Format: a prose review, structured around a list of eleven selected posts, without clever (or laboured) analogies to the selection of a cricket team.
Criteria: posts published on-line, with authors (to the best of my knowledge) unpaid and having not appeared in any of the five previous Declaration Game annual select XIs. Ultimately, each selection is nothing more than my subjective judgement of what is interesting, insightful or amusing.
The select XI for 2017 begins where almost all cricketers start (and most remain): the grassroots. Being Outside Cricket is a multi-blogger site created by the blogger known as Dmitri Old (select XI 2012). The post ‘Community Service‘ by thelegglance, extols the virtues of club cricket’s dedicated servants before, wholly in keeping with the tenor of the host blog, turning its ire on the cricket establishment:
The rarefied atmosphere of the highest level of any sport is a world away from the day to day that makes up virtually all of the game. Yet professional sport relies on the amateur to a far greater extent than the other way around, even though they both need the other for it to flourish. But take away professional cricket, and the game would survive. Take away amateur cricket and there is simply no game at all, which is why the dismissive behaviour towards it remains one of the more despicable attitudes pervading the corridors of power.
John Swannick moderates a LinkedIn group for club cricket administrators, on which he posted a link to an article by the former Chair of Westinghouse CC. This piece was the most compelling long read of the selected XI. It tells the story of the decline of the club from a thriving institution enjoying on-field success to, within a matter of years, folding.
The warning signs had been creeping into the club for the last four or five years. As players left it became harder & harder to find replacements. As volunteers reclaimed their free time, it became impossible to find others willing to step up. Committee roles became something people recoiled at the thought of.
But as much as we can pinpoint the cause of the apathy, & believe me I do share the feelings of our members, it cannot hide the cold facts. Not enough of our members cared enough about the club to see it through to the end. Too many egos skulked behind rocks & into hiding when a once proud club was relegated not once but twice in the space of a few years. When the time was right to fight for the club & return it to glory, too many seized the opportunity to desert the ship before it sank further.
I doubt any cricket club official in the UK could have read this piece without recognising some aspect of their own club in the meticulously related account of Westinghouse CC’s fall. An uncomfortable, but important read.
A quick change of pace: satire. In the spring, That Cricket Blog wrote a county championship preview, extrapolating the excesses of 2017 to the competition in 20 years’ time – 2037; for example:
Defending champions after another season where bonus points based on corporate hospitality Yelp reviews left on-field performance largely irrelevant.
Dan Liebke has an excellent sense of the ridiculous, which comes across well on Twitter and in the podcasts to which he contributes. I have, though, tended to struggle to get past the sub-title on his liebCricket header (“funny cricket > good cricket”) but was glad I did when he wrote about the end to the 3rd England v South Africa Test.
The tension was immense. A hat trick attempt is always thrilling. A delayed hat trick attempt even more so. A delayed hat trick to win the Test would seem to be just about the pinnacle of Test cricket excitement.
And yet Joel Wilson – a lateral thinking marketing genius disguised as an umpire – found a way to top it.
One of the strongest features of cricket blogs in 2017 was the quality of statistical pieces. Fielding analysis came to the fore. Kesavan trawled through ball-by-ball commentary of 233 Test matches to gather the material for the most comprehensive analysis of slip-fielding that I suspect has ever been published – with breakdowns by bowler type, position, country and individual fielder (Steve Smith and Kane Williamson come out on top).
Paul Dennett had a similar interest and no less an obsession. Dennett introduces Fielding Scores for every player in IPL 2017 thus:
The lack of any worthwhile fielding statistics has always bothered me.
So for this edition of the IPL I tried to do something about it. I’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing every ball of the group stage of the tournament, creating 1,666 entries in a spreadsheet for all the fielding ‘events’.
It has been an absurd amount of fun.
Data visualisation is an adjunct field to statistics and of ever increasing importance. The strongest example I came across in 2017 was the blog post ‘Bat first or field. The choices teams make in Test cricket‘. It uses a background the colour of a Wisden dust jacket, over which charts, maps and monochrome photos slide in and out of view, as the data and its interpretation gradually unfolds.
Charles Davis is a doyen of cricket statisticians, with a prodigious output of analyses, lists and reports on Z-score’s cricket stats blog. One thrust of Davis’s work is to fill the gaps in 19th and early 20th century match records, by using newspaper archives to recreate the detail with which we have only recently come to expect of the recording of international fixtures. In ‘The Odd Fields of the Early Days‘, Davis has surmised, by studying reports in The Times, where the fielders were positioned at the start of the innings in fourteen late 19th century Tests, illustrating how in 1893, Johnny Briggs bowled to a field with five players positioned between mid-off and mid-on.
Raf Nicholson is also a cricket historian, specialising in women’s cricket, and a moving force behind the CricketHER website. In February, Nicholson published her ‘Thoughts on the batter/batsman debate‘. Her contribution is of note not just because of the side she takes, but because of her command of historical source material. The post also very neatly encapsulates one of the challenges facing girls and women’s cricket: whether the game’s growth will come with closer alignment to the men’s game or striking out and creating a distinctively new sport.
