Coach Wanted – Englishmen Need Not Apply

There’s a vacuum at the heart of the men’s England team right now. The question of who should be captain is in flux because there is no coach or selector to make that call. There is no coach or selector because there is no director of cricket to hire them. There is no director of cricket because there is no chair and the chief executive is too busy fleshing out his CV for his next victim employer.

There is a lot of speculation about who will fill these roles though, with a great many names mentioned. What is becoming increasingly clear is that almost no one believes the next coach will be English, and many wouldn’t be surprised if that was also the case for the director of cricket. Indeed, no current English county coach or director of cricket appears to have even applied.

All of which begs the question: If there are 18 county teams with 18 head coaches and (I’m guessing) 18 directors of cricket, how come not a single English candidate is qualified to lead the England team?

It should be emphasised that this is not a new problem. The last (and only) English head coach to win an Ashes series is Mickey Stewart in 1987, and the only English head coach to win a men’s T20 or ODI World Cup is Paul Farbrace in 2014 with Sri Lanka. Trevor Bayliss (Australian), Andy Flower (Zimbabwean) and Duncan Fletcher (Zimbabwean) all came in and won something with the England team. Fletcher is the only one of these three to have spent any time coaching a county side, with two years at Glamorgan.

It’s difficult to look at this record, at the complete absence of high quality English coaches competing for the vacant positions, and not think that something has gone badly wrong within county cricket.

I have to preface this by saying that I don’t really follow county cricket particularly closely. I’ve never lived in a town or city which hosts a county team. I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of any of the eighteen major counties. I don’t pretend to have any expertise on the subject, and what follows may well be foolish generalisations based on nothing more than hearsay and my inherent biases.

All that said, being appointed coach in county cricket (and the England team) seems like it is much more about who you know rather than your skills or past results. Take England’s coaches: Graham Thorpe, Paul Collingwood and James Foster were all England teammates with director of cricket Ashley Giles. Although head coach Chris Silverwood appears not to been on the field together with Giles, they were certainly both in the same England ODI squad in 1997. I get the impression that the majority of county coaches are ex-players from the same teams. These kind of appointments are always popular with the fans/members (see Darren Gough at Yorkshire CCC), but don’t obviously lead to qualified or skilled coaching.

The methods routinely used within county cricket and the England team have to be questioned. The majority of English coaches appear to have a level 3 or 4 (‘Elite’) ECB coaching qualification. If no one who goes through this course appears to be any good at coaching professional first-class cricketers, should it not be changed?

There seems to be an extreme level of conservatism inherent in county (and international) coaching, which the ECB training seems to reinforce. Coaches don’t want to intervene or criticise players, even in private and on matters of basic technique. The emphasis appears to be almost entirely on boosting the players’ confidence. This is no doubt important, particularly on tour, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to fix fundamentally flawed approaches to batting and bowling.

This is exacerbated by English cricket’s almost uniquely insular attitudes to both hiring coaches and gaining experience. A large number of coaches from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies or Zimbabwe have spent a lot of time working outside of their home countries. This is rarely the case in England, where having eighteen professional clubs plus a plethora of highly-paid roles at public schools means that ex-players don’t have to stray outside their comfort zone to make a living. This limits their experience, and means that they never see other methods of helping players develop.

One obvious consequence, if coaching in county cricket is almost universally substandard, is that this would inevitably harm the development of county cricketers. After all, how can players reasonably reach their potential if the people who are supposed to be teaching and managing them aren’t up to the job?

This is why I think that coaching is the key issue regarding the quality of English Test cricketers. There are undoubtedly a great many other factors: The pitches, the scheduling, county youth systems and financial incentives to name just four. They all should be addressed as soon possible, but I don’t believe county cricket will start producing Test-quality batsmen again before the coaching fundamentally improves. In the short term, that might involve the hiring of significantly more overseas staff until English candidates become employable.

If you have any thoughts on this post, or on anything else that crosses your mind, leave them below.

West Indies vs England – Third Test Preview

It’s difficult to know what to write here, since so little has changed in the past week. The series is still 0-0. Wood and Robinson are still out injured. Matt Parkinson is still warming the bench. The only real cause for optimism comes from the photos of the pitch, which at least look like a little grass has been allowed to remain.

