The Fox Without a Tail

There’s something particularly special about a new concept that requires those announcing it on social media to feel compelled to add variations on the phrase “this is not a joke”.  And certainly the double take across the cricket world was genuine – scrapping T20 cricket (at least in terms of one competition in the English summer) in favour of an outlined 100 ball one is, at the very least, an example of a new and unusual approach.

Equally, it’s certainly the case that trying to come up with any new idea is going to generate a negative response from many – it was pointed out that a lot of people derided the idea of T20 cricket when first mooted, and social media is no barometer for anything except itself.  Yet there are a few differences here:  20 over cricket was not a new thing, at least not for those who play the game. Clubs had run midweek competitions along those lines for decades, and everyone who played as a child had their first introduction to formal matches in a 20 over format.  It’s not unreasonable to assume that pretty much every cricketer who had ever picked up a bat or a ball would have played the general format.  Thus, although the media excitedly talked about T20 as being fresh and new, it was anything but for actual cricketers, a fact often overlooked in the rush to dismiss the views of those critical.  There was a template, there was experience of it, and it was easy to grasp what was going to be involved.  That’s not to say that all welcomed it, but those opposed did so on the grounds of what it would mean for the rest of the game, not because 20 overs was in itself completely radical.

In this case, T16.66, T16.4, S16.4, the 100 – or whatever anyone wishes to call it (and the fact there is no name in place indicates this is hardly a deeply thought through proposal) is something unprecedented, with no obvious rationale, or even a clearly visible latent demand.  There’s nothing wrong with fresh thinking though, and nothing that makes a format as comparatively new as T20 sacrosanct.  The question has to be what is meant to be achieved by the new competition, and whether such changes have value in those terms, rather than as a purely cricketing notion. After the initial derision – and it ought to be concerning that the response wasn’t outrage, but merriment and mocking  – came the fightback.  Contrarians suggested that those who dismissed it were the same people who opposed T20, coloured clothing, and anything else that’s now taken root in the sport.  Perhaps so, but it’s a very lazy response, as it could equally be mentioned plenty of people also pointed out the stupidity in substitutions being permitted as well – a new idea isn’t justifiable on the grounds of solely being new, and objections can’t be dismissed on the grounds of sepia tinted nostalgia or conservatism.

The 8 team franchise idea has been hamstrung from the start by the insistence on retaining the T20 Blast competition as well.  Whereas the IPL, Big Bash League, or all the other imitators around the world are the principal short form focus in each geographical area, in England it is a second one, to be layered on top of the first and forced to seek a new audience to justify its very existence.  Without the T20 Blast remaining in place, it is highly unlikely anyone would have remotely suggested making changes to differentiate it, it wouldn’t have been necessary, and more than that no-one would have desired it.  No matter how much the ECB might try to protest they are merely being innovative, it stems entirely from that single decision that they have to keep a separate T20 as well.  There is no other rationale or requirement beyond needing to distinguish the two.

So let us dismiss any suggestion that this is needed in itself.  Shortening the game by 3.4 overs has no pressing cricketing justification in and of itself.  Competitions as short as 10 overs a side do exist, certainly; but they do so for monetary reasons not cricketing ones, and whatever the flaws of the ECB, there does need to be a short form competition for cricketing reasons as well as financial ones.  Likewise, the super-deca-over at the end is not a radically new way of looking at the game, it’s merely something forced on them by the awkward mathematics of 100 not being divisible by 6.  Furthermore, the entire competition idea is not one of cricketing essentials, but the contradictions of a need for a wider television audience, having to satisfy the counties, and the horror of losing existing revenue streams.

This is not, fresh, new and exciting, it is the logical culmination of the initial starting position:  keeping the existing tournament, wanting an 8 team competition, and needing to draw a distinction between the two, thus the changes are inherently artificial, and a marketing tool first and foremost.  Post-facto justifications are a consistent element of any plan that is forced upon those putting it together, whereby all involved highlight how wonderful it all is, and no one dares mention that it would be an awful lot better if they hadn’t got into this mess in the first place.

