Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2006

Like falling off a blog

Alastair McLellan

The Corridor of Uncertainty © Will Luke

"It's transcontinental journalism meets backyard-barbecue," said Darryl Stringer of the most significant new trend in cricket's relationship with the internet. Stringer is the author of The Ashes blog - a mix of reportage, debate and makeshift photographic re-enactments of last summer's series. At its most basic, a blog (short for weblog) is effectively an online diary.

The author posts a message and visitors add comments. Blogs are not new, but the arrival of various online tools (would-be bloggers, see below) have removed almost all the technical barriers to creating one. Having your own online soapbox is now nearly as easy as sending an email.

The opinionated people of the world have not been slow to take up this opportunity. Research in August 2005 reported an explosion in "the blogosphere". The number of blogs worldwide had topped 14 million and was doubling every five months. The giants of the internet world have also been quick to react. Bloggers can tag their sites with key words to catch the attention of search engines. New and dedicated blog search engines are now generating a huge number of links. The enthusiasm generated in Britain by the Ashes series just added gelignite to the explosion.

Bloggers divide roughly into two camps: people who are professional or semi-professional writers first and foremost, and those who are unashamed fans. Dedicated cricket blogs also split into two camps: the broad-ranging sites which comment on anything and everything, and those covering a particular event or subject, like the 2005 Ashes. In South Asia, life and cricket are so intensely intertwined that bloggers shift naturally between politics, business, cultural issues and sport. A perfect example is Amit Varma's India Uncut

The Ashes series threw up a number of compelling "single-interest" sites, which, though not strictly blogs, were born of strong opinions and had user- interaction at their heart.

Highlighting the desperate longing for victory felt by England fans was Team Fishcake's Raindance for the Ashes. The site provided instructions on how the heavens could be persuaded to open, removing any chance of Australia winning the final Test. Fans were told to "march around in an oval pattern, shouting at the sun in an imaginary foreign language". The easily embarrassed were advised to "leave your car sunroof open" or "dress in tissue paper". Visitors to the site emailed alternative suggestions, including the failsafe: "As you leave the house, pick up your coat, pause, then replace it with a confident `Nah!'"

Stringer's Ashes was one of the best examples of the sites born of the titanic 2005 clash. Stringer, a 29-year-old Australian, described his blog - created specifically to cover the series - as "a limited-edition print, a quick single". He added: "I thought it would be fun to be a sports writer. I do my research, check the stats, and then put my editorial opinion out there just as a professional journalist should... but then I get these alternative opinions thrown back at me like I'm some bloke in a pub."

On his "little patch of dirt on Planet Blog", he welcomed a thousand or more daily visitors. "The discussions about team selections, the jokes and the controversies big and small... changed the way I watch a game. I've always had an opinion about the day's events and the players involved, but I got to share those thoughts with thousands of people." Sometimes those people are not who you might expect. A straightforward post about Kevin Pietersen on the Corridor of Uncertainty blog led to the site being invaded by KP's female admirers, calling him "dead set sxc" [sic].

But among all the chatter, perhaps the real blog treasures are the previously untold tales throwing new light on the game's legends. Over to the former Lancashire left-arm spinner, Alex Barnett, and his fond farewell to Richie Benaud.

"It was the 1993 B&H semi-final against Leicestershire. I delivered a dreadful long-hop which the batsman tried to hit into Manchester. But he swung so hard he missed. The next day I watched a recording of the BBC's coverage, and the great man was in the commentary box as I bowled my filthy half-tracker. I listened closely to hear how one of the world's greatest sporting commentators might describe one of the world's worst deliveries. "As it happened the ball just missed the off stick. Then Richie chimed in: `Ah, that'll be the skidder, where he releases the ball a bit quicker, undercuts so the seam doesn't touch the wicket and the ball goes straight on.'

"Thanks, Richie, I am for ever indebted."

© John Wisden & Co Ltd.