Look around, Choose your own ground…

In keeping with Dmitri’s musical themes for his posts, I thought I’d add a little bit of Pink Floyd into the mix. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care’ seems especially poignant when it’s quite clear our governing body has constantly shown that they couldn’t care less anymore and there seems to be only a few of us trying to hold these individuals to some sort of account. I read with particular interest our guest article on the T100 yesterday and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read Steve’s excellent article, then I strongly urge you to do so. It was particularly of interest to me having watched most of what was a tight and hard-fought Test Match and from having headed down to the Oval on Friday night to see the habitual shoeing of Middlesex my first T20 game of the season. I’m not going to lie about the fact that my interest in cricket has waned dramatically since the end of the Pakistan series, as everyone knows on here that I’m not a fan of the 50 over white ball fare that has been served up in abundance this summer and quite frankly it’s hardly been fun following Middlesex’s plunge into mediocrity, hence my lack of output on the blog recently. I’ll also admit that I wasn’t as buoyant about the upcoming Test Series with India last week as I usually am for a high-profile Test Series having been worn down by England’s inability to pick anyone decent in the middle order, coupled with the complete farce that is the ECB’s modus operandi and the disgraceful rhetoric aimed at Adil Rashid from those that should know better, but for whatever reason prefer to personally insult an England cricketer for nothing more than accepting a call up to the national squad.

The first day of the Test was underwhelming from an England point of view and made writing a report of the day somewhat difficult when it seemed that another one-sided Test Match was on the cards. Test Match cricket is not to be underestimated though and the next 2.5 days provided a glimpse into why Test cricket can be so great. Sure there was some poor batting on display, but the regular twist and turns of this match, which is something that can’t be replicated in the white ball game, the unlikely rear-guard action by England, the Kohli Century and the tension of the final morning when both teams could have gone on to win the game, was a joy to behold. I’m sure that we’ll deep dive into the relative strengths and weaknesses of each side’s performance in the preview, but as TLG’s elegant post detailed on Friday, there was more to this than just the final result, it showed yet again why our governing body is so foolish to try to underplay the joy red ball cricket can bring to those who have the means to follow it, young or old. It was also good to see Kohli, whose Indian side has been said to prioritize white ball cricket ahead of red ball cricket in the past, come out and say:

“Test match cricket is the best format in cricket and my favourite. We love playing it and I’m sure every player will agree with me.”

It was also interesting that on my way to the Oval on Friday, the ground and certainly the seats in the playing area were half empty whilst the Test Match was going on and even once the game had started. I’m sure part of these were the ‘after work’ lot who head to the Oval for some sunshine and booze but there were many others who seemed to be more interested in what was going on at Edgbaston. I left work at 4:30pm and struggled to get into the pub next to the ground as it was one of the few places with the Test on and judging by the cheers and groans coming from the pub (I had to move outside as it felt about 90 degrees in there) that the majority were taking more than a passing interest in the Test rather than purely getting smashed in time for the game. I also joined a crowd of a good few hundred watching the Test under the very sweaty Oval covers (this was one of about 10 TV’s and the least busy) again highlighting the myth that all of those who attend T20 are disinterested in the longer format of the game. So why exactly do we need a new competition again? Once again surely access to the game is the main blocker for the audience, rather than a game of ‘comedy cabbage patch cricket’ aimed at a so-called new demographic who the ECB has yet to formally identify (the mother and kids thing is a loose justification as to why they feel the need to completely destroy the game of cricket).

