Cricket – How do I Love Thee – Let Me Count the Ways

At the start of the lockdown, we asked anyone who wanted to write something for the site to send in an article. Elaine Simpson-Long took up the challenge with this lovely piece about falling in love with the game of cricket. Enjoy:

My journey from the darkness into the light took some time. 

I found cricket boring.

I was a tennis fan, skiving off school in the summer holidays to watch Wimbledon. When the kids went home to lunch I shot out with them and never came back.  I spent the mornings there so when Wimbledon was over and I returned and the nuns used to say “Have you been in School Elaine I have not seen you” I could answer with a clear conscience, “yes Sister I have” . And I had. But only for half a day.

I remember I used to get annoyed when the BBC would nip off to cover the Test match and left tennis behind.  Those were the days of one channel and cricket actually being on terrestrial tv.

I continued finding cricket a dreary past time for some years and then I ended up sharing an office with a cricket fanatic. During the summer he had his transistor radio (remember them?) permanently playing Test Match Special. Those were the heady days of Brian Johnson, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Tony Lewis et al and gradually this seeped into my consciousness and I found myself listening much though I tried not to.

Looking back I do wonder how this bloke got away with it as he did no work at all and skived all day. But then we worked in Local Government…..

A friend of mine invited me one summer to spend a weekend with her and her family. They lived in Nottingham and her dad, Bill, was a member of the Nottingham CCC.  Oh he was a lovely man. Immaculately turned out. pressed trousers, shirt and tie and polished shoes and courteous and polite. I loved him on sight.

The sun was shining on the Sunday morning and Bill announced we were going to watch a one day  match at the cricket ground. My heart sank, Oh God I thought but being a good guest I beamed and said “How nice” and off we went. Lovely sunny day and I found myself in the member’s enclosure drinking Pimms, eating cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream.  Despite myself I began to enjoy the cricket and then with a vague air of disbelief heard myself utter “Oh good shot, well done!” and this went on all afternoon. It was all frightfully British.

A month later and another visit to see Bill. This time it was in the hay fever season, the pollen count was through the roof and I could barely breathe. Bill had asthma even worse than mine so we stayed indoors with the curtains drawn and what was on telly? Yes you have guessed it. A Test Match against Australia.  

Bill and I watched it all and he explained everything to me. And I mean everything. Why a certain bowler placed a fielder in a certain place as he was going to make him play his shot there, the field placings – they took a while to sink in (I still have blank moments thinking about silly mid on)  – and the way individual batsmen played. He made me understand that just saving your wicket and blocking and sticking it out could be exciting (Cardiff in later years proved that) and I ended up being totally fascinated by it all.

(At the same time  I was learning to love cricket I had a boyfriend who loved Wagner and I spent an awful lot of time sitting through long Germanic operas and I honestly think the two were linked. You need tolerance and patience and stamina for both)

It was clear I just needed somebody to explain it all to me and I was lucky enough to find that person. Dear Bill. No longer with us but I will never forget him.

Later when I was married (luckily to a cricket lover) and had two daughters we all watched cricket together. When my eldest child started school I would strap her baby sister in the pram and race round to collect her from the playground in the afternoon, luckily just round the corner, grab her and belt back. No nattering with the yummy mummies at the school gate tarted up in the latest designer gear. I got it down to a fine art and found I only missed three overs.  Nowadays I would probably have only missed one. …

Though my husband liked cricket we did not have Sky and the darkness descended and so I watched an awful lot of tennis. This was anathema to him and  I did get rather tired of my beloved coming into the room and saying “Oh for heaven’s sake you are not STILL watching this crap are you”?

Reader I divorced him.

So I ended up living on my own and I thought ooh goody now I can get Sky with nobody to moan about it but the flats were a Sky free zone and so I languished existing on the coverage from Channel 4 which I thought was pretty good though Ian whathisface began to get on my nerves after a while. Too smooth and urbane by half. Never trust a smooth man is my motto. 

Then Sky came up with the idea of communal dishes and all of us screamed with delight and had it installed and I was in heaven. I now had cricket coming out of my ears and I wallowed in cricket and all was gemutlich and lovely. I was a happy woman.

