KP; ECB; WTF?

It is hard to know where to start discussing the shots that have been fired by Kevin Pietersen and the ECB over the past five days.  Accusations of a bullying dressing room, Andy Flower acting like a petulant school teacher, the board being, well, pretty hopeless (if not outwardly vindictive and lying) and of individuals within the team who lied to Pietersen and betrayed him by writing a parody Twitter account.  In fact, if you read the press generated by KP’s book, you would be forgiven for thinking that English cricket over the last five years has been nothing but disastrous.  Impassioned fans and bloggers have picked through the ECB’s leaked document and the KP evidence to demonstrate that their theories have largely been right.  Even Jonathan Agnew has left Twitter after Jessica from Liberty X (also Mrs Pietersen) accused him of lying.  Quite a week, then.

I like to think that I take quite a balanced view on this, and I would like to examine events from the last five years alongside the information that has now been released by Pietersen.  Undoubtedly, life in the England cricket team has been a little less rosy than we have been led to believe.  But, also, I would vehemently disagree with anybody who considers Andy Flower’s time as head coach to have been a bad thing for English cricket.

Eras, ended.

Whenever a regime ends, the ramifications are violent.  Frequently, what has been considered a weakness of a coach (or, more generally, the regime) grows larger and larger, seeming to overpower the strengths of the regime.  Let’s turn our thoughts back to 2007.  England were beaten 5-0 by Australia and went on to perform in a very disappointing manner at the World Cup.  Fletcher’s weaknesses: under-preparation in the tour games (he instigated 13-per-side tour warm-up matches), a favouritism to certain players who were guaranteed their places no matter what (Geriant Jones, Ashley Giles to name but two), a preference for a certain type of cricketer (express pace bowlers over all others, for example) and a distrust of selections from county cricket.  All legitimate concerns over Fletcher’s reign.  All became pressing issues in Australia in 2006-7, when the team started losing.  But, it wasn’t just that the team were losing – it seemed that the team were weakened by these flaws.  The consensus was clear – Fletcher had ‘lost it’ through being given too much power, and the time was right to move things on, appoint a new coach and take a new approach.

Now, of course, history shows a slightly less dogmatic view.  England were highly unlucky with injuries, with the loss of support staff and the loss of form from key players.  Plus, of course, this Australia team was one of the great teams.  England at their best would have struggled to win the series, though they would have challenged harder, no doubt.  Was it the right time for Fletcher to move on?  Maybe – he had done 8 years on the job, after all, but it is now widely agreed that a staggered hand-over to his successor would have been better.

My point in writing the above is that test cricket is perhaps a unique sport, especially when on a test match tour – when a dressing room implodes, it really implodes.  And English cricket’s implosions seem to coincide with tours to Australia: 1994-5, 2002-3, 2006-7, 2013-14.

In a month’s time, a year’s time, a decade’s time, when the emotions have cooled it will be far easier to place Flower’s era in context.  What has struck me is that the good times have been largely forgotten – rewind three or four years and Flower was being hailed as a genius and it was almost impossible to imagine the implosion that has occurred over the last twelve months.

The worst of times

We must begin this examination by looking back to 2009 – a key start-point for everybody examining this relationship, as it is thought that this is when Flower began his dislike for Pietersen after KP tried to remove him (alongside Peter Moores).  That may well be true.  This was another English cricket ‘crisis’ – a new captain who had only captained for three test matches was not able to click with a coach who, frankly, was not international class and acted in an inappropriate manner with the senior players.  Generally, 2008 was a terrible year for the ECB.  What with Michael Vaughan and Paul Collingwood both resigning because they could no longer work with Moores, the grubby Allan Stanford affair and the ECB’s fitness coach being jailed for child pornography offences.  Everywhere you looked, the ECB were generally getting things wrong and cocking things up.  Neither were events on the field any better.  The events of January 2009 was the apex of this period of English cricket – it might even be suggested that the batting collapse that occurred in Jamaica in February 2009 was the final scene within this act of history.  For it was that West Indies series in which the Flower/Strauss regime started to take hold.

“The team is not a hire car”

The main point that I want to bring out is that between 2009 and 2011 Flower and Strauss could do, it seemed, almost no wrong.  The team began to take shape, key man-management decisions were made effectively (such as the treatment of Ian Bell on that tour and the sensible discarding of Stephen Harmison after the 2009 Ashes) and the team ethic began to take hold.  Performances were not immediately outstanding (a lost series away to the West Indies, and a hardly convincing performance in the 2009 Ashes although the team most certainly had their moments as they went on to win the series), but the signs were promising.  More to the point, the narrative portrayed by the press in 2011 was that it was this team ethic that had been missing in a listless 18 months (during Peter Moores’ reign) and was now being fixed by Flower/Strauss.  “The team is not a hire car” and all that.

