West Indies v Pakistan – World Cup Match Two Open Thread

England’s rather impressive opening day win over South Africa has the tournament up and running, and for the sake of the competition, Ben Stokes’ extraordinary catch has created a moment that can be played across the news broadcasters. It’s a small thing, and pales in comparison to the obvious equivalent had the wider public seen it as it happened. But to have such a moment on day one can’t but help. A bit.

The second match on the schedule is the one at Trent Bridge between the West Indies and Pakistan. Pakistan come into the game on a superb losing streak which has now extended to their last 10 completed official matches. Yet in many quarters they are still deemed favourites for this one. The West Indies racked up 421 against New Zealand and their batting potency makes them both unpredictable and exciting. In essence, this is one where really anything could happen. That’s a good thing, right?

Feel free to join the conversation below!

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And There Upon A Rainbow, Is The Answer.. England v South Africa

First up, this is my first scribbling since 22 March. There are many reasons, one of which is laziness, another one of which is boredom with cricket, and especially the social media that surrounds it, and the authorities that run it. But through everything, cricket still matters. It is still a sport that means too much to too many for it to stay out of your conscience for too long. So last week I bit the bullet, had to turn down tickets for today, but thought I’d watch the opening match of the World Cup at home.

The Cricket World Cup is a curious thing. Unlike it’s football counterpart, it doesn’t have the sense of gravitas among the general public. Some of this is to do with its shorter history, another is due to the respect to which the format is held, and to some extent the priorities the ordinary fan has for this summer.

But let’s get to the game today. England are going into the tournament as favourites, and I note from the tedium of some of social media that they are supposed to apologise for having played well in the past few years. While the traditional media report back all that culture trust and other management speak garbage that you’d think we’d all be immune to by now (Steve Archibald had it right), the rest of the world read this as arrogance. I know few cricket fans who don’t think that the key weakness, namely the early collapse, won’t sink us at some point. Cardiff 2017 rings too many bells for too many England fans to think the name is on the trophy.

South Africa won the toss on a dry, but hardly tropical, day south of the river, and decided to insert England. The view is England like to chase, and that the real issues come when we are asked to bat first. South Africa decided to open the bowling with Imran Tahir. Nasser did his usual old nonsense about it designed to get Jason Roy (harking back to a previous World final) and then, once Roy had taken a single, saying that Jonny Bairstow was a good player of spin. To a general laugh at chez Dmitri, YJB nicked the first ball he faced and Tahir did that thing that makes me want to strangle him (that absolutely effing nonsense celebration – as I write, its on the screen. I really, really hate it).

Jason Roy looked a little iffy, with a tendency to drive in the air through backward point, while Joe Root looked much more solid (a cover drive for the first boundary was absolutely beautiful). These two didn’t consolidate, because consolidation isn’t five-to-six runs an over. Both fell just past their half centuries, wickets I missed, but Roy in particular will be disappointed by his dismissal. Roy, when he clicks, makes making those tons look stupidly easy, but he needs to be in rhythm, and I never felt he had that today. Even so, to make a 50 while not at his best is really still useful. England avoided the 50 for 3 that kills the test team, but at 100 for 3, the high 300s were really out unless Buttler clicked.

Morgan and Stokes put together another very decent partnership, with the captain looking in excellent nick. A partnership of 116 was ended in the 37th over when Morgan didn’t quite get hold of a lofted drive and was caught very well by Markram on the boundary. Morgan hit the only three sixes of the innings, but the target now looked nearer 350 than that all pervading 400 that England are supposed to get because they are arrogant, etc. etc. What looked to have happened was England assessed this wicket early and thought 350 was at the top end of what could be got at the halfway stage.

311 would seem, therefore, to be a disappointment. I tweeted with about 10 overs left that England would need to hope that 300 would be enough. Buttler didn’t fire, making 18 before chopping on. Moeen Ali, who hasn’t been at his best with the bat recently, also got himself out for 3. The England tail, that boasts a number 11 that has quite a few first class hundreds, stuck together with Ben Stokes who made a mature 89, before getting out in the penultimate over. 311 for 8 was the final score, but there was time for Jordan Archer to get out on the field of play, and hit a couple of very nice shots. He came out and looked like he belonged. Small signs of what was to come, maybe?

I was intrigued by the reaction to 311. There was a sense of gloom. Many thought it was 25 light, and there seemed a lot of “big-upping” what was a pretty routine bowling attack. Rabada is a fine test bowler, but I’m not sure of him in the ODI format (maybe I don’t see enough). Ngidi was OK, Tahir was his usual self, Phehlukwayo was the most economical, but the attack wasn’t fearsome. South Africa are caught between two stools – they don’t appear to have world class allrounders to call on, and that Duminy is in the team is great news for us, because D’Arthez loves him, but bad news for a nation with aspirations to go far.

I remembered a Champions Trophy game, I think, when Sri Lanka chased down a score like this at the Oval as if it were a walk in the park, and there are question marks that this ODI team is a little too dependent on the batting. The sense was that one of De Kock or Du Plessis was going to need to fire with a big hundred, or Amla would anchor the innings. Jofra Archer put paid to two of those three legs of the tripod – I missed the bouncer that took out Amla, who looks for all the world as if this tournament is one too far for the great man – but did force Du Plessis into a hurried hook shot which was pouched on the boundary. The hyperbole over Archer was stoked to white hot, which always has me recoiling in horror at the sheer lack of thought that goes into it. Because Faf was the second wicket in an exciting opening spell he removed key man. Because he was quick he’s different. Let’s simmer down. 

Archer had got Markram to nick a pretty pacy delivery to Root at slip prior to Faf. South Africa looked in strife at 44 for 2 in the 10th over. The tail looks to start early with South Africa.

Rassie van der Dussen had had a decent winter of ODI cricket (after today he still averages 80 in 10 games) and looked the part today. Together with de Kock, the South Africans went from consolidating, to rebuilding (whichever you want to take first, I don’t care) to beginning to threaten. de Kock had a great escape when the ball hit the off stump, the lights went off, but the bails didn’t. Perhaps FutureBrand could look into how these wonderful pieces of equipment could be enhanced so that genuine wicket-taking deliveries aren’t denied because the bails are too heavy. It’s a simple task compared to coming up with exciting names for Hundred team names. With that tenuous poke over with, the report can go on to say de Kock passed fifty, unfurling some excellent lofted shots, and just as I started to think there was a chance, he took one risk too many and was caught on the boundary after a Plunkett half-tracker didn’t get the punishment it deserved. I prefer my middle-order seamers to be lucky and good. And Liam is a good Surrey man (we won’t mention Edgbaston in this report).

129 for 3 brought in JP Duminy. As in JP Duminy is the future and always will be. I still have that innings of his against Australia all those years ago on DVD, and in trying to attain that superlative knock again has always been the holy grail. He’s an experienced campaigner now, and he always looks the part. Maybe his grizzled look, his steely nature, his potential could come to the fore. There was a beautiful dance down the pitch to Moeen and a whip over mid-wicket for a glorious boundary. He’s in, now. JP looks likely. Oh no. Oh no. What is D’Arthez going to think about that shot? Off you go JP. 142 for 4.

The Ben Stokes created a run out, took the last two wickets and took a catch, as the rest of the team, Rassie aside, subsided, and England won very comfortably by 104 runs. Archer took three wickets, and everyone can act very, very smugly. Lord, we can even ignore Denis channelling his inner Malcolm Conn.

Oh yes. The catch. Allow me this one little rant. As a sporting culture these days everything has to be the greatest ever. It’s the greatest ever batsman, greatest ever run out, greatest ever ODI player, greatest ever shot. Everything really, really good in sport has to be the greatest ever or its not worth bothering with. The thing with this is when something absolutely gob-smackingly awesome takes place before your eyes, and those people who have labelled things above the ordinary into the stratosphere go beserk over something, it has little effect. Discount the opinions of these fools. Judge by your own eyes, and put it into your own memory bank. Stokes took an awesome catch with the ball over his head – he admitted he’d made a mistake coming in too far – and yes, I was amazed. Remember something, people. Take the sport you watch, enjoy it your way, and trust your own judgement. Watch it on terrestrial TV (I know, an old name), tonight at the witching hour, or get it off social media. And don’t go on Twitter to say you want to marry that catch as if you are some edgy, top writer.

So, one win for England, probably another 5 needed out of 8 to get to the semi-finals, possibly 4. England didn’t seem near the very best with the bat, but were solid in the field and got the key men out before trouble befell them. There looked more in the locker. South Africa looked a little off the pace, but they are going to need to take early wickets and keep scores down with that batting line-up. England may not top 400 in this competition because this is proper cricket, not glorified friendlies, and whether they can go hell for leather when the intensity rises is going to be a key question. 311 was enough today.

A few other observations. The coverage didn’t annoy me. This may be because there was an absence of Slater, Nicholas, and others I’m not a huge fan of from the ICC cast list. Nasser was too enthusiastic, and needs to wind it in. Smith and Pollock are absolutely fine. Isa Guha is really good, she just needs to keep the shouty bits down, but she’s a real plus for me. Atherton fits in beautifully when he doesn’t have to bantz. Kumar Sangakkara could read me my Tax Demand, and make it sound like the finest poetry. Ganguly was neither here not there, and in this era of commentary, that’s fine by me.

We have an opening thread for tomorrow’s game, but any comments on today most welcome. As you can see, being away hasn’t induced brevity. Do follow our Twitter feed (although I’ve taken Twitter off my phone for my sanity) and our individual feeds. We are going to try to cover this 6 week epic. By the time it has finished, I’ll be in my next decade of life. It goes on that long.

Cheerio. Back soon.

Dmitri

England v South Africa – World Cup 2019 Open Thread

It’s been over three months since England’s most recent Test match, and almost two months until the next one against Ireland at the end of July. So far, they have had four T20Is, eleven ODIs plus two 50-over warmup games in that time. We now have at least another nine to look forward to in the group stages. All of which is to say I already feel a little burnt out and low on enthusiasm for the shorter forms of the game, even if the current England men’s ODI team is relatively likeable and fun to watch.

After the recent minor injury concerns for Morgan, Rashid, Woakes, etc. in the past couple of weeks, it seems likely that England will select their first-choice side with Vince, Wood, Curran and Dawson missing out. Surprisingly, the actual team news hasn’t seemed to have been discovered by someone in the print media through “good journalism”. They’ll be very confident, having won their last four ODIs (ignoring the two warmups) against Pakistan

South Africa are on an even better run, having won their last six ODIs. Five of those were against Sri Lanka at home, but still. They will be hoping that their bowlers, particularly Rabada and Ngidi, can take a few early wickets and force England to consolidate rather than trying for a score over 400. England are seen as favourites for the game, but I wouldn’t be an England fan if I wasn’t worried…

I missed the coverage of the opening ceremony last night, although by all accounts it was a damp squib (in more ways than one). Wet weather, low turnout and lacklustre production values all give us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to next year with the ECB’s launch of The Hundred.

Speaking of which, it appears that Will MacPherson of the Evening Standard has discovered the names for six of the eight The Hundred teams. They are, if you haven’t already read them:

  • London Spirit (Middlesex)
  • Welsh Fire (Cardiff)
  • Southern Brave (Southampton)
  • Birmingham Phoenix (Warwickshire)
  • Leeds Superchargers (Yorkshire)
  • Trent Rockets (Nottinghamshire)
  • Me Pissing Myself Laughing (Being Outside Cricket)

There’s a lot to look at there. It’s quite hard to pick out one thing to criticise, when they’re all so bad. “London Spirit” was the first to be leaked on Tuesday, and it was roundly mocked. Now, compared to the other five, it might honestly be the best of the lot.

I am, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, a pedant. Perhaps the one thing which annoys me most about these team names is that some of them are plural nouns (Rockets, Superchargers) and the rest are singular nouns (Spirit, Fire, Brave, Phoenix). This genuinely irks me. There are other inconsistencies which are almost as frustrating, not least the team’s locations with cities, regions, nations and (bizarrely) a river used for the team’s identity. The names are bland, generic and have little tying them to their host teams, which may well be the point.

