Is English Cricket Too Posh?

It seems fair to say that cricket in England has always been a class-based affair. For almost 200 years there was a separation between the independently wealthy amateur gentlemen and working-class professionals. It was only in 1963 that amateurism officially ended in English first-class cricket. There has always been a sense that English cricket is a game for aristocrats which the proles can only play at their sufferance and on their terms.

Even in recent history, there has been a bias toward people from privileged backgrounds. In the last 40 years, public school boys have accounted for 80% of the ECB/TCCB chairmen, 67.5% of the chairmen of selectors, and Test captains in 65% of the games. To put these numbers into context, in 2016/17 the percentage of children attending public schools in the UK was 7.9%.

Considering the over-representation of the well-to-do in the higher echelons of English cricket, you will be unsurprised to learn that this pattern continues in the selection of the England Test team. In the past 10 years there have been 126 England Men’s Test matches featuring 61 cricketers. Players who attended fee-paying schools make up 56.2% of the appearances in this period.

This was higher than I expected, but the real shock came when I looked a little deeper. If we divide the players into two groups, batsmen and wicketkeepers versus bowlers and allrounders, there is a massive disparity between the two. “Only” 26.5% of appearances by bowlers were by public school boys, and Stuart Broad’s 109 games account for 17.2% of them. Conversely, 81.7% of appearances by batsmen were from public school boys. That is a patently ridiculous figure.

The question this begs for me is this: “Why are people from ‘the right kind of family’ more likely to be batsmen than bowlers?” The most likely answer that I can give is coaching. People who attend fee-paying schools probably receive a higher level of cricket coaching from a younger age than people who go to comprehensive schools. It’s possible to train someone of average height, average strength and average speed to become a decent batsman, and wealthy people have the ability to make that happen.

The same is not necessarily true of bowling. There is an old adage in coaching: “You can’t teach speed”. I mean, you obviously can, but every person has a limit beyond which they can’t get any faster. One thing you definitely can’t train is height, which is also an advantage when becoming a fast bowler. No matter how much money you throw at it, you can’t make a posh boy grow 6’4″ tall and be capable of bowling at 85 mph. Bowling is therefore a significantly more representative and meritocratic discipline in English cricket.

I suspect that when counties scout their local clubs and schools, children from public schools would appear to be superior choices. Having received better coaching from a younger age, they will be playing closer to their potential abilities. This would however mean that counties overlook kids from less affluent areas who might have lesser abilities but greater potential.

There are, I suspect, other reasons. As I’ve pointed out at the start, senior roles in the ECB tend to favour people from privileged backgrounds. Public school boys have a reputation for intelligence, confidence and leadership ability. You only have to look at other areas of public life which they dominate like investment banking or politics to see how quickly these stereotypes fall apart under even the slightest scrutiny, but nevertheless they are considered “well-spoken” and “the kind of boy you hope your daughter marries”.

This disparity angers me for several reasons, not the least of which is that we as a country are probably losing multiple potentially great Test batsmen from the game simply because of the circumstances of their birth. It also has a massive long-term impact on the game. Most of the off-the-field roles in English cricket are taken by former players. Administrators, coaches, selectors, journalists, commentators and pundits are all likely to be former players. If the majority of players are from public schools, that means that they will also dominate all of the other aspects of English cricket.

So what can be done about it? Fortunately, there is already an example of a country whose cricket was also dominated by a wealthy and privileged elite but have reversed that trend in recent years. Of course, that country was South Africa.

Obviously the two situations aren’t even remotely comparable. Black South Africans had faced over a century of institutionalised racism in all aspects of society, including cricket. Even after reinstatement into world cricket and the election of the ANC, there were relatively few cricket clubs in black communities. One of the solutions to this issue has been the use of quotas, requiring minimum numbers of black and coloured players in their international and first-class teams.

This approach is not without its downsides. I’m sure most people on this blog will be aware that Kevin Pietersen cited CSA’s policies as restricting his chances of playing in his home country. Several Kolpak players in county cricket have also suggested this, although a more cynical person might suggest that for most it seems like a straightforward financial decision. I don’t think this would be as strong an issue as it is in South Africa.

The current system in South Africa allows 5 white players in any first-class team, and there are only 6 first-class teams. This means that there are essentially 30 professional contracts available to white South Africans, which does seem somewhat restrictive. If similar quotas were enforced for privately educated players in county cricket, there would be 90 spots for them because English cricket has three times the number of teams. This seems like an eminently workable number, allowing room for both experienced professionals and developing future stars but without allowing a wealthy minority to dominate the sport.

A quota system would force counties to look beyond the low-hanging fruit of public school cricketers and encourage them to help promote mainstream youth participation in their regions. If the privately educated became minorities on the cricket field, hopefully that would also filter through over time to all of the other facets of the game. Indeed, if English cricket ever weans itself off rich entitled men being in charge, perhaps they will finally close the divide between those Inside and Outside Cricket?

