Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears A Crown

The ECB chair, Ian Watmore, resigned today. It was something of a shock, as it was just over a year since he was hired in 2020. He came into the role at one of the worst times imaginable, with the ECB in an unimaginably poor financial position, The Hundred launch, and the continued spectre of COVID. This should have been the time when these pressures were easing on Watmore, but instead things seemed to unravel in quick succession. The shambolic cancellation of England’s tours to Pakistan, a disastrous meeting with county chiefs, and the lethargic response to Yorkshire’s racism report have meant that he had seemingly lost friends and allies in every sector of English cricket. Ultimately, as Michael Atherton puts it, he lost the dressing room and had to go.

Who takes over the position of ECB chair, and how they choose to approach the role, will have a significant effect on English cricket in the next few years and beyond. There are some huge challenges ahead, and here are some thoughts on a few of them:

The Ashes

The ECB are due to announce their decision tomorrow, but it seems increasingly likely that England’s tour of Australia will broadly go ahead as planned. This was expected, if only because of a cynical appraisal of how important Cricket Australia is to the ECB relative to the Pakistan Cricket Board. It’s certainly difficult to understand the logic behind a declaration that a four-day tour of Pakistan would be onerous on the players and staff whilst a three-month tour of Australia (including over a week just in quarantine) is fine.

But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, and the past year or so should teach us not to take anything for granted. A spike in Australian infections before or during the tour could put the spotlight back on the England team’s continued involvement. I personally have little sympathy with Cricket Australia, who have only played ODIs and T20Is away from home in the last eighteen months and can’t really understand the toll taken on England’s Test cricketers over that time.

I also think that the England team will have a lot less patience with Australia’s typical tactic of ‘mental disintegration’, both on the field and in the media, which is part of almost every antipodean Ashes. Joe Root is no doubt mindful of the huge financial pressure Cricket Australia are under, with up to $200m riding on the series going ahead, and might well consider taking his team home rather than copping a ton of abuse from people he is doing a huge favour for.

All of which is to say that the incoming chair will have an important and difficult task to handle, straight out of the gate (assuming they are appointed this year). Ensuring the series goes ahead as planned, holding Cricket Australia to their promises, and backing the players if they pull the plug on the whole thing. Whoever gets the job will have to hit the ground running, so to speak.

Pakistan/West Indies

One of the things which precipitated Watmore’s resignation appears to be the fallout from the cancellation of England’s tours of Pakistan. It would therefore be a good move from his successor to repair relations between the two countries as quickly as possible. Announcing a new tour, or an extension of the already-scheduled tour in 2022, would be a good way to go about this. The 2022 tour to the West Indies was expanded by three games as a similar show of gratitude for CWI touring England in 2020, and the chair should reiterate the ECB’s commitment to fulfilling their promises at the earliest opportunity.

On a broader level, it would be nice if the ECB spent more time touring the less financially or politically powerful cricketing nations. England last played an away Test against Bangladesh in 2016, Zimbabwe in 1996, and have never done so against Ireland. We love Test cricket in this country, but its continued survival depends on it being financially viable around the world. If we could find a way to visit these countries, even with weakened and rotated teams, it would go a long way to rebuilding relationships with cricketing nations outside the ‘Big 3’.

The Hundred

It seemed like it cast a vast, dark shadow over English cricket in the months and years leading up to its launch, but the end result felt decidedly unimpressive. Neither a triumphant success nor an unmitigated disaster. Just ‘meh’. Which might be considered a victory for its proponents, if not for the colossal price tag. All told, it’s likely that the true cost of that first season (including the development, design, and other costs in the years before) amounts to well over £100m. If I were to ever spend that kind of money on something, I’d expect nothing less than perfection.

The new ECB chair will undoubtedly want to make some changes for The Hundred’s sophomore season. Cutting the costs might be a good place to start. If the ECB could slice £13m from its £63m annual spend on the competition, it would at least break even. Cut a little more and it could actually start making the profit that Tom Harrison and others have already claimed. There’s certainly a lot of extraneous things which could be removed with little obvious impact to ticket sales, such as the musical guests at every game.

There will be those of you who would love to see The Hundred disappear altogether, but I can’t see that happening before 2025 (the beginning of the next TV deal). It’s in the Sky and BBC contracts, and there’s no backing out of that now. Aside from anything else, I really don’t like people or organisations who renege on their agreements. Polishing the turd is likely the order of the day, before it can be flushed away altogether in the next round of broadcast rights.

Sky TV Deal

Speaking of broadcast rights, the preparation for the next auction will likely be beginning soon. For all their faults, Colin Graves and Tom Harrison did oversee the first English cricket being shown on free-to-air TV since 2005 (even if it was just T20Is and The Hundred). The new ECB chair will have the opportunity to surpass that by some margin, if they choose to prioritise the growth of the game over the accumulation of money. In other words: Put live Test cricket back on Channel 4.

It might sound like a great idea to us fans, but it’s worth remembering that the ECB chair is elected by the counties who all rely on the cash they receive from the central TV contracts. A debt-ridden club, of which there are a few, might well prioritise getting an extra £2m every year over the exposure that Freeview provides. If the chair can’t persuade the counties to accept a bit less money, their tenure in the job could be as short as Ian Watmore’s.

The decision may not be as clear cut as this. BT has seemingly losing interest in their sports division whilst streaming giants like Amazon have launched their own coverage for events like the US Open in tennis. It’s a different world, which could lead to the value of English cricket’s coverage climbing or plummeting. Given this uncertainty, the ECB chair’s responsibility of ensuring maximum exposure for the game whilst keeping it solvent is not one I envy.

Yorkshire

It’s been three years since Azeem Rafiq first made his complaints known to several people at Yorkshire CCC, thirteen months since the county finally launched an investigation into the matter, and almost two months since they received the finished report. In all that time, the ECB have done nothing. It stinks, especially when you compare it to the high-profile and instant reaction to Ollie Robinson’s old tweets earlier this year. It would be nice to think that the new ECB chair could finally get things moving, although the cynical side of me has its doubts.

To become chair of the ECB, you have to be voted in by a majority of forty county representatives (both the major and minor counties). That includes Yorkshire, as well as any other counties who have their own skeletons in the closet. Quite simply: It would be difficult to see someone getting the job if they were committed to investigating and punishing racism at the counties. This is a short-sighted approach, as allowing the issue to continue unabated will only cause more problems for the clubs later on, but none of the county chairs seem particularly inclined to see it from this viewpoint.

County Cricket

The meeting which reportedly brought Ian Watmore’s tenure as ECB chair to an end was in large part about the future shape of English domestic cricket. There is also considerable tension between the counties which host The Hundred teams and those who don’t. With four domestic competitions and a packed international calendar, it will be no easy feat for his successor to keep everyone happy. In fact, it may well be impossible.

Given that the counties elect the ECB chair, whoever gets the job will have to be persuasive in getting everyone to compromise. It’s something of a tightrope, balancing the interests of all 18 counties, and I don’t have much hope for the outcome being particularly welcomed by county cricket fans.

Women’s Cricket

If the Hundred had one almost undeniable success, it was in the performance and popularity of the women’s competition. It had attendance and viewing figures not far removed from that of the men’s games, which begs the question: What next?

One obvious issue which could be quickly addressed is that of pay: The women were paid less than a sixth of what the men received on average. There is certainly a case for that imbalance to be at least partly remedied. The new chair might also see an opportunity to increase the value to the ECB of these likeable and talented cricketers by encouraging Sky to broadcast women’s domestic games outside of The Hundred.

