England vs. West Indies, 1st Test, Day 1 – Preview & Live Blog

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Well the day is finally upon us, the chance to watch to live cricket again, which many of us doubted might even happen this year. Naturally this pales into the context that many people have lost their lives or their livelihoods from this awful pandemic, but as someone much wiser than me said ‘Sport is the most important, least important thing there is’ and I certainly feel excited that we can finally see some live cricket again, albeit in slightly strange surroundings.

A massive debt of gratitude must go to the West Indies for coming over and participating in this series especially when it would have been easier for them to look at the ECB’s call for help with total disdain. I would hope that their administrators (though they are just as bonkers as the ECB) kindly reminds our administrators that they have dug them out of a financial crater of their own doing. Many of us refuse to let the disgraceful actions of ‘The Big 3’ be swept under the carpet now that they themselves are facing some tough financial decisions, but I sure hope that anyone of the sides who tour and help them out, make sure they get rewarded both financially and in the political landscape of the game.

England will have an interesting choice with regards to their fast bowling attack, especially if the pitch at the Aegeas Bowl resembles anything like that of the ‘Intra Squad’ game. In past times, Jimmy and Broad would be the first 2 on the team sheet; however father time still remains undefeated and it would surely be a risk picking both players without any real overs under the belt; indeed it does look like Broad won’t feature, which is a blow for us fans of comical batting. The same could be said for both Wood and Archer, who are recently coming back from injuries and whom I think it would be difficult to pick together in any England side, especially with the horrendous injury catalogue of the former. Although far from a big fan of his, I’d be picking Chris Woakes for this game, especially with our batting line up looking less than convincing.

The batting will pick itself with Root missing this Test and Lawrence being pretty unlucky not to make the final 13. Root will return for the games at Old Trafford, so this does seem a straight shoot out between Denly and Crawley, with the former surely needing a big score if he isn’t going to be the one jettisoned in favour of youth. This is also a mightily big series for Jos Buttler, who has looked anything but a Test Match batsman in the last 12 months.

The West Indies will naturally be hoping for a bit of pace and bounce in the pitch, as their fast bowling is easily their strongest suit. The batting looks vulnerable on paper and it will be an interesting choice if England win the toss with suitable cloud cover on offer.

Naturally, just to piss on our chips, the weather looks less than ideal for the first 2 days. This is especially galling as April and May were so hot weather wise when we were in proper lockdown, but it seems that 2020 isn’t ready to stop toying with us yet. I have a feeling that both Wednesday and Thursday might be stop start affairs, but fingers crossed that we do get a decent amount of play for all of our sanity.

We will be live blogging for most of the day, if and when there is action, so do join in by commenting below. Unfortunately we don’t have the budget of the BBC, so you will need to manually refresh to see the our latest musings or rants dependant on the action..

10:32 – It’s raining, well of course it bloody is. Toss has been delayed.

10:52 – Very powerful interviews with Michael Holding and Ebony Rainsford-Brent on Sky. Uncomfortable viewing at times, but fair play, they haven’t held back on this.

11:11 – For a brief moment the covers were off and it looked like we could have the toss, but unfortunately the weather has intervened again. It could be one of those frustrating day’s of cricket.

11:30 – Whilst the rain continues to fall, I’d absolutely recommend watching the BLM piece on Sky with Michael Holding and Ebony Rainsford-Brent. Really powerful stuff:

11:46 – We’ve had the umpires out for a quick inspection and they’re currently trying to clear any excess water off the ground. Maybe some hope of play in the near future.

Parting Has Been Such Sweet Sorrow

We have a pulse.

We’ve not written much during lockdown, and while I can’t speak for the others, in my own case it’s really because I haven’t had anything to say.  Other matters have been vastly more important, whether in health terms or concerns over income.  Sure, it would have been easy enough to write a series of Ten Best articles, but I didn’t especially care and couldn’t be bothered.  The lockdown was in more ways than one, and for someone like me, working in the travel and tourism sector, the existential crisis of an entire industry has been on my mind throughout.

Set against the reality of no income for several months, the issues around cricket didn’t particularly push me to want to write about them.  Or to put it bluntly, I didn’t really give a shit.  That’s not to take issue for a second with those who did, or those who were vocal throughout, for everyone had their own specific urgent needs and continue to do so, but it is to explain a general lack of interest in those subjects that mattered to some more than others.  It’s true right across the board, and I’m sufficiently self-aware to perfectly understand that the disaster facing my own work environment is of minimal interest to the vast majority – they have their own concerns.

But cricket is back, both recreational and in Test terms.  It’s not ideal, there are limitations, but that it is back at all is the most important thing.  There was never any prospect of a sudden return to normality, so the baby steps are essential in that road of return.  From Wednesday, we will have the start of the England – West Indies Test series, and recognition should be made of the willingness of the visitors this summer, the West Indies and Pakistan, to come to England and play.  Right now it might seem routine enough, particularly when something like the Premier League is being played, but at the time the decision to come was made, that wasn’t at all the case.  The ECB has been a long way from being a supportive partner of the less financially stable cricketing nations, and there is no excuse now should they fail to improve over the coming years.  I remain highly sceptical they will be anything other than the self-interested, venal organisation they have been for quite some time.  But we shall see.