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments below.

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44 thoughts on “Is English Cricket Too Posh?

  1. Rooto October 4, 2017 / 7:15 pm

    Good and interesting article which picks at a much-ignored spot in our system.
    First thought: have you run the numbers over the county system,as you have done over the England team? If there was a similar disparity then your quota idea would (in principle) have legs. But, maybe – just maybe, as I haven’t done the numbers either – the county system is less skewed, and therefore it’s maybe more the ‘coaching’, the ‘pulling up the public school drawbridge’ or the ‘confidence and leadership’ sides which create the England imbalance.
    Of course, the powers that be would never give it a thought, but seeing as they’ll be first up against the wall come the revolution, we don’t need to listen to them…

    Like

    • dannycricket October 4, 2017 / 7:23 pm

      Yeah, this had crossed my mind. There are three issues standing in the way.

      1) My fundamental laziness. That would be a lot more work.

      2) All of the information for this post is from ESPNCricinfo, Wikipedia and if all else fails, googling “NAME cricket school”. It seems quite likely that, with the extreme low profile of county cricket, many of the players won’t have this information where I can easily access it.

      An actual journalist would presumably ask the players or counties to provide the information, but I don’t think that will work for me.

      3) I’m really lazy. This really can’t be said often enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rooto October 4, 2017 / 7:36 pm

        I understand and share your problem. Well done on getting as far as point 3. 🙂

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          • dannycricket October 5, 2017 / 5:08 pm

            Interesting posts. Our figures aren’t directly comparable because we’ve divided the groups in slightly different ways, but your figures are interesting. Just looking at players educated in the UK, it appears that “only” 41.3% went to independent schools. That’s a lot lower than 56.2% for Test selection (and yet still disproportionately high), although as you say a lot of foreign players (particularly South Africans) might bump up the number of players from private schools.

            This begs the question about what happens with all of these ‘extra’ people who went to comprehensive school. Do they not make the county first XI? I would assume virtually all foreign players make the first XIs, since you don’t get an overseas or Kolpak player just to sit them on the bench. I’m also curious about batsmen specifically. There is a huge divide in the England team between batting and bowling. Is the same thing true in county cricket?

            I’ve just gone back to my spreadsheet and removed all of the foreign-born players and that actually drops the percentage of games by privately educated players to 45.0%, so maybe they aren’t that far apart. How exactly is is you separated your data? Are players born overseas but educated here (like Andrew Strauss at Radley College, for example) included in the state/independent columns or just the AUS/NZ/RSA one?

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          • SimonH October 5, 2017 / 9:24 pm

            ” you don’t get an overseas or Kolpak player just to sit them on the bench”.

            I see you’re not familiar with the concept of Rilee Rossouw!

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          • dannycricket October 5, 2017 / 9:34 pm

            Well to every rule there are exceptions…

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          • stephenfh October 6, 2017 / 1:57 pm

            Re the figures, first divided into England qualified and those not, of the England qualified schooling is for those educated in this country whether born here or overseas. The AUS/NZ/RSA column is those qualified to play for those countries.

            Taking Middlesex for example, Nick Compton (born Durban educated Harrow) is 1 of the 126, but Dawid Malan (born Roehampton educated Paarl) not, with Steve Eskinazi and Sam Robson he makes 3 England qualified but overseas educated. The 19 England qualified players broke down into 10 independent schools, 6 state, with the 3 educated overseas not included.

            On the wider issues your post raises, I wonder how much the influence of more players being educated at independent schools affects the chances of those who are independently minded types…..read an interesting appreciation of the career of Chris Read a week or so ago, who played only 15 Tests, whereas Jack Russell, an earlier generation 50+. Just a thought.

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  2. Mark October 4, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    Fast bowlers have always tended to come from more working class stock or the state school system……with the batsman coming from private schools. Harold Larwood, Fred Trueman, Ian Botham. Of the batsman that have made it from the state sector most have come from the old Grammar system….which hardly exists anymore.

    The reason why so few privately educated boys become bowlers is I would suggest a snobby thing. Fast Bowling is hard physical work. Manual labour if you like. Batting is seen as a skilled profession. The middle class kid who is at private school is likely to go into the professions of law, and finance. A bit of batting on the side. They aren’t going to bust themselves as a fast bowler. If you can choose a career as a lawyer of banker or the precarious job and likely injury of fast bowling which are you going to choose?

    As to the idea of quotas you can’t be serious? It’s not the way to go. Counties would challenge it anyway on the basis of free trade. I’m not a fan of it in SA either . The ANC have been in charge for best part of 25 years. The fact they impose quotas is a damming verdict on what they have done for black cricketers in that time. (That is not to say it’s easy after decades of apartheid,) but how much money has been put into black sport, and facilities and how much has been syphoned off by corrupt politicians?