It was too good to last. 2014 happened.

KP.   Need I say more? 

The answer is no because it has all been said, but I will nail my colours to the mast here and say I was firmly in Kev’s Camp.  I simply could not understand the vitriol and hatred he seemed to generate on social media and the cricketing forums and, of course, the ECB.  You would have to be a mixture of Mugabe and Hitler to justify this reaction. OK I get he was a Marmite person but considering the English team was peopled with the likes of Broad, Anderson and Prior you cannot feel he was alone in that regard.

Along with others during that time, I lost faith with the English cricket team. Not cricket itself, I could never do that, but I found it really hard, if not impossible to support them.  I found myself watching their opponents and willing them to do well. When they took an English wicket I cheered. Now I did not like feeling like this I found it all vaguely discombobulating.

Things got better when the Golden Boy finally retired and I did not have to watch him standing in the field looking gormless and picking his nose while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked.  Of course, I then had to watch Joe Root standing in the field, not picking his nose thank gawd, while Anderson and Broad ignored him and did what they liked.  

This feeling lasted until last year when the tide slowly started to turn and I found myself beginning to support them again, but I have to say it is still early days and I realised how fragile this feeling was when I watched the final of the World Cup and really wished New Zealand had won.   

Watching cricket over the past forty years has brought me so much joy.  I enjoy one day matches, I enjoy 20-20, I love the IPL with all its razzamatazz and silliness. But oh how I love Test Cricket.  When it is on my friends and family know that I more or less go into purdah and will not answer the phone or venture forth. When four day Tests were mooted last year I nearly had apoplexy.  

And sometimes I find myself watching cricket even when it clashes with Wimbledon. Proof positive I think.

At the moment I am in self isolation as I am an Old Person – my daughters have told me so and said I have to Be Careful.  So now would be the perfect time to watch cricket. And of course there is none. Talk about the law of Sod. It is like being ill in bed and thinking oh I can spend all day reading when the reality is you are feeling lousy and can’t be arsed.  

There are only so many re-runs of old cricket matches one can take, and the picture is square and you have great gaps at the side on your posh new telly and it is all too much to bear. So I have switched off and ponder on the Big Question – are Sky going to give me a refund on my sub to Sky Sports now they are not showing any?  I have my doubts..

So there you have it. My journey into the light. Not exactly revelatory or earth shattering.

It’s quiet at present, otherwise I am sure this would never see the light of day .  So if you have read this sparkling and witty piece through to the end then well done. You deserve a treat. 

Perhaps you should buy a ticket for The Hundred…..

Elaine Simpson-Long @randomjottings1

Idle Nonsense

I posted on Twitter an invitation for anyone who wanted to write an article to while away the time as we all stare at four walls over the next couple of weeks to do so.  I’ll do so again here, and if you want to contact any of us, that’d be great.  For what it’s worth, I’m at tlg@beingoutsidecricket.com

Often people worry about how well they write, how it will come across, and whether they have enough content to make it worthwhile.  Come now, no-one is going to care, anything amusing or entertaining is going to bring a much needed smile to someone, so go for it.  Even if it’s very short, it’s well worth it.

I thought I’d share a tale from many years ago about a cricket tour, about how players on cricket tour are utterly brutal to their friends.  Some will read it and tut, some will laugh or smile.  But these memories stay with you, and for good reason.  Names and locations are changed to protect the extremely guilty.

The Geordie was a passable enough cricketer, and a decent bloke.  Liked a beer, liked a laugh, had an accent that became progressively thicker the deeper into his cups that he became.  But he was a sensible enough chap, inordinately proud of his good looks, utterly horrified at the prematurely receding hairline he would do his best to hide that caused much debate as to how far he would go in years to come when it required winding around his head.

The phrase “kid in a sweet shop” was made for his first cricket tour.  The relatively sensible fellow had become a raging beast, permanently hammered and incapable of any kind of meaningful speech.  My arrival a day in to the tour meant as I said hello to him and was answered with incoherent dribble (no, not drivel) caused a mirthful team mate to pull me aside and advise that “the Geordie you knew is not the Geordie who now exists”.  Obviously there is a fine line between someone being highly entertaining and extremely irritating when they’re like that, and he did his level best to cross that line at every opportunity.