Recent history is the subject matter of That 1980s Sport Blog. Steven Pye’s post on the 1984 County Championship was as entertaining as this introduction promises:
The script would involve an underdog who nearly became a hero; a substitute fielder earning himself legendary status for a county that he never played for; panic on the streets of Chelmsford; a case of so near, yet so far for one team, and unadulterated delight for another. There might not be the angle of a love interest, but come the end of September 11, 1984, Keith Fletcher would quite probably have kissed Richard Ollis in relief.
My eleventh choice comes from Matt Becker’s Limited Overs blog. Becker has woven the personal story with the public cricket narrative as effectively and affectingly as anyone. This was hard, it was fun was Becker’s resurfacing after a one year absence from the blog.
And so I came back here. To write about this game I remembered that I loved, and to get away from the book I don’t want to think about anymore, and to keep writing in a space where I feel comfortable.
Becker fulfils that aim throughout the English/US summer of 2017 until, marking the final day of the England v South Africa series, he discloses his motivation for returning to the blog. It is moving and meaningful blogging.
Limited Overs is one of five blogs in the selection – the others are Being Outside Cricket, liebCricket, Z-score’s cricket stats blog and cricketHER – which published regularly during the year and from which selection of a single post was more difficult. I would encourage readers to spend some time visiting each and find their own favourite.
Last year, I introduced – ironically in terms of my appropriating the title, but genuinely in terms of my appreciation of the blog – the World’s Leading Blogger citation, which (as in Wisden) doesn’t restrict me to mentioning those who have not featured in previous years’ Select XIs. I nominated Backwatersman’s New Crimson Rambler and have come very close to announcing his retention of the WLB status for 2017.
Top of the tree, however, as my favourite blog and nomination for World’s Leading Blogger of 2017 is Peter Hoare’s My Life in Cricket Scorecards. Throughout the UK summer, Hoare blogged weekly about the parallel events – cricket and otherwise – of the summer of 1967, when as a young boy he had seen his home county challenge for honours and win the Gillette Cup. The material was fascinating, the writing crisp and the treatment of that earlier time both respectful and questioning. On top of all of that, the delivery through a cricket blog of a sustained project has taken the medium somewhere new and – for anyone with Hoare’s dedication – fertile.
Please read, share, disagree and generally engage with these and the many other independent cricket writers out there on the web.
The Internet grazes and devours like a beast of legend. And we, the bloggers, are principal amongst its feeders. Tasty morcel, indigestible lump, essay, review, polemic. We cook them up day after day, the speed of service following and often surpassing the pace at which cricket is played across the world.
While most of what we write is good for the moment, fits a particular taste and soon goes off, there are pieces that can be reheated and offered up again, with flavours stronger and deserving to be savoured.
I have selected eleven blog posts. All were written, to my knowledge, for free. To that basic qualification applied in 2012 and 2013, I have added another in this annual review. I have limited (or perhaps, extended) my choices to bloggers who did not feature in either of my previous annual selections. Arbitrary and constraining, but something similar doesn’t seem to have done Wisden any harm in its annual selections. Introductions over; let the list begin.
2014 was a year of political, oppositional or campaigning cricket blogging. At the very forefront in the UK was The Full Toss, whose writers rebutted and dismantled each decision and subsequent justification offered by the ECB in trying to create a new era for England cricket. TFT responded to every idiocy of the administrators with posts that managed to be both passionate and measured. The cumulative effect was powerful, but each individual post stands alone. I have selected the open letter to the Managing Director of Waitrose, England’s principal sponsors. It is notable for the overt campaigning stance and the recognition that if the regime is run for money, those who provide its income should have the influence to make it listen.
Kartikeya Date (A Cricketing View) addresses all aspects of the contemporary game with fearsome logic and absolute self-confidence, while remaining highly readable. The post I’ve selected wasn’t dealing with the most significant issue of the year, but its forensic treatment of a matter of ethical and administrative importance – the ICC’s censure of Moeen Ali’s wrist band support for Palestinians – is characteristically unequivocal and informative.
Where does the ICC draw the line? […] Is Moeen Ali’s beard a problem? He has spoken of it being symbol of his faith. […] Typically, the ICC will probably say that the beard isn’t an article of clothing. The ICC does explicitly ban “visible tattoos incorporating any Commercial or Manufacturers Logo”. Perhaps Moeen Ali should consider getting the top of his head or arm shaved to depict the phrase “Save Gaza”. The ICC shouldn’t have any objections to that.
The third piece I’ve selected from the year’s output of posts taking issue with the running of the game comes from the West Indies. David Oram is an authoritative voice on the cricket in the region. When the West Indies team withdrew from the tour of India, Oram was a key source in understanding what was going on. In this piece, Oram begins by asking,
I’m not the only one in the Caribbean right now asking myself ‘do I really care anymore?’ If the players don’t, then why should I? Why can’t everyone just get on and play some cricket?