    The biggest problem is cricket in England is just not played in the state sector anymore, and with little visable coverage on TV the game is a waste land as far as state educated kids are concerned. You have to have some foundation to create the players in the first place before you even get on to talking about quotas.

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    • dannycricket October 4, 2017 / 9:21 pm

      To go through your points in order:

      1) Whilst that is the traditional view regarding “gentlemen” and bowlers, I don’t necessarily agree with it. I believe the lack of public school bowlers in the England team is simply that most lack the physicality to do it at an elite level. I presume the school teams have fine bowlers for their level, but that they can’t compete beyond that.

      2) In all honesty, none of my suggestions for English cricket are 100% serious. I prefer to advance over the top proposals in the hopes that someone else can think of a more reasonable suggestion which would still get the job done. Unfortunately, I am almost always disappointed. If you have an idea which can remedy the situation, I’d be delighted to hear it.

      3) I’ll preface this by saying I Am Not A Lawyer, but I don’t think that’s how “free trade” works. If that were the case, how can cricket restrict teams to only one overseas player? How can football leagues require teams to have a certain number of ‘homegrown’ players in their squad. My understanding is that it IS illegal to place restrictions on EU workers that are not also in place for people from the UK, but that is not what I’m suggesting.

      4) I think you’re underestimating how much work was (and is still) required for South African cricket. Starting with virtually no infrastructure in black areas, not much of a fanbase, and high costs compared to other sports, I think what they have achieved is remarkable. Perhaps I’m just a naive optimist.

      5) I agree, this is not the biggest problem facing English cricket. I do however think that it is more fundamental than you suggest. I would argue that, at the root of issues such as failing to create new fans, a major factor would be that a majority of people at the ECB lack empathy and awareness of “normal” people due to their privileged background.

      From their perspective, the Sky deal doesn’t really restrict people from seeing live cricket. They have Sky Sports, all of their friends and family have (or can afford) Sky Sports, they even see newspaper articles telling them that benefit claimants have Sky Sports. It may not even occur to them that a large number of people won’t spend £400-500 per year just to watch cricket.

      This is the danger of a monoculture, because they all come from similar places they all see the world in the same way. I pointed out that a large number of administrators and other jobs around English cricket were both former players and public school boys. If we could correct the imbalance in the players I would hope that this would, in the long term, make the other areas of the sport more representative too.

      Of course this is an intractable situation. The majority of players are from public schools because the administrators (also from public schools) don’t see it as a problem and won’t step in to stop it. The current players will become eventually become county chairmen and administrators themselves, at which point they won’t step in either, allowing that generation of public school players to thrive until they become administrators…

      6) Whilst the situation would be helped a little by greater participation numbers from the unwashed masses, which would in turn be helped by greater Freeview coverage and the like, I don’t think that’s a core issue in this problem. Unless you are suggesting that public school boys comprise 50%+ of the children playing cricket in clubs and schools, they are massively overrepresented throughout the game. I would wager (1p) that similar breakdowns would be evident from 1995-2005, or indeed from any 10 year period you care to name when cricket was on TV and widely popular.

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      • AB October 6, 2017 / 2:34 pm

        “Unless you are suggesting that public school boys comprise 50%+ of the children playing cricket in clubs and schools”

        In the North and the Midlands, no, but in the South East, would that really be so surprising? My club is unusual in that pretty much all our kids come from the local state schools, but most of our opposition simply pick their teams wholesale from a nearby private school.

        There is virtually zero cricket played in state schools around here. I often quiz our kids about whether they’ve been playing cricket at school and most of them report never playing it, or if they do, its half an hour slogging with a tennis ball and then back to football.

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  3. Matt taylor October 4, 2017 / 8:39 pm

    I feel that affordability plays a part. I or any aspiring player could buy a ball and practice their action against a wall or net at no cost at all. If i wanted to be a batsman however i need to buy a bat, gloves, padding, box, helmet and bag plus find someone to bowl at me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dannycricket October 4, 2017 / 9:31 pm

      I’m not involved in my local club, so I wouldn’t like to speculate on how this might affect things. I will however say that between declining participation numbers and rising profits for the ECB, at some point in the future they will be able to supply bats, helmets and pads made from gold for every player in the land.

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      • Sean B October 4, 2017 / 10:32 pm

        Myself & Matt went to school together and played cricket for a small town in Sussex. To be honest the facilities were a joke and we often shared pads, bats (but not boxes) and the artificial wickets either didn’t bounce or would hit something and then go past your throat.

        The only cricket on offer, unless you knew the coach’s son was a few throw downs on the grass, using a rubber practice ball. This was not an inner London estate, but a fairly well to do comp in a small town in Sussex. Let’s just say that there have been no professional cricketers from said town….

