The Pure English Alpaca Company Limited

It has been a week of reflection here on Being Outside Cricket. Chris has put down two of his best ever pieces (in my opinion) on here about the start of a cricket season, and thanking those club stalwarts that make the world turn, even though we didn’t really appreciate it at the start. It captures the life of nearly all of us who paid club cricket, to varying standards, to varying levels of ability, while forming the core base that any sport really needs to thrive. Much of what Chris said there rang true. My first captain, of our second XI, was someone in his 60s at the time, who while I wouldn’t say made you feel welcome from the start, became someone I just absolutely loved jousting with and we had those verbal sparring matches that had those watching laughing at us both! Our lift to Hammersmith underground station as we set out for the 2006 Ashes was one such event. His son posts on here, and I count him and his brother as true mates. If you’ve got memories of these people, stick them on Chris’s piece. We’d love to hear them.

While Chris looked back in reverence, I looked back in anguish!

There was me, with a glass half empty approach to world sports, and England in general. I have to say that a lot of this recent reflection stems from talking to an old friend from the estate on which I live on Twitter (and WhatsApp) and looking back at how we both view sport now, from two very different angles. Like me, he loves his day out at the county cricket, like me, probably not as much, he is jaded by the whole football circus, but mainly we talk about how sports coverage and the games, for that is what they are, has evolved over the years. I keep stopping myself to say it makes me sound like an old granddad and saying “it was better in my day” but I genuinely think it was. Not in terms of talent – for to make that stand is clearly preposterous as sport evolves – but in terms of what the sport is about, how it is seen, perceived. As Sir Peter put in one of the comments, when Trevor Brooking retired, football was a sport. Now it is an industry. So are most sports, and as they continue to merge into the commercial world more than ever, and it isn’t likely to change. It’s like screaming against the tide, but the model just can’t work like this without a big drop off in all sports other than the behemoth football. Even that isn’t in the rudest health at the grass roots as one dog walk over to the local sports field will tell you. A lot fewer teams, more vacant pitches.

There is a temptation, a big one, for the next couple of weeks before the return of international cricket, that we could get carried away with this pall of negativity and nostalgia. But for a cricket supporter like me, what else do I feel I have at the moment? I can look back at the joyous moments, and I have in mind a piece on the best five test innings I’ve seen in person, but there’s a tendency to think to the future. Much has been made that the BBC had over a million listeners to its county coverage over the weekend. I’d probably like to see that stat in all its true detail, but one can’t deny that there is a decided undercurrent of support for the county game that isn’t reflected elsewhere. Most notably by the authority supposedly wishing it well. George Dobell, in his tour de force this evening, nails it for me…

Despite all the ECB’s talk of communication and transparency – a word that is hard to square with the non-disclosure agreements that have bound county officials to secrecy in recent times – associated with the new-team T20 competition, there is a sense of disenfranchisement pervading county spectators at present that suggests their administrators have stopped representing or even listening to them. Really, they may as well just slap county spectators in the face when they buy a ticket and have done with it. The sooner supporters have a collective voice the better; the Cricket Supporters’ Association may be the partial answer.

George didn’t invoke the O word used by Tom Harrison, but he might as well have. There is a love for the competition out there, sometimes a bit precious, but also something that should be cherished. For me it is the opportunity two or three times a season to sit in the sunshine (all being well), drink a few beers, take lots of pictures, enjoy watching some super talent, and some young ones too (Sam Curran for one), over a long, relaxed timeframe. The game evolves at its own pace, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, but its rarely truly awful unless the weather intervenes. I would have liked to have been there today, at the Oval, but there was a garden fence to be repaired post Storm Doris. I can find some of the love a bit too full on, as I don’t do pants-on-fire enthusiasm, and I can also find it patronising, as in #propercricket and some of the Guardian BTL, but these people love the game, and if they don’t know the ECB is getting at them, then they ain’t listening. I have no idea what the Cricket Supporters’ Association is, and like most of these sorts of things I start with a healthy dose of scepticism, but anything that tries to get the supporters voice at the table has to be welcomed.