Nevertheless, to the shock of everyone, he still managed to pull.  God knows how, God knows what she was thinking.  In the manner of people who support their friends at all stages, everyone naturally did all they could to wreck it for him.  But she knew what was going on, and ignored us with the disdain and contempt we entirely deserved.  It all went wrong for him when, fed up with the lot of us, he lost his temper and yelled out “What’s wrong with you all, you’re like flies round shit”.  After a brief pause of disbelief, we fell about laughing, she said “Oh, thanks very much” and stormed off.  Job done.

He may have been mildly irritated with us all by that stage, so clearly the only thing to do was to make it even worse for him.  For reasons I’ve long forgotten, one evening he passed me his wallet and asked me to look after it.  Clearly, this was an opportunity not to be passed up, so another team mate promptly stole his credit cards.  In the manner of such things, he was too drunk to notice, and we didn’t volunteer to return them.  The following morning he noticed they were missing, asked around if anyone had seen them, and our complete innocence was beautifully acted out.

Assuming he’d lost them the night before, he returned to the hotel bar, and nope, they weren’t there.  So one of us rang the hotel from a call box (you can tell this is many years ago) claiming to be from the club we’d played the day before and that they’d found them.  Off he went by taxi, using the last of his cash, promising the taxi driver he’d be able to pay via a cashpoint for the return journey.  It wasn’t too bad, only about 10 miles or so away.  He got to the club where the groundsman was working on the pitch, and the Geordie naturally assumed that he’d rung.  Nope, sorry mate, no idea.  Having timed it perfectly, that’s when we rang the club to say terribly sorry, but the person who had found the cards had had to go into town and could he meet him there?  Much grumbling ensued, but he was a spirited bloke, so he walked.  5 miles.  In the opposite direction to where we were.

Clearly, there was no one there to meet him, and no way of him getting any money.  Somehow, he persuaded another of the clubs we played, located in town, to lend him the money to get back to the hotel, hot, extraordinarily grumpy for some reason, and willing to regale us with the horrendous day he had gone through.

“And I still don’t know where my effing credit cards are”.

“These ones?”

“You bastards.  You utter, total bastards”.

And you know what?  He wasn’t wrong.

Feel free to add your own better tales below for our entertainment.

 

 

Netflix and Chill

The unsurprising news of the cancellation of England’s tour to Sri Lanka as the the Covid 19 virus continues its spread across the globe is not even the latest to be afflicted by the desire to limit contagion, as event after event, fixture after fixture is cancelled.

I’m not a scientist, comment on the virus and public policy by those with no knowledge of what is the right thing to do has been a feature of social media over recent days; screaming from a position of scientific ignorance is something I wish to avoid.

But the impact on multiple industries is going to be exceptionally severe, and sport is far from an exception.  The advice from the Chief Medical Officer that the peak level of infection is potentially 14 or more weeks away takes us into June, and thus from an English cricket perspective well into the summer.  This means that at best the Test series against the West Indies must be in major doubt, alongside the early rounds of County Championship and the T20 Blast.  Whether the cancellation of all such events over a lengthy period is sustainable is open to question, for few businesses can maintain shutdowns for any length of time, and whether the public will buy into an absence of much semblance of normal life is also a matter for debate.

The elective nature of the cancellations – as opposed to government compulsion – also means the question of whether insurance cover applies comes to the fore.  Few are likely to have direct knowledge, and by the very nature of it no one is going to want to admit the position publicly, but there must be considerable doubt as to whether the ECB or their counterparts are protected.  Such matters may be thought trifling in a public health crisis, but at some point things will return to normal, and the damage done to that normal life is important too.

It is clearly a big summer from the ECB’s perspective, the launch of the Hundred has been extraordinarily expensive, and while some might teasingly hope that cancellation of that unloved concept is a consequence, any curtailing or abandonment of it would provoke a major crisis in the finances of an organisation that is, like many others, already facing a highly uncertain future.  It is at times like these that the diminution in the ECB’s financial reserves over the last few years begins to look like a risk that has backfired badly.