The broadcasters are certainly part of this, the shortening of the game to fit into a two and a half hour time slot is important, yet the slight surprise from those who will be showing the tournament suggests that although they were asked if it worked for them, they weren’t the prime motivator behind the suggestion.  They signed up to a T20 tournament, and this change has come subsequent to that agreement.  It’s not surprising that they are fine with it, as a televised product with a defined length of that nature is certainly appealing, yet there were other ways to keep the timetable tight without such a radical departure, even fifteen eight-ball overs (something many clubs, faced with approaching darkness adopt) would have retained the game length while making things quicker.  Perhaps the most damning implication is that the ECB feel they are unable to make successful the most popular cricket format in the world without tinkering with it, a situation without precedent anywhere else in the world.  The basic product not being in itself good enough is what should be ringing alarm bells.

Perhaps the best illustration of the artificial attempts at differentiation was the reported discussion about whether to scrap the lbw rule for the new competition.  As an example of sheer stupidity, this one can’t be beaten.  That it wasn’t approved isn’t the point, it takes a special kind of mind to even float an idea so idiotic that it ought to disqualify anyone doing so from being allowed remotely near the game of cricket.  That there are issues such as a complete absence of any statistical context for a tournament different to anywhere else on the planet is a minor thing in the great scheme of things.

While the ECB have tied themselves in knots trying to retain two T20 competitions for the men, the same can’t be said for the women.  The Kia Super League is to be scrapped at the end of this season in order to make way for the new competition.  When the plan was for it to be a normal T20 tournament this was perfectly sensible, but the changed format now means that there will be no women’s T20 cricket played at any kind of level in this country.  It is deeply impressive to be so thoughtless as to manage to hamstring the one area of success the ECB have managed in the last few years, but they’ve done it.

Among the various explanations for the changes is that this is aimed at the young, rather than the existing cricket fan.  It’s an easy, trite and rather meaningless aspiration to trot out – everyone wants that – and were it the case that there was a strong reason to believe so, then that would be worthy of consideration, but there is no evidence that these proposals will do any such thing.  The focus on just eight sides, artificially constructed and with no in-built support, automatically removes many from the equation by virtue of distance and tribalism, and while the other T20 competitions are equally artificial, they don’t also have the competition of another tournament that does have all those things.  Even the schedule counters the idea that it’s for the young, with matches being played in the evening primarily.  Shortening the game doesn’t in itself make it less appealing, except to those coming from far away, but nor is there the slightest reason to assume this makes it more attractive than a normal T20 match.  The ECB’s media release detailed that they had spoken to broadcasters and players (though it seems it was only three players rather than a wide consultation) but there was no mention of supporters.  Existing cricket fans would probably react negatively, certainly, but if the aim is for new ones, then it would be hoped that extensive market research had been carried out to find just what would be appealing and what wouldn’t.  Perhaps it has been done, but if so then surely the ECB would have mentioned that.

The claim that this was backed widely within the game was somewhat questioned by the Surrey Chief Executive tweeting that the first they knew about it was an hour before the public announcement, adding to the impression that this was a set of ideas cooked up late on and presented without too much further thought.  It is the absence of anything like coherent planning that is the hallmark of this whole affair; and indicative of an organisation that has descended ever deeper into a murky mess of its own making.  The sidelining of the county championship is one thing, and immensely damaging for the Test game in this country, but to then create a shambles around their own centrepiece focus on T20 cricket as well is highly impressive in its own way.

Some of this competition will be on terrestrial television, and that is to be welcomed, but there is no reason to assume that without these changes it wouldn’t have been, nor that its presence was conditional upon it.  The BBC had already announced their delight at covering the competition, this was not an either/or if it didn’t go ahead in this form.

Winning new converts to a sport is a worthy aim, and one that every sport needs to achieve.  But it is also the case in sport as in business that new customers are much harder to acquire than existing ones.  Male participation levels have collapsed in recent years, while the game becomes ever more invisible to the wider public.  The choice to put some of this on free to air television was a tacit acceptance in the first place that the ECB’s policies have wrecked the foundation of cricket support, yet the lack of faith in their own core product is clear, and the attempt to pacify the counties at the same time has no impact other than to destroy the core game both at first class level and ultimately at Test level.

