India, The IPL, And The Hundred

When reports of the ECB seeking private investors in The Hundred were being published by a number of newspapers and website last May, I wrote a quick post on why that would be a stupid idea called The Hundred For Sale. Now that there appears to be speculation around IPL owners and the BCCI being brought in, with the ECB apparently hoping to tap into the vast Indian cricket fanbase, it seems a good idea to write a follow-up piece detailing the problems with this specific proposal.

The proposals mentioned in The Telegraph article are:

  • The BCCI to receive a portion of The Hundred’s TV revenue from Asia in exchange for allowing Indian men’s cricketers to play in the competition. (It seems likely that they will allow India’s women cricketers to play abroad without any concessions, as they already do in the Australian Big Bash League)
  • The owners of the eight current IPL teams to be allocated a 25% share of a team in The Hundred, in exchange for an investment.
  • Exhibition games involving IPL teams to be hosted by English counties.

The first question the ECB and counties might ask is how much would a Indian TV deal for The Hundred involving some Indian players realistically be worth? One hugely important factor to consider would be timezones: India Standard Time is 4.5 hours ahead of England’s British Summer Time. This means that a 2.5 hour game (The planned duration for a game in The Hundred) which starts at 6.30pm in England would finish at the equivalent of 1.30am in India. Even if stars like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Ravi Jadeja were all playing, it seems unlikely that tens of millions of Indians would stay up that late. The ECB could choose to start matches earlier (swapping with the women’s games so that the men’s games began at 2.30pm, for example), which would put them into Indian prime time but during work hours in England. That almost certainly lead to fewer tickets sold, fewer British people watching on TV, and the ECB having to deal with a very annoyed Sky and BBC.

It would also be wise the temper expectations about which Indian players would come in the event of the BCCI allowing them to do so. The IPL has essentially created a global gap in the cricket calendar, allowing both their own and other internationals to play in the tournament unimpeded. The Hundred has no such luxury, with even England men’s cricketers playing two Tests during the competition. There is absolutely no guarantee that India won’t have matches scheduled during the competition, which would eliminate most of India’s biggest stars from contention.

The relatively low pay might also discourage the top echelon of Indian T20 players from choosing to play in The Hundred. Virat Kohli receives roughly £1.7m per year to play for Royal Challengers Bangalore, but the most he could get from Welsh Fire is £110,000 (assuming he was captain). For virtually anyone in the current Indian team, that’s not an amount of money which would in any way justify spending a month in Cardiff. Players on the fringes of the Indian team like Axar Patel or Umesh Yadav might be interested, but they wouldn’t have sufficient star power to generate financial gains for the ECB in terms of Indian TV deals or additional ticket sales.

Selling shares of the eight The Hundred teams to IPL owners would also be a mistake. To quote ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, “The key is that any money generated remains in cricket, for the good of all sections of the game”. Investors understandably expect a profit, and so would be looking to take as much money as possible out of English cricket. If their priority is to make as much money as possible, the ECB’s other objectives might have to be sidelined. You wouldn’t expect the owners of Chennai Super Kings to care if cricket participation numbers in Sheffield were decreasing, for example, whilst Yorkshire CCC might. Similarly, outside investors might demand higher ticket prices to increase revenue or a reduction in on-field entertainment to reduce costs.

Having Indian investors having stakes in individual teams could also cause problems between the ECB and the counties. Right now, most of the revenue in terms of ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorship and the TV rights is shared equally between all 18 counties in the form of a £1.3m annual payment. Essentially, the ECB owns all eight teams and only delegates the management to the various counties. Because of this, it almost doesn’t matter which county is associated with which team in The Hundred. Three of the eight teams are run by three counties, four of them by two counties, and Manchester Originals are solely controlled by Lancashire CCC. If the ECB turned them into franchises, with 25% ownership from Indian investors, then all of a sudden Lancashire CCC might have a 75% stake in a team whilst Glamorgan CCC might only have 25%.

