World Cup Matches 20 & 21 – Australia v Sri Lanka & South Africa v Afghanistan

Seemed like Lex Luthor left his kryptonite at home yesterday. England completed a routine win, with some scares of the physical rather than psychological kind, and Joe Root completed his second hundred of the competition, this time from the opening batsman slot. Last time he scored a hundred opening in a test, we had a very exciting meme result from it. Ah, the memories.

It has been an interesting old week. Almost a throwback. A tournament being played in a large block suddenly found the vulnerability of a front stalling over the UK, swinging backwards and forwards, round and around, dumping rain all over the place. Welcome to England in June – it happens. Anyone recalling the run-up to the London Olympics will remember the dreadful summer we had, until the games themselves, which got really lucky. There is really little can be done about it once you make up your mind that reserve days aren’t going to be a thing. I wish people could just be a bit more sanguine about that. Most baseball teams that had domes are getting rid of them, and to have a stadium with a retractable roof, like, for example, Minute Maid Park in Houston (where I was a month ago) for venues with 20000 capacity is not viable. It would probably eat up the entire five year ECB deal.

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That retractable roof ain’t cheap…. Minute Maid Park in May

We had the Guardian mafia descend on my post. That was fun. Particularly liked Selvey admonishing me like I was a naughty child. Don’t hold yourself out to be the voice of North London Nonsense when you then get called on it. Get it?

I’ll deal with all that at a future date, but something good came out of all of it. It put some bloody petrol in my engine, and I’m right up for it at the moment! I hope it fired some of you up to. That voice we have, judging by the spike in visitors, is still there when deployed.

The real home of English cricket (accept no North London interlopers) plays host to I think it’s final game today, when Australia return to the scene of their defeat last weekend to take on Sri Lanka, who have completed some nice little run chases at this venue in the past. And chase they will, as they’ve won the toss and put Australia in to bat.

This will mean Warner and Finch get to reprise their opening partnership which probably won the game against Pakistan. No doubt the focus will be on Warner, who made a hundred last time out, but was criticised in many quarters (more lukewarm on TV) for his outing against India. Stoinis is out of the competition, but as one of the comments intimated, he’s not exactly done much to be missed. Australia seem to have a little self-doubt at the moment. It wasn’t a disgrace the way they lost to India, and a few things either way and they could have won.

Australia are 9 to 1 on to win this. Sri Lanka are not pulling up any trees, and they are going to need to if they have any hope of getting a semi-final place. The tournament could do with another result setting the cat among the pigeons (only England v Pakistan did that momentarily), so eyes should be focused on The Oval this morning. The weather looks OK early, though may be a little iffy this late afternoon.

The other game being played at Cardiff pits two winless teams together. South Africa appear in total disarray, and anyone reading D’Arthez in our comments gets the unvarnished view of what is going wrong. Afghanistan have proven worthy competitors but haven’t really threatened the winner’s circle just yet. It is a game that could pass us by, as many could in the run-in to the semi-finals, but let’s hope for a really good game. Even if this World Cup is having its issues, the tournament is a force for good in showcasing the game, and we are all behind that, even if we think others may be wrong in their views of just how we take it forward.

Lastly, I want to know, seriously, how much the company that thought up Manchester Originals, as a hook to lure in those pressure mums and kids, got paid. At least with London X, you could have got a semi-unofficial tie up with a Marvel comic and film series. Who are the Originals? A spin-off from the Vampire Diaries? We after young mums?

A bit rushed this morning, as a few of us had events last night to go to. Enjoy what cricket you watch today, and if the mood takes you, comment below.

I’m now off to get my earplugs, and to test whether Slater and Clarke’s voice penetrates them.

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What Side You On?

In 2014, when you know who got the you know what, I had a little quiet old blog called How Did We Lose In Adelaide. I was really very angry over the way you know who got the you know what, and felt, at the time, that the written media, and certainly the broadsheet media, had been useful accomplices in that story – a conduit for dressing room gossip, management plotting, and ECB high-handedness. I don’t want to rehash this here. It just sets my mood music.

During the next year my blogging life was one of extreme ups and downs. I had death threats from a Jonathan Agnew fan, and got talking to Aggers on Twitter after it. I spoke to journos, and found the experience interesting, and a little daunting. I held strong opinions, and aired them. It was, when running a one person blog, extremely nerve shredding. I didn’t do it for attention. I did it because I cared. Along the way I picked up a number of exciting fellow cricket fans, and they seemed to like my output. I even know some of the press corps did too!

It’s interesting, in the context of that era, when the blog was getting a lot of traffic, that very few journalists ever went loopy at me. Very few worried about their integrity getting called into question. Very few thought I was worth the time and effort. Very few acknowledged me – some did, and came on the blog. But I was, and still am, quite irrelevant. It’s funny.

The last 24 hours have been interesting, and a little bit of a return to the old days. I wrote an angry post. Some context. Southeastern gave me a nightmare journey home. I read the Macpherson article on the train. I had not had a great day. I had my fill of Twitter. And yes, I was angry at what I was reading on the 100, the ECB and the Guardian.

You will note that Andy Bull has responded to my little rant yesterday. Fair play, he came on here. I don’t think we have much room to manoeuvre on the topic at hand, so I will take his sincere wishes of good luck for this blog, which is over 4 years old, and the HDWLIA year of You Know Who makes it over 5, in the spirit it was offered. Thank you for responding.

I see Russell Jackson got a little upset, vicariously, that a number of his writing cohorts were given a little bit of a verbal blast by me, and you know how much being upset on behalf of other people is something that I resonate with. Thank you Russell. I like the fact that the post got the thumbs up from Dan Brettig and Jim Maxwell, but that’s just life. Thanks for calling us geniuses. I’m not. I don’t even consider myself one of the great writers either. I just write because I like it, and I write to try to convey my thoughts. At least I’m honest in that intention.

