Why Not Move The Hundred To April?

The Hundred has been a contentious issue for English cricket since it was first launched in 2018. Its supporters, most notably within the ECB and the media, seem to treat it like a sacred object where it would be considered blasphemous to alter any part of it. The appointment of Surrey CCC’s Richard Thompson as ECB chair represents perhaps the first time since its inception that someone in a position of actual power has publicly questioned aspects of the competition, and that represents an opportunity to make The Hundred work for everyone.

One of the most egregious lies told regarding The Hundred is that it would help attract new fans to both watch other teams and play at their local clubs. If The Hundred does excite a kid into joining an All Stars Cricket session, then they would have to wait until May the next year. Someone wanting to see more T20 games has the same issue. There is a reason why you never see advertisements saying “You can buy this product… In eight month’s time!” That reason is because it would be a monumentally stupid waste of resources. After eight months, the excitement and interest will have largely faded.

This would all change if The Hundred was held in April. This would allow the ECB to say “Did you like attending this match? Well, this very ground is hosting seven more matches almost exactly like it starting next month. You can buy tickets now.”, or “Are you interested in playing cricket? Well you’re in luck, because this website will show you a list of local cricket clubs starting junior sessions in the next few weeks.”, and “Like these women cricketers? Here’s the fixture list for the Charlotte Edwards Cup.”. It even allows Sky to say “Did you like watching this match on BBC/YouTube/TikTok/Pick? Here’s how to subscribe to Sky Sports via Now TV, where you can watch cricket almost every day for the next five months.”

It just makes sense.

There are other benefits hosting the competition in April. The international calendar for the England teams is now ridiculously condensed thanks to the ECB trying to avoid scheduling games through either the IPL or The Hundred. With the IPL extending into June now and The Hundred taking up all of August, only September, July and half of June are available for 7 Tests, 12 ODIs and 12 T20Is between the men’s and women’s teams. 58 days of scheduled cricket in a space of roughly 75 days. It’s ridiculous, physically unsustainable, and simply can’t last. Something has to give and, absent a significant change of heart from the BCCI, it has to be the ECB which relents.

Obviously there are downsides to such a move. Nights are a lot colder in April than August, which would hit evening attendance somewhat. It wouldn’t all be school holidays, although the 2-week Easter break usually falls in April. Sky would probably not be too pleased if they wanted to show the IPL but were obliged to prioritise The Hundred instead, although I’d hope that the increased promotion for the rest of their Summer cricket might help mollify them.

Some players wouldn’t be available due to the IPL, including a few England internationals. Going by the squads in 2022, as many as 28 men’s cricketers in The Hundred (9 English plus 19 overseas) would be in India through April. The ECB could force players on central contracts to stay, but it would be massively unpopular with the PCA and might lead to people refusing to sign international contracts altogether. The loss of talent could be mitigated somewhat by the complete absence of international cricket in the IPL window, which would mean that virtually every other cricketer around the world was available. One obvious opportunity would be to recruit Pakistani players, who aren’t chosen by IPL teams for reasons left unspoken. That said, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to hold a T20 league at the same time as the IPL and not look like a second-tier competition. To be clear: The Hundred is a second-tier competition, but the ECB doesn’t want it to be that obvious.

There are undoubtedly other things that Richard Thompson could change in order to improve The Hundred for next season. The amount the women players are paid should be significantly increased, more women’s matches should have the prime nighttime slot, overall costs should be reduced, the on-screen graphics should be fixed, and Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen should be barred from entering the grounds. But none of that would have anywhere near the impact of having The Hundred, the showcase event for English cricket with up to 18 matches on Freeview, starting the season rather than being almost at its end.

If you have anything you’d like to say about the post, Thompson’s appointment, or anything else, please leave them below.

Do You Have To Be Rich To Play Cricket?

“Cricket is the most elitist sport in Britain” – The introduction to Freddie Flintoff’s Field Of Dreams

Flintoff’s programme on BBC One has prompted many questions and articles about whether one of the the show’s central premises, that working class children have virtually no chance of playing for England, was accurate.

I wrote a post here in 2017 which showed that 62.6% of Test appearances in the previous ten years were by players who had attended fee-paying schools, and this increased to an incredible 93.6% of appearances by batters and wicketkeepers. Of the 27 batters to play for England in that time, the only ones who attended exclusively secondary or grammar schools were Tim Ambrose, Michael Carberry, Adam Lyth, Owais Shah, Mark Stoneman, Michael Vaughan and Tom Westley.

