Music Scene. It’s his music cultural knowledge that he deploys so well describing Neil Wagner:
Wagner may share his surname with a classical composer, but his bowling is pure punk – hard, fast and often very short. It couldn’t be any more punk if he was doing it with spiked green hair and a safety pin in his ear. Certainly no bondage trousers, they would just spoil his run-up.
In 2016, Subash Jayaraman brought to a close his Couch Talk podcast interviews, but when inspired, or provoked, he continues to write on The Cricket Couch. A former England player and media figure was the main provoker. Jayaraman noticed similarities between an article on ESPNcricinfo and one published earlier in the Economist. After judicious enquiries, the blogger called out the plagiarism. Jayaraman followed and updated the story. I have selected the third piece in the series, Ed Smith pulls a Melania Trump, in which the author, respectfully and proportionately, rages against the double-standards of cricket’s premier on-line publisher.
The statistics post that caught my eye, came from Omar Chaudhuri (5 added minutes) who writes more regularly on football. In The batting age curve Chaudhuri carries out a deceptively simple piece of data wrangling to identify the peak age for Test batsmen – and it’s younger than unreliable received wisdom would have us believe.
Sam Blackledge is a proper journalist as well as a proper cricket blogger on Learning is Fun. In this post, 444-3. Extraterrestrial cricket. But where will it end? he reflected on England setting a new world record. Re-reading it in December after England’s Test series defeat in India, I think I have already attained the wistful bafflement Blackledge anticipates for some point in the future:
“Dad,” my kids will say one day, leafing through Wisden 2016. “Do you remember 444-3?”
I will smile and gaze off into the distance, before answering: “No…not really.”
The Full Toss featured in the 2014 Select XI, but reappears in 2016 courtesy of a post from a guest writer. Everyone wants to wax lyrical about cricket’s elegant stars, but Garry White chose a stodgier subject in About Gary Ballance, Batting and Toffee.
Ballance is one of cricket’s shovel wielding tradesman. An altogether cruel irony considering that he’s an old Harrovian. When, like Ballance, you lack the innate ability to deliver pleasing aesthetics then the only currency in which you can pay out is runs. When the “run” currency dries up your position plummets with all the restraint and control of the Zimbabwe Dollar.
Rounding off this year’s selection is a post from someone who had not sought to write about cricket. Carlie Lee (Diary of a country housewife) wrote about the cricket ground she circles with her dog. On Monday 8th February, Lee experiences the winter weather..
Today is a day of restlessness, I can feel it fizzing in my feet, my hands. Last night’s storm is still here, the wind spiteful and violent, sending rain to rattle on the pavilion windows like hard-flung pea-gravel.
.. continuing to describe just as beautifully how the ground will look mid-summer, as well as reproducing the sounds of its players to differentiate the 1st XI from the 2nds.
I am going to finish by flouting my self-denying ordinance of only mentioning bloggers who haven’t appeared in past years’ select XIs. Cricket blogging in 2016 was never more intelligent, nor more entertaining than that written by Backwatersman on The New Crimson Rambler – my nomination for Leading Cricket Blogger in the World.
Last month, Jarrod Kimber hosted an AMA that was heavily upvoted, building major karma.
Gibberish? No, it is reddit-ese – the jargon of reddit, the service with the red-eyed alien logo that calls itself ‘the front page of the internet’.
There is a sub-reddit – a folder or page – dedicated to cricket (r/CRICKET). It has around 23,000 subscribers, with precisely 77 of us logged on at this moment in time.
Like most interesting things on the web, reddit isn’t easily encapsulated. It acts as an aggregator: drawing together links in one place to all the major news stories of the moment. It’s a forum, where debates, ding-dongs and discussions prattle away. It has wiki features, where questions can be posed, from the highly specific (What happened to Mike Whitney?) to the endearingly naive (Tips for attending my first Test match). It’s crowd-sourced: the prominence of posts depends upon the reaction of redditors. Linked to which, it’s a game: collect as many karma points as you can for the posts you link or comments you contribute.
At its very best, r/CRICKET is Jarrod Kimber hosting an ‘Ask Me Anything’ post about cricket writing. I’ll come to its less good side very shortly.
Last autumn, I invited other cricket bloggers to take part in a survey. One of the topics covered was how bloggers promote their material. Reddit came last of ten listed options bloggers might use – below even LinkedIn, Google+ and direct contact with readers. This seems to be a missed opportunity for a couple of reasons.
The first is that reddit can be a very rich source of readers. Last month, about 40% of views of Declaration Game emanated from Twitter, drawn in by over 60 tweets I sent promoting my wares. Almost 30% of views came via reddit – generated by just two posts with links to Declaration Game blogs. This high rate of converting posts to readers comes about because of the ‘democracy’ of reddit. Every post submitted can be seen by every redditor – unlike twitter which limits your tweets’ exposure to your followers (and those of anyone who retweets you). Posts on reddit submitted by redditors with high karma get no more favourable treatment than posts submitted by newcomers. What happens to those posts, whether they stay buoyant and visible high up the list of posts, depends on the reaction of redditors.
The second reason that the limited use of reddit by cricket bloggers is wasteful is because of the cricket sub-reddit’s weakness. Too often, the page of top posts reads like a summary of recent cricinfo or Wisden India articles. For a site with the potential to be highly pluralistic, it tends to draw from a very narrow range of publishers. Partly, this is because few people who write about cricket (professionally or as a hobby) make use of reddit. It is also because self-promotion is frowned upon by reddit. Modest amounts of self-posting are tolerated, but the ethos is very different to twitter.
My contention is that r/CRICKET is an interesting side-road of cricket’s journey across the web. It could be greatly improved if the diversity of imaginative, personal and independent blogging activity was represented there. To do that, blog readers and writers need to engage with reddit and post the pieces they enjoy (perhaps not this one, though).
