Down the Tubes: Nations at Midnight

After a break in the series which England seem to have largely spent on the toilet, hostilities resume tomorrow at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. And yet within that break, and in the context of a series finely balanced, the nature of Test cricket itself has come under scrutiny.

AB De Villiers, fresh from his appointment as South Africa’s captain, spoke candidly about the stresses of cricket, and his future within the game. There is no question that he is one of the shining lights of world cricket, a batsman as brutal in the short form of the game as he is stylish in the longer form. For him to openly question his place in Test cricket in the way he has should be ringing alarm bells.

For this is no single player whining about a workload, it is a direct consequence of the way the world game has been mistreated and viewed as an impediment to the making of money.

“I’m still very committed, to the job I’m not sure – obviously the two Test matches for now are all I’m focusing on and then there’s a nice big break of six months before we play Test cricket again” [my emphasis].

This is the Test captain of the number one ranked side in the world expressing relief that the next series is half a year away, during which time he will play ODI and T20 cricket for the national team, before the World T20 and then the IPL.  Ah yes, the IPL, the source of all problems, some would say.  And yet the reality is that his IPL contract is worth ten times that with South Africa.  There is no point in lamenting that players show interest in this, nor that with other tournaments such as the ongoing Big Bash there are other opportunities for earning that attract the attention of the leading players.  When the difference is so stark, players cannot be expected to put that aside, any more than anyone else would in their own chosen career.  It is not greed to wish to be paid commensurate to your earning ability; while De Villiers may be at the top of the game, the same considerations will apply at the levels below, and for those people cricket is a short career with limited opportunities for making a living.

Of course, the remedy for that requires for players to receive an income for what De Villiers recognises as the pinnacle of the game that reflects the wider reality of their position as leading performers.  And this is the problem, for the power grab by India, England and Australia has directly reduced the potential income available to the cricket boards of the other Test playing nations with those three enriching themselves at their expense.  Handwringing about the trouble Test cricket is in while ignoring the elephant in the room about the structure of the ICC and the divisions of the spoils ensures that only the symptoms are looked at and not the cause.  For this is not an arcane possibility, the one sided hammering of the West Indies team by Australia is indicative of the problem, where players who would make the Caribbean side a competitive one, even with all their internal problems, weren’t playing and weren’t available.

Although the problems the West Indies are facing are at least partially down to longstanding structural problems and failures in administration, it remains a fact that one of the great names in world cricket cannot pick their best side because their players are off playing in T20 tournaments instead, and more importantly, the Test team is seen as a step towards achieving that T20 status rather than being the pinnacle in its own right.

Therefore, paying players properly to play Test cricket is the only way this can be prevented, and under the new structure, this is simply not going to be possible for the boards who must now make do with a smaller share of the overall pot. A striking contrast would be with James Anderson, who on the same day as De Villiers was mulling over his future made it clear his priority was Test cricket and not the IPL or anything else.  Anderson is quite plainly a Test bowler first and foremost, but he is also a big name who would be an asset to the marketing of any tournament.  The principal and overriding difference in his case is that as an England Test player, he is well paid for his efforts.

That means that Anderson has a definite choice, the differential is not especially large for him, and he’s never been especially effective in the shorter form of the game anyway.  For younger players, brought up within the T20 era, this is not so true, and the presence of so many English players in the Big Bash is noticeable.

The ICC are doing their usual thing of sticking their heads in the sand and pretending it will all go away – and so it will, just not in the way they mean – with Dave Richardson performing his usual routine of blandly ignoring reality by saying nothing will change before 2019 when the current Future Tours Programme comes to an end.  The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations pointed to a survey of their playing members considering the route of being free agents in order to play in the tournaments springing up on a regular basis.  This is the death knell of Test cricket if it happens and nothing changes, for it will be impossible to schedule tours at a time when none of them are going on.  Test cricket needs to find an accommodation with these leagues and money is part of that, but so is giving Test cricket a context, as FICA insisted is needed.

“If we wait until 2019 then bilateral cricket around the world is going to be in real trouble.  The engagement and insight provided by players is vital to this process. We surveyed players recently on structuring in the context of cricket. We are using some of our outcomes of that with ICC.