On a personal note, I would also love to see women’s Test cricket on a regular basis. It baffles me that the women’s team play almost no matches in the format which is by far the most popular and profitable for their male counterparts. If the ECB could see their way to persuading every touring team to play at least one Test, I think it would go a long way towards ‘traditional’ (ie old) cricket fans fully embracing women’s cricket.

Participation

As people often seem to forget, the ECB is responsible for amateur cricket in England and Wales as well as the professional game. Cricket clubs seem to get very little support from their governing body, and are rarely listened to. Volunteers are taken for granted, monolithic schemes such as All Stars or Dynamos are thrust upon clubs, and hours of bureaucratic admin and tech support are inflicted on club secretaries through ClubSpark and PlayCricket.

It would be incredible if the new ECB chair could do something about this. There are two key themes which I think need to be addressed: Simplicity and flexibility. The first is easy: Running a local cricket club should not have to be a full-time (unpaid) job. It should not require expertise in computers, social media and finances as well as (you would hope) some knowledge of cricket. It shouldn’t take months to adapt to the software you use for scoring. These are all long-standing issues which the ECB never seem inclined to tackle.

The second fundamental change I would love to see from the ECB is to recognise the enormous diversity of clubs in English cricket. Some have hundreds of members, some barely have eleven. Some have pavillions, and some don’t. Some are in affluent areas, and some aren’t. Some teams are focused on winning at all costs, some are more social clubs. Whenever a new scheme is released by the ECB, it always seems like it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Thats fine if your club fits (like, I would guess, most ECB Premier League teams), but it leaves a lot more on the outside looking in. A more flexible, attentive attitude towards club cricket could really help boost participation (or at least slow its decline) across the country.

Restructuring

As I have said several times now through this post, the ECB chair is elected essentially by the counties. This means that the counties’ needs (mostly money) are prioritised over the interests of every other ‘stakeholder’ in English cricket; The players, proponents of the women’s game, people involved in local clubs, and of course the fans. This is just the fundamental structure of the ECB.

In order to break the cycle of counties pressuring the ECB to maximise revenues to prop up their own mismanaged clubs at the expense of every other aspect of the sport, the long term solution is to introduce representatives of everyone the ECB holds sway over as members and decisionmakers of equal importance to the counties. Organisations such as the Professional Cricketers Association, the Cricket Supporters’ Association and the assorted club cricket organisations absolutely deserve to have some say over who makes decisions on their behalf.

It would undoubtedly be a hard sell to persuade the counties to cede some of their power, but it’s difficult to see the ECB becoming a functioning governing body whilst the people running it are beholden to just one interest group.

Conclusion

The more I wrote of this post, the more I felt sorry for Ian Watmore. It’s clear that it’s a virtually impossible job, which explains why no one seems to have particularly fond memories of any ECB (or TCCB) chairman in the history of the sport.

There is, of course, one outstanding candidate: George Dobell. Well liked by many involved in running county cricket, a founder of the Cricket Supporters’ Association and a known proponent for reforming the game. He’s also currently between jobs and presumably available to take over at short notice. If there is one person who can address all of the points in this post, and basically save English cricket, it’s George Dobell.

Otherwise, we’re screwed.

If you want to comment on this post, or any of the dozens of things happening in cricket right now, please write your comments below.

England vs India – 4th Test, Day 5 – No Surprises

This morning, fans of Test cricket around the world were effusively praising this game, with all three (or four) results being possible. As an England fan, I had to wonder if these people had been in a cave for the last eight years. England scoring 291 runs on the fifth day, even with all ten wickets in hand and a remarkably benign pitch? Virtually impossible.

To let you in on the workings behind Being Outside Cricket, all four of us have jobs and so there are times when none of us have the chance to see the day’s play. Today is one of those times. But the thing is, I’ve seen this so many times before that I can practically write the match report blind. There were a couple of brief periods where England looked comfortable, but wickets falling in clusters meant that the few good performances were for nothing. A couple of batters were dismissed through what can only be described as a Vaughan-esque display of stupidity. Some absolute tit ran onto the pitch when he had no business being there (Could be Jarvo, could be any of the England batters bar Joe Root).

The idea that England were in any way capable of scoring almost three hundred runs today was laughable, but you have to think that this was their plan this morning since there is almost no other reason why Dawid Malan could have been run out (I say almost no reason, because there is also matchfixing). This kind of delusion seems utterly bizarre. England haven’t had a batting unit capable of managing that even fifty percent of the time since 2013. The decline has been almost constant. No one has managed to replace Strauss, or Trott, or Prior, or Bell, or Cook when they retired. All of them averaged over forty with the bat, but Joe Root is the only one in the current team to have reached that relatively basic benchmark.

And yet, in spite of their obviously limited ability and the overwhelming odds, I do understand why they might have chosen to attempt the win. For a start, if they played defensively throughout and comfortably made the draw then they would have been attacked by their fans and the media for not playing entertaining cricket or lacking a killer instinct. There is also a lot of positive thinking which is seemingly enforced throughout professional sports. Every time England have been crushed by better opposition, we’ve been told that they are taking the positives and learning the lessons. If you think you can’t achieve something, you almost definitely won’t. Or so the theory goes. That might be fine in a game like tennis, where the results are binary and you must either win or lose. In sports with draws, depriving your opponent of a win can (depending on the situation) be almost as good as winning yourself.

In fairness, it wasn’t the batting that lost this game for England. The bowling and catching in portions of this game have been diabolically bad. Anderson, Robinson, Woakes and Overton are all very good when the ball swings, but when it didn’t swing during India’s second innings they seemingly had no answers. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on the bowlers, but on the selections of Chris Silverwood and the utter ineptitude of England’s medical staff. There are sometimes points in a Test match where you need a bowler who can bowl unplayable deliveries, even if they are less consistent and more expensive. A spinner who can turn the ball both ways, or a pace bowler who can go above 90mph. England had neither, and India punished them for this oversight.

As for who to blame for England’s catching, the obvious culprit would be fielding coach Carl Hopkinson. His own first-class record certainly doesn’t mark him out as a skilled catcher, with only 39 catches in his career. To put that into context, Moeen Ali has 40 Test catches in just a few more innings. Imagine making Moeen Ali your fielding coach. Hopkinson has also had the job since 2018, in which period England have been quite possibly the worst Test team in terms of not taking their chances in the field. It is the stated policy of England’s Test selection that they prefer to give players one game too many than too few. Does this also apply to the specialist coaches?

There are undoubtedly other factors. The revolving door of batting selections has meant that players don’t get used to fielding in one position for a run of games. The slip cordon has changed seemingly every week. I also suspect that England’s white ball cricketers don’t spend a lot of time on close catching practice or other red ball-centric exercises during large parts of the year. Whatever the causes, the ECB seemingly has no answer for what has been a very consistent shortcoming in the test team.

Speaking of history repeating itself, and no one with any sense being surprised: Yesterday marked the anniversary of Yorkshire CCC launching their independent investigation into racism at the club, and absolutely nothing happened. Yorkshire aren’t doing anything, and the ECB and the PCA (the player’s union) aren’t forcing them to do anything. I’ve written about the PCA’s limitations in this regard, so you can read about that HERE if you want. The ECB have a long record of sticking their head in the sand and ignoring any issue until it goes away. It quite often works. That was why I was incredulous when, three months ago, the ECB came down like a ton of bricks on Ollie Robinson for a series of tweets in very poor taste from 2012. There were furious statements from chief executive Tom Harrison, an immediate suspension, and a quick investigation by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee.

