England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Five

After the fireworks yesterday, today ended with more of a damp squib than anything else. The rain which removed another seventy minutes of play from the game made the draw seem almost inevitable from the start. Stokes and Buttler made it through the truncated morning session unscathed, which made the possibility of an Australian win vanishingly remote. England then declared on a conservatively high total, meaning nothing less than a miraculous spell of bowling would manage to take ten wickets in the space of just 48 overs.

Archer did rise the hopes of England’s fans early on though, taking the early wickets of Warner and Khawaja with his customary quick deliveries. He followed that by hitting Smith’s replacement Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet with just the batsman’s delivery at the crease. The South African substitute batsman recovered though and, together with Cameron Bancroft, steadied the ship until Tea.

Leach struck in the first over after Tea, trapping Bancroft LBW, but Labuschagne again buckled down and defended well. It wasn’t until the last hour that England managed to break through the Austrealians’ defences, with Leach taking the wickets of Labuschagne and Wade in successive balls. But, even with these dismissals, England simply ran out of time to press for a result.

With the next Test starting on Thursday, all eyes are already turning to selection issues. Jason Roy didn’t do himself any favours by dropping a slip chance which bounced off his chest, but it seems unlikely that England would make a change to their batting lineup at such short notice. Perhaps they could swap Denly and Roy’s batting positions, but that seems like a pretty marginal improvement to me. Archer and Leach both made themselves seem indispensible in the game, which raises the headache for England’s selector about who to leave out if Anderson is ‘fit’.

In truth, most of England’s batting lineup should be in the firing line. Other than Rory Burns, who averages 56.50 in the two games so far, it’s been a lacklustre couple of games for the specialist batsmen. Root (24.75), Denly (21.25), Buttler (12.25) and Roy (10.00) should all consider themselves lucky that the quick turnaround and the fact that county batsmen have been playing T20 for the last few weeks makes it unlikely (but not impossible) that England will ring the changes in Leeds.

For Australia, the situation is more serious. Steve Smith was finally diagnosed with a concussion this morning, which left him unable to play today and unlikely to be available for Australia in the next Test too. There would be no guarantees beyond that either, as concussions can last for an indeterminate length of time. Marnus Labuschagne did a fine job filling in for Smith at short notice, but there is also Marcus Harris and Mitch Marsh vying for the open spot. It would be a huge blow for Australia if Smith wasn’t available though, as he virtually won the first Test single-handed for the tourists.

I have what I acknowledge is an unusual viewpoint when it comes to cricket. Whilst I love watching it, I often view it through the prism of being a workplace rather than wholly a source of entertainment and drama. So, for example, I don’t expect a player to be any more ‘loyal’ to his team and fans than someone working behind the counter at McDonalads would be to that huge corporate machine and its customers. Another, more pertinent example would be the low regard with which teams, journalists and fans often regard the health and wellbeing of players when in pursuit of short-term glory.

I missed most of yesterday’s play, and so I didn’t see Smith’s full batting performance personally, but his dismissal to Woakes and his subsequent review did not seem the actions of a batsman with all of his faculties. There is an attitude in cricket (and many other professional sports) that it is necessary for players to ‘man up’ and play through pain, risking further injury. Those who choose to leave the field of play or make themselves unavailable for selection to seek treatment are called ‘weak’ and ‘not team players’ in the press, and can have their card marked in terms of selection.

Concussion is an incredibly serious condition, one which can become significantly more serious if it recurs soon after the initial blow. I cannot imagine any other workplace in the Western world which would even consider allowing an employee to return so soon after taking a blow like Smith received to his unprotected head. It is a decision which should have been out of his hands, regardless of how much he wanted to get on the Lord’s honours board.

Cricket Australia justified their actions in a press release by saying that 30% of concussions don’t show symptoms until 24 hours later. If that is the case, considering the strength of the blow to an exposed part of the head, why didn’t they wait 24 hours before allowing him back on the field? Cricket is just a game, or a job, and not worth risking someone’s life over.

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

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In Defence Of Boos – and the updated day two preview

Given it seems to be the hot topic at the moment, a quick additional post to address the matter seemed appropriate.

There has, particularly in light of Steve Smith’s century, been something of a backlash against booing by many people in this game. Some people who purport to be cricket fans, and even a few journalists and commentators, have said that the English crowd shouldn’t boo at all. Or, if they do boo and jeer cricketer, that they shouldn’t do so when that player has just reached a milestone.

A few have even suggested that the people who continued heckling through thick and thin don’t know about or love cricket.

For a start, coming from professional cricket journalists, it might surprise them to learn that their wages come from avid cricket fans such as those who will have paid upwards of £60 to be in the stands at Edgbaston and are the most likely to subscribe to cricket magazines too. They might want to be careful before alienating them. Journalists paid to be there berating those who pay the often extortionate charges within English cricket grounds is rarely a good look.

But, more generally, I think they’re completely missing the point. Fundamentally, practically no one is booing Smith because he’s a great batsman and they want to distract him. I don’t think Kohli was abused by the English crowds last year, and he’s a great batsman. No one is booing Smith just because he’s a cheat. I doubt Faf du Plessis would get the same treatment at Edgbaston, despite his own ball tampering charge. No one is booing Smith just because of his nationality, as shown by the Australians who haven’t been the target of abuse by the Hollies Stand.

Smith and Warner are copping these boos because they are (and I’m moderating my language for the blog here) absolute pricks. They lie, they cheat, they insult, they’re hypocrites, and they’re smug and arrogant about it. They are, as people, almost completely loathsome individuals. And they’re unlikeable when they have zero runs, or two, or fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and forty-four.

It is, you could argue, not entirely their fault. Jarrod Kimber wrote a long and illuminating ‘essay’ about how Australian club cricket moulds young players coming into the game into abusive, cheating pricks. By the time most Aussie cricketers reach the professional game, the die is already cast. But, even allowing for that, Smith and Warner are stand-out pricks within the Australian cricket team.

Some people try to make Smith and Warner sympathetic, saying they were harshly and punitively dealt with by Cricket Australia. That much is undoubtedly true. But that doesn’t make them not pricks. In fact, it was Smith’s cocky press conference with Bancroft after the end of play at Newlands which likely ignited the furore in Australia over the ball tampering and caused the bans to be so long in the first place. Many Australians don’t even like and respect them, so why should we?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that booing a player is always acceptable. When it’s based on race, religion, sexuality or some other protected status then I would say that was over the line. An example of that would be when Moeen Ali was abused by a portion of Indian fans for his Pakistani muslim heritage during a T20I in 2014, coincidentally at Edgbaston. I also think that verbal abuse should be moderated to not teach any kids in the crowd any new words which their parents might not approve of.

But beyond that? If you pay for the ticket, I think you’re entitled to express your opinion.

Whether that’s clapping politely or loudly vocalising your dislike, that’s up to you.

And to keep the content of Dmitri’s post last night, here it is replicated in this new post:

Panel Prep

So, to prepare those we are going to ask to be on our panel, we thought we’d give you a couple of questions to opine on before play:

  1. 284 – good, bad or indifferent? Let’s ignore the eighth wicket going down at 122 (alright, don’t) but as play stands now is this a winning score for Australia?
  2. Steve Smith – best test batsman at the moment, or is this bubble going to burst (or both)?
  3. On a level of 1-10, with 1 being chilled, your reaction to your premier bowler getting injured after four overs, having been injured in the run-up to the test?

We won’t be able to live blog today – or if we do, it will be intermittent, but please keep checking in to see if we do provide updates. That said, it was great to see the in-play comments from you, and also thanks to Sean and Danny for all the efforts yesterday. We will try to live blog when the occasion merits it.

Boring Stat Watch

Steve Smith made the joint 99th highest score for Australia in meetings between the two countries. He joins former captains Don Bradman, Greg Chappell and Ricky Ponting in making 144 in Ashes tests. It was the 314th test hundred by an Australian against England.

Stuart Broad took the 254th five wicket plus haul in an innings for England against Australia. These were the joint 207th best figures for England v Australia (Broad has the best figures by anyone not called Laker, of course). Geoff Arnold took 5/86 at Sydney in 1975.

284 is the equal 500th highest score in England v Australia matches. On the five previous occasions the score has been made, the team making 284 has won twice. Australia in 1895, and memorably, England at the MCG in 1982. On the three other occasions, the team making 284 has lost (England at the MCG in 1921, Australia at Lord’s in 1934 – the only time 284 was made in the second innings of the test and England at The Oval in 1972).