As test match series continued to unfold, the team grew more and more established – the ‘brand’ of cricket was secure, the key players knew their roles and results were pleasing.  We can look back to the South Africa tour of 2009/10 as a key time for the growth of this team, as we can the summer of 2010 when there were difficult political circumstances for Strauss to deal with following the News of the World match fixing sting.  The result was that when the 2010/11 Ashes came around, this was a well-drilled team and one that utterly deserved to win that series in the convincing manner that it did so.  The 2011 summer, in which England became the number 1 team in the world, saw this halcyon period continue.

It is interesting to look back at what was being written about the team environment (and the ECB) at this point in time.  There was a lot of credit given to the attritional brand of cricket being played – batsman scoring ‘daddy’ hundreds and bowlers grinding it out in the field, along with a no-nonsense approach to fielding, driven by Matt Prior, the ‘fielding captain’.  The ECB were credited with their use of back room staff, the use of statistics and video analysis, the fact that they had established a Lions set-up that in many ways bypassed the county system – Loughborough came into its own.

If this was an unhappy dressing room, then I would be incredibly surprised.  Bullying on the field?  Players failing to relate to one another?  Flower creating divisions?  If that was the case, then the players would not have achieved the outstanding success that they did in the twelve months between October 2010 and 2011, and they, frankly, looked like they were having a pretty enjoyable time, too.  Just watch Swanny’s Video Diaries for proof.  Yes, Pietersen was never quite integral to this team dynamic, but he was no outsider – he featured in the Video Diaries (being gently teased for his footballing allegiance by Paul Collingwood), he mucked in with the sprinkler dance at Melbourne and embraced all the other players once the series had been won.  He was a crucial performer within that period – and you felt that this was recognised and respected by the dressing room.  It should also be noted that in this period KP gave several interviews that were praising of Flower.  Doing what he had to as an ECB employee? Perhaps – but he has never been shy to give his opinion since, even when under contract.

So, it is the autumn of 2011 – England are number one in the world, and the players have a six-month break from cricket.  What could possibly go wrong?

Jumping the shark?

As it turned out, everything.

In my view, all the negative outpouring of the last few days can be traced back to this point.  Did the dressing room environment become too cocky, too certain of the ways of the team?  Were the negative traits of England’s brand of cricket magnified and the positives left behind?  Did England fail to evolve in an act of complacency?  Quite possibly all of these things.  This was certainly the time that KP felt estranged from the rest of the team.  Enough has been written about KP Genius and text-gate by many people over the last week.  But it was these actions of the 2012 dressing room that led to Pietersen’s eventual downfall – of that we all agree.

How much of that is attributable to Andy Flower?  Or the senior players; the clique, as they have become known?  Results on the pitch began to take a downward turn – the old problem of playing against spin brought 90s-style batting collapses in Dubai as England crumbled against Pakistan.  Whilst England did beat West Indies at home in the first half of the 2012 summer, the performances were not as convincing as they might have been – just ask Tino Best.  Then, when South Africa arrived for the series that had been billed as the play-off to the number one spot in test match cricket, England failed to show.  South Africa were superior in almost every sense, and they won the series with ease.

And this is where the dressing room also began to fall apart.  @KPGenius, text-gate, Strauss’ resignation.  Did this come about because of the poor on-pitch results, or did they trigger them.  The truth, probably, is that there was a bit of both.  England came to think that their way of playing cricket, of behaving as a team, was successful – but it evolved in completely the wrong manner.  In some ways, comparison with the team post-2005 Ashes would be accurate.  Although, in that case there were more mitigating circumstances, especially the injuries to key players.  This was more of the case that the team as a whole, the regime took an incorrect turning.  The England Cricket Team – Flower and Strauss’ cricket team – jumped the shark.

Just as well that the Olympics rather overshadowed a very disappointing international summer.

The question was whether England could turn this around, that the dressing room could evolve in a more successful manner and create a new brand of cricket, under captain Cook.

Re-integration (or just papering over the cracks?)

