My England Men’s High Performance Review

Last month, I wrote a post about the ECB’s High Performance Review consultation document, written by Sir Andrew Strauss and a consultancy firm called Twenty First Group. My post wasn’t really about the contents of the report itself, but more about how it’s possible to lead readers towards a conclusion simply by altering the titling, scale and orientation of graphs. It’s not an uncommon trick, and you can see it all the time in advertising, politics and business. I honestly thought it would be somewhat boring and esoteric for most readers, which is why I was surprised at how many people liked and shared it. As it stands, it is now the most read post ever on BeingOutsideCricket.com.

Because that post was almost entirely about presentation, it didn’t deal with the conclusions and proposals contained within the report. This post will address each of the suggestions made within the ECB report, as well as my own solutions for the problems which it highlights

It is somewhat ironic that England’s results following the commission of Sir Andrew Strauss’ report have arguably undermined its foundations. Few people would have predicted England winning six out of seven Tests during their home summer, nor losing seven from eleven ODIs and T20Is. At the same time, the success of the Test team seemingly occurred in spite of long-standing issues with the team rather than by addressing them, and the white ball teams’ successes in previous seasons could easily be viewed the same way. Effective leadership, which is able to maximise a team’s strengths and minimise its weaknesses, makes a huge difference with regards to results on the field.

You will notice that this post includes no charts and relatively few statistics, particularly compared to the report written by Sir Andrew Strauss and Twenty First Group. There are two key reasons for this. The first is that a lot of the issues discussed are broadly unquantifiable. When considering a cricketer’s potential in terms of batting or bowling, or how close they are to reaching that potential, you can’t really put a numerical figure on that outside of video games.

The second, more important reason is that statistics on their own offer very little insight into the issues that the England teams are facing and often have counter-intuitive outcomes. One example would be how people understand that the best T20 bowlers often have worse economy rates because they are chosen to bowl in the most difficult portions of the game. Another example would be England Test spin bowling. Here is a table of the best eleven Test bowling averages for English spinners since 1990, with players from the last ten years highlighted in bold:

PlayerSpanAve
DI Gower1978-199220.00
SG Borthwick2014-201420.50
JC Tredwell2010-201529.18
GP Swann2008-201329.96
DW Lawrence2021-202232.33
RK Illingworth1991-199532.36
MJ Leach2018-202232.51
PM Such1993-199933.56
DM Bess2018-202133.97
MS Panesar2006-201334.71
MM Ali2014-202136.66

Over a thirty-two year period, eight out of the eleven bowlers with the best averages were from the last ten years. In purely statistical terms, you could choose to argue that we are in the middle of a golden era for English spin bowling. The reality, as people who watch Test cricket will know, is very different. Outside of Graeme Swann, English spinners have been asked to perform very limited roles and largely protected from the most dangerous batters. However, it is very difficult to quantify this difference in a meaningful way.

Strauss’ Proposals

There are forty three proposals or ’emerging ideas’ contained within the review from Sir Andrew Strauss. They can be placed into three broad categories: Increasing the role of the ECB, expanding on current practices, or failing to consider the knock-on effects which would follow.

Corporate Bloat

In 1999, the ECB had an average (i.e. two employees on a six-month contract would equal one ‘average’ employee over the year) of 96 employees excluding cricketers and umpires. In 2021, this had risen to 305 employees on average, again excluding cricketers and umpires. The average annual wage for these employees rose by 96.8% from £25,458 to £50,104 between 1999 and 2014 (the last year wages were separated by category in the ECB’s accounts). That is close to twice as much as the rate of inflation over this period.

The reason for this is a culture within the ECB which suggests that spending money on a problem is the same as resolving it. Participation is down? Create a new directorship and employ a large staff to address it. Participation continued to fall, but the ECB could point towards the amount of money and resources they were expending as proof of how serious they were with regards to the issue. It’s no way to run a sports governing body, or anything else for that matter.

Place a new High Performance Non-Executive Director on the board – Adding another highly paid role to the upper echelons of the ECB, presumably with a number of extra staff to support them. It does bear saying that there is already a non-executive participant on the ECB board who is supposed to give their expert opinions on how to improve the England team: Sir Andrew Strauss. He has been chair of the ECB’s Performance Cricket Committee since 2019, and part of his role is advising the board on this very subject. In this context, it is very odd that he was chosen to head this review.

Have the existing Performance Cricket Committee singularly focused on England performance/Creation of Performance Advisory Board – This would seem to suggest that the current Performance Cricket Committee, of which Sir Andrew Strauss is chair, should be split in two: One committee focused on the England teams and the other on developing players, each with their own staff. This would have the effect of doubling the number of employees (and cost) involved in this purely administrative process, but wouldn’t obviously lead to an improvement in results.

Research into ‘What It Takes To Win’ (red and white ball), leading to another report – This is the holy grail of consultancy: Make one of the conclusions of a report you write a recommendation to hire you for another report. It is also pretty damning of the ECB, suggesting that they don’t understand what it takes to win a cricket match after twenty five years of existence.

If it helps speed things up, I can summarise What It Takes To Win (or WITTW, as is used several times in the ECB’s review) in six words: Score more runs than the opposition. You’re welcome, ECB.

Annual performance summit bringing together English game (players, coaches, Directors of Cricket, sport science, ground staff etc.) – Aside from the cost, and the disruption to the counties as half their staff decamp to a massive conference, what would this achieve? Apart from anything else, the ECB have historically been very poor when it comes to listening to others so the dialogue for this event would presumably be one way. If that is the case, then its function could just as easily be fulfilled by an email.

Broaden development curriculum (Directors Of Cricket, etc.) – Every English coach in county cricket has an ECB coaching qualification, due to a programme which began in 2000. In fact, every ECB-affiliated club in the country is required to have an ECB Level 2 coach (apparently at a cost of £300 each) in order to pass the Clubmark standard and play in leagues. If that approach has not worked, which the need for a High Performance review suggests, then why would extending the need for ECB qualifications to Directors of Cricket improve the situation?

Coach development to adopt ‘What It Takes To Win’ framework/Practical coaching opportunities, including leadership exposure – On one hand, changing the training framework for English cricket coaches makes a lot of sense when you consider their track record; No English men’s coach has won an Ashes series since Micky Stewart in 1987, and none has ever won an ICC tournament with England. Doing something different at least offers the chance of improvement.

On the other hand, maybe part of the problem is that every coach is being taught to deal with every player in the same way? Perhaps moving away from the ECB training coaches altogether and allowing every team to develop their own approach to improving their own cricketers rather than insisting on a single ‘ideal’ method would yield better results?

North vs South red ball match in UAE during pre-season – What better way to prepare for the County Championship in April, or the One Day Cup, than a red ball exhibition match in Dubai? Whilst theoretically a showcase for talented players to press their case for England selection, it would also seem like it hurts the prospects of a good start to the season for everyone chosen.

Formalise overseas club programme for selected players – As the word ‘formalise’ suggests, this already happens. It would just be the ECB organising it rather than the counties or the players themselves, which doesn’t obviously add any extra to the process.

Clear principles to defined how England want to play and to win/Clear, consistent communication of selection criteria aligned with ‘What It Takes To Win’ – This suggestion will go down like a bucket of sick with everyone involved in the England team. It essentially says that the ECB board will mandate to selectors, coaches and captains the criteria for selection and the playing strategies for all of the England teams. Who would choose to work under those conditions?

More Of The Same

It is said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of madness. If this is true, then I suspect there are a few offices with rubber walls at the ECB.

Exploration of mobile ball tracking – Presumably this would mean the ECB having more data regarding cricketers in non-televised county matches, and particularly the County Championship. The thing about ball tracking data, as well as other statistics, is that it doesn’t tell you anything that watching the match wouldn’t. If every county match is already seen by a scout, and videoed, then it’s questionable whether this could justify its cost.

People who don’t have a firm grasp on statistics often think that they might offer a perfect, flawless means of selecting a cricket team. It is ‘science’, after all, rather than the guesswork of a has-been ex-cricketer who is probably biased towards his former team anyway. This is sadly not the case. For the easiest possible demonstration of this: Cricket analysts disagree with each other. All the time. Every player, every match, every delivery has so many factors involved (The path of the ball, the pitch, the air conditions, the light, the state of the game, the number of balls the batter has already faced, and team strategies, to name but a few) that data analysis has to somehow quantify in order to give a standard numerical value. Each analyst or company therefore has a wide range of data which they can incorporate or ignore in order to produce an output which looks ‘right’ to them, and every single one has come up with a different solution.

It bears saying that the business of cricket analytics is not contingent on results. As far as I am aware, no outside analysis has been performed on the accuracy of predictive services such as CricViz or individual analysts. Their business model is in selling themselves to executives like Sir Andrew Strauss or broadcasters like Sky Sports, and is reliant on not letting people view their ‘proprietary’ systems or auditing their effectiveness. If a company were able to predict cricket matches with any degree of accuracy, they would be able to make a thousand times more money through betting on the outcome of matches than accepting a stipend from cricket teams and broadcasters. A professional gambler is financially dependent on correctly calculating the chances of a team winning or losing a match, which is why I am much more inclined to trust their judgement than that of an analyst.

Roll out ‘What It Takes To Win’ scouting system – Considering that ‘What It Takes To Win’ hasn’t even been defined yet, and apparently needs another review to do so, Sir Andrew Strauss certainly seems to have a strong idea about what it will be. I suspect, given the previous proposal, that it would use ball tracking data to identify county cricketers with similar data profiles to successful international players.

Formal, game-wide communication plan (goals, ‘What It Takes To Win’, feedback etc.) – The ECB publishes strategy documents every few years (Cricket Unleashed in 2016, Inspiring Generations in 2019, etc.), so the next one is due in the coming eighteen months anyway. Presumably this is already in the process of being written behind the scenes.

Proactive scouting of players to transition to performance roles/More quality & opportunity in existing roles, not ‘new’ roles – There are two things which confuse me here. The first is that I can not grasp who needs this. Seeing as every county and England coach I can name is an ex-cricketer, it seems like the path from player to backroom staff is well-established and working fine. The second is the apparent assumption that it’s desirable for coaches to be former professional cricketers. Doing something and teaching something require very different skill sets, and limiting your choice of new coaches to a few dozen retiring players every year doesn’t seem entirely wise.

Review of County Partnership Agreement from 2025/Potential reward based on impact: performance, inspiring generations, talent development etc. to align with English cricket objectives/Meaningful compensation for counties who develop elite players – The County Partnership Agreement is negotiated between the ECB, the counties and the players’ union (the PCA), and fundamentally determines how money flows through the sport. The current agreement runs from 2020-2024 and ensures that every county receives roughly the same amount of money regardless of winning competitions or how many England players they develop. For the ECB to substantially change this policy, to make payments performance-related instead, would probably require at least twelve of the eighteen counties to vote in favour. This is unlikely to happen, because half of those teams would (correctly) say that they would lose out in that scenario. Why would teams such as Glamorgan, Leicestershire or Derbyshire support such a proposal?

Explore warm weather training facility partnerships – Teams already do this now. This year, a quick search confirms that Derbyshire (Spain), Essex (Abu Dhabi), Gloucestershire (Dubai), Lancashire (Dubai), Leicestershire (Spain), and Somerset (Abu Dhabi) all spent time abroad before the season started. This might be linked to the North vs South proposal, as it would be easier to organise if all eighteen counties were training in the same country, but doesn’t offer any obvious performance benefit.

Continuation of the under-19s programme/Reinstate international matches at under-17 level – As the word ‘continuation’ would imply, there would be no change to the under-19s programme. It is therefore strange that the review would include it at all. As for the under-17s, I am very doubtful that touring with a group of sixteen year-olds will have a significant impact on their future playing careers.