Playing around at the edges of this competition is neither here nor there when set against the wider context of having supervised the diminution of the game’s importance to the  public at large.  It isn’t that people are angry at this, it’s that they’re laughing about it, that they see it as just the latest desperate wheeze to try to arrest a spiral of decline that the ECB’s own policies have created.  The boast when T20 was created was that it could be the financial saviour of the game of cricket, and you know what, it absolutely could have been.  Instead it became a crutch on which to lean, to the point that an additional layer needed to be created, and then amended in order to be considered relevant.

There is nothing so obvious as a governing body systematically destroying the asset that they began with.  Fans are no longer angry, they are in despair about the game they love.  For if there’s one certainty about this announcement, it’s that if the ECB hadn’t lost its tail, it wouldn’t be telling everyone how wonderful it is to live without one.

 

 

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27 thoughts on “The Fox Without a Tail

  1. Sri.Grins April 20, 2018 / 12:03 pm

    Actually, it is not a fact that the IPL is the only T-20 competition in India

    India has 2 t-20 competitions

    1 is the IPL which is commercial franchise city based

    2 is the T-20 tournament among all the rani teams . This is called the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy if I remember right.

    The difference lies in the followingt

    a) India can more or less play cricket all year and so the mushtaq trophy is usually held in the earlier part of the year prior to the IPL
    b) BCCI have not commercialized the T-20 trophy except as part of an overall cricket package that covers international and domestic cricket ranji, irani trophy, mushtaq ali trophy, 50 over vijay hazare trophy etc. Since associations are not asked to fund their own finances but the BCCI helps them out, there has been no effort at commercializing the domestic cricket too much. Of course over time, this will change

    Like

    • thelegglance April 20, 2018 / 12:08 pm

      “Whereas the IPL, Big Bash League, or all the other imitators around the world are the principal short form focus in each geographical area”

      😉

      Like

  2. Mark April 20, 2018 / 12:31 pm

    Good piece. Our critics trying to use Packer to show how Luddite we all our will not wash.

    I lived through Packer, and the comparison today is not a valid one. First of all, ODI cricket was will established by the coming of Packer, even if there was a variety of number of overs formats. . 55 overs, 60 overs, 40 overs Sunday league, before a more settled 50 overs became the global standard. The 1975 World Cup final between Australia vs the WI was a great match and launched once and for all the concept of international one day cricket. It was a shortened game but it was cricket as understood by most people who loved the game.

    Packer arrived with all this in the bank. Adding coloured clothing and day/night cricket was evolution. It was adding cherries and chocolate to the cake. What they are doing now is hurling the cake at the wall, and seeing what sticks. One can’t help thinking the people behind this seem to loathe the very game they claim to be trying to save.

    It’s gimmick after gimmick. If a broadcaster promises lots of cash you feel there nothing that is off limits. Bats with holes in them that the ball can go through? Stumps that if hit right wil launch into space with a firework attached? A two level wicket with ladders required to climb up? The possibilities are endless. But let’s be clear it’s not cricket. It’s more like Its a knockout! (One for the teenagers) If Mr Harrison wants to create a new sport then go and create one. Stop killing the one so many of us love.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. OscarDaBosca April 20, 2018 / 12:48 pm

    So am I missing the point that 100 balls in 20 overs makes each over 5 balls?

    Not that I agree with any of this, but the simplest way of doing this would have been to have 5 ball overs, which has some historical precedent, would meet the demands of tv and allow the stupid 100 marketing gubbins

    Like

    • thelegglance April 20, 2018 / 1:00 pm

      The time issue smacks of an excuse to me. The initial T20 was a 2.5 hour game – 1 hour 10 for 20 overs, 10 minutes between innings. It’s the IPL where it’s stretched up to 4 hours, here they’ve policed it with run penalties, and it’s worked.

      My suspicion is that the need to differentiate is a stronger driver than time, but it’s just a view.

      Like

      • OscarDaBosca April 20, 2018 / 1:43 pm

        I totally agree, the whole thing stinks of rotting fish. It just seems that the obvious is beyond the ECB, 20 overs of 5 balls maintains the gimmick and difference without resorting to the esoteric.
        So who is allowed to bowl the 10 ball over? if there are 16 overs, (15 + 1) is it four overs per bowler still or is it 3 overs per bowler, plus anyone can bowl the last over.
        Ill thought out, badly designed, I’m not surprised that the Analyst was behind the original idea.