The eight teams also have significantly different prospects in terms of profitability and revenue. The Oval Invincibles will play in a 25,500 capacity stadium which invariably sells out all of its T20 Blast games, whilst Welsh Fire will play at a ground which holds a maximum of 15,643 people and in reality struggles to sell even half that many tickets. If team stakeholders get a share of ticket, food and other merchandise revenue then they’d be fools not to want the Oval Invincibles team.

Beyond money, bringing the BCCI and IPL owners into positions of power in English cricket might place the ECB in a very uncomfortable ethical position. It’s escaped few people’s notice that the IPL has the best T20 cricketers from around the world with the sole exclusion of Pakistan. Just one Pakistan international has played in the IPL in the last decade (Azhar Mahmood, 2012-15). If the BCCI were to allow Indian players in The Hundred, it seems doubtful that they would be happy to see them playing alongside Pakistani overseas players. The ECB could be in a position where they would either have to accept this or call it out, which would likely have the effect of the BCCI withdrawing their support.

One of the aims of The Hundred was to engage British Asians, who are significantly more likely to enjoy watching and playing cricket than the ‘average’ Brit but might feel a stronger connection to domestic and national teams outside England. What people often gloss over is that ‘British Asian’ covers a broad swathe of nationalities, religions and other divisions, and that they don’t all necessarily get on with each other. For example, Moeen Ali was constantly booed at his home ground of Edgbaston when playing for England against India in 2014. As it stands, the ECB might be seen as broadly neutral in any internecine rivalries (by virtue of doing absolutely nothing). If they were to endorse the exclusion of one nation’s players to appease another’s, that might also have the effect of excluding a large number of potential fans who they were hoping to attract.

As far as the third proposal regarding exhibition games at grounds like the Oval goes, it’s not inherently ridiculous. Rajasthan Royals played Middlesex Panthers in 2009, for example. That said, I think any IPL team would struggle to assemble anywhere near its full roster for a few games in England in September and almost all of their stars would be missing due to either international commitments or plain lack of interest. The larger issue might be the BCCI, who would probably be more inclined to host such a competition in India rather than allowing an English ground to profit from the IPL’s brand.

Whilst I would love for Indian players to be available for all domestic competitions around the world, as they are from every other country, the costs of doing so for The Hundred seem to far, far outweigh the benefits.

If you have any comments about this post, the ODIs, or anything else, please post them below.

India v England – 4th Test, Day 3 – Are You Gonna Try To Make This Work?

Confession – I’ve seen none of this test match up until 8:30 am. I woke up, looked at the phone and it said England were 65 for 6. Joe Root then got out. A large part of me, and that’s large, said “go back to sleep”, but duty called and I rumbled downstairs to watch it. In the 10 minutes before tea all that seemed to happen was Sunil Gavaskar getting on my nerves. He’s not on his own for doing that when I have just woken up.

I’m also one who sleeps in bunches and looks at the phone. When I looked at 5 and saw no wickets had fallen, it wasn’t a surprise. I then didn’t bother when I briefly woke up around 6:30. I had a thought of Karun Nair, and that Axar and Sundar might put on 200 for the 8th wicket in a mini-Chennai tribute band style, but it appears as though once Axar departed, the last two batsmen were not able to stay with Sundar to get his first test century.

England’s wickets fell in a heap, as we’ve become used to. It does seem a very long time since Joe Root’s magnificent double hundred in Chennai, and downright embarrassing that in the subsequent 7 England innings the team hasn’t managed to make his first test individual score, let alone anyone approach that great feat. It’s also a long time since another premature and ultimately ill-fated Ed Smith victory lap, and we wait with baited breath for the explanation the genius will provide us for the utter calamity that followed. I mean, yeah, it’s terrific to have a pool of players and to rest them during the mentally exhausting bubble environment, but no, when that is followed by abject uselessness, such “how damn clever am I” pontification, lapped up by a media willing to believe this fool, seems somewhat hollow.

