Through My Frozen Heart Tonight..

Hello everyone. I am sorry I’ve not been on here recently, and in many ways I feel a little guilty about it. But I hope those that check in every now and then, and those that are regulars, are coping well as they can with the world we live in, and that you are all safe and well, and so are your family and friends. I know that can’t be the case for everyone, but fingers crossed that it is.

I have a confession to make. You may already know it. I do not miss cricket one bit. Not at all. Cricket isn’t on its own in that. I don’t miss football. I don’t miss baseball. I don’t miss F1, the NBA, the Masters, the Grand National. I will not miss Euro 2020 not being played. I won’t miss the Olympics. I love all those things, I have been a sports nut ever since Mum and Dad taught me to read by using the back pages of the newspapers. I don’t miss them for a variety of reasons. At this moment I don’t care who wins. At this moment I am not bothered by gossip, rumour, or even how bloody awful the ECB is, and given Harrison’s open mouth talk nonsense effort this week, they haven’t changed. I don’t want footballers, cricketers, rugby players, athletes to contract a disease that is communicable by asymptomatic people. To themselves, to their loved ones to those they may meet in the shops at the wrong time and the wrong place. Sport is not important right now. Be wary of those telling you it is.

Let’s take some of the suggestions for cricket. You quarantine a load of players in advance of a game to ensure they don’t have it. You lock them in isolation during a test, or a series, and then, at the end, you probably quarantine them again. Now, where do you sign up for that experience of a lifetime? That’s then got to be played in front of empty stadia – remember how we are always reminded that the county championship is no good because it attracts no-one and has no atmosphere? – and here we are only, only talking about elite level, which as Izzy Westbury suggested in her Twitter thread, quite often means “not women”. Then what will we have. A spectacle played to no-one, so that we at home can content ourselves that we are slowly getting back to normal, and the betting industry can pray on those even more vulnerable than they were before. The cynicism of this is blinding. You think they are doing this for their furloughed staff and low-paid ancillary staff. I’ve got some disinfectant as a cure to sell you if you do.

I think for cricket the break will do me good. The whole sport is a treadmill, and a break for players, even in these horrific circumstances, will mean we will love it more, hopefully, when it comes back. Cricket had become mundane, routine. A meaningless test series, usually, but not always, won by the home team followed another. There’s a T20 tournament for someone with an in-demand skill to tide themselves over in some location in the world if the mood is right. An ODI here, another one there. It was such that running a blog commenting on the game was becoming a massive chore. In its absence I have done other things, found filling my time not difficult at all, looking back at great sport and enjoying it again (I think Sky Sports Cricket should be doing more, much more, of that), and also reading, listening to music, watching TV series, and writing, still. I am doing that on my own blog, and if you haven’t read it yet, I am keeping a diary throughout the lockdown. It can be found here – Seven and Seven Eighths II– and it is my hat size.

The guys are doing superb work on Twitter, so please carry on supporting us. We have never been as presumptuous to say we are the voice of the fans, but we are a voice, well four voices as authors and we cover a lot of bases. I gave up Twitter for lent, and found it thoroughly lovely. In fact, I am not actually sure why I returned.

Mentally, for me, it has been tough, but I know a lot of people are a lot more worse off than me. Cricket has been rendered irrelevant by the vast numbers dying, and the fear and trepidation I feel as one of those with the anaesthetised but Orwellian concept of “an underlying medical condition” as if I am someone who should just accept my fate should it come my way because in some shape or form, I deserve it. I’d rather not, thank you. That means you won’t be seeing me at any event any time soon. You can never eliminate risk, but you can do your part to minimise it. That means steering away from the copious amount of ocean going idiots I come across in the park every day when I’m walking Teddy. Stay safe.