Robinson was very unlucky in some respects, because the ECB has never done anything remotely close to this before, or since. On the other hand, the harshness of the punishment and his apparent sense of remorse has seemingly helped rehabilitate him in the eyes of the public. You might compare him to Craig Overton, who is still facing questions on his own racist incident from 2015 and perhaps a greater level of suspicion about his current attitude than Robinson. In that regard, the ECB and Yorkshire might want to consider the merits of publicly admitting their mistakes and showing genuine regret rather than letting the issue rumble on for another year.

If you have any comments on England’s continuing ineptitude, or anything else, feel free to comment below.

England vs India – 4th Test, Day 1 – Root Was Right

Sport is dominated by an almost slavish devotion to ‘conventional wisdom’. The reason seems fairly clear: No one ever got fired as a coach or captain for making the same choices as the majority of fans and your predecessors did. Any decisions which goes against the status quo, of how things are done, are always seen as a risk where you alone bear responsibility for the consequences. The overwhelming consensus was that everyone bats first at the Oval, given the choice, but Joe Root instead opted to field first. And, if you look at how today went, he was right to do so.

Which isn’t to say the day went wholly England’s way. The first half hour was very quiet, with India’s openers seemingly handling Anderson and Robinson with ease. At that point, several people were already starting to question Root’s decision to bat first. It wasn’t until Woakes replaced Anderson that the ball really started swinging (not something you often say about Anderson) and the Indian batters started struggling. India’s top three fell in just a few overs leading India to take the unusual position of promoting their typical number seven, Ravindra Jadeja, to five. There was speculation from the commentators that this was to disrupt England’s bowling with a left-right batting partnership, whilst people online joked that he was acting as a nightwatchman whose job was to protect Kohli and Rahane from the swinging ball. Of the two theories, I think I might favour the latter. He certainly seemed to be farming the strike away from Virat Kohli, which is another thing I wasn’t expecting to write at the start of the day.

The afternoon session began with Joe Root dropping a sharp chance at first slip, which was something of a theme for the day. England dropped the ball four times in the innings, adding perhaps another fifty runs onto India’s total. It doesn’t seem like much in that context, just over ten runs per drop, but this match has all the hallmarks of a low-scoring contest where every run counts. Gifting runs, and more time in the middle for Virat Kohli to rediscover his form, is not something which should be tolerated by England. Kohli and Rahane batted out most of the session, before a burst of wickets blew through the Indian middle order and exposed their long and fragile tail. And Shardul Thakur.

Sometimes in cricket, one batter just seems to be playing a different game altogether from his teammates. Joe Root has been one obvious example for most of this year. Shadul Thakur is a less obvious example, but his innings was certainly immense fun to watch. The bowler scored 57 runs from just 36 deliveries, which would be impressively quick score for a number eight in a T20. He just absolutely smashed it/edged it everywhere. I mean, I’m an England supporter but I can’t imagine many people didn’t enjoy watching it. Apart from England’s bowlers, I guess. Chris Woakes eventually managed to trap Thakur lbw, and England uncharacteristically managed to quickly dismiss the rest of the tailenders which left the tourists on a score of 191 all out.

Chris Woakes was one of two changes in this England side, replacing Sam Curran. With all due respect, this has made England’s bowling unit significantly better. Woakes outbowled Jimmy Anderson today. That’s just impressive. Curran didn’t perform well in this series with either bat or ball, and seemingly got picked based on his form in 2018 and the absence of any pace-bowling allrounders to replace him.

If Thakur’s cameo was a surprise, England’s response was anything but. Burns and Hameed scored just 6 runs between them before both being dismissed, exposing the middle order to the new ball yet again. This is the fifth time this year that Joe Root has come out with less than ten runs on the board. England lost three of those matches to India, and went on to win the game against Sri Lanka after Root scored 186. Unfortunately for England, that isn’t going to happen this time. Umesh Yadav bowled Root through the gate just before the close of play, with the hosts finishing the day on 53-3.

The match seems finely balanced, with two strong bowling attacks facing up against two brittle batting lineups. With Root already gone, it’s difficult to see this England team putting up a score above 300 and dominating. It’s good news for neutrals, keeping both sides in the game throughout. Less so for anyone who bought tickets for Day 4. Sorry Sean.

The teams were nine overs short today. You would think that would mostly be the fault of England, since they spent most of the day in the field and didn’t bowl a single over of spin. It seems clear that teams still aren’t taking over rates seriously, and the threat of losing World Test Championship points isn’t working even after Australia lost out on a chance to be in this year’s final due to such a deduction. Something has to change, but there seemingly isn’t any will within the ICC to do anything about it.

If you have any thoughts on the day’s play, or anything else that sparks your interest, post them below.

Lies, Damn Lies, And The Hundred

The Hundred has overshadowed essentially the whole of the English summer so far. It was, at least according to a lot of people, either the best or worst thing to happen in the entire history of cricket. I personally found it fairly underwhelming, but I can’t say I regularly watch T20 games anyway. The standard didn’t seem noticeably higher than the T20 Blast. The coverage was standard global T20 fare, with both the BBC and Sky dragging the standards down with a few dreadful choices in the commentary box. The ‘innovations’ (The TV graphics, five-ball overs, bowlers in consecutive overs, etc) seemed gimmicky and unnecessary. It was all a bit ‘meh’.

It is said that history is written by the victors, but sometimes the victors of a conflict can be decided by who writes the history. To that end, the ECB has posted a list of statistics which attempted to ‘prove’ the success of their new competition.

  • A total of 16.1m people watched some of the action on TV alone
  • 57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021
  • The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4m for the women’s game and 2.4m for the men’s game
  • 510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total
  • 55% of ticket buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before
  • 19% of tickets sold were for children
  • 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old
  • 21% of ticket buyers were women
  • The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event
  • There were 34.3m videos views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app
  • More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear
  • More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL
  • A revenue of roughly £50m, which gives a profit of £10m to re-invest in cricket
  • A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19
  • 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019
  • Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer
  • A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time compared to previous years, thanks to the introduction of Dynamos
  • All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball
  • 10,000 kids have had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship
  • 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB

This is obviously a lot to go through, so I will split it up into three groups: TV viewers, attendances, and participation.

TV Viewers

A total of 16.1 million people watched some part of the action on TV alone. This seems impressive at first, but lacks a lot of context. First, what does “watched some part of the action” mean? The number of people watching a TV programme can be quantified in many different ways, the most common being ‘average’, ‘peak’ and ‘reach’. A company such as BARB uses a sample group of representative TV viewers (or real-time data from set-top boxes and online viewing) to estimate the number of people watching every TV programme in five-minute segments. The ‘average’ number of viewers is the mean of every segment for that programme and the ‘peak’ is the highest number of viewers for any segment in the programme. ‘Reach’ is the broadest measurement of the three, and essentially includes every single viewer who watched even just one five-minute segment of a TV programme (or, in this case, a series of thirty four TV programmes).

So how does this compare to other recent televised cricket? Well this year’s Test series between India and England on Channel 4 had a total ‘reach’ of over 9 million viewers, despite being between 4am and noon rather than UK prime time television. In 2019, 15.4 million people in the UK watched some part of the Men’s World Cup final. That was just one game, with almost no promotion by Channel 4 due to the last-minute nature of the agreement to let them air it.

57% of viewers had not watched any other live ECB cricket in 2021. The key words here are “watched”, “live”, and “ECB”. “Watched” excludes people who listen to Test Match Special, “live” excludes people who watched the highlights on the BBC, and “ECB” excludes people who saw the Test series against India on Channel 4 (which the BCCI was responsible for). This statistic is presented in such a way as to imply that more than half of the TV viewers for The Hundred were new to the sport, or at least disconnected from it, but in fact does nothing of the sort.