Trent Rockets is clearly the most ridiculous name of the bunch. It just sounds like a parody. ‘Rockets’ is a fairly typical team name, the most famous example being the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and there’s no obvious connection to Nottingham. Choosing something from a major American sports team has to be one of the lazier choices available for an overpaid consultant. But “Trent”? I guess it was their attempt to extend their reach outside of Nottingham, but it may well be so vague and meaningless as to alienate even some cricket fans in their home city.

“Southern Brave” would be another major embarassment for the ECB. It’s a vague nonsense of a name for an English sports team, but it would work well for an American band. Texas Country band Southern Brave certainly think so, which is why they currently have the @SouthernBrave Twitter handle (and likely much more besides). Choosing a name where you can pick up the social media accounts is almost the first consideration for companies nowadays, and it’s funny to see the ECB and the counties fail to clear even the lowest of hurdles.

It was reported last night by Lawrence Booth that Surrey had rejected four options from brand consultants FutureBrand: London Fuse, London Rebels, London Union and London X. A wise choice, given the options. There’s no word yet on Lancashire, the other host county yet to choose a team name. It bears pointing out that Surrey and Lancashire are perhaps the two best host counties in terms of commercial success, and that they are therefore arguably better equipped than the other teams to stand up to the ECB if they think a mistake is being made.

One thing the names appear to overlook (not unlike virtually all aspects of The Hundred so far) is the women’s competition. Whilst all of the names are gender-neutral, it appears unlikely that many (if any) of the games for The Women’s Hundred will be played at the same grounds as the men’s. Welsh Fire at least makes some sense when played in Cardiff, less so if they are playing their home games at Taunton. If the Trent Rockets women’s team are in Derby or Leicester, neither of which are on the River Trent, how will that help attract local fans?

If you have any thoughts, on the World Cup or The Hundred team names, please post them below.

World, Shut your Mouth: The 2019 World Cup

Thursday morning will see the start of the 12th cricket World Cup, as hosts England take on South Africa. The tournament remains below the radar in the country in which it is held, with tickets available for most of the matches and as ever coverage only on pay television. It has been heavily criticised for being just about the only supposedly global tournament to reduce the number of finalists by eliminating smaller countries before it starts, and it still goes on for the better part of two months before unveiling the winner. It’s for that reason many find it hard to get excited in advance – when the end is so far away, the beginning seems barely part of the whole.

And yet. For England in particular, this is what they have been building towards since the omnishambles of four years ago. Test matches, so long the priority for the ECB, were unceremoniously shunted aside in a clear desire to capture the 50 over crown. To a fair extent, the re-prioritising has been successful, as England enter the tournament as favourites and at the top of the rankings, while playing a style of the game that is utterly irresistible much of the time, and falls flat on its face occasionally.

Lifting the trophy on 14th July would represent a justification of sorts, even if controversial in and of itself among England supporters. It is therefore hugely ironic on the one hand, and indicative of the muddled approach at the top of the game, that England’s last warm up before the competition took place at the same time as the last 50 over domestic final as a mainstream cricket event.

That the ECB scheduled an England match at the same time as the Royal London One Day Cup final is one thing – given the way county cricket has been repeatedly scheduled to make it as hard as possible for supporters to attend, suggesting it might be deliberately spiteful is no longer an extreme viewpoint – but scrapping top level 50 over cricket domestically entirely, and because of a new, untried format, is astonishing, even by ECB standards. Some argue that T20 skills translate so directly to 50 over cricket that it will matter little, but any tail off in England performances over the coming years will be linked directly to this decision.  It is of course all about ensuring the Hundred takes priority, and if you haven’t read Danny’s piece transcribing and responding to Three Quarters Of a Million Pounds a Year Man Tom Harrison’s interview on BBC Radio, then please do click here:  Dissecting the Hundred

The ten team tournament does at least have one positive, in that the round robin nature means everyone plays everyone else, but most important is the lack of quarter finals, which have the effect of rendering the whole group stage largely pointless. To move straight to the semi-finals means that there is peril and jeopardy in each game – every defeat is damaging, every win vital. Whether that is worth the justification for removing what were once associate members is a different question.

England’s form coming into the World Cup has been quite remarkable, a 70% win rate in the 2 years before bettering by some distance any of the winners in the last three editions.  Yet even with the addition of Jofra Archer, it is predicated heavily on the power of the batting line up.  England don’t appear to be one of those sides boasting prowess in all facets of the game, albeit the high rate at which they leak runs does need to be placed in context:  it is a function of England racking up huge scores themselves to at least some extent.  England might be favourites, but they have a slight sense of vulnerability about them that will need to be answered in the semi-final and final stage.   India will feel they are equivalent, while Australia and New Zealand in particular might feel they have a puncher’s chance – particularly in the former case now that Smith and Warner have returned. On which subject, the bleating about the two of them being booed yesterday was remarkable. Of all the things to become annoyed about currently, this is surely an awfully long way down the list.

Afghanistan are probably the second favourite team in the tournament for most, given both the political background, and the way the ICC so often actively work against the game being taken to new outposts.  They continue to get stronger, and if they can pick up a scalp or two, it will be celebrated by all bar the teams they beat.  Their bowling attack is potent enough to cause problems that’s for sure.  Of the rest, it’s South Africa who have been in the best form without causing many to suggest they’ll go and win it, while Pakistan….who the hell knows and the West Indies may, just may, have turned a bit of a corner.

Of the individual players, Jos Buttler and Virat Kohli are the two most obviously box office.  But a World Cup can bring to the fore someone less heralded.  That it will probably be a batsman is just where the game is now, and all the insistence that 270 makes for a more interesting game is so much humbug.  Close games make for the interest, not the score.  Low scoring matches tend to be the most tense because every single ball matters – the same reason a tight Test match is riveting – but to suggest 270 is the optimum scoring level is to ignore decades of everyone drifting off to sleep in the middle overs of an innings when the batsmen just took the singles on offer and the bowlers were content to let them. The balance between bat and ball has always been an issue in limited overs matches of whatever duration, but let’s not pretend there was a golden period where it was perfection.

Ticket prices have always been a factor in World Cups, the empty stadiums in the West Indies in 2007 being the nadir both in terms of unaffordability and the resultant depressingly empty grounds.  England this time around should be rather better, though it appears few are sold out at this stage.

As for us on here, we will be trying to cover each game, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs to lead into it, and who knows, we might even live blog one or two as well.

Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points 2: From The Horse’s Mouth

It’s been a busy couple of months for me, regarding The Hundred. First I wrote a 6,000-word piece listing a hundred issues I had with the new competition, followed by a 5,000-word post about the ECB’s reasoning for the new format as relayed to us by The Cricketer magazine’s Inside Cricket podcast. Last Sunday I also did a 1,200-word post about the statistics the ECB released during their website and logo launch. Needless to say, I’m pretty sick of the subject and wanted a break from the whole damn thing for a while.

Then Tom Harrison did an extended interview with Mark Chapman, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell on the ‘Tuffers And Vaughan’ Radio 5 Live show. It is, if you really want to listen to it, available here as a podcast for the next four weeks. Now I’m not a fan of ‘Tuffers’ or Vaughan, I don’t listen to the show, and I can’t say I was expecting anything other than a PR puff piece.

Instead, it turned out to be a pretty disastrous appearance by the ECB chief executive. A word soup of marketing buzzwords, not answering most of the straightforward (and surprisingly pointed) questions, and being completely unable to present a rational, logical reasoning for The Hundred’s existence.

So I typed up the whole thing, and here is my latest 7,800 word monstrosity:

Mark Chapman: “Why are you bringing it [The Hundred] in?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game. We know we’ve got three fantastic tournaments, county tournaments that do a fantastic job at bringing out loyal fans into the game. But we also know there’s a huge opportunity, if we do things a bit differently, to get hold of a much wider audience. Potentially, by positioning the game a bit differently, we’d be able to grow the game, open up that gateway for the game for generations of fans in the future. So it’s an opportunity for us to think slightly differently, and present the game in a way that enables many millions of fans who particularly haven’t had the opportunity to be part of the game to come in. And that’s something we’re excited about.”

One thing I hate about interviews with ECB staff is that so many of them are utterly incapable of speaking plain English when communicating with the general public. Talking like this might be fine if you’re a merchant banker (either the job or the rhyming slang) in a boardroom, but most people’s eye just glaze over as the business jargon just spews out in an uncontrollable and unintelligible blur. It is also very repetitive, so if you had a shot every time Tom said “opportunity”, “positioning” or “different” then you would die from alcohol poisoning halfway through.

Now I’m not expert, and I genuinely hate the language used, but I think the gist of this answer is that there aren’t enough people watching cricket in England. I agree with that. I think we all do. But that doesn’t answer the question, which is why they chose The Hundred to remedy that. Why The Hundred was the best option for the ECB to take. Perhaps they have a rock solid explanation for why they’ve made the decisions they have, but thus far no one at the ECB has made a convincing argument for it.

Mark Chapman: “You said ‘differently’ in that answer three times. With a ‘thinking differently’, ‘positioning it differently’, ‘doing it differently’. What does ‘differently’ mean?”

Tom Harrison: “Through the work that we’ve done, we’ve worked out that there are about 10.5 million fans of cricket in this country, and we are very successful at bringing about 1.5m million through the existing county competitions. The international game obviously goes a stage further and brings more fans in. But what we worked out is if we’re able to address three key issues, and that is about the time the game takes, the perception of the game, so the way in which the game is positioned in this county. In other words, are we making it easy for fans of different communities, diverse communities, young people, sporty families, to get involved in the game? That’s the second thing. And the third thing is: Are we making it difficult for people to understand the game through the complexity of the way the game is actually brought to screens in this country? So those three things are the three key elements that enable us to really work out we’ve got a big opportunity here to bring people into the game.”

I already addressed these “three key issues” in a previous post, and will be addressing two of them again later in this one, but I do feel the need to question the suggestion of complexity being a problem and The Hundred being a solution to it.

I could write my own explanation about why this is bollocks, but instead I’ll imitate England’s chief selector and copy Chris’s work instead:

“Cricket is NOT a complex game. Bowl ball, hit ball. Get batsman out, get runs. The basic tenets of cricket are extremely simple, as every 4 year old picking up a bat knows. There is nothing complicated about that. The complexity is added when you talk about the full game. Fine. But that is no different to any other sport. Football is a simple game too. But the offside law, with active/inactive, second phase and so on is extremely hard to grasp for all but those who already love the sport.”

“Rugby, which the ECB highlighted in their report about access and interest, is mind-bogglingly difficult to comprehend in its detail, and any rugby fan will freely admit that when at a game, they don’t have a clue why a decision has been made. Especially in the ruck and the scrum. That’s why you have Ref Link – to know what the hell is going on.”

“There are of course issues around accessibility to cricket, the foibles and traditions of it can be inaccessible. But the basic point that cricket is a complicated game is accepted without question. It just isn’t. It is no more complex than any other sport. Mums ‘n kids (to coin a phrase) have no more difficulty than anyone else in understanding its basics as they are. This does not mean for a second that there shouldn’t be a discussion around how to make it easier for people to get into it, but the starting point that cricket is too difficult in its essence for people to get into is, to be blunt, horseshit.”

All of which is true, but there is an even worse aspect to this argument by Tom Harrison: The Hundred (at least as described by Harrison and the ECB thus far) does literally nothing to simplify the laws of cricket compared to T20. Now there might be some aspects of the live coverage which the ECB are working with Sky and the BBC to change, making the game easier for novices to follow, but none of that requires a change in format to achieve. In fact, they could do it now with all three existing forms of the game if they so chose. So, if the ECB genuinely believes that the current cricket coverage is excluding new fans, why wouldn’t they press their ‘media partners’ to change immediately?

Phil Tufnell: “And how are you going to go about that? I mean it’s a hundred balls, there are two overs at one end so there’s less crossing over. Is that how you’re going to try and do it?”

Tom Harrison: “We reckon that, if we’re able to play the game in about two and a half hours maximum, more families are going to come into the game. That’s the feedback from fans. Over the last three years, we’ve talked to about a hundred thousand fans to really work out what are their feelings about cricket. Why is it that we’re only able to bring in this 1.5 million fans through the game when we’ve got this huge following of 10.5 [million] across the country. So the work that we’ve done is trying to define that to make that much clearer, and actually say if we do it in this way, if we make it simple, if we present it on television in a different way so that fans can very quickly get an idea of who’s winning a game, where we are at a certain stage. It’ll feel strange to listeners of this show, but we’re talking about a game which feels complex to people. People who have grown up with the game don’t find it remotely complex but new fans of the game, they do find it complex and we do have to try and address that through this tournament.”