In 1982, Australia replied to 284 with 287. In 1972, Australia replied to 284 with 399. In 1934, England had made 440 before Hedley Verity did his thing. In 1921 Australia followed 284 with 389. In the only other time Australia scored 284 in the first innings of the test match against England, we followed up with 65 and 72.

Too Many Tweeters

OK. Statwatch done. Let’s look at ConnWatch…

 

 

Measured.

Now for Shiny Toy…

Hyperbole Watch..

 

Four day tests

Birds of a feather

Did Selfey have anything to offer?

Blocked By Paul, Watching Paul

Paul Newman watch…

If there was any concern the Ashes might for once be forced to play second fiddle this summer to an extraordinary World Cup then we need not have worried.

This was a superb and eventful opening day to the biggest Test series of them all from the moment David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, two of the three members of ‘The Banned’, walked out to the most hostile of Edgbaston welcomes.

and…

There was a totally hapless display from umpires Joel Wilson and Aleem Dar that was only partially rescued by the Decision Review System and, frankly, was simply not good enough for the highest level of the game.

There was an atmosphere like no other at any English ground, with the Hollies Stand loudly but never too nastily taunting the disgraced Australians and their captain in Tim Paine who had goaded them on the eve of this always epic contest.

But, above all, there was the controversial figure of Steve Smith, the captain sacked in disgrace in the aftermath of sandpaper-gate, defiantly and brilliantly rescuing his side from the brink of disaster and inspiring them to what looks like a highly competitive score.

and he’s not letting up…

And at the centre of it was the man who haunted England during the last Ashes with his idiosyncratic but world-class batting before his world fell apart when the poisonous culture that had infected his captaincy unravelled spectacularly in Cape Town.

This was Smith’s first Test innings since that cheating scandal 18 months ago but how he made up for lost time with an exceptional 144, more than half their score, that puts Australia on top in this first Test and could well have set the tone for the whole series.

CHUMPIRES

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-7310845/Cricket-News-Fans-pundits-fume-umpires-make-SEVEN-errors-day-one-Ashes.html

Sadly, no Martin Samuel this time around.

Oh No, Not Him Again

Tom Harrison was on Sky and TMS this lunchtime, presumably because doing the rounds at a mere “warm up” against Ireland to bask in the glow of the World Cup victory wasn’t significant enough. I listened to it this lunchtime, well the TMS bit, and it was every bit as depressing as you would have thought. He did virtually everything he could to avoid mentioning the Hundred by name, but did mention Sky at every opportunity. There will be a massively enhanced partnership next year – I’m not sure what Sky will be doing to enhance it, more repeats of Masterclass? – and somehow in his haze of bigging up Sky, he said 13 million watched the World Cup and of all outlets Sky had the most. Can’t offend the chief partner. According to Tom we will be getting 100 hours of free to air cricket next year. If BBC have 10 matches of 3 hours duration and a couple of other games, where is the rest coming from? Someone tell me. There was more. Much more. But not much new. I saw Gower congratulate Harrison on the World Cup win. We are absolutely stupid. Partners indeed.

So, on to Day 2. Please fire away, please answer the day’s panel questions, please keep the fires burning. It’s going to be an interesting day. I leave you with this on the booing of the Sandpaper Gang..

I was at the Gabba that day. I heard Aussies around me tell him to stop being soft and get up, but then change their tune when he was stretchered off. However, I will never forget the weapons grade bell-end who spent almost the entire day calling Matthew Hoggard a wanker all day. The problem with us being sanctimonious about booing, pretending we’re a moral paragon, is that we’re not. Neither are England fans a bunch of scum, as those who tut tut in the comm box about this sort of thing make them out to be. Like everything, you pays your money, you takes your choice. I feel it is unwise for any ex-pro to criticise supporters on how they support the game.

Enough of that. Hope you enjoyed this mish mash. Comment away on Day 2.

 

England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 2 – Same Old Shit, Plus Jack Leach

Wally Hammond. Herbert Sutcliffe. Sir Len Hutton. Jack Leach. Just four of the 28 English batsmen of all-time to have Test career averages above 45 as opener, and Leach is the only one to do so since Strauss’ retirement in 2012. Scoring 92 runs from 162 balls, the opener from Somerset has almost certainly secured his place in the side for the forthcoming Ashes series.

Jason Roy also showed some of his one-day form in this innings, having been demoted to three. Smashing 72 from 78 balls is an impressive feat in Test cricket, and showed how he was probably always better suited for the middle order. England’s issue is that they only have one capable top order batsman in Leach, and seven or eight who would be best suited batting at five.

Not that this should be any excuse for what happened after their talismanic opening bat lost his wicket. When Murtagh finally tempted Leach to edge one to slip, the ball was 45 overs old and the Irish had been fielding in sweltering conditions for half of the day. It was a huge opportunity for England’s aggressive batsmen to annihilate the tourists in great conditions, and instead they folded like a cheap deckchair. From 182/3, they slid to 249/7. Bairstow bagged a pair, although at least he got his pad in the way of one instead of being clean bowled this time. Denly had a comedy run out, although he wasn’t laughing. Moeen Ali edged a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Root failed to convert his promising start into a fifty. It was deja vu all over again.

And so, for the umpteenth time, it fell to the bowlers to put a respectable face on proceedings. The 8th, 9th and 10th wicket partnerships have added 65 runs so far, taking England’s lead to 181 runs. That is already a tough task for Ireland, having been restricted to 207 in their first innings. If Broad and Stone were able to add another 20 runs for the final wicket tomorrow then you might say England were favourites to win.

The day ended prematurely with thunderstorms and rain, which has the pleasant side effect of ensuring a decent amount of play tomorrow (weather permitting). Sean ( @thegreatbucko ) and Chris ( @thelegglance ) both have tickets for day three (although not seated together), so there will likely be in-depth match reports from them in the coming days. Once the hangovers wear off, at least.

Ireland have a real shot of a famous first Test victory at Lord’s tomorrow, and it could well be an exciting climax. No doubt the opportunity to do it against England will make it even sweeter for the Irish.

If you have any comments on the game, or embarassing pictures of Chris and Sean in the stands tomorrow, post them below.

England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 1 – Same Old Shit, Just A Different Day

Tim Murtagh is a good but unremarkable county bowler. He has a career first-class bowling average of 25.33. He does not have magical powers relating to the Lord’s pitch. He bowls a medium pace delivery with minimal movement which international batsmen, particularly when they’re being paid what England’s batsmen are being paid, should be able to handle if not absolutely dominate.

All of which is to say that I was both surprised, and yet at the same time totally unsurprised, when Murtagh tore through England’s top order like Ian Austin through a free buffet. England have had a long run of giving thoroughly ordinary bowlers their best career figures. The first example which springs to mind is from a few months back, when Roston Chase took 8/60 on a pitch which was not turning in the slightest. Even after that innings, Chase’s Test bowling average remains well over forty.

There is an undeserved arrogance which England seem to project when facing what should, on paper at least, be weaker opposition. Most of today’s team haven’t played a game in this year’s County Championship, meaning their last game with a red ball was either in the West Indies in February or 10 months ago in the previous home season. The compressed schedule to fit in the World Cup and a five-Test series meant here was no time to add in any warmup games. Not that this mattered to the ECB and the England team, because they (and much of the English media) have treated this Test match as a warmup for the Ashes.

This is not a new phenomenon either. Last year, England played an ODI against Scotland as a precursor to their series against Australia. With no warmups or team practices before the game, the highest ranked ODI team and current World Cup-holders were smashed to all parts of the ground by the Scottish batsmen. England’s Test team are considerably less able relative to to their ODI counterparts, and yet still the expectation that they can rock up to a full international game against a ‘weak’ opposition and win without any preparation whatsoever remains.

The most worrying thing about this batting performance by England is that this is quite possibly their first-choice top five. Buttler and Stokes were rested after the World Cup, but they bat at 7 and 6 respectively. All of the batsmen seemed to play miles away from their pad when driving, both to the front and side. It was absolutely terrible technique. These five batsmen scored a total of 36 runs between them, with their team having won the toss and whilst playing in rather benign conditions. Joe Denly was the best of the lot, contributing 23 runs, but by no means was he good enough.