When Michael Carberry (All Saints Catholic School, secondary) was abandoned as England opener after a single Ashes tour, despite outscoring Alastair Cook (Bedford School with a music scholarship, £21,945 per year), it is not unreasonable to think that a player who fit the archetype of an English batter (“Well spoken”, “articulate”, “sporting”, etc.) might have been given more chances by England’s chief selector James Whitaker (Uppingham School, £26,406 per year). That unconscious preference for players with similar backgrounds to themselves might well have continued with Ed Smith (Tonbridge School, £35,067 per year) and James Taylor (Shrewsbury School, £27,930 per year).

As easy (and fun) as it to blame the ECB and its’ selectors for a class bias, the simple truth is that there are very few state-schooled batters anywhere close to England contention in county cricket. That isn’t to say that there aren’t biases to be found in selection, but the real problems begin much, much earlier in the professional pathway.

Wealth confers an advantage in terms of playing professional cricket almost from birth. Purely in terms of forming an interest and love of watching the sport, a Sky Sports subscription (£407.88 per year on Now TV) is virtually essential. One noticeable theme from Freddie Flintoff’s Field Of Dreams was how few children in Preston failed to recognise Flintoff, but were also unable to even name any current England cricketers. Learning to play the game has similar barriers, where many public schools have full grass cricket pitches, former county cricketers as coaches and several hours of sport available every week whilst comprehensives are mostly limited to an hour or two of play with plastic bats and balls (if any cricket at all).

Children typically enter the county system between the ages of 10 and 14. By this point, the kids from wealthy families will have already received a significantly greater volume and quality of cricket coaching compared to their state-schooled competitors. This gives them a huge advantage at any county trials, an advantage which can be extended further through building relationships with the county coaches either via their school or expensive one-on-one coaching sessions.

Meanwhile, children without wealthy parents face a slew of obstacles before even reaching the county sessions. Public schools are significantly more likely to be visited by county scouts than an inner-city cricket club, for a start. This is doubly true for any club which is unable to enter the main ECB-affiliated leagues due to a lack of facilities or failing to gain the acceptance of the existing teams, regardless of how well they perform on the field. Most kids are limited to a couple of hours in the nets plus a single game every week, make do with cheap kit from a discount retailer, and rely on parents (often not theirs) for transport to away matches. All of this keeps a vast number of talented youngsters from even making it to the county trials, which are usually held in a different city or town to where they live anyway.

Those who do make it to the trials soon find that that being a part of the county age group squad is a very expensive business. At most counties, parents are expected to pay for a complete branded county kit, bats and other equipment, and also coaching. They are also strongly encouraged to shell out for expensive remedial one-on-one coaching for any flaws detected in training sessions, and sometimes even tours to foreign countries. Matt Prior (Brighton College with a sports scholarship, £20,490 per year) tweeted a few months ago that the cost for his two children in the Sussex CCC county set up was over £1,000 each.

This high cost invalidates the idea that public school scholarships act as some kind of social leveller which means that the statistics showing the dominance of privately-educated cricketers is unrepresentative. The most commonly used example is Joe Root (Worksop College with a sports scholarship, £14,199 per year). What people overlook is that Root joined the Yorkshire CCC youth system at the age of 11, and it wasn’t until he was 15 that he was offered his scholarship. This is the case with virtually all such scholarships; They are typically only offered after a child excels in the county youth teams and is virtually assured of a professional contract. If a family can’t even afford to attend the county’s training sessions, there is absolutely no chance that they will receive an all expenses paid golden ticket to an independent school.

Counties claim that they have little choice but to charge parents. Sussex CCC’s chief executive, Rob Andrew (Barnard Castle School, £15,498 per year), said:

“We all want the game to be as accessible as it can be. We all try to keep the costs reasonable. Where there is genuine hardship, we offer bursaries. We have genuine applications every year. The key thing for me is that in the end there is a significant cost to the counties to run these programmes. In an ideal world, we would offer all this coaching for free. But how do I pay for it? It would cost the club £250,000. We can’t afford to do that. Maybe some of the bigger counties have more resource, but we have to cut our cloth accordingly. If we’re forced to make it free, my fear is that the pathway programmes will get slashed.”