He goes on to consider the role of the media and the failure of local reporters to gain a profile outside of the region, meaning reliance is placed on the perspective of ex-players heavily involved in the staging of international games. Oram is a very useful counterbalance to those views.
Philip Hughes’ death was the most shocking occurrence of this and many years of cricket. King Cricket, providing outstanding daily entertainment for thousands of cricket fans, changed gear to cover a story that could not be ignored. I found the tribute, at a time when it was hard to know quite what to think, to be a clear and direct statement of why Hughes’s fatal accident meant so much to those of us with no direct connection with the talented, enigmatic batsman.
We don’t much care whether he would have been great or not. What we’ll miss is Hughes’s career, however it might have panned out. That was the fascination – in seeing things unfold.
Blogging is often at its best when focused on a detail. Christian Drury is rare amongst bloggers for being able to sustain writing over a much grander sweep. In ‘The sporting spectacle out and about in the imagined community‘ Drury dealt with the spectating experience at a cricket match, traditionally and how it has been upended by the IPL.
Being seen in the hospitality box at an IPL match – with Preity! Shilpa! SRK! – is confirmation of arrival amongst the elite of a new India, commercial and commodified. It is a place in a parade of parvenus, unlike the ingrained privilege of a Lord’s Test, society calcified over generation.
Mobilising social and cultural theory with his own rich prose, Drury has produced several exciting and provocative essays in this vein that offer pleasing descriptions of the familiar alongside the spark of new insights.
I hope that Declaration Game provides a comfortable home for writing about cricket statistics. Seamus Hogan, though, operates on a higher plane of numerical manipulation. In his university department’s blog, he has written several articles about cricket. I sense a love of cricket kept in check by professional propriety. In a recent piece, Hogan sought an answer to a question that many observers feel is self-evident, ‘Are ODI scores increasing?‘ Applying the controls on comparisons that we hobbyists tend not to trouble ourselves with, Hogan’s conclusion is counter-intuitive.
The second post about cricket statistics comes from an unlikely source: Scott Oliver of The Reverse Sweeper. Oliver’s cricket writing includes interviews, musings on literary theory and his seven part series on Adrian Shankar deserved to do for cricket blogging what Serial has done for the podcast. My selection is Unvital Statistics a piece that demolishes, with the help of political theory, the case for introducing statistical measures of fielding.
Yet the fundamental problem with individualised fielding stats is that the game of cricket – all team sport – is about intangible, unquantifiable relations and human traits, chief among which is generosity. Looking out for your mates. Putting everything you have in the pot before you measure it
Rarely do I start reading a blog post with one opinion and am so persuaded by what I read that I finish it with the opposite point of view.
In hosting the cricket blogger survey in recent months, I have come across a lot of, for me, new blogs. Amongst those I have enjoyed are: Voice from the Stands, Jack Vittles, My Life in Cricket Scorecards. From the back catalogue of two ‘new to me’ blogs, I enjoyed these excellent pieces.
The profile of Indian cricketer and airforce officer, Sky and Seam: the dreams of Shikha Pandey, on Grass on the Seam (Snehal Pradhan), reveals so much about the player and also the challenges of being a top class woman cricketer.
The Reckless Swipe, as a blog title, is a poor description of the measured writing found on Nick Allbury’s website. I particularly enjoyed this piece – The IPL and the difficulties choosing a team to support – where Allbury struggles to come to terms with, or sustain an interest in, franchise cricket.
But with the IPL I can find no angle. The teams, though featuring the name of a city, give me no sense of locality and any individuality that can be derived from it. There is no underdog, just one businessman pitting his wares against another. I don’t even get a true sense of India. The IPL may be played on Mars for all I care.
Cricket blogging encompasses many subjects and approaches: polemic, profile, statistical analysis, cultural theory, etc. Its essence, though, is story-telling. My final selections are tales from writers’ younger days.
Gary Naylor wrote a short series of ‘Summer the first time’ posts on 99.94 about how cricket entwined the young Naylor in the 1970s. His piece on fast bowling and Michael Holding, in particular, may help to give new life to the early memories that many of us have about cricket.
In the heat of England’s hottest summer in living memory, I closed the curtains and watched, on our new colour television, every ball of the Fifth Test on the scorched grass of Kennington’s Oval. There was King Viv’s 291 and Dennis Amiss’ magnificent return to the colours, going back and across to counter what was coming at him. And what was coming at him, was the most awesome sight in cricket – in sport – Michael Holding.
Dmitri Old was in the vanguard of writers challenging the powers that be in 2014. But the piece that caught my eye, Straight Down the Middle, recounted a schoolboy trip to Holland and a challenge issued and accepted by a West Indian cricketer. It’s the sort of story with which Old and his teammates, in particular the captain, will be able to earn their dinners for years to come.
Which blog posts that you read in 2014 deserve another read or a chance for a fresh audience?