Since the start of the 2018 season, only two English batsmen in the top five average over 30: Alastair Cook, and Joe Root. Root averages 33.76 in that time. During Cook’s struggles as opener, his continued selection was excused by people declaring that there was no better alternative to take his place. This now seems to apply to every member of their batting unit, including the captain. Ten years ago, an average of 33.76 would have seen any batsman dropped. Now, such a thing would be inconceivable.

Such selection niceties don’t extend to the bowlers, despite their consistent good work with the bat and ball. Olly Stone and Sam Curran took three wickets each plus were the second and third highest-scoring batsmen in the first innings, and yet both are likely to be dropped to make way for the rested Ben Stokes and injured Jimmy Anderson. It is a consistent thread in recent times that England’s bowlers pay the price for the batsmen’s failures.

That England are in this game at all is thanks to their bowlers. Restricting any Test team to 207 runs in their first innings is a great achievement, particularly on what is a flat (if somewhat slow) pitch. They are 122 runs behind, but that is not an impossible margin to recover against a fragile opponent.

England might have been in a worse position at the close of play if there had been 98 overs in the day, as there was supposed to be. Being a four-day Test, the sessions have an extra half hour added. Instead, the day finished with 12 overs lost. This was not, I hasten to add, England’s fault. Ireland were about ten overs short in the first session, in large part due to the rapid succession of English wickets. Because the rules regarding over rates are extraordinarily lax, it is also unlikely that either team will face any penalty for this. Allowances are made for drinks breaks (of which there were six rather than the normal three due to the freakishly hot weather) and short innings such as England’s effort are also given due consideration. We do bang on about it, but this a consistent problem which cheats paying fans out of their money.

England have made one much-needed change to their batting lineup: They have replaced Jason Roy as opener. Jack Leach seems infinitely better equipped to open the Test batting, as shown by his ability to face six deliveries without giving the opposition a chance to take his wicket. Such a solid foundation might help England’s middle order produce a few more runs than they managed in the first innings. I can only assume that Roy will be batting at 11.

If you have any comments about today’s play (and boy, do I bet you do), please make them below.

World Cup Match 41 – England vs New Zealand – Must-Win Part 2

It perhaps shows the ODI fatigue of ourselves at BOC that it wasn’t until 9 o’clock this morning that someone even thought to ask “Is anyone writing today’s post?” Having the day off today (as part of my normal rota, rather than actively making sure I could see an England game), I drew the short straw.

With Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies falling by the wayside over the past week, the arithmetic is now quite simple for England. If they win today, they go through. If they draw or tie today, they will almost certainly go through on Net Run Rate. If they lose today, then they will still go through unless Pakistan beat Bangladesh on Friday. New Zealand are also technically vulnerable, although they would have to lose by a very large margin today to allow Pakistan to catch them on Net Run Rate.

The stories this morning about the teams’ fitness seem to be playing into England’s hands. Roy and Archer have both been declared “fully fit”, which must have surprised the Indians after Roy was considered physically unable to field a single ball just three days ago. For their opposition, New Zealand’s dangerous fast bowler Lockie Ferguson is being rested as a precaution due to having a tight left hamstring.

In other news, Sky have completely ruled out any possibility of airing the final on Freeview, even in the event that England are playing. This would seem to make a mockery of the claims Sky and the ECB made when the latest TV deal was signed, when both declared themselves partners in trying to increase participation and interest in cricket. Or, to quote Sky Sports’ Managing Director Barney Francis:

“[This TV deal] extends our partnership with the game into a third decade and will see us work with the ECB to excite and engage cricket fans of all ages.  We will continue to innovate in our coverage and make it accessible across our channels, products and services.  And drawing on our experience of getting millions on their bikes with our successful 8-year Sky Ride initiative, we are committed to working with the ECB to help grow the game at all levels.”

Back to today, with a close loss for New Zealand still virtually assuring their place in the semi finals it seems unlikely that the Black Caps will bat with the same intensity that they might in a more important game, so England really should be able to win this game against a team who are already looking forwards to their own semi final. But, as any English cricket fan will tell you (particularly after the last few weeks), England have a tendency to make things difficult for themselves and their supporters at times and you can take nothing for granted.

As always, please comment on the game or anything else which catches your attention below.

World Cup Match 34 – India v West Indies

Exactly a week ago, the day before England’s game against Sri Lanka, I derided the World Cup’s format and scheduling for being predictable and boring. Far from being a string of dead rubbers, now England’s only chance to absolutely guarantee reaching the semi finals is to win their next two games.

Pakistan’s performance yesterday will worry many people in the England camp, with the men in green managing to see off what had been, prior to the game, an unbeaten side in the competition. Having won that match against the odds, Pakistan could quite conceivably win their remaining two games and leave England needing at least a win and a draw/tie to qualify.

In other England news, it seems like Archer and Rashid may be nursing injuries. Whether the injuries are serious enough to affect their places in a must-win game, particularly Rashid since his replacement would be significantly inferior, remains to be seen. Personally, I dislike teams picking injured star players as it’s a gamble which rarely pays off. If Roy, Rashid and Archer are forced to play at sub-par levels, I think that says everything you need to know about England’s strength in depth (or lack thereof) and the coach’s lack of faith in their squad members.

Today’s game between India and the West Indies is not quite a dead rubber. India could mathematically fail to reach the semi finals and the West Indies could mathematically reach them, but either possibility is currently vanishingly small. Hopefully this means that the Indian team might relax or the West Indian team go out with guns blazing, giving us a decent contest to watch. After England’s two losses, India are currently the number one ranked ODI team in the world. I suspect they won’t want to surrender that crown as meekly as England have in recent weeks.

In case you missed it, the name for Surrey-based The Hundred team leaked yesterday morning. The team playing at The Oval will be… the Oval Greats. This joins the Manchester Originals, London Spirit, Leeds Superchargers, Birmingham Phoenix, Trent Rockets, Southern Brave and Welsh Fire as the names for the new teams. It’s hard to make fun of them, if only because they seem to be self-parodies. They’re neither fun nor boring, which are probably the two best options if you were creating new team names. An amusing name like the Rocket City Trash Pandas (an American minor league baseball team) ensures strong merchandise sales and can help garner interest from non-sports journalists and tv shows. An intentionally dull name (such as just calling the teams Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, etc.) makes it clear that that the focus is on the sport and the players. Picking safe, tested, mediocre names like ‘Phoenix’, ‘Rockets’ and ‘Originals’ is just the latest move by the ECB seeminly designed to drain almost any enthusiasm about the new competition out of English cricket fans.

As always, please comment on todays game, your ideas for The Hundred team names, or anything else, below.

World Cup Matches 28 & 29 -Afghanistan v India & New Zealand v West Indies

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how boring and predictable this World Cup was and how I wasn’t really paying attention to it any more. Well, England managed to reawaken my interest in an unexpected way yesterday.

In some senses, it should have been a predictable result, since Sri Lanka had won the last three World Cup games between the two sides. However, a lot has changed since 2015. Sri Lanka have been unable to replace key batsmen like Sangakkara, Jayawardhene and Dilshan, and their key bowler 35 year old Malinga now has a body more reminiscent of a middle-aged dad than an international sportsman. England, on the other hand, have replaced Ian Bell and Gary Ballance with good ODI batsmen (and James Vince).

Most fingers are being pointed at the pitch, which was quite a bit slower than you’d normally expect from Headingley. That doesn’t entirely explain away England’s poor performance though, since they did manage to win last year’s ODI series in Sri Lanka 3-1 in what must have been similar conditions.

I personally blame James Vince, or at least his (and Liam Dawson’s) selection. England’s surge to number one in the ODI rankings has been powered by their phenomenal batting. Since Trevor Bayliss took over in 2015, seven of England’s current World Cup squad average over forty with a strike rate around or over one hundred. The two batsmen who don’t are Vince (Ave: 26.50 SR: 89.22) and Dawson (Ave: 7.00 SR: 82.35).

There is a batsman with a significantly better record than Vince available: Alex Hales (Ave: 41.28 SR: 96.00). Hales was excluded from the team by the ECB due to his behaviour off the field, but the real cause of his omission is that he isn’t well-liked within the dressing room. For all Ben Stokes has done wrong in recent years, you can see he has been welcomed back warmly by the ECB and the team in general. Whilst Alex Hales is undoubtedly lucky to be available (The punishment for a second recreational drug finding in most sports is at least six months), the primary reason for his removal from the squad seems to be not coming clean with his teammates beforehand or apologising profusely enough after it was revealed.