It is fair to say that 2.5 hours is almost certainly preferable to people with children when compared to a three-hour game, but surely it’s still a long way from being ideal for parents? I can think of literally no films, or TV shows, or live entertainment, which expects children to concentrate or participate for longer than two hours. For pre-teens, ninety minutes might be somewhat of a stretch. Young children generally have low attention spans and small bladders (relative to most adults, at least). Does Tom Harrison and the ECB really expect us to believe that parents would have been less interested in a format in which games only lasted ninety minutes, or two hours?

Michael Vaughan: “After 2005, if the game had stayed on free-to-air television, do you think you would have had to turn to this project?”

Tom Harrison: “I think the world’s changed dramatically since then. In 2003, you’re five years before the iPad was invented. The world has changed a great deal in that time and we’ve got different challenges, as every team sport has. We’re very fortunate to have an opportunity through a change in culture in this country, it’s much more multicultural, more urban. Now we know that, by 2030, most of us are going to be living in and around cities, 80% in this country. That gives us a huge opportunity, as a game we know people love. If you give people an opportunity to be part of this game, they will love it. They’ll  embrace it. And they will be your fans for the future. We just need to be very certain that we’re giving fans around this country an opportunity to get involved in it, in any way that we can.”

Even if all of this was true and in any way relevant to the question asked (and it’s clearly not), it wouldn’t explain why cricket in particular amongst team sports appears to have been the hardest hit. How would you justify the fact that cricket is less popular now with children compared to football, rugby, netball, basketball, American football, and a few other sports if “every team sport” is facing the same challenges? I mean, I’d argue that the ECB were a bunch of incompetent administrators who were driving English cricket into the ground. But how would the ECB chief executive rationalize why cricket in England has been perhaps the worst performer of all team sports?

As for more people moving into cities (and I would love to know where the 80% in 2030 figure comes from), that shows a rather large gap in the ECB’s logic. Is an eight-team competition which doesn’t cover large metropolitan areas like Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle or Bristol really such a good way to ensure most people have easy access to live cricket? Or that London couldn’t support a lot more than two cricket teams? There might well be an argument for having teams in new places to cover a larger proportion of England’s current-day population, but The Hundred doesn’t do that. It has fewer teams serving a lesser percentage of England and Wales, and in my book that’s not an improvement.

Michael Vaughan: “And just recently you did an interview in the West Indies with Simon Mann, where you said ‘The Hundred is already a success.’ Can you explain that?”

Tom Harrison: “I think what it’s done is helped us work very very differently with our broadcasters for starters, with our partners in the game. We’re now joined at the hip in trying to grow the game together. That’s a very different kind of relationship to the one we have going back a few years. It’s given us fresh impetus in a relationship with Sky. Sky have been cricket’s best friend for the last 25 years and enabled us to create the strong set of stadia we’ve got around the country. And it’s obviously transformed out relationship right through the BBC, and that’s huge for us because it enables us to work together with these huge partners to bring more fans into the game. So it is absolutely about the growth of the game, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t feel that we were taking this opportunity to take the game to those communities that potentially haven’t had an opportunity to be part of English cricket’s fabric in the past.”

So Sky is “cricket’s best friend” and helped build a “strong set of cricket stadia” Of the 18 county ‘cricket stadia’, only two are actually full for T20 Blast games (and neither of them is hosting a men’s team in The Hundred). What is the point of having great grounds if barely anyone attends them? Sky certainly haven’t been a great friend to first-class cricket, barely broadcasting any County Championship games over the past few years despite having the exclusive TV rights.

I have to say, Tom Harrison looks very well-rested for someone who has been in charge of an organisation which has missed plenty of opportunities in the past to broaden English cricket’s appeal…

Mark Chapman: “Did you have to come up with a new format because the BBC said a T20 game was too long?”

Tom Harrison: “No, not at all. This was because we were trying to address three key issues that came back from fans. One is about time, one is about ‘The game is complex. We don’t understand the game. Is there a way that we can make it more straightforward.'”

I actually believe this. When the BBC bid for the rights, the competition was T20. The BBC might have preferred a shorter timeslot, and the counties might have wanted the Blast to remain the premier English T20 competition, but I have to think that something as dumb in theory and execution as The Hundred has to have been created solely by the ECB.

Mark Chapman: “Who were these fans, by the way?”

Tom Harrison: “So we talked to a hundred thousand fans […] People who said they expressed an interest in cricket but for whatever reason they weren’t coming into grounds. They weren’t buying tickets. Their kids might play at school. They might have a loose connection through a father played at a local club. We know there are 10.5 million people out there who potentially would be part of this cricket community if we were able to make the game appeal to them in a way that we know we can.”

I think everyone was wondering which fans the ECB had consulted over The Hundred, because none of us were asked. It turns out we were too ‘engaged’ to offer an opinion. Instead, they appear to have asked ‘fans’ who were vaguely interested in the sport without watching it regularly. Which isn’t to suggest that the ECB shouldn’t try and tempt these people into a stronger affection for the game, but maybe it would have been useful to ask us lot as well…

Tom Harrison: “Through presenting it on television, through presenting it on digital channels in a different way, through getting young people and kids involved in a different way. So the three audiences that we know that we can get hold of are young people, sporty families, and diverse communities who have got huge passion for the game. We’ve done it with the Women’s World Cup, where you saw a very different audience coming in because we presented the game differently.”

Mark Chapman: “Although the Women’s World Cup is [50-over] cricket.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it is. That’s a good point.”

I mean, let’s just applaud this. In seven words, Chapman absolutely destroys Harrison’s contention that a new format is necessary in order to reinvigorate English cricket.

Mark Chapman: “My point being, if there’s a perception cricket is too complicated, the Women’s World Cup wasn’t too complicated.

Tom Harrison: “No, the Women’s World Cup enabled us to say ‘If you really want cricket to do the job, it can do it.’ The things that we did there was create partnerships with different media organisations. We advertised the game in different parts of the country. We said at the start of that year, 2017, ‘We must sell out the World Cup final. No matter who’s playing.’ And that job was done before England qualified for that final. What it shows is the power is actually in the game itself. The game of cricket is a battle between bat and ball, and if we’re able to give that opportunity to people, to celebrate the game between bat and ball, and do it in a straightforward way, we’re clear that we can appeal to different audiences in a way that will safeguard the future for all of our competitions going forward.”

As the ECB’s chief executive says here, all that is required to bring new fans to English cricket is effective marketing. You can look at the number of people watching, listening and playing cricket in recent years to gauge their typical effectiveness in this regard.

I do wonder, regarding the success and popularity of the Women’s World Cup in 2017, how much the ECB had to do with it. It is an ICC event after all, so I don’t know which aspects of the marketing and media were handled by the host board. I do know that attendances for England women’s games plummetted back to their pre-World Cup levels the following year. If the ICC handled PR for the World Cup, that would demonstrate the inability of the ECB to promote the women’s game. If the ECB were responsible for the meteoric rise in 2017, that would suggest they didn’t really try in 2018. I honestly don’t know which possibility is worse…

Michael Vaughan: “I hear you on all the diversity, and trying to appeal to new audiences, get more people interested in cricket. How much of The Hundred is a commercial venture?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game, ultimately. Remember that when people talk ‘commercial’, they talk about money, the investment that we get in the game is all pumped right back into it. This is about growth. In a very competitive environment where we’re having to work really hard, like other team sports, to maintain relevance in a context of ten, fifteen, twenty years’ time. I’m not comfortable as CEO of the ECB with only 7% of children getting access to cricket at school, so we’ve got a sports strategy which is designed to absolutely transform our footprint in schools.”

There is literally nothing stopping Tom Harrison and the ECB funding Chance To Shine so that they can reach every single child in English and Welsh primary schools, if not now then at least from 2020 onwards when they get the money from the new Sky TV deal. If Chance To Shine visited every primary school on a six-year rota, theoretically seeing every child in that time, it might cost the ECB about £10m per year. Surely a small price to pay for Tom Harrison’s comfort?

Tom Harrison: “Transforming the women’s and girls’ game is important to us, so that we can demonstrate to a twelve/thirteen year old girl what her pathway through the game. Whether it’s to play club cricket or whether it’s, if she’s talented, to go through the elite pathway into the England dressing room. There are numerous different opportunities there. The Hundred is one of twenty six activities that we’ve designed across the six pillars of the strategy going forwards. The plan to grow cricket. And we’re very confident that we can achieve that through thinking bravely, with a bold plan for the men’s and women’s game together, to enable us to achieve great things for the game.”

Women’s cricket. It’s not particularly a success story for the ECB. Right now, the ‘pathway’ for this hypothetic 12 year old girl is club cricket (if she can find a predominantly men’s team prepared to play with a ‘girl’), then the amateur county competition (where she would still have to pay for her own kit, uniform and membership fees), and finally, if she became one of the twenty best women cricketers in the country, perhaps she would get a central contract with the England team. There are simply very few opportunities for women to make a living from cricket compared to the men’s game. There are reports that the ECB wants to start a professional domestic cricket structure for eight women’s teams, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

As for the women’s half of The Hundred, the ECB hardly seems to be working on it at all. In the past weeks and months, a great many details about The Men’s Hundred has come to light through ‘good journalism’ or official press releases. The draft day, the pay levels of players and coaches, the budgets for marketing and in-game entertainment, and much more.  Literally none of the reported information relates to the women’s competition at all. When I asked The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes about this apparent discrepency, he said there’s “No information because there isn’t any!” I think this shows the lack of regard the ECB has for the women’s game.

Their attitude is likely shared by the two broadcasters for The Hundred. Last week’s reports seemed to imply that the BBC would only show one women’s The Hundred game on live TV, rather than the eight they’re entitled to as part of their TV deal with the ECB. As for Sky, it seems unlikely they will show many women’s matches either. With both men’s and women’s competitions being played in the same 38-day window (each with over 30 group games) plus three men’s Test matches, there is simply not enough room in the schedule for everything to be shown. At least, not unless Sky and the ECB are prepared to show a women’s game on TV at the same time as a Test match or a men’s The Hundred game.

Michael Vaughan: “Just go three or four years in time. I’ve been working at the IPL, and the IPL games are taking too long, and The Hundred’s arrived and a shorter format. It’s probably what T20 was ten years ago. It was an hour and twenty minutes in the field, quick change around, an hour and twenty. Done and dusted in three hours. Now it’s two hours almost in the field, it’s taking too long. If, for instance, in two years’ time the Big Bash or the IPL want to turn to The Hundred, would that be a franchise that you would sell to these other countries?”

Tom Harrison: “At the moment we’re doing this for our own conditions, the challenges and opportunities that we’ve got in our own backyard, a bit like T20. In 2003, that format wasn’t developed to effectively be the thing that’s given cricket the shot in the arm that it has over the last fifteen years. It was developed pretty much as an answer to dwindling crowds at domestic cricket back in 2003. I think the same’s true here. I personally feel that there is an opportunity to take these playing conditions for a hundred balls into a wider context. That opportunity will be there for the global game to take advantage of it. We have things like the Olympic movement. We’re looking at things like how do we expand cricket into new territories. Parts of South America, the US, all of these parts of the world. The Hundred has got a role to play, if the game wants it, to help with that growth.”

Is the ECB headquarters located next to where the Metropolitan Police incinerate confiscated drugs? Are they sponsored by a Columbian cocaine farmer? Because I see literally no other reason why someone would expect other boards pay for the honour of using The Hundred as a format. This isn’t a comment on the The Hundred itself. I don’t think any countries would have paid for the rights to use T20 either, even if the ECB had had the foresight in 2003 to have copyrighted it. If other countries want a shorter format, they can just invent their own for free. F15 perhaps, or ‘The 99’.

Mark Chapman: “A couple of things on families. […] My wife took two of our kids to the Roses T20 game at Old Trafford last summer, and there were two, three lads sat behind who were so drunk before the teams had even come out that, when the teams came out, one of the lads shouted ‘Come on Gloucestershire!’ So I don’t know what game he thought he was at. But you will know, Tom, that going to a lot of cricket, a lot of T20, is like being on a stag do. And the finals day is one giant stag do. So what do you do to try and stop cricket becoming even more like going on a stag do, and in particular The Hundred? You’re trying to attract sporting families.”