For the clubs, the ability to offer at least some portion of a season was vital.  Amateur cricket has been in dire straits for many years, not helped by the patronising discourse from above that tends to assume the recreational game is run by clueless fools who sit and wait for largesse from on high and are unaware of grassroots challenges, but the loss of players who would have moved on to other activities would have been crippling to a level that was unsustainable.  The sport faces immense challenges anyway, this additional one will undoubtedly have pushed many over the edge, reflecting the wider societal and industrial crisis to come.  But at least it will save many – the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

It is for that reason that the restrictions on players in the Tests matter so little to me.  Saliva on the ball, being unable to celebrate a wicket properly, the absence of spectators – it just isn’t important.  What is, is getting a game on at all, the normality and routine of being able to have the sport played in any kind of way.  Sure, objectively and in isolation, it all matters, especially the lack of spectators, whether that be cricket or football.  Taking the latter, it’s been said often enough in recent weeks that football is nothing without fans, and it’s nearly true.  But football without fans is the only football anyone is going to get right now.  Cricket without fans is the only cricket anyone is going to get.  And ultimately it comes down to that choice, whether to have it played and rail against the limitations that creates, or not have it at all.  Personally, I’ll go with it.

It is also behind the odd, but entirely understandable focus on team selection, conditions and the outcome of the game itself.  Whether Jos Buttler is indeed the right wicketkeeper or whether the peculiarly disfavoured Ben Foakes ran over Ed Smith’s cat at any point in the last couple of years is a topic that can be debated at length and in detail.  It is a parallel world where we all try to convince ourselves that these things are of critical importance.  Journalists, often also without income over these last months, have fallen over themselves to produce copy about the minutiae of selection, the opposition, and anything tangentially related to the match, the tour and cricket itself.  I don’t blame them in any way, I thoroughly welcome it;  it is a blessed relief for all they are able to do so, and they have no choice anyway if they want to be able to put food on the table.

So I don’t care.  I don’t care about who is playing and who isn’t.  I don’t care about the fact the crowds aren’t there.  I don’t care about how the players will be able to shine the ball sufficiently or whether it will mean reverse swing is more or less of an issue.  I don’t care who wins, I don’t care who loses; who scores runs and who takes wickets.  It just doesn’t matter in the slightest.

I do care it’s back.  I do care that we are making tentative steps to getting back to normal.  And whatever happens, whoever succeeds or fails, I thoroughly welcome the return of the game of cricket.  Sport is the most important least important thing there is, and while the last few months have reminded us how unimportant it is, Wednesday morning will remind us that it still matters.

The Hundred For Sale

Last week, a sports investment company sent a press release to every cricket journalist extolling the virtues of the ECB hiring them as consultants in order to facilitate investment in The Hundred. It was a pretty obvious advert being portrayed as an independent ‘report’ which I chose to completely ignore. Unfortunately, the cricket journalists themselves decided to pick up on it and the story has been gaining traction ever since. I think now that its fundamental flaws need addressing.

The mechanics of investment seem fairly simple. The investor buys a portion of a company, in exchange for which they may receive a some of that company’s revenue or profits. In addition, if that company gains in value then the investors can typically also sell their stake to someone else for more money than they paid. For the company selling the shares, they get a short term increase in money available to them without having to repay a bank loan. That extra money can allow the company to expand, or restructure themselves in order to become more profitable. If everything goes well, everyone wins.

There are two scenarios which I can see applying to private investment in The Hundred. The first is the wildly optimistic outcome where the new competition is a huge hit, filling stadia with fans and earning a massive TV deal from 2025 onwards. If that happens, the ECB will likely lose a lot of that profit to the private stakeholders which they could have otherwise kept and invested in English cricket.

The second, perhaps more likely scenario is that The Hundred stalls. Perhaps not a total failure, but the offered TV deal in 2025 is lower than expected and the ECB want to cut their losses and start again. The problem with that would be they would have given up some measure of control to the private investors in exchange for their money, and so they might not be able to do so unilaterally. What should be a simple process instead becomes a complex and expensive negotiation involving lawyers and all sorts.

So it would be fair to say that I think this kind of outside investment will financially harm English cricket in the medium to long term, one way or the other. It has been suggested that the ECB might not have any choice in the matter due to their own current lack of funds. This is, I think, hyperbole.

Regardless of what happens this season, the ECB will still receive £220m in 2021 from Sky. I believe that is more than the television, ticket and membership revenue of all English cricket combined in 2019. It’s not currently clear exactly how much the ECB will be getting this year, except that it won’t be the full amount due to the postponement of The Hundred, but even then it is likely to be more than last year if the England men’s team play most of their scheduled games. So long as counties are sensible with their finances, and readjust their plans to the new situation, there shouldn’t be any threat to their existence.

In conclusion, I believe welcoming investment into The Hundred (or really any other aspect of English cricket) is a mistake which should be avoided. Things aren’t as bad as many people seem to fear (at least in the professional game), and so now is certainly not the time for panicked decisions or short term fixes.