“The worrying thing is that the players are telling us that if things don’t change they will be turning more to T20 leagues. It varies from country to country. Countries where players are well paid and Test cricket is stronger have a big affinity to Test cricket. But in many countries that is not the case. You have to think big picture. You want to keep Test cricket strong in a number of countries so players want to play the format and there is investment in the format.” – Tony Irish, Chief Executive of FICA

The concept of having divisional Test cricket has been around for a while, for it would give context to the format, and meaning to victory and defeat.  The public objections to it tend to revolve around the practicality of arranging series, which is an exceptionally weak argument.  The reality of the opposition is that England, Australia and India are petrified of relegation removing major series from the equation, while the other teams only make money from series against India – or at a push, England – and cannot survive on their meagre ICC percentage without them.  This is of course not that difficult to overcome, for a redistribution of income from all sources would support the countries involved, as well as creating the opportunity for the likes of Ireland to become a full member – the reluctance of the chosen ten to countenance this being yet another illustration of the self-centred nature of avaricious cricketing governance.

This isn’t going to happen.

When writers are talking about the ways of giving Test cricket a viable future, they are talking about the sport.  The ICC and its constituent management are not thinking about the sport itself and haven’t done for years if ever.  It is about power, and it is about money.  At no time have they shown the slightest inclination towards the purity of sport, which ought to be their raison d’etre.  The boards themselves think the same way – the possibility that the Ashes might not happen fills the ECB and CA with horror, rather than considering the best way to ensure that never happens is to develop players and teams to provide success.

This is why at the halfway point of what has all the prospects of being a great Test series there is no celebration of how wonderful Test cricket can be, it’s more of a concern about how long this will carry on in its current form.

As for the Test itself, expectations are that the wicket will be seam friendly, to the point that South Africa will be going in without a frontline spinner.  With Dale Steyn ruled out, England have a real opportunity to take a winning lead.  The Wanderers usually produces a result, and a straight shoot out between the pace attacks is likely.

Comments on day one below

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40 thoughts on “Down the Tubes: Nations at Midnight

  1. SimonH January 13, 2016 / 4:38 pm

    Apologies for mentioning it again, but Nick Hoult’s piece in the DT on the weekend was a must-read for anyone who hasn’t caught up with it yet.

    The ICC meeting in July is going to discuss a divisional structure. Four divisions of four is on the agenda. I think we can all guess who three of the four in D1 would be. Make relegation from D1 virtually impossible (for example, by having a lengthy cycle, not supporting Tests in D2 so teams there hardly play them and staging play-offs in the ‘right’ countries) and there’s your blueprint for the Big Three playing each other for ever more. SL, NZ and Pakistan are already in a de facto D2 are the Big Three will hardly play against them. West Indies could disintegrate and the islands play in D3 and D4.

    The only thing that might prevent it is that one of the Big Three might be so s*** some time in the future that no amount of rigging it could save them from relegation.

    Like

  2. Rooto January 13, 2016 / 5:12 pm

    Excellent food for thought. Fantastic title.
    Next in the series:
    Bats: Entertainment?
    A Clown Called Alice (to ask if he should resign)
    All Modi’s Cons
    In The City (looking for our next chairman)

    Liked by 2 people

    • escort January 13, 2016 / 10:32 pm

      What about “The Bitterest Pill (The Big Three Stitch Up) that i ever had to swallow” or (and this is my favorite Jam song) Precious, just for The sainted Alistair.
      Another great column TLG.

      Like

      • SimonH January 13, 2016 / 11:03 pm

        Away from the numbers (Mooresy’s downfall).

        Tales from the River…. side Stadium.

        And for NZ fans:
        A Solid Shane Bond in your Heart

        Like

  3. Rooto January 13, 2016 / 5:24 pm

    Re: the body of the article. Pietersen’s recent call for test salaries to be paid / supported by the ICC seems to have without comment in the MSM. Of course, many of the writers can’t stand him, but does he have a point? I don’t know enough and would like to see it discussed to find out more.
    It does seem as if a legitimate avenue is being dismissed, or at least ignored, solely because of who mentioned it. Absolutely crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance January 13, 2016 / 5:27 pm

      When I’m talking to Dmitri I jokingly call Pietersen “John the Baptist”, because he’s predicted almost everything and has been executed as a result.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pktroll (@pktroll) January 13, 2016 / 5:42 pm

        A small part (or maybe even a larger) of his problem was that he was far more marketable player than many of the England squad. He had far more of a feel what was going on with his peers as a result of his exposure to the IPL and will have had an insight into what some of the leading players felt. Many of those guys in SA/WI/SL etc would have been earning far more for quite some time through IPL than they would have been in test cricket/international cricket and as time was going on these players would have been increasingly disillusioned with their international game compared to their prospects in t20 leagues and securing their own futures as a result.