With the fragility of both teams’ batting lineups, that should be plenty to force a result. Whilst some people are talking in hopeful tones about a new era for English cricket, with Dan Lawrence and Jonny Bairstow helping Joe Root lead the team to somewhere near basic competence. They have done well, as did Mahmood in his Test debut, but these performances have to be placed in the right context: The pitches were incredibly flat, and the West Indies are not a good Test team.

As it stands, the West Indies are eighth in the World Test Championship table (England are last in ninth), having won just one Test against Pakistan in the current cycle. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a team with England’s financial resources, England’s first-class depth, England’s unique focus on red ball cricket should be able to bat out a draw on benign surfaces. It should be a minimum expectation.

Aside from the players, the individual who has most obviously benefitted from England not losing two Tests in a row is Paul Collingwood. The interim head coach has apparently put his name forward for the permanent role, and not losing a Test series (as Silverwood failed to achieve four times in the past year) is clearly enough to at least be considered by the ECB. One notable aspect of this is that he has never worked as a coach in county cricket. He had several spells as a coach for Scotland, and has been with the England team for the past three years. This means that he has no experience as a head coach, and almost no track record for his potential employers to examine.

This is a very common trait amongst people who the ECB are considering for their vacant senior positions. It was reported today that Rob Key is in the running for the Director of Cricket position. I don’t have anything against him as a person, but he appears to have gone straight from his playing career to the Sky commentary booth. Whilst he might talk a good game (that is his job, after all), there’s absolutely nothing to prove that he can back it up. He has that in common with Andrew Strauss and Ed Smith, who both transitioned directly from punditry to senior ECB positions.

There are six candidates listed for the Director Of Cricket job in this article: Rob Key, Ed Smith, Tom Moody, Marcus North, Nathan Leamon and Mo Bobat. As far as I can tell, the only ones with any experience of coaching or managing a domestic cricket team are the two Australians, Moody and North. Smith, Leamon and Bobat have all only ever worked worked for the ECB as head selector, analyst and performance director respectively.

It is possible to look at this and say that the ECB are disrespecting county cricket by not recruiting people from that talent pool, but I have to question if there are any candidates who obviously deserve a shot with England. After all, Chris Silverwood was appointed by England after his team won the Championship but failed to make any impression in internationals. Peter Moores and Ashley Giles were also both county coaches before their spells with England. There is a long running and active discussion about how county cricket is failing to develop talented Test batters, but very little time is spent looking at the quality of the coaches and other staff. The two issues may well be linked. After all, poor coaching and management aren’t exactly helpful in helping the next generation of cricketers reach their full potential.

I honestly don’t know enough about county cricket to know if this is an entirely accurate picture, or what could be done about it. It doesn’t give me much optimism for any change in England’s fortunes over the next few years though.

If you have any comments about the Test, the ECB’s recruitment, or anything else, please leave them below.

West Indies vs England – Second Test Preview

There is a lot to be said for having low expectations, particularly as an English cricket fan. With a sufficiently poor outlook on the Test team, even the remotest evidence of adequacy comes as a pleasant surprise. You’d be forgiven for thinking, having read the press reports about the first Test, that a new dawn was on the horizon for England and the previous twelve months was just a transitional period. Zak Crawley is the successor to Cook, Leach is the successor to Swann, and Bairstow has finally refound his form.

Except obviously none of this is true. West Indies are a bad Test team, and the pitch was as dead as England’s chances of reaching a World Test Championship final in my lifetime. But such are the depths of the England team’s failings that not collapsing on an extremely batting-friendly pitch against a mediocre Test bowling attack is cause for celebration.

England have already announced the team for today’s game, with Saqib Mahmood coming in for the injured Mark Wood as the only change. It is a little surprising that there hasn’t been more rotation of the bowlers, with three Tests back-to-back, particularly with regards to Ben Stokes. Before the series began, the consensus seemed to be that Ben Stokes would only be used as a last resort bowling option and yet he ended up with 41 overs in the first test.

Alex Lees has the most to prove after a disappointing debut. Opening in Test cricket is always difficult, but he looked terrible in his two very short innings so far. Chris Woakes could also be bowling for his Test career, albeit having scored a useful 46 runs with the bat.

On the plus side for England, the photos of the pitch suggest that it will be very flat again. A cynical person might suggest that the grounds and boards benefit financially from the Barmy Army coming to the ground for five days, and they probably don’t care as much about whether there is an exciting match or result. It’s not a great business model for a sport, but it is what it is. Both sides certainly have the capacity to collapse twice on any pitch, so there’s still no guarantees of a bore draw.