It all started so well.  Cook and Flower agreed to bring back KP, England took an impressive series win in India in late-2012 and the team spirit appeared to have returned in spades.  But winning can paper over cracks, and whilst England won all appeared rosy.  Yet, within months things were beginning to fall apart.  Shaky performances in New Zealand led to an ill-tempered start to the summer, when England were accused of playing in a negative manner in the second test match against New Zealand.  Flower reacted violently to questioning from both Mike Atherton and Jonathan Agnew in post-match interviews (for Sky Sports and the BBC respectively).  There was rumour that mention of the word “Ashes” was banned in the dressing-room.  England were still not playing particularly well (although, results were still – just! – going their way).  A better-than-deserved Champions Trophy showing and the fact that the Australia team were in even more disarray allayed this negativity for a number of months.  But, by August 2013, it was clear that all was not well in the England ship.  The, frankly, ludicrous and demeaning selections for the Oval test match showed that England had lost the plot.  The brand of cricket was getting more and more negative, England were becoming more and more unpopular for their on-field conduct and the results were starting to turn (remember the home Ashes series results of W-W-D-W-D).  It all seems obvious now, but when England flew to Australia, they had it coming.

But again, whose fault was this?  I would argue that each coaching regime has a peak before the results and culture inevitably falls around it.  The peak of this regime was undoubtedly 2010-11, and the fall took place from 2012 right through until the beginning of this year.  Only a honeymoon series for Alastair Cook and the fortune of home conditions and a poorly run Australian side disguised this.  And thus, when KP reflects upon the poor culture of the England team and his unhappiness in the dressing room, I would hope that he is referring mainly to 2012 onwards.  For me, the start of the Flower-Strauss axis brought a great time for English cricket, and I would be distraught for this to be tarnished.  Perhaps some of the dressing-room arrogance and inter-team politics began then and, again, winning papered over those cracks.  There are signs of English arrogance, such as Flower’s trip to the Indian dressing room during the tea interval during ‘Bell-gate’.  These features of the dressing room only worsened over time, with the positives diminishing.  And then, when England finally ran out of luck and the floodgates opened in Australia last winter the fallout began in earnest.

I am no fan of the ECB – I have a deep dislike of the manner in which Giles Clarke runs the game.  But I would support the 2009-11 England team regime to the hilt – after all, this was a side that gave me a lot of pleasure as a fan through the manner in which they played their cricket and the results that they gleaned.  One can only hope, looking back to 2007, that another successful era comes around just as quickly as Fletcher turned to Flower.  English cricket has been very fortunate in recent years – we must not forget that.  Will KP return?  In all likelihood, no.  Can England turn a corner and begin to play less ugly brand of cricket and become a better organisation again?  I certainly hope so.  And I hope that all this infighting ceases soon as it does nobody any good.

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The Cricketer magazine: once again in transition

Three years ago I wrote about changes made to the Wisden Cricketer magazine following its acquisition by TestMatchExtra, just ahead of its change of name back to The Cricketer. What I didn’t realise when I wrote that article was that the magazine was to enter quite such a turbulent time. For one thing, I was not aware that the first magazine with the new name was also to be John Stern’s last as editor.  Stern had done a wonderful job as editor of TWC for nearly eight years and whilst I have no idea why he stood down at this particular point, it seems a bit coincidental that it took place at the same time as the name change.  It might well have been that he was looking to move on regardless and saw this new era for the magazine as the ideal time to do so.  Or it might have been something more sinister – I do not know (although it should be stated that Stern continued to write for the magazine for a further six months or so, so clearly the relationship was good enough for that to take place).

In any case, my positive thoughts about the new ownership (as outlined in the aforementioned post from three years ago) were altered substantially.  A magazine that brought the best of TestMatchExtra’s website (Jonathan Agnew, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Simon Hughes, Vic Marks, Mark Nicholas) and coupled this with the best of the TWC staff (John Stern as editor and the excellent staff writers) would have been brilliant.  I would have welcomed a subtle change of focus from the BSkyB perspective (by whom the magazine had been owned for the past four years) to a Test Match Special one, but Stern’s departure changed all that.

It meant that Andrew Bordiss, a longstanding journalist (but not specifically a cricket one) who had been brought in as Managing Director at the time of the TestMatchExtra acquisition, took over as “Editor in Chief” for the remainder of 2011.  The magazine instantly appeared a rather more staid affair than the TWC years.  Whilst there were still some excellent articles being produced, and the likes of Agnew, Hughes and Marks provided fine columns, the editorial direction of the title appeared to be wavering slightly.  There were slightly bizarre new longstanding features and the design appeared to be rather dated.  It seemed as though the TestMatchExtra vision was a return to The Cricketer magazine of old – rather more worthy than the TWC incarnation.  This, in itself, was not a problem, although this might ultimately have proven problematic for sales (should an older audience be targeted over a younger one?) and one could see that a specialist cricket journalist was no longer editing it, a situation that would have needed to be rectified.  However, should a specialist cricket journalist have been brought in as editor, one who could have slightly manoeuvred the editorial direction towards the younger audience once more, along with a design refresh, this direction for the magazine would not have been a bad one at all.  In fact, this was the direction that I expected it to take, as it seemed to take over TestMatchExtra.com’s portfolio perfectly.