And now we have Selvey. The man who doesn’t read blogs. Having a go. I had all sorts of goes at him in the past, he’s an emeritus on our Mount Cricketmore. He has won worst journalist on here, a popular vote from the commenters on the blog. You will see from the comments what I think of today’s little twitter exchange and how easy his original Tweet was to misinterpret. If he’s “ex-officio” who is this “we” he speaks of.

It’s amusing that it is this hill they are dying on.

I saw, today, Don Topley bully Annie Chave. Now we’ve seen a lot of output and a ton of love for the game from Annie. I see some of the 2014 me in her zeal, if not she’s a ton more polite than I ever was. She has decided to take a break from Twitter. Her motives questioned. I mean, Annie. She absolutely loves county cricket. She loves long form cricket. I mean, really?

We’ve seen Gurney dismiss this blog, and people who think like us. It’s really, really interesting how the cricket fans of this country are expected by players, ex-players and thin-skinned journos to shut up and take their word as gospel. I learned in 2014 that there was no evidence for me to do that, and I’m not apologising 5 years on for doubting them still. There’s a real aggressive streak in people fighting for a shorter format.

Was I a bit over the top last night? Possibly. You lot know me, and I think you like the style of draft first, correct later. I feel the game is being abused, neglected, and the existing loyal support insulted and taken for granted, and I’ll shout out against journos and ECB officials who act like that. If the cap fits it, then wear it. If I’m not angry, then I don’t care. If I don’t love, then I can’t care. I don’t doubt that those who write on the sport don’t love the game, but I’m damned if I’m not going to write when I’m angry.

As I said. Amazed it’s this hill they are battling on.

Sean is on the decks for tomorrow’s game. Let’s pray the rain stays away.

I’ve still got it, haven’t I?

World Cup Match 18 – India v New Zealand (But Lots More On Other Stuff)

I’m publishing this early. Have a look tonight, people, before any possible game tomorrow.

A short intro into for the contest. Both teams have 100% records. New Zealand making the most of what, on paper, looked like a nice start by beating the weaker three of the Asian nations. India taking out South Africa and Australia. All is set for a really exciting clash. Are New Zealand for real? Are India as good as they look? Will Trent Bridge contain two sides of considerable power?

Ah hell. The weather…

It is set to rain very heavily overnight, then the forecast for tomorrow is:
Mostly cloudy and largely dry at first tomorrow, though there may be some early brightness. As the day progresses, showers will become widespread and heavy at times.

The rain radar projection suggests the afternoon will be drier, but who the hell knows these days.

India have to replace Mr Dhawan, and it will be intriguing to see how they go about it. Will we see Risabh Pant? I hope so. Good luck to all concerned. I’ll be in meetings most of the day.

I can’t comment on today’s match between Australia and Pakistan as I was detained in the office as we are short staffed at the moment. I’m writing this just before I retire to my bed, so please forgive me. Australia now move to three wins out of four, Pakistan have three points from four games, and people are comparing this to Australia 1992…. oh well, I guess they always will.

As you may have guessed from the comments left on the Australia v Pakistan game, there have been a number of articles that have left me shaking my fist at a cloud once more. There was Andy Bull just coming to the conclusion that 14 years of England international cricket being hidden behind a paywall might have done some totally unforeseen damage to the participation levels. I don’t know if these idiots thought cricket was nearer to football than it was to say, rugby league, but they’ve been proven terribly wrong. Trying to tell us that they’ve been on the side of the angels all along is just taking us for mugs. I don’t have time, and my memory has somewhat erased, to remember the trigger, but Bull has rarely been on the side of the great unwashed and too easily persuaded by administration and perhaps his previous guiding light at The Guardian. The fact is that if the sport is on one of the major TV channels, it gets people watching it. This tournament could be on Sky One, and it won’t get the audience they think it should. There’s little rhyme and reason, but there were, are, plenty who will tell you otherwise.

The twitter diversion from Selvey was as crap as usual. He comes on to say that just because he didn’t (on behalf of his county) vote to continue with Graves’ retention of the Chairmanship didn’t mean he was disagreeing with the ECB on the Hundred. We never felt it would, Selvey, we never for one minute. Before you knew it we were on to 2019’s version of “move on”. If you don’t know what I mean, stop me if you’ve read this before. “They’ve decided this is the way forward, and for the good of the game, it has to succeed, so we should get behind it. That’s because the alternatives are much worse.”

I’m just not even surprised at these clowns and their chutzpah. It’s not the long-suffering cricket fan’s fault that Giles Clarke put the money raising of Sky above the long-term health of the game, kicking the can as far down the road as he could on the back of the 2005 Ashes, which, remember, he was lucky to get in the run-in to the new Sky contract. So they gained some cash, and lost a generation. Oh happy days. Then you’ve peddled the unproveable “truth” that without the cash, the game would die. Would have died. We should all be really grateful for a ruthless business like Sky giving the sport its honourable support.

By coincidence Sanjay Patel was at it in the Standard in an interview with Will MacPherson. Sean linked it in the comments below, but it’s magnificent in its arrogance.

“Even Patel — who refers to The Hundred as “countdown cricket” in reference to the new scoreboard, designed to make the game easier to understand — is aware that it is not a panacea to cricket’s problems, an ageing audience and declining participation.”

Remember people, and as someone soon to be moving into his 6th decade I am categorised in this, ageing audiences are the problem. We, us, me, are the problem. A nearly 50 year old man, still writing a blog, dedicating time and effort to a game I love and care about, and I am one of cricket’s “problems”. You should be on your knees thankful we still give a stuff, Macpherson and/or Patel. We aren’t your problem, we are keeping the game alive with our income PAYING for SKY, our income PAYING your ticket prices, and as you will see later, the people you NEED to sell your effing Countdown Cricket.

“We launched a strategy in January, Inspiring Generations,” he told Standard Sport. “In it, there are 25 initiatives to grow the game in England and Wales. The Hundred is just one of them. We don’t think for one second that you can put one tournament in and have mass growth. It doesn’t work like that. It’s about everything working together.”