Extend role of Lions teams – Name one player who credits a Lions tour with improving them as a cricketer. Just one. I know I can’t. This is not to say that A teams are worthless, as India A has a great record of developing several of their international stars. Playing more, more regular matches would make the Lions superficially closer to the Indian system, but the difference in results between the two programmes might be due more to the personnel involved than the number of games played.

Ways other than wildcards to connect the T20 Blast to The Hundred – This does not have any obvious impact on improving player performance.

Maintenance of fast bowler central contracts/Athlete monitoring system/Improved profiling, screening, and surveillance of athlete workloads – Three fast (as opposed to fast-medium or medium-fast) bowlers currently hold England central contracts: Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone. All three are injured, and haven’t played a single Test or first class match between them this season. Even if you expand this to all thirteen centrally contracted pace bowlers, only four of them (Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Craig Overton) have managed to play in more than five Test or Championship matches in 2022. There certainly needs to be an improvement made, but the broader question might be: Are the methods and philosophies currently used by the ECB fundamentally flawed?

Unintended Consequences

One of the more frustrating characteristics of the ECB is its tendency not to think through the consequences of its proposals. Even when they have a good idea, it almost inevitably either isn’t taken full advantage of or has a negative impact elsewhere.

Trial use of different balls to develop variety of skills/A bonus points scoring system to incentivise better pitches in the Championship – I don’t necessarily disagree with either of these suggestions, except for the effect that it would have on the competition. If the Championship’s rules are changed so that conditions are much more batting friendly, then the obvious outcome will be a lot more draws. As a spectacle for fans, and as preparation for Test cricket, this is not good.

Fewer days of cricket, to aid player performance/T20 Blast schedule optimised to maximise narrative and attendances – The narrative that counties play too much relies on the idea that teams are or should be selecting the same people in every game possible. To take an example from another sport: Liverpool FC played 63 competitive matches last season, but no outfield player started more than 51 of them. Whilst there are certainly debates about whether football teams play too much, or in too many competitions, the clubs and players found a solution which worked for everyone involved: Rotation.

Strongest possible 50 Over competition in April, with a smaller group stage and emphasis on knockouts – The move to April is possibly good, as it would allow all county cricketers to play the fifty over format. It is important that all players get an opportunity to become familiar with the pace and skills needing in that length of match. White ball cricket is also arguably more resilient with regards to wet weather and longer nights than its longer counterpart thanks to DLS and floodlights, and so a move to April might not hurt it as a competition. The smaller group stage with more knockouts might be problematic though, as it reduces the number of guaranteed matches a developing player might be able to experience. It was already the competition with the fewest number of matches (8 group games compared to 14 in both the Championship and T20 Blast), this move could make that difference even greater.

Smaller top division in County Championship – This suggestion appears to be more about reducing the number of total first team county matches in a season in order to allow The Hundred its own window rather than offering any performance benefit.

It also offers an unnecessary complexity to the potential structure, as the proposal appears to be for two Division 2s of six teams each to sit below Division 1. In order to determine which Division 2 winner actually gets promoted, a play-off between the two will be played at the end of September. Which begs the question: What happens if it is a rain-affected draw?

Higher allocation to multi-format players, multi-year deals – Lucrative contracts for multi-format players does make some sense. They have the option of eschewing Test cricket altogether and making as much (or quite possibly more) money on the global T20 circuit, and so it may be worth paying them more if they are an improvement on the red ball specialists who are available. The last part is important, because multi-format players are probably the ones most at risk of burning out due to spending so much time away from home.

The idea of giving players multi-year deals requires a significant level of faith in the England selectors, which is not obviously warranted. To take one example: Rory Burns currently has an England central contract. They are awarded in October, and Burns was in the Test team at that time. By January, his England career was apparently over. In total, he has played in just three of the fifteen Tests in the contract period. There is an argument that central contracts should be made shorter, and more reactive to changes in form, rather than longer.

England match fees to cover higher percentage of pay for red & white ball specialists – You can’t logically complain about player workload and also incentivise them to play as many England matches as possible in order to maximise their pay.

My Proposals

Of course, all of my criticism of the report does not mean that things in English cricket don’t have to change. Here are my own proposals in order to improve the performance of the England men’s teams.

Junior Pathways

It almost goes without saying that the strength and depth of talent within county cricket depends on the efficacy of the counties’ junior pathways, and yet the public release of Sir Andrew Strauss’ report fails to mention this area once. If counties are unable to recruit young cricketers with the greatest potential at the ages of seventeen or eighteen, then the overall quality of county cricket and the talent pool for England selection suffers as a result.

Seek to improve overall junior participation, rather than relying on ECB-led programmes – There are a number of concerning issues relating to junior cricket in England and Wales, but the main, overarching problem could be participation levels. Whilst the ECB has not released official figures in a long time, it would certainly appear to be the case that junior participation has declined significantly over the past twenty years. ECB-led programmes such as All Stars Cricket and Dynamos and the independent charity Chance To Shine have not obviously arrested this decline. Measures could include a new website focussed on directing parents towards local clubs, significant promotion on social media and through the ECB’s media partners from February through April, and resources being made available to help clubs promote themselves locally.

Do not include children from schools with extensive cricket coaching and facilities in county age group programmes before the age of fifteen – The next step in the path to becoming a professional cricketer after club cricket are the county trials. There is widespread anecdotal evidence suggesting that invitations to this greatly favour white children from wealthy backgrounds, predominantly from independent schools. This is a major issue because it severely limits the number of youngsters which English cricket draws on. There is little to be gained from a few hours every week with county coaches as these kids are already receiving a high level of support, and so the coaches’ time could be better spent with children who have less access to training, fitness and nutritional advice. Instead, treat independent schools as self-funding academies and play against them to gauge the abilities of both groups.

Approximately 7% of children in England and Wales attend fee-paying schools, and yet 62.6% of men’s Test appearances between 2007 and 2017 were by former public schoolboys. This appears to at least partly be because they are heavily favoured at the earliest stages of player development. One outcome of this is that most English Test cricketers come from a demographic smaller than the population for any full ICC member, including New Zealand (7% of the England and Wales population being approximately 4.1 million people). This unnecessary limiting of the talent pool would logically lead to finding fewer high quality players.

The reliance on private schools is not necessarily having a positive impact on the England men’s Test team. The four current Test players with the most appearances since 2019 are Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Of these four, Broad was the only one to enter the county system whilst at a fee-paying school (Root gained a cricketing scholarship after joining Yorkshire).

Make all county age group programmes free (or as cheap as possible) for all participants, in order to ensure that no potential England cricketers are discouraged from a career in the sport – Ideally this would also include transport expenses, as most counties cover a large geographical area and even reaching the training grounds on a regular basis might be difficult for many families. The county pathways appear to systemically discourage children from low or average income backgrounds progressing. Some age group programmes expect parents to pay over £1,000 per year for coaching, equipment and travel. This level of expenditure will obviously exclude vast swathes of potential cricketers.

Encourage older children who might have little interest in cricket but physical attributes suited to the game, such as height and speed, to train and play at clubs – If batting conditions in the County Championship were changed so that teams needed a full compliment of rapid fast bowlers in order to regularly take twenty wickets, then there might not be enough players in their junior systems to satisfy that demand. The ability to regularly bowl 90 mph seems so rare in county cricket that it’s possible even junior club leagues could not supply enough for all eighteen first-class counties. If this is the case, then it would be necessary to branch out recruitment beyond kids already playing cricket.

County Cricket

County cricket is different from the other two sections of my suggestions because developing cricketers is not necessarily the primary focus of everyone involved. Whilst teams might want their players to improve, other factors such as winning competitions and making enough money to be financially independent might be considered as important or more so. A majority of first class counties are also nominally controlled by their members who could theoretically obstruct any proposals. Therefore, any changes to county cricket will have to balance a number of factors in order to be approved and effective.

In order to decide how best to change county cricket, it is first necessary to consider what are the current broad strengths and weaknesses within English cricket. In red ball cricket, the main strength is probably medium-fast/fast-medium bowling and wicketkeeper-batters whilst the weaknesses would be batting (and particularly opening), fast and spin bowling, and slip catching. In limited overs formats, the strengths appear to be batting and fielding whilst bowling may not be quite as strong.

There appears to be a broad consensus that making conditions more batter-friendly in the Championship would help improve the development of Test batters. The current conditions certainly don’t seem to discourage the use of medium and medium-fast bowlers, which can be relatively rare in Test cricket. However, such a move would lead to more draws which could hurt both the competition and counties’ ability to attract fans unless other changes are made.

Switch the ball used in Championship matches to one which is less responsive to swing and seam – The Dukes red ball appears to act differently to those used overseas in Test matches, in that it allows seam and swing movement for many more overs. A red Kookaburra ball seems to deviate very little after roughly twenty overs, which encourages a different strategy when it comes to both batting and bowling. Opening batters are even more important for their role of seeing off the new ball, so that the middle order can take advantage later in the innings rather than being exposed to the new ball. Fast bowlers have to learn to take wickets without relying on seam and swing alone, which should encourage them to develop other techniques. The Kookaburra and SG balls might also lessen the gap in effectiveness between medium-fast and spin bowlers compared to using the Dukes.

Incentivise teams in the Championship to produce more batting-friendly pitches by offering batting bonus points only to the home team, whilst encouraging bowling teams to recruit and develop more talented bowlers in these conditions by offering bowling bonus points only to the away team – For example, the reward could be 2 points for the home side reaching 400 runs in the first innings or the away side bowling the opposition out within 100 overs in the first innings.

Play fewer, five-day matches in the Championship – One puzzling aspect of the debate regarding cricket formats in domestic competitions is that the argument frequently levelled against The Hundred or the defunct Pro 40, that they don’t prepare players for international matches, is almost never applied to the first-class game. Playing a red ball match over four rather than five days makes a significant difference to the pace and strategies needed to succeed, as the differences between men’s and women’s Tests could indicate. If conditions become more batter-friendly, then longer games will help reduce the chances of draws. For spin bowlers, longer matches would both increase demand for their use in a holding role in the first innings and as an attacking option on the fourth and fifth days. For batters, it will allow them to stay at the crease longer without being forced to artificially increase their scoring rate for a declaration, as well as offering more opportunities to bat on a spinning pitch. Ten five-day games would require a maximum of 50 days’ first-class cricket, compared to 56 for the current structure.

Introduce a high minimum match fee for all Championship games in the 2025-28 County Partnership Agreement – A core issue which may need to be addressed is that of imbalanced financial rewards for players. A talented young batter within county cricket has the ability to focus on improving themselves in various different ways, and may well consider the career prospects of those decisions. Test cricket is by far the most lucrative format for English cricket as a whole, and yet the salaries for playing in the County Championship are typically less than impressive. The 90th best English T20 cricketer can still expect to receive a £30,000 contract in The Hundred on top of their main county salary, whilst there is no parallel in first-class cricket. A smart player would look at this situation and prioritise improving their white ball skills in order to maximise their earnings over the remainder of their professional playing career. £5,000 per game, for example, could increase competition for places and hopefully lead to more players prioritising red ball cricket.

Propose a limit on the number of matches and/or days’ play any county cricketer can play in the English season in the next County Partnership Agreement, in order to avoid overwork and fatigue. For example: 35 matches or 60 days’ play over six months – It is a matter of great importance for players and their union (the PCA) that county cricketers feel they do not have enough time to rest or train during the English season due to the number of matches. This would address the concerns of the PCA, although it could lead to lower average pay for players if teams require larger squads as a result.