One thing on my list is to collate all my cricket recordings in one place. I have loads. I have the entire 2010-11 Ashes series in its entirety. It doesn’t feel bad watching Cook then. I have so much I can do that I’m not bored, and that’s great. I am lucky that my job can be done from home, so I am ok there too. I worry about others. A great friend of mine lost her mum this week (not sure it was of the virus) but she can’t have a funeral as the family would have liked, and how that impacts mentally I don’t know. In all of this, setting up matches in Abu Dhabi to satisfy TV companies and betting outlets seems irrelevant, and even a little distasteful to me. But that’s me. Others can have their views.

Stay safe and well everyone. Let’s dream of the day we can get back to watching sport in safety and for the right reasons. It’s what, I think, we all love.

The Quarantine Cup

eSports. That’s not what they call sports in Yorkshire, or at least not just that. It’s where people compete against each other using computer and console games. It’s a big business, and the very best can garner millions of pounds in endorsements and sponsorship alone whilst millions of people pay to watch streams of elite gamers in action every day. Fans of traditional sports (and few sports are more traditional than cricket) might be snobbish about it, but it’s a real thing which seems like it’s here to stay. At a time when public gatherings and almost all forms of human contact are being discouraged, it seems the ideal moment for the virtual world of eSports to take centre stage.

To that end, The Cricketer magazine launched their own digital version of the T20 Blast. The Quarantine Cup is a competition between 11 county teams on Cricket 19 for the PS4, with actual players from those teams at the controls. It tries to bridge the gap between the real world of cricket fandom and the virtual world of eSports by providing a online tournament which could appeal to the loyalty of county cricket devotees.

There are just 11 out of 18 county teams represented, although they were all asked. Several just couldn’t find a player with a PS4 willing to take part, with many apparently preferring the Xbox platform. There are some big names left out, with Middlesex, Somerset and Yorkshire all having failed to find a player. The participating teams are then split into two groups, where they play everyone else once in five-over games.

The season opener yesterday was a very one-sided affair, with Tymal Mills’ Sussex side crushing Kent’s Imran Qayyum by 47 runs. The presentation was pretty slick, with a few custom graphics provided by The Cricketer’s digital team and live commentary by Adam Collins and Dan Norcross. Given that the games have five-over innings, they only last around half an hour and don’t outlast their welcome. There were phone interviews with the two players afterwards too. All in all, it’s a pretty entertaining way to spend an evening.

The group stages are scheduled to take place for the next three weeks, with games at 7pm on weekdays or at 2pm and 5pm on the weekends. The full timetable, plus all the other details, are on the competition’s webpage at TheCricketer.com. Just to warn you all, there’s a 30 second advert for The Cricketer magazine at the top of the broadcast with a voiceover by Simon Hughes. Don’t worry though, he’s not in it at all after that.

Meanwhile, we asked for people to tell us their best and worst club performances on Twitter and got some crackers in response. If you have any you’d like to share, especially if they’re worth more than 240 characters, we’d love it if you put them in the comments  below.

When The Rain Stops.

This Sunday was due to be the start of the County Championship, a time I look forward to very much each season not just because it means we have cricket in our lives again but it also marks to me the end of the winter slog and the start of Summer. It’s a time when I would open the diary and try to work out which games I want to go to and which games I sadly won’t be able to make due to scheduling. Naturally this is not going to be the case this year.

We are living in uncertain and quite frightening times and hence I don’t want this article to take away from this fact, especially when hundreds are dying in this country from this awful disease; however the fact something we have taken for granted for decades will not be happening has properly hit home today.

I adore sport, especially cricket, even if the actions of the ECB quite often makes me want to tear my hair out. Now too old and a bit too round to play much sport, I often take comfort from watching whatever sport happens to be on the TV and I do enjoy most sport, be it Football, NFL, Darts, F1 or International Rugby. Whatever the time of year, I can normally find something to take my mind of the drudgery of life sometimes by immersing myself in something that I was never talented to play at a high level.

The thing about sport is it can act as a comfort blanket when things are a bit rubbish, it can make you turn from a normal human being into a quivering wreck (see the WC Final and the Headingley Test last year) and it can take you to a place that is out of your reality. The sudden but completely necessary stoppage of all sport both in our country and across the world must feel like a drug taker who has suddenly going cold turkey and is suddenly facing a chaotic and uncertain world without their comfort blanket they’ve always relied on. From personal experience, I like many others have had some serious challenges and blips in my life, but cricket or football or some of the other sports I mentioned, even if it has been for a short period, have allowed me to think about something else, away from the things keeping me up at night. I’m sure many who read the blog feel the same thing.