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A packed ground at the Oval watching Surrey hit it to all parts

Now I’m aware that the T20 Blast has it’s faults, that it is too expensive certainly down south (the tickets for the Oval were £35, which is at least £15 too expensive in my opinion), that the English climate is not ideal for holding the competition in a block and that the nature of the 18 teams means that it is impossible to follow all of your team’s games unless you are willing to fork out serious dough (this is actually a blessing as a Middlesex fan). However the mad thing is and at the same time the major nail in the ECB’s plans for a game of cabbage cricket, is that the NatWest Blast set new records for ticket sales in 2017, with official attendance rising to 883,000 overall. Indeed Finals Day at Edgbaston was also a record sell-out, while average attendances among the 18 counties were up to 7500. This doesn’t exactly sound like a competition in crisis. I’m by no means a regular T20 visitor, but I’ll admit that Friday was good fun without being totally memorable (despite seeing two tons on a road of pitch). The Oval wasn’t as boisterous as it could have been, there were more individuals who were taking an active interest in the cricket rather than the contents of their overpriced beer cup and even the ‘after work city-lot’ whilst showing no real interest in the game (the ones in sat in front of me turned up after 8 overs had already been bowled) were at least quite pleasant and I’m a believer that England cricket can not be too stuffy as to turn their nose up at paying spectators. There can be a place where people prefer Test Cricket to White Ball cricket and vice versa, but are still interested in the game of cricket as a whole, rather than the excuse of a game the ECB have designed on the back of a fag packet in order to try to line their pockets whilst they still can.

So we have a growing T20 game albeit with some faults and a red ball competition with a solid base of supporters despite being pushed to the margins of the season (I’m not mentioning the 50 over lark, I’d abolish it if I could). Yet the powers that be in their infinite wisdom have decided that what we need more of is a competition that not only alienates its’ own cricket fans but has no proof of the concept of success whilst at the same pushing it’s current successful short ball competition and the red ball season into such obscurity to the extent that many might not know they exist anymore. The only way they could insult the counties and fans further would be to ask them to build the tusks and then paint the whole thing white. Seemingly no-one has had the sense to ask the common fan what they would like to see, despite many of them knowing more than the stooges at ECB head office could ever know. I’d lay my bottom dollar that many would simply reply with easy access to the cricket both in terms of viewing and visiting and for a successful national team, it seems even Paul Newman is gradually coming round to the idea:

Now many on the Sky side of the argument would argue that their input of finance into the game has allowed English cricket to put the finance into their facilities and paying their best players, though many of us lament the opportunity lost to cater for those ‘new fans’ who had been captivated by the Ashes in 2005. Now I would suggest that FTA on just television is not going to attract swathes of new followers though it would attract some, just as the new competition might attract the odd fool, but won’t be a drop on the ocean compared to the money spent on it. The way we consume media has changed and hence it’s now more about the ability to access the content rather than it running on ITV4. I mention this because the Counties have on the whole done a great job of running live feeds from the 4 day game, yet yesterday when there were a number of T20 games on around the country and no Test Cricket on the TV, not one was being shown by Sky. What a waste! Surely there needs to be an opportunity to screen those games that Sky aren’t showing on a local FTA stream much as they have done with the 4 day games. They could even develop 10 minute highlights packages for the kids who supposedly have no patience these days. Why not take a growing product and properly market it to those who could form a new audience? It doesn’t have to have all the mod-cons and camera angles as Sky provide, just a decent camera view and a local commentator giving their insight on the stream.

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Red Sky & Middlesex at night, Surrey’s delight…

Then we get to the real crux of the matter and the point in which I have been going slightly around this houses with in this piece (I could have written this in about 100 words, but it would have been a rather short and pointless article), which is that you could come up with the most wonderful and weird competition in the world and have the best marketing agency promoting this and it will still mean jack without success on the field.  Why do the ECB think that a large number of people turned up to the game at Edgbaston on Saturday knowing they would at best have 2 hours of cricket or why were so many people transfixed in the pub the previous evening? Let me share a little secret with the ECB, people are interested in Test Cricket especially when we have a competitive team playing good (but certainly not great) cricket. Yet this is the very thing that the new competition threatens, as the county championship which is supposed to be the breeding ground for our Test Players of the future, slowly keeps being pushed to the extremities to the point that the ECB won’t even promote it. What is going to happen when Anderson, Cook and Broad and the like retire? Who is there in County Cricket that has the talent and skill to replace these players and keep England competitive in the coming years? The answer looks like a frighteningly bare cupboard of talent certainly based on the Lions tour, with players who are only used to playing medium dobbers on damp, green pitches. It certainly isn’t Chris Woakes! Do you think there would have been as many people watching the game if England were being curb-stomped in the last Test? I think we all now know the answer to this.

So instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with 100 balls or 10 ball overs or the batsmen wearing flippers or whatever, how about the dolts at the ECB concentrate on something that might guarantee cricket’s future such as continued success on the field and wider access to all? It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m still yet to be convinced this snake pit of greed and self serving even cares anymore. Make money whilst the sun shines and make yourselves scarce when the rain clouds gather. It’s only the game and the fans that will suffer.

Still as Pink Floyd once foretold: ‘Run, rabbit run, Dig that hole, forget the sun; And when at last the work is done; Don’t sit down, it’s time to dig another one.’ In truth I may have accidentally downloaded the modus operandi for ‘the hundred’ from the ECB’s PR department instead. I guess there’s no way to know these days…

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29 thoughts on “Look around, Choose your own ground…

  1. metatone August 6, 2018 / 6:47 pm

    So I’m sure everyone knows I not only support FTA, but actually think it can do more for building a fan base than many people think… but let’s put that aside for a minute, because you’ve hit on one of my key bugbears about Sky:

    Cricket is happening, but it’s not on TV, not even on Sky.

    If you’re a baseball fan, there are the oddities of “blackout rules” (where local team games are kept off TV at certain points b/c they fear it reduces stadium attendance) yet (going back to when I lived in the USA) if you have a normal set of sports channels (so, like paying for Sky) then during the season, there’s always a game to watch. (MLB has actually gone further in the new era, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

    And this for me is one of the most telling and pathetic things about our cricket commentariat. You can fall in behind Sky but you should still be outraged that cricket is happening but you can’t watch it. What good is that TV deal?

    As for counties producing their own feeds – better than nothing, but ECB should be promoting it and funding more reliable feeds and generally making it as easy as possible to watch games that Sky can’t be bothered to televise…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sean August 6, 2018 / 7:03 pm

      Absolutely, the ECB caved to Sky’s exclusivity clause even if they choose not to show the majority of county cricket whatever the format.

      The county streams are a decent start, mainly because Sky has no interest in the 4 day game. I’m not sure the ECB could find a terrestrial FTA partner for some of the longer formats but not pushing Sky to show a number of games that they have no interest to show on something like Google shows the absolute folly of Harrison’s TV deal….

      Liked by 1 person

    • LordCanisLupus August 6, 2018 / 7:25 pm

      Look at the US top three sports.

      The NFL has major packages on all it’s equivalent FTA channels other than ABC. CBS has the AFC, Fox has the NFC and NBC has the top game of the week, most weeks. The only exception is ESPN having a Monday Night Football game, and the abomination of Thursday Night Football on NFL Network but produced by one of the main networks. There is no way that the NFL will give it’s top stuff to anything other than a channel that maximises exposure. Monday Night Football is a pale shadow of its past with a suite of not very inspiring games most of the time.

      Major League Baseball has a massive crisis of confidence, sharing much of the angst that cricket has now. It’s new Commissioner is obsessed with the pace of the game, wants to introduce gimmicks to speed it up, while the players oppose most change. The league pleads poverty but has many of the top earners in world sport, and makes a lot of money. The World Series is now on a cable channel – Fox Sports 1 – and I’m not sure its covered on the main Fox FTA to channel. In the world of cord-cutting, where local cable providers won’t pay the carriage charge of such channels, this is not good. Whether Fox keep the deal after it expires if it insists on keeping a lot of the sport on FS1. Baseball is struggling a little, but only compared to the boom years of the early 2000s. It’s still an incredibly captivating sport – but mention of cutting the game to 7 innings is really worrying.