Feel free to comment below.

Through My Frozen Heart Tonight..

Hello everyone. I am sorry I’ve not been on here recently, and in many ways I feel a little guilty about it. But I hope those that check in every now and then, and those that are regulars, are coping well as they can with the world we live in, and that you are all safe and well, and so are your family and friends. I know that can’t be the case for everyone, but fingers crossed that it is.

I have a confession to make. You may already know it. I do not miss cricket one bit. Not at all. Cricket isn’t on its own in that. I don’t miss football. I don’t miss baseball. I don’t miss F1, the NBA, the Masters, the Grand National. I will not miss Euro 2020 not being played. I won’t miss the Olympics. I love all those things, I have been a sports nut ever since Mum and Dad taught me to read by using the back pages of the newspapers. I don’t miss them for a variety of reasons. At this moment I don’t care who wins. At this moment I am not bothered by gossip, rumour, or even how bloody awful the ECB is, and given Harrison’s open mouth talk nonsense effort this week, they haven’t changed. I don’t want footballers, cricketers, rugby players, athletes to contract a disease that is communicable by asymptomatic people. To themselves, to their loved ones to those they may meet in the shops at the wrong time and the wrong place. Sport is not important right now. Be wary of those telling you it is.

Let’s take some of the suggestions for cricket. You quarantine a load of players in advance of a game to ensure they don’t have it. You lock them in isolation during a test, or a series, and then, at the end, you probably quarantine them again. Now, where do you sign up for that experience of a lifetime? That’s then got to be played in front of empty stadia – remember how we are always reminded that the county championship is no good because it attracts no-one and has no atmosphere? – and here we are only, only talking about elite level, which as Izzy Westbury suggested in her Twitter thread, quite often means “not women”. Then what will we have. A spectacle played to no-one, so that we at home can content ourselves that we are slowly getting back to normal, and the betting industry can pray on those even more vulnerable than they were before. The cynicism of this is blinding. You think they are doing this for their furloughed staff and low-paid ancillary staff. I’ve got some disinfectant as a cure to sell you if you do.

I think for cricket the break will do me good. The whole sport is a treadmill, and a break for players, even in these horrific circumstances, will mean we will love it more, hopefully, when it comes back. Cricket had become mundane, routine. A meaningless test series, usually, but not always, won by the home team followed another. There’s a T20 tournament for someone with an in-demand skill to tide themselves over in some location in the world if the mood is right. An ODI here, another one there. It was such that running a blog commenting on the game was becoming a massive chore. In its absence I have done other things, found filling my time not difficult at all, looking back at great sport and enjoying it again (I think Sky Sports Cricket should be doing more, much more, of that), and also reading, listening to music, watching TV series, and writing, still. I am doing that on my own blog, and if you haven’t read it yet, I am keeping a diary throughout the lockdown. It can be found here – Seven and Seven Eighths II– and it is my hat size.

The guys are doing superb work on Twitter, so please carry on supporting us. We have never been as presumptuous to say we are the voice of the fans, but we are a voice, well four voices as authors and we cover a lot of bases. I gave up Twitter for lent, and found it thoroughly lovely. In fact, I am not actually sure why I returned.

Mentally, for me, it has been tough, but I know a lot of people are a lot more worse off than me. Cricket has been rendered irrelevant by the vast numbers dying, and the fear and trepidation I feel as one of those with the anaesthetised but Orwellian concept of “an underlying medical condition” as if I am someone who should just accept my fate should it come my way because in some shape or form, I deserve it. I’d rather not, thank you. That means you won’t be seeing me at any event any time soon. You can never eliminate risk, but you can do your part to minimise it. That means steering away from the copious amount of ocean going idiots I come across in the park every day when I’m walking Teddy. Stay safe.

One thing on my list is to collate all my cricket recordings in one place. I have loads. I have the entire 2010-11 Ashes series in its entirety. It doesn’t feel bad watching Cook then. I have so much I can do that I’m not bored, and that’s great. I am lucky that my job can be done from home, so I am ok there too. I worry about others. A great friend of mine lost her mum this week (not sure it was of the virus) but she can’t have a funeral as the family would have liked, and how that impacts mentally I don’t know. In all of this, setting up matches in Abu Dhabi to satisfy TV companies and betting outlets seems irrelevant, and even a little distasteful to me. But that’s me. Others can have their views.

Stay safe and well everyone. Let’s dream of the day we can get back to watching sport in safety and for the right reasons. It’s what, I think, we all love.

The Quarantine Cup

eSports. That’s not what they call sports in Yorkshire, or at least not just that. It’s where people compete against each other using computer and console games. It’s a big business, and the very best can garner millions of pounds in endorsements and sponsorship alone whilst millions of people pay to watch streams of elite gamers in action every day. Fans of traditional sports (and few sports are more traditional than cricket) might be snobbish about it, but it’s a real thing which seems like it’s here to stay. At a time when public gatherings and almost all forms of human contact are being discouraged, it seems the ideal moment for the virtual world of eSports to take centre stage.