Furthermore, there must be issues for Sky Sports, who have lost almost all of their content.  Subscriber cancellations seem the likeliest immediate impact of that, though what it means for the various sporting contracts must too be open to doubt.  Given the multi-lateral problems for all parties, one thing that probably can be assumed is that few will be looking to take a hard line.

Of course, the optimistic view would be that the return of sport in the coming months might attract much greater interest than would otherwise have been the case, and there is some reason to hope that once through the worst of this, entertainment may well pick up rapidly from a relieved and probably bored population.  The flip side of that is the financial hardship likely to be faced by many significantly reduces the disposable income for such things as sport.

If the central tenets of the ECB’s most lucrative activities face serious difficulties, it isn’t just the top level that will have questions to address in the coming months.  The amateur game too will be hit by some not wishing to participate, whether or not that is a reasonable response.  Clubs are always on a financial knife edge anyway, and it doesn’t take much to cause them serious difficulties, and with a governing body that even if inclined, would be financially unable to support them.

Supporters too are consistently overlooked.  The cancellation of the Sri Lanka tour was announced by the ECB with no reference to those who had booked to follow the team.  Worse than that, there was still no mention of those travelling in the email sent out to the England Cricket Supporter’s database.  It is clearly not practical for the ECB to offer refunds of their travel, but supporters are highly unlikely to be able to claim on their travel insurance for a destination that remains open to visit.  They are in an extremely difficult position, and it isn’t unreasonable to have expected the ECB to acknowledge that in their communication.  To have ignored it entirely smacks of an organisation that doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone else, and doesn’t even pay lip service to pretending that they do.

What happens next no one knows.  But it seems likely that Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar platforms are doing a decent trade in sign ups, as people either self-isolate or simply don’t have a huge amount else to go and do, or sport to watch.  Sport is always the most important least important thing, and either way the consequences are going to be with us for some years to come.

One thing is for sure, it is far from only sport that is facing these questions, take it from me.  For I work in travel and tourism, and I have had a shit of a month.

 

“Makes sense doesn’t it!” – The ECB, The Hundred, And Women’s Cricket

Today, as almost ninety thousand cricket fans crammed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the Women’s T20 World Cup final, seems an excellent opportunity to look at the status of women’s cricket here in England. The perception seems to be that we are making good progress towards a professional and popular women’s game. And, relative to some countries, we are. But there have been numerous opportunities squandered, a multitude of promises unfulfilled, and far too many empty platitudes.

Personally, I’ve found it frustrating that England has seemed to lag behind Australia in developing women’s cricket recently. England awarded the first full time central contracts in 2014, followed by Australia in 2015. Other than that, Australia have really taken the lead in the women’s game. Cricket Australia started the Women’s Big Bash League in 2015, followed by the ECB’s Kia Super League in 2016. When Australia’s domestic competition went fully professional in 2017, I naturally waited for the ECB to follow suit soon after. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2019, the ECB finally seemed to come through on the next logical step for women’s cricket when the PCA announced that 100 new professional domestic cricketers would be created in 2020. It was included in the ‘Heads Of Agreement’ which detailed exactly what pay and other considerations professional players and the PCA could expect for the duration of the new £220m per year Sky TV deal. Meanwhile, people from the ECB were saying that there would be eight full time teams, based in the same cities as The Hundred, where these new professional players would play throughout the summer.

The creation of a professional domestic structure is absolutely key for the future of women’s cricket in England. It should provide a high standard of competition, which improves the ability to develop players for international cricket and also makes the  game more entertaining for potential supporters. In the best case scenario, if you build women’s cricket up like Cricket Australia have with the Women’s Big Bash League, you can even reach a point where women’s cricket is profitable rather than something subsidised by men’s cricket. Which is, frankly, more than men’s county cricket seems to manage.