The peak number of viewers for finals day were 1.4 million for the women’s game and 2.4 million for the men’s game. To add context for these figures: The opening games in the competition had peaks of 2.5 million viewers for the men’s game and 1.95 million viewers for the women’s. This suggests that audiences may have declined over the competition. Also bear in mind that these opening games were held on a Wednesday and Thursday night, whilst the finals were on the weekend when you might expect the number of TV viewers to be higher. If you were to compare these figures to the 2019 Men’s World Cup final, that had 8.92 million viewers at the start of the super over.

There were 34.3 million video views, plus 264,000 downloads of The Hundred app. Is this a lot? The ICC said that they had 4.6 billion video views during the 2019 Men’s World Cup, for example. I would guess that the number of views would increase with the number of videos you post, and with the number of platforms you posted them on. The number of views for the most popular video they posted would be interesting information, at least for me.

Attendances

510,000 tickets were sold and issued in total. The first part of this that jumps out at everyone is “and issued”. Something like 30-40,000 were given away by the ECB to NHS staff, cricket volunteers and children. I believe that Surrey were the only host county to include free entrance to The Hundred in their membership packages, but neither Surrey nor the ECB have said how many members took up this offer. The broader context of this figure is that the tickets were typically a lot cheaper than they would have been at the same grounds in the T20 Blast and, other than the Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord’s, no other first team cricket for cricket fans to watch at the grounds for the length of the competition.

55% of ticket-buyers had not bought a ticket for cricket in this country before. 19% of tickets sold were for children. 59% of ticket-buyers were under 45 years old. 21% of ticket-buyers were women. This is a huge dump of information regarding the demographics of people buying tickets for The Hundred, which appears impressive at first glance. Without knowing what the comparable figures were for the T20 Blast, you could look at these and assume that The Hundred was a huge step towards increasing the diversity of cricket crowds in England. In fact, Surrey have released their T20 Blast sales figures which appear to be very similar to those from The Hundred: 50% of their ticket-buyers were new to them in 2019, 20% of their tickets were for families, 60% of their ticket-buyers were under 45 years old, and 18% of their ticket-buyers were women. Whilst obviously the numbers for The Hundred are across eight grounds rather than just one, there seems to be very little improvement (if any) from the T20 Blast.

The total attendance for women’s games was 267,000, which is a world record for any women’s cricket event. You know what? I’m just going to give them this. If you were nitpicking, you could say that these figures (taken at the halfway point of the women’s games) includes some fans who only turned up early for the men’s games so they could get absolutely plastered. But even if that accounted for 30-40% of the official attendance, it would still be a world record.

More than 28,000 items of merchandise were sold, including 7,000 items of team kit and training-wear. This doesn’t even sound that impressive. I really wouldn’t be surprised if Surrey and Middlesex each sold more than 7,000 of their own kits to fans per year, whilst ‘items of merchandise’ could mean everything from a £1 bumper sticker to a £10 baseball cap.

More runs per ball in the men’s competition than the IPL, and more in the women’s competition than the WBBL. This one doesn’t really fit in any of the categories, so it might as well go here. The comparison with the IPL and WBBL seems a little odd. My entirely untested view on this is that Indian and Australian grounds typically seem larger than English ones on TV, which therefore makes it easier to hit sixes and have a higher scoring rate in England. Near the halfway point of The Hundred, statistician Ric Finlay said that the scoring rate in the men’s Hundred was 143.21 as opposed to 141.64 in the 2021 T20 Blast. It’s hardly a huge step forwards, at least in this country.

A revenue of roughly £50 million, which gives a profit of £10 million to re-invest in cricket. These figures have been questioned by a lot of people, as they don’t include the costs of the £1.3 million annual payments to each of the eighteen first-class counties (a total of £23.4 million per year). If this were included, The Hundred couldn’t be expected to make an annual profit until at least the next TV deal in 2025. One might also be forgiven for being cynical about the ECB’s intention to direct this ‘surplus’ towards grassroots cricket when (for example) the bonuses for ECB executives (£2.1 million) is almost the same as their annual donation for Chance To Shine (£2.5 million).

Participation

A 230% increase in the number of junior fixtures in August 2021 compared to 2017-19. 10,000 more adult fixtures being played in club cricket compared to 2019. A 900% increase in the number of kids playing in All Stars and Dynamos during The Hundred competition time. This has been a weird year. In terms of club cricket, the majority of games are typically held before August because that is when most children, and their parents, are away on holiday and therefore unavailable for games or training sessions. This year, there were a lot of restrictions related to COVID-19 until July 19th and a lot of people won’t be going away on holiday this summer.

It is also worthwhile to consider what the ECB’s source of information for these fixture figures is. It seems likely that it is via PlayCricket, the ECB’s website/app for cricket club administration and scoring. It has been mentioned that some club leagues have insisted clubs use PlayCricket more this year than in the past, which may have the effect of clubs posting games on the ECB website (friendlies, intra-squad matches, etc) which they would not have done before. Whether these figures reflect an actual increase in matches or just greater use of PlayCricket is yet to be seen.

Over 101,000 children taking part in ECB-run National Programmes this summer. 10,000 kids had free access to Dynamos cricket thanks to Sky’s sponsorship. 160 hubs in cities across the country have worked with over 20,000 young people, and 10,000 more have attended cricketing school breakfast clubs set up by the ECB. The headline figure of 101,000 seems great, until you consider the statistics which follow it. The ECB has launched Dynamos, which targets slightly older kids at clubs which already hold All Stars sessions, as well as the new hubs and breakfast clubs which all presumably are counted as “ECB-run National Programmes”. It seems probable that the only like-for-like comparison, the number of children in All Stars cricket, has actually fallen quite sharply. This is unsurprising and unavoidable in a pandemic-affected year, but the figures given seem quite misleading.

All Stars and Dynamos have seen 27,000 girls, 13,000 children from ethnically diverse backgrounds and over 3,000 disabled children pick up a bat and ball. Is this better than previous years, or non-branded junior club cricket sessions? Because the ECB has never consistently released data of participation, and when it does it is cherry-picked to support their decision like the ones above, I have absolutely no idea whether it is good or bad.

? Perhaps the most important figure is the one that the ECB hasn’t included: Total participation. The number of senior and/or junior players in England and Wales has fallen in every season from about 2010 onwards. To be clear: I’m not getting this from official figures, because the ECB doesn’t release them (unlike, for example, Cricket Australia). However, I do know that if the number of club cricketers had increased in that period then the ECB would have spared no effort or expense in letting everyone know about it, and how they were responsible. There would be press releases, TV interviews, open-top bus parades around St. John’s Wood, and so on. Their continued silence just reaffirms that, in spite of everything they’ve said, club cricket is in decline overall.

That’s A Bonus

Part of the ECB’s eagerness to extoll the positive effects of The Hundred might be explained by the fact that their executives are apparently due to share a massive £2.1m in “performance-related” bonuses, based on reaching goals from their “Inspiring Generations” strategy document. This has been greeted with almost universal disbelief. Several defences and rationales for why the ECB executives should still receive this money have been offered, but none have been more complete than that by former ECB chairman Colin Graves. In an interview with the Guardian, he said:

“[The executives] have won the men’s World Cup [in 2019], the women’s World Cup [in 2017], secured the best broadcast deal in the history of the sport [worth £1.1bn], got the Hundred up and running and managed to stage a full summer of international cricket behind closed doors in 2020, despite a global pandemic. English cricket would have gone bust and they saved it.”