Allow counties to sign a second overseas player in the Championship, with the requirement that they have to be a member of a touring Test team – One proposal being publicly floated in response to Sir Andrew Strauss’ report is to ban overseas cricketers from the Championship. As a broad aim of reforming domestic cricket is to hopefully raise the standard of play closer to international matches, it does seem like an odd choice to reject the services of actual international players. Counties gaining the services of successful and experienced Test cricketers to offer an example and possible mentoring to the rest of their squad appears to have few downsides and should be encouraged, even if it is only for a few games. This will hopefully encourage active Test cricketers to participate in the competition, particularly before their series starts in order to acclimate to English conditions. Depending on the number of players interested, it may make sense to limit this to Division 1 teams.

Poach talented overseas players – This probably won’t be a popular suggestion, but it might well be very effective. The period when England were arguably closest to Strauss’ aspiration of being the top men’s team in all three formats was 2010-12, between winning the World T20 and dropping from the top spot in the ICC’s Test rankings. In that time, 10 out of 37 England cricketers were born overseas. Their inclusion boosted England to being (briefly) the best team in the word (except in ODIs, which was arguably an issue of selection rather than available players).

Playing in and for England would certainly be an attractive and lucrative prospect for players from most countries, particularly if their skills were suited more towards Test cricket. If counties were able to sign prospective international cricketers as home-grown rather than overseas until they gained England eligibility, that would generate an influx of talent within just a few years. Many of my proposals would take ten years or more to feed through to the England team, and so this could potentially operate as a stopgap solution until then.

Change the schedule – This is the kiss of death for a discussion about improving the performance of England and county cricketers. There is absolutely no possible solution which can or will satisfy the ECB, counties, players and fans. It does not help that no one can seem to agree on what the priority of county cricket is. Is it to develop the best possible cricketers for the England team, which provides most of its funding? Is it for counties to become financially self-reliant? Is it for the enjoyment of its fans? In the context of a High Performance Review, it makes sense to try and consider changes which could potentially improve the England teams in some way.

If the county calendar was structured wholly in order to support the England teams, then the ideal schedule would likely be very similar to the international calendar but a few weeks ahead. This would mean that every England player would be able to play three or more matches in the relevant format at the domestic level immediately before the beginning of (as well as during) an international series. However, there would be significant disadvantages in other areas. The T20 Blast and One Day Cup would each have to be split in two across the season, in order to accommodate the two three-match ODI and T20I series that England play every year. Players in particular seem to generally prefer playing formats in single windows. This approach would also mean that the domestic calendar changed drastically every year because a season with a five-Test series has a very different structure to one with two three-Test series, which would make it harder for counties to build an audience for their competitions year-on-year.

Another possible viewpoint would be considering how many games in each competition counties should play. A typical English summer is perfectly balanced between the three formats: 6 Tests, 6 ODIs and 6 T20Is. If you compare that to this season, county cricket had 14 Championship, and either 22 T20s or 14 T20s and 8 One Day Cup matches (excluding knockouts) depending on whether a player was selected in The Hundred or not. It is difficult to justify the need for the ninety best English T20 cricketers playing a minimum of twenty two group games between the Blast and The Hundred, taking up almost half of the season, in this context. However, it is highly unlikely that counties or their members would agree to any reduction in such a popular and profitable competition as the Blast whilst The Hundred is apparently contractually protected until 2028.

International Cricket And The ECB

Another area largely overlooked in Sir Andrew Strauss’ report was how the England team and other elements of the player pathway operated centrally by the ECB helped or hindered the development of world class cricketers. The assumption running through the document appeared to be that the ECB would do a better job than the counties in terms of training and managing young players, an assumption not necessarily backed by their own past performance.

The ECB runs several programmes which are intended to facilitate the step up from county to international cricket. An under-19s team which participates in ICC competitions, the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough, and the England Lions international A team are the ones which run continuously, with others such as spin and pace bowling camps held overseas on an ad hoc basis. Given that a High Performance Review was needed in the first place, it seems fair to suggest that these systems might need significant improvement.

Have more batting coaches for the Test team – One consequence of England’s struggles in Tests has been the selection of younger cricketers, particularly batters. Because no specialist batter to debut for England since 2014 has managed to maintain a Test batting average above 33.00 and selectors have been reluctant to go back to previously dropped players, there have been an increasing number of debutants aged 24 or less chosen. Despite this, the coaching structure of the England Test team seems largely the same as it was ten years ago. Whilst a single batting coach might be fine for a team made up largely of veterans, perhaps more are required when so many players are young and inexperienced?

Start central contracts at any time – We are currently in the weird position where Rory Burns has played three Tests since being awarded a central contract, whilst Alex Lees has played ten Tests in the same time and does not have one (and may not even be on this year’s list). If you are going to play a cricketer, it only seems fair to pay them.

Scrap Lions tours and play more overseas Tests – A decade of consistent failure to develop Test cricketers has rendered the purpose of Lions tours virtually obsolete. If there is a talented batter, spinner or fast bowler, they immediately enter the Test squad. There is no thought of preparing them for the experience or wanting a closer look before giving them a cap, because no one already in the team has nailed down these positions. The success of the India A side might have been in part because India had a strong first XI, meaning that even their reserves still had Test-quality players who simply couldn’t get a game at the time. This is not the case for England. If the players the ECB are looking to develop are already in the Test squad, it makes more sense for them to play extra matches. Because they now have a separate coaching staff for Test cricket, this would be easier than ever to do.

Having a Test team tour has several advantages. It means the host country will be able to sell TV rights for the matches, which will presumably make arranging a tour much easier and less expensive than with the Lions. This extra money would engender good will with other cricket boards, and possibly help the ECB get their way in the ICC. Full TV coverage would presumably mean that the matches have the ball tracking data that so many within the ECB are enamoured with. The opposition teams would be stronger, and offer a greater test of the English players’ abilities. It wouldn’t need the ECB to recruit a second set of coaches, or produce different kits, or (I’m guessing) pay for their own room and board. There would be more pressure on players to perform, including from the media. It would have to be made clear to all involved that the senior players like Stokes, Root, Anderson and Broad are likely to be rested, but I think it is workable.

Routinely review player outcomes – Between the international teams, the Lions, Loughborough and age group cricket, the ECB and its coaches spend a lot of time with players. At least once a year, a report should be written for every player detailing what coaching a cricketer received and how each their ability, form and fitness changed as a result.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being an English cricket fans is the constant repetition of mistakes. Whilst everyone in the coaching staff is obviously doing their best, English cricket seems to be amongst the worst when it comes to keeping their fast bowlers fit and healthy. This is in spite of the ECB being the second-richest cricket board in the world. At the same time, no one ever seems to be held accountable. Through a comprehensive, regular review of how ECB coaching has affected every cricketer, it would hopefully help identify which techniques and coaches are or are not doing their jobs well.

Close the National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough – Since 2003, the National Cricket Performance Centre has been based at Loughborough University. It is a state of the art indoor training complex with multiple nets, ball tracking, biomechanics technology and dozens of highly qualified coaches, all dedicated to the production of fast bowlers capable of succeeding anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, like data analysts, the methods used at Loughborough continually promise a future which never comes. Success is always just beyond the horizon.

Over almost twenty years, the staff and methods employed at Loughborough have appeared to ruin multiple promising bowling careers through ‘tweaking actions’ either to gain a little more pace or (ironically) avoid injuries. It is, if anything, getting worse in recent years. If a review of player outcomes found the coaches and techniques at the National Cricket Performance Centre fundamentally harmed the development of England cricketers, there would seem little point in continuing to fund such an expensive facility.

Examine role and composition of the ECB’s Performance Cricket Committee – One running theme within the ECB is a lack of accountability among senior staff. The most important example of these with regards to performance on the field could be its cricket committee, which is dedicated to the management of the England teams and their support structures. If a High Performance Review was needed, raising a multitude of issues which all come under the committee’s remit, then they have clearly not fulfilled their purpose. The ECB’s own review even tacitly acknowledges these shortcomings by suggesting that a second committee should be formed in order to take over many of its existing responsibilities.

To answer the question of whether the interface between the ECB board and the Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket (Rob Key) needs two, one, or possibly zero committees, it would be interesting to learn how other cricket boards operate. As far as I can tell, New Zealand Cricket has one committee to deal with these areas whilst the BCCI and Cricket Australia don’t appear to have any at all. Having two committees would seem like an overly bureaucratic solution if this is the case.

It is frankly bizarre that the chair of the Performance Cricket Committee was placed in charge of a review into the efficacy of his own work. It is a colossal conflict of interest which no one appears to acknowledge.

Conclusion

If there is one change which needs to be made in order to improve the performance of the England men’s teams, it is introducing accountability throughout the ECB. Not just the visible roles of captain and coach, but the highly paid employees in board rooms and behind the scenes who seem to always avoid being blamed for England’s issues but are very happy to accept bonuses for their successes. This would require an enormous cultural shift and, I suspect, a large number of redundancies. Good governance and being able to admit when mistakes have been made will make a huge difference to English cricket, both on and off the field.

Congratulations on making it to the end. This somehow ended up being the longest post I’ve ever written, and that is saying something for me. I have ignored the elephant in the room that is The Hundred. Obviously elements of scheduling would be much easier if it was scrapped, but it has been made abundantly clear that the competition will exist until at least 2028, and take place in August until at least 2026. I tried to limit my writing to what I thought the ECB and counties might agree to, and scrapping The Hundred is not one of them.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with me on everything in this post. I am criticising most of Sir Andrew Strauss’ 43 proposals and making 18 of my own, so it would be pretty bizarre if someone did see things exactly as I do. If you have your own suggestions or feel that I’ve got something wrong, feel free to post them in the comments 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.

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.

Less Is Not Always More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ECB are almost certain to do it then.

As always, please leave your comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow

Predicting the future is problematic, it’s much easier to predict the past, although Twitter users might be an example of that not being entirely the case. In wider life there seems to be consensus that while the question of whether the pandemic will make material lasting changes is an open one, it almost certainly has accelerated existing trends – such things as the decline of cash or the continued rise of online over physical retail.

Cricket seems little different – there is no reason to assume that this last year will cause wild changes in itself, but an acceleration of what was coming anyway, that’s a different matter.

Television deals are at the heart of the future and the present, and have been the principal driver of the changes over the last 10 years, whatever the disingenous pontifications from governing bodies about trying to engage people in the sport as more than exploitable consumers. The shortening of formats, first to T20 and then to 10 over equivalents or the Hundred are all about packaging the game into compact segments that fit into programming and allow advertising to be maximised. India is undoubtedly the principal power behind this, because their financial muscle is greater than just about everyone else put together. The rise of the IPL to not just be the biggest short form tournament, but the priority for the game full stop has been inexorable, and the players have been part of that for their own financial reasons. In all cases, it’s not something to particularly blame anyone for, it’s merely a reflection of desires that coincide and aims that correlate – the belief in some quarters that professional cricketers with a short career should sacrifice their ability to earn for the sake of tradition is naive at best. Thus the expectation has to be that not only will the IPL continue, but that it will become ever more central to the global game.