At the time, the ECB probably thought it would have little impact on their campaign because they believed there was an abundance of talent just waiting for an opportunity at the international level. Eoin Morgan trashed Hales when given the opportunity, saying that, “Unfortunately Alex’s actions have shown complete disregard for those values. This has created a lack of trust between Alex and the team.”

Now England are in a situation where they are missing a world-class opener and they genuinely need to win at least two of their next three games to guarantee qualification for the semis. Those three games are against the top teams in the competition, New Zealand, Australia and India. Three teams who would love to knock a dangerous England team before they can even reach the semi finals. Can England afford to wait another game or two for Roy to regain fitness? Can they afford to keep playing Vince?

You would think that potentially failing to reach the semi-finals in a home World Cup, the format of which was designed to make such an event extraordinarily unlikely, would be enough to make the selectors and team swallow their pride. Unfortunately, as most of our readers know, that isn’t how the ECB works. Having spent the last four years devoting most of their resources towards winning this competition and hiring a white ball-centric head coach, they are still prepared to see it collapse in flames rather than admit they might have been wrong.

All of that said, England should still have enough to limp into the knockouts. Just one win from their last three games should be enough to ensure qualification unless Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, or the West Indies manage a truly remarkable run of form. England’s aura of invincibility has completely disappeared though. Australia are the only other team in the top four to have lost a game so far, and that was against fellow top team India.

The England team will be watching tonight’s game nervously, because if the West Indies can win the game against New Zealand then they could potentially mount a charge for the fourth spot. Given the form of India and Afghanistan so far in this World Cup, I’m not expecting an upset in the morning game. That said, they did tie their last ODI meeting in last year’s Asia Cup so perhaps Afghanistan can pull out another big performance.

If you have any comments about England’s performance, todays games, or anything else, please post them below.

World Cup Match 26, Australia vs Bangladesh

There are currently nineteen games until the knockout stages begin. N-n-n-n-nineteen. (Got to get song lyrics into the piece somehow, even if it’s not Public Enemy) To put that into context, the Champions Trophy in 2017 had a total of 15 games, as did the Champions Trophies in 2013, 2009/10 and 2004. The competition in 2004 even had twelve teams, compared to ten in this year’s World Cup format.

All of which is to say I’m bored, and just wish the group stages were over. Last night’s heroics by Kane Williamson put another nail in the coffin of the teams outside the top four, making it incredibly likely that there will be no surprises over the next three weeks. I’m honestly not sure I’ll even be paying much attention. Am I supposed to care whether England finishes first or fourth in the group stages?

Today’s challengers, Bangladesh, on paper have the best opportunity to disrupt this slow march towards the inevitable. They’re fifth in the group table, just three points behind Australia and England, and they have the world’s best ODI allrounder according to the ICC’s rankings in Shakib Al Hasan. The main problem is their lack of depth, I feel. Shakib is the top runscorer in this World Cup so far, but the next best Bangladeshi batsman is ranked 22nd. By contrast, Australia have three in the top ten and England have four. Likewise in the bowling, Starc and Cummins or Wood and Archer offer a far superior threat in English conditions when compared to any of Bangladesh’s bowlers.

So whilst Bangladesh certainly have the capacity to beat Australia, and few things give me more pleasure than watching Australians being ground into the dust, it just doesn’t seem likely. A win for the Tigers would at least inject some life into the competition, which is the best we can hope for at this point.

I guess what I’m saying is that Australia must lose this game for the good of world cricket.

As always, please comment on the game or anything else that happens below.

England v South Africa – World Cup 2019 Open Thread

It’s been over three months since England’s most recent Test match, and almost two months until the next one against Ireland at the end of July. So far, they have had four T20Is, eleven ODIs plus two 50-over warmup games in that time. We now have at least another nine to look forward to in the group stages. All of which is to say I already feel a little burnt out and low on enthusiasm for the shorter forms of the game, even if the current England men’s ODI team is relatively likeable and fun to watch.

After the recent minor injury concerns for Morgan, Rashid, Woakes, etc. in the past couple of weeks, it seems likely that England will select their first-choice side with Vince, Wood, Curran and Dawson missing out. Surprisingly, the actual team news hasn’t seemed to have been discovered by someone in the print media through “good journalism”. They’ll be very confident, having won their last four ODIs (ignoring the two warmups) against Pakistan

South Africa are on an even better run, having won their last six ODIs. Five of those were against Sri Lanka at home, but still. They will be hoping that their bowlers, particularly Rabada and Ngidi, can take a few early wickets and force England to consolidate rather than trying for a score over 400. England are seen as favourites for the game, but I wouldn’t be an England fan if I wasn’t worried…

I missed the coverage of the opening ceremony last night, although by all accounts it was a damp squib (in more ways than one). Wet weather, low turnout and lacklustre production values all give us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to next year with the ECB’s launch of The Hundred.

Speaking of which, it appears that Will MacPherson of the Evening Standard has discovered the names for six of the eight The Hundred teams. They are, if you haven’t already read them:

  • London Spirit (Middlesex)
  • Welsh Fire (Cardiff)
  • Southern Brave (Southampton)
  • Birmingham Phoenix (Warwickshire)
  • Leeds Superchargers (Yorkshire)
  • Trent Rockets (Nottinghamshire)
  • Me Pissing Myself Laughing (Being Outside Cricket)

There’s a lot to look at there. It’s quite hard to pick out one thing to criticise, when they’re all so bad. “London Spirit” was the first to be leaked on Tuesday, and it was roundly mocked. Now, compared to the other five, it might honestly be the best of the lot.

I am, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, a pedant. Perhaps the one thing which annoys me most about these team names is that some of them are plural nouns (Rockets, Superchargers) and the rest are singular nouns (Spirit, Fire, Brave, Phoenix). This genuinely irks me. There are other inconsistencies which are almost as frustrating, not least the team’s locations with cities, regions, nations and (bizarrely) a river used for the team’s identity. The names are bland, generic and have little tying them to their host teams, which may well be the point.

Trent Rockets is clearly the most ridiculous name of the bunch. It just sounds like a parody. ‘Rockets’ is a fairly typical team name, the most famous example being the NBA’s Houston Rockets, and there’s no obvious connection to Nottingham. Choosing something from a major American sports team has to be one of the lazier choices available for an overpaid consultant. But “Trent”? I guess it was their attempt to extend their reach outside of Nottingham, but it may well be so vague and meaningless as to alienate even some cricket fans in their home city.

“Southern Brave” would be another major embarassment for the ECB. It’s a vague nonsense of a name for an English sports team, but it would work well for an American band. Texas Country band Southern Brave certainly think so, which is why they currently have the @SouthernBrave Twitter handle (and likely much more besides). Choosing a name where you can pick up the social media accounts is almost the first consideration for companies nowadays, and it’s funny to see the ECB and the counties fail to clear even the lowest of hurdles.

It was reported last night by Lawrence Booth that Surrey had rejected four options from brand consultants FutureBrand: London Fuse, London Rebels, London Union and London X. A wise choice, given the options. There’s no word yet on Lancashire, the other host county yet to choose a team name. It bears pointing out that Surrey and Lancashire are perhaps the two best host counties in terms of commercial success, and that they are therefore arguably better equipped than the other teams to stand up to the ECB if they think a mistake is being made.

One thing the names appear to overlook (not unlike virtually all aspects of The Hundred so far) is the women’s competition. Whilst all of the names are gender-neutral, it appears unlikely that many (if any) of the games for The Women’s Hundred will be played at the same grounds as the men’s. Welsh Fire at least makes some sense when played in Cardiff, less so if they are playing their home games at Taunton. If the Trent Rockets women’s team are in Derby or Leicester, neither of which are on the River Trent, how will that help attract local fans?

If you have any thoughts, on the World Cup or The Hundred team names, please post them below.

Dissecting The ECB’s The Hundred Talking Points 2: From The Horse’s Mouth

It’s been a busy couple of months for me, regarding The Hundred. First I wrote a 6,000-word piece listing a hundred issues I had with the new competition, followed by a 5,000-word post about the ECB’s reasoning for the new format as relayed to us by The Cricketer magazine’s Inside Cricket podcast. Last Sunday I also did a 1,200-word post about the statistics the ECB released during their website and logo launch. Needless to say, I’m pretty sick of the subject and wanted a break from the whole damn thing for a while.