As always, please post your comments below if you have anything to say about the Test or anything else.

West Indies vs England – Series Preview

I love Test cricket in the Caribbean. It just feels right. Glorious sunshine, steel drum music, 2pm starts. After the Ashes, it is a huge improvement.

Since 1974, England have won just one Test series from ten attempts in the West Indies. You would be hard pushed to find many English cricket fans who don’t think that this series will follow this pattern. The hosts might be without such legends as Richards, Holding or Lara, but defeating the current England team hardly requires that level of talent.

Behind the scenes, the England team must be a mess right now. They currently have no head coach, head selector, or even a Director, England Cricket. It’s not immediately clear who’s in charge, or who will still have a job in a month’s time. Paul Collingwood is acting as interim coach, but I don’t have much faith that he can do anything to turn things around. I loved him as a player, but he has been on the England men’s Test team staff for six years now and it would be hard to identify any positive impact he could have had in that time.

Changes have been made on the field as well. Both openers from the Ashes have been dropped, with Zak Crawley and Alex Lees being the latest ones to try their luck. Ben Foakes replaces Jos Buttler, who is currently resting in preparation for the IPL. Malan and Pope have also been left out of the playing squad, meaning that just four batsmen (Crawley, Root, Bairstow and Stokes) survive from England’s disastrous tour down under.

The headlines have all been about Anderson and Broad’s exclusion from the team. I have to say that I don’t really care about this decision for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t think that it massively alters the chances of England winning this series. If the batsmen struggle to post scores of 300 or more, it doesn’t really matter which bowlers you select. The second reason is that I am, and I realise this is an unpopular viewpoint, a huge proponent of rotation. Keeping every player both physically and mentally fresh is vital in cricket (and every other team sport), not least after the past two years of bubbles and quarantines. To be honest, I’d have also rested Ben Stokes as he is currently considered unfit to bowl. Rotation also gives other bowlers the opportunity to step up and make their own mark.

That said, the signs from the four-day warmup game agains a West Indies President’s XI were not exactly promising. Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood both picked up injuries, although Wood did return to play in the second innings. Despite facing an inexperienced and largely unimpressive batting lineup, England’s bowlers only took 17 wickets in the game. Without Anderson and Broad’s experience, or the injured Jofra Archer’s pace, the signs look ominous for the first Test.

The only real saving grace for England going into this match is that the West Indies aren’t that great a team either. England’s last four Test series have been against the three teams at the top of the ICC’s Test rankings (India, New Zealand and Australia). The West Indies are sitting at number eight. Were I a boorish owner of a convenience store chain, I might even go as far as to call them ‘mediocre’. The truth is that the West Indies are still probably favourites to win this series, so what does that say about England?

If you have any comments on the series, or anything else, leave them below.

Are The ECB Guilty Of Bringing The Game Into Disrepute?

I want to be clear from the outset of this post: It is not a joke. It is not hyperbole. It is not a hypothetical exercise. I truly believe that the ECB, according to its own rules, could refer itself to its ‘independent’ disciplinary committee for bringing the game and itself into disrepute. What follows is my argument for why it should happen.

This post was prompted by the news that Essex CCC were being charged under ECB directive 3.3 for failing to investigate the alleged use of racist language by their chairman John Faragher from 2017 (an allegation Faragher has denied).

To summarise: Faragher was accused of using a dated American expression which, for the sake of not getting this site filtered by Google and WordPress for content, I won’t explicitly refer to here. It is certainly a racist phrase, and using it in any workplace is unacceptable. Failing to investigate such a complaint is also totally unacceptable, and the timing of when it went public certainly harmed the sport’s image in England by seemingly confirming that issues weren’t confined to Yorkshire CCC.

But there is a complication: It would appear that the ECB themselves were informed of the allegation in 2018 and, like Essex CCC, they failed to investigate it. Nor did they look into Essex’s failure to follow the correct procedure at the time. It was only in 2021, under intense media and parliamentary pressure, that they finally acted. If the lack of response from Essex CCC has brought English cricket into disrepute, surely the ECB are equally as guilty?