A pity the ECB didn’t think of that back in 2005, but hey, blame the audience, not the architects for the poor sound quality of the auditorium. WHY CAN’T THEY HEAR?

But it’s this that set my blood pressure rising on the 126 home today.

Patel explained: “Whether you’re a cricket fan who likes The Hundred or not, we all share a love for the game and have a desire to see it get bigger.

“I’d say to people who don’t like it, I respect and understand that but use this as an opportunity to bring your grandkids, your kids, your family. This format will deliver for those audiences, so use it as a chance to grow the game.”

A desire to see it get bigger! You have to be kidding me. Who the f*****g hell (sorry, I just can’t do this without an expletive) shrunk the game? It wasn’t us. It was your precious organisation who are now as addicted to Sky money and India baling us out every four years when they visit, as any heroin addict is to their next hit. I can’t live without it….. You took a sport at the most recent peak of its powers, with some real star names, charisma, excitement and achievement. Then you hid it away behind a paywall so the players, and your administrators, could rake in a few more quid. You took T20 and milked the golden goose (yes, I know you can’t milk a goose), and then now treat it as a mangy old bird. You took England stars further away from the domestic game, and wondered why county cricket struggled even more. You did everything in your power to shrink the game for additional money, and now you sit there, and have the absolute gall to tell me that it is up to me, and my generation to bale you the hell out? I think I’ll quote my response:

We (the ECB) brought this in when few people wanted it. We did research that we didn’t share. We can’t handle basic stuff like releasing team names yet we call you obsessives. We lie to you in interviews. We don’t answer questions. We discuss nothing until we’ve decided and then it’s a load of nonsense. We pay ourselves ludicrous money, and charge you more to watch England. We decide you abide.

You have treated us with contempt. Your organisation told us to pipe down and move on. You created a schism in the fan base over a scapegoating. You insulted our intelligence with Downton. You had the press singing from your hymn sheet. You had the insulting contempt to label those not in your cabal “outside cricket”. You lied, you obfuscated, you sold out, you swivelled, you cited trust when it suited, you did everything in your (lack of) wit to get shot of the problem few. You have a supine, almost ridiculously so, ex-pro cabal sucking at your teat. You had the nerve, your CEO, to label people who quite liked their county team as “obsessives” as if those that stuck by the game were the oddballs, and not those who actually celebrated pissing the next generation up the wall for a few quid. Words cannot adequately summarise my rage at these charlatans asking me to make the game bigger. Here’s who gets the credit if it somehow works. One guess. It won’t be us 50 year old plus cricket tragics. They’ll just ask us to pay more. It’ll go to Harrison and Patel, and they’ll demand they are paid more.

“Everything we do has to be designed to make cricket reach above where it is,” he said. “We are keen to talk to young people. Three-quarters of fans learn to love the game before 16, so how do we nurture that? There’s been a major process to get to that point. We have done lots of work in all these cities, we asked young people what it means to come from there. We think it will appeal to a broad set of people and current cricket fans, too.”

Except putting an Ashes test live on free to air? How might that help, Sanjay, given you are doing everything to make cricket reach above where it is? No. You’ve made sure that the next five years, we might get a token T20 international friendly for the plebs to watch, where our C team might get a game. Oh, and the Hundred. I’ll leave the taking apart of countdown cricket to Danny. He doesn’t need my help.

If this article hadn’t made me mad enough, then come Chris pointing out the Times of India article about Michael Holding criticising the umpires in the West Indies v Australia game. Let’s not worry too much about the umpire-bashing for that’s a red herring. What this is about is commentary is now not about telling you what’s happening, adding insight occasionally and insightfully, aiding and educating the watching spectator, bringing the joy, and anger, of the game in front of you. It’s about cheerleading, and promoting the product. Ex-pros with the odd broadcaster there to sell you the game, not tell you the game. It’s not new. It’s the way of the world. Sport isn’t about the competition, it’s about the money. It probably always was, but it is certainly without doubt now. The evolution must be monetised. The product sells, and we don’t want someone pointing out where things aren’t working. Good on Mikey for standing up for himself. Stay in Newmarket, sir. Those horses respect more than the donkeys running the game.

There’s more. Lawrence Booth’s piece in the Mail redefines insipid. The ICC turning the players into cats has enraged some:

This is funny, because we know something about who is working for the ICC at this World Cup and also, if it weren’t so misplaced, it rather reflects on how we feel the press have been with our governing authority – tame pussycats. Remember Downton aplomb. Damn site more nonsensical than the above “horseshit”. Critics of this piece often talk about making love to cover drives, for heaven’s sake.

I’m off for a lie down. I’m feeling quite unwell.

Oh, before I go, and before hell freezes over, Paul Newman wrote a very moving piece on his interview with Robin Smith. Nonoxcol linked it in the comments to the game before last. I do recommend it. It’s one of the reasons Newman annoys me. No-one doubts his love for the game. I certainly don’t. But he’s doing no-one any favours most of the time, siding often, not always, with the rampant mob running our sport. A damn pity he pulls his punches with them.

Comments, if the game is played, below. Hope you enjoyed the return of angry me. I feel like exploding.

Dmitri

World Cup Match 16 – Bangladesh v Sri Lanka

I’m not hopeful. 

For all of you from outside our lovely country you should be warned that the next few days are likely to be rain affected. London, especially south of the river got it yesterday, just about reaching Southampton to abandon yesterday’s match, and the south west is looking bad today. More heavy rain is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday. That good drainage that is a blight on test wickets is going to come into play if the rain does cease. 

This game appears to be of little consequence. Neither of the two participants look likely to make the semis. However it will be interesting to see how Bangladesh are rising and Sri Lanka are falling if that’s the way it pans out. There’s certainly positivity heading in the Tigers’ direction and not a lot for Sri Lanka. 

Good luck in Bristol in avoiding a second successive washout for Sri Lanka. If there is any play, or if you have any other thoughts on stuff like tedious guitar riffs, brave run chases, Kohli the gent, or the retirement of the enigmatic Yuvraj, then fire away. 