What was to happen next was a tremendous surprise.

Andrew Miller’s appointment as editor was a very strong one.  A superlative writer, excellent journalist and fantastic visionary, there was no question that persuading him to move over from Cricinfo was quite a coup for the magazine.  Yet, one of his very first moves as editor was to prove very surprising and it instantly tore apart the work of the TestMatchExtra acquisition, as far as the magazine was concerned.

The purchase of TestMatchSofa gained a number of column inches – for the uninitiated, the ‘Sofa’ was an unendorsed commentary service provided via the web, run by amateur broadcasters and cricket enthusiasts who commentated off the television.  The service began in 2009 and rapidly gained popularity.  However, it was financially unsustainable and by January 2012 it needed investment.  Step forward The Cricketer, heavily prompted by the newly-appointed Miller.  Miller was one of the Sofa’s key champions when he was at Cricinfo, so it was unsurprising that he wished to go into partnership with it.  On paper, it sounded like a great combination – a way to bring the great old magazine into the twenty-first century and have more of a connection with younger fans.

However, the problems were two-fold.  First, and most immediately, was the fact that many of the TestMatchExtra personnel also worked for the BBC’s Test Match Special.  They were highly against the Sofa, as they saw their broadcast as undermining their rights with the ECB.  The highly-passionate Jonathan Agnew instantly resigned from the magazine’s board.  Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote very thinly-disguised criticism of the Sofa’s service and declined to appear any more in the magazine that he had had so much impact on in the 1980s (sadly, CMJ was soon to be taken very ill and passed away later that year).  Vic Marks stopped appearing at much the same time.

The issue for these BBC personnel was that whilst previously writing for (and investing in) The Cricketer was a perfectly acceptable by-line to their main jobs, now that the magazine owned a rival service (and a highly contentious one, at that) they could not participate.  Thus, the TestMatchExtra benefits that the magazine had enjoyed (for only six months or so) were destroyed at a stroke.

The second problem with the Sofa acquisition was the legal problems that the magazine would be entered into, legal problems that remain until this day.  Initially, the ECB had turned a blind eye to the Sofa, allowing it to broadcast off-tube, so long as this fact was acknowledged on-air.  (Indeed, there is a precedent of this, as tested in court, when TalkSport broadcast the European Football Championships in much the same vein in 2000.)  However, perhaps buoyed by the fact that this service was no longer run by enthusiastic amateurs and now bankrolled by one of the game’s major media sources, the ECB looked to stop the service from broadcasting.  Angry words were exchanged in the press between Andrew Miller and Jonathan Agnew in late 2012, ahead of England’s tour to India.  In 2013, Miller was warned by the ECB for tweeting about the Sofa from the Lord’s press box during the Ashes test (against the Board’s terms and conditions for press members), for which the Cricketer sued the ECB.  As of this season, the Sofa has not been broadcasting for legal reasons.  Whether this is related to the above case, or a separate case I am not sure.  Whichever it is, it could perhaps be argued that the Sofa purchase has been an expensive flop for the magazine – eating up legal fees, damaging its reputation and now reduced to tweeting score updates throughout each international match whilst its future is decided on in the court rooms.

It has shifted the magazine from an establishment figure (owned first by Wisden, then BSkyB, then by many who broadcast on Test Match Special) to one that is seen as a ‘black sheep’ by the ECB.  And, as for the magazine itself, with the departure of many high-profile columnists, it has returned to more of a Stern-style editorship.

Not that this is a bad thing – Miller has developed the Cricketer into a truly excellent magazine.  The most recent issue is a triumph – exactly what The Cricketer magazine should be in 2014.  It contains highly intelligent articles about the Great War and its relationship to cricket, timely reports about the England team, a detailed county section along with details of club cricket and cricket in schools.  This is the best of the old-school Cricketer, coupled with modern methods in writing and publishing. Miller’s editorship has been a triumph in this regard.

Which is why this morning’s news came as a great shock to me.  Miller, along with his two assistants, is to be made redundant.  The magazine will now operate with no in-house journalistic staff.  Instead, Simon Hughes will act as ‘Editor-at-Large’, with Alec Swann (Graeme’s brother) as ‘Head of Editorial Planning & Production’.  All the articles will now come via an ‘enhanced commissioning process’.