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  4. Topshelf October 4, 2017 / 11:52 pm

    Cook, Vince, Root*, Ballance, Malan, Bairstow, Crane, Broad, Overton – Private school

    Stoneman, Stokes, Woakes, Foakes, Ali, Ball, Anderson – State School

    * Root was state till 6th form, when his cricket got him a sports scholarship to Worksop College. Similar story for Haseeb Hameed.

    Fits pretty well with the hypothesis that a private education produces batsmen over bowlers, supplying 5 of the top 6 in the order.

    I have to be a bit careful here, as I don’t particularly want what I’m about to say to be linked back to me, or more importantly impact my kid if the wrong person reads it.

    Here goes anyway…

    I have a (state-educated) kid involved in a county system. He is massively outnumbered by the privately-educated, both at club level (well over 50% private school) and at county level (more like 80-90%).

    Many of these private school kids have both school coaching and private coaching, in some cases in their own nets at their homes (including one boy in a different age-group who is rumoured to have a basement net with multiple cameras set up).

    We have no cricket at school, and don’t have a garden… However much work I can do with him in public nets or at his club, it will never be as much as the boarding-school boy who can net for hours every day. I spend what I can, occasionally, but it pales into insignificance next to the boys who have an hour a week one-on-one at the county ground literally all year round.

    You would think that county coaches would show more interest in the less advantaged player who is able to hold his own at the top level than the blatantly over-coached technique-hoovers. You would think they would be interested in talent. You would think that they would be looking at each player’s potential upside rather than their current level.

    They don’t, they aren’t, and they don’t. From an early age it is fairly evident who the chosen few are, and they are all ultra-coached private-school kids, and all batsmen.

    Now I don’t think this is conscious bias from the county; I don’t think they care much about “right sort of family” at this age. But for them it’s just easier. They’re handed a boy who doesn’t need much coaching from them at all – it’s all taken care of elsewhere. So why bother polishing a rough diamond when you’ve already got a pile of pre-buffed players to choose from? Nobody at board level really cares about junior cricket until just before academy intake, so as long as they produce their small quota of professionals at the end of it, who cares (and who’s to know) if they missed a few even more talented youngsters?

    It may also be that the county look ahead a few years, and see that it will be very hard for state-school batsmen to keep up. I reckon unless I send my boy private (and we’d need a very big sports scholarship), by the time he’s 16 he’ll be hundreds if not thousands of hours behind in bowling-machine time, coaching, and match time. The county themselves aren’t going to provide that for anyone – it’s not football, there just isn’t the money. I don’t think any state-school batsman will ever have an easy route to the top now.

    Another factor is that coaches at the younger age-groups are less bothered about bowlers, because there are simply too many variables to consider. Many bowlers only reveal themselves around 15 or 16 as they mature physically. Stuart Broad was a pretty short opening batsman for most of his school career, and only began to bowl very late. The gap in practice time is also narrower, because you simply can’t bowl all day every day, nor are you allowed to under ECB guidelines, whereas you can face a bowling machine in your garden for as long as you like. So there are two routes in for a bowler there – be good from a young age and able to keep up more easily, or develop late and make yourself impossible to ignore.

    So the moral is probably simple: if you’re a state-school batsman, either be brilliant like Joe Root, or make sure you can bowl too, preferably very fast. However many posh nobs the team may have, they’ll still need someone to do the dirty work. And if you’re lucky, and you make it through a county system to 15/16, you might well get a cheap ride through a private school 6th form. And then they might teach you to bat!

    Liked by 2 people

    • dannycricket October 5, 2017 / 6:51 am

      Thanks a lot. As may be apparent from the post, I was guessing how the counties treated junior cricketers. It’s both satisfying and depressing to have it confirmed by someone who’s actually involved. Whilst I mentioned the advantages public school boys have over other young cricketers, I never imagined that some might have their own nets and private coaches. It really is a whole different world if you’re rich.

      I was also aware that some of the people I’m counting as rich kids actually got sporting scholarships for private schools. Root, Hameed, Chris Jordan being three that I’m aware of. However, it’s hard to find out which other players might be included on that list. It’s also arguing against myself somewhat, which I try and avoid doing in my posts.

      In the last 10 years, a comprehensive (pun intended) list of batsmen who didn’t go to fee-paying schools: Ambrose (11), Bell (88), Carberry (6), Lyth (7), Stoneman (3), Vaughan (12), Westley (5). (I’ve counted Collingwood (41) as an allrounder).

      On a side note, looking through my spreadsheet I realised that I’ve accidentally listed a couple of bowlers as batsmen, which skews the figures even more.

      Like

      • Mark October 5, 2017 / 9:17 am

        Thanks Topshelf for that very interesting look into what it’s like for kids today. Your very own indoor nets with cameras? Jeez it’s a differnet world…

        What I think is interesting is what is going to happen in a few years if the number of state schools play less and less cricket. If that is where most of the fast bowlers come from, and they are not playing anymore……. then England are going to struggle to find good quality bowlers.