I’m off to monitor Rain Alarm Pro.

Comments below. 

Match 14 – India v Australia

Chris had his say about the events of yesterday, so I won’t add to them here. England move on to Cardiff with four points, the mark Australia find themselves on at the moment, with India having two points from their first game. The Oval is the setting for the first meeting of members of the Big Three, the organising countries who will keep the World Cup for themselves for the foreseeable future, who will keep most of the cash raised, and in many eyes, form the three principal threats of winning the competition. I think New Zealand, who won comfortably against Afghanistan yesterday, will also be in the shake-up, and possibly West Indies who ran the Aussies close last week.

Those same West Indies, who will be our next opponent, face South Africa on Monday, although the weather forecast is absolutely dreadful for both that day, and Tuesday’s clash between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, so this could, possibly be our last game for a few days. What a mouth-watering contest it promises to be. India lost to Australia in the 2015 semi-final, and Australia lost to India in the 2011 quarter-final. The batting line-up that posted 328 at Sydney included Finch (81), Smith (107), Warner and Maxwell, who should reprise their roles at the original home of England international cricket (accept no North London impostors) tomorrow. India will return Dhawan, Sharma, Kohli and Dhoni from the top 6 back in that semi. I suppose it goes to show that teams don’t evolve that much in the batting department!

Australia have won 3 of the last 5 head-to-head match-ups, are on an impressive winning streak, and strutting their stuff a little bit. India never seem to lack confidence, had a good workout in the first game where Bumrah and Sharma certainly hit the ground running, and Chahal proved his inclusion was well-merited. But both teams showed some frailties last time out – Australia getting out of a massive batting hole through Coulter-Nile, India taking care to make their total having let the tail wag for South Africa. It promises to be a good one.

Comments below, as always.

World Cup Matches 8 and 9 – India v South Africa & Bangladesh v New Zealand

So enter the giants. Bring on the gladiators. Bow down to the titans. India belatedly join the “party that is gripping a nation”, and in front of them is a team that if it loses, might as well ensure they are on that flight to Johannesburg prior to July 14. The stakes are high.

You’ll be thankful that this isn’t a 1000 word epic. There are two games scheduled for 5th of June, and India are on first in Southampton. Highly favoured, they won’t be overly concerned that they have had to wait, or really what they’ve seen from their opponents. Their’s will be a more intense campaign, but not that much. A tournament where there is still four weeks of the qualifying competition to run allows such indulgences like waiting a week to start!

The second game puts together two unbeaten teams up against each other. Bangladesh return to the scene of their triumph on Sunday with a hope to repeat the formula. New Zealand blew Sri Lanka away on a lovely green surface in Cardiff and look a formidable unit. While you have to favour the Black Caps, Bangladesh aren’t to be taken for granted. One of my favourite cricketers, Mushfiqur Rahim, is always a key man for the Tigers, and his lovely knock on Sunday got a little overshadowed by Shakib, but was utterly valuable (going to a country like Bangladesh makes me want them to do well. I loved my time there). By all reports their fans were brilliant on Sunday and brought a great sense of occasion to the match. Good on them.

The match between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan was the first one that was weather affected, and yet there was still a pretty gripping contest (due to disruption in London, I had to work from home, but I’m not going to watch cricket, sadly, if I have to work – honestly). Sri Lanka got off to a great start, collapsed in a heap, eked out something competitive, and then Afghanistan got off to a half decent start, collapsed in a heap, rebuilt a little, but then fell short. The bowling attack may sneak them a game during the tournament, but the batting looked a little short for Afghanistan today. They are by no means outclassed. I am watching the highlights and what a really good comms team they had on today. Doull, Smith, Mitchell, Sanga and even Pommie was OK today too. Nothing pants on fire enthusiasm, no screaming and hollering, just adult commentators treating their audience as adults. It will never catch on.

As we have seven games under our belt we have two hundreds. One suspects India might add to that total today. Let’s see if they are for real. South Africa are in turmoil, and it will be a huge upset if they win. It is especially sad, though sadly not unexpected, to see Dale Steyn won’t be playing a part. I saw him in his first series back in 2004/5, and he had an action and pace to die for. He’s been an amazing player, but time stands still for no-one, not even a warrior like Dale Steyn. It’s terribly disappointing.

Comments below.

World Cup Match 7: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka

Today sees the game which might, just might, sort out who finishes 10th in the competition. Yes, it’s a bit early to say that, but given their performances on Saturday, worthy though Afghanistan’s was, there is a sense that neither of these two teams will be in the shake up when the group phase ends in about a month or two’s time. The game is being played at Cardiff, and the rain radar looks less than great, so it may be that this is all for nought in anyway. Let’s hope not. Afghanistan look a particularly intriguing team, and in many ways are the poster child for all those, very vociferous, advocates of a larger World Cup (in terms of participants, not games).

Comments, as always, below.

As for yesterday’s events in Nottingham, it was always going to be interesting to see how England fans and media (and soon to see also how the players) would react to the first reverse. It was always going to happen, but maybe it was envisaged that it wouldn’t be this early in the competition, and that the early loss, if there was to be one, would be against South Africa (who may also be scrapping for 10th place if their form is maintained!). The immediate response, judging by Sky and some of Twitter, is that this was a freakishly bad fielding performance, that England will need to improve, but we really are very good at this format and so no worries fellow travelers.

As Lee Corsey on College Game Day (obscure US reference) would say “Not so fast”. Now I know a fellow writer is more sanguine about the loss, but I didn’t get to this point in my blogging life without knowingly under-reacting, and in truth I genuinely don’t think I am. I think the ability of this England team is under question because it has not won the massive game. That’s because they have, really, only had one, which was a semi-final against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy. I might let you have Australia in the opening game of that tournament, if Australia were ever that bothered about the Champions Trophy, which they hadn’t been much previously. I thought, last night, about England football team’s qualifying performance in the lead up the 2010 World Cup, and how we won 4-1 and 5-1 against Croatia, and dropped points in a game that really didn’t matter because we’s already qualified. We then made a horlicks of the main tournament.

