Second, Don’t Be Idiots

No Public Enemy intros this time, no song lyric post titles. The past few weeks have been a blur, in terms of work, where I’ve been over the pond and back; personal life, where I’ve just heaved the hugest sigh of relief, and cricket has, as it has to these days, taken a back seat.

(A warning, I’ve been at some play, taken my camera, and there are pictures. Starting with our captain and a man who believes in the Hundred. Or at least he’s paid to believe….)

England Captain / Believer in the Hundred

You can only take so much thorough utter nonsense though. You can only listen to one stupidity after another and sit back and take this drivel for so long. The cricketing authorities in this country are in one fell swoop pissing off their own current customer base; showing such a lack of faith in its own product(s) that they think that changing it to something else isn’t a damning indictment on the paucity of ability in the corridors of power; and “appealing” to a part of the potential customer base that it doesn’t even know will come to watch. Then there’s the laughable Harrison being directly contradicted by professional Yorkshireman Graves, while Strauss, Morgan, Broad and Root are employed as useful stooges to sing the praises of something “not set in stone” but not subject to change. You might ask what the hell is going on? FIIK.

Last Friday, on a cool and cloudy evening, after a tough old week in work, I met Sean at the Oval to watch the evening session of the first day of Surrey v Yorkshire. In a studio somewhere or other, Idiot Vaughan, a Shiny Toy so tarnished he’ll be done for fly-tipping soon, stated that only one England U19 player was playing in the county championship at that time, but that the IPL was teaming with their youngsters. Of course, their youngsters were world champions while ours finished well down the pack, but never mind. The one player was Harry Brook of Yorkshire. Well, that’s nice. Now if dear Michael was at all interested in getting to know domestic cricket, which he clearly doesn’t give a flying one for, he’d have had his silly head knocked back when he saw the architects of Surrey’s victory. 19 year old Sam Curran, who made his debut at 17, and played for England Lions took 10 wickets. 19 year old Amar Virdi, who played for England U19 last year, and is 19 years old still bowled the England captain through the gate to add to his impressive list of scalps this season. And then there was Ollie Pope – 20 years old, so Michael Moron has a legal defence – made a masterful 158 not out that had even the Yorkies in front of us nodding with appreciation.

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Also, what it showed is that the cricket is of decent standard – there were plenty there to watch on a pretty dull day, and that if a modicum of faith is ever shown in it, it will flourish. I took more joy out of watching Ollie dismantle Tim Bresnan and Rikki Clarke bashing anything bowled at him with the old ball, than any manufactured T20 spectacle. It’s great entertainment. Now I know I’m in a minority here, but it’s just really nice to watch and I’m checking dates now to see when I can go to another. It might be a 50 over game but I want to see more at this level at a decent price and with no fear of nonsense. There’s also some exciting talent out there. Brook had made an excellent century a week or so ago, Pope is great to watch, Virdi, who I missed, is an exciting talent, and Sam Curran is just Sam Curran and we love him for it down the Oval. There’s a lot of good stuff coming through from elsewhere.

But our authorities, aided and abetted by ex-pros who really should know better, don’t have that faith. I’ve never seen a board talk down its game, and even more importantly, its existing customers quite like this lot. New people are attending T20 cricket, via the Blast, and yet our Chairman says that T20 is too long for the ADHD generation (which is damn insulting to this generation as well, if you think about it). Surrey have said that a large proportion of ticket purchasers for this year’s Blast are new customers. Around 40%+ I believe. What is this if not proof that an existing product, one I’m not mad keen on but know others are, is growing the game?

No, we know what Graves, and Harrison, are about. This is power. This is the authority to make decisions. It is leadership in the way they think leaders act. In their eyes leadership is my way or the highway. They are too insecure to have their views challenged. They are too scared to adapt, because to take notice of someone else outside their loop would be to admit fallibility, and we can’t have that. Graves shouldn’t be proud of 41-0, he should be ashamed. No-one, but no-one, is universally popular. This smacks of a dictatorship and his comments on Surrey, and their recent observations in return is evidence. He turned the laughing stock created by its release into a personal attack on Graves’ intelligence and decision-making. No. It’s an attack on the organisation he purports to lead, but instead, when he’s let out of Downton’s cupboard, he’s making the aforementioned look like the ultimate diplomat.

The amusement I got today was the responses of Newman and Selvey. Newman just went off on one. What was it about there is more joy in heaven at a sinner repenting? Not at BOC there isn’t. Newman missed the signs when they sacked Pietersen. Hell, lots out there missed the signs, letting their personal animosity to a great player over-ride their judgement and reason. Unless they actually like Giles Clarke that is, and if so there’s no saving some of them! The heavy-handed, contemptuous, disgusting attitude with which they treated anyone who dared to question them over that decision was like putting up the Blackpool Lights at Lord’s as a warning sign. When push comes to shove, you may pay the bills, you may buy the tickets, the merchandise, the over-priced food and drink, the programmes, the Sky subscriptions, the overseas tours, but you, you the fan, are worthless in terms of your opinion. That was what the KP affair was about. You (we) put the questions, and frankly, excuse my French, were told to fuck off. Newman played his part in that. Don’t come crying to me now that your glorious authority has upset you. They backed your boy Cook, and you didn’t give a shit about those who wanted to know why one man was made a scapegoat; we were told to mind our own business and move on. You weren’t sticking up for us then when we pointed out that appointing your mate with no qualification to the MD of the game was a joke, and when he turned out to be one, you blamed us for making it tough for the poor little mite.