The Hundred is the ECB’s attempt to muscle in on the same thing, having blown their chance of making T20 their central selling point to the world game. There are endless problems with the assumption behind that. Globally, the difference between 16.4 overs and 20 is so minimal as to be not worthy of further debate, and the ever lengthening duration of IPL and Big Bash T20 matches to up to 4 hours implies that the purported domestic desire to have a very short game isn’t one entirely shared elsewhere – perhaps short enough is sufficient. That doesn’t mean in itself that it can’t be a domestic success, but the wish the ECB have for it to be a global phenomenon looks hamstrung from the start. Gimmickry has a place in all sports, irritating as many find it, but a successful gimmick is one that does draw people in, that does appear to have a value. The Hundred lacks this entirely, the hundred balls of an innings doesn’t even work as a deception.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Hundred will be a domestic option, and one with limited expansionary appeal. The argument made in its favour that it’s still cricket, and that the difference between it and T20 is sufficiently small for it to have sporting integrity is precisely the reason it’s unlikely to truly take off – why abandon the investment in T20 for a game that offers little extra? If The Hundred does remain an entirely domestic concept, it’s hard to see how it has a long term future when everyone else prefers the ironically more traditional T20. All new things attract attention initially, and whatever the complaints about it, it will have that first flush of attraction as something new. The problem it has is beyond that, years three and four. There comes a time when the question will be asked what the point of it is, and whether a T20 tournament would work better. The Hundred itself looks doomed in the longer term, though it may serve its purpose if it garners sufficient commercial attention to cause that debate to happen.

The 50 over form of the game will continue to be squeezed, but it remains a viable option because it still attracts strong crowds and decent quantities of sponsorship and advertising money. There may be experiments made to widen the differential between it and T20, such as four innings of 25 overs, but it is a format that isn’t particularly broken. The attitude towards it may change somewhat as T20 becomes ever more dominant, indeed 50 over cricket may come to be seen as a long form of the game, which has a certain irony, because for club cricketers around much of the world (there are exceptions) that’s exactly what it is and what it always has been, even if concepts such as winning or losing draws offer a slight level of nuance – though note those kinds of playing rules are on the decline.

Where that leaves Test cricket is another matter. The World Test Championship has been positioned as a way of creating context for Test cricket in order to give the bilateral series meaning. It’s always been a slightly confused position – not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but because the endless ODI bilaterals lack any meaning whatever, yet continue unabated because of the financial return created by them. There are of course tournaments such as the World Cup, but that’s not really the rationale behind holding so many bilateral series, or they would be considered no more relevant than an international football friendly with all the irritation they cause. Cricket is, and always has been different (and has similarities to international rugby in this regard) in that a match has inherent value in itself, and doesn’t necessarily need that bigger context for everything. That doesn’t mean for a single momoment that tournaments like a World Cup aren’t necessary, they both are, and are wonderful things in themselves, albeit the formats of such things are another question. Therefore a World Test Championship can be both a good thing in itself and also a fig leaf that doesn’t address the structural challenges being faced. There is a suspicion that Test series are often organised as a necessary evil rather than something to be embraced as justified and attractive in themselves, entirely for those financial reasons. Or to put it another way, if Test matches provided strong revenue streams for every board, there would be more of them – England don’t play lots of Test cricket because the ECB adore five day cricket. If there was serious money at hand, the players would be less inclined to abandon the Test arena for the more lucrative white ball forms of the game. The decline of Test cricket in favour of white ball cricket is not because of a particular dislike of that form of the game for sporting reasons.

There is no reason to assume this will change in the years to come, rather precisely the opposite. Countries like England play a lot of Test cricket because, at present at least, that is the largest level of spectators – and thus commercial – interest in the game. With big crowds and a big TV deal that has included, in fact focused, on Test cricket, it has been the core of the income of the professional game. It’s not the case elsewhere, and to highlight that particularly, the newer international countries such as Ireland have abandoned Test series because they cannot make them financially viable. Those are two ends of the range, but there are many more countries nearer the Irish end than the English one, and the English extreme is beginning to weaken. Core marquee series will continue, principally between the most powerful boards of India, Australia and England, but Test cricket will wither further beyond that. There is a way to prevent it, and that would be a more equitable wealth distribution globally, and allow the players to choose Test cricket as a viable means of support for them and their families. But let’s be clear – it isn’t going to happen. The handwringing about the decline of Test cricket among the great and the good has no relevance when the actions that could be taken to prevent it are verboten in administrative circles, because of their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, there isn’t a desire within the ICC hierarchy, and particularly the board hierarchies, to save Test cricket. Until or unless that happens, Test cricket is on a one way ticket to irrelevance and extinction.

This also has knock on effects for domestic cricket, not just in England but around the world. After all, the purpose of first class cricket has been largely to provide a training ground for the Test game, something that puts the hackles up for the county cricket fans who see a game that is important in its own right. But it has never been financially viable in itself anywhere since the 19th century, it wasn’t the point of it to be. The diminution in value of first class cricket is a corollary of the decline of Test cricket and its lack of revenue creation has changed its positioning from one that needs support in order to promote the wider game to being viewed as a revenue drain on central resources. This is an important change in focus – county cricket has never been something central in and of itself to the finances of cricket, it has had sporting value and been deemed worthy of support as such. This has changed – the justification for concepts like the Hundred have been to generate financial income in and of itself, and not for the purposes specifically of first class county cricket. This is central to the expectations in years to come, for no longer is it considered inherently valuable.

The arrival of the Hundred has a further likely consequence, in that it introduces franchise cricket to England. It is from a different era that Durham was added to the roster as the 18th county, the desire now is to shrink the base of teams, not expand them. Protests that regional franchises are purely for the shortest form of the game smack of disingenuousness – the strongest counties will survive irrespective, but the weaker ones look like they have no long term future. Formal status is unlikely to be revoked, because it simply doesn’t matter much, they will fall by the wayside as power and money is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the difference between some first class counties and some minor counties will be harder to determine. Salami tactics work in terms of generating change – abolishing counties would invite end of days headlines, allowing them to fade into obscurity will be met with a shrug of the shoulders from all but those directly affected. The protests from county cricket fans will make little difference – they have already been written off as unimportant.

This is not a future that many will relish. But as things stand it is where we are likely to be. Test cricket being in trouble is not breaking news, but the lack of any impetus or desire to change this is what is going to doom it to the margins. First class cricket and county cricket will follow, and the focus on white ball, and particularly T20 cricket is the future to be faced. It can change, certainly, but only if there is a desire to enact what is needed to make that happen. There is no sign of that happening, and no sign of a desire that it should happen. Money has become the driving motivation in sport across the world, but cricket is in a different place, whereby the belief among administrators is that the game of cricket has no future without change, and that the generation of cash is the prime motivation, not the sport itself. Business people can have that view, indeed they always have done, there is no reason to pretend they are other than what they are for good or ill, what is different in cricket is that there are few at the top of the game who believe passionately in the beauty of their own sport, who see their role as primarily to defend and grow it. Instead they consider that change must happen in order to make money, rather than making money to deliver a better sport. Not even the feast of mammon that is football has quite this attitude to their own game – they have a rapacious desire to monetise their sport, not consider the raison d’etre of the sport to be money generation.

The amateur game is far from immune to the fallout. Sunday friendly cricket has undoubtedly declined in a precipitous manner over recent years, as the player base has shrunk. A push to T20 matches from those viewing it from the lofty perspective of their professional career is to miss the central point that a desire for shorter games is as much a reflection of a smaller pool as it is modern life writ large in cricket. Free to air broadcast of cricket may still be the biggest driver of arresting such an unpropitious collapse in the player base, but it isn’t a panacea for the problems of the game either. Like so many things, it is complex to the point of confusion, but in this arena at least, the biggest change would be evidence that there’s much more than lip service to the importance of it from the centre. Here again, there is little reason to believe that will happen, and the decline of the clubs will continue.

For good or ill, it’s our direction of travel. There is no doubt that many will be aghast, but an attempt to be realistic isn’t an endorsement of where we are headed. And more specifically, it’s where we are meant to be headed. This is not a lament for a passing time, nor a wish that if only a few changes could be made. Too often the debate is framed around a tweak here, a nudge there. A few more pennies for a county perhaps, or throw a bone to a former associate nation. None of it matters, and none of it makes any difference, except to allow the drowning to suck in a last few precious breaths of air. It would require fundamental change to move the trajectory, and it won’t happen, can’t happen, because it is not accidental. It is not a game that has lost its way and is seeking a way back. It is far too much of a conspiracy to assume this is the development of a grand plan to reach this suggested destination, but it doesn’t have to be, it isn’t how it works. All it requires is for an acquiescence with the direction of travel, and that contentment is entirely present. For as long as the approach is one of managed decline of the traditional and a defensive mentality of the long standing, while embracing the new, shiny and above all lucrative, there is little reason to doubt where we will end up.

Another Restructuring Of County Cricket?

There were 10 overs played today in Southampton, as the game drags itself toward what is now a totally inevitable rain-soaked draw. Elsewhere, in what might have a much greater impact on those of you who have an interest in county cricket, there were reports of a potential huge shake up of the domestic game being considered by the ECB and the counties.

This may seem familiar, because there’s usually a restructuring every two or three years. The number of games in a competition, the formats, the time of year it happens in, the groups teams play in. Barely a year goes by without some major change to the domestic structure which we are all told will be a panacea to English cricket and fix everything. And it never does.

If there is one unusual aspect to these proposals, it’s that it doesn’t even give the new calendar which was due to begin this year a chance to fail. A ten-team Division One in the Championship, the T20 Blast shunted back to June and the 50-over competition being played during The Hundred were all innovations which were going to occur in 2020.

The proposals as Tim Wigmore lists in a (paywalled) article on the Telegraph website are:

  • Making the County Championship structure more like that of the Bob Willis Trophy, which has the teams divided into regions with playoffs to determine the overall winner.
  • Creating a 32-team 50-over competition, including the National (formerly minor) counties and possibly representatives from Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.
  • A reduction in the number, duration and cost of contracts for professional county cricketers.
  • Potentially allowing counties to abandon the County Championship whilst still playing white ball cricket.

These are, as it typical for the ECB, absolute bullshit. So I will go through them one-by-one and explain why.

A Regionalised County Championship

The Bob Willis Trophy has been seen by many as a huge success, and so why shouldn’t the ECB extend it so that it’s played every season? You’re guaranteed to see every local derby every year, any team has the potential to win the trophy rather than possibly having to negotiate promotion the year before, and costs for the teams can be reduced with less travel and hotel expenses required.

For those of you with long memories (a nice way of saying geriatrics), the first two already existed before 2000. The County Championship used to comprise of every county playing each other once a year. Every year had a Roses and London derby, and every team began the season on an equal footing. Not coincidentally, the England Test team was terrible for a lot of that period as well. It was determined that the large number of one-sided games featuring poor teams harmed the development of potential England Test cricketers, and the creation of a two-division structure would mean that the best players were exposed to a more consistent and higher level of competition.

This theory has certainly been borne out by England’s Test performance since these changes came in. In the twenty years before it happened, England won 39% of the Tests they played. Since 2001, they have won 63% of the time. There are undoubtedly other factors, central contracts were introduced at the same time for example, but I think it’s fair to say that the introduction of a two-tier league has done its job. Returning to the best teams playing the worst, just because they’re nearby, risks England also returning to the quality of Test cricketer they developed during the 80s and 90s. No one wants that.

Except Australians, I guess.

More generally, I would hesitate to take what has happened with the Bob Willis Trophy this year as proof that it would be a success in 2021. These are unusual times, and there is both a ton of goodwill and a hunger from most English cricket fans for any cricket game happening anywhere at the moment. I watched the European T10 competitions on Freesports in June for example, which isn’t something I would normally have done. There are also a lot of people who are currently working from home, or not going to work at all, who have the opportunity to watch county cricket streams now but won’t be able to next year. It may be worth mentioning that the improved multi-camera video streams and scheduling games on weekends, which I think are also significant factors in the success counties have seen in terms of viewers, could happen next year regardless of the competition format.

A New 32-Team 50-Over Competition

I can’t say that I have a strong opinion about a competition including amateur and foreign teams. Either the non-major county sides are cannon fodder for the professionals, which would be incredibly boring, or they are competitive, which would be a damning indictment of the quality of player county cricket produces. Neither seems a great outcome to me.