It’s always a bit arrogant to say England try their hardest in routine ODIs, and other teams don’t really care that much, but maybe there is a small case to say this is true here. After all, the pressure was put on in 2015 when Andrew Strauss said we would focus more on white ball cricket, and that has certainly been the case – other nations don’t make it so blindingly obvious. The media have, by and large, got on board with this, and perhaps explaining away or excusing some issues with the test team as if there is a trade off for the white ball team’s success. And it has been successful. England have been an entertaining batting side to watch, while the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, if ever the team plays to a less than full audience on these shores, some of the key media figures exhort the host to lose fixtures because they won’t pay exorbitant prices to watch “the greatest England ODI team ever” (a title I will not anoint them to until they match what the 1992 team did).

There’s always a problem commenting on a game I haven’t watched. But I knew from the outset of the run chase that chasing 349 to win in a World Cup isn’t like chasing it down in the 3rd ODI of a tedious five match series where each squad is chopping and changing its players. The jeopardy of defeat is much, much higher. If you are thinking you can lose just three games to be certain to qualify, England will need to beat two out of India, Australia, New Zealand, and I am going to throw our kryptonite, West Indies, into that mix. And that’s taking for granted Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which may be foolish. This isn’t a bump in the road, but a clear warning sign. England played tightly against South Africa, but had enough to beat them. They got lured into a pace attack and bouncer strategy by Pakistan’s atrocious first game. By the time the messages appeared to get through, Pakistan were off to a decent start, and 348 was possibly reining them in a bit. There’s a lot of positives taken from Root and Buttler making hundreds, but the supporting cast did not step up and that’s a concern. Given the nature of pitches and boundaries, this won’t be the last time we could be chasing 350. It’s not easy, and perhaps the sin of this team is that they’ve made it look like it during the cricket equivalent of the “qualifying campaign”.

Pakistan are a walking cliche for unpredictability, and so losing 11 in a row and then beating the “World Champion Elect” seems like a Ruiz felling Joshua. But it really shouldn’t be. They have talented batting, and the bowling can never be taken for granted. Sometimes they lose their minds, sometimes they put it together. It makes them eminently watchable, and a dangerous foe. For all the beatings England have administered to them in bilateral series, they’ve now played them, as New White Ball England, twice in major competitions and lost. It’s when the game is played that really matters.

So yes, I am concerned for England. Contrary to the views of people who hate this format, this loss does matter. With ten teams, a 5-4 win loss record could be recorded by the 5th and 6th place teams if one or two of the countries fail to raise themselves if they know elimination is certain. England have Bangladesh up next, on Saturday at Cardiff, and then face the West Indies the following Friday in Southampton. We will have a feel for how the qualification is going by then, and if England sit at 2-2 in the win-loss column (and let’s definitely not take Bangladesh for granted) then the alarm bells will be ringing.

One last note. I have to say it. While I’ve made most of my peace with England’s cricket team (as if they give a stuff), the whole long-term problem with what happened in 2014, and what Harrison is doing now, is that these defeats don’t sting like they used to. An England football defeat stings much more, especially under this Southgate team. This doesn’t. They seem decent players, hell, I like quite a few of them. But it doesn’t matter that much to me. We had a word with a media guy a few months ago who thought that if England got on a roll, the country would go mad for this tournament. I said that how could they? They won’t be able to watch it if they don’t have Sky. And some cricket fans like me are so cheesed off with the suits who pick the boots, that we’ll see any victory marred by the ECB patting themselves on the back for coming to the conclusion that the 2015 World Cup was a bit embarrassing. Because we know that this would give Citizen Kane Harrison even more fuel for his ego-driven campaign to destroy English domestic cricket as it exists now. (Oh yes, we saw the Standard article, where Harrison is bathing in overwhelming support none of us have noticed). So while Buttler makes hundreds, Joe Root plays the anchor as the others hit around him (a run a ball hundred is an anchor role these days), and the entertainment is there, the suits have ruined it.

Actually, while I am here, I have one last note. Notice how Australia have seamlessly assimilated Smith and Warner back into the fold, with the media it appears massively behind them, despite them “shaming the nation” and in the case of Warner, reports that he’d been “ostracised” and “made to dine alone by the team” and being the outcast blamed for the sandpaper incident. Notice how prime outlets like ABC are confident enough to have articles using these two to have a pop at England fans for understandable wind-ups (and calling England fans boorish). Notice how the “abuse” is seen as a positive for Warner, that it will make him play better. Notice that picture of Warner taking selfies with Aussie fans? I have. Perhaps our suits, perhaps our hierarchy should stop babbling on about culture and trust, and pick our best players on every occasions. It seems other nations just try harder and don’t hang themselves on managerial and coaching gods, but on players. Who play. And yes, I am talking about Pietersen. Of course I am.

OK, enough from me. Comments below on today’s action…..

Day 3 – New Zealand v Sri Lanka & Afghanistan v Australia

It’s quite strange when you think about it. By the end of today eight teams would have commenced their World Cup campaign. Tomorrow the ninth does. India do not start until Wednesday. Why is that?

I have to say that there is a sneaking suspicion that Occam’s razor applies here. Because I am beginning to get a little fed up that any one-sided fixture in this competition is greeted with the usual tweets by those who wish to see more countries at this competition. Point the ire at sport, across the world’s, relationship with television. For the sake of TV entertainment, and therefore the vast revenues, games are rescheduled, tournaments are “seeded”, certain teams are kept apart, certain teams have to play each other, and it is you, the public’s, fault for wanting more sport, more live sport, when it is more commercially convenient for you to watch it. India have the most clout, there’s no surprise in that, no controversy, and for that reason a repeat of 2007 must never happen again. It simply can’t. So I suppose TV is behind India not starting until Wednesday. So those bemoaning the format, bemoaning the one-sided game that is always possible, those bemoaning the contraction of the game, point the ire at the authorities who need India TV money to make money. They want more India matches. It’s commercial reality. Sport be damned.