I must have missed Tom Harrison bowling England to victory in the 2017 women’s World Cup, or Sanjay Patel completing the run out at the very end of the 2019 men’s World Cup. Whilst such victories are undoubtedly group efforts, requiring the support of a multitude of people behind the scenes, few people outside of a former executive would place the importance of the top brass over that of the players on the field.

If these executives did “save English cricket”, it was also them who endangered its life by spending all of the ECB’s £70 million reserves (in 2016) on The Hundred (either directly, or using it to bribe counties into supporting a new competition). That £70 million would have been incredibly helpful for an unexpected event like (for example) a one-a-century global pandemic threatened all professional and amateur sport around the world.

If there is one group of people who did save (professional) cricket in England, it’s the West Indies and Pakistan teams who toured here in 2020. They came at an uncertain time, into a country with a high rate of infections, and spent almost all of their time here locked in their cricket grounds/hotels. I am sure it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, for which they received little reward. Had they not come, it seems likely that the ECB would have lost most if not all of the Sky TV deal which it required to keep themselves and the counties afloat financially during the pandemic. If saving English cricket is the criteria for these bonuses, give it to them instead of the executives.

Graves also suggested that the bonus payments are a contractual matter in which no one (including the ECB, its chairman or the executives themselves) have any say over. That is simply not a credible argument after the last eighteen months. The England men’s players agreed a substantial cut in their own bonuses last year. Men’s county cricketers agreed to several pay cuts, including to their minimum salary. Men’s players in The Hundred agreed a 20% pay cut. These were all based on signed contracts, where the players and the PCA would have been entirely within their rights to demand the full amounts due. But they didn’t because they were persuaded, quite possibly by the ECB executives, that the game had a much greater need for that money elsewhere and that they could afford to take a financial hit in exchange for safeguarding the game that has given them so much.

The players at least had a choice. The ECB executives sacked 62 members of staff last year to cut costs, and many more at the counties will have lost their jobs too. For them, and the ECB staff members left behind with pay freezes and more work to handle with fewer colleagues, these news reports are about as welcome as a cup of cold vomit. That £2.1 million might well have saved a lot of their jobs, if nothing else. The fact that word of the bonuses was apparently leaked to the press might serve as a warning to Tom Harrison and the other executives, as you would imagine that there are a lot of skeletons in their closets (as well as their email folders and expense accounts) which their underpaid, overworked, and probably very angry underlings could email to friendly journalists.

The idea which Graves raised that the ECB’s executives are irreplaceable due to their genius-like intelligence is undercut by one simple fact: They did not see this backlash coming at all. Once it did come, they have not appeared to do anything about it. They have managed to upset the players, their staff (basically everyone in the whole organisation not getting the bonus), and the fans (always the least important group for them). That’s not being smart. It’s being greedy, and arrogant, and uncaring.

On a personal note, the idea of executive bonuses tied to targets has always baffled me somewhat. I am an employee who has always been very near the lower end of any organisational chart, and the idea of being paid extra for doing your job well has always been a distant dream to me. If I meet the targets set for me, I get to keep my job. If I don’t, I would be fired. The idea that I could achieve essentially none of my goals and still receive 80% of my wages sounds like a very nice employment contract to have.

As has been said by many people, the genuinely irreplaceable people in English cricket are the volunteers who run our clubs. The people who give vast amounts of their time and money to make it possible for virtually anyone in the country to play cricket every weekend through the summer. The chairs, coaches, players, groundskeepers, umpires, cooks, bar staff, and everyone else who sacrifices a lot and may well have had a very hard time of it in the past year. They get very little support from the ECB, and almost none personally from Tom Harrison and the other executives. Although £2.1 million might not be much when shared between the thousands of clubs across the country, this would have been a far better use of the money than having an extra wing built on Château Costume Vide.

At this point, I don’t expect much to change. The ECB’s playbook in such cases is normally to wait out the initial wave of fury and then do what they want anyway. You could see that in The Hundred, and the accusations of racism at Yorkshire, and in multiple other examples. If they cared about what people thought, they wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

If you have anything to say about the unmitigated gall of the ECB’s executives, the Test series, or anything else, post your comments below.

England vs India: 3rd Test, Day Two – Normal Test Cricket

I joined Being Outside Cricket in 2017. This may well be the first time that I’ve been asked to write the match report for a day where England have batted through the whole day, with just one collapse in the evening session. I am genuinely stumped on what to write.

The day began in a similar vein to the day before, with conditions favouring the bowling team. The ball started swinging and seaming again, and India’s attack thoroughly testing England’s newest opening partnership. Burns and Hameed did well to survive as long as they did, Hameed taking a blow to the head after ducking into a not-quite bouncer, before both fell in the morning session. Malan impressed at three, scoring at a decent rate (unlike, arguably, his T20I performances) and putting India on the back foot.

Joe Root came in and did what he’s done all year: Make Test batting look ridiculously easy. This was his sixth century from eleven Tests in 2021. Where Hameed and Burns struggled and got tied down by Bumrah and Shami, Root seemed like he was facing a bunch of club cricketers. He scored singles at will and hit the bad balls for boundaries. It was only in the last hour, when he looked physically and mentally shattered, that India were able to dismiss him. It’s difficult to think of an English batter who has been in such dominant form over this period of time. At the same time, the constant attention he needs on his back during these long innings makes me only too aware of how fragile and fleeting this might be. Particularly considering the usual level of competence that England’s medical team usually displays.

Bairstow added a useful 29 runs, but his dismissal led to a flurry of wickets. Buttler, Ali and Root all fell within the space of a few overs. In their defence, they may have been disoriented by coming to the crease with a healthy first innings lead and facing tired, dispirited bowlers. It will have been a long time since they faced such a situation.

This innings from England’s top order has been historically good. It began with the first England opening partnership to last 50 overs since 2016, coincidentally when Haseeb Hameed was last in the team. Each of England’s top four went on to score at least fifty, which last occurred in 2013. This is by far the most complete batting performance England have managed in recent years. That said, it is important to avoid hyperbole and remain at least somewhat balanced. The pattern in recent years has been for promising batters to come into the side, impress at first before being ‘found out’ and unable to adapt to bowling attacks targeting their weaknesses. There have been too many false dawns for England’s batting, and the past few years have beaten all but the merest sliver of hope out of me.

With a first innings lead of 345, it’s hard to see any other result than an England win in this game. Given that the morning sessions have been the best times to bowl in this game so far, an early declaration might give Anderson the best chance to run through the Indian top order for a second time.

Off the field, I am surprised by how little attention the Yorkshire CCC report (or the lack of a report) has been getting. There seemed to be a groundswell of pressure building up to this game, but it has largely been ignored during the game itself. I am conflicted on this, since I definitely prefer watching cricket to hearing about bad stuff happening behind the scenes. I fear that the chances of there being a real positive change in English cricket decreases the longer Yorkshire are able to delay facing their own issues. The ECB and PCA’s silence on the matter has been deafening, but also unsurprising. I don’t think any progress is likely to be made until pressure from outside, whether fans, the press, or politicians force Yorkshire and the ECB into action, and that isn’t happening right now.

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments about the game, or anything else, leave them below.

England v India: 2nd Test, Day Four – Slow Down

At the beginning of play today, the match was finely poised with all three results possible. By stumps, the odds of either team winning seemed virtually unchanged. And yet, in spite of this, it was a great day of Test cricket with tension and drama throughout. I complain a lot about various aspects of the sport, but games like this remind me why I love it.