The more interesting aspect of it to me is the contradiction at the core of the ECB’s proposals: That they wish to reduce the overall number of professional English cricketers whilst also demanding that counties play a competition in a window where they lose a minimum of 96 squad members to The Hundred. Sussex had eleven players picked in The Hundred draft last year, which means that they will need a minimum of 25 white ball players in their first team squad next season in order to field a side.

You can have two competitions running simultaneously featuring 26 professional teams (8 in The Hundred plus 18 major counties), or you can cut the number of professional cricketers. You can’t do both.

Reducing The Number, Duration And Cost Of Player Contracts

I honestly can’t see many of the ECB’s suggestions in this area taking place. I am no fan of the players’ union, and they seem to regularly fail their members in several ways, but when it comes to ensuring the players are paid well they are very effective. Whilst there will no doubt be some changes to the agreement between the PCA and ECB to reflect the new circumstances since it was agreed in 2019, perhaps even a significant reduction of wages in line with the money English cricket has lost this year, the more extensive reforms the ECB envisages simply won’t be allowed to happen.

In that regard, the counties could learn a lesson or two from the PCA. The players’ union gets results because they present a single, united front to their employers (the ECB and the counties). The counties, who it bears saying have the power to dismiss the ECB chairman at any time and replace them with someone more amenable, somehow manage to take their unique position of strength in English cricket and throw it away by fighting amongst each other for scraps. Every damn time. It’s incredible.

Allowing Counties To Abandon First-Class Cricket

There are two significant obstacles to this ever happening: Most major counties are beholden to their members, who predominantly favour the County Championship, and it would seem impossible for the ECB to please both potential groups of counties. I would presume that county boards would only consider the option if it left them richer in the long run, with reduced playing staff numbers and less costs in hosting games, but that would ultimately depend on the ECB still giving those white ball counties a significant payment as they do now. Why would the counties who would never even countenance the ECB’s offer allow their rivals the chance to make more money by doing less? Why would counties who would consider the option support it if their yearly ECB stipend was cut?

As an aside, it baffles me how docile the members of the major counties are. Not unlike the counties within the ECB, county members typically have to power to remove their chairmen if they feel they aren’t being well-represented. Given the fury which the introduction of The Hundred received, and the devastation it is wreaking on county cricket, I am amazed that not a single person who voted for it has been forced out. If a  county chairman publicly contemplated leaving the County Championship, I’m not altogether sure that their members would be able to organise an effective opposition in time to stop it.

So, in conclusion, the ECB’s plans for the future of county cricket seem to be unworkable, ineffective, or directly harmful to English cricket.

I guess, in these uncertain times, it’s kind of nice to see that some things haven’t changed.

Any comments about county cricket, the Test which isn’t being played right now, or anything else are welcome below.

A Hundred Reasons Why (The Hundred Won’t Work)