So to today, and the second of the qualifiers, because it is easy to forget that West Indies had to, makes their first appearance with a tough opener against Australia. While the Aussies have been wearing hair shirts for the last year, it has been easy to take their poor form, until recently, as an indicator that they may not be the force they were. The abrasive Warner, and the rough Steve Smith join the team, and they look stronger. The bowling looks dangerous, the warm-up win has given them a bit of swagger, and there’s a not so quiet confidence coming from the Australians. I have called them the cockroaches quite a few time – you might think you’ve killed them off, that the pest has been removed, but they always bloody come back (there’s a life experience from my early years in a tower block). It’s what makes them such great pantomime villains in our rivalry. Pundits sit back, laugh at their misfortune, and even, as in 2013, wondered why he had to just get out of second gear to win. Then the little rascals kick our arses. Then come back and kick it some more. They’ll be there in the shake-up. Trust me.

This game is taking place in Bristol. The weather is set fair in England (and Wales) for today, so we could have some runs, especially if Australia bat first. I do wonder if this is as one-sided as I fear it might be, whether the same tweeters moaning about yesterday’s game will be so vociferous.

(Look, I like this World Cup format. Sorry to disappoint anyone. I would, as in any sporting endeavour, like to see all countries have to qualify for the tournament (maybe not the holders and hosts) but I’m living in a dreamworld if I believe anyone would allow the Big 3 to be up for elimination)

The first game today, from Cardiff, is New Zealand v Sri Lanka. I’m hoping for a good day for my work colleague, Simon, who is travelling down there this morning. New Zealand got a bit of a pasting in a warm up game, at the hands of the West Indies, and that might have knocked confidence, but this is a dangerous team, capable of beating anyone and should not be underestimated. Sri Lanka have been largely discounted as contenders, and the team lacks star quality, but until we see them play, there’s always the element of mystery.

I didn’t get to see yesterday’s nonsense from Trent Bridge. I would point out that on the Cricket Debate on Thursday night, when they weren’t talking about greatest ever catches (Bob Willis was having none of that nonsense), Charles Colvile actually mentioned that 500 was possible. Well that lasted well (honestly, we worry that these guys know more than you and I?) as Pakistan subsided to 105, and the West Indies knocked them off in five minutes. I think the West Indies are a sneaky decent team and they can often be kryptonite to England, while Pakistan are a walking cliche (and twitter loves a cliche).

So the World Cup is now up and running, and it’s a game a day for the next month. We’ll endeavour to keep up, and hope you stick with us for the entire competition. The event has certainly stirred up emotions behind the scenes, the media is in overdrive, everyone has an opinion, and people are talking about the sport, even if it is still a limited number. But it feels like there’s an event going on, and that has to be good.

Any comments on today, feel free to let them go. Also we are on Twitter – @OutsideCricket – where we promise not to be as up our own rear ends as others! Well, we don’t think we are.

Have a good day. With the Champions League Final and the Derby, there’s a lot on. (Not quite 14th July – World Cup Final, Wimbledon Mens Final and British Grand Prix). If you get the chance, enjoy them all as much as you can. If you want.

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

I Once Had Pride, Now That’s All Behind. I Want To Get Rich Quick

I’m Dirty Cash, The One Thing You Asked For

I have some really bad news for all you cricket lovers out there. The Hundred is already a success. Whether the game is a total farce, whether the promised stars fail to turn up, whether the teams gain no groundswell of support and whether the promised Mums and Kids ™ show up, it’s a success. Why?

Because the ECB get to define success, and that will be in cash terms, and cash terms only, no matter what they say. When they got Sky to bankroll the game for another four years.

Tom Harrison, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, has heralded its £1.1bn broadcast deal with Sky and the BBC as a “game-changer” for the sport and one that, in an era of increasing player power, will mean professionals are better paid than ever before.

The ECB on Friday announced a five-year deal to run from 2020 to 2024, with Sky having beaten off competition from its subscription rival BT Sport to retain rights to all international and domestic cricket in England but with 10 matches from the ECB’s new Twenty20 competition and two men’s international Twenty20s to also be screened on the BBC.

This combined £220m-a-year deal is worth nearly three times the £75m Sky now pays for its exclusive rights, with the new free-to-air element representing a tacit admission by the ECB the subscription-only model in place since 2006 has shrunk the sport’s place both in the national conversation and in terms of grassroots participation.

Let’s put that TV contract into some sort of context. The previous TV deal was for £75m per year. Let us be totally charitable and say that as this cycle includes two Ashes series, and with some price inflation, the bid price had added 40%. Let’s say the market worth based on present earnings, with inflation, would be around £120m per year. That means the worth, per year, on a totting up basis, for the new competition is £100m a year. That is more than the current total income from TV revenue in a year. Tests, ODIs, T20 internationals, Blast, Royal London, Women’s international cricket, Kia Super League and anything else I’ve missed. That is 125% the revenue the game currently earns. And you know who pays for that?

We do. Of course we do.

So in the short term, the Hundred is bought and paid for, counties might see some extra money, as the Guardian excerpt shows above, so do the players (oh very much so), and the international cricketer will be very wealthy under the new scheme. SO when it launches the Hundred has bought cricketers and some parts of the establishment five seasons to save the game.

Sky is under new ownership now, since this contract was struck, and Comcast are no-one’s fools. They may come to the conclusion that cricket does not justify £220m a year in 2024, and will decide to put in a reduced bid. There may not be competition. BT Sport is withdrawing from a lot of sport, and shareholders are questioning why they are in the loss-making sports rights game, and aren’t pleased with how much they are paying for the Champions League. If a five-year billion quid package from the Champions League came up, as opposed to one of the same for cricket, and there was no competition, what would you choose as a businessman?