Recent developments seem to suggest that we are a long way from the ECB committing to this kind of growth. First, the ECB reduced the number of new full time contracts from 100 to 40. Now, around 5 weeks before the English cricket season begins, we haven’t heard a single thing about any of these new players being signed or even the teams they’re supposed to play for. I’m starting to think that the ECB may have abandoned even these modest goals.

The reduction from 100 to 40 professional crickets is incredibly important for two main reasons. Firstly, it massively restricts the opportunities for women to make a career playing cricket. Australia’s star player, Ellyse Perry, had the option of either football or cricket as a career and chose cricket because there were more opportunities and higher wages in Australia. If she was English, it seems very likely that she would have become a footballer instead. Other prospective cricketers will have left the sport because they will have had to choose their full time job over cricket, because training and playing cricket in your free time in the hopes of gaining a rare full time contract just isn’t financially realistic for many people.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that a reduction to 40 new full time cricketers reduces The Hundred and the new 8-team domestic competitions (if they arrive) to semi-professional status. It’s simple arithmetic. If there are 21 cricketers with England central contracts, the 40 new domestic players and 24 overseas draft picks, that equals 85 total professionals.  There are 8 teams in The Hundred with a squad of 15 each, meaning that there is a total of 120 players. So at least 35 squad members in The Hundred this year will be amateurs. Club cricketers. A far cry from the rhetoric about it being an elite competition.

The reduction also acts as a reminder to all of us (not that anyone here needs reminding) that the ECB are not to be trusted, nor should their promises be believed. In another related example, England’s women cricketers were reportedly told that their pay brackets in The Hundred would range from £50,000 to £15,000. When the final figures were announced, it was actually from £15,000 to £3,000. Quite a difference.

I almost don’t blame the ECB for constantly lying and cheating though, because everyone else seems to just let them get away with it. The press don’t seem to care enough to write about it. The counties can’t even collectively act in their own interests, so the idea that they might somehow get their act together to help women’s cricket is almost laughable. The most disappointing to me is the PCA, who are supposed to represent and  protect these women cricketers from abuse and deceit by their employers. Not for the first time, the PCA’s response appears to be silence and inaction.

But most of this isn’t new. Whilst I’ve been angry about this consistent failure by the ECB to build up women’s cricket in England, the thing which really spurred me to write my first blog post in about six weeks was a couple of smug, arrogant and incredibly misleading tweets by the new “@TheHundred” Twitter account.

 

#EachForEqual is the official theme and hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day (which is today). It is meant to represent support for “the gender equal boardroom, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, [and] more gender equality in health and wealth.” So let’s examine how the ECB are doing on these aspirations which they are publicly supporting.

Gender equal boardroom – 4 out of 12 on the ECB board. There’s just one woman acting as a representative for the 40 counties and the MCC who elect the chairman and approve the board, I believe.

Gender equal media coverage – The ECB are always at pains to say that the men’s and women’s competitions are inextricably linked, and that both will gain signficant exposure. In the real world, Sky are committed to showing all 34 men’s games and just 11 women’s games whilst the BBC seem likely to air only the final. To put this into context: Sky showed 12 Kia Super League games in 2019, which means that the total coverage of women’s cricket by Sky will actually decrease this year.

Gender equal sports coverage – In The Hundred, the men will play 34 games at 8 grounds. All televised, all in big cities. The women, on the other hand, will play 30 games at 20 grounds, mostly in small towns and mostly not on television (and quite possibly not even streamed or with radio commentary).

Equality in wealth – Even including the £300,000 team bonus for winning, which is the same in both competitions, the average wage in The Hundred for a woman is around £60,000 less than for a man.

In other words, they’re achieving none of it. I don’t think they’re even working towards it. It’s just a meaningless hashtag and phrase.

The huge new TV deal and The Hundred were supposed to usher in a new era for women’s cricket in England. Whilst the press release platitudes and slick social media marketing still proclaim that to be true, the reality is far different. No amount of flashy videos, hashtags or other nonsense should distract us all from the fact that the ECB is absolutely screwing up the women’s cricket. Somehow even worse than they’ve done to the men’s game.

And the most frustrating thing to me is that hardly anyone seems to care.