        Like

        • AB April 20, 2018 / 3:09 pm

          Would 20 5-bal overs really be that much quicker than 20 6-ball overs? Its the changing around between overs that takes the time.

          Having experimented with these things in recreational cricket, 15 8-ball overs takes less time than 20 5-ball overs.

          Like

          • quebecer April 20, 2018 / 3:55 pm

            Actually, AB, longer overs I think are a positive. It allows for a series of mini narratives to occur. The contest between bowler and batsmen becomes one of how the bowler gets out of the over, and how the batsman doesn’t let him. How the longer over progresses, the crescendo up to the final ball or two… in my mind at least, the contest between batsman and bowler is enhanced by longer overs.

            Like

          • Benny April 20, 2018 / 7:42 pm

            And where is it’s a knockout now?

            Like

          • Benny April 20, 2018 / 7:48 pm

            From what I’ve seen, the biggest delay is caused by captains having a conference with the bowler about what the next ball should be and whether square leg should be a foot to the left or right. In the final (6 ball) over it seems to be every ball

            Like

  4. Miami Dad's 6 April 20, 2018 / 1:52 pm

    I don’t have too many problems with trying to plonk cricket back into the national mindset, and I dont even really have many issues with it being 100 balls or 120. The issues I have existed before the announcements, and centre around the limiting of the competition to 8 cities, based in 8 cricket grounds.
    If I was to create a competition to be truly accessable and grow the game, I would use the City of Manchester stadium, the Olympic stadium, the Millenium Stadium, St James Park, Hampden Park, etc. I wouldnt piss around with Sophia Gardens and the Ageas Nightmare, and I wouldnt even be that bothered by Lords, Edgbaston or the Oval. Most importantly it would benefit all the Counties and cricketers good enough to play, and not just the 8 hosts.
    I wonder how much of a bearing for example, Sam Northeast’s decision to go to Hants was made based on them being a host ground.

    Like

    • Benny April 20, 2018 / 7:55 pm

      Good thoughts. As for plonking it back in the nation’s mindset, ECB appear never to have heard of marketing so who’s going to discover this new wonder attraction coming soon to a venue miles away

      Like

  5. Miami Dad's 6 April 20, 2018 / 1:53 pm

    Also, 1 million views = bloody well done!

    Like

  6. BobW April 20, 2018 / 1:56 pm

    I’d bring back limited run ups actually in the T20. Quicker games and you’d see who can generate pace off twelve yards. But it is all bonkers.
    Great article again by the way. Absolutely to the point.

    Like

  7. BobW April 20, 2018 / 1:57 pm

    Oh yes, well done for the 1 million views too. You know your second million will come up in half the time now… (if you get the analogy)

    Like

  8. AB April 20, 2018 / 3:03 pm

    The sad thing is that normal cricket, whatever the format, is actually a really good game, popular with all age groups, is easy to get into as a kid, and indeed survived and thrived for over 100 years, and was immensely popular as recently as 2005 without the need for any gimmicks.

    We all know what has caused all the problems since 2005 – taking cricket off FTA tv. But its like the ECB and their acolytes are so tied up with sky that they simply refuse to admit this (whether or not they admit this to themselves in private or have managed to convince themselves of the lie) and instead come up with all these other increasingly daft reasons why they think cricket is failing to attract an audience, including some really obviously nonsensical and patronising bullshit about kids having shorter attention spans than they used to, or how no-one watches tv anymore anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Topshelf April 20, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    I really don’t know where to start. There are so many things wrong with this concept – it would be a concept. The fact 39 is claiming credit without claiming it is the cherry on the cake.

    It’s blindingly obvious that the 100 balls is about time, and nothing else. It fits into the 6pm-9pm slot on the BBC, and that’s all that matters. The ECB have started from there and then decided to make the rest up later.

    100 balls doesn’t divide by 6? I know, let’s have a 10-ball over at the end. What will we do with it? Don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ll come up with something. Double points, sorry runs, maybe?