This begs the question: How much are Sussex CCC’s “pathway programmes” costing them now? The surprising answer is that, according to their own 2021 accounts, they are actually making a £17,000 profit from them (£499,000 income minus £482,000 expenses). Far from being a burden, or an investment necessary to improve the quality of the team, Sussex CCC seem to regard their age group squads and academies as a source of revenue to help fund other aspects of the club (such as, for example, their chief executive’s wages).

To put this figure of £499,000 in perspective: Sussex CCC’s combined ticket and membership sales in 2021 totalled £530,000. That season admittedly had reduced attendances due to COVID-19 (whilst the 2022 season has had reduced attendances due to the new scheduling), but even in 2019 they only managed to accrue £953,000 from people actually watching them play.

Squeezing parents for every penny they can is good business, but no way to run a cricket club. It is surprising to many outside observers that there are any costs to the parents at all. After all, why would a team exclude vast swathes of people without £1,000+ in their pockets when they are scouring their region for the best cricketers in their region? One reason is a total lack of consequences. Whether Sussex CCC develop all 11 England players or not, whether they use homegrown players or not, whether they gain promotion to Division 1 or not, the amount of revenue they receive is virtually unchanged. So why try?

This is a very different scenario to football, where the rewards for unearthing a star player are so lucrative (either through transfer fees or promotion) that clubs will bend over backwards to ensure any talented youngster signs for them. The idea of charging kids for this, potentially losing millions of pounds by allowing someone to be poached by a rival team, is anathema.

Sussex CCC could easily find ways to reduce expenses if they chose (or were forced) to not treat talented kids like a cash machine. They could just not have a uniform at all and have everyone play in their club/school whites for example. They could use their contracted players to help out in sessions rather than having so many dedicated coaches. It’s even possible to argue that children with access to professional-level cricket coaching and facilities at their (very expensive) schools don’t need to receive any coaching from the counties at all.

If we take the Sussex CCC chief executive’s estimate that completely free youth academies would cost them £250,000, then the total cost for all county cricket might be approximately £4,500,000 (18 x £250,000). The ECB’s Director Of Men’s Cricket, Rob Key (Colfe’s School, £19,125 per year), has proposed that profits from The Hundred should be used to fund age group county cricket in order not to “price half the people out of the market”. This is an interesting suggestion for a number of reasons: The first is that it is the contention of the ECB that The Hundred is already making a profit of roughly £11,000,000 every year. In that sense, the money is already available for this purpose. It has also been reported that the total budget for in-ground entertainment at The Hundred (fireworks, dancers, bands, etc) is over £6,000,000 per year. It is certainly worth questioning whether that is the best use of the ECB’s money.

This does nothing to absolve the counties of any blame, of course. Each county has received an extra £1,300,000 in annual funding from the ECB in exchange for their support of The Hundred, some of which could easily cover free youth coaching. Every club had a choice on what to spend that money on, and almost all of them have chosen not to spend it on their youth programmes.

The former ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison (Oundle School, £27,075 per year), certainly never took any steps to address these issues. Even when it was raised as a potentially racist policy which had the effect of preventing British Asians from becoming professional cricketers, it was just Yorkshire CCC rather than the ECB which acted. It remains to be seen whether the interim chief exectutive, Clair Connor (Brighton College, £20,490 per year), or whoever takes the role next will fare any better.

So to answer the question in the title: Perhaps you don’t have to be ‘rich’ to play county cricket, but you certainly won’t make it if you’re poor.

Any comments or questions about the post, any of the cricket being played, or anything else, leave them below.

T20 Blast Attendance – A Boring Maths Post

In the lead up to today’s finals, the ECB released information about attendance in this year’s competition; A total of approximately 800,000, including the sold out Edgbaston crowd. This was compared to 2019’s figures of 920,000, or a decline of roughly 15 percent. I had two questions upon hearing this news: ‘Weren’t there a massive number of abandoned matches in 2019?’ and ‘How much will that cost the counties?’

To answer the first question: Yes, there were. 24 matches were abandoned due to rain in 2019, as opposed to 7 in 2018 and 6 in 2022. In spite of this, 2019 was (and obviously remains) the season in which the most tickets were sold in the T20 Blast. Which led me to think about how it would be possible to account for this factor and correctly gauge how much attendances had really fallen.