To that end, The Cricketer magazine launched their own digital version of the T20 Blast. The Quarantine Cup is a competition between 11 county teams on Cricket 19 for the PS4, with actual players from those teams at the controls. It tries to bridge the gap between the real world of cricket fandom and the virtual world of eSports by providing a online tournament which could appeal to the loyalty of county cricket devotees.

There are just 11 out of 18 county teams represented, although they were all asked. Several just couldn’t find a player with a PS4 willing to take part, with many apparently preferring the Xbox platform. There are some big names left out, with Middlesex, Somerset and Yorkshire all having failed to find a player. The participating teams are then split into two groups, where they play everyone else once in five-over games.

The season opener yesterday was a very one-sided affair, with Tymal Mills’ Sussex side crushing Kent’s Imran Qayyum by 47 runs. The presentation was pretty slick, with a few custom graphics provided by The Cricketer’s digital team and live commentary by Adam Collins and Dan Norcross. Given that the games have five-over innings, they only last around half an hour and don’t outlast their welcome. There were phone interviews with the two players afterwards too. All in all, it’s a pretty entertaining way to spend an evening.

The group stages are scheduled to take place for the next three weeks, with games at 7pm on weekdays or at 2pm and 5pm on the weekends. The full timetable, plus all the other details, are on the competition’s webpage at TheCricketer.com. Just to warn you all, there’s a 30 second advert for The Cricketer magazine at the top of the broadcast with a voiceover by Simon Hughes. Don’t worry though, he’s not in it at all after that.

Meanwhile, we asked for people to tell us their best and worst club performances on Twitter and got some crackers in response. If you have any you’d like to share, especially if they’re worth more than 240 characters, we’d love it if you put them in the comments  below.

When The Rain Stops.

This Sunday was due to be the start of the County Championship, a time I look forward to very much each season not just because it means we have cricket in our lives again but it also marks to me the end of the winter slog and the start of Summer. It’s a time when I would open the diary and try to work out which games I want to go to and which games I sadly won’t be able to make due to scheduling. Naturally this is not going to be the case this year.

We are living in uncertain and quite frightening times and hence I don’t want this article to take away from this fact, especially when hundreds are dying in this country from this awful disease; however the fact something we have taken for granted for decades will not be happening has properly hit home today.

I adore sport, especially cricket, even if the actions of the ECB quite often makes me want to tear my hair out. Now too old and a bit too round to play much sport, I often take comfort from watching whatever sport happens to be on the TV and I do enjoy most sport, be it Football, NFL, Darts, F1 or International Rugby. Whatever the time of year, I can normally find something to take my mind of the drudgery of life sometimes by immersing myself in something that I was never talented to play at a high level.

The thing about sport is it can act as a comfort blanket when things are a bit rubbish, it can make you turn from a normal human being into a quivering wreck (see the WC Final and the Headingley Test last year) and it can take you to a place that is out of your reality. The sudden but completely necessary stoppage of all sport both in our country and across the world must feel like a drug taker who has suddenly going cold turkey and is suddenly facing a chaotic and uncertain world without their comfort blanket they’ve always relied on. From personal experience, I like many others have had some serious challenges and blips in my life, but cricket or football or some of the other sports I mentioned, even if it has been for a short period, have allowed me to think about something else, away from the things keeping me up at night. I’m sure many who read the blog feel the same thing.

Sport is not just about the 22 players on the park (or however many there are for each sport), but it is there for millions of people who follow their idol’s (and villain’s) every move. Sport is in our psyche, it’s a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the action whether it last 90 minutes or 5 days, it’s a chance to live unfulfilled dreams invested in others and of course it’s the perfect opportunity to debate, dissect or argue about the outcome in the pub following the game. Sport can be the very excuse to meet with friends, be it in the Grandstand at Lords, the terraces of Griffin Park or just down the pub with the sport on TV. The necessary self-isolation has taken this away from us and as someone who lives on their own, I absolutely miss both the chance to see my family and the chance to meet up with friends at a game and chat rubbish for a few hours. It is also what unites me to a 70 year old woman from Harrow, a 23 year old chemistry student from Birmingham and a few hundred in between on Twitter. We just like the game, and hey, we want to talk about it.

Now this isn’t meant to be a ‘oh woe me’ article, far from it, I’ve had symptoms of the virus and my job sector has been decimated by it; however there are people in far worse situations than me and I truly feel for them. I’ve thought about how I could potentially frame this article for the past couple of days and still doubt that I’ve got the perfect tone, but for me it has highlighted how something so simple can have a profound effect on our own mental wellbeing. I also feel for many of our sports men and women, who have had the finger pointed at them for not doing enough to help the cause, even when many likely are without the need to self-publicise. Sure there are still plenty of crass idiots in sport as there are in real lives, but I personally feel that these people are in the minority even if some of them are earning eye-watering amounts of money.