This is sadly not an isolated incident. There are numerous examples of the ECB failing to investigate racist occurrences. The most obvious recent example relates to Azeem Rafiq, where they were content allowing Yorkshire CCC to royally screw things up for over a year. However, it should be remembered that Rafiq was only one of several ex-players who made allegations of racism in the press. Michael Carberry, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Dave Burton, Alex Tudor, Chris Thompson, and no doubt severals others who I have missed have all disclosed specific examples of racism within county cricket in the past two years.

The ECB’s inaction is not just related to cricketers. Umpires John Holder, Ismail Dawood and Devon Malcolm have accused them of discriminating against Black and Asian match officials. Alison Mitchell has alluded to racism within the England press box by ECB-accredited journalists being a recurring issue, with no investigations forthcoming. Pakistani journalist Saj Sadiq complained to the ECB last summer about how he was treated by the security at four separate England games, but was ignored. Former Leicestershire CCC chair Mehmooda Duke appears to have resigned from her role after being “intimidated” “coerced” and “manoeuvred” by people within the ECB.

Should Essex CCC be punished for failing to follow the proper procedure after they were made aware of the allegations regarding Faragher’s behaviour? Almost certainly, but surely the ECB must be held to the same standard. Where Essex may be guilty of one or two counts, I’ve listed at least twelve cases of the ECB failing to investigate or act regarding racism in this post. Are the ECB not also bound by the rules they (fail to) enforce?

There is, perhaps, one problem with my thesis. Reading the ECB Cricket Disciplinary Committee’s regulations (I really know how to have a fun weekend), it’s not entirely clear whether the ECB as an entity is accountable to the committee. The only organisations it lists as ‘participants’ in its disciplinary process are “members”, which means the 39 counties (first-class and national) plus the MCC. If this is the case, then perhaps the ECB as a whole can escape due to a trifling technicality. It seems inarguable otherwise that they would be found guilty.

Individual employees are clearly liable though, as it specifically mentions “committee members of the ECB”. This would presumably include chief executive Tom Harrison as chair of the executive committee, for example. It is certainly be very difficult to imagine that this sustained failure to act over a long period of time in so many cases from the ECB could be possible without the knowledge and support of such senior members of staff.

I am sure that Harrison would resign long before any hearing took place. It is already being rumoured that will be leaving in the next few months anyway (just after his loyalty bonus is due, coincidentally). However, just referring him to the disciplinary committee would be an important message for the ECB to project that no one in English cricket is unaccountable and that things will genuinely change going forward. It would also help the ECB deflect accusations of double standards as it finally starts dealing with historic complaints and punishing the clubs or individuals responsible.

And at the end of the day, isn’t everyone being treated the same what equality is all about?

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about the post or anything else cricket-related, leave them below.

Should Women Have Equal Pay In The Hundred?

Tomorrow, the ECB and several county chairs are going before the Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Parliamentary committee to answer questions regarding racism within English cricket and their responses to it (or the lack thereof). This is certainly an important issue which should be questioned and addressed, but it is far from the only problem that the sport has regarding diversity and equality. The treatment of women cricketers by the ECB and the counties has been (and continues to be) shameful.

This genuinely angers me, and never more so than when the ECB posts press releases, promotional videos and friendly articles by useful idiots in the press declaring how committed they are to gender equality. It is absolute bullshit. I’ve posted about this before, after the ECB posted a series of videos on Twitter proclaiming their support for the International Women’s Day 2020 campaign ‘Each For Equal’. It’s fair to say that I was not impressed.

In the first season of The Hundred, the total player wage bill for the women’s competition was £1.3m compared to £6.7m for the men. This meant that the average man was paid £45,000 more than the average woman. The ECB announced pay rises for everyone in this year’s competition, which was presented by some useful idiots in the press as being a “108%” (or “more than doubled”) increase for the women compared to ‘just’ 25% for the men. A real blow for equality in sport. This was technically accurate, but hardly tells the full story. With the total wage bills being £8.3m and £2.3m in 2022, the average pay gap for women cricketers has actually increased by £5,000 to £50,000.

The first question this scenario begs to be asked is whether it is legal. If you had a company with a 50-50 gender split and every single woman was paid £50,000 less than a man in the same job, you could expect to spend most of your time in lawyers’ offices and employment tribunals.