 

“Business Decision”

The very essence of sport is competition. Then, by its very nature competition, when at its finest and tensest, is entertainment. For me sport is all about the story, and the build up to a tense conclusion, for the best entertainment. In football, given goals are relatively scarce, a two goal lead is never safe, one less so, so despite the wretchedness of what went before, the conclusion can be remembered. That’s sport as entertainment in its purest form. If that coalesces with an “occasion” to bring out a classic, then it goes down in legend. I’m thinking Champions League Final, 1999, as a good example. Edgbaston 2005 as another.

Entertainment is seen to mean money. The more entertaining, the more people might want to watch, the more it might attract new viewers, or so the story goes. The biggest revenue spinning sport in the USA is the NFL. It dwarfs everything, it has, pretty much an appointment to view (with several live games scattered either side of the core Sunday afternoon suite of games) and the players have exceedingly short careers. The NFL salary cap, per team, is around $177m. Each team receives $255m from TV contracts per year, split evenly. That was up from $150m in the previous contract. The highest paid player in the NFL is, at time of writing, is Aaron Rodgers, receiving $33m per year in salary. With bonuses and endorsements, he gets up to around $76m.

Clearly cricket isn’t in that ballpark, but what do Green Bay get with that Rodgers contract? 20% of the eligible salary on one player, doesn’t leave a lot to go around for another 45. He’s also injury prone in a violent league. His team collapsed this year. But it doesn’t really matter. Green Bay will still get $255m in TV revenue, massive amounts in merchandise, ticketing and other commercial ventures, and the world will still turn. That’s how franchise sport works. It’s a business decision.

It’s more extreme in baseball. There are parallels. A sport supported by an ageing core support, questions over whether the game is too long, controversial propositions regarding pitching clocks, to speed up the pace of a game. But the classic games can go on for hours – a World Series game this year went on for 7 hours and 28 minutes and ended up with a walk-off home run. The game is as entertaining as it always has been, save for one thing.

Another danger with franchise sport in particular, where there is no relegation, is that if you aren’t going to win that year, any money spent is utterly useless. So teams dump the salaries of viable older players onto teams who think they will win, and stockpile younger cheaper players, who are strictly salary controlled into their mid-to-late 20s. The teams have the right to move those players, the players do not have the right to move of their own accord. Those teams will then decide, when the players are free agents whether to fight to retain those players, or let them go to the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox et al. In 2018 the Boston Red Sox spent around $240m in salary. The Chicago White Sox spent $77m. In 2015 the Kansas City Royals, a perennial low payer, stockpiled enough talent, married them with a couple of expensive parts, a few cheaper veterans and won the World Series. They are back where they normally reside now, with $141m in payroll and that is likely to decline. The Houston Astros gutted their team in the early 2010s, acquired magnificent talent, won the World Series in 2017, got to the semis in 2018, and are now faced with having to pay those young stars market rates. It’s a big decision. A business decision.

Players often say that money doesn’t motivate them, and that they have short careers. In the NBA, Anthony Davis has said he will not re-sign for the Pelicans when his contract is up, so his team tried to trade him at the deadline (akin to football’s mid-season break). They asked too much, and no deal was done. There is active talk that as the Pelicans will not make the Play-Offs, there’s no point in Davis playing and potentially getting injured. At a college sport level, where the athletes aren’t paid, potential pro players the following year are sitting out lower level Bowl games for the same reason. Business decisions.

This year, in a close NFL game, there was an onside kick in a contest involving the Giants. The ball went near to the Giants’ most valuable asset – either on the field or in the transfer market – and he appeared to choose not to go for it for fear of being clattered. He protested that no-one should question his heart, but there weren’t many who believed he didn’t really give it his all. A Business Decision.

Take football in this country. What is it that counts the most? Winning something, or just being in the Premier League? We all know the answer to that. And please, don’t throw Leicester at me. The reaction of the Premier League big clubs to that was to close the door tighter, and to try to get the big clubs more money in the overseas revenue rights. After all, no-one in the Middle East is buying their football package for Huddersfield v Crystal Palace. So, instead of busting a gut and trying to progress in a cup competition, where you might actually win a trophy by getting lucky on a day or two, and big clubs get knocked out, what do mid-range and lower tier Premier clubs do? Play their reserves. Why? Need to keep their best players available for that mid-table game next week. Business Decision.

So now, you are the head of the ICC. Or the ECB. You see a club like Surrey, or a league like India, get big crowds, big revenues, from a short game in an evening slot. The players like it because the physical factor of short-pitch, aggressive bowling is mitigated by the rules, you have to physically exert yourself for shorter periods, although they may be more intense, and everything is geared to the batsman, so that if a bowler can find the magic elixir to keep himself below 8 an over, he’s valuable. You can rinse and repeat that day in day out in a league format, and at the end, given these are franchises who switch players backwards and forwards, and everything can be sponsored, money flows every day for not a huge amount of effort. Why on earth would you bother hosting a single test match? That takes five days, six and a half hours per, and you still might not get a result. If cricket were taking purely Business Decisions, we wouldn’t have tests at all, no matter how we are convinced how great they are.

Many of you work out there. Five, Six, Seven days a week, 8 hours plus at a time. You are offered more money, for less time, but you will have to work a bit harder in that time. For that we will offer you double your domestic salary, which you get to keep anyway. Are you going to turn that down? Or will you make a Business Decision.

 

Pay To Play

During the debate over the Hundred, many of the players have been careful in their pronouncements. It’s been left to the usual ex-playing talking heads to show their hands. I will give Harry Gurney one thing – he expressed an opinion and stuck by it. What Harry did is what many pro players do all the time – they conflate their success, in terms of wages, with a sports success. Those of us old enough to remember when the Premier League football started, there were grand messages about how the Premier League players were in solidarity with their lower league colleagues, then played in that league, picked up the massive wages, and left the other clubs behind. Who can blame them? No-one is asking Rory McIlroy to give his money to your local club pro who plays in the regional tournament. No-one is asking Andy Murray to  share his wealth with the Challenger Tour events. Sport is a meritocracy, and why shouldn’t the players be the ones to earn the rewards?