Clearly, the Cricketer are trying to cut costs.  I do not know why such a fantastic print journalist as Miller has been let go.  Perhaps the management are resentful of the Test Match Sofa purchase and hold that against him – that is just my speculation, I have no evidence for that at all.  As great as Simon Hughes is with regards his broadcast work and his analysis, he is not as talented a writer as Miller.  Nor, given his commitments on television, radio and for the Daily Telegraph, will he be treating this as a full-time job.

It is a shame that, after 12 months of instability (between 2011 and 2012), just when the magazine was really starting to find its feet, this happens to knock it back in an unknown direction.  I will give it a few months to let it find its way again, but I may well be cancelling my subscription if this does not work out – a subscription that dates back to the very first issue of TWC, released on my twelfth birthday in 2003.  More to the point, The Cricketer is a heritage brand within the game, and it appeared to be returning to its former glories.  I hope that this new direction does not ruin it forever.

The Fallacy of the Free Update (or, why I don’t want to update to Mavericks, but am being forced to)

Last October, with the release of OS X Mavericks, Apple changed their business model of OS X updates – no longer was there to be a charge for a major update.  Instead, just like iOS, this was to be free (and simple to install through the App Store).  The App Store mechanism has been used for updates since Lion’s release in 2011 (and, as this was the point that I jumped on the Mac bandwagon, I haven’t known anything else).  Indeed, this is one area where iOS excels – it is extremely easy to update to the latest software, and, by and large, everybody does so very quickly indeed.

However, a desktop operating system is a very different beast.  Updating iOS does not take any substantial downtime out from your system, nor does it drastically alter the way that apps work, because of its walled garden approach. However, as much as Apple want OS X to be like iOS, I’m afraid that updating OS X does pose more problems.

Hence, with Mavericks, Avid’s Sibelius software is not fully supported yet (it runs slowly, there are font bugs and also issues with ReWire), and Parallels 8 does not run properly on it either.  For these reasons (along with waiting for bugs to be ironed out in the new system) I am not wanting to upgrade my system.  I didn’t update to Mountain Lion until Easter 2013, as I waited for 10.8.2 to be released and I am in a similar boat with Mavericks – but in this case the critical moment will be when Avid have a patch ready for Sibelius.

That was my thinking until I received an email from my college’s IT department, informing us that any Mac not running Mavericks would not be permitted access to the college network from Easter, as it is the only ‘supported’ Apple OS, and running older versions of OS X are a security breach.  I was all ready to fire off an email to the department, pointing out that Apple did, in fact, still release security updates to older OSs, but decided to quickly Google to double-check.  It turned out that I was mistaken – whilst Lion was continually updated since the introduction of Mountain Lion, the ‘free update’ nature of Mavericks means that Mountain Lion is not being updated.  OS X is still a secure environment, and I don’t believe that my system is in any inherent danger, but, rather irritatingly, my IT department are quite correct in stating that Mavericks is the only supported OS version.  (What is also annoying is that Apple don’t have an official policy on this – unlike Microsoft’s abundantly clear one – so IT departments have to guess based on Apple’s released updates.)  From the IT department’s perspective, it’s no problem to the student population to update – it’s free!!  Except, it’s not free like a point-update to OS X is, or a new iOS version, it’s actually a major overhaul of an operating system.

I would actually rather that the OS X major updates were kept as a purchase option (albeit for a small amount, such as the £15 for Lion/Mountain Lion) and that Apple continued to support older OS X versions properly.  For, whilst the Mavericks update is free in terms of money, it is still a major update of a desktop OS – completely different to iOS’ update procedure.  It is very dangerous that Apple are, in effect, forcing consumers to update their system on day one of a new release, when that is not the best path of action, at all, for a desktop system.

I appreciate that Apple are trying to streamline the process of OS X updates and make them akin to iOS updates.  The problem is that they are not entirely the same, and in my opinion, this move has damaged OS X’s standing as a desktop operating system.

I will be updating to Mavericks over Easter because I will have to.  And I will have to cope with a sluggishly unresponsive Sibelius and purchasing a new version of Parallels.  I’m not happy about it, though.

Sibelius 7.5 announced

So, as I predicted last month, Sibelius 7.5 was announced today at the NAMM show.  But was I right about the features that I predicted?  Mostly, yes.

Playback enhancements

The playback enhancements have gone beyond tweaks to the patches (although this update does include some of those) and include new Espressivo settings, with lots of new detailed options.  Very good news for those relying on Sibelius for demos.  There is no completely new library, which in some ways is a surprise, but in others not: for a point update it is perfectly reasonable to just offer enhancements to the library.  Especially as the Sibelius 7.0 library was such an improvement over what was offered in Sibelius 6.x.