Sport is not just about the 22 players on the park (or however many there are for each sport), but it is there for millions of people who follow their idol’s (and villain’s) every move. Sport is in our psyche, it’s a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the action whether it last 90 minutes or 5 days, it’s a chance to live unfulfilled dreams invested in others and of course it’s the perfect opportunity to debate, dissect or argue about the outcome in the pub following the game. Sport can be the very excuse to meet with friends, be it in the Grandstand at Lords, the terraces of Griffin Park or just down the pub with the sport on TV. The necessary self-isolation has taken this away from us and as someone who lives on their own, I absolutely miss both the chance to see my family and the chance to meet up with friends at a game and chat rubbish for a few hours. It is also what unites me to a 70 year old woman from Harrow, a 23 year old chemistry student from Birmingham and a few hundred in between on Twitter. We just like the game, and hey, we want to talk about it.

Now this isn’t meant to be a ‘oh woe me’ article, far from it, I’ve had symptoms of the virus and my job sector has been decimated by it; however there are people in far worse situations than me and I truly feel for them. I’ve thought about how I could potentially frame this article for the past couple of days and still doubt that I’ve got the perfect tone, but for me it has highlighted how something so simple can have a profound effect on our own mental wellbeing. I also feel for many of our sports men and women, who have had the finger pointed at them for not doing enough to help the cause, even when many likely are without the need to self-publicise. Sure there are still plenty of crass idiots in sport as there are in real lives, but I personally feel that these people are in the minority even if some of them are earning eye-watering amounts of money.

So back to the game of cricket, which is nothing like as bathed in cash as it’s football cousin and you do see the very real possibility of clubs, both professional and amateur, going under with the squeeze in current finances. You have the players, many of whom aren’t earning massive amounts of money unless they are centrally contracted wondering when and if they may play cricket this season or even again. You have the clubs who even if they survive, will wonder if they’ll be able to get 11 men on the pitch once cricket resumes as previous players decide to move on from the game. Then of course, you have the tragics like me and many others (as many a county cricket dissenter likes to call us) who are obsessed with the game and have grown up with the game as a part of our lives coming to the realisation that there may not be a season in 2020. I applaud the Cricketer for their virtual cricket tournament featuring county pro’s but it’s never going to be the same, though there is a good chance I may tune in.

One thing though we can still hold onto is that cricket and sport in general will return at some point, it could be 3 months, 6 months or longer and the world is likely to be a different place when it does, but return it will and when it does, hopefully everything will be returning to some normality in our lives. I for one, will certainly not be taking it for granted anymore when it does return. I would positively chew my arm off at the moment to see Derbyshire vs. Leicestershire live in the Royal London Cup, something I could never imagine myself saying before. It may be seem trivial to some, maybe many when things are so tough and uncertain in the World at the moment. However, I like many, hope better things are around the corner and the resumption of sport when it is safe to do so, will be a much welcomed first step.

This has been one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write, so I do hope that people take it in the spirit it’s has been meant to be written in, even if I haven’t necessarily got it right.

Stay safe, look after yourselves and enjoy the Easter period if you can.

Sean

Why The Hundred Must Be The ECB’s Priority This Season

No one could confuse me for being an advocate for The Hundred, nor a fan of either its concept or execution by the ECB. I have written posts here about its lack of simplicity, its patronising marketing towards women, its sycophantic press coverage, the ‘research’ which allegedly led to its creation, the ECB’s own justifications for its creation, the dumb team names, and the huge gender inequality inherent in the new competition. I have even written a Dr. Seuss parody about it. Last but by no means least, I have written a post with a hundred reasons why I think it’s a bad idea (Spoiler alert: I am also 82% through writing a second post with a hundred more reasons, although many of these may have become redundant based on current events). All told, I’ve written well over 25,000 words here on the subject. None of them complimentary.