Tom Harrison: “Look, it’s a good question. Ultimately, it’s really important that, across all of our competitions, families feel that it’s a safe and welcoming environment to watch cricket in. The Hundred is going to be positioned as family entertainment. This is something where a dad, a mum and two kids can go and have two and a half hours of fun watching world-class cricket with the world’s best players playing fantastic cricket in both men’s and women’s competitions, and hopefully get in and out of the ground within two and a half hours. That’s the plan.”

A game of The Hundred is projected to last two and a half hours. How is it that Tom Harrison expects families to get in and out of the stadium in 0 minutes? I can’t say I’ve attended any of the host grounds, but I’d suspect that when they’re full (which Harrison seems to expect) it takes quite a while for people to actually reach their cars or the transport links.

Mark Chapman: “Are they going to have fifteen lads dressed up as Scooby Doo, trying to build a beer snake behind them?”

Tom Harrison: “No. That’s very much around the kind of partnerships that we will bring together, working very closely with our venues to ensure that that environment in stadia is conducive to making families feel safe and welcome.”

Mark Chapman: “Will you have family stands?”

Tom Harrison: “I think there are family stands now, in most grounds. I think some of the behaviour that you might be alluding to is very isolated. Ultimately this is going to be positioned in a way that is literally designed to give families that day out that makes them want to come back time and time again.”

I’d love to have faith in the ECB’s promises of partnerships (whatever that means in this context) to remedy the rampant alcoholism of some cricket fans, but I don’t. There hasn’t been a single concrete suggestion which I have seen about how the ECB intends to counter the perception that crowds at the cricket, and in particular at the T20 Blast, have a lot of people drinking a lot of beer. Certainly, they have stated categorically to Mirror correspondent Dean Wilson that they won’t have alcohol-free games.

It is also disingenous for Harrison to suggest this was an “isolated” incident. For one thing, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. The two drunk lads at the Roses game Chapman describes could well have annoyed or worried dozens of people sitting near them.

More importantly, the idea of drunk cricket fans deterring other people from attending games can’t be news to Tom Harrison. In his podcast a few weeks ago, Simon Hughes describes the ECB’s most important reason for the launch of The Hundred as “a lot of people feeling the Blast is not a game for them because it’s largely middle class and largely white, and particularly a kind of beer-fest. […] It has become a piss-up, actually.” The experiences of the Chapman family are not isolated, and it’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence for the ECB’s chief executive to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, it comes down to money. People paying inflated prices for crappy beer is a great moneyspinner for the host grounds. If the ECB attempt to curtail that in any way, the counties will demand greater hosting fees in exchange. ECB sponsors Greene King, Thatchers and Veuve Clicquot might also be perturbed to see their revenue from cricket grounds decrease.

Having said all of that, I can’t say I see a great future in using The Hundred to increase the numbers of families attending live cricket.  Given the congestion caused by The Hundred and three Test matches being played at the same time, a large number of the games will have to be played in the evening. Having matches finish after 8.30 pm is far from ideal for many families, whilst games starting at 6.00 pm or 6.30pm are more-or-less perfect for the after-work drinks crowd. For all the ECB’s family-friendly rhetoric, I can’t see it panning out.

Mark Chapman: “What will it cost to go and watch The Hundred?”

Tom Harrison: “Well we’re working on that. We haven’t got the absoute, definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you that it will be affordable and it will be linked much closer to county cricket than international.”

Mark Chapman: “If attracting families from wider communities is the priority, why were Headingley tickets a minimum of £40 for adults and £20 for a child for this week’s warm-up one-dayer? That doesn’t strike me as ‘affordable’.”

Tom Harrison: “I think that affordability of international cricket is one of the questions we’ve got to answer. By developing a competition that is targeting families that haven’t felt like they’ve had the opportunity to be part of English cricket to date and watch world-class cricket. I think we will find that opportunity is there for people. This is about growing the game. We’re really serious about this. Our whole five year plan that we launched in January, ‘Inspiring Generations’, is all about growth. Yes, it’s about investing and underpinning everything that we feel passionate about. Our three county competitions. Underpinning Test cricket.”

Mark Chapman: “But if you’re talking about growing the game, if you talk about the dad, the mum and the two kids, that’s £120 to go to Headingley for a warm-up for an international one-dayer. Before you’ve even paid for car parking, travel, food, drink. £120 for a family of four for one day, that isn’t affordable for a lot of people, is it?.”

Tom Harrison: “I understand that. You’re talking about international cricket. It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup. So I think that’s premium entertainment. I think it’s positioned as that because it is international cricket at the top of the tree. The Hundred will be different because although the entertainment will be absolutely the top of the tree, the price for tickets will be very different and more reflective of what people can afford. And particularly the target communities that we’re going after. […] It demonstrates the opportunity that we’ve got.”

One of the statistics which the ECB published last week during their website and logo launch was this: 65% of ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are affluent (Someone who would be considered upper or middle class based on their job). Is it really that much of a surprise? The cheapest adult tickets for The Ashes are £60 at Headingley and £90 at the Oval. Families are expected to shell out over £100 to attend a pretty meaningless ODI in a season where England will play at least seventeen 50-over games. Plus ça change, as the French might say.

It also bears noting that this is an issue which has always been entirely within the ECB’s control. If they were worried about fans being priced out of attending cricket, they could have stepped in to lower the costs. The previous system of awarding international games, where the ECB essentially made counties bid against each other for the rights to host England games, likely had the effect of massively inflating ticket prices. Whilst the ECB moved away from that system a few years ago, the amount supporters have to spend hasn’t noticably declined.

Michael Vaughan: “How are you going to deal with those young families that come to cricket for the first time next year, on the back of (we all hope) winning the World Cup to see Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, potentially Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes. And they’re world champions. And then in a year’s time, little Johnny says ‘Mum, dad. I wanna go watch them in this Hundred.’ And they get to the time, they get the ticket, and they’re playing Test match cricket at the same time.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, there will be Test matches through this window. And this is because primarily we are an international cricket organisation. Our sport is based on international cricket. We are extremely serious about building Test cricket and continuing to be the kind of global poster child for Test cricket. We’re determined to retain and extend that reputation that we have internationally. Our international players will be part of The Hundred. The Test players won’t be able to play every game, because we simply don’t have the space in the schedule to be able to guarantee they playing in every game. But they will be part of it, and they will play in games. Hopefully at the beginning and at the end of the tournament.”

So England’s best known cricketers, the men’s Test team, will be missing for a large portion of The Hundred. I’m sure that won’t affect the number of people watching or attending the games at all…

Michael Vaughan: “The Australians come over for five one-dayers next year. The first year, The Hundred has to be a success for you all. Was there any thought, that you thought ‘You know what? We’ll give back those five one-dayers to Australia, and we’ll manoeuvre two Tests’ to make sure that all these superstars that I mentioned will be a part of The Hundred for the first year? This can’t be a failure. It has to be a success.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it will be. I don’t think by over-delivering in year one, you necessarily guarantee long-term success. The Hundred will sustain itself through the phenomenal cricket that is being played by many of the world’s best players on the parks around the country, in the men’s and the women’s game. The Big Bash had exactly the same challenge, where they played international cricket in Australia throughout the window of that domestic tournament, and found that they were able to build on that success. I think we will have the same experience. We want fans to be genuinely excited by the calibre and quality of cricket that’s being played. It will be played at a time of year where families can go and see it, in the school holidays. Mid-July to mid-August. And I think cricket fans will absolutely love this. They will find that it’s a source of great entertainment. It will be brilliant cricket, played in some of our best stadia around the country. So I think there’s an awful lot to get excited about for cricket fans. As we start to bring some of those plans to bear over the next few months, we can start bringing some of this to life. I think that’s increasingly been the reflection of people around the cricket community that we talk to.”

I have to say, I would not be worried about “over-delivering in year one” if I was in Tom Harrison’s shoes.

I don’t think the ECB turning down ODIs would have ever been a realistic option for one simple reason: It would cost them a lot of money. As well as losing out on the ticket sales, they would also need to pay Sky a substantial sum for not playing the contractually agreed-upon number of international games. Like with ticket prices, and beer sales, the ECB has shown that they will always choose money over any other objective. I think that the only reason the ECB support The Hundred, with its limited free-to-air coverage, is because they believe it will make a profit.

The comparison to the Big Bash League is not particularly apt, because Cricket Australia had one huge advantage over the situation the ECB find themselves in now: People knew who the players in the first BBL were. Many of the cricketers in ‘BBL|1’ had previously played for Australia and, because international cricket was still shown on free-to-air TV there, many of them were household names. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne, to name just four.

Who are the most famous current English cricketers that the ECB could get for The Hundred? Sir Alastair Cook and (should be Sir) Jimmy Anderson? Try and persuade Flintoff to come out of retirement again? After fourteen years exclusively on Sky Sports, there are no mainstream stars to use to launch the new competition.

Whilst I’m not involved in my local cricket club, I talk online with several people who are involved in theirs. One constant thing they all mention is how junior cricket grinds to a halt during the summer holidays. That’s when children go away on holiday, visit family members, go on day trips, etc. The mid-July to mid-August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.

Phil Tufnell: “That was one of my questions. Who’s actually going to be doing the batting and the bowling of this Hundred, but you’re saying you’re going to be getting the world-class cricketers over?”

Tom Harrison: “Well all our white-ball specialists will be playing, anyone who isn’t in the Test team. […] We’re going to be playing in an ODI Championship next year. For the women’s team, all of our professional centrally-contracted cricketers will be available throughout. So there’s an awful lot to get excited about. But remember that fundamentally we also have to keep the international schedule moving, and that’s a really big priority for us as well. The Hundred can live alongside this and continue to flourish.”

Let’s recap who won’t be appearing in The Hundred:

That’s a lot of the ‘best cricketers in the world’ who won’t be playing in The Hundred. Most of them, you might argue. In fairness, the first three groups could apply to virtually every other major T20 competition around the world except for the IPL. The last two could be a significant issue in terms of perception of The Hundred, however.

As far as I can tell, no major T20 competition clashes with another. This allows the best overseas players to travel the world as mercenaries, which in turn helps promote the leagues internationally as those players will probably have fans in many countries. Some of the best and most popular of these cricketers happen to be West Indian. Andre Russell is one name which quickly springs to mind.

By scheduling The Hundred against the West Indies’ T20 tournament, the ECB are robbing themselves of some explosive players and lessening the appeal of the new competition to cricket fans in England and around the world. Incidentally, the CPL is starting in September this year, but that is in order to fit a lucrative series with India in the competition’s usual slot in the calendar. Unless the ECB are prepared to give a very large cheque to the WICB, I can’t see the same happening again next year.

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve had an email in from Henry Clark, and he says: […] ‘It’s all well and good to try and get new people watching the game, and actually I think The Hundred can have a huge positive impact. But to really tackle the issue of participation in club cricket, which is continuing to kill of clubs in our local league, the club game needs to adopt a similar stance. I’m now the only eighteen year old playing in my club team, where there was ten of my mates when we started at under-eleven standard. Players from the age of fifteen to eighteen are dropping out too consistently.'”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a common issue, and thanks for raising it. One of our frustrations is, we do an awful lot of work around demonstrating to leagues around the country that we have the ability to change formats in this game to suit players all round the country. We don’t control the leagues. Obviously they’re all autonomous. We’ve got leagues who are already experimenting with hundred-ball cricket for example this year. It was the leagues that started twenty-over cricket, it had been played decades and decades before it became a professional format. We need to keep working very hard with the leagues to educate leagues, particularly below first-team level. I played 120-over cricket for ten years through the leagues. There is still that intransigence with some leagues, to want to reform and bring in shorter formats, but it’s something we’ve got to keep working with the leagues on. To persuade them it’s the way forward, to keep people playing.”

Mark Chapman: “The ECB do do a national T20 competition for the 15s. We were lucky enough with my son’s team to get all the way to the national finals, which was an unbelievable day. The ECB give kit to all the clubs, and they have the music and they have the announcers, and the season as a whole was very enjoyable for the fifteens because it was all twenty overs. It was short format cricket.”

