Saturday, 28 June 2014

English cricket's problem with its fans

Saturday, 28 June 2014
It's been a struggle being a follower of English cricket over the past year. Not just because of what's happened on the pitch either, in fact quite often it's been because of events off the pitch. English cricket, and moreover, the ECB, has not always had the easiest relationship with its fans but it could be glossed over while the team did well. But more often than not in recent times as the team has struggled on the pitch, what's gone on off it has served to distract further – multiple sagas involving Kevin Pietersen, debates over England's supposed cricketing 'philosophy', and now the responses and debates over Cook as captain.

I don't want to weigh in on whether Pietersen should be playing for England – quite frankly, I'm bored of the whole issue and to me what's done is done – we're not going to see him in the side again. But questions must be asked over the ECB's – and specifically the new managing director Paul Downton's – handling of the whole issue. It's obviously an emotive issue for those involved in the game – he was one of England's biggest stars for nearly ten years, certainly the one who attracted the most attention from the media, and played a style of cricket that people loved to see. Though he was frustrating in equal measure and his ego did often get in the way, ditching him was always going to provoke a reaction. Whether or not it was the right decision to make though, the way it has unfolded has been a shambles. Rather than drawing a line under the issue and moving on, we've been treated to dribbles of information coming from either sides (Pietersen far from innocent as well with his comments – subtle and unsubtle – on the issue) – Downton saying one thing, Pietersen refuting it, even at one stage bizarre kind of proxy-war between Matt Prior and Piers Morgan. It's just not the sort of thing you want coming from a national board, and it's not done it any favours with the supporters, many disappointed that Pietersen is gone in the first place. I just find the whole thing tiresome.

It's not just been the Pietersen saga either. The style of play hasn't been inspiring, even at those points when England have been winning – against New Zealand and the home Ashes series. It was far from exciting cricket, the run rate coming at points to a standstill and grinding out the results. It can be odd criticising a team when they're winning, but to many England became unlikeable both in the style of play and in their attitude. It just became worse when the winter came and the results disappeared. When Moores took over he made a point of saying England would adopt a more positive philosophy, an indication that the criticism was being listened to. Was it in evidence in the Sri Lankan series? Well at times, yes, but at times no. The captaincy was a part of it, questions continuing over Cook's position. It would be unfair to judge the new side on just one series, which in any case was thoroughly enjoyable as both games went down to the final over. But if England are to start playing attractive cricket, they'll be wanting fewer days like day four where they gave no answer to Sri Lanka's dominance, losing all sense of attack.

And on to Cook, though I don't want to be going on and on over whether or not he should be captain. It's just that he's not doing himself any favours, and nor are the ECB. Giles Clarke's comments about Cook and his family being right to lead England, and Downton's unquestioning support – especially given where he stands on Pietersen – just haven't sat well as more and more the leader on the field has come under fire. Cook's response hasn't come off well either – saying 'something needs to be done' in relation to Warne's comments. Now, I do find Warne's comments repetitive, excessive and rather annoying, but it's just not really how an international captain should be responding to criticism. It would be much better to see his response on the pitch, or else it's just going to continue. When it came to the end of the match, England agonisingly being defeated on the penultimate ball, Anderson was in tears, while with Cook once more it seemed like a bit too much media speak and not enough soul.

Really, I just want to see my team doing well again at the game I love, I want to see them enjoying their cricket, I want to see signs of progress rather than having to sigh from disappointment whenever I watch them. I'm still going to stay optimistic over their future because there are reasons to look up even with their most recent defeat – they came so close to saving the match after one of the great innings from Mathews and a top order collapse that really left them with too much to do; you can't really blame Anderson because really he shouldn't have been in that position. But I do think that English cricket does have to work on its relationship with its fans, because, after all, they are the ones spending money and their emotion on the team.

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