As far as I can work out using ground capacities from Wikipedia, there were a maximum of 1.37 million seats available in the 2019 Blast (having subtracted the 24 washouts), and 1.55 million seats in 2022 (without 6 washouts). This allows us to compare the two seasons’ attendances as the percentage of available capacity: 67.2 percent in 2019, and 51.5 percent in 2022. This would mean that the reduction in ticket sales for the 18 counties isn’t really 15 percent, as has been reported, but 23.3 percent from 2019 to this season.

To put it another way: If the counties had sold the same proportion of seats in 2022 as they did in 2019, the total attendance for the competition would have been 1,040,000 instead of 800,000.

Which brings us to my second question, regarding how much this will have cost the counties. The Cricketer magazine published this useful list of county ticket prices, from which you can estimate how much more money each team would have made if they had sold 23.3 percent more tickets. The answer for all 18 counties combined is just over £5,000,000.

Of course, this simplistic conjecture likely fails to grasp the full scale of losses that the clubs are enduring. It does not account for the lost food, drink and merchandise sales from the grounds, for example. What is clear is that it is the clubs which have the largest grounds who suffer the most damage financially in this situation. Worcestershire CCC stand to lose roughly £100,000 this season (23.3 percent of 5,500 capacity * 6 home matches * £20 ticket price), whilst Surrey CCC’s losses might be over a million pounds (23.3 percent of 27,500 capacity * 7 home matches * £28 ticket price). Worcestershire CCC might feel like they are getting a good deal from the £1,300,000 ECB payment in return for supporting The Hundred. Surrey CCC, and the other hosts in The Hundred, might feel otherwise.

It’s hard to tell whether this season’s figures will have worried those in charge of the county clubs. Their chairs recently voted to support a new TV deal with Sky Sports on broadly the same terms as the current contract, including the continuation of The Hundred. This ties county cricket into a similar schedule for the next six seasons, but also presumably guarantees that each team will receive their extra £1,300,000 ‘dividend’ from the ECB. It remains to be seen if this will be a wise choice.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave them below.

Coda

It has now been confirmed that Tom Harrison finally left the ECB three days ago. In the four weeks since he announced his resignation, I’m not sure anyone outside the ECB has had a kind word to say about him, but neither are they really laying into him.

This upsets me.

The first thing to say is that he has arguably had a greater impact on English cricket in the modern era than anyone else. This is not a compliment. On the field, the men’s and women’s white ball teams are faltering whilst the men’s Test team has almost totally collapsed. Off the field, the sport has descended into a sitcom farce of relentless incompetence, ignorance and a total failure to learn from mistakes.

Most of the press articles about Harrison seem to suggest that he is a nice person who made misguided decisions, or more mistakes than not, but is that really the case? He is at heart a marketing man, and it feels to me like the thing he marketed most during the last seven years was himself. With such people, who treat misleading people as a professional skill, you have to look at what they do rather than what they say. Looking at his actions over the past seven years does not portray him in a good light at all.

Racism within English cricket appears to be the greatest immediate threat to the ECB, with Parliament taking a close interest in the governing body’s reactions to complaints. Harrison has made several strident statements on the subject but the organisation which he runs has done almost nothing.

It is worth reminding people that Azeem Rafiq was by no means the first Black or Asian person to make allegations of racism in public. Ebony Rainford-Brent, Michael Carberry, Dave Burton, Mark Alleyne, Owais Shah, Devon Malcolm, Ismail Dawood and John Holder had all previously spoken about their experiences in the press, and Harrison’s ECB did nothing. Nor did Harrison intervene during Yorkshire CCC’s review which took almost a year to complete. Even after the damning report leaked and the ECB top brass were raked over the coals by a Parliamentary committee, nothing appears to have occurred. Despite over six months passing, neither Yorkshire CCC nor any of its past or current employees have even faced an ECB disciplinary panel.

Some people have chosen to give Harrison some credit for the growth in women’s cricket, but I would argue that he had very little to do with his two purported triumphs: The 2017 World Cup win and the popularity of the women’s Hundred.

