Integrity In English Cricket, And Other Myths

Yesterday, former Somerset chairman Andy Nash resigned his role on the ECB management board as a non-executive director representing the interests of the counties. In his resignation letter, Nash said that:

“The standards of Corporate Governance at the ECB are falling well short of acceptable and in all conscience I can’t allow myself to be associated with it.

Those are pretty damning words about the ECB, which should make him something of a hero here at Being Outside Cricket. Certainly, his core argument that the ECB is full of biases and that it is poorly run is one that most of us would agree with. The question I have regarding Nash is whether someone who has been on the ECB’s management board for almost five years, and a county chairman before that for another nine years, has any right to distance themselves from the decisions that the ECB has made in that time.

Certainly I question whether the specific issue which appears to have triggered his resignation is worth such a gesture. In the letter he sent to Colin Graves, Nash wrote:

The current fiasco over the actual / alleged / planned payments to TMGs [Test Match Grounds] is an exemplar. Whether intentional or not it clearly signals to many a move to promote 8 counties as the first among equals. As an ardent supporter of the 18 FCCs [first-class counties] this is not a direction I can live with.

To put this into context, it leaked this week (quelle surprise) that the ECB planned to give counties with Test match grounds an extra £500,000 in every year which they didn’t host a Test match. Now I’m certainly not suggesting that there is absolutely nothing dodgy about this arrangement. It could well have been a backroom deal to reward the larger counties for supporting the ECB’s new T20 competition, when a similar payment actually tied to hosting one of the new teams would have almost certainly been blocked by the other ten counties.

But equally, I believe that these payments are a necessary evil. The ECB’s policy of forcing counties to ‘bid’ in order to host England games since 2007, guaranteeing to pay the ECB a minimum amount even if the revenue the county receives from the game isn’t enough to cover the payment, has meant that being a Test match ground has been a financial struggle for many counties. The ECB have also considered factors like the capacity of grounds and the quality of the facilities when assigning games, which has meant that grounds have had to invest (at great expense) in updating and enlarging their stands simply in order to maintain their allocation of international games.

Last year, the ECB decided to reduce the number of home Test matches per year from seven to six. With Lord’s hosting two games annually, this means that at least three of the eight counties with Test grounds will miss out on Tests every year. This could cause significant financial problems and end up with more counties getting the same treatment as Durham, which no one wants. Well except perhaps for Durham fans, who might be glad to know that they weren’t singled out for punishment before the ECB decided to address the underlying problems in their own systems.

However, even though I might agree with the principle of ensuring that England’s international grounds have a guaranteed income, there have to be questions about how the policy has been arranged. It appears to be the case that the ECB’s management board did not approve of the decision for the ECB to hand out £1.5m annually, nor were they even informed. This suggests a worrying (and yet entirely unsurprising) lack of oversight for the people in charge, and perhaps a worthy justification for a person of principle to resign as a member of the ECB’s board.

Which brings us to Andy Nash’s principles. In an interview with BBC Somerset today, he said:

“It suggests we’re moving towards favouring an elite band of eight teams rather than treating 18 fairly, and that is not something I could reconcile my conscience to.”

Which of course is wonderful. Most readers here seem to support there being eighteen teams in English cricket. Bravo to such a man of conscience, willing to resign rather than even considering any move towards a future where English cricket is divided between the haves and have-nots. A future where eight counties stand alone above the rest.

Except, of course, that this is a relatively new position for him. As Somerset’s chairman, Nash voted in favour of the ECB’s new T20 competition which only has eight teams. Why? Apparently he was in possession of a signed letter from the ECB’s chairman, Colin Graves, stating that Somerset were well placed to host one of the new sides. He was also on the ECB management board at the time, representing (in theory) all 18 major counties, where he voted for the ECB’s proposition.

I would argue that Andy Nash was perfectly willing to live with a two-tier county system when he thought that Somerset might be in the top tier. Now that this is clearly not going to happen, it seems a little late to cast himself as an ardent defender of the smaller county teams.

So, to summarise: I agree with the ECB’s payments to Test grounds, but not the way it’s been managed. I agree with Andy Nash’s purported sentiments about maintaining 18 teams in English cricket and his assertion that the ECB’s level of governance is extremely poor, but consider him wholly complicit in the ECB’s actions during his time in significant positions of influence.

But I certainly agree with this quote from Nash’s interview on BBC Somerset:

“If, as directors, you’re learning about such things through the media then there’s something very wrong.”

As always, comments are welcomed below.