The day began with all eyes on Anderson, England fans hoping that he could break through India’s top order in the morning. Instead, it was Mark Wood who knocked out both Indian openers. Virat Kohli followed soon after, reaching far outside off the edge a wide delivery from Sam Curran to England’s keeper. Kohli has struggled overseas in recent years, averaging just 21.36 outside India in the six Tests he’s played since 2020. India have a wealth of batting depth, and I don’t get the sense that he is quite as well loved in India as Tendulkar was near the end of his Test career, perhaps Dhoni as well. Whilst he’ll certainly see out this tour, I could see him be encouraged to ‘retire’ from Test cricket if his form doesn’t improve in the next year or so. Joe Root had a dip in form himself before a resurgent 2021, but England don’t have any young batters seriously pressuring him for a place in the side like India.

England were rampant at this point, looking to take a few more cheap wickets and finish off the match today. Instead, an obdurate batting display from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane kept the hosts at bay as the two Indian batters were in for almost half the day and dragged the game back to something approaching parity.

Something which genuinely annoys me is when people, and this includes a large portion of the media, insist that batting strike rate is of any real importance in Test cricket. Aside from a few, fairly rare situations (a challenging run chase on day five, for example), it really doesn’t matter how quickly you score your runs. Every Test team in the world would prefer a batter with a batting average of 60 and a strike rate of 30 to one with an average of 30 and a strike rate of 60. And yet, despite this, there is a constant narrative that slow-scoring batters are putting pressure on their teammates. I think Rohit Sharma trying to hook a bouncer for six but instead toe-ending it to Moeen Ali or Virat Kohli reaching two feet outside off stump and edging the ball to Buttler probably put more significantly pressure on India than Cheteshwar Pujara playing cautiously.

I like aggressive batting as much as the next person, but I often appreciate innings like those from Pujara and Rahane today even more. Partly I enjoy the growing frustration of the fielding team as they throw everything into trying to finagle a wicket, but also because this is something which is unique to Test cricket. A match in The Hundred has 200 deliveries, Pujara and Rahane’s partnership lasted 297. There was tension and drama throughout, unlike most white ball matches where I usually only bother to watch the end of the second innings. Those looking to replace Test cricket with a three-hour music concert interspersed with some cricket are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

As the day reached its conclusion, England finally managed to take a few more wickets. In particular, Moeen Ali drew two edges from Rahane and Jadeja. Whilst I’m happy both for England taking wickets generally and Moeen doing well in particular, the English batters might not particularly look forward to the prospect of facing Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch which seems conducive to spin and has had the odd ball stay low. Any target over 200 could be very tricky indeed.

One thing which potentially makes England’s route to victory even more difficult are the overs lost in the game so far. After managing 90 overs on the day one, neither team has achieved this rather fundamental aspect of cricket in the following three days. Today finished 8 overs short, although England might have managed five or six more had bad light not intervened. The fielding teams on Friday and Saturday had no such excuse, when 13 overs went unbowled. Altogether, we have seen 21 overs less overs than we should have done with the only day which actually delivered the allotted deliveries being the one where it rained several times! Apart from cheating paying customers out of extra cricket, those 21 overs might make a huge difference in terms of whether either team can force a result tomorrow.

India’s captain made something of a spectacle of himself in the last few overs, seemingly gesticulating to the umpires that the game should be halted due to bad light whilst England were bowling their spinners. Trying to shorten the day’s play is rarely going to endear you to the paying public such as ourselves, and is at best gamesmanship. Kohli might be said to have a very Australian approach to fair play in cricket: That something can only be wrong if the opposition are doing it.

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

Jimmy Has Only Got One Ball – 1st Test, Day 2

Today had a few challengers for who ‘won’ the day’s play, but the eventual victor was definitely the weather. Just 33.4 overs were bowled in the day and, unlike yesterday, that can’t be put down solely to lethargic over rates. The morning session belonged to the tourists, with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul both batting through the entire session until Robinson dismissed Sharma with his last ball before Lunch. The game swung back towards England in the afternoon session, helped by an overcast sky and the older ball still hooping around, with Anderson taking three quick wickets. It only lasted nine overs before bad light, followed by rain showers, effectively ended play for the day.

I use the word “effectively”, because there were in fact two further sessions where play resumed; The first lasted one ball, and the second had two balls. This reignited the debate about how cricket deals with inclement weather. It is one of the few outdoor sports which stops with light rain, or even being a bit too cloudy. The official justification is player safety, and there is obviously some areas of concern in this regard. A player might be more likely to twist their ankle on a greasy surface, or momentarily lose track of the ball in poor light, but the same is probably true in other sports such as football, baseball or field hockey which all continue in light rain.

When commentators and pundits talk about cricket’s light and rain delays, they typically talk about ‘fairness’ to either the batting or bowling team. Bad light makes a batsmen more likely to be dismissed, whilst rain might leave spinners unable to grip the ball and get turn off the pitch. I have two issues with this viewpoint. The first is that this isn’t mentioned as a factor in any of the laws or playing conditions, and so shouldn’t really be considered by the umpires. The second is that there are any number of things in cricket which might grant teams an ‘unfair’ advantage yet doesn’t result in the players leaving the field. Sometimes conditions favour the bowling team, sometimes they favour the batting team. This is honestly part of the joy of Test cricket. When a player is battling not only the opposition but also the environment, that makes their victory even sweeter. Why is it only the rain that would make such things ‘unfair’?

What no one talks about in these situations, not the players, nor the commentators, the journalists and especially not the administrators, is fairness to the fans. Most of the British people reading this will spend, at a minimum, £34 per month for Sky Sports. The cheapest adult seats at Trent Bridge today cost £55 each. Because just over thirty overs were bowled today, they won’t recieve any refunds. We pay a lot of money, invest a lot of time, and we deserve to see cricket played whenever possible. Few businesses take their customers for granted quite like professional sports, and English cricket is currently in a league of its own in this regard. The past four years of taking our money to create a league which was explicitly not for us is beyond parody. The least they could do, in the few instances when they are contractually obliged to provide what we pay for, is make some effort to carry on when it’s a bit more difficult to play.

Would using a white or pink ball to play in low light go against the traditions of the game? Sure. Would it increase the advantage of the batting or bowling side? Definitely. Is it far superior to literally everyone watching to be able to see a game of cricket rather than an empty field? Absolutely.

But that’s clearly not an important factor for cricket boards around the world.

If you have any comments about this game, the weather, or anything else, please leave them below.

Is There A Case For Women, Black And Asian Cricketers To Leave The PCA?

Ismaeel Akram, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, recently wrote a dissertation on racism in English cricket. As well as referencing published news articles, there are also snippets of interviews he had with several journalists and cricketers. He was kind enough to email it to me (and more or less anyone else who asked nicely on Twitter), and it made interesting reading. One paragraph in particular really resonated with me:

Players’ attitudes towards the PCA need researching because Participant 1, who is a journalist, suggested that players have a deep distrust in the PCA. This is evidenced by them complaining to this journalist about issues of racism instead of going directly to the PCA. Participant 1 stated, “Why are they bloody ringing me and not the PCA? This is because there is a lack of trust amongst the PCA. That’s why.”

This is a damning indictment of the PCA, the union for all current and former professional cricketers in England and Wales. It’s worth remembering that, according to a 2020 Ipsos Mori poll, journalists are the fourth least trusted profession in the UK. If Black and Asian cricketers have less faith in their own union to advocate on their behalf than a member of the press, that is shocking.