Then there is Selvey, a man who got beat by Ed Smith. He tweeted this today:

Seems harmless? But really, look at it. “Which really does need to be shorter”. That quote speaks absolute volumes. Do a google search and see how many people six weeks ago were even contemplating T20 being too long. The ECB’s articles of association, issued on 28 December 2017, certainly weren’t indicating a new competition, or shortening anything:

ECB Articles

Now Selvey is treating this as something that anyone with a modicum of common sense, namely him, thinks is utterly inevitable. They could do with getting their lies straight. Selvey says it’s because of the BBC, Graves because kids get bored. Christ, a drop of rain is going to really freak them out! As I said on a tweet, that a TV company that reputedly paid a pittance to get the deal, if anything at all, has such a say in a competition, even subliminally, is amazing.  If so, they’ve missed plenty of opportunities in the past, and the ECB is then admitting (though of course they won’t in public) that they’ve effed the game up for a generation. Selvey is too busy having a pop at those who believe hiding the entirety of a national sport behind a paywall, without counting the highlights on a comedy channel, has been a disaster.  That they are wrong to wake up and smell the coffee. His beloved authority have been caught being an utter farce, and even Sir Walter Selvey can’t lay down a big enough coat.

The rest of the media seem to have lost their minds over the latest Graves debacle. As if this is some sort of shock that a man this inept has shown himself to be, well, inept. When he’s not getting some upstart law firm to send nice little letters to journos, or misleading players into giving up IPL contracts, or still not appearing to understand that the fans out there, and on here, are just about doing their pieces, and the press only now seem to realise there’s a problem. As I’m prone to say, “My giddy aunt”.

I’ve not even gone into the Glamorgan payment stuff. What is there to say? It seems the done thing is to brazen stuff out and rely on some Ba’ath party melodrama as a justification for the uncontested popularity of our great leader. I’m almost pining for Giles Clarke. One thing I never thought about Clarke was that he’s stupid. Quite the contrary. But to think you are universally loved as leader by people not wishing to put their head above the parapet yet? Go on mate.

So before I burst a blood vessel, let’s have some nice stuff. Good luck to Bess, if he gets the chance, at Lord’s. Jos Buttler is the poster child for the Analytics generation (you really have to giggle), but I also have to say I watched his knock on Sunday and it was entertaining stuff. I’ve seen little of the Ireland v Pakistan match, but Chris has been doing a sterling job on the Twitter feed keeping all of us who can’t watch (which means most Sky customers at the weekend) in the loop throughout the game. It looked like a cracking game. I’ve not even got time to go deep into the selection of the England team, which is mysterious and dull at the same time, nor Sky’s attitude to that test match. There’s a lot more going on, and 1700 words is enough.

Last time I saw Jos in person…..

So have a couple more pictures to “enjoy”. I love taking them, I love going to these days of cricket, and no imbecile calling me names and insulting my intelligence or support is going to change that.

Good evening.

 

 

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Sleepwalking into the Slaughterhouse

If you’ve read any of the cricketing press or numerous posts on Twitter recently, you may have mistakenly believed that England are the best run and most innovative cricket side in the world. No mention of the 4-0 Test defeat, just praise of England’s white ball cricket hero’s in destroying the Australian white ball team. Everything is now rosy again. Operation sweep ‘the Test side and everything that is wrong with English cricket’ under the carpet is in full swing. I’m sure that Messer’s Graves and Harrison couldn’t be happier after all it was the white ball focus that led England to hire Bayliss as Coach and prioritize ahead of all other forms! All is going to plan for our glorious ascent to World Cup winners in 2019. Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Cricket’s coming home!

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not feeling as full of the joys of spring as some of the above people. Sure it has been a great performance by our white ball team, but it’s all ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ for me, a tepid rice pudding after a main course of old manure that we had served to us during the Test series. Now of course, I’m not aiming to denigrate the skill of our white ball team as England have finally produced a team of extremely talented players. The likes of Roy, Buttler, Stokes, Woakes and Bairstow could probably walk into any ODI team now and will likely be in line for deserved financial rewards in the IPL, which is great for them and for those that are a fan of ODI cricket. Except that I’m not. There is nothing the white ball team can do to erase the pain and embarrassment of watching England implode again away from home in Test Cricket. The ODI team could hit 400 each innings and then bowl Australia out for 10 and yet it would still only raise the smallest of smiles knowing that all it does is to provide our greedy administrators with a mandate that they know best and that cricket has never been in better health under their watch. Call me cynical, call me outdated, call me wrong, but I’m only describing how I feel about English cricket at the moment. England winning the One Day Series is like putting a plaster on a severed leg as far as I’m concerned; indeed this analogy also seems to work in terms of what our friends at the ECB are currently doing.

