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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Blog before wicket
The Magazine's review of weblogs
By Alan Connor

The view from the sidelines
If you're an England cricket fan, you could be forgiven for wishing you could eavesdrop on some conversations Down Under, if only for the rare opportunity to hear the word "Poms" without the word "whingeing" coming immediately beforehand.

The good news is that there's a growing network of cricket blogs out there, allowing you to do just that. After all, the last time England won the Ashes, there were not only no blogs: there was no World Wide Web at all; just 5,000 machines on the net and the odd Usenet post.

The bad news, though, is that if you're hoping for a quick burst of schadenfreude, you're in for a disappointment. Here's Michael Jennings from Uber Sporting Pundit on Monday 29th:

    "Australia in the end scored perhaps 20 runs less than they needed. I almost want to cry. Warne has been so magnificent, so consistently in this series. I do not want it to be in a losing cause."

"Another wonderful, wonderful match," he continues. What a pleasant corner of the blogosphere to spend time in! If you think that people get passionate about the War On Terror, they've got nothing on cricket writers, but the dominant tone is all the magnaminity and enjoyment of the game that you'd hope for.

In fact, the more sentimental might even feel a passing flicker of empathy on reading, for example, Darryl Stringer's account of Day Two of the Fourth Test:

    "England cannot lose this match... Australia can simply hope that they die with dignity. Unfortunately for them, that's not happening at the moment."

Another way that cricket weblogs differ from news and politics sites is their relationship with their paid-up counterparts in the mainstream media.

Weblog Watch is the BBC News Magazine's weekly review of bloggers' views of the world
There are no accusations of bias being hurled around (since it's generally pretty clear who a pundit is rooting for), and no dismissal of the bloggers from the pros. In the middle is the Website Of Record, CricInfo, which was started by students in 1993 and is now a Wisden enterprise.

It's a real shame that Cricket Uncut - "a group blog run by professional cricket writers from across the world" - seems to have gone to sleep for the duration of the Ashes: perhaps the professionals aren't finding as much free time to blog as they'd hoped?

As we noted back in May, you're unlikely to do investigative journalism if it's not your day job, but bloggers and paid journalists are on the same playing field when it comes to comment: it's down to whether you can write. The same goes with sports blogs: what have you got to say about the game?

Screen grab from The Ashes blog
Warne, as recreated by the authors of The Ashes blog
And with cricket blogs it's the usual mix: there are lots of links to choice articles, mixed in with bloggers' own match reports and analysis. The main difference is that there's more room for humour on the blogs. You might want to vote in STUmpCam's McGrath-O-Meter ("is he in? / is he out?") - or to take a look at the photos at The Ashes Blog. To get around copyright problems, that site features back-garden recreations of Warne's bowling style, or the state of the ground at Old Trafford.

And if you feel like joining in, you could always leave a voicemail with Rick Eyre for inclusion in one of his podcasts!

So, apart from a general sense of surprise at England's playing, what's caught the attention of cricket bloggers recently?

England's use of substitute fielders has been a big topic, but it's not as controversial as Ricky Ponting might like it to be. Indian blogger S Jagadish at Cricket 24x7 is more inclined to blame the Australians for not capitalising on England's "dropped catches and shoddy bowling"; Vishnu Pavan Beeram at Willow And Leather sees a parallel with the argument over negative bowling, opines that "having a 'perfect substitute' fielder improves the quality of the game being played" and concludes: "Ponting has more serious problems to ponder over."

Substitute fielders have also come up in the context of Australian batsman Simon Katich's recent outburst, allowing Will at The Corridor Of Uncertainty to go for a "just not cricket" wisecrack, If you're groaning, you really shouldn't let that put you off what is a beautiful and lively cricket blog.

But sticking with old chestnuts for a moment, we've seen this one popping up a fair bit during the Ashes:

    "You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.

And that's because of the other big topic of the moment: the Johnny-Come-Lately supporters. Harry of Harry's Place is not alone in recalling the brief period where rugby was the new football, adding:

    "Fear not old school cricket lovers - it won't last. As the fate of the England rugby union team shows, a few setbacks will see off the fairweather fans and if that doesn't happen we are going to stop them watching anyway."

The less curmudgeonly might be interested to read some of those newcomers explaining why this series is the most popular for years: either in the Harry's Place comments, or in Tom Ewing's confession at Freaky Trigger's TMFD blog:

    "Sitting watching the Ashes yesterday I turned to Tim and admitted it. 'You know those people the newspapers talk about who are suddenly interested in cricket? I'm one of them.' 'Me too,' he replied. Out of respect for the frayed nerves and fingernails of the real fans I have kept my questions mum, especially as most of them are 'So how come that wasn't out and that was?'"

It would seem fair to give all supporters the benefit of the doubt, at least until the end of the Fifth Test. If you want to see how the blogs cover the rest of these Ashes, there are more links over at 5 Live's Up All Night. One thing that nearly everyone is agreed on, is that this is not an ordinary Ashes. Vibhash Prakash at Fultoo Bakar has plenty on this topic:

    "I am an optimist. I do not believe in Murphy's laws. But the 'Ashes' is making me believe that when it starts going wrong, almost everything goes wrong. [...] It pulls you to a level where you start defying your definition of Gentleman ness. Even the good balls start finding their way into the crowd, your best fielder starts dropping sitters and even terrible shots start falling yards from the fielders. Perhaps Murphy has chosen Australia as his guinea pig this time."
Or perhaps Murphy is English?

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