We understand in sport that men’s and women’s sports are typically separate, with their own discrete economic and competition structures and therefore it is not unfair for Cristiano Ronaldo to be paid more than Ella Toone, for example. However, it is not immediately apparent that this would apply to The Hundred. Almost every source of income is pooled together from both competitions, with no distinction for what proportion can (or should) be attributed to the men or women. The TV deals all include both men’s and women’s games. Every ticket sold (barring the season openers) is for both a men’s and women’s game. The same sponsorship deals cover both competitions. At the same time, it would seem like women do the same amount of work as the men in The Hundred, playing the same number of games and having apparently equal media and sponsorship commitments. It would be very interesting to hear what someone with more knowledge than me regarding employment law had to say on the issue.

Even if total pay equity is not legally required, the current balance is significantly out of proportion to the value they bring to the competition and the compensation they therefore deserve. With wage budgets of £8m and £2m, the women will on average be paid 25% as much as the men this season. According to the ECB’s own figures, the women’s Hundred had 52.4% of the attendance and (for the final) 58.3% of the TV viewers compared to the men’s games. It would seem to logically follow that the women therefore deserve to be paid at least 50% of what the men receive, or double what they are currently due in 2022.

To be clear: The TV audiences are the key statistic regarding how much income can be attributed to the women’s competition. The Sky and BBC TV deals alone account for £36.5m, roughly 70% of The Hundred’s revenue. If women’s cricket is attracting 52.4% of the men’s audience (and it is) then it follows that they are earning 34.4% (0.524/1.524) of those TV deals, or £12.5m. This would mean that the women’s competition is already making a profit, and would continue to do so even if their total wage budget was increased to £8m per year.

At the same time, the men’s competition has significantly greater costs. As well as having higher salaries for the players, it also requires an annual payment to the counties of £24.7m to compensate them for losing contracted men’s players during the season as well as lost income from hosting fewer, lower status men’s games in the middle of summer. This means that the men’s competition earns £24m in UK TV revenue (65.6% of £36.5m) but costs at least £32.7m. Even if you attribute 100% of ticket revenue (around £6.5m) to the men’s Hundred, it would still be making a significant loss. In short: The women’s Hundred appears to be subsidising the men’s.

However, these attendance and viewing figures don’t tell the whole story. The scheduling of The Hundred in the first year was entirely focussed on the men’s competition. Every single men’s game in 2021 was in a primetime television/attendance slot, by which I mean outside of work hours and avoiding clashes with the men’s Test series against India. By contrast, every weekday women’s game (bar the season opener) started at 3pm or 3.30pm and there were also ten women’s games scheduled to take place at the same time as the Tests.

That the women attracted such a large audience in spite of these handicaps placed on them by the ECB is incredible and, I would argue, suggests that they are significantly undervalued. After all, if the roles were reversed and every women’s game was given this kind of priority, would the men’s attendances and TV audiences still be higher? There is a reason why almost no sports play their games during work hours, if they can avoid it.

It bears saying that achieving equal pay in The Hundred would be much easier with the support of the PCA. The women players are all members, and you might expect that their union would be supporting them gaining more (and, I would argue, fairer) pay. However, the most obvious way for the ECB to implement this would having a £5m wage budget for each competition, which would represent a 37.5% pay cut for men. As I have previously posted, the PCA always seems to prioritise the interests of their male members over everyone else.

Even so, to pay women cricketers so little would seem to be too hypocritical even for the ECB to stomach. After all, they post lovely videos on all of their social media accounts proclaiming their support for International Women’s Day every single year. Given that one of the key themes running through every single International Women’s Day campaign is the fight against pay disparity, and the ECB actively promotes these campaigns, supporting equal pay in their new competition would seem like a no-brainer.

Which should tell you exactly how much I rate the ‘brains’ at the ECB.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, please leave them below.

Less Is Not Always More

As happens after every England Test series loss, an increasingly common occurrence these days, people have started proposing cutting the number of counties in English cricket to improve the development of Test cricketers.

Proponents of having fewer first-class teams are happy to concede that the County Championship used to be a much stronger competition, which would appear to contradict their argument from the outset as the number of teams hasn’t changed. Likewise, having eighteen teams hasn’t hurt the production of talented English white ball cricketers. In fact, it could be argued that England boasts the greatest depth in terms of T20 players of any country. This would suggest that the number of teams is not a key issue, although this does obviously not prevent people from suggesting it.