Let’s look at this calamity, in the batting because the bowling hasn’t been truly woeful. England managed scores of 178, 134, 164, 112, 81, 205 and 135. We have had two players pass 50 in six test innings – Ben Stokes leading the way with 55. Zak Crawley made a half-century in the early knockings at Ahmedabad Part Un. Dan Lawrence might get there as I write this. We’ve seen Sibley look all at sea, Bairstow, well, if there isn’t an expose of our ridiculous thinking then I don’t know what is. Ben Stokes has not bowled until he was flogged here, and to me seemed mentally somewhere else. Ollie Pope looked decent at times, but that’s not exactly enough and he’s going to hear voices about his place this summer if there are no runs. Rory Burns looked out of his depth, and was chucked in the sea. Joe Root’s mammoth contributions were always going to end. Dan Lawrence has shown promise, and in this innings has looked decent, and with an idea, which is a bit of a damning indictment on his slightly more experienced colleagues. Foakes has flattered to deceive, but everyone is in love with his keeping, so that’s fine (Indian comms trying to put Pant on a level field with him has been one of the more amusing commentary traits). Sometimes it appears as though Jack Leach has more of an idea and a game plan than some of our “better players”.

But what’s the point of caring about this if the authorities are really only playing lip service? They have the T20 World Cup as their priority. Also, the players aren’t absolved of this, as it is clear (and I am not sure I can blame them) that some view the IPL as more important than this test series. Yes, India can also be accused of this, but Stokes not bowling until this test, and Buttler being packed off home is a bit of a tell. Look, it’s the real world we are dealing with here, and money talks, walks and buys houses. Test glory just makes you feel good. It don’t pay the bills. It’s not the only thing, not even the main thing, but there has been mood music that it’s good prep for the IPL, and that’s got to be good for the World T20. That the World T20, and then the Ashes are important this year and that to lose this series is expected. It’s a mish mash of points, I know, but a Joe Root wonder innings could well have stopped a 4-0 thrashing, so that’s OK. At least his tour de force won a game on a result pitch.

Yes, time for one of my golden great “oh no, not again” points. But yes. Ever since we lost an Ashes series 4-0, and seemed happy that the media’s hero had prevented it with a 244, that same media should have that pointed out to them at every turn. At least in that series Malan and Bairstow made a good century each. At least we had some nice moments to watch. But the media said 4-0 was not that bad, and we should just move on. Now, when you see the last three tests resemble something much worse than Ted Dexter’s all at sea garbage of the 1990s, the press and the pundit class need to can it. Your ship sailed.

Dan Lawrence has added a 50, Jack Leach has just got out.

A 3-1 series defeat flatters England. They were eviscerated in this test. Once Sundar and Pant dragged India out of the hole they had made for themselves, put a lead up of 150ish, the game was done. England realistically needed to make 350 to give themselves a live chance, and that was never going to happen. That England have been demolished in a series where Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have not made centuries says it all.

Lawrence is now out, and the game is over. India have won by an innings. Ashwin and Axar take five each. The game is up. In more ways than one.

I really can’t be bothered, because, frankly, once the tide turned, I don’t think England were that massively bothered either. Anger long since passed me by, and despair is something you feel only when really disappointed. England talk about the primacy of the test game, and then subside in a clueless funk. They have a bowler who, possibly despite himself, took wickets in Sri Lanka and the first test, dropped him, let the news run that they thought he was shot, left him out of the test where Joe Root took a five-for, and then picked him here to fail. They did that and had just two seam bowlers, one of which hadn’t bowled much at all all series, and played Lawrence, who they’d dropped, at number 7. This isn’t blue sky thinking. There’s nothing clever about it, It’s an idiot let loose in the laboratory. Whether it is Ed Smith, Chris Silverwood or Joe Root responsible, I don’t know. If Vaughan is decrying the treatment of Bess, as he has been today, then I doubt Joe Root is responsible. The treatment of Moeen was also gob-smackingly ignorant as well. Stop telling these people they are clever.

India were ruthless, they bowled brilliantly on favourable wickets, to which they are absolutely entitled to produce, and in my view to be criticised for if we feel like it. A result pitch, set out as such, is better, whether we like it or not, than a road. But none of us are experts on how wickets play, and I try to steer away from it. But you are judged on results. Ashwin and Axar annihilated England on the helpful wickets. That’s test cricket, these days.