Then Tom Harrison did an extended interview with Mark Chapman, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell on the ‘Tuffers And Vaughan’ Radio 5 Live show. It is, if you really want to listen to it, available here as a podcast for the next four weeks. Now I’m not a fan of ‘Tuffers’ or Vaughan, I don’t listen to the show, and I can’t say I was expecting anything other than a PR puff piece.

Instead, it turned out to be a pretty disastrous appearance by the ECB chief executive. A word soup of marketing buzzwords, not answering most of the straightforward (and surprisingly pointed) questions, and being completely unable to present a rational, logical reasoning for The Hundred’s existence.

So I typed up the whole thing, and here is my latest 7,800 word monstrosity:

Mark Chapman: “Why are you bringing it [The Hundred] in?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game. We know we’ve got three fantastic tournaments, county tournaments that do a fantastic job at bringing out loyal fans into the game. But we also know there’s a huge opportunity, if we do things a bit differently, to get hold of a much wider audience. Potentially, by positioning the game a bit differently, we’d be able to grow the game, open up that gateway for the game for generations of fans in the future. So it’s an opportunity for us to think slightly differently, and present the game in a way that enables many millions of fans who particularly haven’t had the opportunity to be part of the game to come in. And that’s something we’re excited about.”

One thing I hate about interviews with ECB staff is that so many of them are utterly incapable of speaking plain English when communicating with the general public. Talking like this might be fine if you’re a merchant banker (either the job or the rhyming slang) in a boardroom, but most people’s eye just glaze over as the business jargon just spews out in an uncontrollable and unintelligible blur. It is also very repetitive, so if you had a shot every time Tom said “opportunity”, “positioning” or “different” then you would die from alcohol poisoning halfway through.

Now I’m not expert, and I genuinely hate the language used, but I think the gist of this answer is that there aren’t enough people watching cricket in England. I agree with that. I think we all do. But that doesn’t answer the question, which is why they chose The Hundred to remedy that. Why The Hundred was the best option for the ECB to take. Perhaps they have a rock solid explanation for why they’ve made the decisions they have, but thus far no one at the ECB has made a convincing argument for it.

Mark Chapman: “You said ‘differently’ in that answer three times. With a ‘thinking differently’, ‘positioning it differently’, ‘doing it differently’. What does ‘differently’ mean?”

Tom Harrison: “Through the work that we’ve done, we’ve worked out that there are about 10.5 million fans of cricket in this country, and we are very successful at bringing about 1.5m million through the existing county competitions. The international game obviously goes a stage further and brings more fans in. But what we worked out is if we’re able to address three key issues, and that is about the time the game takes, the perception of the game, so the way in which the game is positioned in this county. In other words, are we making it easy for fans of different communities, diverse communities, young people, sporty families, to get involved in the game? That’s the second thing. And the third thing is: Are we making it difficult for people to understand the game through the complexity of the way the game is actually brought to screens in this country? So those three things are the three key elements that enable us to really work out we’ve got a big opportunity here to bring people into the game.”

I already addressed these “three key issues” in a previous post, and will be addressing two of them again later in this one, but I do feel the need to question the suggestion of complexity being a problem and The Hundred being a solution to it.

I could write my own explanation about why this is bollocks, but instead I’ll imitate England’s chief selector and copy Chris’s work instead:

“Cricket is NOT a complex game. Bowl ball, hit ball. Get batsman out, get runs. The basic tenets of cricket are extremely simple, as every 4 year old picking up a bat knows. There is nothing complicated about that. The complexity is added when you talk about the full game. Fine. But that is no different to any other sport. Football is a simple game too. But the offside law, with active/inactive, second phase and so on is extremely hard to grasp for all but those who already love the sport.”

“Rugby, which the ECB highlighted in their report about access and interest, is mind-bogglingly difficult to comprehend in its detail, and any rugby fan will freely admit that when at a game, they don’t have a clue why a decision has been made. Especially in the ruck and the scrum. That’s why you have Ref Link – to know what the hell is going on.”

“There are of course issues around accessibility to cricket, the foibles and traditions of it can be inaccessible. But the basic point that cricket is a complicated game is accepted without question. It just isn’t. It is no more complex than any other sport. Mums ‘n kids (to coin a phrase) have no more difficulty than anyone else in understanding its basics as they are. This does not mean for a second that there shouldn’t be a discussion around how to make it easier for people to get into it, but the starting point that cricket is too difficult in its essence for people to get into is, to be blunt, horseshit.”

All of which is true, but there is an even worse aspect to this argument by Tom Harrison: The Hundred (at least as described by Harrison and the ECB thus far) does literally nothing to simplify the laws of cricket compared to T20. Now there might be some aspects of the live coverage which the ECB are working with Sky and the BBC to change, making the game easier for novices to follow, but none of that requires a change in format to achieve. In fact, they could do it now with all three existing forms of the game if they so chose. So, if the ECB genuinely believes that the current cricket coverage is excluding new fans, why wouldn’t they press their ‘media partners’ to change immediately?

Phil Tufnell: “And how are you going to go about that? I mean it’s a hundred balls, there are two overs at one end so there’s less crossing over. Is that how you’re going to try and do it?”

Tom Harrison: “We reckon that, if we’re able to play the game in about two and a half hours maximum, more families are going to come into the game. That’s the feedback from fans. Over the last three years, we’ve talked to about a hundred thousand fans to really work out what are their feelings about cricket. Why is it that we’re only able to bring in this 1.5 million fans through the game when we’ve got this huge following of 10.5 [million] across the country. So the work that we’ve done is trying to define that to make that much clearer, and actually say if we do it in this way, if we make it simple, if we present it on television in a different way so that fans can very quickly get an idea of who’s winning a game, where we are at a certain stage. It’ll feel strange to listeners of this show, but we’re talking about a game which feels complex to people. People who have grown up with the game don’t find it remotely complex but new fans of the game, they do find it complex and we do have to try and address that through this tournament.”

It is fair to say that 2.5 hours is almost certainly preferable to people with children when compared to a three-hour game, but surely it’s still a long way from being ideal for parents? I can think of literally no films, or TV shows, or live entertainment, which expects children to concentrate or participate for longer than two hours. For pre-teens, ninety minutes might be somewhat of a stretch. Young children generally have low attention spans and small bladders (relative to most adults, at least). Does Tom Harrison and the ECB really expect us to believe that parents would have been less interested in a format in which games only lasted ninety minutes, or two hours?

Michael Vaughan: “After 2005, if the game had stayed on free-to-air television, do you think you would have had to turn to this project?”

Tom Harrison: “I think the world’s changed dramatically since then. In 2003, you’re five years before the iPad was invented. The world has changed a great deal in that time and we’ve got different challenges, as every team sport has. We’re very fortunate to have an opportunity through a change in culture in this country, it’s much more multicultural, more urban. Now we know that, by 2030, most of us are going to be living in and around cities, 80% in this country. That gives us a huge opportunity, as a game we know people love. If you give people an opportunity to be part of this game, they will love it. They’ll  embrace it. And they will be your fans for the future. We just need to be very certain that we’re giving fans around this country an opportunity to get involved in it, in any way that we can.”

Even if all of this was true and in any way relevant to the question asked (and it’s clearly not), it wouldn’t explain why cricket in particular amongst team sports appears to have been the hardest hit. How would you justify the fact that cricket is less popular now with children compared to football, rugby, netball, basketball, American football, and a few other sports if “every team sport” is facing the same challenges? I mean, I’d argue that the ECB were a bunch of incompetent administrators who were driving English cricket into the ground. But how would the ECB chief executive rationalize why cricket in England has been perhaps the worst performer of all team sports?

As for more people moving into cities (and I would love to know where the 80% in 2030 figure comes from), that shows a rather large gap in the ECB’s logic. Is an eight-team competition which doesn’t cover large metropolitan areas like Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle or Bristol really such a good way to ensure most people have easy access to live cricket? Or that London couldn’t support a lot more than two cricket teams? There might well be an argument for having teams in new places to cover a larger proportion of England’s current-day population, but The Hundred doesn’t do that. It has fewer teams serving a lesser percentage of England and Wales, and in my book that’s not an improvement.

Michael Vaughan: “And just recently you did an interview in the West Indies with Simon Mann, where you said ‘The Hundred is already a success.’ Can you explain that?”