The first thing which must be acknowledged is that cutting the number of first-class teams would certainly improve the average quality of domestic red ball cricket in this country. In the short term. This is because it is a statistical trick. Imagine a school expelled the bottom half of its students. Even though the quality of teaching and the intelligence of the remaining children both remain the same, they could argue that their ‘average grade’ had risen sharply. The intrinsic flaw in this approach is that when a new batch of kids comes in, they are back where they started because they haven’t actually changed anything. Indeed, if the school had reduced their permanent capacity by half then there would presumably be half as many students with top grades once the original ones had left.

There are two obvious areas which could improve the number of high-quality county cricketers: Recruiting more junior players with high potential and improving the development of those players in order to meet that potential. At first glance, reducing the number of teams helps neither.

The greatest flaw with trying to adapt the Sheffield Shield format to England is the population density of the two countries. 16 million people, over 60% of Australia’s total population, live in the six cities which have first-class teams there. The number of people who live in the seventeen cities and towns which host county grounds is just 15.7 million, or 26.9% of England and Wales’s population.

In terms of developing Test players, the major effect is the number of children within each team’s catchment area. Looking at the three world-class Test players England currently has: Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson both grew up roughly 30 miles away from their respective county grounds, whilst Ben Stokes had to travel 90 miles each way to the Riverside Ground. This is one factor which restricts working-class kids from playing professional cricket, because they often need a stay-at-home parent with a car and the willingness to spend several hours a week just to attend county age group practice sessions and games.

If the number of teams was halved, that would mean many would have farther to travel and even more potential Test players would be excluded from the professional game. In that it disproportionately affects working-class children, reducing the number of teams might also be considered a diversity issue. Given the focus on that topic at the moment, both within the ECB and from Parliament, it would be a brave move for English cricket to take now.

Once they make their way through the junior teams, the issue then becomes whether these young players would get any opportunities to make the first XI if there were fewer places available. It seems unlikely that promising young cricketers such as Zak Crawley or Ollie Pope would have played as many Championship matches if there were significantly greater competition for places. Increasing the minimum standard of player comes at the expense of allowing youngsters to make their debuts early and gain valuable experience as a result.

The lack of chances to break through into a team was often cited by South African-born players as a reason why they came to England to play cricket, a situation admittedly exacerbated by racial quotas in the country. It is notable that Cricket South Africa have recently reverted from a six-team first-class competition (which ran from 2004 to 2020) to one featuring fifteen provincial teams. It would be interesting to see how those proposing a reduction in county teams explain why it apparently failed to work in South Africa.

So to summarise: Reducing the number of first-class teams in England and Wales doesn’t appear to solve any of the issues regarding developing Test cricketers, and will likely worsen some of them. It is a fundamentally self-destructive and pointless act which will be yet another step towards the end of Test cricket in this country.

The ECB are almost certain to do it then.

As always, please leave your comments below.

Christmas Repeats

As I was watching the Morecambe and Wise 1971 Christmas Special for the umpteenth time, I was struck by how familiar the television schedules seem over the holidays. Even death has failed to keep Eric and Ernie off our screens for any Christmas in over 50 years. There’s The Snowman on Channel 4, as always. The Queen’s Speech, of course. People love the traditions of watching the same thing over and over again.

The same could be said about the England Test team. You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a repeat last night, as England yet again collapsed with bat and failed to impress with the ball. With only a minor changes in the cast, it followed broadly the same plot as the previous two Tests, and the recent series against India and New Zealand, and the previous series in Australia.

But where people welcome the traditions of watching the same things every Christmas, at least most of them have uplifting endings. Even EastEnders isn’t unrelentingly grim in their Christmas episode. England Test cricket fans haven’t been so lucky, as the last month has been a constant succession of misguided hope and failure.

So here I am, begging the England team to change the script. Not by winning, that is clearly unrealistic at this point. Rather, just playing somewhere near their potential. Not gifting their wickets to the opposition, or allowing the Australian batters to get their eye in with a barrage of short and wide deliveries. I can take them losing to a better team, as Australia undoubtedly is. What I can’t take is them capitulating without even the smallest measure of resistance or intelligence.

I have seen that show too many times before.

Ashes Preview

There is a palpable sense of apathy about the Ashes series. Generally, on Twitter and in the general public, but most certainly amongst the writers at Being Outside Cricket. Of the four of us, I might actually be the only one who intends to watch a game or two. Even then, that is in large part because I have a massive amount of annual leave built up and I have only a few months to use it. I have the holidays, I subscribe to BT Sport, so it would be a waste not to.