England came out of this with virtually nothing to show for it after a promising start. Reputations were not enhanced. Two day and three day defeats are soul-destroying. England at least clawed back in the last two tests, but from the moment Rohit set about England in Chennai, the die was cast.

It was good to see this on Channel 4, of course it was. That’s a decided positive. But the teams move to the stuff that matters now – white ball. It pays the bills, it gets the crowds, and it is the future. The tests may well be looked at as a curiosity. That we still appear to care feels like nostalgia for a bygone age, even in the present. This was a chastening loss IF it matters. In the immediate aftermath I have no doubts the players are incredibly hurt, but life goes on, and the circus is due to start for the big players and flailing at a spitting cobra on a spinning top is not in the IPL’s modus operandi.

The opening lyric to the song that the title comes from is “You don’t have to take this crap”. As I type Simon Hughes is blathering on. It seems appropriate really.

Cheers for following us through this test series, and one thing we are grateful for is England have allowed us a few extra lie-ins. As they say after the game “we need to take the positives”.

Comments below.

India vs. England, 4th Test, Day 2 – I Closed My Eyes and I Slipped Away

When I wrote the preview for this series back in early Feb, one of the key things I highlighted as a concern for England was their habit of picking a team that they wished they’d picked for the previous Test like they did when they last toured India. Sadly those that ignore history are doomed to make the same mistakes time and time again as Rishabh Pant piled into a tiring England attack who were a bowler short with their selection for this Test.

Whilst Pant took away this game and the Test series in the last session on Day 2, it must have been extremely galling for Stokes and Anderson, the former suffering with a stomach upset, who had bowled quite gallantly in difficult conditions earlier in the day. The lack of quick bowling options forced Stokes into a frontline bowling position, which is not exactly ideal as he is one of England’s best batsmen, yet he bowled with heart and no little skill to get England into a position where a first innings lead was a possibility before the Pant pyrotechnics. The wickets of Kohli to a sharp riser and then a wonderful inswinger to beat the defences of Rohit were a fast bowler’s dream scenario and with Anderson at the other end bowling miserly, the thought of a Mark Wood backing them up would have been the absolute ideal on this pitch. It was only when a clearly exhausted Stokes returned for his final spell that the wheels came off, though that was hardly unexpected due to the heat and workload put upon Stokes. Put it this way, I really don’t want to see our best all-rounder having to bowl 20 overs in a day anytime soon.

Of course at the heart of this was England’s nonsensical decision to go in with only 4 front line bowlers and Joe Root, who was never going to repeat his bowling heroics of the third Test. The recall of Dom Bess in essence gave England 3 front line bowlers as once again he struggled with rhythm, bowled too many full tosses and gave the Indian batsmen easy runs to relieve the pressure. This isn’t me having a go at Bess mind, being an international spin bowler is one of the hardest jobs in cricket and asking a young lad, who has never been first choice at his county, to learn on the job against one of the best attacks against spin bowling was always going to be an incredibly tough ask. I said during the Sri Lanka tour that Bess really looks like he needs a couple of seasons of county cricket to hone his skills before he should be playing for England on a regular basis. Don’t forget Graeme Swann, probably England’s finest proponent of spin in the modern ages was a bit rubbish when he first came onto the international scene but was a different player when he returned to the international side after honing his skills at Northants first and then latterly Nottinghamshire. Of course the ECB’s decision to push 4 day cricket to the outer extremes of the cricket season is not going to help the development of any young spinner coming through, but I would like to see Bess bowling regularly for Yorkshire this summer.

As for Rishabh Pant’s innings, well what can you say that others have not said? His positive approach whatever the scoreboard shows is absolutely refreshing and whilst it might not come off all the time, he has undoubtedly been a big reason why India will compete for the World Test Championship in England later on this year. The two shots that will live in memory for a long time were the sight of him charging down the wicket against Anderson with a new ball in hand and thumping it over mid-off and then the most audacious reverse paddle sweep over the slips from the same bowler. Even though the pitch wasn’t the most conducive to fast bowling, to do that against a guy with over 600 wickets is something else. The look Anderson gave when returning to his mark said everything that needed to be said.

