Circling the Drain

Has there ever been a more low key build up to a major Test series? As English cricket continues to search for new ways to obliterate any goodwill it once had, and Australian cricket views the comedy W1A as a handbook for how to impress people, it’s easy to forget there is a Test series around the corner in Sri Lanka. The ODIs were sufficiently pointless to lower the bar of contractual obligation fixtures still further, particularly given the blithe excuses for scheduling them in the wet season, but now we come to a Test series that appears to have largely passed even cricket supporters by.

The strange thing about that is that Sri Lanka has always been one of the favourites for followers of the England team, and doubtless there will be impressive numbers of England supporters at the grounds, but the continuing tribulations around governance in both countries are of greater import than the games themselves. When a sport spends more time navel-gazing than playing, it’s a crisis.

Where to even begin with this? The unwelcome headlines around match fixing are one thing, the ECB managing to look indifferent and oblivious are another, testament to their uncanny ability to make any situation worse. The claims might seem a bit thin, but that doesn’t mean that lofty disdain is the right response.

The rumblings around the dog’s breakfast that is the Hundred continue, with the latest potential wheeze being the idea of selling off franchises. Quite why anyone would want to stump up serious money for a competition that has had such a hostile response, and which the ECB have marketed with the sure touch of Gerald Ratner hasn’t been explained, but if nothing else it points to a concern that the money-spinner the ECB claimed it would become isn’t likely to come true.

There are reports that the cost of its operation has now spiralled to £40m a year, a figure that beggars belief, and when added to the subsidy to the counties, it’s more like £70m a year. No wonder the idea of selling it off is now an attractive one – a shortfall needs to be made up.

Of course, a franchise system further erodes any semblance of fan loyalty to the teams, and having made it abundantly clear that the competition isn’t for existing supporters (deliberately telling your customer base to foxtrot oscar remains one of the most extraordinary things a governing body has ever done) we still don’t know who, if anyone, is likely to come and watch. Empty grounds are perhaps the biggest risk to the whole event, not initially (everyone rubber necks a car crash) but in terms of the viability over a few years.

Still, if it doesn’t work the ECB will happily change it – their inability to leave the cricket calendar alone for more than a year at a time is exceptional – but the amount of money already sunk into the thing and committed further is frightening. No business would dream of operating this way and expecting success.

Being committed to a particular approach and sticking to it no matter what is sometimes admirable, but this is seriously going out on a limb, and while expressing disbelief at the ECB has now surpassed cricket itself as a national sport, the worst part of the whole affair is that those who love cricket are placed in the unenviable position of being worried that the Hundred doesn’t work, not that it does. The potential for calamitous failure is now so high, and the consequences so dangerous, that it is a complete unknown what the fallout might be.

The upside is that the game will survive, by ironic virtue of the rather limited support to the grassroots the ECB has provided anyway, but here too the danger signs have been long flashing. Sunday cricket is in crisis, player participation levels reached desperation levels some years ago and the decline shows little sign of abating.

There are efforts to try to support it, club networks to allow players to get a game for example. They are laudable, but that they are deemed necessary is in itself a symbol of the mess the game is in. The biggest problem of all is the inability to see a way out of it. For all the fury at the invisibility of the sport to the public, the grotesque mismanagement of the game by the ECB itself, we are now in a position where the options are narrowing by the day. Perhaps the tipping point will only come when those involved at the highest level start seeing their own incomes under threat, and we are some way off that.

If the ECB’s incompetence is a benchmark few can match, Cricket Australia appear to be doing their damnedest to try. If nothing else, they do appear to have a better grasp of business realities than their English counterparts, but they too are afflicted by the drift away from criticism and towards mockery. The board level machinations are one thing, the ludicrous way the national team is disappearing up its own backside while maintaining an air of staggering pomposity is another.

If elite mateship hadn’t been received with sufficient hilarity, to double down and highlight elite honesty ensured many an aching side. Perhaps it was directed at David Warner, who threw his toys out of the pram when someone dared to sledge him, or perhaps it was directed at the ACA who are pushing for the return of those banned for ball tampering. The punishments for something that has gone on for years (though rarely with such ineptitude) seemed harsh at the time; to try to undo them afterwards is magnificently brazen, particularly with South Africa in town.

And I haven’t even mentioned how WADA are likely to deem cricket non-compliant. Marvellous.

And so we have some cricket on the way. For all the craven disdain for our game that those determined to exploit it for their own ends, the sport itself remains special. Cricket does not deserve the loyalty it receives from those who love it, seeing them as a revenue stream not the marketing team they really are – dedicated missionaries who wish to see it succeed. Those people will watch, buy tickets, travel to watch the team, as I am doing in the West Indies this winter. But patience is being tested to the limit, repeatedly.

It’s not yet too late. But my God we’re getting close.

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8 thoughts on “Circling the Drain

    • dlpthomas Nov 4, 2018 / 2:00 am

      To be fair to Langer, he did get hit in the head quite a lot when batting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • oreston Nov 4, 2018 / 4:18 am

      I think it’s the risible and unnecessary use of the word “elite” (see also: “elite mateship”) that’s drawn undue attention to what is actually a pretty straightforward and commonplace (if somewhat mythical) concept. Call me a Pom who’s sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted, but I’d even go so far as to suggest that the word “elite” is downright un-Australian and doesn’t reflect the Aussie way 😉

      Like

  1. sillypointcricket Nov 4, 2018 / 7:51 am

    Australia are talking a good game but can they play it?

    I’ve heard that ticket sales for visiting fans in SL are lower than previous tours.

    ‘The Hundred’… unofficial exhibition cricket!

    Like

    • pktroll (@pktroll) Nov 4, 2018 / 8:50 pm

      I’ve heard that they are charging a fortune for England supporters. They charged markedly more for England fans in 2012 when I went there. Maybe this has put some fans off. I would recommend a tour around the island rather than 70 pounds a day if that is the going rate in a game that might be far less likely to sell out.

      Like

      • Mark Nov 4, 2018 / 9:32 pm

        A few months ago the barmy army were still in Dispute with SL authorities regards ticket pricing and allocation of certain sections of the grounds. I don’t know if those issues have been resolved, but at the that time many of them were saying they wouldn’t travel to SL this year.

        I don’t know if that is still the case , or what has happened? I don’t know if the ECB have tried to intervene on their behalf. But if cricket authorities try to raise prices too high to overseas fans its best to just not go. Keep your money in your pocket.

        Like

  2. Mark Nov 4, 2018 / 10:59 am

    How about top sports teams just know the rules of their own sport, and the difference between right and wrong?

    Is it too much to ask multi millionaire $ earning players who love calling themselves “professionals” to know the rules of their own profession & behave properly? What is still staggering about “sandpaper gate” is there was not a single person in the Aussie dressing room (players or coaches) who didn’t know that taking sandpaper to a ball was wrong. Or, if they did know it was wrong, they hadn’t the guts to stand up and say “ stop, this is wrong.”

    The problem is modern management systems seem to create a kind of group think where individualism is frowned upon, and not encouraged. People end up like sheep. The obsession with the modern “supreme coach” who micro manages every aspect of players lives from diet sheets to interview technique of the players is it produces a generation of automatons. Even the captains have become soulless company men. In fact they seem to be selected for that very reason these days,

    Like

  3. Benny Nov 4, 2018 / 2:33 pm

    I know there’s a new set of rules around behaviour (which I have yet to get to grips with) like punishment for being aggressive towards umpires but I still feel that, if you misbehave on a cricket field, the authorities should give you hell. Maybe have a match referee. In normal life, if you know you’re going to get caught and punished, you tend not to do it

    Like

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