        He simply will have seen fairly on what was going down and it is only now that cricket writers in the main stream have opened up to this.

        Like

    • SimonH January 13, 2016 / 6:13 pm

      Magnificent from GD.

      Like

  4. Benny January 13, 2016 / 6:34 pm

    Yes and no. Test cricket used to work well with one series every six months (without ODI’s and T20s thrown into the pot).

    Very interesting point about the number of English players doing well in the Big Bash. They are mostly players whom our incompetent ECB have rejected so why wouldn’t they?

    Like

    • AB January 14, 2016 / 10:22 am

      Anyone who watches any of the NW Blast can see just what a high standard it is and how much incredible talent there is in the English county game, so its no surprise whatsoever that English players are dominating the Big Bash.

      OF course, traditionally the England short format teams are picked based on aptitude for test cricket and the ability to come from the right sort of family, so if you only follow international cricket you would have no idea about this kind of thing.

      Like

  5. rpoultz January 13, 2016 / 7:43 pm

    No one can at all blame AB for his stance. While test cricket may have, and still is for many, the ‘pinnacle of cricket’ it is not the pinnacle of earning potential for anyone outside of the ‘Big 3’. For a career that lasts 10-15 years, many of which wont be at top earning potential, I would agree with any player looking to make the most money during that period of time. Hopefully the fact that AB is a world superstar and has the respect of all in cricket someone at the ICC may sit up and take notice but I won’t hold my breath on that.

    As for KP calling for better pay for test cricketers it is hardly surprising. KP has shown himself to be ahead of the curve on and off the field since he debuted for England. As said the MSM wont report this due to blind hate for the man. He hits the nail on the head more often then not on these matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sean B January 13, 2016 / 8:26 pm

    Great article and absolutely spot on. I have more chance of becoming the Pope than than the big three signing off a four division test championship for all the reasons highlighted above.

    Outside of the big three, we will continue to see the seep (perhaps followed by a flood) of players choosing to forgo Test cricket for the riches of the T20 leagues around the world and nor can I blame them, if Test Cricket can’t provide for them adequately. The ICC will continue to posture, continue to tell us how they’re investigating various options for Test cricket; however nothing will change. The ICC is but a subservient body to the BCCI (and its partners in crime, the ECB and ACB) these days. Turkey’s voting for Christmas, I doubt that very much.

    Like

    • alecpaton January 13, 2016 / 9:52 pm

      I saw a article proposing how a promotion/relegation system could work alongside bilateral series. Essentially, each team had to play a minimum number of tests, home and away with the other teams in their group. They were then free to schedule bilateral series in addition with whomever they chose.

      It was a smart compromise that would have helped grow the game, be easy to cost and plan for and thus would never be accepted by anyone who had the power to make decisions.

      Like

  7. SimonH January 13, 2016 / 8:30 pm

    Just noticed this:

    Did Pringle find time in his busy schedule to Tweet criticism of any other England batsman’s dismissal in the Test? Three guesses…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark January 14, 2016 / 12:05 am

      He has become the cricket version of Alan Partridge. Hidden away on radio Norwich howling at the moon.

      Liked by 1 person

    • amit January 14, 2016 / 5:49 am

      What a prick!

      Like

    • Ian January 14, 2016 / 10:49 pm

      His only tweet on the 2nd test in the UAE was to criticise Rashid for getting out near the end so not a surprise to see that he hadn’t tweeted much at a all during this test.

      Like

  8. Mark January 14, 2016 / 12:03 am

    The deceit at the heart of the big 3 stitch up is that the people carrying out this Mafia like take over are really custodians of the came of cricket. Trust me, They really aren’t. They are corporate Raiders and Cultural asset strippers. They are like the heads of 3 supermarket chains. They don’t jsut want to make their team (business) better and richer. They also want the total destruction of all the other retail outlets.

    As far as they are concerned test cricket is reduced to ONLY financial considerations. Test matches between the big 3 are the only ones that make big money. So you play more of them, and less off the others. It’s simple supply and demand economics.