I did a little research for this one. It’s interesting.

In the end of year accounts for 2011, the ECB employed 28 players, who were paid £5.6m. In the 2018 accounts, the ECB employed 40 players (this would be accounted for central contracts to women internationals) and paid them £23.9m. The players are most definitely getting their cut of the ECB turnover pot, which in 2011 (not a lucrative international summer in 2010 with Pakistan and West Indies the visitors) was £106m, and in 2018 (with 2017 also not lucrative with Pakistan and South Africa) that was £125.5m. Turnover is not a good base measurement for revenues in cricket. A set of accounts after an India visit, such as 2012 or 2015 yielded £146m and £174.7m. So players should get a cut.

I tell you who else has had a bumper decade – the highest paid admin at the ECB. In the early part of the decade there were two, but since Harrison assumed control of the parish, there is just one. In 2011, the highest paid director took a salary, less pension benefits, of £253k. Tom Harrison, according to the 2018 accounts, took a salary of £605k. Paul Downton’s last salary was £360k. There is no reason to believe that Harrison is going to cure this largesse once the new TV contract is in place. Assuming he stays, after all, the Premier League appears to be still looking for a new head honcho, and he has to be better than the EFL guy, doesn’t he? Tom Harrison, we have been told, sees himself as a little bit of a zealot, if you can be a little bit of one, convinced of his own judgement, sold on his own brilliance, and assured of his own decision-making prowess. Every so often that is revealed in his demeanour. He revelled in being the tough guy sacking Downton, of merging two jobs, and employing Strauss, and hey, standing behind him when THAT decision had to be made. There was no doubt trust between him and Strauss.

But what also emerged was his attitude to the new competition. And his opponents.  The media have told us that he has refused, or just not set up, one-to-one discussions or open press conferences with them. The first question anyone should ask Tom is what is the measure of success for this competition. If it’s for some wistful, long-term, you’ll-see-it-when-I’m-long-gone fantasy, then he should be called on it. If it’s something linked to the amount of revenue the game brings in, he should be called on it. If it’s about how it will attract women and children,he should be called on it, and produce his massive evidence to suggest the Blast can’t. And if it is anything else, which I suspect it is – most notably his ego – then he should be called on that too.

What is always lost when the TV contracts are let is that it isn’t Sky paying the money. This increase in contribution from the key stakeholder is recouped in two ways – advertising and subscription fees (let me know if there are any others, like sell-on rights). I refuse to believe there are a mass of businesses flocking to the paywall cricket offering that weren’t before, so while we might see a slight increase – especially if one of the family friendly consequences of the Hundred is an increase in betting on cricket – in the advertising revenue, the bulk of this is going to fall on Sky subscribers. This will be in the form of fewer events shown on Sky Sports, and higher costs to watch it. Sky, of course, are doing both. This year there is no IPL. No Indian international domestic cricket. Two big holes in the Sky Cricket offering. They don’t care a jot about the County Championship despite the online streaming market showing some positive developments last year, but that’s because it’s limited so it is free. No use for Sky. At some point subscribers are going to say enough. I’ve been saying it for a while, and it rode out the financial crisis world well enough, but it’s a big number out of my salary each month, and I cut out the movie channels. If the Hundred flops, isn’t getting big TV revenues, if the BBC screenings don’t create a new vibe, or if the competition becomes exclusive again in 2025, who knows where the revenues go. Harrison is thinking Premier League. I’m thinking Scottish Premiership.

Play to Pay

England does not publish player salaries. There are rumours that the top players derive incomes of around £1m a year if they play across all formats, but they are just that, rumours. Top county players may be on 200k per year, which for some counties is the revenue from the county format. What will happen with the new deal is a money transfer – from your pocket as a cricket fan to their pocket as players. That’s why Gurney is so keen to jump to white ball cricket. As KP said, why wouldn’t you do less and get paid more? For those that know world greatness isn’t going to be their destiny, but there’s a little niche in there to make more cash, why not. Get on the gravy train while you can. This is about keeping players, administrators and TV happy, not the fans who like low revenue, high maintenance sport. As the ECB cast the envious glances at the IPL (remember Stanford, oh please remember Stanford) and Big Bash, the players who might have deserted England for riches stayed (and my, wasn’t one of them thanked for doing so). In the new era, when even Jos Buttler, a white ball behemoth states he really wants to play test cricket, and the greatest white ball batsman of this generation is such a profound respecter of the test game, people can, perhaps, breathe easily. What Gurney is doing isn’t to be disrespected – we didn’t when Rashid did it last year – but it’s his attitude is so forthright that the next generation of players aren’t going to be as wedded to the long game that grates.

Maybe it is because he is telling the truth. It’s a business decision, after all.

I want to expand on this theme a bit in the next couple of posts, purely because I feel like the sporting world is passing me by. Sport was always about enjoyment and, yes, entertainment, but it was always about not knowing the outcome. My years travelling home and away with Millwall brought unexpected surprises and pitfalls. Last weekend I measured the despair of that 95th minute equaliser with play off losses and last minute disasters – then you recall those last minute wins away, the days your team puts it together. What stayed constant, mostly, was 90 minutes plus added on time. With cricket, it’s the game itself that gets changed. In football, money means that a year like 1989, when Millwall finished above Manchester United is now practically impossible. In cricket it means 8 counties get to host a new tournament and 10 don’t, potentially creating a divide that could be avoided if the game believed long-term revenue is about competition and not “big clubs”. It’s a battle I feel is being lost, and with it, my love for sport. When that gets to the tipping point as per paying to watch it, I don’t know. But I found when I stopped going to Millwall, it was a lot, lot easier than I thought. Maybe sports administrators and players might recognise that. But probably not. It’s short-term, and that’s all that matters these days.

I’m not sure this captured all that I wanted to, and it feels like a ramble. I hope it gives some food for thought.