So back to the game of cricket, which is nothing like as bathed in cash as it’s football cousin and you do see the very real possibility of clubs, both professional and amateur, going under with the squeeze in current finances. You have the players, many of whom aren’t earning massive amounts of money unless they are centrally contracted wondering when and if they may play cricket this season or even again. You have the clubs who even if they survive, will wonder if they’ll be able to get 11 men on the pitch once cricket resumes as previous players decide to move on from the game. Then of course, you have the tragics like me and many others (as many a county cricket dissenter likes to call us) who are obsessed with the game and have grown up with the game as a part of our lives coming to the realisation that there may not be a season in 2020. I applaud the Cricketer for their virtual cricket tournament featuring county pro’s but it’s never going to be the same, though there is a good chance I may tune in.

One thing though we can still hold onto is that cricket and sport in general will return at some point, it could be 3 months, 6 months or longer and the world is likely to be a different place when it does, but return it will and when it does, hopefully everything will be returning to some normality in our lives. I for one, will certainly not be taking it for granted anymore when it does return. I would positively chew my arm off at the moment to see Derbyshire vs. Leicestershire live in the Royal London Cup, something I could never imagine myself saying before. It may be seem trivial to some, maybe many when things are so tough and uncertain in the World at the moment. However, I like many, hope better things are around the corner and the resumption of sport when it is safe to do so, will be a much welcomed first step.

This has been one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write, so I do hope that people take it in the spirit it’s has been meant to be written in, even if I haven’t necessarily got it right.

Stay safe, look after yourselves and enjoy the Easter period if you can.

Sean

Why The Hundred Must Be The ECB’s Priority This Season

No one could confuse me for being an advocate for The Hundred, nor a fan of either its concept or execution by the ECB. I have written posts here about its lack of simplicity, its patronising marketing towards women, its sycophantic press coverage, the ‘research’ which allegedly led to its creation, the ECB’s own justifications for its creation, the dumb team names, and the huge gender inequality inherent in the new competition. I have even written a Dr. Seuss parody about it. Last but by no means least, I have written a post with a hundred reasons why I think it’s a bad idea (Spoiler alert: I am also 82% through writing a second post with a hundred more reasons, although many of these may have become redundant based on current events). All told, I’ve written well over 25,000 words here on the subject. None of them complimentary.

Which is why it may surprise some of you to discover that I genuinely think The Hundred must be the ECB’s first priority when (or if) domestic cricket returns this year.

I’m no more a fan of it now than I have been before. Its a bad idea, made worse by the people running it. The rationale for it is flawed, and it risks alienating cricket’s loyal customers in order to attract new people. And I don’t even like any of the crisps. But none of that matters now. In light of cricket being essentially closed at the start of the season, there are two basic reasons why I think it should be the first domestic competition to return.

The first reason is that the competition format is literally made for television, which is important because it seems possible that people won’t be able to attend games in the near future. The main reason counties want T20 Blast games is their profitability, but a large portion of that money comes from attracting fans to the grounds. If large gatherings are banned (and the average T20 Blast crowd last year was over 7,000), then I think it might quickly become expensive for the counties.

The Blast’s format is basically designed to have as many games in as short as a period as possible in order to maximise attendance, with 126 group games played over 44 days. Sky Sports Cricket can typically only show 2 matches per day, and that includes the international cricket which will be almost certainly be happening in the same window. Without serious changes, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of games coupled with an increase in the competition’s duration, it seems likely that county cricket fans would only be able to watch around a third of the competition at all.

The Hundred, on the other hand, has 32 group games scheduled over 28 days. Ideal for Sky to fit around a Test series (which most of us will hopefully be watching), as was the original plan for this year anyway. If the women’s games were all made double-headers with the men’s, as the rationale that women’s cricket wouldn’t attract large enough attendances to be sustainable seems pointless if there are literally no fans present anyway, Sky might even be able to show all of them too. And that’s before we consider the BBC, who have the rights to show 10 men’s games and 8 from the women’s competition. With no Wimbledon, Olympics or European Championships this year, The Hundred might be the most high-profilelive sports they have this summer.

It may be possible that the English cricket season starts early enough to play both the T20 Blast and The Hundred, but even in that situation I would have The Hundred go first. The later the Blast is scheduled, in my mind, the more chance there is that people will be allowed to go to the grounds.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is money. It’s been that the ECB is concerned that “Sky Sports will withhold part of this year’s £220million television contract if [The Hundred] is postponed“. If people can’t attend the games, then that is already a huge amount of money lost from English cricket in terms of gate receipts and beer snake ammunition. Other revenue, such as sponsorships, might also be affected. This is not a time when we can afford to be picky about where the money to fund English cricket is coming from, or what it is paying for.

This crisis could hardly have come at a worse time financially for English cricket. The £220m Sky TV deal meant that everyone blew through their 2019 reserves with the secure knowledge that a huge pay cheque was waiting for them this season. The ECB’s funds got to such a low point that they couldn’t even afford to pay their white ball international contracts for four months. The players received generous pay rises going in to this season, as (I would guess) did the coaches and many other staff behind the scenes at the counties and ECB. This means that English cricket is now more expensive to run than ever before, and needs as much money as possible to continue as it is now.