        I wouldn’t hold my breath that the private schools will find them for all the reason listed above. I think there used to be an old saying that they just used to shout down a coal mine in Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire and a fast bowler would climb out. Not any more.

        Combine that with all the other attractions that are available to kids today, and it may be a dying art. Mind you with the emphasis on 20/20 on flat shirt fronts with short boundaries maybe bowlers will be replaced with bowling machines. A bit like the workers are being replaced by robots.

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      • Topshelf October 5, 2017 / 10:21 am

        Thanks for the reply. Of those listed above it’s worth noting that Bell was earmarked as a future England player when as young as 12, so no doubt had rather more support than most. And Tim Ambrose’s school in Australia was about as posh as you can get without paying for it.

        Something I didn’t cover in my main post is the expense of cricket. County coaching is reasonable at about £10 an hour for the age-group sessions. Private 1-2-1 coaching is around £40-50 an hour, sometimes more. Then there’s kit – I was gently told by a genuinely well-meaning coach a few years ago that a mid-range Gray-Nics wouldn’t cut it, I should be looking to spend at least £150 on a size 4 kids’ bat… which of course would become too small within a year.

        Add in travel expenses to get to and from games, and the simple cost of attending some games when you should be working, and it’s quite a burden.

        I can’t speak for any county other than the one I know, but I can tell you that “my” one has absolutely nothing in place for anyone who might struggle to fund their child’s cricket education. Gently raise the question of what could be done if it is a struggle to raise the money for a coaching programme and there is, firstly, embarrassed silence. Then you might get told that “perhaps we could work out payment by instalments.”

        I know my son’s club has something charitable in place that waives membership fees for kids on free school meals, which is a start.

        As I see it, it is unlikely that we’ll see many, if any, “poor” state-educated cricketers in future. Any “poor” kids will probably make it because they got lucky and picked up a sports scholarship to a private school. They could use The Cricketer’s hideous “Top 100 Cricket Schools” magazine as a guide! If they’re good enough they might get free/cheap kit as well – Joe Root had a relationship with Gunn & Moore at 13 years old.

        It would be nice if counties were pushed to work harder to bring in “normal” state-educated cricketers to their development programmes, as I’m sure there is a load of talent going to waste. But I’m afraid what’s more likely is that we’ll see more and more matches like Eng U19 v SL U19 last year, where 4 of the England team were Millfield pupils!

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        • Mark October 5, 2017 / 11:11 am

          The cost issue really annoys me because I don’t believe it has to be like this. Look at the great WI sides of the 1970s and 80s. Many of those guys learned and played cricket on the beach. They had no high cost kit. No bats costing £150, and I doubt coaches costing £50 per hour. They went on to became one of all time greatest sides.

          And it’s not as if it was like that when I was playing in the 1970s. And I was no where near being good enough to be a county player. Cricket was played in schools, and then you went the road of village cricket if you wanted to do it outside school. The better young players ended up at county coaching levels. You played for fun, and yes, it was a bit hit and miss as far as the coaching.

          I wonder, and I throw this out as a question if they aren’t using cost as a way of keeping the riff raf out? If so, they deserve the fact the game is dying. I suspect people just have other things to do. Individual sports like cycling and golf and swimming allow you buy the kit and then practice on your own whenever you want. Team sports like football and rugby are much cheaper.

          I also wonder if there are the people to organise all theses things now? Peope have little time off. Anyway interesting stuff, it’s a minefield. You are doing sterling work for your boy. I hope he enjoys it! That’s the main thing. Do it for fun.

          A friend of mine is a very food guitar player. He can pick up the crapiest guitar, and play it, and it sounds amazing. Then you have a novice with a 3 grand guitar and he can’t play for toffee. Talent and skill should still mean more than kit in my view. If the kit is more important than the talent I question if it’s really a sport..

          Liked by 1 person

        • dannycricket October 5, 2017 / 7:18 pm

          Let’s not forget that from 2020, the ECB’s new TV deal gives them an extra £150m every year. Imagine if they spent half of that on participation? Make All Stars Cricket completely free (including all of the kit) for the target 50,000 people. A mere £2m. Give each of the roughly 2000 cricket clubs £10,000-worth of junior cricket kit. A bargain at £20m. Give literally every single 5 year old a £40 cricket set similar to All Stars Cricket. About £25m. The ECB could do all of these every year for five years without breaking a sweat. They won’t, of course, but they could.

          Like

  5. quebecer October 5, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    Sorry to post this here, but the guarniadistas just made me giggle. There was an article on Mark Wood and the situation at Durham that Northernlight commented on quickly, but they realized their mistake and immediatetely closed it to further comments. 4 comments! lol

    OK, I get the legal worry that TLG explained here on the Stokes front and I played BTL with the mods on that a bit just for kicks. But there can be no question as to the reason to close comments on the Mark Wood article.