    The news that ABDV is thinking of jacking it in will be met with delight and trebles all round in the board rooms of the big 3 fat cats. SA have been an irritant of the big 3 for the last few years. Their refusal to give up their number 1 ranking has irked the usual suspects. And they in turn can rely on their in house media to sneer at the SA achievements. But with big players having retired that is coming to an end. “Oh goody” say the big 3. “We will be the number 123 best teams ranked in the world, and have all the money. ” The stitch up will be complete.

    They only notion of growing the game will be in the 20/20 form. A kind of bastardised Mad Max world of anarchy. Meanwhile the looting of the old farts who follow test cricket will be continued until it too collapses into a bankrupt heap. And all hidden away for only those who will pay the big bucks. The revolution will be televised. But can you aford it?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. amit January 14, 2016 / 2:29 am

    In a professional sport, and with careers not lasting more than 10-15 years, players will look after their long term financial interests. It would be normal human behavior. I don’t like the Big 3 stitch up any more than most people who post here, but the fact remains that shorter formats will attract more sponsorship money and as a result will be better pay masters.
    To ignore this would be naive.

    Times today are vastly different from before. The economic environment is not the same. The social fabric that used to revolve around family, days out, playing sports has changed in all countries. The pace of life has resulted in less patience in most, if not all of us.
    I am not being philosophical here. Not cynical either.
    Just pragmatic, I think.

    As a result of all these changes, the time anyone can give the sport has also changed. How many of us can watch test matches completely, and give up our work in the process?

    What also needs to be acknowledged is that India does generate most of the advertising revenue for the ICC. Big 3 contributions are what keeps the game running in countries where it is just not financially viable. And, it’s not BCCI or ECB or ACB that generate that revenue on their own.
    Most of it is generated by the paying public (watching at home) and the sponsors.

    One who pays the bills or funds the game, does call the shot.

    Yes, it doesn’t mean that the ICC shouldn’t try to do more, but I do recognize the challenge in front of them. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. It is in some form an existential concern for the longer game.

    I am all for tradition, but traditions too evolve with time.

    Like

  10. Arron Wright January 14, 2016 / 9:03 am

    From about 2007, when I first became aware of the mutterings, I thought the “death of Test cricket” types were overstating their case.

    This week I changed my mind. As a competitive sport in the medium and long term, it is royally screwed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AB January 14, 2016 / 10:25 am

      But not because of a lack of interest from fans – simply because of a lack of interest from administrators.

      Like

  11. rpoultz January 14, 2016 / 1:38 pm

    Did anyone see this https://twitter.com/roger_oldridge/status/687544556590505984 . Noted was Aggers comment below that he agreed with it. I know there are some very good journalists out there GD, Ali Martin etc but, personally, I know who I trust to provide balanced, non agenda writing on cricket.

    Like

    • LordCanisLupus January 14, 2016 / 1:46 pm

      Couldn’t see any comments below the tweet. And I know why.

      They are worried by bloggers, not the other way around. “Biggest threat to journalism” has been said. We’re not. They are just a little insecure.

      And I don’t know how many times I have to say this to the hard of comprehending…. I don’t want to be a journo. Nor do I think I’m one. (Shakes head)

      Like

      • amit January 14, 2016 / 2:09 pm

        Yeah totally agreed. And I think this insecurity stems from their inability to look beyond their own interests. One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure out that the old boys club has trouble dealing with independent voices such as yours that are just as popular because they are perceived as honest, if not always unbiased by most readers. This is the gift of technology that has enabled access to places like this one.
        Sitting in Singapore, following the game, both in its traditional and new age forms, it is difficult to find sane voices that one can connect to, or those that feel the same way about the traditional long format.
        I was a Guardian regular for a few years but hardly go there to post anything now. For last year or so, since I found this blog, it has been a daily ritual to check views of people who felt the same way or had the honesty I just couldn’t find BTL on MSM.
        May it long continue.

        Liked by 1 person

      • SimonH January 14, 2016 / 2:36 pm

        The Oldridge Tweet was re-Tweeted by…. well, I couldn’t possibly say – and that’s where Agnew’s reply (which is only “indeed”) can be found.

        The difference between journalists and bloggers isn’t too difficult to spot in my experience. The journalists are the ones who don’t see it as their job to hold the ECB to account.

        Like

        • LordCanisLupus January 14, 2016 / 3:11 pm

          I know who retweeted it. Amused me no end.

          Perhaps they will ask why certain journos kept in touch during tricky times to “keep in touch with the views of the other side.”