That £220m wasn’t a gift from Sky, but a payment for the ECB and counties providing cricket games for them to air. Specifically international cricket, the T20 Blast and The Hundred. If the ECB fails to deliver all of those competitions, then Sky would presumably be well within their rights to withold their next payment. They might even be be able cancel the contract altogether, and that could be a real disaster. With Sky Sports and BT both having lost subscribers during this sporting hiatus, it seems very unlikely that the TV rights for English cricket from 2021 would be worth anywhere near as much to them as the current deal offers.

Will The Hundred be any good? With few overseas players and likely no crowds, I wouldn’t have thought so. And, like I wrote at the start, I can think of plenty of reasons why it was going to suck even before all this happened. That said, people might be sufficiently starved of live sport by the point it starts not to care about such things.

In summary: I think the ECB should prioritise The Hundred, and it should be the first domestic competition to take place this year.

And no, this is not an April Fool.

Cricket – How do I Love Thee – Let Me Count the Ways

At the start of the lockdown, we asked anyone who wanted to write something for the site to send in an article. Elaine Simpson-Long took up the challenge with this lovely piece about falling in love with the game of cricket. Enjoy:

My journey from the darkness into the light took some time. 

I found cricket boring.

I was a tennis fan, skiving off school in the summer holidays to watch Wimbledon. When the kids went home to lunch I shot out with them and never came back.  I spent the mornings there so when Wimbledon was over and I returned and the nuns used to say “Have you been in School Elaine I have not seen you” I could answer with a clear conscience, “yes Sister I have” . And I had. But only for half a day.

I remember I used to get annoyed when the BBC would nip off to cover the Test match and left tennis behind.  Those were the days of one channel and cricket actually being on terrestrial tv.

I continued finding cricket a dreary past time for some years and then I ended up sharing an office with a cricket fanatic. During the summer he had his transistor radio (remember them?) permanently playing Test Match Special. Those were the heady days of Brian Johnson, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Tony Lewis et al and gradually this seeped into my consciousness and I found myself listening much though I tried not to.

Looking back I do wonder how this bloke got away with it as he did no work at all and skived all day. But then we worked in Local Government…..

A friend of mine invited me one summer to spend a weekend with her and her family. They lived in Nottingham and her dad, Bill, was a member of the Nottingham CCC.  Oh he was a lovely man. Immaculately turned out. pressed trousers, shirt and tie and polished shoes and courteous and polite. I loved him on sight.

The sun was shining on the Sunday morning and Bill announced we were going to watch a one day  match at the cricket ground. My heart sank, Oh God I thought but being a good guest I beamed and said “How nice” and off we went. Lovely sunny day and I found myself in the member’s enclosure drinking Pimms, eating cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream.  Despite myself I began to enjoy the cricket and then with a vague air of disbelief heard myself utter “Oh good shot, well done!” and this went on all afternoon. It was all frightfully British.

A month later and another visit to see Bill. This time it was in the hay fever season, the pollen count was through the roof and I could barely breathe. Bill had asthma even worse than mine so we stayed indoors with the curtains drawn and what was on telly? Yes you have guessed it. A Test Match against Australia.  

Bill and I watched it all and he explained everything to me. And I mean everything. Why a certain bowler placed a fielder in a certain place as he was going to make him play his shot there, the field placings – they took a while to sink in (I still have blank moments thinking about silly mid on)  – and the way individual batsmen played. He made me understand that just saving your wicket and blocking and sticking it out could be exciting (Cardiff in later years proved that) and I ended up being totally fascinated by it all.

(At the same time  I was learning to love cricket I had a boyfriend who loved Wagner and I spent an awful lot of time sitting through long Germanic operas and I honestly think the two were linked. You need tolerance and patience and stamina for both)

It was clear I just needed somebody to explain it all to me and I was lucky enough to find that person. Dear Bill. No longer with us but I will never forget him.

Later when I was married (luckily to a cricket lover) and had two daughters we all watched cricket together. When my eldest child started school I would strap her baby sister in the pram and race round to collect her from the playground in the afternoon, luckily just round the corner, grab her and belt back. No nattering with the yummy mummies at the school gate tarted up in the latest designer gear. I got it down to a fine art and found I only missed three overs.  Nowadays I would probably have only missed one. …

Though my husband liked cricket we did not have Sky and the darkness descended and so I watched an awful lot of tennis. This was anathema to him and  I did get rather tired of my beloved coming into the room and saying “Oh for heaven’s sake you are not STILL watching this crap are you”?

Reader I divorced him.

So I ended up living on my own and I thought ooh goody now I can get Sky with nobody to moan about it but the flats were a Sky free zone and so I languished existing on the coverage from Channel 4 which I thought was pretty good though Ian whathisface began to get on my nerves after a while. Too smooth and urbane by half. Never trust a smooth man is my motto. 

Then Sky came up with the idea of communal dishes and all of us screamed with delight and had it installed and I was in heaven. I now had cricket coming out of my ears and I wallowed in cricket and all was gemutlich and lovely. I was a happy woman.

It was too good to last. 2014 happened.

KP.   Need I say more? 