    All I was going to post was this harmless thing anyway:

    “I’m not exactly sure what the ECB should do next with Durham. I don’t see how a zombie apocalypse could be contained within the county borders, so that’s probably out. Similarly, introducing sentient machines to rise up could set off a train of events that might eventually affect the south. The other option I’ve heard being floated about isn’t viable, as I’m pretty sure Myxomatosis only works on rabbits. It’s all very problematic. Tough one for the ECB.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • northernlight71 October 5, 2017 / 5:27 pm

      They’ve opened the comments up again now. I have a feeling they’re all at sea right now.
      🙂

      Like

  6. quebecer October 5, 2017 / 2:19 pm

    Nice article Danny, thanks. I think you hit it right in your first idea: “People who attend fee-paying schools probably receive a higher level of cricket coaching from a younger age than people who go to comprehensive schools.” Most people in comprehensive schools will get no coaching at all, and no chance to play, so that’s definitely true. But it goes a bit further than that: so what can a comprehensive school (or to put it another way, a ‘normal’) kid do? The fact is, to learn batting at a high level you need coaching. There is no way to get in to county systems without it and succeed. Some might be lucky enough to have a Dad like Haseem Hameed, but that’s the absolute exception.

    What can a ‘normal’ kid do? It was a while ago now, but coming through the colts system at Middlesex, there were four or five of us who went to comprehensive schools. None of us from well off families, but the thing we had in common was parents who were prepared to spend the cash on taking us to the nets at Finchley for group and individual coaching from the age of about 10. That’s it. No mystery. Some parents simply can’t do that, and some parents don’t want to put that first in their monthly budget, but the guys I knew at Middlesex? We were lucky. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my sport was the only thing my Mum spent money on.

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  7. Easybee October 5, 2017 / 3:01 pm

    Timely blog given Charlie Sale’s piece today on Cook grouse shooting with Giles Clark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark October 5, 2017 / 4:27 pm

      Shame one of them can’t do a Dick Cheney. Doesn’t really matter which one!

      Like

      • Quebecer October 5, 2017 / 4:49 pm

        Hmmm… We do kind of need Cook for the Ashes. Best case scenario, Cook shoots Graves and the grouse feed on him.

        Liked by 1 person

    • northernlight71 October 5, 2017 / 5:32 pm

      Oh my life, REALLY?

      Satire is dead. Long live English Cricket.

      Like

  8. Luke October 5, 2017 / 4:54 pm

    I blame bowling machines (and the public school arms race in sports).

    In the 1980s I went to a public school with pretty good facilities for the time – we shared bats/pads/gloves, but there were outdoor nets and three pitches with decent squares though the outfields were rugby pitches. One teacher had played a few seasons for Sussex. Other teachers were enthusiastic. We put out (from memory) an u14,u15 1st and 2nd team. The limiting factor (for batsmen) was lack of good bowlers- if there wasn’t one in your age group, you never got any practice against good (or quick) bowling. You might or might not face anyone decent from another school. Some of us discovered quite late that we simply could not see anything remotely quick (in my case a retired county medium pacer bowling off two paces, trying to be helpful).

    Contrast my nephew now at another public school. Indoor nets, a bowling machine, cricket scholarships, a full time cricket coach, 14/15 year olds expected to play one sport all year round. There are boys batting for an hour a day against a bowling machine all year round. So (my guess) is that the gulf between public schools and the rest has widened, particularly for batsmen.

    An earlier commenter noted the unpredictability of bowlers- that same school gave a rugby scholarship to a big 14 year old. He tried his hand at cricket and can now, aged 17 and 6′ 6″ tall, bowl 90mph – but he’s not allowed to bowl much.

    So yes, anecdote supports your suspicion that public schools can (and do) churn out batsmen – bowlers are harder/ less predictable.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mark October 5, 2017 / 8:49 pm

      ” we shared bats/pads/gloves, ”

      That was common practice to have a team kit that everyone shared. People began to buy their own bats (they didn’t cost £150) mind. Some people had their own gloves but very few had pads. And there wasn’t a crash helmet to be seen. Except for those that had motorcycles.

      Sounds as if the kids who play from the posher schools have the lot these days. No sharing required.

      I agree with Danny the ECB could do a hell of lot more to get kit to the clubs around the country. But they won’t. Because they are not a governing body, but a business.

      Like

  9. northernlight71 October 5, 2017 / 9:03 pm

    I could have sworn that one of the reasons we have often been given for the need to sell out to Murdoch and his evil empire is so that the ECB had enough money to support grass roots cricket?
    Was that not true then?

    #disillusioned

    Like

  10. Sri.Grins October 6, 2017 / 5:44 am

    I do know that India went through the same issue when the BCCI were not the empire and were struggling to make ends meet.