There’s a number of factors which have contributed to this malaise. The effects of COVID-19, both direct and indirect, really put the importance of sport into perspective. Likewise, the revelations regarding the extent of racism in English cricket have reduced people’s enthusiasm for the game.

Perhaps the most significant reason is that almost no one thinks England will manage to win a single match in the series. They have neither the batting ability to outscore Australia, nor the bowling ability to taken the host’s wickets cheaply. Their catching is also diabolically bad. This is by no means an overpowering Australian lineup, they lost their most recent home series against an injury-ravaged Indian side, but they are still better than England in every phase of play.

England haven’t managed to win a Test match in Australia since 2011, and their team was significantly stronger than now in both 2013 and 2017. The only things that can stop Australia winning 5-0 are rain (the forecast for the first Test isn’t exactly great), a ridiculously flat pitch (ie Melbourne 2017), or state border closures. Cricket Australia probably shouldn’t even bother making a massive print of an English hand with one finger raised.

All of which is to say that you shouldn’t expect full coverage of the Ashes from us at Being Outside Cricket this winter. There will be posts, when we’re in the mood or have something to say, but there almost certainly won’t be daily reports on the day’s play. We’ll still be on Twitter, and still read and respond to comments on the blog. Everything else, we’ll see how it goes.

In terms of a preview, it looks grim for England on paper. Australia’s team (announced three days in advance) has four players with Test batting averages over 39.00 (Smith, Labuschagne, Warner and Head). England’s whole 15-man squad has one (Root). England’s batsmen have two main weaknesses: Fast bowling and spin. Those are Australia’s two bowling strengths. England lack X-factor bowlers who might stand a good chance of bowling out a set Smith or Labuschagne, particularly if they favour allrounders like Woakes or Overton to bolster their fragile batting order. England’s catching in recent times, or lack thereof, has meant that the bowlers typically need to make an two or three extra chances per innings, which is always a tough ask in Australian conditions.

Quite simply, England are screwed.

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Despite England making a semi final appearance in the T20 World Cup, the English media (cricket and otherwise) has been focussed on the sordid goings on at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. This is tragic because this situation was eminently avoidable. It’s difficult to comprehend just how many things must have gone wrong for things to reach this point.

Yorkshire CCC are, deservedly, getting a kicking. If you sent eight men to sabotage an organisation from within, they would struggle to do so more effectively than the Yorkshire CCC board in the past year. Their ignorance was seemingly only matched by their arrogance. As each revelation came out, they just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper. They were clearly incapable of running a cricket club.

ECB chief executive Tom Harrison has watched from the sidelines whilst this slow motion trainwreck has taken place and done sweet fuck all. He has defended his inactions with the following statement:

“What we were asked to do was join the Yorkshire panel to be part of the investigation, which clearly we cannot do. We are the regulator, we either run the investigation in its entirety ourselves or we let our stakeholders run an investigation in the entirety itself.”

Let us take one single aspect of Azeem Rafiq’s experience: In August 2018, he made several complaints to Yorkshire CCC officials at a meeting attended by a PCA representative. This was reported in the Guardian (and quite possibly elsewhere), two years later in September 2020. That is also when the Yorkshire CCC investigation into Rafiq’s allegations began. The ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code states that it is a breach of the code for an organisation to “fail to provide an effective, timely and proportionate response.” Yorkshire CCC literally did nothing for two whole years. There could not be a clearer breach of the ECB’s code. Nor, frankly, of basic human decency.

It is a very simple charge to prove, with independent witnesses. There is no reason why this specific matter could not have been dealt with by the ECB immediately after it was first reported, rather than waiting over a year. The ECB instead chose to wait until after the ‘independent’ report was completed. When that started, it was due to be finished within about two months. Instead, the final report wasn’t delivered to Yorkshire CCC for just under a year. Even when that happened, the ECB granted Yorkshire CCC a full two months to hand over the report.

No aspect of this has been conducted in an effective, timely, or proportionate manner. Not by Yorkshire CCC and, crucially, not by the ECB. If the “regulator” is not minded to follow its own code of conduct, why would any of the clubs it is purporting to regulate?

Speaking of the ECB’s Anti-Discrimination Code, it is very interesting to compare it to their Anti-Corruption Code. In matters of matchfixing and gambling, it is considered a serious and explicit offence to refuse to cooperate with an investigation or fail to report an approach which you have witnessed. Now consider how many players, coaches and administrators refused to help the Yorkshire racism investigation. If they had acted in this way in a matchfixing inquiry, they could face up to a five year ban. It is clear, from both the text of the rules and the application of the rules, that the ECB place almost no importance of the issue of racism within the sport compared to the threat of intentionally losing a match.