The answer is no because it has all been said, but I will nail my colours to the mast here and say I was firmly in Kev’s Camp.  I simply could not understand the vitriol and hatred he seemed to generate on social media and the cricketing forums and, of course, the ECB.  You would have to be a mixture of Mugabe and Hitler to justify this reaction. OK I get he was a Marmite person but considering the English team was peopled with the likes of Broad, Anderson and Prior you cannot feel he was alone in that regard.

Along with others during that time, I lost faith with the English cricket team. Not cricket itself, I could never do that, but I found it really hard, if not impossible to support them.  I found myself watching their opponents and willing them to do well. When they took an English wicket I cheered. Now I did not like feeling like this I found it all vaguely discombobulating.

Things got better when the Golden Boy finally retired and I did not have to watch him standing in the field looking gormless and picking his nose while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked.  Of course, I then had to watch Joe Root standing in the field, not picking his nose thank gawd, while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked.  

This feeling lasted until last year when the tide slowly started to turn and I found myself beginning to support them again, but I have to say it is still early days and I realised how fragile this feeling was when I watched the final of the World Cup and really wished New Zealand had won.   

Watching cricket over the past forty years has brought me so much joy.  I enjoy one day matches, I enjoy 20-20, I love the IPL with all its razzamatazz and silliness. But oh how I love Test Cricket.  When it is on my friends and family know that I more or less go into purdah and will not answer the phone or venture forth. When four day Tests were mooted last year I nearly had apoplexy.  

And sometimes I find myself watching cricket even when it clashes with Wimbledon. Proof positive I think.

At the moment I am in self isolation as I am an Old Person – my daughters have told me so and said I have to Be Careful.  So now would be the perfect time to watch cricket. And of course there is none. Talk about the law of Sod. It is like being ill in bed and thinking oh I can spend all day reading when the reality is you are feeling lousy and can’t be arsed.  

There are only so many re-runs of old cricket matches one can take, and the picture is square and you have great gaps at the side on your posh new telly and it is all too much to bear. So I have switched off and ponder on the Big Question – are Sky going to give me a refund on my sub to Sky Sports now they are not showing any?  I have my doubts..

So there you have it. My journey into the light. Not exactly revelatory or earth shattering.

It’s quiet at present, otherwise I am sure this would never see the light of day .  So if you have read this sparkling and witty piece through to the end then well done. You deserve a treat. 

Perhaps you should buy a ticket for The Hundred…..

Elaine Simpson-Long @randomjottings1

Idle Nonsense

I posted on Twitter an invitation for anyone who wanted to write an article to while away the time as we all stare at four walls over the next couple of weeks to do so.  I’ll do so again here, and if you want to contact any of us, that’d be great.  For what it’s worth, I’m at tlg@beingoutsidecricket.com

Often people worry about how well they write, how it will come across, and whether they have enough content to make it worthwhile.  Come now, no-one is going to care, anything amusing or entertaining is going to bring a much needed smile to someone, so go for it.  Even if it’s very short, it’s well worth it.

I thought I’d share a tale from many years ago about a cricket tour, about how players on cricket tour are utterly brutal to their friends.  Some will read it and tut, some will laugh or smile.  But these memories stay with you, and for good reason.  Names and locations are changed to protect the extremely guilty.

The Geordie was a passable enough cricketer, and a decent bloke.  Liked a beer, liked a laugh, had an accent that became progressively thicker the deeper into his cups that he became.  But he was a sensible enough chap, inordinately proud of his good looks, utterly horrified at the prematurely receding hairline he would do his best to hide that caused much debate as to how far he would go in years to come when it required winding around his head.

The phrase “kid in a sweet shop” was made for his first cricket tour.  The relatively sensible fellow had become a raging beast, permanently hammered and incapable of any kind of meaningful speech.  My arrival a day in to the tour meant as I said hello to him and was answered with incoherent dribble (no, not drivel) caused a mirthful team mate to pull me aside and advise that “the Geordie you knew is not the Geordie who now exists”.  Obviously there is a fine line between someone being highly entertaining and extremely irritating when they’re like that, and he did his level best to cross that line at every opportunity.

Nevertheless, to the shock of everyone, he still managed to pull.  God knows how, God knows what she was thinking.  In the manner of people who support their friends at all stages, everyone naturally did all they could to wreck it for him.  But she knew what was going on, and ignored us with the disdain and contempt we entirely deserved.  It all went wrong for him when, fed up with the lot of us, he lost his temper and yelled out “What’s wrong with you all, you’re like flies round shit”.  After a brief pause of disbelief, we fell about laughing, she said “Oh, thanks very much” and stormed off.  Job done.

He may have been mildly irritated with us all by that stage, so clearly the only thing to do was to make it even worse for him.  For reasons I’ve long forgotten, one evening he passed me his wallet and asked me to look after it.  Clearly, this was an opportunity not to be passed up, so another team mate promptly stole his credit cards.  In the manner of such things, he was too drunk to notice, and we didn’t volunteer to return them.  The following morning he noticed they were missing, asked around if anyone had seen them, and our complete innocence was beautifully acted out.