    Consequences? Nah, there won’t be any really. Everyone will just be ecstatic to get the kids in bed by 10. Unless they have to travel to the Oval from Dover of course, when they’ll be lucky to be home by 11. But saving that half hour will make all the difference, surely.

    Women players not having an actual T20 competition to practise for the T20 World Cup? They won’t mind, they’ll be on FTA a couple of times. And anyway there’s plenty of time to cobble something together by 2020 isn’t there?

    What about consequences for the longer formats? Nah, they’ll be fine. Everyone will see this and think, I’d love to play it but with another 20 balls. And then when they play that they’ll want to watch 50 over matches, or even 4- and 5-day cricket. Same game, innit.

    What definitely won’t happen is youth and school cricket adopting it because it’s shorter and requires less parental/teacher time. And that definitely won’t lead to bowlers getting used to trying to bowl 18 wide yorkers/slower ball bouncers at batsmen who now know that if they last more than 9 balls they’re adding value. Hit 5 boundaries, miss 4 and out, that’s a strike rate of 200 at least. And teachers/coaches definitely won’t decide that it really doesn’t matter how good a bowler is as he’s going to get smashed anyway and just pick the 10 strongest kids who can hit it furthest. And a keeper. We’ll still need a keeper wont we?

    And that definitely won’t lead to the death of long-form cricket as bowling becomes nothing more than a chore and batsmen never need to learn a defensive shot. It’s not happening now, is it?

    And anyway, even it does, who cares? Cricket will be on FTA again, and the mugs will still turn out for the Ashes and India whatever.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Benny April 20, 2018 / 8:06 pm

    This is probably the most eloquent and intelligent article I’ve read. Was going to pick out one or two phrases and say hear hear but there are so many.

    Like

  11. Nicholas April 20, 2018 / 9:04 pm

    I was staggered by Simon Hughes’ article in The Times today. It wasn’t about this 100 ball nonsense, rather a response to the Ed Smith news.

    Hughes went in all ‘moneyball’, quoting somebody who says that James Vince should be out of the Test team and Eoin Morgan the limited overs one – so far, so predictable.

    But then went full-on mental by plugging a new index which he has invented and is selling to counties and franchises. This Player Impact Rating “evaluate players’ abilities in different phases, against different types of bowlers (or batsmen) and their success at various stages of their innings.”

    This is owned by The Cricketer, and he then namechecked Guy Evans-Tipping (CEO of The Cricketer, although that wasn’t mentioned in Hughes’ article) as the man who is going around selling this index to teams.

    Amusingly, Hughes did admit that, “only a minority of professional teams have bought into the concept.”

    For me, as ever with Hughes, it’s about the conflicts of interest. It’s about how he’s using his column in The Times to try to promote this player index, which is sold through the magazine he edits. Yet, none of these connections are quite pointed out in detail – he mentions The Cricketer magazine as the owner of this index, but he doesn’t mention that he edits the magazine. When Evans-Tipping is mentioned, Hughes doesn’t state that he is CEO of The Cricketer. It’s shady self-interest and, actually, I was quite shocked by the brazen and naked self-interest shown in that article.

    I must get round to writing that article about Simon Hughes – there’s a lot to be said…

    Liked by 2 people

    • thelegglance April 20, 2018 / 9:14 pm

      Someone mentioned to me that Hughes’ rant about female commentators ought to be looked at in the context of a not particularly attractive middle aged man worried about losing his TV gig to them, and that while it doesn’t remotely justify it, it does explain it. Unfortunately for him, irrespective of genital location, Alison Mitchell is considerably better anyway. Why mention this? Because he needs to earn money, and this pushing of his “brand” is part of that.

      In one sense I feel some pity: he is fighting for his livelihood, hence the self justification. But on the other hand he’s been vile to plenty on his way up – and the old adage applies there.

      Like

      • Nicholas April 20, 2018 / 9:39 pm

        Let’s be honest – Hughes has done very well to be in the cricket media as long as he has, given his mediocre cricket career.