To examine why this might be the case, the first thing you must do is consider what the PCA is and how it works. Every current English professional cricketer (ie any men’s county cricketer, England women’s international cricketer or one of the 41 women with development contracts this season) is entitled to join the union. The professional men’s players in each of the eighteen county teams elects a ‘Player Representative’. Those eighteen representatives plus four representatives elected by professional domestic women cricketers and two more representing the men’s and women’s England teams form the Players’ Committee, which is the primary decision-making body of the union. That committee elects the PCA Chair and appoints the PCA Chief Executive as well as honorary positions such as PCA President.

In effect, the decisions of the players’ union are broadly representative of the views and priorities of a majority of its members. As it arguably should be really, in any union, but this also creates a problem for the PCA and some of its members; If your concerns and issues aren’t shared with a majority of players then it is possible, arguably even probable, that they won’t be prioritised or addressed. There are roughly 400 England-qualified professional cricketers currently, of whom 58 are women and 30-40 are Black or Asian. There is clearly no way that either group can hope to sway the decisions of a democratic organisation on their own, or even together.

One example which springs to mind is that of the PCA President. The Players’ Committee has appointed a Rebel tourist to the position of PCA President in 17 of the last 25 years: Mike Gatting (1996-2008), Chris Broad (2011-2013) and Graham Gooch (2018-2021). I’m not saying that Rebel tourists should necessarily be excluded from all aspects of cricket for life, or that they can’t have changed their minds in the decades since they toured Apartheid South Africa, or that they aren’t nice people. What I am saying is that I would be very surprised if many Black or Asian cricketers would have supported their appointments in the way that successive Players’ Committees obviously did.

I want to be absolutely clear on the following point: I am not saying, or implying, or insinuating that a majority or even a significant minority of White, male, English cricketers are racist or sexist. Rather, I am saying that most people are governed largely by self-interest. A White man in England is unlikely to be the target of abuse or discrimination on the basis of his race or gender and so other issues will likely take precedence for him, such as how much he is paid and whether he will still be supported after he finishes his playing career. These are two areas which are common to all professional cricketers, and in which the PCA appears to do sterling work. For all of my criticisms of them, even I appreciate their contributions in this regard. As a cricket fan, I absolutely want cricketers to be well paid during their playing careers and not abandoned once they retire.

One problem is that many measures to increase gender equality or racial diversity in English cricket could arguably be to the detriment of the White, male majority. If the PCA lobbied the ECB to make the eight women’s developmental teams fully professional, for example, then the eighty additional full-time contracts required would likely be at least partly financed by a reduction in men’s wages overall. If the PCA were to introduce a more extensive anti-racism education scheme than they are currently operating, the costs of doing so would have to be taken from other services that the union provides.

There are other conflicts of interest which might prevent the PCA acting entirely in the interests of some members. In 2015, Craig Overton was alleged to have told Ashar Zaidi to “Go back to your own f***ing country.” Afterwards, I would expect that the PCA would rightfully be offering support to both players. Regardless of the strength of evidence involved, Overton was entitled to a fair disciplinary process and his union was obliged to help him as much as they could. It seems likely that things would have gone very differently if Zaidi had leaked details of the incident to the press before the disciplinary hearing, with the ECB being pressured publicly to enforce a strict punishment as a deterrent, but this would clearly be to Overton’s detriment. I would doubt that many unions would consider advising one member to take an action which harms another member’s job prospects in this way.

The PCA might have been in a similar position with regards to Dave Burton’s experience at Northamptonshire. Despite hitting 80% of his appraisal targets in 2012, Northamptonshire let him go at the end of the season. When he asked the PCA for advice, this is what they said:

“I was told it was an unfair dismissal. But taking them to court would mean that nobody would employ me after that so I was told the choice is yours. You will get what you are due for next season but nobody will sign you because of what you have done to Northants.”

Implicit in this response from the PCA is that if the counties retaliated against Burton for reporting illegal behaviour, they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it. On the face of it, that is shocking from his own union. Another perspective might be of the player who got the place in Northamptonshire’s squad ahead of Burton. If the PCA did back Burton to the hilt and Northants renewed his contract, this unnamed player (and PCA member) would probably lose his own job as a result.

Another conflict of interest would be the PCA’s financial reliance on the ECB. The union declared that funding from the sport’s governing body accounted for 89.6% of their total 2020 income in their most recent accounts, an amount which is guaranteed through the current County Partnership Agreement until 2024. This level of dependence would make anyone eager to please their benefactors. There are two ways that this eagerness manifests. Firstly, the PCA has not criticised the ECB publicly at all in at least the past ten years. Compare that to the outspoken nature of the Professional Footballers Association, or the Australian Cricketers’ Association. When one (or many) of their members has been wronged, most unions aren’t shy about letting everyone know about it. Not so with the PCA. In at least a decade, I’m not sure they have said a single bad thing about the ECB. Even once.

The second, more pernicious way in which the PCA ingratiates itself with the ECB is to actively support them in absolutely everything, no matter what. One obvious example is the infamous joint statement which gave this blog its name. Exactly why the PCA would feel the need to address the fact that “allegations have been made, some from people outside cricket which, as well as attacking the rationale of the ECB’s decision-making, have questioned, without justification, the integrity of the England Team Director” is beyond me.

Another, even more egregious example of the PCA’s obsequiousness occurred in 2014. During a T20I against India at Edgbaston, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. This was something which the ECB seemed to wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket. To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:

“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”

Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. Porter did apologise for his words after a swift and decisive backlash, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning. Perhaps just as damning is the fact that the Players’ Committee didn’t see this as a sacking offence, with Porter remaining as PCA chief executive for another two years after the interview.

The PCA’s inaction with regards to racism and sexism in English cricket might be compared to the success other people have had recently, with far fewer resources than the union has at their disposal. Whilst former umpires John Holder and Ismael Dawood eventually withdrew their legal challenge against the ECB for racial discrimination due to legal technicalities, it still apparently prompted the ECB to hire Devon Malcolm and Dean Headley as match referees. Another example might be Stump Out Sexism, which has managed to persuade the MCC and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge to give their women’s varsity cricket matches the same status as for the men. This appeared to take just a few weeks and a Twitter account, although I dare say that there was a lot of effort behind the scenes. In the wake of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, companies and organisations often act quickly and decisively when issues are raised in these areas. The PCA doesn’t appear to be willing or able to raise them with regards to English cricket, unfortunately.

All of which brings me to the title of this post: Is there a case for women, Black and Asian cricketers to leave the PCA? Ignoring Betteridge’s law of headlines, I’m going to say yes. None of these groups seem well served by the PCA currently, at least in those areas specific to them. Women cricketers deserve to be part of a union which is prepared to publicly advocate for them to receive more professional contracts, higher wages, and greater promotion from the ECB, whilst Black and Asian cricketers deserve a union that will vociferously defend them from racist abuse and retaliation for complaining whilst proactively working towards increasing their representation within professional cricket. Given the structural limitations of the PCA, which couldn’t offer greater say to these groups without becoming less democratic as a result, it seems impossible to achieve these goals as it stands.

This is not to suggest setting up a new union is easy to do, or that there aren’t negative aspects to having three or four unions instead of one. Having 40 or 60 members, as opposed to 400, might be seen as having a weaker voice when dealing with the ECB, the counties and the press. Likewise, a union with fewer members will presumably have proportionately less in terms of money and other resources. Members and supporters of the new organisations would probably have to help out in terms of fundraising and volunteering in the first few years at least. Even so, I think it would be in their long term interests to leave the PCA and create something new in its place that will actually support them when they need it.