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve said for many years on this show that I think all cricket, potentially through a period of two or three months in the summer, every Sunday should be T20 Sunday. It should be the kids in the morning and then in the afternoon your club’s got to put on a festival of cricket which is twenty-over games between the adults and you put on the bouncy castles, the face-painting, the barbeques. You get the community down. Whereas in our time, where you used to go round the leagues and it would be the best teas, I’d want to see which club put on the best T20 on a Sunday. Saturday is for that long format. First team should be fifty-odd overs, but I’d say the second team (with youngsters coming through) shouldn’t be fifty overs. It should be 30-35 overs. Third XI should be 30-35 overs. I mean 120 overs, you probably started at twelve and finished at midnight.”

Tom Harrison: “You come off at about a quarter-to-eight. The other thing to remember here is that Sunday cricket is suffering as a result of this, around the country and we’re working very very hard to bring this to the attention of leagues, saying that there’s huge opportunities here to get people playing Sunday cricket. Short-format Sunday cricket. And actually, I think some leagues are concerned that will further take players away from Saturday league cricket.”

I’m not active in my local club, and so don’t particularly have a strong view on this section. I would suspect that those of you who are involved in club cricket might have some choice words to say about the idea of Tom Harrison or Michael Vaughan telling you which formats you should be playing, and when. My own recollections of playing cricket in my youth are that the games then were twenty overs long. I’m not 100% sure because I was in the under-13 second XI and we rarely made it that far.

My suspicion is that the number of kids dropping out of the system before reaching the senior teams has always been high, but the problem has been exacerbated by the sharp decline in the number of children taking up the game to begin with. All Stars was meant to remedy that problem, but it appears without success. Now the ECB hopes that The Hundred will have a positive effect.

I think the exposure on free-to-air will help a bit, but at the end of the day it appear that the BBC will only be showing eleven The Hundred games plus three T20Is. Fourteen days of free live cricket is a huge improvement on the last fourteen years, but a lot less than we had before that. From 1999 to 2005, Channel 4 showed up to thirty days of live cricket every year.

Mark Chapman: “Is this a difficult sport to lead at the moment, or an easy sport to lead at the moment?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a privilege. This is a sport I’m incredibly passionate about. It’s my sport. It’s the one that kind of makes me tick as a person. So, for me, it’s a privileged position. I just want to make sure that everything we do is geared around growing this game for future generations.”

Tom Harrison was paid £719,175 last year, having received a 19% pay rise. That places him above the chief executives from the FA, the Lawn Tennis Association, the British Olympic Association, UK Sport, UK Athletics, the Rugby Football League and Sport England. In fact, the only two English counterparts to be paid more than Harrison were the chief executives for the Premier League and the Rugby Football Union. Nothing says “passionate” or “privileged position” to me like squeezing every penny out of a sports body for yourself.

You also have to wonder, looking at his performance in this interview, if there might be someone who would do a better job for much less money. Almost anyone, really…

Congratulations on reaching the end of this ridiculously long post. If you still have the strength, please comment below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And The ECB

The ECB launched the new logo and website for next year’s The Hundred competition last Wednesday, including a press briefing and numerous interviews. Neither was particularly well-received, with stock photos on the webpage being widely mocked and the logo not managing to excite many potential fans.

Wisden editor Lawrence Booth and The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes also seemed to be under the impression that the ECB would also be releasing their research which led to the creation of this new format. From its initial inception as a T20 competition, through the creation of a new hundred-ball format to the present day,  the ECB’s representatives have always consistently said that their decisions were based on a large body of research. That the Hundred was the result of a logical, scientific decision-making on the basic of rock-solid evidence. Instead of a full release however, The Hundred’s managing director instead published a handful of statistics on a single side of A4 paper. This is in spite of Sanjay Patel claiming there were a hundred million ‘data points’ the ECB used to shape their choices.

As far as I can gather from the media reports, these are the figures which the ECB released:

  1. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are 95% white.
  2. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are 82% male.
  3. 65% of ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are affluent. (Someone who would be considered upper or middle class based on their job)
  4. Ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket have an average age of 50.
  5. 75% of families would prefer a game that is under 3 hours in length and finished by 9pm.
  6. Almost 75% of families want “fast-paced, high energy action” to be the priority.
  7. 10.5 million people are interested in cricket in England & Wales, but only 1.1 million attended games. Rugby union, which appeals to similar demographics, has a total attendance of 5 million per year.
  8. 9 million non-cricket fans might be interested in cricket if it was simpler to understand. Many of these say it is a more complicated sport than football, rugby union and American sports.
  9. For adults, cricket is a top 5 sport in terms of the size of its ‘engaged audience’. In children it ranks 7th, and in teens 11th.
  10. 5% of children aged 6-15 has cricket as one of their top 2 favourite sports.
  11. Roughly 75% of current cricket fans started liking the sport before they turned 16.
  12. 7% of primary school children are playing cricket.

The first thing which leaps out at me is that many of the stats seem highly selective, to the point where it seems like the ECB is cherrypicking the figures to justify their decision. Take for example the term “cricket”. By using the catch-all term rather than specifying formats, the ECB is using people who are fans of Test cricket to justify something even shorter than T20. In 2015, almost half of the total cricket attendance for professional cricket was in Tests and County Championship games. Is it really a surprise that the average audience for these games are old, since the majority of scheduled days are workdays for most of England’s adult population? Is it a surprise that the average audience for Test matches tends to be wealthy, when the cheapest adult ticket for the first four days of the Oval Test this summer costs £90?

It’s worth noting that Surrey CCC have issued a rebuttal of the first four stats by helpfully releasing their own format-specific numbers. Their T20 sales figures, which you would expect to have far more relevance to The Hundred than ones including Test cricket, suggest much younger people are buying tickets for the shorter form of the game. Surrey’s T20 ticket-buyers are 38 years old on average, 12 years younger than the age suggested by the ECB’s data.

I also wonder which format the 9.4 million cricket fans who don’t attend professional cricket games prefer. I know that over 8 million were watching an Ashes Test in 2005 at the same time, which leads me to think they’re Test fans. If that is a large portion of the ECB’s expected market for The Hundred, is it realistic to predict a significant proportion of them are likely to love a format even shorter than T20? Especially one happening at the same time as a Test series?

The term “ticket-buyer” might also seem misleading. People seem to take it to be representative of ‘the audience’, but that is not the case. I’ve yet to see an example of a 6 year old buying a ticket for their family, for example. If we imagine a scenario where a 40 year old mother took her two 10 year old twins to see the cricket: The average age of the group would be 20, but the only one counted in the ECB’s figures would be the oldest person.

The second thing I notice (and arguably the more important point) is that even if you take the numbers at face value, they don’t automatically make the argument for The Hundred’s existence.

The statistic which most directly makes the case for a shorter format is that 75% of ‘families’ would prefer a form of cricket which lasts less than three hours and finishes before 9pm. That is entirely expected. If anything, I’m curious about the 25% of families who don’t want those things. So this would mean families would be less likely to engage in and attend a T20 competition where games regularly lasted around 3 hours and finished after nine o’clock like the Blast.

But if most The Men’s Hundred games will last around 2.5 hours and finish at around 8.45pm, is that a significant improvement? Do a majority of families like that duration and finish time? I very much doubt it. In order to prove it, the ECB would have to release the full survey results for how many people wanted games 3, 2.5, 2 and 1.5 hours long, and how many objected to games which lasted until 10pm, 9pm, 8pm and 7pm. Personally, I suspect parents would actually prefer to attend a format where games lasted less than 2 hours and finished before 5pm, which certainly wouldn’t describe The Hundred.

As for most of the other issues the ECB’s stats identify, it’s unclear how The Hundred is the best solution. Do we expect the The Hundred attendances to be more racially representative when county cricket, where the vast majority of players for The Hundred will come from, isn’t? Last season, there were just 8 “black or mixed-race English cricketers active” in the County Championship. British Asians represent 35% of recreational cricketers in England but far, far less in professional teams.

Will more people attend live cricket when the number of grounds is reduced to eight? Is there anything intrinsically more likely to increase the percentage of women buying tickets when cricket is 16% shorter? Is the fact that innings have twenty fewer balls enough to simplify cricket for people who find it ‘complicated’ if you don’t do anything about LBW or the jargon (like fielding positions, shots and bowling styles)? What percentage of people who are primarily Test cricket fans are excited by or interested in T20 and shorter formats? Will more children love and play cricket than they did when Tests were on free-to-air TV in 2005?

If the ECB’s research genuinely points towards The Hundred as the best possible option then they have nothing to fear from releasing it in full, not just to the press but also to the public. But the little of it they’ve published so far raises far more questions than answers…

As always, please add your comments below.

Test Match Sanctimony

Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 year old whipper snapper, I ended up getting a job at a garden centre during my university summer holidays. Naturally the pay back then was quite frankly pitiful and I normally responded by turning up half cut after a big night out the night before, especially at the weekends. It was a pretty uneventful and dull job, which tidied me over and gave me some money to throw at cheap booze during the next semester. The one and only perk (so to be speak) was that often on a Thursday and a Monday, I was often tasked with helping out the main delivery driver with his delivery runs throughout the whole of Sussex. This was ideal for me, I could basically sit in the van all day, occasionally getting out to deliver some garden furniture at some remote place in rural Sussex, whilst discovering every road side café within the boundaries of the A27 (my delivery man was not a small gentleman). The best thing for me however, was that the main man was a massive cricket fan himself and so whilst I got to discover some new quaint and wonderful places in Sussex from the comfort of my passenger seat, I was also able to enjoy a summer of listening to Test Match Special on the radio. The travel to rural locations alongside conversations about cricket with the dulcet tones of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Vic Marks, Simon Mann and Blowers made what was a pretty crappy job into a summer I actually look back with fondness on. I bet there are a number of us with similar stories, who remember traveling by road or listening on holiday to the TMS team cover the often travails of the English cricket team in good humoured fashion. This was long before the ECB turned into a despicable, money grabbing, old boys club; sure they were an old boys club back then, but back then they were far more interested in what Port was being served at lunch, rather than trying to squeeze every penny out of their dwindling fan base.

Test Match Special has it’s place as an institution of English cricket, something that has been cherished by the English cricketing public for a number of years and what the BBC would probably like to term ‘Auntie’s favourite’ in the fact it was highly inoffensive but much admired due to some of the quirky conversations between a number of the commentators. This so called institution though is beginning to fade and quickly, with the advent of Sky (for those that can afford it) as well as streaming sites and the advent of social media, which negates having to listen to long swathes of cricket should that not be your wish and can inform in a moment when a wicket has fallen or when England have collapsed in a heap again. There is also competition now, with TalkSport winning the rights to the winter tours for the next few years. Now I must admit that I haven’t actually listened to any commentary from TalkSport, but from the feedback from those who have, many have said it is a competent operation and compares favourably to TMS. One also has to look at the make up of Test Match special, especially around those who commentate for the show, and it soon becomes clear that ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Boycott is a casual hypocrite who has been banging on about the same stuff for years, Graeme Swann is a legend only in his lunch hour and makes Jay from the InBetweeners look modest, whilst Vaughan is too busy shamelessly promoting his own clients and jumping on any bandwagon that the ECB care to peddle out. It seems like an old boys club, with the emphasis on ‘In Jokes” and ‘banter’ rather than any serious attempt to describe what is going on with the game and so this leads us straight to the door of the ‘so-called face of the TMS’ Jonathan Agnew.