Tom Harrison: “I think what it’s done is helped us work very very differently with our broadcasters for starters, with our partners in the game. We’re now joined at the hip in trying to grow the game together. That’s a very different kind of relationship to the one we have going back a few years. It’s given us fresh impetus in a relationship with Sky. Sky have been cricket’s best friend for the last 25 years and enabled us to create the strong set of stadia we’ve got around the country. And it’s obviously transformed out relationship right through the BBC, and that’s huge for us because it enables us to work together with these huge partners to bring more fans into the game. So it is absolutely about the growth of the game, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t feel that we were taking this opportunity to take the game to those communities that potentially haven’t had an opportunity to be part of English cricket’s fabric in the past.”

So Sky is “cricket’s best friend” and helped build a “strong set of cricket stadia” Of the 18 county ‘cricket stadia’, only two are actually full for T20 Blast games (and neither of them is hosting a men’s team in The Hundred). What is the point of having great grounds if barely anyone attends them? Sky certainly haven’t been a great friend to first-class cricket, barely broadcasting any County Championship games over the past few years despite having the exclusive TV rights.

I have to say, Tom Harrison looks very well-rested for someone who has been in charge of an organisation which has missed plenty of opportunities in the past to broaden English cricket’s appeal…

Mark Chapman: “Did you have to come up with a new format because the BBC said a T20 game was too long?”

Tom Harrison: “No, not at all. This was because we were trying to address three key issues that came back from fans. One is about time, one is about ‘The game is complex. We don’t understand the game. Is there a way that we can make it more straightforward.'”

I actually believe this. When the BBC bid for the rights, the competition was T20. The BBC might have preferred a shorter timeslot, and the counties might have wanted the Blast to remain the premier English T20 competition, but I have to think that something as dumb in theory and execution as The Hundred has to have been created solely by the ECB.

Mark Chapman: “Who were these fans, by the way?”

Tom Harrison: “So we talked to a hundred thousand fans […] People who said they expressed an interest in cricket but for whatever reason they weren’t coming into grounds. They weren’t buying tickets. Their kids might play at school. They might have a loose connection through a father played at a local club. We know there are 10.5 million people out there who potentially would be part of this cricket community if we were able to make the game appeal to them in a way that we know we can.”

I think everyone was wondering which fans the ECB had consulted over The Hundred, because none of us were asked. It turns out we were too ‘engaged’ to offer an opinion. Instead, they appear to have asked ‘fans’ who were vaguely interested in the sport without watching it regularly. Which isn’t to suggest that the ECB shouldn’t try and tempt these people into a stronger affection for the game, but maybe it would have been useful to ask us lot as well…

Tom Harrison: “Through presenting it on television, through presenting it on digital channels in a different way, through getting young people and kids involved in a different way. So the three audiences that we know that we can get hold of are young people, sporty families, and diverse communities who have got huge passion for the game. We’ve done it with the Women’s World Cup, where you saw a very different audience coming in because we presented the game differently.”

Mark Chapman: “Although the Women’s World Cup is [50-over] cricket.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it is. That’s a good point.”

I mean, let’s just applaud this. In seven words, Chapman absolutely destroys Harrison’s contention that a new format is necessary in order to reinvigorate English cricket.

Mark Chapman: “My point being, if there’s a perception cricket is too complicated, the Women’s World Cup wasn’t too complicated.

Tom Harrison: “No, the Women’s World Cup enabled us to say ‘If you really want cricket to do the job, it can do it.’ The things that we did there was create partnerships with different media organisations. We advertised the game in different parts of the country. We said at the start of that year, 2017, ‘We must sell out the World Cup final. No matter who’s playing.’ And that job was done before England qualified for that final. What it shows is the power is actually in the game itself. The game of cricket is a battle between bat and ball, and if we’re able to give that opportunity to people, to celebrate the game between bat and ball, and do it in a straightforward way, we’re clear that we can appeal to different audiences in a way that will safeguard the future for all of our competitions going forward.”

As the ECB’s chief executive says here, all that is required to bring new fans to English cricket is effective marketing. You can look at the number of people watching, listening and playing cricket in recent years to gauge their typical effectiveness in this regard.

I do wonder, regarding the success and popularity of the Women’s World Cup in 2017, how much the ECB had to do with it. It is an ICC event after all, so I don’t know which aspects of the marketing and media were handled by the host board. I do know that attendances for England women’s games plummetted back to their pre-World Cup levels the following year. If the ICC handled PR for the World Cup, that would demonstrate the inability of the ECB to promote the women’s game. If the ECB were responsible for the meteoric rise in 2017, that would suggest they didn’t really try in 2018. I honestly don’t know which possibility is worse…

Michael Vaughan: “I hear you on all the diversity, and trying to appeal to new audiences, get more people interested in cricket. How much of The Hundred is a commercial venture?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s about growing the game, ultimately. Remember that when people talk ‘commercial’, they talk about money, the investment that we get in the game is all pumped right back into it. This is about growth. In a very competitive environment where we’re having to work really hard, like other team sports, to maintain relevance in a context of ten, fifteen, twenty years’ time. I’m not comfortable as CEO of the ECB with only 7% of children getting access to cricket at school, so we’ve got a sports strategy which is designed to absolutely transform our footprint in schools.”

There is literally nothing stopping Tom Harrison and the ECB funding Chance To Shine so that they can reach every single child in English and Welsh primary schools, if not now then at least from 2020 onwards when they get the money from the new Sky TV deal. If Chance To Shine visited every primary school on a six-year rota, theoretically seeing every child in that time, it might cost the ECB about £10m per year. Surely a small price to pay for Tom Harrison’s comfort?

Tom Harrison: “Transforming the women’s and girls’ game is important to us, so that we can demonstrate to a twelve/thirteen year old girl what her pathway through the game. Whether it’s to play club cricket or whether it’s, if she’s talented, to go through the elite pathway into the England dressing room. There are numerous different opportunities there. The Hundred is one of twenty six activities that we’ve designed across the six pillars of the strategy going forwards. The plan to grow cricket. And we’re very confident that we can achieve that through thinking bravely, with a bold plan for the men’s and women’s game together, to enable us to achieve great things for the game.”

Women’s cricket. It’s not particularly a success story for the ECB. Right now, the ‘pathway’ for this hypothetic 12 year old girl is club cricket (if she can find a predominantly men’s team prepared to play with a ‘girl’), then the amateur county competition (where she would still have to pay for her own kit, uniform and membership fees), and finally, if she became one of the twenty best women cricketers in the country, perhaps she would get a central contract with the England team. There are simply very few opportunities for women to make a living from cricket compared to the men’s game. There are reports that the ECB wants to start a professional domestic cricket structure for eight women’s teams, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

As for the women’s half of The Hundred, the ECB hardly seems to be working on it at all. In the past weeks and months, a great many details about The Men’s Hundred has come to light through ‘good journalism’ or official press releases. The draft day, the pay levels of players and coaches, the budgets for marketing and in-game entertainment, and much more.  Literally none of the reported information relates to the women’s competition at all. When I asked The Cricketer editor Simon Hughes about this apparent discrepency, he said there’s “No information because there isn’t any!” I think this shows the lack of regard the ECB has for the women’s game.

Their attitude is likely shared by the two broadcasters for The Hundred. Last week’s reports seemed to imply that the BBC would only show one women’s The Hundred game on live TV, rather than the eight they’re entitled to as part of their TV deal with the ECB. As for Sky, it seems unlikely they will show many women’s matches either. With both men’s and women’s competitions being played in the same 38-day window (each with over 30 group games) plus three men’s Test matches, there is simply not enough room in the schedule for everything to be shown. At least, not unless Sky and the ECB are prepared to show a women’s game on TV at the same time as a Test match or a men’s The Hundred game.

Michael Vaughan: “Just go three or four years in time. I’ve been working at the IPL, and the IPL games are taking too long, and The Hundred’s arrived and a shorter format. It’s probably what T20 was ten years ago. It was an hour and twenty minutes in the field, quick change around, an hour and twenty. Done and dusted in three hours. Now it’s two hours almost in the field, it’s taking too long. If, for instance, in two years’ time the Big Bash or the IPL want to turn to The Hundred, would that be a franchise that you would sell to these other countries?”