  1. The Hundred is more complicated than T20 cricket. The ECB claimed when it was first publicly launched that the format would be easier to understand for “mums and kids“. As more details have come out, it’s become abundantly clear that not a single part of the rules (at least the ones publicly released) make the game simpler than the 20-over competition.
  2. Even if The Hundred did attract an audience of mothers and children, I genuinely doubt that any cricket ground has sufficient women’s toilet or baby-changing facilities to accommodate them comprising a majority of the crowd. This would make the game day experience one to forget for many of them, and not encourage them to come back.
  3. Speaking of The Hundred’s target audience, there was a strong implication by the ECB that “mums and kids” aren’t cricket fans because they weren’t smart enough to understand cricket. Therefore, they argued, T20 cricket needed dumbing down to their level. To quote the former Director Of England Cricket, “We want to make the game as simple as possible for them to understand.” It is a bold marketing strategy to launch a product by insulting the people you intend to sell it to. And by “bold”, I obviously mean moronic.
  4. Even the concept of ‘The Hundred’ is somewhat shaky. No balls and wides, both of which are pretty common in white ball cricket, mean that most innings will have more than a hundred deliveries.
  5. 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 late-July and August timeframe for The Hundred is therefore arguably the worst time of year for kids to be able to watch sport live on TV.
  6. It also seems likely that the majority of men’s games will be in the primetime TV slot. Given that coverage of the game will last roughly two and a half hours (assuming no rain delays), that means either 6.30-9pm or 7.30-10pm. Neither of these are great for children watching at home and, if you include time taken to get out of the ground and travel home, may preclude many families from attending the games. Again, it seems like the ECB may not have had children in mind when designing this competition.
  7. The BBC doesn’t have the rights to show highlights of the games which will be shown live on Sky, only short online clips. This means that most of the competition will not be seen by people who aren’t Sky subscribers.
  8. I can’t say that I’m aware of any franchise-style cricket competition around the world which has the majority of its games exclusively on a pay TV platform. In fact, I believe the Big Bash League started on pay TV but switched to freely accessible channels because it was failing to gain traction. It would therefore be untested as a business model, and might hamper The Hundred’s popularity as a result.
  9. As if the new competition wasn’t divisive enough, the head of Sky Cricket has said in an interview that he hopes to get Michael McIntyre as a commentator for Sky’s coverage of The Hundred. McIntyre is like Marmite, in that most people hate him and the rest of the population is wrong.
  10. There is also every chance that The Hundred will have the same matey, bantz-filled commentary that has infected almost every other T20 franchise league. On the BBC that would probably mean Vaughan, Swann and Tufnell, amongst others. It’s almost as bad as Michael McIntyre. Almost.
  11. The BBC will hate to adjust their schedules when a game overruns due to injuries, bad weather or slow over rates. Primetime dramas or the 10 O’Clock News are significantly more important to the BBC than cricket. That leaves the ECB with the choice of either having coverage finish on the BBC’s red button channel or using DLS to determine the winner at the game’s scheduled finish time. Neither of which is a particularly satisfying option for viewers, and using DLS so often could be open to abuse by the players.
  12. The Hundred will be played in the 8 grounds with the largest capacities in England and Wales. There has to be a fairly good chance that all of the games won’t be sellouts, particularly when you consider how hard the ECB has been working to alienate people who already attend county cricket. Consider Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. They had the 3rd and 4th highest total attendances in the 2017 T20 Blast, but both sold less than half of their available tickets. This will not look good on TV, if it happens.
  13. Where Surrey have had success filling their ground for T20 Blast games, it’s been by targeting people who want to drink and socialize after work. This would seem the antithesis of the ECB’s proclaimed ‘mums and kids’ target demographic, and so they would have to essentially discard a highly effective marketing strategy and instead find a wholly new audience for one of the largest grounds in England.
  14. The Rose Bowl on the outskirts of Southampton really struggles attracting people to evening games. Despite their success on the pitch, they are consistently one of the least-attended teams in the T20 Blast. Glamorgan have had problems attracting fans to their ground too, and have a terrible team. It seems a genuinely bizarre choice to place teams here.
  15. Conversely, teams like Somerset, Worcestershire, Essex and Gloucestershire have a strong track record for drawing local fans to their grounds but have been excluded. In Somerset’s case, it’s been reported that they were given (clearly non-binding) assurances by the ECB that they would be strong contenders to be a host county before the counties voted. Smaller grounds with local audiences happy to watch domestic cricket seem ideal for the new competition, from a TV production perspective.
  16. One obvious effect of excluding ten county grounds from the competition will be to also practically exclude many cricket fans from attending. Someone in Taunton for example (where Somerset typically sell all 8,500 seats at their ground for T20 Blast games) would face a 98-minute drive (each way) to Cardiff to see The Hundred live, instead of having top flight cricket practically on their doorstep.
  17. England’s Test players will be unavailable for The Hundred. The men’s Test team contains by far the highest profile English cricketers, and an increasingly large number of players who are strongest in limited overs cricket. Even if they play a few games either side of a Test series, it’s a huge blow to the competition’s claim of having the best cricketers playing in it.
  18. If England’s Test players were to play a few games in The Hundred before a Test, that would be truly terrible preparation for the Test series. I mean, there’s a reason teams don’t use T20s as warmups for Tests. Two-day games against local clubs are often bad enough. Likewise, going straight from a Test match to the knockout stages of The Hundred would be an equally bizarre way to go.
  19. Despite England’s Test players being unavailable, they will still apparently be drafted and used for ‘marketing purposes’. So they’ll be in the promotional pictures, maybe do a few interviews. This is an absolute nonsense. It’s also largely pointless, because even England Test cricketers are almost entirely unrecognisable in the UK. The Hundred teams would be smarter to sign some actual celebrities for ‘marketing purposes’, like someone from TOWIE or a Sugababe. Not only are they more famous than (for example) Joe Root, but they’d be available for more games as well.
  20. It appears to be the case that the vast majority of the period from May to August will be devoted to white ball cricket with English men’s cricketers playing in the T20 Blast, The Hundred or the One Day Cup. This is also the time of year when England play their home Test matches, so any players brought into the Test squad later in the summer might not have played the longer form of cricket in months. Test players might be selected based on their T20/The Hundred form, which hardly seems like a recipe for long-term success.
  21. The Hundred will clash with the Caribbean Premier League, as things stand. This leaves the world’s T20 mercenaries with a stark choice between playing in a Caribbean island paradise or Wales. I know which I would pick…
  22. Many cricketers will also have played in the CPL before, and so choose that over a new competition because of familiarity and the relationships they might have with the coaches, players and fans.
  23. Brexit might have a major impact on this too. If the UK economy declines, that probably means that the exchange rate will become less favourable for overseas players. The top-tier players of the CPL last year received $160,000 (US Dollars). Three years ago, that would equate to roughly £110,000. Now, with the UK pound worth around $1.33 (US), it’s up to £120,000. Not only does this affect overseas players considering The Hundred, it will also work the other way with a league like the CPL becoming more lucrative for English players.
  24. On top of the obvious benefits of choosing the CPL over The Hundred, some T20 mercenaries might also factor in that playing in a new format won’t advance their career T20 statistics. For example, a player like AB de Villiers might have a target of reaching 10,000 career T20 runs before he retired.
  25. The Hundred is also in a particularly busy part of the international cricketing calendar. Looking at the ICC’s Future Tour Programme, Australia are the only team without a series scheduled in August 2020. In 2021, all 12 Test-playing nations have series during The Hundred. Put simply, most current internationals won’t be available to play.
  26. One reason that the BBL gained traction in Australia was the number of ex-internationals who played in it. Although they weren’t at their peak, old pros like Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, David Hussey and Shane Warne added a star quality to the competition. Virtually all Australians knew who they were. Thanks to 14 years of Sky’s exclusive broadcast deals, there are no active equivalents in English cricket. Almost all of the players who were household names, back when cricket was on free-to-air television, have long since retired. The notable exceptions are Trescothick, Bell and Anderson, none of whom excel in the shorter formats.
  27. Likewise, foreign stars are typically unknown in the UK. Even if the ECB did manage to attract AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, even Virat Kohli (and for any number of reasons that last one won’t happen), virtually no one would know who they were. Actors on Hollyoaks are more famous in the UK than the best cricketers in the world.
  28. With the cream of T20 talent around the world unlikely to be attracted to England for The Hundred, a large portion of what’s left are has-beens. Players who made a big impact years ago but now get employed on reputation alone, if they’re even drafted by teams at all. On the other hand, the ECB might think that such ‘big names’ would draw cricket fans into watching it. I would be genuinely unsurprised if the teams for The Hundred were the 2020 equivalents to Shane Warne’s All Stars team which toured America or the ill-fated Masters Champions League.
  29. In 2014, the ECB 40 was replaced by the 50-over One Day Cup because it was felt that playing slightly different formats than those played at international level might disadvantage England players. Whilst the two formats are very similar, the ECB thought that the tactics and pacing of the games were slightly different and that might cause problems. Flash forwards five years and the ECB are making the same mistake yet again.
  30. The Hundred will be run concurrently with England’s 50-over competition. This means that England’s best white ball cricketers will likely not play any of the 50-over format, which you would expect would weaken the England ODI team in the long run.
  31. The reduction in status of the One Day Cup might also cause some counties to lose some money when it comes to memberships and attendances. Playing games in grounds with smaller capacities, lower ticket prices and in smaller towns, it’s likely the attendances and revenues for the competition will plummet.
  32. It also removes some county cricket from the TV schedules, as it is highly unlikely that Sky will broadcast any games from the diminished One Day Cup. Last season, Sky showed at least 12 One Day Cup games, in 2020 that will drop to 0.
  33. County cricket’s main money spinner, the T20 Blast, might also take a hit. The tournament will be played much earlier in the season, in May and June. The cooler weather at this time of year might adversely affect attendances, as might the perception that it is a lesser standard of competition to The Hundred.
  34. The whole process of creating the format has seemed oddly backwards. The ECB has begun with announcing a fully formed proposal, which was kept secret from virtually everyone in English cricket, and then ‘consulted’ the ‘stakeholders’. I put ‘consulted’ in quotes because there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of the ECB actually listening to anyone. And I put ‘stakeholders’ in quotes because I really hate the word, and wanted to make clear that it was used by someone else.
  35. Without consulting anyone prior to the official announcement last year, the ECB based this new format almost solely on research they funded to discover the best way to attract new cricket fans. The results of this research were so clear and compelling in their support for the changes the ECB made that the ECB have refused to release it, for fear that it would make The Hundred too popular. Or, perhaps more likely, that the ECB’s justifications would collapse like a house of cards under even the vaguest scrutiny. It’s one or the other…
  36. Michael Vaughan supports it. Whilst perhaps not 100% accurate (since he often takes both sides of an argument), taking the opposite view to Vaughan is usually the wise choice.
  37. See also: Matthew Syed.
  38. See also: Shane Warne.
  39. See also: Simon Hughes. ‘The Analyst’ also initially claimed credit for inventing the format, before becoming a lot quieter once the backlash started.
  40. Another group of people who openly support The Hundred are players who expect to benefit financially from the new competition. Whilst I don’t blame them at all for looking out for their own interest, you might look at (for example) Eoin Morgan’s statements over the years declaring every competition and format he’s ever played in to be the best in the world or something similar and consider his credibility.
  41. The ECB has been particularly ruthless dealing with dissent in recent years, and so people who work for them or for counties which rely on handouts and hosting rights will probably publicly support The Hundred despite any private reservations they have. The ECB’s chairman has already apparently threatened Surrey with losing hosting rights to The Hundred and Test matches if they don’t fall into line. To quote an (anonymous) county chief executive, Colin Graves is “exactly that petty, and he’s exactly that nuts.”
  42. Sport in the UK has a history of taking a long time to accept new teams. Welsh rugby has taken years to recover supporters lost when nine clubs merged into five regional teams.
  43. The Hundred also has the problem of teams essentially only existing for five weeks, only guaranteed to play seven games each. That’s barely any time for people to form a connection with the teams, particularly since only two or three of those games will be on Freeview.
  44. Even if people do miraculously latch on to a team in the new competition, they’d still have to wait 11 months from the final to the start of next year’s The Hundred.That’s a long time for people to keep their excitement or even their memories of the competition alive.
  45. If a fan of The Hundred keeps their love for their team for the requisite 11 months, there’s then little guarantee there will be an even vaguely similar squad. Whilst obviously personnel changes are part of virtually any team sport, wholesale changes seem to happen fairly often in franchise-style T20 leagues. That means that a fan’s three favourite players on a team might be playing for three separate teams a year later, and their love for the team will be diminished as a result.
  46. The ECB are running it. Let’s be honest, they couldn’t organise a beer-based party in a brewery. A new competition in a new format? There’s no chance this ends well.
  47. The people in charge of The Hundred teams are, more or less, the people who have run English cricket into the ground in the first place. The same county chief executives that devastated their club’s finances so comprehensively that they had no choice but to accept the ECB’s offer of cash are now running their local The Hundred teams. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. It seems pretty insane to believe that the people currently in charge could manage any project competently.
  48. Even the name has issues. The Hundred. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s very similar to the name of an American sci-fi TV show called “The 100” on E4. They have the Twitter handle ‘@The100‘, the hashtag #The100 is used almost exclusively by fans of the show. Likewise, TheHundred.co.uk is the website for a gastropub in Ashendon. Surely one of the most basic rules of launching a new product nowadays is to choose a name where you can pick up all of the social media accounts?
  49. Even when I search on Google for ‘The Hundred’, it isn’t in the top 5 or 6 results. To put that in context, I’m a cricket fan, I live in England, and I’ve been searching for articles about The Hundred almost constantly over the last few weeks. Despite all of that, Google’s personalised algorithms still think that I must be looking for the American sci-fi TV show. That’s how poorly chosen the name is.
  50. It also misses the clear marketing open goal of launching a Twenty-Twenty competition in the year 2020. I mean, it’s right there…
  51. There’s also the irony that it will be incredibly rare for batsmen to score a hundred runs in a The Hundred game, even more so than in T20s.
  52. Neil Snowball (that’s his actual name), the Warwickshire CEO, said that the “The Hundred [competition board] did a dummy draft in December where they played out how it might work. When you looked at the eight teams I challenge anyone in cricket not to get excited about the teams playing each other.” If true, you would think the first thing the ECB would do is release that draft to excite English cricket fans. Unless, of course, English cricket fans would know enough to realise that many of the players named would be unavailable or that the teams weren’t noticeably stronger than the better county T20 sides.
  53. One apparent motive for the creation of The Hundred was to differentiate the new competition from the T20 Blast. Whilst it is undoubtedly different in several small (and mostly annoying) ways, it mostly appears to just be a slightly worse version of T20. Not different enough to attract people who don’t like T20s, not similar enough to keep all T20 fans on board.
  54. The names (or “identities”, which is the term the ECB is using) for the 8 teams are almost certainly going to be cringe-inducing crap. Quite frankly, the current ones the counties use are already bad enough: Vikings, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Eagles, etc. The whole thing reminds me of when I played computer games which didn’t have the licenses for real team names and used bland and generic alternatives. It’s funny in a game, but kind of pathetic in a sport. Given the ECB’s inherent conservatism I also expect them to be extraordinarily bland, which means we’ll be deprived of awesome team names like Multan Sultans or Rising Pune Supergiants.
  55. Bowlers only get a maximum of 20 deliveries. What annoys me most about T20 is that great bowlers are so restricted in the impact they can make in a game, and The Hundred just makes it worse.
  56. Teams, commentators, and fans will have difficulty gauging the performances in the new competition because there won’t be any precedent from past games. Is 160 a good team score? Is a 40 in The Hundred equivalent to a 50 in T20? What’s a good economy rate over 20 deliveries? It might take years to find out…
  57. It will have a ‘strategic time out’, or an extra ad break in other words. Good for Sky, annoying for anyone watching. Particularly on the advert-less BBC.
  58. The ECB’s new strategy document, “Inspiring Generations”, says they will offer a new junior participation programme linked to The Hundred. It’s only been three years since the last one was launched, All Stars Cricket, and it probably means more work for hard-pressed club administrators and coaches.
  59. Speaking of clubs, the ECB will also probably try to get senior club teams to switch from T20 to The Hundred. More work for administrators, more fights, etc…
  60. The Hundred is costing the ECB (and therefore English cricket in general) a colossal sum of money. Two years ago, it was projected to cost £13m per year to run. Right now, the ECB has already assigned £180m over the next five years to run the new competition. At that rate of increase, by 2021 the costs will rise to roughly £100m per year.
  61. At some point, the amount spent on The Hundred will be so vast that it would have been cheaper to simply have some more England internationals on Freeview with Sky paying less for the TV rights. Quite frankly, we may already be past that point.
  62. The increasing costs of The Hundred have already had an effect on England developing young players, with their pace programme and overseas placement programme both being cut to make room in the budget. The pace programme is no great loss, it seemed mostly to injure promising English fast bowlers, but overseas placements could be more important. An issue England have had in recent years is an inability to deal with conditions abroad, and giving young potential Test players experience of different environments could be a useful way of combatting this.
  63. The ECB have promised that 10% of The Hundred’s ‘net revenue’ (ie profits) will go towards grassroots cricket. Given the huge loss they project over the first five years of the competition, it seems massively unlikely that the grassroots will every receive this much-needed money.
  64. The ECB is spending £6m per year solely on “event production”, which means gimmicks like cheerleaders and fireworks. To be honest, I always see these things as an admission that the game itself isn’t enough to excite the fans in the crowd or on TV. They also look bad if they’re in front of mostly empty stands.
  65. The fireworks and cheerleaders also show that the ECB is basically copying the basic T20 competition template, despite their protestations of innovation. The Hundred will be visually indistinguishable from the 20 or so other competitions around the world.
  66. Some teams are saying that they will favour players on their county squads in The Hundred draft. This means that players would be incentivized to play for the 8 host counties to increase their chances of getting a big payday in the new competition
  67. If The Hundred teams share staff and administration with the county teams, this will probably mean that the better-run counties will host the better-run The Hundred teams. Or, to put it another way, the Cardiff-based team will suck because Glamorgan suck. This does not bode well for the success of many teams in The Hundred, to be honest.
  68. It appears that the host counties will gain make more money from The Hundred than was first expected. This is a crucial point because the ECB’s stated plans before the counties voted to approve the new competition appeared to minimise any chances for the 8 larger counties to profit. This would appear, at least from an outside perspective, to have been a purposeful deceit in order to get the 10 smaller counties to support the new competition. A project which is built on lies is unlikely to be sound.
  69. This financial imbalance could lead to a two-tier county system. Apart from anything else, this could harm the England team in the long-term. ‘Smaller’ counties like Somerset, Durham and Worcestershire have been developing their own quality young cricketers in recent years, whilst The Hundred hosts Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and particularly Glamorgan have contributed virtually none. If poorer teams will inevitably lose their best players to richer counties, they lose any incentive to continue pouring resources into youth coaching and scouting.
  70. The men’s player draft will be this October. At least nine months before the first game of The Hundred and at least six months before the 2020 T20 Blast begins. Imagine that a player has a breakthrough performance in the 2020 T20 Blast. If they weren’t already picked in the draft nine months before, their chances of being involved are very limited. Conversely, a player who is in terrible form throughout 2020 might already have secured their lucrative spot in the squad.
  71. Nine months also seems an incredibly long wait in terms of building hype for the new competition. The draft will in essence be the launch event for The Hundred, but by the time of the first game most people will have forgotten about it. As a publicity event, that makes the whole thing seem kind of pointless.
  72. When the format was first announced, the women’s competition was given equal billing with the men’s. This was seen as a step towards the ECB treating women’s cricket as of equal importance to men’s cricket. Since then, the fact that women will also be playing The Hundred has barely been mentioned, confirming the ECB’s priorities and biases.
  73. Even the name is problematic in this regard. The ICC have recently changed their naming conventions to their competitions, properly recognising the women’s game. So this year, for the first time, England will be hosting the ICC Men’s World Cup rather than the ICC World Cup. Following the same logic, the ECB’s new competitions should be called The Men’s Hundred and The Women’s Hundred.
  74. Something which might worry women’s cricket fans is the fact that the latest BBC article on The Hundred fails to mention the women’s competition. The BBC has the rights to broadcast eight of the games from The Women’s Hundred, but I am not certain that they have to schedule them on BBC 1 or 2. They could quite easily put them on the Red Button channel or even have them as streaming-only on their website, neither of which would give women’s cricket much publicity.
  75. The timing of The Women’s Hundred has yet to be confirmed, but it seems likely that it will take place over the same period as the men’s competition. This is probably bad for the women’s competition, since it is likely that the ECB will schedule the games in less advantageous time slots such as weekday afternoons rather than allowing the men’s and women’s tournaments to compete for ratings. It’s worth noting that the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia, probably the most successful women’s domestic cricket competition, starts and finishes well before the men’s competition (with just a bit of overlap).
  76. If the women’s teams will be hosted by the same grounds as the men’s, the problem of low attendance and the image problems that brings will be even more acute. There’s currently a relatively small audience for women’s domestic cricket compared to the men, and the women’s international team has been poorly marketed even though they won the World Cup recently. Put simply, there’s no way that a women’s team consisting of 2-3 England internationals and several other more obscure players could hope to fill a 25,000 cricket ground like The Oval or Edgbaston at this moment in time. The Kia Super League didn’t even have 25,000 attendees in the whole of the 2017 competition. And if they can’t, it makes women’s cricket look bad on live TV.
  77. Alternatively, it appears that at least some women’s The Hundred games will be hosted by county outgrounds, such as Beckenham. That might present a problem for Sky and the BBC because smaller grounds like this might not be suitable for broadcasting live from. Loughborough (which hosts one of the Kia Super League teams) had this problem, for example.
  78. If The Women’s Hundred games are televised from smaller, less developed grounds that would make the women’s competition appear to be distinctly second-rate when compared to the men’s. Smaller stands, no floodlights, and no media centre for the journalists and commentators. Playing at amateur cricket grounds makes professional women’s cricket appear amateurish.
  79. If games (perhaps even a majority of games) in The Women’s Hundred aren’t televised, it would make the typical franchise-style scheduling certifiably insane. Literally the only reason for playing one game at a time is to allow every single one to be shown on television without overlap. Without needing to accomodate a broadcaster, you’d play all of your games on the weekends or after work on weekdays in order to maximise attendance like every other professional sport (and of course the T20 Blast) already does. If three or four of them are on at the same time, who cares?
  80. I fear that the tone-deaf ECB will give The Women’s Hundred teams gendered identities. Which is to say, I think they will make the teams ‘girly’. If you look at the T20 Blast for example, none of the team names would be out-of-place for a women’s team. Falcons, Lions, Lightning, Foxes, Steelbacks, Outlaws, Bears, Rapids, Vikings, Eagles, Spitfires or Sharks, none of them imply gender. Also, all of the animals used are all predators. I suspect that would not be the case for women’s teams, with the ECB’s marketing ‘geniuses’ probably suggesting that naming the teams the Unicorns or Roses will attract more girls to the games.
  81. The ECB are currently considering a groundbreaking proposal which will, for the first time, fund professional domestic cricket for women in England. The main stumbling block will be the cost, probably around £3m per year in the beginning. Whilst a small portion of the ECB’s budget, I fear that it would be one of the first things sacrificed by the ECB if the costs of The Hundred continued to grow at their current exponential rate.
  82. Whilst we know the draft for The Men’s Hundred is expected to be in October, no one seems to have mentioned the draft for the women’s competition. In fact, barely anyone seems to have any clue about any details regarding The Women’s Hundred. This could well mean that it ends up being rushed, poorly marketed, and a disaster from beginning to end. If it fails to garner a large enough audience, that will be seen as further proof that women’s cricket is not economically viable and not worth investing in, despite the success Cricket Australia has had recently.
  83. For all that the ECB might claim The Hundred will be a shorter and more exciting format than T20, it will also be slower. The Hundred will have 20 overs of 5 balls, so there will be 19 breaks between the overs plus the ‘strategic time out’. A hundred balls in a T20 is 16.4 overs, so that would be 16 breaks between overs and no time out. I would wager that the T20 takes less time to bowl a hundred balls.
  84. One major premise for The Hundred seems to be that it is a format which will appear to casual, generic sports fans. People who watch almost any sport when it’s on. Most of the sports that these people watch last 90 minutes to 2 hours: Football, rugby and Formula 1, to name three. Therefore, it seems odd to me that the ECB have chosen a format which will still take about 2 and a half hours to play. You can fit cricket into a football-sized timeframe, it’s called T10. Eoin Morgan has said that T10 is “brilliant”. As cricket formats go it is, at the very least, not any more complicated than T20 cricket (which is more than could be said for The Hundred).
  85. Even before its launched, The Hundred has made English cricket an international laughing-stock. See, for example, this video on the new format’s rules by ‘The Exploding Heads’.
  86. No current scoring software can handle The Hundred, including (I believe) the ECB’s own PlayCricket. At best, this means lots of programmers have a lot of work to do in the next year. At worst, this could cause technical problems for a lot of organisations which might be covering the competition.
  87. We’re only seven months away from draft for The Hundred and there hasn’t been a whisper about sponsors yet. Who the ECB choose, and why, is a big concern of mine. The right commercial sponsor could do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to marketing the competition and promoting junior cricket. A company like McDonald’s, for example, would be able to give out The Hundred-branded cricket sets with their Happy Meals, along with prize draws to attend the games. The ECB have tended to simply take the highest financial offer, which has resulted in most things in English cricket being sponsored by banks and insurance companies who do nothing to promote the game.
  88. This assumes the ECB can even find a sponsor. Cricket is not a particularly popular game in England right now, and there is the risk that The Hundred will turn out to be an embarrassing mess. If I worked at a big business, I wouldn’t want to invest in the ECB right now…
  89. If Birmingham, for example, won the inaugural The Men’s Hundred, where would the trophy go? Would it sit in the Warwickshire trophy cabinet, even though most of the players came from other counties? Would there be banners outside the ground proclaiming it to be the “Home Of The Men’s Hundred Champions”? One issue with distancing The Hundred from the counties is that there’s no clear association between the teams and their homes.
  90. The first ever professional game of The Hundred will be televised, and there’s every chance that there will be on-field confusion, miscommunication and mistakes from players, umpires and the TV crew as they adjust to the new format’s rules. That’s the kind of thing most organisations want to happen behind closed doors. There’s a reason why theatres have rehearsals before allowing the public to see it.
  91. One thing which might help that problem would be for the counties to play practice The Hundred games in preseason, but they currently have no reason to do that. It would cost them money, take away time from practicing formats they actually compete in, and the majority of their players wouldn’t be involved in the new competition anyway. The only reasonable way to solve that problem would be for the ECB to pay the expenses for the additional games, which would make The Hundred even more costly.
  92. Every franchise-style competition around the world has brought with it an increased risk of match fixing and other betting-related problems. Having every game streaming live around the world makes it a dream for bookmakers, and there’s a lot of money to be made if you have inside information or a player prepared to fail on purpose. Whilst this is obviously not specific to The Hundred, most T20 leagues around the world seem to have had issues with it, there will be a massive increase in attempts to corrupt English players. Whether the ECB and PCA are prepared for that is, to say the least, up for debate.
  93. Another problem affecting every T20 competition around the world is the threat of poor weather. With all of the games played in a condensed period, a week or two of rain might cause severe damage to The Hundred. It certainly wouldn’t seem out of character for Manchester or Cardiff to have an abundance of precipitation, for example.
  94. They’re going to play ‘Sweet Caroline’ during every game, I can feel it. God, I hate that song…
  95. You might be under the impression that people in Yorkshire have a rivalry with Lancashire. Whilst technically true, the people they tend to hate most are people from a slightly different part of Yorkshire. People in Leeds despise people in Bradford, Sheffield, Hull and York, and the feeling is mutual. Yorkshire CCC manage to keep this loathing mostly under wraps by doing two things: Not calling themselves ‘Leeds’ and playing a few games away from Headingley at Scarborough. The new The Hundred team will probably do neither of these, and so will likely alienate a large number of Yorkshire cricket fans in the process.
  96. See also: Manchester and Lancashire. Especially if they play in red.
  97. It seems likely that the creation of The Hundred will cause the ECB to add even more jobs at their headquarters. Already the number of ECB employees has increased from 222 in 2014 to 321 last year, and that’s without having two competitions running concurrently and a marketing budget with 7 zeroes like they will have in 2020.
  98. I have a massive aversion to management jargon, and consider literally every single person who uses it an idiot whose ideas I can safely ignore. If you’re unable to use plain English when presenting your thoughts, particularly to the public, then you shouldn’t have a job which requires it. For an example, see Colin Graves’ use of “engagement”, “watershed moment”, and “stakeholders” in this ECB press release regarding The Hundred.
  99. It is an important aspect of sport, at least to me, that it can both lift your spirits or ruin your day depending on the result of a game. This can be seen in the way that the economy gains a boost when the England men’s football team do well, whilst everyone seems miserable and short-tempered the day after England crash out of the World Cup. Likewise, the players seem devastated when they are knocked out, sometimes even crying. I doubt that anyone, fan or player, will invest that much emotion in The Hundred. And if they don’t, fundamentally speaking, what’s the point?
  100. The one thing which annoys me most about the ECB’s creation of The Hundred is the premise that shortening cricket will draw more people to the sport than leaving it as it is. It is almost never challenged, the idea that cricket is ‘too long’ to attract many new fans. And so the ECB designed a tournament which they think will attract people who follow football.