Export options

Yep, they’re there – present and correct! A very useful feature for educators and pros alike – also utterly predictable that it would be included!

Interface enhancements

I must admit that I was not quite on the money with this one.  There are no ribbon enhancements (such as the customisation options that I predicted) – instead, we see a new ‘timeline’ window.  This looks very neat indeed, and I look forward to experiencing it – surely something that was designed and implemented by the London team before their dismissal?!  It certainly bears their hallmarks.

Operating system compatibility

It certainly looks like Sibelius 7.5 will run on Mavericks, but we shall see!  No news about native full screen (although that might, I suppose, be one of the small tweaks that are promised) – I reckon that if it had full gesture support, such as Finale 2014 then that would be shouted about from the rooftops, too.  I must admit that I would be very disappointed if native full screen was not implemented – this is a feature that I was wanting since the launch of Sibelius 7 in 2011 (which practically coincided with the launch of Mac OS X Lion, which contained this new full screen paradigm) and I’m sure that had the original development team stayed with the company they would have done so.  If this feature is included then I will eat my words!

The next ‘big’ feature?

Well, simply put, it doesn’t include one!  The nearest that we get is the timeline interface and the espressivo and playback enhancements.

Small tweaks

There are several useful features, such as an ability to place system objects (such as symbols) on all staves at once and some enhanced tuplet functionality.  This is something that has been long-requested by many a Sibelius user and it is rather cheeky that a tiny, tiny portion of this has been addressed in this update.  The cynical side of me wonders if this has been put in as a way to ‘snare in’ long-term, hard-core users through the marketing blurb.  All that has changed is the ability to paste text, such as dynamics, into a tuplet – not previously possible.  It’s a step forward, but not the revolutionary update that many would have wanted (or possibly expected, given the vague wording given on the press release!).  Ah, well, perhaps Sibelius 8?!

Conclusions

So, Sibelius 7.5 is here, and it certainly looks to have maintained the slickness and class of previous versions when it comes to design of features.  It will be very interesting to see how stable the software is upon release.  This does beg the question as to how much of this update was prepared by the London team before they departed in the summer of 2012.  I would say that the design of the timeline and espressivo features certainly bear their fingerprints.  Of course, such features could have been ‘polished up’ by the new team.  The pricing seems fairly fair.  I should be getting it free as part of 4 years’ free updates that I received with my student purchase of Sibelius 7, but a £40 update fee from Sibelius 7 is reasonable.  As far as I can see, the update from Sibelius 6 (or earlier) to 7.5 is the same cost as it would have been to 7 – thus this Sibelius policy is maintained.

Since I published my post of predictions, Sam Butler was announced as the new product manager of Sibelius, and Joe Pearson the new designer.  Both are members of the ‘old’ Sibelius team – left over in support, when Daniel Spreadbury was let go as product manager alongside his development team.  It is notable that Avid seem to have realised the value of having long-term members of the Sibelius community (people who spent a lot of time with the previous designers and developers) running the show, rather than Pro Tools experts trying to jump ship.  These moves seem positive.  But, in many ways, this update was the easy one to release – it contains new features and code begun by the London team and the new developers just needed to polish this up into a product.  Plus, as a .5 release, there are nowhere near as many new features, and thus there is less complexity.  Sibelius 8 will be the acid test – this new team now needs to come up with some new ideas of its own and develop them stably and competently.  And – who knows – by the time that that package is released, they may have a new competitor – Daniel Spreadbury’s team’s new application from Steinberg.

One thing is for certain – interesting times are ahead in the world of notation software and this seems like just a very small chapter.

The preview of Sibelius 7.5 at Phillip Rothman’s Sibelius Blog is a must-read, going into far more detail on the new update than I have here.

Sibelius 7.5: My predictions

It is looking increasingly likely that the new version of Sibelius will be launched at the NAMM show in January.  It is a favourite launch venue for many Avid’s products (the new versions of Media Composer and Pro Tools were announced there last year), and it ties in with a launch for the new product taking place ‘soon’.  We already know that it will be named Sibelius 7.5 and will not run on any version of Windows older than Windows 7.

This is a notable release of the software, as it is the first since the events of summer 2012, when the original development team were all laid off and the development relocated from London to Avid’s audio headquarters in Daly City and also Ukraine.  There were many, many people who were vocal against this move and it is comforting that there is at least some development continuing, as the most pessimistic of commentators believed that this was Avid’s way of shutting down Sibelius development completely.  However, it remains to be seen how well the new team manage to start afresh, as it still looks an extraordinarily stupid move to fire en masse the entire ‘knowledge body’ of coders and product managers in order to cut costs.  Sibelius is a very, very complex piece of software and an entirely new development team starting completely from a blank slate presents them with a very difficult task.