Which is why it may surprise some of you to discover that I genuinely think The Hundred must be the ECB’s first priority when (or if) domestic cricket returns this year.

I’m no more a fan of it now than I have been before. Its a bad idea, made worse by the people running it. The rationale for it is flawed, and it risks alienating cricket’s loyal customers in order to attract new people. And I don’t even like any of the crisps. But none of that matters now. In light of cricket being essentially closed at the start of the season, there are two basic reasons why I think it should be the first domestic competition to return.

The first reason is that the competition format is literally made for television, which is important because it seems possible that people won’t be able to attend games in the near future. The main reason counties want T20 Blast games is their profitability, but a large portion of that money comes from attracting fans to the grounds. If large gatherings are banned (and the average T20 Blast crowd last year was over 7,000), then I think it might quickly become expensive for the counties.

The Blast’s format is basically designed to have as many games in as short as a period as possible in order to maximise attendance, with 126 group games played over 44 days. Sky Sports Cricket can typically only show 2 matches per day, and that includes the international cricket which will be almost certainly be happening in the same window. Without serious changes, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of games coupled with an increase in the competition’s duration, it seems likely that county cricket fans would only be able to watch around a third of the competition at all.

The Hundred, on the other hand, has 32 group games scheduled over 28 days. Ideal for Sky to fit around a Test series (which most of us will hopefully be watching), as was the original plan for this year anyway. If the women’s games were all made double-headers with the men’s, as the rationale that women’s cricket wouldn’t attract large enough attendances to be sustainable seems pointless if there are literally no fans present anyway, Sky might even be able to show all of them too. And that’s before we consider the BBC, who have the rights to show 10 men’s games and 8 from the women’s competition. With no Wimbledon, Olympics or European Championships this year, The Hundred might be the most high-profilelive sports they have this summer.

It may be possible that the English cricket season starts early enough to play both the T20 Blast and The Hundred, but even in that situation I would have The Hundred go first. The later the Blast is scheduled, in my mind, the more chance there is that people will be allowed to go to the grounds.

The second, and perhaps more important reason, is money. It’s been that the ECB is concerned that “Sky Sports will withhold part of this year’s £220million television contract if [The Hundred] is postponed“. If people can’t attend the games, then that is already a huge amount of money lost from English cricket in terms of gate receipts and beer snake ammunition. Other revenue, such as sponsorships, might also be affected. This is not a time when we can afford to be picky about where the money to fund English cricket is coming from, or what it is paying for.

This crisis could hardly have come at a worse time financially for English cricket. The £220m Sky TV deal meant that everyone blew through their 2019 reserves with the secure knowledge that a huge pay cheque was waiting for them this season. The ECB’s funds got to such a low point that they couldn’t even afford to pay their white ball international contracts for four months. The players received generous pay rises going in to this season, as (I would guess) did the coaches and many other staff behind the scenes at the counties and ECB. This means that English cricket is now more expensive to run than ever before, and needs as much money as possible to continue as it is now.

That £220m wasn’t a gift from Sky, but a payment for the ECB and counties providing cricket games for them to air. Specifically international cricket, the T20 Blast and The Hundred. If the ECB fails to deliver all of those competitions, then Sky would presumably be well within their rights to withold their next payment. They might even be be able cancel the contract altogether, and that could be a real disaster. With Sky Sports and BT both having lost subscribers during this sporting hiatus, it seems very unlikely that the TV rights for English cricket from 2021 would be worth anywhere near as much to them as the current deal offers.

Will The Hundred be any good? With few overseas players and likely no crowds, I wouldn’t have thought so. And, like I wrote at the start, I can think of plenty of reasons why it was going to suck even before all this happened. That said, people might be sufficiently starved of live sport by the point it starts not to care about such things.

In summary: I think the ECB should prioritise The Hundred, and it should be the first domestic competition to take place this year.

And no, this is not an April Fool.