Tom Harrison: “At the moment we’re doing this for our own conditions, the challenges and opportunities that we’ve got in our own backyard, a bit like T20. In 2003, that format wasn’t developed to effectively be the thing that’s given cricket the shot in the arm that it has over the last fifteen years. It was developed pretty much as an answer to dwindling crowds at domestic cricket back in 2003. I think the same’s true here. I personally feel that there is an opportunity to take these playing conditions for a hundred balls into a wider context. That opportunity will be there for the global game to take advantage of it. We have things like the Olympic movement. We’re looking at things like how do we expand cricket into new territories. Parts of South America, the US, all of these parts of the world. The Hundred has got a role to play, if the game wants it, to help with that growth.”

Is the ECB headquarters located next to where the Metropolitan Police incinerate confiscated drugs? Are they sponsored by a Columbian cocaine farmer? Because I see literally no other reason why someone would expect other boards pay for the honour of using The Hundred as a format. This isn’t a comment on the The Hundred itself. I don’t think any countries would have paid for the rights to use T20 either, even if the ECB had had the foresight in 2003 to have copyrighted it. If other countries want a shorter format, they can just invent their own for free. F15 perhaps, or ‘The 99’.

Mark Chapman: “A couple of things on families. […] My wife took two of our kids to the Roses T20 game at Old Trafford last summer, and there were two, three lads sat behind who were so drunk before the teams had even come out that, when the teams came out, one of the lads shouted ‘Come on Gloucestershire!’ So I don’t know what game he thought he was at. But you will know, Tom, that going to a lot of cricket, a lot of T20, is like being on a stag do. And the finals day is one giant stag do. So what do you do to try and stop cricket becoming even more like going on a stag do, and in particular The Hundred? You’re trying to attract sporting families.”

Tom Harrison: “Look, it’s a good question. Ultimately, it’s really important that, across all of our competitions, families feel that it’s a safe and welcoming environment to watch cricket in. The Hundred is going to be positioned as family entertainment. This is something where a dad, a mum and two kids can go and have two and a half hours of fun watching world-class cricket with the world’s best players playing fantastic cricket in both men’s and women’s competitions, and hopefully get in and out of the ground within two and a half hours. That’s the plan.”

A game of The Hundred is projected to last two and a half hours. How is it that Tom Harrison expects families to get in and out of the stadium in 0 minutes? I can’t say I’ve attended any of the host grounds, but I’d suspect that when they’re full (which Harrison seems to expect) it takes quite a while for people to actually reach their cars or the transport links.

Mark Chapman: “Are they going to have fifteen lads dressed up as Scooby Doo, trying to build a beer snake behind them?”

Tom Harrison: “No. That’s very much around the kind of partnerships that we will bring together, working very closely with our venues to ensure that that environment in stadia is conducive to making families feel safe and welcome.”

Mark Chapman: “Will you have family stands?”

Tom Harrison: “I think there are family stands now, in most grounds. I think some of the behaviour that you might be alluding to is very isolated. Ultimately this is going to be positioned in a way that is literally designed to give families that day out that makes them want to come back time and time again.”

I’d love to have faith in the ECB’s promises of partnerships (whatever that means in this context) to remedy the rampant alcoholism of some cricket fans, but I don’t. There hasn’t been a single concrete suggestion which I have seen about how the ECB intends to counter the perception that crowds at the cricket, and in particular at the T20 Blast, have a lot of people drinking a lot of beer. Certainly, they have stated categorically to Mirror correspondent Dean Wilson that they won’t have alcohol-free games.

It is also disingenous for Harrison to suggest this was an “isolated” incident. For one thing, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. The two drunk lads at the Roses game Chapman describes could well have annoyed or worried dozens of people sitting near them.

More importantly, the idea of drunk cricket fans deterring other people from attending games can’t be news to Tom Harrison. In his podcast a few weeks ago, Simon Hughes describes the ECB’s most important reason for the launch of The Hundred as “a lot of people feeling the Blast is not a game for them because it’s largely middle class and largely white, and particularly a kind of beer-fest. […] It has become a piss-up, actually.” The experiences of the Chapman family are not isolated, and it’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence for the ECB’s chief executive to suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, it comes down to money. People paying inflated prices for crappy beer is a great moneyspinner for the host grounds. If the ECB attempt to curtail that in any way, the counties will demand greater hosting fees in exchange. ECB sponsors Greene King, Thatchers and Veuve Clicquot might also be perturbed to see their revenue from cricket grounds decrease.

Having said all of that, I can’t say I see a great future in using The Hundred to increase the numbers of families attending live cricket.  Given the congestion caused by The Hundred and three Test matches being played at the same time, a large number of the games will have to be played in the evening. Having matches finish after 8.30 pm is far from ideal for many families, whilst games starting at 6.00 pm or 6.30pm are more-or-less perfect for the after-work drinks crowd. For all the ECB’s family-friendly rhetoric, I can’t see it panning out.

Mark Chapman: “What will it cost to go and watch The Hundred?”

Tom Harrison: “Well we’re working on that. We haven’t got the absoute, definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you that it will be affordable and it will be linked much closer to county cricket than international.”

Mark Chapman: “If attracting families from wider communities is the priority, why were Headingley tickets a minimum of £40 for adults and £20 for a child for this week’s warm-up one-dayer? That doesn’t strike me as ‘affordable’.”

Tom Harrison: “I think that affordability of international cricket is one of the questions we’ve got to answer. By developing a competition that is targeting families that haven’t felt like they’ve had the opportunity to be part of English cricket to date and watch world-class cricket. I think we will find that opportunity is there for people. This is about growing the game. We’re really serious about this. Our whole five year plan that we launched in January, ‘Inspiring Generations’, is all about growth. Yes, it’s about investing and underpinning everything that we feel passionate about. Our three county competitions. Underpinning Test cricket.”

Mark Chapman: “But if you’re talking about growing the game, if you talk about the dad, the mum and the two kids, that’s £120 to go to Headingley for a warm-up for an international one-dayer. Before you’ve even paid for car parking, travel, food, drink. £120 for a family of four for one day, that isn’t affordable for a lot of people, is it?.”

Tom Harrison: “I understand that. You’re talking about international cricket. It’s not a warm-up game. It’s a bona fide series between England and Pakistan in the lead up to the Cricket World Cup. So I think that’s premium entertainment. I think it’s positioned as that because it is international cricket at the top of the tree. The Hundred will be different because although the entertainment will be absolutely the top of the tree, the price for tickets will be very different and more reflective of what people can afford. And particularly the target communities that we’re going after. […] It demonstrates the opportunity that we’ve got.”

One of the statistics which the ECB published last week during their website and logo launch was this: 65% of ticket-buyers for professional cricket in English cricket are affluent (Someone who would be considered upper or middle class based on their job). Is it really that much of a surprise? The cheapest adult tickets for The Ashes are £60 at Headingley and £90 at the Oval. Families are expected to shell out over £100 to attend a pretty meaningless ODI in a season where England will play at least seventeen 50-over games. Plus ça change, as the French might say.

It also bears noting that this is an issue which has always been entirely within the ECB’s control. If they were worried about fans being priced out of attending cricket, they could have stepped in to lower the costs. The previous system of awarding international games, where the ECB essentially made counties bid against each other for the rights to host England games, likely had the effect of massively inflating ticket prices. Whilst the ECB moved away from that system a few years ago, the amount supporters have to spend hasn’t noticably declined.

Michael Vaughan: “How are you going to deal with those young families that come to cricket for the first time next year, on the back of (we all hope) winning the World Cup to see Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, potentially Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes. And they’re world champions. And then in a year’s time, little Johnny says ‘Mum, dad. I wanna go watch them in this Hundred.’ And they get to the time, they get the ticket, and they’re playing Test match cricket at the same time.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, there will be Test matches through this window. And this is because primarily we are an international cricket organisation. Our sport is based on international cricket. We are extremely serious about building Test cricket and continuing to be the kind of global poster child for Test cricket. We’re determined to retain and extend that reputation that we have internationally. Our international players will be part of The Hundred. The Test players won’t be able to play every game, because we simply don’t have the space in the schedule to be able to guarantee they playing in every game. But they will be part of it, and they will play in games. Hopefully at the beginning and at the end of the tournament.”

So England’s best known cricketers, the men’s Test team, will be missing for a large portion of The Hundred. I’m sure that won’t affect the number of people watching or attending the games at all…

Michael Vaughan: “The Australians come over for five one-dayers next year. The first year, The Hundred has to be a success for you all. Was there any thought, that you thought ‘You know what? We’ll give back those five one-dayers to Australia, and we’ll manoeuvre two Tests’ to make sure that all these superstars that I mentioned will be a part of The Hundred for the first year? This can’t be a failure. It has to be a success.”