Agnew likes to paint himself as a whiter than white and a real patriarch of the game, but someone who is also approachable and jovial. He is a favourite of the ‘blue rinse brigade’ who can’t get enough of that lovable Mr. Agnew and the BBC paints a picture that TMS under Agnew’s watch harks back to a simpler and purer time. This is a lovely picture in an ideal world, but one that forgets that Agnew is a thin-skinned, foul-mouthed media luvvie, who is likely to snap the moment anyone dares to question his expertise or the way he goes about his business as ‘Chief Correspondent of the BBC’. The lovable Mr. Agnew that he likes to paint a picture around is actually an insecure, paranoid individual who is likely to lose his temper the moment the adoration stops and funnily enough, this doesn’t surprise me in the least. Agnew has kept being told during his time at the BBC that he is doing a great job, that the public love him, that he is right about all things cricket by the army of cricket fans who follow his social media feeds (well not Kicca) and anyone who dares criticize him will face the wrath of the pearl clutching brigade who will jump on anyone at the merest hint of insubordination. This clearly has inflated his ego somewhat, so much so that he saw it fit to criticize Gary Lineker on social media for expressing his political views:

So when a fellow journalist, a TV presenter or one of us ‘little bloggers’ dares to stick our head over the parapet and disagree with Agnew, the man himself is almost disbelieving that anyone on this planet could have the audacity to disagree with him. If was just Agnew’s thin skinned approach or pinch nosed approach to the public, then it really wouldn’t be a big deal as many in the media view the general public as the ‘great unwashed who are there to be preached at’; unfortunately for Agnew this is just the tip of the iceberg.

It has always been fairly easy to be sceptical about Agnew, especially after the Pietersen affair, where he like many others in the media seemed to turn into ECB mouthpieces overnight. I remember the interview the Full Toss blog did with him not long after the infamous sacking of a certain individual from the ‘aplomb one’ and Agnew came across as incredibly dismissive of what were pretty fair questions (I’m sure Maxie can add some insight into this). It also became clear that the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC had struck up a friendship with Alastair Cook, much like he has a friendship with Stuart Broad, whose father was a regular in a pub that Agnew used to visit regularly. Now I don’t have any problem whatsoever with commentators and media hacks having members of the England that they both admire and sometimes are friendly with, but there has to a be line somewhere when admiration has to be put aside in order to produce fair and concise judgements on any turn of events. This hasn’t seemed to bother Agnew one bit, who not only stoutly defended Cook at every turn, but also demanded an apology from the ‘hoi polloi’ on the back of an interview with guess who, Alastair Cook, who was hardly likely to take a ‘mea culpa’ approach to the situation

This is bad enough, but Agnew always seemed to ‘raise his game’ whenever Cook did well in a game and who revelled in the fact that Cook had ended his England career by scoring a century in his final Test. He subsequently used it as an opportunity to take pot-shots at those who might not have quite shared his delight:

Now I really am no Piers Morgan fan, but on this occasion Morgan had been gracious about the end of Cook’s international career, and yet Agnew decided to show everybody who would listen how he was right and how wrong Morgan had been. Except this wasn’t just a pot-shot at Morgan, it was far more than that; it was a pot-shot at any of us who had dared not to buy into the cult of Alastair Cook. It was an us vs. the rest moment, either your inside cricket and rightly bow down to the greatest player who has ever worn the England shirt or you are ‘outside cricket’, someone to be mocked and sneered at by those ‘who really know cricket’. It was all rather typical Jonathan Agnew really, a triumphalist ‘stuff you’ aimed at those who dared criticize him or dared to question ‘his wonderful friend’. This is not what we should expect from anyone who purports to report on the game, let alone from someone with a ‘Chief Correspondent’ job title as this is skewed journalism at best and a downright hagiography at its worst. The fact that Agnew either doesn’t realise how this looks or even worse, doesn’t really care, shows his complete lack of respect to the English cricketing public and that impartiality is something he is quite simply unable to deliver on. It is people like Agnew, Mike Selvey and Paul Newman, who were so quick to peddle the ECB line as Cook being the saviour of English cricket in the hope of garnering favour, which may have actually contributed to the intense dislike some English fans have for Cook himself. Writing or commentating about the game with a neutral outlook seems to be something this is a ‘nice to have’ for the 3 gentlemen above, but not one that necessarily pays in the long term, for that you have plug whatever propaganda the ECB is purporting at the time and Agnew through his loyal friendship with Cook was more than happy to do so.

This wouldn’t be the first time either, as who can ever forget the infamous picture of Agnew cosily dining with Giles Clarke (and surprise Mike Selvey). Now Agnew gets very hot and bothered when this is posted and strongly maintains that he had just given Clarke both barrels (though I doubt he called him a c*nt), but in reality does anyone really believe this? It is far more likely that Agnew was making sure that he got a slice of whatever pie was on offer (figuratively not the literally obviously), by leaving whatever morals he had at the door in favour of personal gain. Naturally this wouldn’t fit with the jovial, whiter than white image that Agnew has tried to cultivate for himself, so Agnew has done whatever he can to both distance and disavow himself from that situation.

Giles-Clarke-and-Jonathan-001

Up until this point though, Agnew in the main had managed to keep his public persona as “Auntie’s face of English cricket’ in tact with some success, this was until last week when the mask slipped and boy did it slip big time. It seems that Agnew and Jonathan Liew have been engaged in a war of words for sometime, but things have been at least civil in the public eye. Agnew was first angered by an article by Liew around Jofra Archer and his perceived integration into the English cricket team, which Agnew believes was accusing him of racism.

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/england-cricket-world-cup-squad-jofra-archer-a8887246.html

Now I have read this article a few times, which is highly nuanced (other than that it’s a mightily good article) and I don’t believe Liew is accusing Agnew of racism in this piece as he is also critical of Michael Vaughan, though others are welcome to disagree. Then Liew wrote another piece Wisden, which seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, which says of Agnew:

‘Besides, he’s under the wing of Aggers now, who barely bothers to conceal his disdain for the great unwashed of the written press, like a French aristo pinching his nostrils as he strolls through a peasant market, lest he get an unwanted whiff of rotting chicken giblets.’

Now having never been invited into in any commentary box or media briefing, I have no idea whether this is true or not; however the response from Agnew was first one of outrage and then one of pure unabridged anger:

Boom, I certainly didn’t expect that top pop up on my timeline last Saturday, and what of the pearl clutching ‘Agnew luvvies,’ I bet one or two of them nearly went into cardiac arrest when they saw this. Now I understand that Agnew feels wronged and that alcohol consumption may have played a part, but this is completely out of order and can easily be classed as bullying, with Agnew throwing both his weight about and the toys out of his pram too. This ‘colourful language’ is the type I’d expect on a Friday night out in Croydon, not from the Chief Cricket Correspondent of the BBC, a 59 old year man who has made his living from being the squeaky clean face of the BBC’s cricket coverage.

Now I’m not saying that Liew is faultless here, not at all. Liew is a very marmite character and writer, with a number of this parish disagreeing about some of the content of his articles and he is known in certain circles as a ‘wind up merchant’. Liew for me is capable of writing some superb pieces, but also some total dross, where he decides to show everyone how clever he is, with an air of smugness to boot; a bit like Barney Ronay (who coincidentally was also called a ‘wanker’ by Jonathan Agnew). Liew knew very well what he was doing in both those articles and it is clear that there has been some kind of vendetta gathering pace under the carpet between the two of them, which feels rather undignified considering one is the Chief Sports Writer for the Independent and the other the Chief Cricket Reporter of the BBC. It all feels a bit like two 7 year olds fighting for the last bit of cake; however both clearly have enormous egos and are morally sure they are in the right. The main mistake Agnew made was by not being too bright and picking a slanging match against Liew, who is incredibly bright and cocksure and doesn’t mind burning a few bridges in the process. Once those direct messages were out in the open, there was always only going to be one winner, if indeed you would class that there is a winner out of this whole charade.

Agnew on the other hand, is quite lucky that the BBC took a fairly lenient approach despite the ‘bollocking’ that he may have received on the back of this. Memories often fade quickly when someone in the limelight who on the whole is incredibly popular with this English cricketing public and I’m sure Agnew will quickly be forgiven for his indiscretions here (though I’m very sure Liew won’t benefit from the same level of forgiveness). The interesting thing for me is whether Agnew actually learns anything from this event and decides to be a little more humble and to get off the high horse that he has perched himself on. Often it goes either way, so it will be interesting to see what happens when Agnew comes back online.

Either way it seems that irony had developed a sense of humour last weekend and a similar indiscretion from the now chastened Agnew, may result in a far harsher sentence. As one former newspaper Chief Cricket Correspondent once wrote ‘his card has been marked’. It now falls at the feet of Agnew to lay down the cronyism and to actually be a neutral, incisive correspondent for the BBC, which he once was. Whether he is still capable of that though, is most certainly a moot point.

 

England v Pakistan – 2019 ODI Series, a (late) preview of sorts

We were unable to write a preview of the series before the first game on the Wednesday, due to our various workloads etc, but in the end it didn’t matter too much as the rain gods intervened before the match could seriously get going. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t been active, Danny’s dissection of The Hundred here if you haven’t managed to read it, is a work of art and has got some great traction on various social media outlets. It’s a long post, but a very insightful one and it has upset Simon Hughes a hell of a lot, which is always the sign of a great article…

So we now approach a slightly shorter warm up series comprised of 4 games against a streaky Pakistan team with the series seemingly of interest only to those players who are on the fringes of each team. I personally don’t blame the schedulers wanting to get some ODI practice in before the World Cup, especially with places up to grab, but I must admit that it really hasn’t struck any particular interest with me, it’s all a little bit before the Lord Mayor Show.

The main talking point before the series was the cover up and then subsequent dropping of Alex Hales for drug related offence. Of course, the ECB being the ECB handled the affair with all the care and aplomb of an elephant trying to walk on stilts. It still amuses me that they thought that somehow they would be able to cover the whole thing up as ‘personal problems’, which for those cricketers (and those in general) who genuinely have had personal issues in the past, must feel like a slap in the face that the ECB decides to constitute drug problems as such. Yet as soon as Ali Martin revealed the reason why Hales had been dropped by Nottinghamshire, the ECB think tank went into overdrive and promptly kicked Hales out of the World Cup squad. Suddenly words such as ‘loss of trust’, ‘welfare of the team ethos’ and ‘letting down teammates’ started to appear with at an alarming rate. Ashley Giles and Eoin Morgan were wheeled out in front of the media to be the ECB’s Chief Executioner (well Morgan did owe the ECB big time for the skipping of the Bangladesh tour and the ECB cashed in that cheque big time’), never mind that this whole mess could have been avoided should the ECB have approached this with a modicum of good sense at the time they found out, but then that’s not what the ECB does.

Now I am not a big fan of Alex Hales, the bloke is a bit of a burke who clearly hasn’t learnt his lesson from his first failed drugs test nor from the fallout from Bristol and I don’t particularly have a strong opinion about him being suspended from the World Cup especially as he was likely a reserve player at best; However for the ECB to go holier than holy on this whole subject is hypocrisy of the highest order. I certainly wouldn’t trust the ECB to boil an egg unsupervised let alone run an international cricket board and as for the whole letting down teammates, the ECB having been letting down the fans and players for years, especially with the advent of the 100, a white elephant that nobody bar the ECB actually wants. Naturally the empty headed sycophant that is Michael Vaughan, leapt to the ECB’s defence to such an extent, one might surmise that garnering favour with the international board could benefit him directly:

“Eoin Morgan spoke brilliantly, very mature, great leadership, everything he said was to the point,” said Vaughan. 

“It is a message to Alex Hales that this England side isn’t going to mess around anymore. Bristol was a line in the sand moment, they all realise they have to be better role models. 

“Alex Hales was on a 12-month suspended sentence from his actions in Bristol. I don’t know how he comes back from this, he has lost the trust of the team.

“It’s not a great look for the game but I think the England team have dealt with it in the best way they can. The conversation with Hales would have been hard but easy in a way because he has let them down.

“If you’re a professional sports person not thinking clearly you are not in a position to represent your country in a World Cup.

So Hales is now on the naughty step for the foreseeable future and of course, Shiny Toy gets to benefit with one of his clients called up in Hales’ place. Who says blind and blatant obsequiousness doesn’t reap results in this world??

As for the series itself, it appears that most of the places area locked down now, especially on the batting front and the only real question is whether Jofra Archer can show the selectors that he merits a place. Personally I think England are a better team with Archer in it, despite protestations from those who appear most at risk, about team spirit etc. Archer has something that we are lacking in the pace department, which is both pace and control and added to his ability to ‘hit a long ball’ with the bat, then personally I think it’s a bit of a no brainer. Of course, someone is going to be unlucky to be left out with Curran or Wood being the prime candidates in my opinion (though I would laugh if it was Chris Woakes), but that is international cricket at it’s highest level and there’s always going to be someone that has to miss out. The only question mark with Archer is whether he can adapt his bowling to the longer 50 ball game where batsmen get a longer look at you compared to the 4 over stint in 20/20; however I would be quite surprised if Archer isn’t the most penetrating and hard to face bowler in this tournament. That being said, the ECB selectors are a funny bunch, so don’t be too surprised if they brains trust decided to pick Jake Ball in the end!

