First of all, I’m annoyed, not just a little bit annoyed, but completely and totally incensed by the treatment that our so called administrators have handed out to Durham and I’m not even a Durham fan. The ignominy of being relegated to the 2nd Division on financial criteria rather than cricketing prowess was not bad enough in the eyes of the incompetent fat cats running our board, oh no, they had to give them a massive f**k you as a coup de grace. Here’s your 48 point deduction – put that in your pipe and smoke it, oh and best of all, be grateful for it too, we saved you. Oh and we’re also revoking your Test status, although actually that is probably more of a blessing in disguise.
The circumstances of Durham’s financial demise have been well documented, but let me briefly cover it again, so there can be no doubt where the blame should lie. Back in 2003, Durham were an ambitious club, one who wanted to give fans in the North East, those who had previously been starved of international cricket access to the game without having to travel hundreds of miles to actually see live coverage. This fitted in nicely with the ECB’s stated mandate to spread the national game away from the traditional Test grounds and even their edict that all newly built grounds should have the capabilities and facilities to host Test Cricket.
This was pretty much as good as it got though for our friends in the Northeast. Firstly (and I could with some help here), the choice for Durham’s new shiny international ground was not in surburban Newcastle or even in the more populated Durham, but instead was housed in Chester-Le-Street, a town with a population of 26,000 holding a ground with the capacity of 16,000, the math’s simply didn’t add even back then and now look astonishingly slapstick in the cold light of day. Then there was the small matter of the fact that we already had 6 international venues fighting for on average 5 tests a year (if you account for Lords having 2 games a year) so with the addition of Durham, Hampshire and then latterly Cardiff into the mix, we suddenly had an surfeit of counties desperately hunting Test cricket at their grounds to cover new builds, redevelopment and general running costs with not enough games to go around. Seriously it doesn’t take a genius to realise that this was not going to end well.
So what was the ECB’s solution to this? Well I can think we can all agree that most sensible administrators would’ve sought to manage risk and spread the games as evenly as possible amongst each county to ensure financial viability; however the ECB is not a sensible administrator, it’s a greedy money grabbing pit of self interest, and instead chose a far more lucrative option. The ECB bods in all their wisdom decided that a bidding system would be a far fairer way to distribute the games and the money (for themselves obviously and not the counties). So here we had it, a bunch of increasingly skint counties desperately fighting over those games that weren’t going to be held in London in the hope of getting enough punters through the door to make enough money to survive into the next year, like a group of fat men desperately fighting over the last pork scratching. Yet the ECB sat quietly by, filling their coffers with well over £75 million worth of hard cash and not having to lift a finger. None of the risk, all of the reward, I say old boy.
So to the surprise of no-one, except the ECB, though they I doubt they cared that much, this house of cards came tumbling down in a heap fairly quickly. The writing had been on the wall since the start. Cricket has been in decline for some while, and whilst there are many debates as to the reasons behind this (I could and have written a whole article on this subject alone) one can easily surmise that a lack of cricket on FTA, the general disappearance of the game from the national news and the increased focus on the T20 tournaments meant that interest in Test cricket began to wane quickly. As the counties latterly realised this, it very quickly proved to be a bun fight in who could get the most popular games, with the counties throwing exorbitant amounts of money for an Australia or India game in the hope that they could get them to last 4 days so they could make some money, with the other counties counting the cost of getting a Sri Lanka or a New Zealand Test knowing that they wouldn’t even cover their costs. Indeed a certain Ex-Yorkshire chairman, better known to most readers in his new role had this to say back in 2011:
“The problem we have in England and Wales is we have nine Test match grounds and seven Test matches and nine into seven doesn’t go.”
“At the end of the day you are playing with high stakes and that’s a big risk business and at this present time, we are not in that.”
“I’m urging them to look totally at the way we structure cricket, the way it is financed and, going forward, how we are going to stage that,” he said.
“There are some big searching questions there to be answered.”
It’s of course very interesting to note that we haven’t heard a single peep out of Mr. Graves since he was made Chairman of the ECB, let alone hear the answer to these big searching questions. After all, it’s your boat now chaps, but I’m going to take the paddles with me in any case..
And so we now to get to the stage, where a county who followed the ECB’s edict to the letter (though I would conceive that they should have done more to position the stadium in a far more densely populated area) have been handed a massively draconian punishment for racking up serious debts that the ECB’s bidding system not only actively encouraged, but gave them no other option than to. Nicely played chaps, offer false promises with one hand and then crush with the other when the unpleasant reality sets in.
Except this isn’t really about Durham is it? Nor will it be about a Leicestershire or a Somerset, a Northamptonshire or a Sussex when the inevitable happens, and they teeter on the edge of administration. This is about business and that business is an 8-team city franchise, the savior of all English cricket in Colin Graves and his fellow cronies eyes. Sure they have had to go around the houses with the county chairmen, sure there have been meetings, promises counter promises, £1.5million promises but all this is a case of playing the waiting game in the expected hope that the county chairmen spend more time fighting each other and their members rather than noticing the smiling devil at their door. It is not inconceivable that by the time 2019/2020 comes around all of these clubs and many more will be on their knees and willing to accept any morsel their so called benevolent administrators are willing to toss them; oh as long as they are willing to give up some more rights to benefit those who the ECB deem worthy. The thing is that growing the game, as I and many others have said before, is simply not on the ECB’s radar not has it ever been, it knows nothing but the pursuit of financial gain and anyone who gets in the way will be simply cast aside or crushed. After all, Graves has put his neck on the line to make this City franchise competition happen and he is going to do everything in his power to make it happen, so what does it matter if the odd county goes bust along the way, that’s business for you?
I find what has happened to Durham today and will in time happen to other counties very sad, but not in the least bit surprising, after all if you stick your head in the crocodile’s mouth for long enough, one day it will bite. My guess is that it would be fair to say that the dinner of many of the county chairmen might not taste so juicy tonight as they reflect on the fact that with ‘friends like these, who needs enemies’…