It was Giles Clarke and David Collier who were in charge of the ECB when it decided to make its women’s international cricketers fully professional in 2014, and they were also likely the people who applied to host the event. With these two key advantages, three years of full time training plus playing at home, it was Harrison and Graves’ predecessors who had the greatest positive impact on the England women’s team.

As for The Hundred, it was only because of COVID-19 that the women’s competition received so much attention. Harrison’s plan for the first season was for the women’s teams to play the majority of their games away from the eight grounds hosting the men, including several at amateur club grounds. Sky Sports had only committed to showing the eight group stage matches held at the main venues plus the finals, which meant more than half of the women’s competition wouldn’t be televised at all. Once the pandemic struck, it suddenly became untenable for isolation bubbles and testing facilities to be formed at twenty grounds across the country. The decision was made to instead make every match a doubleheader, and the rest is history.

The more pertinent question regarding how Harrison views women’s cricket is: Following these moments of good fortune, what did he do next? After the 2017 World Cup win at a sold out Lord’s, the England women’s team hasn’t played a single match in the nation’s capital, and only one ODI at a Test venue. Despite conclusively demonstrating their popularity, many of the players becoming celebrities in the process, they have been denied access to the larger venues and fanbases that they deserve. Whilst Australia forged ahead with a fully professional domestic structure, England lagged behind in order to tie contracts in with The Hundred. Even now, at least thirty cricketers in the women’s Hundred won’t be paid for eleven months per year. This separates it not only from Australia, but also the men’s competition.

The ECB appear to have failed to capitalise on any momentum for the women’s Hundred too. This year’s The Hundred has been scheduled to clash with the Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham, which features women’s cricket as an event. This means that the women’s Hundred will have eight fewer group games than the men’s competition. Harrison has also approved a pay rise for both men and women in The Hundred which have increased the average pay gap between the two from £45,000 to £50,000. This is in spite of women’s matches attracting strong viewing figures and women cricketers being used extensively in advertising and sponsorship.

Tom Harrison was himself referred for an internal investigation regarding his behaviour towards former Leicestershire CCC chair Mehmooda Duke in February. Duke resigned in November 2021, just after a meeting led by Harrison to determine the ECB’s response to the devasting claims made by Azeem Rafiq to the DCMS Parliamentary committee. She later told people that she had been “intimidated”, “coerced”, “manoeuvred” and treated as a “token woman of colour” by the ECB. Nothing has since been reported regarding the investigation although, given the glacial pace of the ECB disciplinary procedures under Harrison’s leadership, it’s entirely possible that this is because nothing has happened yet.

Harrison has at best ignored club cricket during his tenure, and at worst manipulated it for his own ends. The creation of All Stars and Dynamos cricket seems, in hindsight, to have had more to do with forming an undemanding target to justify his ‘performance-related’ bonus rather than improving youth participation. Likewise, changes to how Play-Cricket (The scoring platform/website used within amateur cricket) operates have turned club cricketers into data points and commodities for the ECB. Harrison himself has bragged about how they now have “a database of over two million fans”, which they are using to “understand [fans] to an incredible level of detail”. This would be of immense surprise to almost all of those two million fans, which could indicate how ethical his actions have been.

As for the game’s finances, his raison d’être, how much did he really contribute? The TV auction in 2017 was the first and only time in the ECB’s history that two subscription channels were bidding against each other for the rights to English cricket, and so it seems likely that almost anyone would have secured a substantial increase in broadcast revenue. His response to this good fortune was to spend all of the ECB’s reserves trying to bolster The Hundred, the timing of which could not have been worse as COVID-19 struck.

This led to his other purported ‘triumph’, of ensuring England internationals continued largely unabated. Of the twelve full ICC members, only Ireland and Zimbabwe failed to host Tests, ODIs and/or T20Is in the first year of the pandemic. Pretty much everyone in cricket did it, and every other professional sport which I could name too. Was it a stressful, unpleasant, and testing time for everyone at the ECB? Certainly, not least for the 62 employees that Harrison fired. If every professional sport, every team, found a way to make it through, was it really much of achievement? The only reason the ECB faced such financial peril in the first place was because of Harrison’t profligacy with the reserves.