    Most players were middle class / rich kids coming from the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Calcutta in the test team as well as LOIs and the ranji players too were mostly from the cities. (States that usually got their players in were Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Delhi) . The districts surrounding the capital of each state used to contribute a token player to the ranji team if at all in these states.

    Once BCCI started earning money, to give them credit, they built huge infrastructure in every State in terms of stadiums, creating age group competitions, organizing matches in the districts of each state and so on.

    Since the last 5-10 years, the results of the investment are beginning to show.

    If you look at the team, the mix is far more equal even though Mumbai city and Maharashtra State still has a higher proportion but a lot more states are represented

    Kohli (Delhi Ranji team ), Rohit, Rahane (Mumbai), Dhoni (Jharkhand), Vijay, Ashwin (Tamilnadu), Jadeja (Saurashtra), Mishra (Haryana) , Kuldeep (UP), Shami (Bengal), Umesh (Vidarbha) and so on.

    We still have the problem that England has that there is a huge population which is struggling financially and thus not truly representative but this is being addressed through t-20 cricket with local t-20 leagues mushrooming in every state leading to kids tryinup a way of stepping g to get into the team and thus providing a reasonable talent identification mechanism.

    BCCI is plagued by corruption, nepotism, inefficiency etc but in terms of spreading cricket infra all over India which is a huge country with a large population, they have done a stellar job with the spread of cricket. It is still leaning to a preference for middle class and richer kids but that is a given in all walks of life but the disadvantaged also now have a way of stepping up thanks to BCCI
    .

    Like

  11. AB October 6, 2017 / 8:31 am

    As a club junior coach who has also worked in the county system, I could speak at length on this issue. I happen to live in a county that is considered to be more old-fashioned in its player selection and development, focusing on selecting and drilling text-book technique over raw ability. Hence we tend to lose the majority of matches we play.

    I have a club player who for two years running has been the highest run scorer in the league, but he isn’t selected for the county because he back toe points in marginally the “wrong” direction when he drives through the covers. (However actually I think this is probably just an excuse – I think half the reason he isn’t selected is because his dad doesn’t speak great English and hence it requires a bit more effort from the coach to communicate effectively, which they can’t be bothered with)

    From what I see in the county set-up, there are a lot of invisible barriers to state-school kids.

    1) Parents are expected to drive their own children to matches, and provide items for tea. Matches are often all-day affairs and frequently on weekdays. Yummy mummies who don’t work have no problem with this, they bring little Johny in their landrover and sit and drink pimms with the other parents.

    Mr and Mrs Smith who both work two jobs struggle to get their kid there. This is seen as a lack of commitment and the kid is dropped.

    2) County juniors also have to provide all their own equipment and buy the expensive team kit, which changes every year. No kit, no game. Less well-off families struggle with this. I have loaned club pads and helmets to some kids to try to help them out with this. A lot of the rich county kids have £400 bats, which obviously helps as well, whereas our club bats that our player was using cost £30 from sports direct.

    3) The kids at private schools receive ~ 10-12 hours of coaching a week (whereas kids at state schools receive 1/2 an hour of disorganised kwik cricket if they’re lucky) The school coach is often a full-time coach who also happens to be the coach of the big local club, and the county coach, and also offers private coaching.

    There is an unspoken arrangement that if you join the “right club”, and you pay for private coaching, you will be selected for county.

    In my county, in the entire system of 50-60 kids, you could count the number of state school kids on one hand.

    The county U13 team was identical to the local clubs U13 team (who obviously won the league each year), which was also identical to the U13 team at the local private school, which was also identical to the client list of the U13 county coach. I am sure you can imagine what a welcoming environment this clique must be for an outsider.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quebecer October 6, 2017 / 11:27 am

      I honestly thought things would have got at least a bit better since my day, but apparently not. How desperately sad.

      Like

      • AB October 6, 2017 / 11:55 am

        Things started to get a little bit better following 2005 as there was genuine enthusiasm and momentum behind cricket and even at state schools, kids were talking about cricket and playing it in the playground. Our club picked up quite a few youngsters around that point.

        But since then, things have retrenched significantly. Cricket-mad private school kids who have sky sports and who receive private coaching exist in a different universe to the state school kids for whom cricket is as relevant as croquet was to me when I was growing up (ie something I wasn’t interested in, didn’t understand, and was largely a source of ridicule for being posh).

        Like

        • Mark October 6, 2017 / 3:07 pm

          Thanks for sharing your experiences AB. Even though It’s pretty depressing reading.

          I wonder if the 20/20 format will Improve things for some state educated kids because you won’t need so much coaching. A kid with a good eye who can hit it might have more chance of making it than a test player would.

          20/20 could also be played on a more artificial surface negating the need for expensive groundsman and stuff like that? I don’t know what the answer is, but it does seem as if the authorities are quite happy with the way it is.

          Shame.