As ever, any comments on the game or wider thoughts are always welcome….

*UPDATE: England have dropped Jofra Archer for this game 🤦🏻‍♂️

Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points

“By the way I’m not a lackey for the ECB, I’m not a spokesman for them at all. We try and hold them to account.” – Simon Hughes

That’s a direct quote from the most recent edition of Hughes’ amusingly-titled “Inside Cricket” podcast. In his defence, I genuinely don’t believe he is a lackey or spokesman for the the ECB. Rather, I think he shares the same world view as many senior ECB people and so will naturally come to the same conclusions. I always find it amusing when people cite complex conspiracies such as a secret cabal running English cricket, when simpler explanations are available.

It was the first (and likely last) episode of this podcast I have ever listened to, enticed by Simon Hughes’ promise that he would “try and make time” to answer as many questions as possible about The Hundred. It may not surprise you to learn that I have a lot of questions about The Hundred. 103 in fact, which I emailed to him. Most were short questions about specifics regarding the competition, since so few details are currently in the public arena and I strongly suspect that most of them haven’t even been decided yet by the ECB.

What I hoped for was a few morsels of information about The Hundred that hadn’t already been leaked, and the only thing which would fit that description was the announcement that the team names and logos wouldn’t be announced until the end of this season, after the Ashes had concluded and just a month before the draft.

Instead, the 48-minute podcast spent most of its time relaying, often in great detail, what I can only assume are the ECB’s talking points regarding The Hundred: Why they would argue it is needed, and what they hope it will achieve. With Simon Hughes, Simon Mann and Dean Wilson offering few counter-arguments to this massively pro-The Hundred message, I thought I’d take the time to rebut them instead.

Why Have Hundred-Ball Innings?

Simon Hughes: “Well one interesting point is when the T20 was orginated in 2003, the iPad hadn’t been invented. Six years later before the iPad was invented in 2009 and, in a way, that was a key innovation because the iPad, and obviously the smartphone from on the back of iPad really, has enabled teenagers (even us, actually) to watch videos and films and anything else on your tablets or on your smartphones and that basically has effected a lower concentration span. So the concept of T20 which is sort of three hours’ entertainment has become too long for the teenage market, who are now obsessed by […] Fortnite which is the game that is just taking over the world, the teenage world anyway, and you can play a Fortnite game in half an hour/forty five minutes. So their concentration span, I’m sad to say, my teenagers’ concentration is about that of a gnat. We don’t want to just pander to teenagers.”

“So that was why they’ve gone for a shorter format. It’s just that people’s time, people’s concentration, is less than it was. And the perfect time for a bit of evening entertainment, you look at movies, you look at football, even going out for dinner I suppose, it’s two hours isn’t it? An hour and a half, two hours. And three hours is just getting a bit too long.”

To begin with, I should put this quote into context. Simon Hughes was answering a question from a 16 year-old fan of Test cricket about why the ECB didn’t go with T20 instead of the new format. Hughes then spends a couple of minutes explaining that ‘kids nowadays can’t concentrate for longer than an hour or two’, to paraphrase his answer. To a 16 year-old Test cricket fan. I don’t think much self-awareness was being shown there.

He overlooks the fact that many kids seem quite happy to play more than one round of games like Fortnite back-to-back, or binge-watch several episodes from Netflix. The issue then wouldn’t be a short concentration span, but whether they’re allowed to do so by their parents.

I also suspect that Simon Hughes is simply echoing similar complaints from past generations. For at least the past hundred years, and probably more, many parents have derided their children’s contemporaries for being less intelligent, less strong, less respectful than they were as children. Whilst now it’s tablets and smartphones, it used to be television, or rock music, or jazz music, or whatever was in fashion at the time.

But even if we granted the premise that attention spans are shorter now, and that cricket must adapt to survive, that still doesn’t explain why the ECB specifically chose The Hundred as a format. By eliminating one-sixth of the deliveries from a T20, it cuts the length of a game from roughly three hours to two-and-a-half hours. Surely, if we want kids who can only concentrate for forty-five minutes at a time to follow it, that’s still far too long? T10, with innings lasting approximately forty-five minutes each, would be a far better approach.

Simon Hughes: “They’ve done a lot of research on it, and I know people that are “Research. Well why can’t we have the public account of the research?” I think we’re going to get that, actually, very shortly. But the precis to the research, and they’ve done it with the ICC, with the ECB’s various agencies, they’ve even looked at UN data as well. They’ve tried to be quite exhaustive, and I believe them.”

“Why won’t they publish their research? Well they are, apparently. They’re going to be publishing it shortly so we can all examine it. We have to believe them, that they’ve done a good job.”

Well for a start, we don’t have to believe the ECB. To choose the most pertinent example, the ECB appeared to sell the new competition to the counties, broadcasters, the MCC and fans as a T20 league. They even set up a “T20 Board” to develop the new competition. I’m sure you can probably think of other cases where the ECB has apparently been guilty of purposeful deception.

It seems safe to assume that the much-vaunted research from the ECB played a part in creating The Hundred. The major issue I have with the ECB’s approach to publishing their analysis is that, after more than a year of being cited and hyped by proponents of the new competition, I can’t see it being anything other than a let-down. There are very few things which  have met people’s expectations after a year of anticipation. No matter how articulate, no matter how scientific, no matter how complete, I don’t see how anything the ECB releases now could match up to the image of the research they have built up: As an unassailable triumph of logic which demonstrably showed that The Hundred was the only reasonable course of action.

Simon Hughes: “They [the ECB] really are trying to listen to people, but also proceed with their own vision. I think it’s important to show leadership, and they are showing a bit more leadership now so that will hopefully ultimately give people more confidence.”

Or, to paraphrase, “Let people talk but do whatever you wanted to do anyway.” I fear, if the ECB does ever release the information about its research and consultations, this is more or less what has happened. Not that it matters particularly, since it seems very difficult to find any members of the public (and certainly current cricket fans) who the ECB has consulted about The Hundred.

The Hundred Brings Money Into The Game

Simon Hughes: “[The ECB received a £225m deal] principly because they came up with a new tournament. They would not have been able to raise that amount of money and also got the exposure from the BBC, the buy-in from the BBC, if they hadn’t created a new tournament.”

This is just wrong. The argument is clear enough: The TV deal reached in 2018 had one significant difference from the previous deal, the inclusion of The Hundred. The new agreement almost tripled the value of the last one, and therefore The Hundred must be responsible for this increase. But surely no one can genuinely believe this? The main difference between eight years ago and now is that Sky have a competitor who was prepared to bid significant amounts of money for the rights to show sport.

In the previous negotiations, Sky’s only concern regarding their financial offer was to determine the lowest price that the ECB would accept. It bears saying that the TV deal reached from 2006 onwards wasn’t a massive increase on the previous deal when Channel 4 was airing 6 Tests per year. People talk about it like the ECB doubled their TV revenue in exchange for taking cricket off the airwaves, but that was very much not the case. In truth, I strongly suspect the Sky has had the exclusive TV rights to English cricket for far less than they should have been worth.

On this occasion however, Sky weren’t just bidding against the ECB’s low self-valuation but also BT Sport. BT have deep pockets, having paid a reported £80m for the rights to Australian cricket over five years. With most of that happening after midnight UK time, I would assume they would be willing to pay quite a bit for the rights to English cricket.

To use an analogy, imagine you’re selling a house without a shed. One person places a bid which is significantly below your asking price but you need to sell and so, in the absence of any other offers, you accept it. A few years later you sell your new house, which does have a shed. Two people bid on it, with the competition between the two pushing their bids above your asking price. You didn’t sell your new house for more because of the shed, but because there happened to be two people interested in it.

Simon Hughes: “The football broadcast rights have slightly declined over the last three/four years, just slightly, whereas cricket has started to climb and you want that sort of ascendancy to continue.”

Again, I would take a different lesson from these facts: That the ECB missed the point at which they could have made the most money from a Sky/BT bidding war by allowing Sky to possess the rights for a span of seven years (with a five year initial deal plus a built-in two-year extension). Had the ECB been able to negotiate an agreement two or three years earlier they could well have been offered even more.

Simon Hughes: “What the ECB say is that even more money is now going to be spent on promoting the County Championship and the Royal London, and obviously the Vitality Blast, because more money is coming into the game. So hopefully those tournaments are going to benefit as much as The Hundred”

Simon Mann: “[Tom Harrison] said it’s [The Hundred] already been a success. A lot of people thought that’s a really strange thing to say, it hasn’t even started yet.  But of course what he meant was because they have brought in all that revenue.”

The problem with this argument is that, I believe, Sky did not bid separately for each bundle of TV rights they bought. If they had, then we could easily see that they paid (for example) £40m to show The Hundred and judge the profitability of the competition from that. Likewise, the BBC’s £13m annual payment also includes the rights to have highlights shows for English international cricket and three T20Is live. Separating the true revenue of The Hundred from these overall figures is therefore open to interpretation, with supporters of The Hundred saying it’s bringing in more money whilst opponents will argue that it’s bringing in less.

We do know how much the ECB thinks The Hundred will cost over the first five years: £180m. That is a lot of money, however you look at it. If those figures were accurate, I’d expect the ECB would make a slight profit, or at least break even over the five-year period, assuming the value of The Hundred’s TV rights are worth somewhere around £40m per year overall.

However, the annual cost has almost tripled from the £13m figure which was projected just a couple of years ago. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that the eventual costs might be much higher than the ECB anticipated. It’s clear from the fact that there is over £12m budgeted for ‘event production’ and ‘on-field-marketing’ (ie cheerleaders, fireworks, mascots, posters, etc) in the first year alone that the ECB are willing to pay almost any price to ensure that The Hundred is a success. Including not making a profit.

Who Will Attend The Hundred?

Simon Hughes: “It’s aimed at everybody. Everybody who wants to watch cricket, whether it’s a new audience or an old audience. They just want to put on a fantastic show with the best players in the world.”

“They want everybody to watch cricket. They want as many people as possible to come to the game, to see what a great game cricket actually is.”

So this is clearly a better answer than Andrew Strauss’ “mums and kids” mantra from The Hundred’s initial press junket. It has the benefit of not excluding current cricket fans who are neither mums nor kids, for example. But it is also somewhat glib, if there are not actions from the ECB to accomplish this rather bold target.

You might ask yourself why mothers, children and other people prefer not to attend the T20 Blast and other cricket currently. Well the ECB appear to have narrowed it down to three reasons:

Simon Hughes: “Firstly, the complexity of the game. People do not grow up with cricket now, so they don’t understand it. Secondly, the time. Every game now is taking three hours and even more. And then thirdly, most importantly, a lot of people feeling the Blast is not a game for them because it’s largely middle class and largely white, and particularly a kind of beer-fest. […] It has become a piss-up, actually.”

That would lead you to an obvious conclusion: A good way to bring in a new audience who have felt excluded from cricket grounds would be to eliminate beer sales. Well, apparently the ECB disagrees:

Dean Wilson: “I’ve actually asked the ECB ‘Will you have alcohol-free games? Is that part of the idea?’ and no it’s not.”

Another factor which will discourage people with children will be the late starts. It seems safe to assume that no one involved at the ECB, the BBC or Sky would want any games to occur whilst most adults are at work. Likewise, they won’t want any The Hundred games to clash with the three Test matches being played in August. Given that the Tests will cover three of the six weekends during The Hundred, that leaves just three weekends (six days) in which the ECB could schedule cricket before 6pm without angering one of their media partners.

Simon Hughes: “I mean just look at the spread of the women’s game, for instance. As a result of the Women’s World Cup final and victory in Lord’s a couple of years ago, suddenly there’s so many more girls playing the game. They probably won’t go to many cricket matches, but The Hundred tournament could attract them. So I think there is this massive latent interest in the game that they want to tap into.”

“Actually, the IPL audience is now 40% women. And actually, at games it’s nearly 50%. If you go back ten, twelve years […], how many women would you see at a one-day international in India? Probably twelve? It was 95% male. So, without wanting to sound as if The Hundred is just appealing to women, that is clearly a core market.”