Assuming he’d lost them the night before, he returned to the hotel bar, and nope, they weren’t there.  So one of us rang the hotel from a call box (you can tell this is many years ago) claiming to be from the club we’d played the day before and that they’d found them.  Off he went by taxi, using the last of his cash, promising the taxi driver he’d be able to pay via a cashpoint for the return journey.  It wasn’t too bad, only about 10 miles or so away.  He got to the club where the groundsman was working on the pitch, and the Geordie naturally assumed that he’d rung.  Nope, sorry mate, no idea.  Having timed it perfectly, that’s when we rang the club to say terribly sorry, but the person who had found the cards had had to go into town and could he meet him there?  Much grumbling ensued, but he was a spirited bloke, so he walked.  5 miles.  In the opposite direction to where we were.

Clearly, there was no one there to meet him, and no way of him getting any money.  Somehow, he persuaded another of the clubs we played, located in town, to lend him the money to get back to the hotel, hot, extraordinarily grumpy for some reason, and willing to regale us with the horrendous day he had gone through.

“And I still don’t know where my effing credit cards are”.

“These ones?”

“You bastards.  You utter, total bastards”.

And you know what?  He wasn’t wrong.

Feel free to add your own better tales below for our entertainment.

 

 

Netflix and Chill

The unsurprising news of the cancellation of England’s tour to Sri Lanka as the the Covid 19 virus continues its spread across the globe is not even the latest to be afflicted by the desire to limit contagion, as event after event, fixture after fixture is cancelled.

I’m not a scientist, comment on the virus and public policy by those with no knowledge of what is the right thing to do has been a feature of social media over recent days; screaming from a position of scientific ignorance is something I wish to avoid.

But the impact on multiple industries is going to be exceptionally severe, and sport is far from an exception.  The advice from the Chief Medical Officer that the peak level of infection is potentially 14 or more weeks away takes us into June, and thus from an English cricket perspective well into the summer.  This means that at best the Test series against the West Indies must be in major doubt, alongside the early rounds of County Championship and the T20 Blast.  Whether the cancellation of all such events over a lengthy period is sustainable is open to question, for few businesses can maintain shutdowns for any length of time, and whether the public will buy into an absence of much semblance of normal life is also a matter for debate.

The elective nature of the cancellations – as opposed to government compulsion – also means the question of whether insurance cover applies comes to the fore.  Few are likely to have direct knowledge, and by the very nature of it no one is going to want to admit the position publicly, but there must be considerable doubt as to whether the ECB or their counterparts are protected.  Such matters may be thought trifling in a public health crisis, but at some point things will return to normal, and the damage done to that normal life is important too.

It is clearly a big summer from the ECB’s perspective, the launch of the Hundred has been extraordinarily expensive, and while some might teasingly hope that cancellation of that unloved concept is a consequence, any curtailing or abandonment of it would provoke a major crisis in the finances of an organisation that is, like many others, already facing a highly uncertain future.  It is at times like these that the diminution in the ECB’s financial reserves over the last few years begins to look like a risk that has backfired badly.

Furthermore, there must be issues for Sky Sports, who have lost almost all of their content.  Subscriber cancellations seem the likeliest immediate impact of that, though what it means for the various sporting contracts must too be open to doubt.  Given the multi-lateral problems for all parties, one thing that probably can be assumed is that few will be looking to take a hard line.

Of course, the optimistic view would be that the return of sport in the coming months might attract much greater interest than would otherwise have been the case, and there is some reason to hope that once through the worst of this, entertainment may well pick up rapidly from a relieved and probably bored population.  The flip side of that is the financial hardship likely to be faced by many significantly reduces the disposable income for such things as sport.

If the central tenets of the ECB’s most lucrative activities face serious difficulties, it isn’t just the top level that will have questions to address in the coming months.  The amateur game too will be hit by some not wishing to participate, whether or not that is a reasonable response.  Clubs are always on a financial knife edge anyway, and it doesn’t take much to cause them serious difficulties, and with a governing body that even if inclined, would be financially unable to support them.

Supporters too are consistently overlooked.  The cancellation of the Sri Lanka tour was announced by the ECB with no reference to those who had booked to follow the team.  Worse than that, there was still no mention of those travelling in the email sent out to the England Cricket Supporter’s database.  It is clearly not practical for the ECB to offer refunds of their travel, but supporters are highly unlikely to be able to claim on their travel insurance for a destination that remains open to visit.  They are in an extremely difficult position, and it isn’t unreasonable to have expected the ECB to acknowledge that in their communication.  To have ignored it entirely smacks of an organisation that doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone else, and doesn’t even pay lip service to pretending that they do.

What happens next no one knows.  But it seems likely that Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar platforms are doing a decent trade in sign ups, as people either self-isolate or simply don’t have a huge amount else to go and do, or sport to watch.  Sport is always the most important least important thing, and either way the consequences are going to be with us for some years to come.

One thing is for sure, it is far from only sport that is facing these questions, take it from me.  For I work in travel and tourism, and I have had a shit of a month.