Tom Harrison: “Yeah, it will be. I don’t think by over-delivering in year one, you necessarily guarantee long-term success. The Hundred will sustain itself through the phenomenal cricket that is being played by many of the world’s best players on the parks around the country, in the men’s and the women’s game. The Big Bash had exactly the same challenge, where they played international cricket in Australia throughout the window of that domestic tournament, and found that they were able to build on that success. I think we will have the same experience. We want fans to be genuinely excited by the calibre and quality of cricket that’s being played. It will be played at a time of year where families can go and see it, in the school holidays. Mid-July to mid-August. And I think cricket fans will absolutely love this. They will find that it’s a source of great entertainment. It will be brilliant cricket, played in some of our best stadia around the country. So I think there’s an awful lot to get excited about for cricket fans. As we start to bring some of those plans to bear over the next few months, we can start bringing some of this to life. I think that’s increasingly been the reflection of people around the cricket community that we talk to.”

I have to say, I would not be worried about “over-delivering in year one” if I was in Tom Harrison’s shoes.

I don’t think the ECB turning down ODIs would have ever been a realistic option for one simple reason: It would cost them a lot of money. As well as losing out on the ticket sales, they would also need to pay Sky a substantial sum for not playing the contractually agreed-upon number of international games. Like with ticket prices, and beer sales, the ECB has shown that they will always choose money over any other objective. I think that the only reason the ECB support The Hundred, with its limited free-to-air coverage, is because they believe it will make a profit.

The comparison to the Big Bash League is not particularly apt, because Cricket Australia had one huge advantage over the situation the ECB find themselves in now: People knew who the players in the first BBL were. Many of the cricketers in ‘BBL|1’ had previously played for Australia and, because international cricket was still shown on free-to-air TV there, many of them were household names. Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne, to name just four.

Who are the most famous current English cricketers that the ECB could get for The Hundred? Sir Alastair Cook and (should be Sir) Jimmy Anderson? Try and persuade Flintoff to come out of retirement again? After fourteen years exclusively on Sky Sports, there are no mainstream stars to use to launch the new competition.

Whilst I’m not involved in my local cricket club, I talk online with several people who are involved in theirs. One constant thing they all mention is how junior cricket grinds to a halt during the summer holidays. That’s when children go away on holiday, visit family members, go on day trips, etc. The mid-July to mid-August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.

Phil Tufnell: “That was one of my questions. Who’s actually going to be doing the batting and the bowling of this Hundred, but you’re saying you’re going to be getting the world-class cricketers over?”

Tom Harrison: “Well all our white-ball specialists will be playing, anyone who isn’t in the Test team. […] We’re going to be playing in an ODI Championship next year. For the women’s team, all of our professional centrally-contracted cricketers will be available throughout. So there’s an awful lot to get excited about. But remember that fundamentally we also have to keep the international schedule moving, and that’s a really big priority for us as well. The Hundred can live alongside this and continue to flourish.”

Let’s recap who won’t be appearing in The Hundred:

That’s a lot of the ‘best cricketers in the world’ who won’t be playing in The Hundred. Most of them, you might argue. In fairness, the first three groups could apply to virtually every other major T20 competition around the world except for the IPL. The last two could be a significant issue in terms of perception of The Hundred, however.

As far as I can tell, no major T20 competition clashes with another. This allows the best overseas players to travel the world as mercenaries, which in turn helps promote the leagues internationally as those players will probably have fans in many countries. Some of the best and most popular of these cricketers happen to be West Indian. Andre Russell is one name which quickly springs to mind.

By scheduling The Hundred against the West Indies’ T20 tournament, the ECB are robbing themselves of some explosive players and lessening the appeal of the new competition to cricket fans in England and around the world. Incidentally, the CPL is starting in September this year, but that is in order to fit a lucrative series with India in the competition’s usual slot in the calendar. Unless the ECB are prepared to give a very large cheque to the WICB, I can’t see the same happening again next year.

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve had an email in from Henry Clark, and he says: […] ‘It’s all well and good to try and get new people watching the game, and actually I think The Hundred can have a huge positive impact. But to really tackle the issue of participation in club cricket, which is continuing to kill of clubs in our local league, the club game needs to adopt a similar stance. I’m now the only eighteen year old playing in my club team, where there was ten of my mates when we started at under-eleven standard. Players from the age of fifteen to eighteen are dropping out too consistently.'”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a common issue, and thanks for raising it. One of our frustrations is, we do an awful lot of work around demonstrating to leagues around the country that we have the ability to change formats in this game to suit players all round the country. We don’t control the leagues. Obviously they’re all autonomous. We’ve got leagues who are already experimenting with hundred-ball cricket for example this year. It was the leagues that started twenty-over cricket, it had been played decades and decades before it became a professional format. We need to keep working very hard with the leagues to educate leagues, particularly below first-team level. I played 120-over cricket for ten years through the leagues. There is still that intransigence with some leagues, to want to reform and bring in shorter formats, but it’s something we’ve got to keep working with the leagues on. To persuade them it’s the way forward, to keep people playing.”

Mark Chapman: “The ECB do do a national T20 competition for the 15s. We were lucky enough with my son’s team to get all the way to the national finals, which was an unbelievable day. The ECB give kit to all the clubs, and they have the music and they have the announcers, and the season as a whole was very enjoyable for the fifteens because it was all twenty overs. It was short format cricket.”

Michael Vaughan: “I’ve said for many years on this show that I think all cricket, potentially through a period of two or three months in the summer, every Sunday should be T20 Sunday. It should be the kids in the morning and then in the afternoon your club’s got to put on a festival of cricket which is twenty-over games between the adults and you put on the bouncy castles, the face-painting, the barbeques. You get the community down. Whereas in our time, where you used to go round the leagues and it would be the best teas, I’d want to see which club put on the best T20 on a Sunday. Saturday is for that long format. First team should be fifty-odd overs, but I’d say the second team (with youngsters coming through) shouldn’t be fifty overs. It should be 30-35 overs. Third XI should be 30-35 overs. I mean 120 overs, you probably started at twelve and finished at midnight.”

Tom Harrison: “You come off at about a quarter-to-eight. The other thing to remember here is that Sunday cricket is suffering as a result of this, around the country and we’re working very very hard to bring this to the attention of leagues, saying that there’s huge opportunities here to get people playing Sunday cricket. Short-format Sunday cricket. And actually, I think some leagues are concerned that will further take players away from Saturday league cricket.”

I’m not active in my local club, and so don’t particularly have a strong view on this section. I would suspect that those of you who are involved in club cricket might have some choice words to say about the idea of Tom Harrison or Michael Vaughan telling you which formats you should be playing, and when. My own recollections of playing cricket in my youth are that the games then were twenty overs long. I’m not 100% sure because I was in the under-13 second XI and we rarely made it that far.

My suspicion is that the number of kids dropping out of the system before reaching the senior teams has always been high, but the problem has been exacerbated by the sharp decline in the number of children taking up the game to begin with. All Stars was meant to remedy that problem, but it appears without success. Now the ECB hopes that The Hundred will have a positive effect.

I think the exposure on free-to-air will help a bit, but at the end of the day it appear that the BBC will only be showing eleven The Hundred games plus three T20Is. Fourteen days of free live cricket is a huge improvement on the last fourteen years, but a lot less than we had before that. From 1999 to 2005, Channel 4 showed up to thirty days of live cricket every year.

Mark Chapman: “Is this a difficult sport to lead at the moment, or an easy sport to lead at the moment?”

Tom Harrison: “It’s a privilege. This is a sport I’m incredibly passionate about. It’s my sport. It’s the one that kind of makes me tick as a person. So, for me, it’s a privileged position. I just want to make sure that everything we do is geared around growing this game for future generations.”

Tom Harrison was paid £719,175 last year, having received a 19% pay rise. That places him above the chief executives from the FA, the Lawn Tennis Association, the British Olympic Association, UK Sport, UK Athletics, the Rugby Football League and Sport England. In fact, the only two English counterparts to be paid more than Harrison were the chief executives for the Premier League and the Rugby Football Union. Nothing says “passionate” or “privileged position” to me like squeezing every penny out of a sports body for yourself.

You also have to wonder, looking at his performance in this interview, if there might be someone who would do a better job for much less money. Almost anyone, really…

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