First, let’s just ignore Simon’s poor maths skills. One thing I constantly think is that we should never look to India and the IPL when trying to determine how to run English Cricket. India has a population somewhere around twenty times larger than England and cricket is by a large margin the most popular sport in the country. It is highly unlikely that you can take an example from the IPL and apply it to English cricket. The situations are so dissimilar that it will always fall apart.

It turns out that many women, like virtually everyone else who isn’t a drunk man, don’t like spending time in the company of a few thousand drunk men. And if most games in The Hundred are going to be held in the evening, and the host grounds are going to be doing everything they can to encourage beer sales which increase their profits, then there are going to be a lot of drunk men in the crowd.

Dean Wilson: “There are a lot of people in these cities. There are a lot of people living there, a lot of people working there and a lot of people visiting them. And actually it’s all those people the ECB are trying to encourage to come along of an evening to go and watch The Hundred. And so if there’s one or two, if there’s a group of people who find it a little difficult to get into those cities to make it worthwhile, and they might not come along, then so be it. But actually it’s the people who are drawn to those urban areas that they want to encourage to come along to these games.”

Evening games would also discourage people from outside the host cities from attending. They would particularly struggle to use coaches or trains if games finished around 9pm. Not everyone has the editor of The Cricketer magazine offering to drive them to and from the grounds, after all.

So to sum up: The ECB wants everyone to attend The Hundred. Everyone who lives locally, likes a drink, and doesn’t mind staying up late.

Who Will Watch The Hundred On TV?

Dean Wilson: “We’ve talked a lot about research that they’ve [the ECB] done and I have spoken to various people involved with the planning of The Hundred over the last year or two, and the idea about an ‘unknown market’ is actually that there is a market there. There is a huge number of people that are in some way connected to the game, that have some kind of an interest. Even if it’s just going to a game once, or following certain accounts on Twitter and social media, or whatever it might be. But what the ECB are desperate to do is make those kind of slight bits of interest and turn them into proper engagement.”

Simon Hughes: “What they’ve [the ECB] based some of their research on, or some of their ambition on, are those figures from 2005 which was that eight to nine million people watched the climaxes of some of those 2005 Ashes Test matches on Channel 4, so clearly there is this perception of a national interest in cricket that is still there. That was fourteen years ago, but people don’t just suddenly lose interest completely. And actually the audiences on Channel Five highlights programmes and even Sky for the live programmes occasionally gets over a million. So there is this latent interest in cricket. When the story is a good story. When there’s a narrative. When there’s something you can follow. When there’s […] appointment-to-view. When you know it’s on.”

I think it’s an undeniable fact that there are a large number of disenfranchised cricket fans in England. Over eight million people were watching at the same moment when England won the Ashes in 2005. It was almost fourteen years ago, but most of them will still be around, still remember.

Which overlooks the slight flaw in the ECB’s logic: That this latent cricket audience were presumably fans of Test cricket rather than the shorter formats. I think that the Test highlights on five get more viewers than the ODIs and T20Is, and that more people listen to Test matches on the radio than England’s white ball games. Certainly some of them will watch The Hundred, at least when it is broadcast on the BBC, but by no means all.

Simon Hughes: “The key is getting the best players, and obviously marketing it well. But once you’ve got that, then you’ve got the chance to tap into a latent interest in the game.”

Simon Mann: “When the IPL is on, […] if the Kolkatta Knight Riders are playing, I’m always checking my phone to see when Andre Russell is going to be battting. If I find he’s coming out to the middle, I’ll go downstairs and switch the television on. It’s about creating that sort of interest, that sort of appointment-to-view cricket, that sort of buzz around a competition where you have these star players. You’re right about these star players. You’ve got to have them, the players you really want to see, that really get you going.”

Simon Hughes: “Box office players.”

“The best players”? “Box office players”? Let’s recap who won’t be appearing in The Hundred:

That’s a lot of the ‘best cricketers in the world’ who won’t be playing in The Hundred. Most of them, you might argue. In fairness, the first three groups could apply to virtually every other major T20 competition around the world except for the IPL. The last two could be a significant issue in terms of perception of The Hundred, however.

As far as I can tell, no major T20 competition clashes with another. This allows the best overseas players to travel the world as mercenaries, which in turn helps promote the leagues internationally as those players will probably have fans in many countries. Some of the best and most popular of these cricketers happen to be West Indian. Andre Russell is one name which quickly springs to mind.

By scheduling The Hundred against the West Indies’ T20 tournament, the ECB are robbing themselves of some explosive players and lessening the appeal of the new competition to cricket fans in England and around the world.

What About The Other Ten Counties?

Dean Wilson: “There will be cricket there [Somerset].  That’s the thing. That’s one thing I don’t think you can realistically complain about: A lack of cricket in the summer”

Simon Mann: “For Annie [a Somerset supporter], there will be fifty-over matches at Taunton but without the best players playing.”

Simon Hughes: “Some of the best players will play. Someone like Alastair Cook might be playing in fifty-over cricket. He wouldn’t get picked in The Hundred, but he might not play T20, but he would play fifty-over cricket. It’s not just going to be a tournament for university graduates and a few schoolkids and a few second XI players. There’s a lot of cricketers, this is one of the things Tom Harrison said all along, he worried about was, there were going to be eighty cricketers involved, eighty professional English cricketers involved in The Hundred, as in ten or eleven per team English-based, as well as all the overseas players. Which leaves around 250-300 professional cricketers not employed, so he was very keen to find something for them all to do, and there’s loads of decent cricketers out there who will be playing in this fifty-over competition. It’s not just going to be a tournament for the has-beens and never-wases. [wasses? Not sure how to spell that]”

This was the part of the podcast which gave me the incentive to sit down for several hours and transcribe several parts of it verbatim. The logic of these answers were so baffling to me, it gave me a headache. Within the space of a few minutes Simon Hughes suggested that “box office players” were a major reason why people would watch The Hundred, but also that county fans would be happy to watch without their team’s own best cricketers.

Try and work that one out…

What Will The Hundred Achieve?

One common thread from the ECB is that The Hundred will, defying all sense of rationality and reason, solve all of the problems in English cricket. Here is a selection of examples taken from the podcast:

Simon Hughes: “How many times have English cricketers been nominated for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year. Very rarely. And it’s because cricket just doesn’t have the profile. So, for me, it’s getting cricket’s profile much better, getting column inches in the papers, getting cricketers on The One Show, getting them on the various peripheral programmes which taps into the general public, and the general public are more aware of the high level of skill of these players.”

To begin with, there’s nothing currently stopping the ECB from encouraging (or forcing) England players to go on The One Show, panel shows, chat shows, or any other popular TV shows. I would love it if English cricket went on a media offensive and plastered themselves across daytime and evening TV, and they can do it with or without The Hundred.

Andrew Flintoff was the last cricketer to win the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award in 2005. It’s not like it was particularly common before though, and the last one to win before that was Ian Botham in 1981. As for nominations, Jimmy Anderson was on the shortlist in last year’s show. The year before that, Anya Shrubsole was nominated for the Sports Personality award whilst the England Women’s Cricket Team won Team Of The Year. I’d agree with Simon that cricket isn’t in the public eye as much as I’d like, but the BBC awards show seems like a very bad way of proving it. Two nominations in two years is not what I would call “very rarely”.

Dean Wilson: “We touched on participation as well, and they’ve got various plans and projects in place to try and encourage the number of people playing the game to increase. Even more formats of the game, Last Man Stands, tape-ball cricket, things like that as well.”

“If you look at the Big Bash where cricket is the national sport of Australia, it is the one sport that has been played consistently in all territories as opposed to AFL or soccer or anything like that. But these other games have grown, AFL in particular, and have encroached on cricket’s area and what Big Bash has done for Cricket Australia, perhaps more successfully than any other tournament, is increase the participation numbers of young kids signing up to join clubs. It’s almost like a steroid boost to all the clubs, local clubs, the grass roots of Australian cricket. They’ve been overwhelmed by the number of kids inspired by and encouraged by the Big Bash to go and take up cricket on a more regular and formal basis. And actually, to my mind, if that is the kind of success, if that is the kind of impact that The Hundred could have and does have, then it will all be worth it.”

This might surprise you to read, but I absolutely believe that The Hundred will significantly improve junior participation in cricket. Any English cricket on a major Freeview channel would have that effect, regardless of the format. What I have my doubts about is the ECB’s ability and basic competence in maximising the positive effect of this exposure.

The example Dean Wilson cites here is apt, because Cricket Australia’s approach in getting Aussie kids to their local clubs seems light years ahead of their English counterparts. A well-designed, well-run system of many parts which all work together in unison. The ECB were so impressed they hired CA’s ‘manager of market development’ to implement a similar system here, but unfortunately either the budget or the ECB’s patience ran out and All Stars Cricket was all they had to show for it.

The ECB’s strategy document for the next five years, Inspiring Generations, does mention that they will be creating new participation programmes to tie in with The Hundred, but I see no reason to think they will be any better managed. Instead, as has been the case for decades, it will be up to the clubs to take care of the kids without significant help from their governing body.

Simon Hughes: “I know that the overall plan, if it’s a success, is to get some private investment involved. So people might buy teams, big financial companies or individuals, as we’ve seen in football, as of course we’ve seen in the IPL. And those investors can create their own noise and marketing and general promotion around their team. That just brings in more revenue, it gradually grows the game as we’ve seen has happened in the IPL.”

This seems incredibly optimistic to me. There are, as far as I can determine, two main reasons why someone buys a sports team. The first is for profit. Many rich people will invest in anything which will make them money, whether it’s works or art, bottles of wine or a cricket franchise. The issue I have with this scenario is that I can’t see the value for it from the ECB’s perspective. An investor will only purchase a franchise if they are likely to benefit financially, in which case they take that money out of the game to use elsewhere. Surely it would be better for the ECB to keep control of the teams and keep any profits the teams generate?

The second group  are those who are happy to lose vast amounts of money simply in order to own a team. These are usually mega-rich individuals who are happy to invest large sums in purchasing players in exchange for the adoration of fans or simply their own enjoyment. For this second group, I can’t see why they’d be interested in purchasing a The Hundred franchise. It will be a team that has existed for only a few years, so it’s not like they’d have been fans from childhood, and quite frankly the low public awareness of English cricketers (outside of assorted court cases) makes it unlikely that there are 8 super-wealthy individuals willing to pay millions of pounds to rub shoulders with them.

The podcast panelists also list the following things to expect after the first five years of The Hundred:

  • The Hundred is still being played in 2025
  • Other broadcasters will try to get the rights, including the BBC attempting to buy the rights for every game
  • Increasing attendances
  • The English public placing importance on The Hundred
  • More companies will be interested in sponsorship, including several “cool” brands
  • Increased youth participation
  • More families watching The Hundred
  • The Hundred becoming the key property in English sport
  • Other countries copying the format (which the ECB will license)
  • The Hundred becoming an Olympic Sport

Call me cynical, but I have some difficulty believing any of these will happen.

So there it is. A 5000-word post about an abysmal 48-minute podcast. If there’s one thing I’m almost certain of, it’s that I’m not listening to ‘The Analyst Inside Cricket Podcast’ ever again…

As always, I look forward to your comments below.

 

England vs Pakistan: T20 match

Given the upcoming World Cup, and the five ODIs scheduled between these sides as part of the warm up for it, this particular encounter seems rather pointless. Still, that doesn’t usually make any difference, and at least this format of the game will be played in England in future.

The downgrading of the domestic 50 over competition to a “development” one from next year is one of those idiotic ideas that we used to be derided for on here as wildly exaggerating when we suggested the ECB would do it to make room for the Hundred. In future, players will only be exposed to 50 over cricket as youths, or when they play for England. What could possibly go wrong?

These days, the ECB are defended from accusations that they are deliberately malignant, that they aren’t really trying to kill cricket as a game in favour of a cash cow of 16.4 over thrashes. It’s probably true as well, they aren’t out to wreck the game on purpose. The problem is that it’s hard to tell what they’d do differently if they were.

We’ve had something of a break on here over the last couple of months, but as the cricketing summer gets under way, we’re back in the saddle.

Comments on today’s knockabout match below.