Remember, if it’s good enough for Jarrod Kimber…
If ever a survey deserved a century, it was the cricket blogger survey. Unfortunately, it was sawn off a couple of quick singles short. This first post on the survey results looks at who those 98 respondents are. For those of a more academic bent, a short post on the sample and method has also been prepared.
I start the profiling of cricket bloggers with a review of how else they are active in the sport. Over half regularly attend matches, with 37% playing regularly. The overlap of blogging with professional coverage of the game is evident with 29 doing some paid writing and 15 involved in broadcasting. The range of activities cricket supports and inspires is captured by the ‘other’ category which includes historians, book collecting, gambling, consultancy to sponsors and advice to national cricket boards.
Most bloggers, sooner or later write about their formative cricket experience. By asking a question about which match started their passion for the sport, I have been able to derive how long ago that happened and what type of match first grabbed them. The chart shows that bloggers responding to the survey are fairly evenly distributed across the last forty years. Cricket obsession is neither an older person’s preserve, nor blogging an activity for the young alone. Test cricket was the hook for 58% of respondents. The World Cup and domestic cricket each accounted for 11% of respondents’ first matches, with the former found among the more recent followers and the latter with those whose interest dates back further.
The cricket authorities’ notion of the ‘marquee series’ does earn support from these figures: 26% of all respondents (45% of those citing Test cricket) identified an Ashes Test/series as their starting point, with the 1981 and 2005 series gaining multiple mentions.
The survey respondents appear skewed towards UK residency (49%) and support for the England cricket team (35%) – see the post on the survey method and sample for further discussion of this. The full breakdown of location and allegiance is tabulated below. One point of note is that around 60% of respondents live in the nation whose team they most strongly support – lower than I would have anticipated.
I didn’t ask bloggers to name cricketers who first caught their eye, but many did. Gary Sobers, Viv Richards, David Gower, Richard Hadlee and Kevin Pietersen all got mentioned, but so did Ed Giddens. One of the pleasures of sorting through the survey responses is reading the details remembered of that formative cricket experience.
west indies v australia. adelaide. 26th jan 1993. 1 f-ing run… when Peter Lever’s bouncer almost killed Ewan Chatfield… Quite ridiculously, the 2007 World Cup game between Pakistan and Ireland… Ashes 1986/87. All matches. Liked the cartoon duck. And Bill Athey.
This first post in the series ends with a consideration of why we blog.
I asked respondents to complete the sentence, “I blog because..” Those answers have been sorted for motivations, which have then been clustered into five broad categories. I have taken the love of cricket for granted, and indeed most respondents mentioned it. In this diagram, the distance from the centre represents the frequency with which a motivation was mentioned.
Explanations of the categories and motivations with examples from the responses follow:
INTERNAL – this category comprised the motivations of those for whom the process of blogging brought its own reward, rather than the outcome of the writing.
Enjoy writing: the process of expressing oneself about this pastime provides pleasure enough for many bloggers.
I enjoy it .. I don’t care about readers or payment.
I quite like writing and get a warm, weird glow inside when I put together a sentence which I am proud of.…
To learn about the game: the blogging process develops a better understanding of cricket
it helps to make sense of the messed up game
it gives me a chance to find out what I think
An escape: an activity that demands concentration and helps take the mind off or manage other pressures
Writing allowed me to mentally evade (albeit momentarily) the stresses of corporate life and provided an outlet which helped manage mental illness. As my coping mechanisms evolved, so did my need to write.
It fills time: separated from other cricket fans, blogging provides the pleasure of discussion by proxy
none of my current circle of friends like the sport that I’m quite mad on, so basically it’s a conversation to myself.
PURPOSIVE: blogging as a way of achieving something beyond blogging itself.
(Want) to do it for a living: a small number (given how many we know do write professionally) related their blogging to writing, or wanting to write professionally.
there’s also a vague hope that someday I could find a away to be paid for watching cricket. That’s the dream.
DECLARATIVE: to make use of the web’s almost unique ability to enable people to be heard across the world.
To share/showcase thoughts: wanting and enjoying being heard, getting read.
I like the fact that my views are something that someone else also might be trying to say. It feels good to share your thoughts with random people on the internet.
Have something unusual to say: possessing distinctive insights or perpectives that you don’t hear in the mainstream media.
I couldn’t find anyone out there who looks at the game in the way I do.
I was fed up reading staid, ecb approved media reports.
To promote part of the sport: this motivation is related to that of having something unusual to say, but focused on giving air to a specific element of the sport that gets little coverage.
I want to promote women’s cricket
Also a response to being told I don’t exist – “no-one watches County Cricket anymore” – “well, I do”!
SOCIAL: to be part of a community with shared interests, using a dynamic new social force.
To get feedback/be part of a community: two way communication.
And also because I love the comments. The best part of the site’s the bit I don’t write.
Ease/excitement of blogging: it’s so easy to write and to have your words out there.
I love the sport and the meritocracy and immediacy blogging offers.
REACTIVE: as a way of responding to the cricket world.
To vent at authorities: a channeling of frustration with how the game, or its coverage is run.
Otherwise I’d be shouting at the television
an avenue for expressing a lot of pent up anger at the world and the ECB in particular.
Most bloggers are active in the sport, in the main by attending matches, playing or writing professionally. The duration of their interest in the sport and, therefore we can deduce their age, varies. Most were first drawn to the game by watching an international match, usually Test cricket. Their motivations for blogging differ, but many consider they bring an unusual perspective to writing on the sport or simply enjoy the act of writing or being able to share their views with others. In the next post on the survey results, I will look at the blogs.
This post was re-written after images and text were lost when it mysteriously returned to an early draft version – 8 November 2014