    But I don’t think there’s a large number of latent sports fans in England waiting for new sport which takes 2 hours to play. Football and (to a lesser extent) rugby have the thing sewn up. There are over a hundred professional football clubs, most of which have around since the 19th century. To think you could possibly compete against that level and consistency of support which has built over decades with 8 made up teams playing for 5 weeks a year is ridiculous.

    There is a market which has largely been untapped in English sports, and that would be people who enjoy taking things slower. People who binge watch on Netflix, listen to slow-paced podcast series, or read long essays. People who probably won’t have been exposed to Test cricket in the past 14 years, and possibly never exposed to ODI/50-over cricket at all. It’s a demographic which several companies have been able to exploit financially, and the best thing is that ECB wouldn’t need to do anything in order to attract them except show them some longer formats. No ‘innovative’ rule changes, no £100m marketing budgets, no re-inventing the wheel. Just show it to them, and build the audience over time.

    Such a simple solution rarely appeals to expensive consultants, nor the ineffective managers who place more weight on advice depending on how much they pay for it. People like this want to ‘make their mark’ with a bold project, and then typically leave for new pastures before the dust settles. The Hundred is already projected to cost almost a fifth of the ECB’s Sky TV revenue from 2020-24, which has to make it a huge gamble.

    But, for people like Graves and Harrison, it is the best sort of gamble. If it works, they get all of the credit and will be lauded as the saviours of English cricket. If it doesn’t, it will be the fans who will pay the price. They will be the ones asked to stump even more money to support the sport, to work harder to save their local clubs, or see the teams they support collapse financially.

    And so, despite every bone in my body telling me it’s crap, I genuinely hope The Hundred succeeds. I hope that it’s a cricket spectacle which awes us current fans. I hope it inspires a new generation to take up the game. I really hope Michael McIntyre isn’t involved at all. But I can think of a hundred reasons why it won’t work.

As always, please post your comments below. Especially if you want to add something I’ve forgotten to the list!

EDIT:

Obviously there are many more than a hundred things wrong with The Hundred. As they occur to me, or as you guys suggest them, I’ll add them to the list here.