Harrison has been a parasite within English cricket, enriching himself to the detriment of the game. Over the last seven years, he has been paid well over £4m. He has demonstrated clear evidence of being malicious, ignorant, shortsighted and incompetent. His triumphs are few and his failures many. The absolute worst thing is that he has been able to mold the entire organisation in his own image in the past seven years. He has hired or promoted almost every single person at management level within the ECB, and I struggle to name more than one or two who I wouldn’t consider a spiv or empty suit.

The rot isn’t going to end here either. Decisions Harrison has made will cripple English cricket for years to come. Without an almost total clear out of his acolytes within the ECB, no real improvement will come any time soon.

But he’s gone, and that’s a start.

As always, we welcome your comments on Tom Harrison or any other topic (within the bounds of the law) below.

That Was Bloody Yesterday – Day 2 of the England v New Zealand Test

One of the joys of Test cricket is that you can dip in and out of it as work and other commitments allow. That has certainly been the case for me, as I missed the first four sessions due to seeing some of my family. The upshot of which is that I’ve missed the fall of twenty three wickets (live, at least), and instead witnessed a fairly steady accumulation by New Zealand towards what might already be an unassailable lead.

The day began with the hope of a wagging tail for England fans, which obviously fell apart within minutes. Stuart Broad is a long way from the batsman who recorded a Test century at Lord’s twelve years ago, Foakes has yet to recapture his batting form from a few years ago, and Parkinson must be totally unprepared for facing this New Zealand attack at such short notice. They managed to eke a small lead for the hosts between them, but that was the best anyone could expect.

New Zealand’s second innings begans much as the first did, with a flurry of wickets. Young, Latham and Williamson all fell before the Lunch break, which certainly gave England a chance of winning a Test for the first time in nine matches. However, it’s also important to retain a sense of perspective about things, particularly with regards to the quality (or lack thereoff) of this England team. Only a complete idiot would have suggested that England were clear favourites to win this game at Lunch, even if New Zealand were 38/3 at the time.

Conway gloved a legside delivery to the wicketkeeper just after the Lunch break, but that was where the good news finished for England fans. Mitchell and Blundell went on to score almost two hundred runs and put England very much on the back foot. The ball seemingly died and England’s fast-medium attack (plus the inexperienced Parkinson) were simply unable to trouble the batters.

It bears saying that England bowling reasonably well (for the first few sessions, at least) is not, and should not be, a surprise. At home, there is a plethora of fast-mediums who can trouble virtually any batting lineup in the world. Even when abroad, England would have a perfectly fine Test bowling unit if they could stop injuring their fast bowlers for a few months. The greatest improvement for England in this game has been in terms of their catching. It felt (and, not having CricViz’s database, that’s all I have) like England were dropping about half of the chances which came their way this winter. In the past two days, I’m not sure if they have dropped anything. A lot of this might be down to luck, as the chances have mostly gone to England’s best outfielder in Jonny Bairstow. Even so, it makes a huge difference when England’s bowlers only have to create ten wicket-taking chances rather than fourteen or fifteen.

There has been a lot of vitriol directed towards the MCC regarding their extortionate ticket prices, and not before time. One thing which stood out to me today is the frankly poor condition of the playing field. Leach’s injury seemed to come from his slide causing a divot, which tipped him forward onto his head. Mitchell, Parkinson and Broad have all had similar issues when fielding near the boundary. These kinds of incidents always remind me of Simon Jones’ ruptured knee in Brisbane, and I hate seeing it. Between this and a lot of low bounce on just the second day, it certainly doesn’t look like much of the MCC’s copious finances are spent on maintaining the pitch.

McCullum may well be watching this match and wonder what he has got himself in for. No batting to speak of, a bowling unit gutted by injury (even moreso without Leach), and very little time to turn things round. Although I believe he’s signed a four year contract, it’s hard to see him surviving if he is the first England coach to lose a home Ashes series in twenty-two years. He’s got to at least demonstrate progress in just fourteen months. If he was looking for positives to take, it seems likely that they will bat on the third day. This will mean that they won’t really have to deal with a deteriorating pitch, and will generally face batting-friendly conditions.

Of course, England fans will be all too aware that batting-friendly conditions haven’t helped them in the recent past and probably won’t here.

Coach Wanted – Englishmen Need Not Apply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Indies vs England – Third Test Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Indies vs England – Second Test Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Indies vs England – Series Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are The ECB Guilty Of Bringing The Game Into Disrepute?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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