          Like

      • Mark January 14, 2016 / 3:17 pm

        What is a jounalist these days anyway?

        Seems pointless doing a degree in journalism because when you go and work for the big players the editorial slant will already have been fixed by the owner. if you don’t stick to that line you will be removed.

        Of course this is more apparamt on issues like politics and business. But as sport IS increasingly more about politics & business it’s no surprise that sports journalists have reduced themselves to the level of city and Westminster hacks. Conflicts of interst are everywhere, In fairness to the journalist it is only the bloggers who can ask the right questions and point out the truth, because they are not self censored by fear of losing their job or their special access.

        Newman won’t get those nice cosy pictures of Broad and his girlfriend in a private jet if he starts asking difficult questions. We have pretty much reached a point where most MSM journalism is nothing but public relations and advertising.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. rpoultz January 14, 2016 / 3:39 pm

    That line ‘We have pretty much reached a point where most MSM journalism is nothing but public relations and advertising.’ Sums it up perfectly. Every article by a journalist now seems to be sponsored or in association with Waitrose, Hardys or some other brand that have aligned themselves with the ECB. I understand that should they upset those they need access to it may pose a threat to their positions but it’s what a real journalist would do – ask questions that their readers want to know the answer to.

    Like

  13. DmitriOld January 14, 2016 / 4:16 pm

    267/7 – damn my sickness this week. Back to work the day the test starts. So, as usual it is 48 minutes highlights on Sky. Except my team is on TV tonight for the first time this season.

    What’s the views of those who got to see it. All 9 players in double figures but no 50s. Indicates a very below par score to me. Didn’t sound that we bowled well.

    TLG will be along later, I hope. No doubt pretending to be a journalist!

    Like

    • SimonH January 14, 2016 / 4:32 pm

      I’ve watched most of it today (except first half hour).

      It’s classic “let’s see both sides bowl” territory. There’s been bounce and some seam movement, if little swing. The scores could represent batsmen chucking it away – or that it’s the sort of pitch where you’re never really in. ABDV looked much better than CT but got out to a leg-side strangle. Bavuma also looked in great nick but ran himself out by ball watching.

      Finn pick of the bowlers by a mile. He must start getting the new ball.

      Weather forecast not good for tomorrow, better for day three.

      Like

      • SimonH January 14, 2016 / 5:56 pm

        Average first innings’ score at this ground in the last decade is 244.

        Like

    • RufusSG January 14, 2016 / 4:36 pm

      I don’t know why Sky felt the need to make their highlights about half the length they used to be and extend the Verdict: there’s only so much they can talk about on the latter anyway (it’s usually interesting, and Bob is always worth a watch after bad days, but by the end they’re usually repeating themselves), and you don’t get as good an idea of the flow of the game as you used to when they were 90mins-2hrs long.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LordCanisLupus January 14, 2016 / 4:43 pm

        Absolutely no argument from me. When Stokes made 258 the highlights felt rushed. The Verdict then told us what we saw. Great. Too much bunny.

        Like

    • ArushaTZ January 14, 2016 / 7:09 pm

      England bowled 45% short before lunch and wasted pretty good bowling conditions. They bowled better, slightly fuller the rest of the day and beat the bat quite a lot. Finn bowled a particularly good spell in the afternoon session.

      South Africa mostly gave their wickets away. De Villiers looked good, Bavuma looked good, the rest seemed to have to work harder for their runs.

      Both teams will think they could have done better but probably won’t be too disappointed by the days outcome.

      Like

  14. Rooto January 14, 2016 / 7:56 pm

    Just given up on Selvey’s day one article after a single sentence. Admittedly, that was an entire paragraph and about 6 sub-clauses. Unreadable.

    Like

    • SimonH January 14, 2016 / 8:30 pm

      Rooto, you missed a paragraph criticising Jimmy.

      They don’t come along too often. I think the last one was in 2008.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Arron Wright January 14, 2016 / 9:39 pm

        I think the impact was completely shattered by his disclaimer:

        “It might be IMPERTINENT to criticise a man with 427 Test wickets.”

        In exactly the way it wasn’t remotely impertinent to repeatedly slag off men with 8,181 or 8,643 Test runs, I suppose.

        Like

        • LordCanisLupus January 14, 2016 / 10:43 pm

          Impertinence was asking what Andy Flower was doing talking to the Chairman of Selectors at Edgbaston, after he’d been out of the main England job for a few months. That’s being impertinent.

          Like

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