Uncomfortable Realisations and Undeniable Truths

 

Whilst Sky are intent on portraying the English cricket team as pariahs entering a brave new era with their white ball team, they do have advertising slots to sell for the World Cup this year after all, many of us are not feeling quite the same bonhomie with this English cricket team. Chris’ review of the 2nd Test was as great as it was cuttingly brutal, quite simply this England team is the weakest team we have had in living memory and one that is arguably not fit for the Test arena. This is not a surprise to any of us as those who have followed the Test arena for a long time and we know that the spin that is trying to be spun by the powers that be are simply empty words from a clueless board and those that are in cahoots with them; words to try and dupe the public this is a but a mere blip and those in-power do know best. After all, who can forget the insightful words from our so-called Managing Director, that winning or losing doesn’t matter; it’s absolutely about attracting a new ‘audience to the game’

The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this. “Joe Root and [one-day and Twenty20 captain] Eoin Morgan understand their responsibility to be playing exciting cricket for future generations to connect with and for fans of the game to get behind us. It’s a very deliberate strategy. It doesn’t work every time you go out on the park. But we understand that it’s more likely you’re going to be forgiven for having a bad day if you’re doing everything to try to win a game, as opposed to not trying to lose it, which is a very key difference in positioning.”

So that’s that then. The whole art of playing Test Cricket, which has been successful for over 100 years has been deemed not good enough and then redesigned by a clown in an expensive suit who is desperate to embrace the whole hit and giggle side of cricket to make some more cash for himself. Get beaten by an innings, no worries it was an entertaining collapse. Play for the draw, I’m afraid Tom has said no way. This is the new and best ever approach to this format now as prescribed by the ECB. No wonder the England coaches seem even more confused and clueless than ever before.

PHOTO-2019-02-06-22-05-05
Tom Harrison’s new outfit – copyright Danny Frankland

I must admit that I watched very little of the 2nd Test as the result seemed to be beyond doubt after Day 1 when England once again hopelessly collapsed on a pitch doing something. I did turn on to see the late rites being issued by the West Indian bowlers but I admit I was more interested in the post match response than seeing another cravenly poor display from our batsmen and bowlers. Will they try to say it was a one-off incident though they did that last week? Will they admit that they are a poor team playing poor cricket (unlikely)? Will they call out Tom Harrison for being an incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be meddling in the Test Team (hopefully but not going to happen)? Or will they do what they always do and mutter something about working harder and a determination to turn it around in the next Test (of course that’s what they did). Joe Root’s speech was naturally non-committal but the reflections from Nasser & Mike Atherton were the ones that really did get me to giggle, especially when Nasser insightfully exclaimed:

There is a real problem in county cricket, where there is no real depth of top-quality, top-order batsmen. The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke’s ball.

“If anything, people are hiding away from batting in the top three. If you look at someone like Jason Roy, who some say is the next cab off the rank, he bats at five for Surrey. England have to go and see Surrey and Alec Stewart and say ‘we’re looking at him for the top of the order, can you get him up to three?’ Why would you want to move up to three in county cricket when it’s moving around? James Vince at Hampshire is slowly sliding down the order where it’s easier to bat.

I can’t have been the only one who laughed in slight disbelief that Nasser had only just grasped this now. Surely the succession of failed openers might have given it away? Or maybe the fact that most of the batsmen are averaging low 30’s with the bat? Or even the fact that England has been trying to cover their batting vulnerabilities by selecting as many all-rounders as they can possibly fit in the team? The fact that Nasser finally pointed out that there is an inherent weakness in our structure is something that most people with any knowledge of the red ball game have been banging on about for years and hardly puts his ‘insight’ in a good shade. We all know that the county cricket is something the ECB would very much like to get rid of, in fact if Test cricket didn’t make them so much money in London, they’d probably like to get rid of that too for some ridiculous bastardization of the game featuring beach balls and unicorns. What was particularly amusing about the interview is that he managed to say all of this without once suggesting that this is the fault of the ECB and Tom Harrison’s ‘let’s all have a slog, it doesn’t matter if we lose’ mentality. The reason why we struggle to find quality players in the county system these days is that access to the game is at an all time low, cricket remains hidden away from the public like some kind of deformed cousin and those that do make it to the county game are being forced to play red ball cricket out of season and are no longer given the time or coaching to hone their skills if they can’t hit the ball out of the park. So why is it again that we struggle to find quality Test batsmen Nasser? The answer is staring you in the face in the form of Tom Harrison and his rest of his not-so merry men, but then again they pay the bills of the Sky commentators, so naturally one can’t go and bite the hand that feeds you. Nasser though wasn’t quite done in making himself look like a prize turnip:

“We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies.”

Really Nasser, I guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks for insight like that and in other news the world is still round and the sun continues to heat the earth. One bonus from Nasser’s groundbreaking news though was that this did facilitate one of the best come backs on Twitter ever by a certain Nick Compton, which is worth dealing with the hassle of Twitter on its’ own:

 

Yes that man who was routinely vilified by our friends in the media (and sometimes Alastair Cook when he wanted to get rid of any heat after a poor series) as some kind of weirdo who didn’t fit in with the team nor fit the ethos of the English mentality. How dare he try and bat himself in when some mothers and kids might be watching? A word to the wise Nick, lose the defence and try and slog a quick bowler over cow corner, after all this is Tom’s new vision of English Test cricket. Now I’m not saying that Compton was the answer, but it would have been nice for the media to give him a chance, especially after a match winning knock in Durban second time around, before they decided that his card was marked and that he was ‘not one of us’. Not that this is the first or will be the last time that this has happened.

Mr Harrison mind you hadn’t finished making himself a laughing stock. In his interview with Ian Ward which was aired on Sky during the First Test and I do use interview in the loosest possible sense, Harrison managed to confuse and contradict his own statements in classic fashion. Mind you, Ward’s interview technique more resembled that of a craven apology and could only have been more accommodating if he had been fellating Harrison during the whole interview. I genuinely don’t know how anyone with even a remote sense of cricketing knowledge would have been able to stand there with a straight face when Harrison said:

We have got fantastic county competitions in this country, we’ve got a thriving international game, but what the ECB and I have to do is ensure we’re keeping an eye on the future and making sure we are doing as much as we can to make the game as open, available, and accessible as it can be to wider audiences. “There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that while we have been doing very well with our county competitions, there is much more we can do to get those wider audiences in the game, which are going to be important in the future for this game to thrive throughout this country.

Sure that ‘fantastic’ county competition that you are trying your best to destroy, the one that has been pushed to the very margins of the game so that it is almost impossible for the counties to prepare players with the technique and skill set to thrive at Test Level. Ah yes, the county game that you and your associates are continue to take a knife to in the hope it finally keels over. It’s like praising an Olympic sprinter then sticking a bullet in both his knees, well he still has hands to stumble to the finish line on after all.

We also had the wonderfully timed piece by Ali Martin warning of the creation of Super Counties whilst England were thrashing away to another humiliating defeat – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/02/pca-hundred-super-counties. I genuinely am not too sure about which thing to be most worried about, firstly that Ali felt he needed to post a piece that was so stunningly obvious to most cricket and county fans or the fact that the PCA has only just woken up to this fact despite the huge red flags. Daryl Mitchell, who is the Chair of the PCA or as it’s known, the ECB’s subservient lapdog, explained:

“You run the risk of the game going towards eight super-counties and end up with a situation where it leads to player bias in terms of recruitment.”

Now what Daryl has said is completely correct, the franchises will no doubt hog their key franchise players to the detriment of other cricket going on concurrently; however my real concern is that the body who are supposed to represent the interests of all English players has only just realised that this competition will no doubt alienate those players who are not picked for the hundred and consequently make all other cricket going on at this time into a 2nd rate competition. Now I may be an old cynic, but surely this is not rocket science to anyone in or outside the current system. The rich will get rich, the poor will get poorer and those counties who are not identified as a ‘franchise’ will be left with a 2nd rate product that no-one wants to watch, all for the hope of  a promised cash windfall of £1.3 million, which will likely get reduced when the Hundred flops horrendously. Certainly, it’s not enough to sell your soul and local team down the river for. The only way that the counties had a chance to stop this unwanted juggernaut then and to a lesser extent now was to stand together and reject the ECB’s model out of hand, yet the only 2 counties who decided to vote against the ECB’s blood money were the unlikely duo of Rod Bransgrove of Hampshire and my own beloved Middlesex. I may support Middlesex but even I wouldn’t trust the Middlesex board to boil an egg let alone lead the fight against the ECB especially as they are so thin skinned that they make Mike Selvey look like he is impervious to criticism. Even now, with the wolves at the door, many of the county chairmen are still convinced that sticking their head in the sand is the best way to approach this threat. Take the Chairman of Somerset, who by all means are extremely competently run county, but equally are the exact model that the ECB would like to rid itself of and his so-called thoughts on the upcoming challenges:

“Like it or not, some counties need the £1.3m a year,” Cornish was quoted as saying by the Somerset County Gazette of the money each club will receive once The Hundred is up and running.”

“We feel working with the ECB is the best way to drive growth in cricket. It is important to remember that it will be the Chairmen of the 18 First Class Counties who take the vote on the subject of the Hundred. “What matters more than anything is the future of the game as a whole. Getting young people to participate, and then nurturing that love of the game is what is key here.”

This is stupidity of another order, like having cattle walk voluntarily into the abattoir to be killed in the hope of receiving some greener grass just beforehand. Somerset are likely to be one of the major losers in this battle and their Chairman is rolling around hoping for his belly to be tickled by his paymasters? It’s quite frankly unbelievable. Once the Hundred is implemented, these counties won’t just be phased into feeder clubs for the so called Big 8, they will simply wound down until they no longer exist anymore. The ECB cares not for the county model especially in the red ball game, which is not making them enough money and doesn’t attract the right sort of cricket fan. All in all, this format is quite frankly an annoyance to the paymasters of English cricket even if the format still remains popular with many of the olders fans. What better ruse than to gradually make them as inaccessible as possible so they eventually are made redundant, so they can change the name of those counties who have a Test Match ground to the ‘Nottingham Ninja’s” or “North London Lions”. This is the new marketing game according to Harrison and his lackeys, after all who doesn’t want to a watch a game where there might be ninjas or lions in it? Talking of Somerset and people associated with the club, I have been an interested spectator following the posts of Andy Nash, who has turned from ex ECB Director and corporate man to social media pariah. Now there is no doubt that Andy is a very intelligent man and that many of his Twitter posts are absolutely spot on, but there is the cynic in me that asks:

  • Why did you not do anything to fight this as a Director of the ECB?
  • Why did Somerset vote for the additional short ball competition if you knew it would irrevocably damage the red ball competition?

Now there might be a very straight forward answer to this, but without knowing the background it seems more than a little hypocritical to take it upon yourself to act as the ‘mouthpiece for change’ even if what you are saying is correct, a bit like an armed robber lecturing a kid who has been caught stealing penny sweets. I have asked this question of Andy more than once on social media without response, so perhaps we can all gather together to ask him this the next time he tweets about the subject. Naturally Andy is very welcome to come onto this platform to share his views and experiences, but I won’t be holding my breath on this.

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely with this post. The English cricket team may resemble the worst team we have had in Test Cricket in living memory, the future for the majority of our domestic game and for the production of Test Players looks darker than it ever has been before and that the fans of the game have been relegated to nothing more than an occasional annoyance and not the right sort of consumer for their product, but all is good and healthy in the English camp. After all, a few pithy marketing campaigns and demanding that the players go out and have a slog (sorry play an aggressive brand of cricket) to keep little Gregory entertained is what our game really needs in the minds of the ECB.

Cricket is staring down the precipice, the only question is will those who have the power to drag it back from the edge, finally wake up before it’s all too late. I’m unfortunately not very hopeful.