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

England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test – It’s The Batting, Stupid

Today marks the first time that England have lost a Test series at home since a Sri Lankan team starring Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Matthews beat them in 2014. An historic event, the end of an impressive streak, but one that has been a long time coming.

The England Test team has been scraping series wins for a while now due to just two things: An excellent bowling attack at home, and an abundance of allrounders strengthening their batting. No reasonable person would look at the last seven summers and come to the conclusion that this was a halcyon period for a dominant England side. Here is a table of Test winning percentages at home (including neutral venues for Pakistan and Afghanistan) since the 2017 season:

TeamWinsLossesDrawsWin %
New Zealand1300100%
India121280%
South Africa147067%
Australia132365%
England168457%
Pakistan64250%
Afghanistan22050%
Bangladesh56142%
West Indies67338%
Sri Lanka59133%
Ireland0100%
Zimbabwe0420%

England are, and have been for a while, a mid-tier Test team. To think anything else is just self-delusion. As England is probably the only cricketing nation in which Test cricket is the most popular format, this should be a matter of huge concern for the ECB. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

England simply can’t bat. Not just against spin or in foreign conditions, although those might be particular areas of weakness, but a general and widespread lack of ability and application throughout the team. To put this into context: When England beat India in 2012/13, six of England’s team had Test batting averages which were over 40: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Prior and Root (who made his debut in that series). In the last series against India a few months ago, Joe Root was the only one in the whole squad.

It would be easy (and fun) to blame the selectors, but the simple truth is that there aren’t really any county batters making an overwhelming case that they should be in the side. People talk about players like Tom Abell, Joe Clarke, Phil Salt, or Alex Lees, but none of them have a first-class batting average over forty. Every single England-qualified batsman who does has already been tried (with perhaps James Hildreth being the only exception). I don’t follow county cricket closely enough to determine the reasons for this paucity of batting ability. I’ve seen the schedule cited as a possible cause, with fewer games being played in the middle of the season. I would suspect that recruitment plays a part too, with counties perhaps being more inclined to pick white ball specialist batters than they might have been 10-15 years ago. Regardless of the issues, any changes to address this situation might take a decade to feed through to the England team.

England have decided to try and sidestep this by selecting young batters with high potential. Test cricket isn’t an easy place to learn your trade, and it is obviously preferable to begin more or less as the finished article, but players consistently don’t seem to improve once they are in the England dressing room. Sibley and Crawley both made their debut two years ago, and Pope has been in the side for three years. Are any of them noticeably better than they were on debut and, if not, what does that say about England’s coaching?

All of which leads me to the rather depressing conclusion that Joe Root might be the last England Test batter to average over forty for a generation. Maybe more.

If you have any comments about the post, the series, or anything else, please feel free to leave them below.

This Test, Day Five – Slow And Steady Draws The Race

The rain, the slow over rates, and a chief executive’s pitch combined to turn the first Test of the English summer into something of a damp squib. By the end of play, it honestly felt more like a bowling practice session for New Zealand than a full-blooded international.

The morning began as the previous day had finished, with England bowling well and New Zealand hanging in there. The tourists weren’t able to muster quite as much resistance as they had managed in the first innings, with Wagner, Taylor and Nicholls all falling relatively cheaply. This achievement might be mitigated somewhat by the fact that New Zealand were attempting to set a target for England to chase, but all four England bowlers performed very well throughout the second innings.

With the game meandering towards a draw, Kane Williamson briefly livened things up with a declaration at Lunch which left England needing 273 runs from 75 overs (A required rate of 3.64 runs per over, assuming all of the overs were bowled). Unfortunately for everyone watching, neither team seemed to be fully committed to chasing the win. England’s batters accumulated slowly and methodically whilst New Zealand chose not to bring any extra fielders in close, both sides acting like there was a full day to play tomorrow. England had none of their IPL stars who might have been able to provide a Rishabh Pant-like innings, and so the game fizzled out in the final two sessions.

Given the lack of a thrilling climax to the game, I find myself looking to the next Test at Edgbaston and specifically Ollie Robinson’s likely ban/dropping. I strongly believe he should play, and that he should face absolutely no disciplinary measures from the ECB. The first, most obvious reason why he shouldn’t be dropped is that he has played incredibly well in this Test. The best English bowler, and perhaps the third or fourth-best English batter in the whole game. Had he performed as well with the bat and ball as Anderson or Broad did, for example, England would probably have lost this game. There is clearly no justification for him not to play the next match in terms of his performance.

Which brings us to the matter of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. The first thing I would say is that it would be disingenuous to say that they could be used to prove that he genuinely held these views. They seem, at least to me, like clumsy attempts at shock humour; the use of taboo topics to elicit laughter. Jimmy Carr has made a very successful career for himself, mostly on UK national television, covering many of the same subjects. The simple fact is that this brand of humour only elicits laughter if your audience doesn’t believe you actually think that way, because otherwise it turns from a joke into a serious point. The core issue with shock humour, as has been highlighted here (and why I don’t personally do it), is the potential to offend and hurt someone. A few of you might feel inclined to say something about ‘snowflakes’ or being overly sensitive, but I personally consider going out of your way to insult people who have done nothing to deserve it as being the mark of an arsehole.

One issue that might need clearing up is whether the ECB actually has the ability to enforce any punishment if Robinson chose to challenge it. If I was suspended or fired from my job for a tweet I posted seven years before they hired me, I might consider consulting an employment lawyer or a union rep. Whilst this might well depend on the specifics of his contract, it certainly feels somewhat strange to be penalised by an employer for your past, personal conduct in such a way. This might be a moot point though, since the ban could well be unofficial in nature and simply labelled as Robinson being ‘dropped’ or ‘rested’. Because selection in team sports relies on so many factors, it seems like it would be virtually impossible to prove that not being picked in some way breaks employment law. This not only makes it difficult for Robinson to challenge any penalties, official or otherwise, but it also makes it very easy for the ECB to retaliate if he were to do anything other quietly than accept their judgement.

Regardless of all this, I think most people agree that Tom Harrison has handled this matter very poorly. By putting out such a forceful, vehement statement on the subject, Harrison has placed himself and the whole ECB under the spotlight rather than putting the matter to bed. Within a day, links and screenshots of tweets and instagram posts from Eoin Morgan, Sam Billings and Ben Stokes amongst others which could be considered to be mocking Indian cricket fans and they way they speak English (typically their second language).

They look relatively harmless, arguably even being affectionate towards the Indian fans they are imitating, but it seems very likely that these social media posts would never have resurfaced at all (at least for most English cricket fans on Twitter) had Tom Harrison not made such a big deal of Ollie Robinson’s tweets. Now they are faced with the prospect of banning almost half of England’s T20 batting unit or being seen as hypocrites who will only punish expendable players. This could also be just the start, as who knows what other skeletons (real or imagined) might be hiding in the closets of the ECB players’ and staff’s social media history? By any measure, putting your organisation in that kind of position is incredibly bad management.

If Ollie Robinson does miss the next game, as seems likely, the three bowlers who could replace him from the current squad are Jack Leach, Craig Overton, and Olly Stone. Given Overton’s own personal history, it would seem a massive PR own goal for England to pick him even if he is the nearest like-for-like replacement. Choosing Leach would leave England with just three seam bowlers, and so Stone might be the one Chris Silverwood opts for in the end. I’d expect England’s batting to be unchanged, although Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence didn’t impress much in this game.

It might not have been a classic match to watch, but any Test cricket is better than none and forcing a draw against a team who might be World Test Champions in a few weeks is not to be sniffed at. There’s certainly room for improvement at Edgbaston though.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.