The recent interview with Michael Ost, the new technical lead of Sibelius, on the Sibelius Blog is well worth a read, however I do not agree with some of the criticism given to him in the comments regarding his lack of knowledge of certain features of the product.  He is not the new Daniel Spreadbury – that task appears to have fallen jointly to Bobby Lombardi (the new product manager) and Sam Butler (head of customer service, who has also taken on Daniel’s role of the ‘public face’ of Sibelius) – he is (I believe I’m right in saying) the new Ben Timms.  Therefore, devising new features and workflows is not on his agenda.  Instead, he needs to get to grips with the codebase of the product and look at the best way of developing things in that respect.  It is very promising to see that he has a pedigree of notation software, what with his work on Encore, and it will be very interesting to see where Sibelius heads in the future.

However, it will take time for the new team to get to grips with the product and move things on, picking up from the exemplary work that the London development team gave the product for so many years.  And I highly doubt that they are ready for a release yet.  That is why, in my mind, version 7.5 is releasing now.  Avid missed the usual update window of 2 years, with no new version forthcoming last summer – which was hardly surprising.  The new team have been established long enough (just over a year) in order to polish up the work that the old team did on Sibelius 8 before they were let go and turn it into a finished product – hence the version number 7.5.  I think that it will take some more time for a full version update to come from the new team (possibly another two years) and thus they are putting the new version out as an intermediary measure.  Partly, I suspect, to keep the money coming in, but also to show that Sibelius development has not halted since version 7.1.3 and prove that the product is still important to Avid.

With all that in mind, this is what I can foresee coming as part of the new version:

New sounds

Given that the sounds package was always produced outwith the London team, it would be very straightforward for a new, enhanced, set of sounds to be recorded and packaged with the software.  Also, given Sam Butler’s expertise in this area, and his continued employment from Avid, it seems almost certain that an updated sounds package will be one of the new features in 7.5.

Export options

When Sibelius First 7 launched in 2012, there were a plethora of new export options that were not present in the full Sibelius product.  These included export to Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube and the Avid Scorch app.  It is a safe bet to assume that these export options will now be part of the full product.

Interface enhancements

In my opinion, one of the most unfortunate aspects of the events of last summer was that the London team’s departing version was version 7.  In some ways it would have been better for them to depart with version 6 having been their last, as that demonstrated perfectly the inventiveness and flair of their features and the elegance of the programme.  It was, in some ways, the end of a journey that sought graphical perfection – something that Magnetic Layout supported in droves.  In comparison, Version 7 was a more intermediary version, with an attempt to modernise the software for the 2010s, with new UI idioms and approaches.  Therefore, it was not perfect – especially considering the fact that development team had dramatically shrunk already by this point.  A version 8 from the London team would surely have ironed out some of the flaws and criticisms that befell the new ‘Ribbon’ interface.  (For the record, I am a tremendous fan of the ribbon and think that it makes Sibelius a far more approachable and intuitive software.)

I would not be surprised if some of these small enhancements had already been worked on by the London team, and thus will appear in 7.5.  For example, I expect a degree of customisation to come in: on Windows, a customised Quick Access toolbar seems a certainty, and there may even be the option to create a personalised tab on the ribbon to put together your favourite features on just the one tab.  The option to ‘undock’ the ribbon to another display would also prove very popular, but I’m not sure whether that is permissible under Microsoft’s UI guidelines.  In any case, I would expect there to be the option to customise the Quick Access toolbar, along with other interface tidy-ups – possibly some kind of improvement to the new printing mechanism which can still be a bit hit-and-miss, in my experience.

Operating system compatibility

One would hope that 7.5 will be fully compatible with OS X Mavericks (at present Sibelius 7.1.3 runs slowly and there are some font issues), certainly in terms of a performance perspective.  It would also be very welcome if the full-screen mode becomes native and if there is some way for the versioning to tie in with the OS versioning.  I appreciate that the latter would be very difficult to pull off, however.

7.1.3 is fully compatible with Windows 8, and obviously that would continue – I doubt that there are any plans to turn Sibelius into a Metro app!!

The next ‘big’ feature?

Above are three types of features that I certainly expect to see in 7.5.  That still, however, is very slim pickings for an upgrade, even if that upgrade is just a .5 update.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the next ‘big’ feature that the London team were working on was a way to split one stave with two voices in a score into two separate parts – properly flexible dynamic parts.  Whether this makes it into 7.5, I don’t know – I would doubt it myself, however, as such a big feature might be enough for it to be called Sibelius 8!