      The interesting one to me is the NBA. Having been a little in the doldrums after the late first decade of the 2000s, LeBron and the Warriors have really raised the interest levels in the past few years, so much so that the NBA feels it can up the cost in the UK so that BT pulled out. In the US there are two main channels who cover the Regular Season – TNT, a superstation which is carried on most Basic Cable packages (and TBS it’s sister station), and ESPN, which is probably on the next package above Basic Cable. By way of an example, my relative’s Guest House has basic cable, which has no ESPN but does have TNT, while her house has the whole package, including all the ESPN channels. In the second half of the NBA season a high profile game is carried on FTA equivalent ABC, who are also owned by Disney (as is ESPN). The Finals and Conference Finals are all carried on ABC or TNT. No way would that product be hidden behind a paywall.

      So MLB looks the weakest of the products, but there is a big but. MLB has the best website by far for sport. It is so good other sports have asked MLB to take over their sports website and streaming services. For £100 a year I can watch almost every game in the UK. In the US you have to buy a cable package to watch your local team, but are free to watch any other game on the website. It’s brilliant. It is what the ECB should aspire to rather than a lopped off camera or relying on Sky to remember it has the County Championship.

      Sky are hindering the development of the game. The ECB know it. Sky missed the opportunity to really have a Showcase Channel which people could watch some of the icon events. BT play at it with the Champions League. The local TV stations and sport channels love baseball because it is a sport you can dip in and out of, the cameras are pretty well fixed throughout the year and can be left in situ, and it still has a loyal audience over six months of the year. That’s what we could get with cricket. It probably won’t cost a lot, and who knows, you might find a new audience on their laptops or tablets loving the game. It takes a bit of lateral thought. Not the bottom line only.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sean August 6, 2018 / 7:42 pm

        I agree, I know the NFL pretty well but not so familiar with other U.S sports. It sounds like we could learn a fair amount from our transatlantic cousins.

        I know that the NFL basically gives away its foreign coverage to most of their foreign markets and I’d probably buy the game pass if it were a little cheaper, more reliable and the Bears were decent.

        Have never bought into this Sky rhetoric that they’re providing money for the wider game, it’s just not true…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mark August 6, 2018 / 8:04 pm

        Isn’t Sky sports now being sold to Disney? So we may see some of these innovations and links to other Disney free to air channels.

        I can’t understand why the likes of Newman and Mail journalists keep saying what a genius Graves and Harrison are for selling the rights for a huge amount. First off they control the rights, so that is a given. Second, BBC and channel four can’t pay the huge amount, and ITV doesn’t want cricket in my view. That leaves just Sky, and BT. It’s not that complicated. And what the ECBs brain trust have done is put no restrictions on Sky’s right to just show no county cricket if it chooses.

        In return for a big fee, that allowed Sky to do what they want with the sport. Some would say a dereliction of duty by the ECB. As Sean says if you marginalise county cricket there won’t be any talent to play Test cricket in a few years. Is that deliberate, or a sad accident?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark August 6, 2018 / 7:07 pm

    “Grab that cash with both hands and and make a stash.”

    “ I’m all right Jack keep your hands off my stash.”

    Sorry Sean, too much of an open goal!

    Like

    • Sean August 6, 2018 / 7:11 pm

      Ha ha, so nearly went with that as the title of the piece too!!

      Like

  3. Mark August 6, 2018 / 8:06 pm

    Shinny toy coming up on five live now to review the 1st Test match. This could be priceless!

    Like

  4. Sean August 6, 2018 / 8:52 pm

    I just want to add a sensible addendum. Please can you not comment on the Stokes trial in any of the comments. Those that do will be automatically deleted.

    It’s contempt of court to comment on the current trial and something we do not wish to be a part of.

    Thanks all in advance..

    Like

  5. nonoxcol August 7, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    Brought to mind this oft-overlooked beauty from his unparalleled oeuvre:

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jan/07/hashim-amla-burden-south-africa-captain

    The bias here is a little more subtle than usual, but you’ll soon get the point when you venture BTL.

    Like

      • nonoxcol August 7, 2018 / 6:34 pm

        Ha! I knew it would be that comment; my favourite as well. Under-appreciated on the recommends front.

        Like

    • Mark August 7, 2018 / 5:11 pm

      It’s amazing how many of the people he rates just happen to turn out to be his mates.

      Quite uncanny.