This is not to say that the ECB have done nothing to combat racism. They required that the England team wore t-shirts with the motto “We stand together against racism”. They tweeted a lot about the ACE Programme. They promoted Black and Asian players disproportionately often before and during The Hundred. Such PR can be important. The idea that you ‘fake it until you make it’ with regards to equality isn’t entirely ridiculous. There will have been Black and Asian parents and children who will have gone to their local cricket clubs after the various promotions, press articles and social media posts that the ECB have offered in recent years. Marketing is fine, but it also has to be backed up by real action to be worth a damn. All of those campaigns, including the most recent #BlackHistoryMonth posts, have now been overwhelmed by reporting on Yorkshire CCC.

Let us not forget that the ECB have had their own issues regarding racism being discussed in the media. Ismail Dawood, John Holder and Devon Malcolm have highlighted that the ECB has not added a single Black or Asian to the first-class umpire and match umpire lists since it was formed in 1997. Their handling of past cases of racist abuse has also been in the spotlight. Although England bowler Craig Overton and Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale were punished for on-field racist abuse, both were found guilty of a lesser offence. The ECB has never publicly explained why both players didn’t face the more serious Level 2 charge of racially abusing an opponent, with the greater penalties that would apply. In fact, Ollie Robinson might be the only person ever to be punished by the ECB where racism was considered an aggravating factor in his punishment.

Given Tom Harrison’s assertion that the ECB either runs investigations itself or lets the counties do so, one might wonder whether any action took place regarding allegations of racism within county dressing rooms made by Michael Carberry and Ebony Rainford-Brent, amongst others. Outside of matters relating to Azeem Rafiq and Yorkshire CCC, there hadn’t been any mention of investigations by other counties or the ECB in the press until after politicians started intervening.

Which brings us to the title of the post: Who watches the watchmen? The ECB has been at best passive when faced with evidence of racism within English cricket, and have arguably been complicit in suppressing and minimising the reports that have made it into public view. Given that they are (or consider themselves) the regulator of English cricket, who regulates them?

The answer, it appears, is the counties. The ECB is overseen by its 41 members, with representatives from the 18 First Class Counties, the 21 Cricket Boards of the non-First-Class Counties, the National Counties Cricket Association and the MCC. This would appear at first glance to be a colossal conflict of interest for a body which is supposed to act as regulator for the counties. If the Yorkshire CCC board’s reluctance to see the experiences of Rafiq as racist abuse is respresentative of other counties, and there’s little reason to suppose this is not the case, it isn’t surprising that the ECB apparently considers dealing with such issues as a very low priority.

The circular structure of English cricket, with the ECB both governing and being governed by the counties, means that the counties are essentially self-regulated. They have the power to set the rules, decide what the punishments will be, and who will be allowed to judge them. There is also no one who people can escalate their complaint to if the ECB fails to thoroughly investigate allegations made to or about them.

I believe that this inherent flaw within the ECB cannot be remedied without changing its entire structure. Fundamentally, the ECB is supposed to be run for the good of cricket at all levels within England and Wales but there is no one ensuring that they do this. They make decisions with no consistency, and they also have the ability to suppress or selectively release information in order to support whichever argument they are making. At this moment in time, only Parliament and the DCMS committee seemingly have the ability to hold them to account.

In order to address this, I would form a board of trustees to challenge the ECB. It would contain representatives from all aspects of the sport that the ECB governs, from fans to players (through organisations such as the Cricket Supporters Association and the Professional Cricketers Association), from amateur to professional, from men’s to women’s cricket. They could have monthly meetings with the ECB board, so that the board can justify their actions (or inaction). If they are not satisfied with what they hear, or receive a complaint regarding the ECB, they could have the power to investigate and, if necessary, punish wrongdoing.

There is no doubt that the ECB (and many counties) will be dealing quickly and firmly with allegations of racism in the near term, with even minor accusations becoming national news. However, the attention of the media will largely stray elsewhere and I see few reasons to think that they won’t revert back to their previous pattern of minimising and hiding complaints. If fundamental change is going to occur, it must happen now. Otherwise, in a few years, English cricket will likely go through this ordeal all over again.

Once is enough.