Another oft-requested feature is for an update to the programme’s tuplet logic.  Again, although it does have to be looked at in the future, I doubt that the new team could have coded that change in such a short timescale, so it may well be an improvement further along the line.

Other popular requests on the Sibelius IdeaScale crowdsourcing community include:

  • Magnetic layout capabilities extending to notes/rest collisions in voices
  • Custom staff sizes for different instruments
  • Change of staff size per page
  • Tweaks to slurs/ties over page breaks and barlines
  • Tweaks to the length of various lines (most notably first and second-time bars)
  • MP3 export

Who knows – some of the above may well be fixed in 7.5.  The latter is just a case of Avid stumping up enough money to licence an encoder as part of the software.  And who knows – if they are short of features, they could do that in order to add something else to the feature-list, albeit at a financial cost!

We will find out in, I suspect, less than a month what the new version will bring.  Of course the feature list is just the beginning of the product’s success – the knives will be out for the new team, and people will want to see the same stability that previous versions of Sibelius have shown, with few (if any) bugs and the new features working well.

Time will tell as to Sibelius’ long-term future, but we will be able to see many interesting things from version 7.5 when it does finally launch.

Champions Trophy Thoughts

Quite simply, I’m gutted that England couldn’t quite get over the line again.

I was there in 2004, peering through the Oval gloom to watch Browne and Bradshaw win a game for the West Indies which was as good as lost.  Seeing England lose that final was a gut-wrenching experience.  It had been such a glorious summer and, for once, the stars were aligning on a one-day side that had always underperformed.  But, then came the West Indies’ lower-order heroics and the headlines of England finally winning a major title were replaced by goodwill tales of Hurricane Ivan inspiring the Caribbean side to an unexpected victory.  It was impossible to hold any ill-will against the West Indies that day (and, hey, my ambition of seeing Brian Lara bat in the flesh was finally fulfilled), but there was the feeling that this was as good as it was going to get for England in a long time, and they had blown it…

Well, here we are nine years later, and the same thing has happened.

England are undoubtedly a better ODI side now than they were then.  Back in 2004, luck went their way, they were performing off the back of an excellent test match summer, and they were the side most equipped to play in the gloomy English autumn.  I think it’s fair to say that the current England side are playing to a better level far more frequently than their 2004 counterparts.  This was reflected by their (slightly bizarre!) number 1 ranking in the ICC’s ODI table last year.  However, I still maintain that we are not a good enough one day side to consistently win many games in a row.  Whenever a string of results start going England’s way, it is not long before a series of losses.  There simply isn’t the consistency in performance that would allow a team to win a major tournament.  We saw it in this tournament: England are very good at playing a particular type of one-day game: bowl skilfully (although with no real express pace), take wickets and restrict the batting side and then bat diligently to knock off the runs.  The Sri Lanka loss in this tournament showed that England do not have flair players who can alter the course of a match.  If the chips are down, they are really down.

And this is why I am upset about today’s loss: this was another chance for England to win a global trophy when things had fallen into line for them.  It was the conditions that suited them, they had the momentum of an English summer and they had won an important toss.  But, as soon as the match became a 20 over contest it became a lottery, a farce.  It is unfortunate that there was no reserve day and the full 50 over match that we all wanted to see could take place.  India were always going to win a T20 contest – they are T20 kings with all their IPL experience.

So yet again, England conspired to lose a final that they should have won, but this time it was more excusable: India’s T20 experience marked them out as favourites the moment that the overs were reduced.  And I am actually fairly positive about the 2015 World Cup.  For once, England are not coming straight out of a tiring Ashes campaign and the Australian conditions should play to their strengths.  If England can keep this same band of players together, bringing in new talent and developing the youngsters (such as Jos Buttler) then they have a real chance of at least making the final, I would say.  So at least this tournament has been an important stepping stone in that direction.  Even if it could have been so much better than that…

Frank Skinner in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury

By way of resurrecting this blog, following its transfer to WordPress (after the closure of Posterous last week), I thought I would link to a series of videos that I enjoyed watching over the weekend.

Frank Skinner’s event with the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, took place back in 2011 and is well worth watching.  Apart from the amazing moment during the first video where the PA system lets them down and a man can be heard to angrily shout, “I can’t hear you!” several times (failing PA systems are one of the cornerstones of the Anglican church, in my opinion!), there are many excellent points raised by Skinner.  I have long admired him as a comic, but did not know of his religious inclination until I happened upon this video.  He makes many excellent points, from the rise of atheism as an intellectual position, to God’s ultimate sacrifice in becoming man.

All four parts of the video are embedded below, and here is the transcript of the event.