        I always used to rather like him – anything relating to the Channel 4 coverage is a winner in my eyes, and his book ‘Morning, Everyone’ which discusses his time in the media (finishing with the 2005 Ashes) does demonstrate how he worked very hard to promote his (often very good) ideas, despite not his ‘name’ status as a player. He got into the BBC coverage through sheer graft, working as the interviewer, and then wrote to Channel 4 when it was announced that they had won the rights in 1998 to suggest the video-truck format. It turned out that Sunset and Vine were already exploring shaking up the format, so Hughes was called in for a meeting, and the rest is history.

        The problem for him was that his schtick was perfect for live coverage on a terrestrial broadcaster, but it doesn’t quite work the same way on highlights shows, and he wasn’t a big enough name to be used on Sky’s coverage. His work in the VT truck on Channel 4 was very good, but he was never really a commentator, which is why he’s the most expendable of the current Channel 5 team, and I’m not surprised to hear that they are looking to move him on.

        Going back to ‘Morning, Everyone’, he comes across as quite endearing there and – as I say – a hard worker who means well, whilst occasionally playing the fool. But since the beginning of this decade, he has been involved with more and more odd schemes – launching an app in 2010 perhaps wasn’t a ridiculous thing to do, but that was where he began to really see ‘The Analyst’ as his brand. It shouldn’t ever really have been his, as that term was invented by Sunset and Vine!

        He got into trouble with the ECB a few years ago for using his Channel 5 pitch accreditation to film some material for his personal website from the field of play, and I documented yesterday the way in which he was appointed Editor at Large at the Cricketer. We discovered this week that he was pitching himself as some sort of ‘brand consultant’ to the ECB in 2015, and now he’s flogging a new player index system through the Cricketer.

        Fair enough – he got into the media game through dogged persistence, but it all seems a bit desperate now, doesn’t it?

        Liked by 5 people

        • hatmallet April 21, 2018 / 12:27 pm

          He’s believed the hype about himself, then believes he’s right (and should be heard) because of who he is, not what he says.

          He’s not the first, won’t be the last.

          Liked by 1 person

          • oreston April 21, 2018 / 12:43 pm

            There’s a poll (now closed) on his Twitter page seeking views on the 100 ball idea. A marvelous 57% went with the option to say that it’s “crackers.” If you will ask the hoi polloi what they honestly think…

            Like

        • jomesy April 22, 2018 / 8:28 am

          Nicholas – agree with all of that. From “A Lot of Hard Yakka” I took that he’s very insecure. I think he believes he has achieved “station” within cricket (he looked hugely smug and dismissive when I saw him walking around the Oval last year). If he were to lose that….

          Like

    • Ian April 21, 2018 / 12:21 pm

      I decided to listen to his podcast the other day as it had Dan Weston who is a ratings guy for Tennis and cricket on. Anyway the first thing I hear is the Analyst reading an advert for razor blades and with a discount code blah blah /theanalyst. All a bit “and chocolate oranges are also available from Rawlinsons”

      Like

  12. Mark April 21, 2018 / 11:05 am

    Was this similar to the presentation Smith had to complete to get the job?

    Always remember Strauss told us that TRUST was very important.

    Like

  13. hatmallet April 21, 2018 / 12:29 pm

    I’ve always wanted to give Graves and Harrison the benefit of the doubt – after all, they are the post-Giles-Clarke leadership.

    But this is getting beyond a joke.

    This idea is just absolutely stupid. We don’t need a fourth format of the game. Having three already brings its own difficulties, even if I personally appreciate each of them for what they are.

    I can’t pretend that making cricket popular with the masses again is easy. It’s not. Times are different, with more options competing for the attention of both kids and adults. People point to 2005 but that was never going to be a new norm, even if C4 had kept the TV rights.

    But there are two simple ways to help the T20 competition. Get it on free-to-air TV. And get the England players involved.

    You don’t need two competitions, to rename things, create new teams, make up a random new format or spout bollocks in press releases. We don’t need a revolution, this isn’t about something fancy to stick on the ECB marketing team’s CV – we just want to see improvement. If that’s steady and unspectacular, then who cares?

    Get the best players playing, and get it visible to as many as possible via TV. And to that I add that some counties have seen very good growth in ticket sales with the T20 Blast – so work with those counties to to see what marketing is working, so it can be rolled across to those counties who haven’t done as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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