          Like

          • dannycricket October 6, 2017 / 3:29 pm

            T20? Get with the times, T10 is the new format that’s going to drive participation numbers up.

            Like

  12. AB October 6, 2017 / 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the case. Despite outward appearances, hitting the ball 100 yards over deep midwicket requires just as much coaching, practice and technique as an orthodox cover drive. Its something of a myth that all you need is a “good eye”.

    Perhaps in the days when kids would sit and watch their heroes on the tv everyday, they could learn by imitation (like I did).

    But very few of the state school kids at our club (for example) have sky sports, or ever really watch cricket on the tv. They certainly don’t search for cricket on youtube or watch clips on twitter – that idea is so hilariously naïve I don’t know where to start.

    You can’t just say “imitate Chris Gayle”, because they have never heard of Chris Gayle, let alone ever watched him bat.

    Its perhaps difficult for those of us who grew up with cricket and who still follow cricket regularly to get our heads around just how little the average child knows about cricket. Most of them don’t even know the most basic stuff, like where the batsman stands in relation to the stumps. (Or “the sticks” as the kids call them)

    The learning through imitation route disappeared when cricket disappeared off the telly. All the kit in the world won’t make up for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark October 6, 2017 / 5:29 pm

      Very sad, The ECB should hang their heads in shame. But as I keep saying….. they are not a governing body of cricket, but a business of cricket.

      Like

    • Sri.Grins October 7, 2017 / 2:55 am

      Maybe the problem is different. We had no TV in India when we grew up nor did we have access to radio easily.

      In India, we learnt by watching other children play cricket on the streets. It may be a narrow space but we played cricket in that small enclosed space.

      Maybe this is really the issue that too much organization of sport and neighborhoods in UK has made imitation for children happen from TV instead of from real life participation.

      Once you play the sport, children usually keep up with news.

      I think by linking everything to free TV we are simply focusing on the wrong area instead of on the fact that children learn to play by actually participating in games in the neighbourhood. With life changing in India, this is a problem in India as well that spaces for playing cricket are fast disappearing thanks to ‘development’ and a more insular life style where you hardly know who your neighbours are

      Like

      • Grenville October 7, 2017 / 9:10 am

        I couldn’t agree more. Sport is communal public activity. The relentless enclosure of the commons is also the death of sport. It is replaced by entertainment.

        CLR insisted that the cricketer must return to the community, but now, first, cricket must return to the community.

        Like

      • AB October 7, 2017 / 11:49 am

        So your solution is… Ship millions of children from India and force then to play cricket on british suburban streets to try to inspire British children to join in?

        Like

        • Sri.Grins October 7, 2017 / 11:59 am

          You can try that solution. :-). It would surely improve the number of people interested in cricket in Britain even if a single British child is not inspired to join in. :-).

          Jokes apart, the point is it is about getting the children out into the open spaces to play cricket at an early age. If they do start playing cricket every day or even a few days a week even for 30 mins to an hour with a rubber ball and a stone slab for stumps, knowledge of rules, interest, keeping current with cricket news, watching paid tv, going to matches etc etc will certainly improve.

          This in turn enables new talent to come in and sustain interest. That is what has happened in the sub continent.

          Like

  13. Zephirine October 6, 2017 / 8:35 pm

    Even the cricket scholarships, although they enable talented kids to access coaching and facilities, are pernicious in a way. The kids are also being taught to be a private-school kind of person and therefore acceptable inside cricket.

    Like

  14. Tom October 8, 2017 / 11:02 am

    Really interesting post and comments. Having been away from the UK so long I can’t add much to the current situation, but I wonder how much things have changed, or haven’t, over the last few decades.

    Back in the early 80s I was at a comprehensive school in Berkshire. I was talented enough to be picked to play for the Berkshire Schools cricket team (under-15). I was the only state school player in the team and was made to feel quite uncomfortable by many, although there one or two who made me feel welcome (e.g., Julian Wood, who went on to play for Hampshire is now active in coaching kids).

    At the time, I was an avid reader of any cricket book, including biographies and those about tours, so knew what I was letting myself into, so accepted it as normal. I was just proud of my achievement. However, during my time in the team, it became very clear that the other players had ample coaching and lots of time to practice in quality nets. I had neither other than the weekly net at my local club. They all had their own high-quality equipment, I had the cheapest equipment my family could afford. But I did alright!

    After being selected, I even got a scholarship award from the Bracknell town council, a massive 25 pounds – I bought a better pair of pads because I found the fast bowlers were hurting my legs with the cheap pair I had! Insultingly though, the cheque came with an offer of attending a coaching course for several hundred pounds plus an opportunity to tour Australia with the under-15 team for 1500 pounds. My family couldn’t afford that, even with the 25-pound scholarship. It became quite disheartening. I wanted to go, but there was no way I could.

    Even then, I hoped things would change in the future, but 35 years later, it seems things have not. What a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

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