My fear with these sorts of organisations is that once inside the tent, paid lip service by the powers that be who can’t really be seen to tell the patrons that they need to wind their necks in that obviously (unless Giles is around…), the pressures on the representatives to be all things to all people strangles the life out of them. In the worst cases, and I’m not naming names, they go native and those who got them where they were don’t see it, while the people they purport to represent can go whistle. It’s human nature.

The nature that supporters can get noticed has always been a difficult one. Blogs like ours can gain traction, but we are all too aware that tastes and circumstances change. What works on one occasion doesn’t on others. Social Media is what it is. You can Tweet to your heart’s content, and yes, I do, but no-one in authority listens. Why? In isolation we are nothing but individual units. It turns out more and more that your points may be supported and taken up by some of the media who might be interested in it. Do you think, for instance, that “Outside Cricket” as a term that caught the eye, would have had traction if we and people on Twitter didn’t invoke it putting Paul Downton in the role of Marie Antoinette and the media perpertrating as if we were some sort of zealots (hey JE, we are looking at you)? We note the name of #39’s podcast with some amusement, for instance!

I doubt that even if the resurgence in interest at the new season being maintained will have much of an effect. The somewhat bizarre refusal to allow Jonny Bairstow to play for Yorkshire shows that the ECB don’t want to waste him on the premier domestic competition because of a schedule of such breathtaking stupidity coming up (and previous) “exhausting him”. Taking the long view when that view has been put together by bean counters wanting to extract the maximum cash from an international schedule is going to be at the expense of those who’d quite like to watch him in person, but won’t stump up test match ticket fees, or an expensive Sky subscription. Is it any wonder the current crop are invisible to the general public.

Just as it is inevitable that England will struggle to produce spin bowlers – or batsmen with experience of playing spin bowling – while so much of the season is pushed into the margins (counties will have played eight of their 14 Championship matches by the end of June) and medium-paced nibblers are disproportionately important. It is many years since England produced a legspinner as talented as Mason Crane; there is something wrong with a system that cannot find a space for him in a side.

But here’s the thing. It may be taking the long view with Johnny Bairstow, but it isn’t when we need to develop skills to make the international team work. The Mason Crane example is one, but then there are five international spin bowlers out there at The Oval this Easter weekend. It’s patchy at best though, and the way first class cricket is confined to the margins of the “English Summer” is short-term thinking. This is why floodlit county cricket might have to work to cram a space in the mid-summer for more fixtures. July and August are gone, so it is going to have to be a big thing in June now to create a better environment for these skills. Sadly we are trying to cram in an 8 month season into a 6 month period and the pips are going to squeak. You can’t help feeling if the winter’s Ashes go tits up and we don’t come close to winning the Champions Trophy, that we’ll be plunged into yet another review of English cricket. The issues are staring you straight in the face.

On another tangent, the ECB Accounts are due out soon. Last year they came out in the last week of April. The main things to look for is how much revenue took a hit due to the perceived and real difficulties in having Sri Lanka and Pakistan over in the same year in terms of revenue. How stark that contrast will be with last year is going to be interesting. Turnover in 2015 (India the previous summer) was £174.7m. Turnover in 2016 (Ashes in 2015) was £134m. Turnover for the 2012 summer, for instance, was £111m – that did not have an Ashes or India visit.

I’ll keep looking in to see when the next set are up.

OK – I’ll end the ramble, and wish all of our readers a Happy Easter weekend, enjoy what you are doing and we’ll be back with some more stuff soon. And if you haven’t read Chris’s pieces then please do so.


George Dobell mentioned this in his piece yesterday and also tweeted about it today. I must confess that until he did I’d not heard of it. This isn’t the most auspicious of starts.

The aims and aspirations of the association seem very worthy. George is currently listed as co-founder and will step down when the time is appropriate as the long-term aim is for it to be an organisation of people not professionally involved in the sport. I am all for supporters organisations being recognised and having a voice, a real voice, in the running of a sport. It should be a requirement, in my opinion.

I am a little surprised that the likes of us, pretty well known in blogging circles, and certainly to some involved in this, haven’t been approached to spread the word. Maybe we are that toxic! I also have a little problem with the official magazine of the Professional Cricketers Association being a “Supporting Partner”. We know where the PCA’s priorities lay a few years ago, and a supporter association needs to be truly independent of players and administration. But these are wrinkles.

Read the website and tell us what you think.