We at BOC don’t like the current culture of besteveritis or comparing young players to past greats, but there are certainly shades of Adam Gilchrist in the way Pant bats and his ability to take the game away from you in a session. Of course, there will be tougher times ahead for Pant on pitches that offer more lateral movement, but I do hope he continues with his approach as it’s wonderful to watch as long as you’re not on the end of it. It would also be churlish not to mention the contribution of Washington Sundar, who looked at ease at the crease and played a gem of an innings as second fiddle to the fireworks going off at the other end.

Whilst it may not be over yet, with England having a squeak of a chance if they can take the final wickets with a lead under 100, it would be a very brave or foolish person to wager on England winning from here. A poor first session tomorrow morning and it may well be start the car time.

As ever thoughts on the game appreciated below.

India vs England – 4th Test, Day 1 – Pitch, Switch

Most of the pre-match chatter had been about the pitch. The previous game in Ahmedabad was the shortest Test match in the professional era, with most people blaming the groundsman (or whoever gave the groundsman their orders). England clearly expected more of the same, picking a bowling attack of three spinners (including Root) and just two pace bowlers (including Stokes). In hindsight, that may have been a mistake. There haven’t been any explosions of dust on day 1, unlike the previous two Tests, and India’s two pace bowlers have actually had success throughout the day. If anything, the conditions seem reminiscent of the first Test in the series.

Which brings us to England’s XI. Crawley, Sibley, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Pope, Lawrence, Foakes, Bess, Leach and Anderson. The first thing that jumps out is the sheer depth in batting. Ben Foakes, with a Test batting average of 36.00 (The last two matches have knocked it down somewhat), at 8. The second thing is a lack of options with regards to pace bowling. Just Anderson and Stokes. England were clearly planning for a pitch where their spinners would do the majority of the work. That may have been a miscalculation. India’s fast bowlers were asked to bowl 23 overs today, as opposed to just 11 in the whole of the previous game, and there seemed to be good carry even with the old ball. Archer was unavailable due to an elbow injury, but Stone or Wood might have been helpful in these conditions.

Joe Root won the toss and opted to bat first again. It was all downhill from there. On a pretty benign pitch, with a little spin and bounce but still closer to a proverbial road than minefield, a competent batting line up should be expected to bat until well into Day 2. For a team like England’s which has essentially selected eight batsmen, a total of 400 might be considered their minimum target in these conditions. What we got instead was a rather pitiful score of 205 all out. Only a last wicket partnership from Leach and Anderson even got their total above 200.

England winning the first three Tests of the winter may have masked some of their issues, as all three victories were on the back of a big score by Joe Root. Few teams lose games where one of their batsmen scored 150+. In the eleven innings England have played against Sri Lanka and India this season, their batsmen have scored just ten scores of fifty and above, with Root accounting for three of those. There is simply no plan B if England’s captain doesn’t get a big score.

Anderson gave England a little hope in his first over, taking the wicket of Shubman Gill, but Pujara and Rohit saw India through to the close of play with few issues on 24-1.

Aside from the placid pitch, there has also been a big improvement in the position of third umpire. Anil Chaudhary has taken over from Chettithody Shamshuddin, and things are back to normal. An umpire, like a wicketkeeper, is arguably at their best when no one is talking about them and that is the case with the umpires today. No controversies, no steps skipped, and no rushed decisions. For all of England’s issues today, they certainly can’t blame the officials at all.

County cricket fans will have been pleased to see adverts for the T20 Blast during Channel 4’s live coverage of the Test. The cost is likely a pittance compared to what will be spent on promoting The Hundred this summer, but it’s nice to see any effort from the ECB with regards to promoting its other competitions. It often seems like the ECB forgets that they aren’t just responsible for the international teams (and now The Hundred). Any steps which show even a modicum of interest in county or recreational cricket must be seen as a sign of improvement from them.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.