      Like

    • jomesy August 7, 2018 / 7:45 pm

      And, perhaps, I’m just nowhere near his incredible intellect but, despite reading many times over, I just cannot fathom this sentence:

      “It would also be wrong though to assume that, all things being equal, this was not the choice that would be made, convenient for South African cricket that he had applied.”

      (I’ve added a couple of unnecessary commas to my post to “tip my hat” to Lord Selvey’s style – apologies if there are not enough. Here’s a few more ,,,, )

      Liked by 2 people

  6. quebecer August 7, 2018 / 3:43 pm

    Putting out a little request for info: I know there a re a few people who get down to the Oval on occasion, and I’d like to hear from anyone with their analysis of Ollie Pope’s batting. I’ve only seen youtube clips and can only say that I like his cut, and don’t like his drive. Can anyone add or correct please?

    Like

    • Sean August 7, 2018 / 5:23 pm

      I’ve only seen him twice live Q, but has impressed me both times. He did seem to favour the back foot and didn’t seem to drive loads but looked a well organised batsman

      Like

      • qyebecer August 7, 2018 / 7:22 pm

        Thanks Sean, Can we also get confirmation on him being short, posh, and ginger?

        Like

  7. quebecer August 7, 2018 / 7:23 pm

    Thanks Sean, Can we also get confirmation on him being short, posh, and ginger?

    Like

    • Sean August 7, 2018 / 8:20 pm

      Definitely ginger and quite short (I’m no giant). Not sure about posh, but his name suggests it could be…

      Like

      • Zephirine August 7, 2018 / 8:35 pm

        Are we close to being able to select an England Ginger XI? I suppose it depends if you allow people who are merely sandy.

        So far I can’t find an opener or a fast bowler, but that’s par for the course.

        Like

        • quebecer August 7, 2018 / 9:24 pm

          I really don’t think we should go sandy, zeph. Bit of a stretch.

          Even outside of England, Craig McDermott and Sean Pollock are the only only ginger quicks I can think of. I suppose the list is somewhat hampered by the lack of help from the great West Indian pantheon.

          Like

        • quebecer August 7, 2018 / 9:33 pm

          Doesn’t seem the worst of kids from that article though, does he? Nice pics of him with Scurran, Patel, and Virdi too.

          And we all want a ginger short on stature but high on eternal justice middle order bat given
          His-Ironness is now only bestriding the shires.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Nicholas August 7, 2018 / 7:27 pm

    I must say that I’m quite impressed by the promotional efforts for next year’s World Cup. This video dropped today (as the kids say these days) and it’s very well produced, I think (if you can get past Flintoff’s ropey vocals!). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFONbWly3Ds

    Certainly compared to the nonsense that the ECB put out in 1999, this is worlds ahead. I was at Baker Street station on Sunday and they had taken out escalator adverts for the ticket ballot and I think that some money is going into this. Let’s hope it pays off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jomesy August 7, 2018 / 7:57 pm

      Nick – ok video and agree vast improvement but, having seen the ticket prices and ruling myself out on financial grounds (family of 5 to cover) do you really think they’re appealing to the people in the video? I don’t.

      Like

      • quebecer August 7, 2018 / 9:20 pm

        Surely it means playing the daddy card and ditching the family, Jomesy?

        Like

        • jomesy August 8, 2018 / 4:18 pm

          Except the loveable little cost centres are now really into their cricket so we’ll prob watch together (and hopefully reenact later!)

          Like

    • Sean August 7, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      Yep but the ticket prices are horrendous. £70 starting price for the car park seats, it’s not for me certainly.

      I have tickets for SA v Bangladesh at the Oval for £24 and that was the very maximum I was willing to pay for tickets…

      Like

    • Nicholas August 7, 2018 / 9:20 pm

      Yes, fair play re. the ticket prices. I’m hoping to make it along (via the ballot) to one or two of the more minor matches, but I quite agree with you both when it comes to the ticket prices.

      And, of course, there’s no FTA live coverage so that’s another nail in the coffin for this tournament. It won’t be like the Rugby World Cup of 2015, for example, when that was hosted here.

      Liked by 1 person

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