Oh and on another note, you may well have noticed who’s back, back again. Downton’s back, tell a friend. As much as I would enjoy writing another article based on the absolute incompetence of Paul Downton, I’m not sure I could add too much that hasn’t been said before. An individual so ingrained with the ECB’s modus operandi that he had decided the fate of a certain South African born batsmen before he had even got on the plane, failed to produce the so-called dossier of misdemeanors that said player has been sacked for and then went on to blame this individual’s book, which had been written a number of months later as the core reason that Mr. Pietersen had to be sacked. Downton then went on to lay all his eggs in the Peter Moore’s camp, a genuine man but one who was never cut out for International Cricket, but also a man who would never pick Pietersen nor question the ECB’s stance. We then had all of the gaffes, the disastrous defeat to Sri Lanka (which was some of the worst Test Cricket I’ve ever seen) and the culmination of a pathetic and embarrassing World Cup performance in 2015. Simon Hughes might defend his mate to the hills and who knows, he might be a decent man in real life, but purely looking at his CV from a cricketing point of view, then there should be no way that this guy ever runs a cricketing side again. Except no-one told this to Kent.

Equally, we can look at the hire of Rob Andrew at Sussex, a man who hardly covered himself in glory in his reign as leader of the RFU, yet finds himself in another CEO position. Andrew was the establishment’s master of survival: changing titles, moving sideways, losing influence, but still there on the sidelines grimly holding on to power. Indeed, Andrew mentioned in his book:

“The game I played in the closing decade of the amateur era was completely different from the one we watch and marvel at today,” Yet despite that, we continue to demand more of the players; more rugby at ever-higher velocity, at ever greater risk to life and limb.”

“The reason? No-one wants to cut back on the number of matches because matches mean money. Where rugby finds itself now is in the early stages of a conflict over the nature of the compromise – a scrap for viability.”

There are many individuals out there who know more than me about the game of rugby; however the mantra has always seemed to focus on delivering short term profit, irrespective of the quality of the game, nor the health of the players or focusing on a long term increase in demand. I wonder if anyone else finds this strangely familiar to the position that cricket in the UK finds itself in.

It would be fair to ask, why I have waffled on about these two in particular, but for me these 2 individuals symbolize the malaise of English cricket, the very essence of ‘jobs for the boys’. It doesn’t matter if you have failed miserably in the past, as long as you spout the right buzzwords and can tap into your friends at the ECB, then come on down and make yourself comfortable, perhaps take a six figure salary at the same time. Yet in my own opinion, counties such as Kent and Sussex (and there are plenty more out there) have simply signed their own death warrant. They’ve not noticed the wolves at the door, the wolves that are most keen in furthering their own career rather than doing what’s best for their counties or players and are very happy to cozy up to their mates at the ECB to ensure that they are rewarded. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the ECB views the counties as cannon fodder for when the red ball game goes badly, a nice diversionary scapegoat. It is also clear that the ECB and Tom Harrison in particular really doesn’t give much of a hoot about the red-ball game at all. It’s there to scrape in television money whilst it still can, whilst Harrison tries to find the next big thing – T20, T10, Franchise Cricket, Underwater Cricket or whatever else he can think of that might make a quick buck or two. So let’s guess how Harrison feels about county championship cricket without its’ so called big crowds, interest from Sky and razzmatazz? Well of course, it’s been relegated to the very margins of the English season, there to appease the traditionalists, whilst he tramples all over them by trying to shoe-horn what he feels is the savior of English Cricket – the city based T20.

Yet, what can we expect from this beast that the counties are only belatedly seeing as a real threat to their existence? Whilst Harrison might have made a pretty penny out of Sky, is this really going to be savior of English cricket? In my opinion, this is an emphatic no. We don’t just need to look at our own competition, which is heavily reliant and weighted to those who want to go and throw 10 pints of ridiculously expensive Fosters down their throat on a Friday night; we can look at other ‘franchise’ competitions that are hardly setting the world alight. 5 of the 6 teams in the PSL are struggling to make their sponsorship targets and are looking for financial bail outs, the Big Bash league attendances are down by over 150,000 year on year and the South African franchise cricket never even got off the ground, when the television companies rightly thought they were massively overvaluing it. It would also be fair to mention that the above countries haven’t hidden their cricket away on pay-per-view for the past 12 years either and yet they are still struggling, so why on earth does the ECB think that this is the goose that lays the golden egg? That this new competition is suddenly going to turn around years of disinterest from an audience who hasn’t been able to access to live cricket on TV without owning Sky? That the huge costs in implementing this and paying off the counties is actually going generate long term interest and revenue? This seems to be a huge white elephant which is growing by the day, yet Harrison and Graves are willing to bet the future of English cricket on a hunch and a whim. Even worse, the counties through a mixture of self-interest and incompetent hires such as Downton and Andrew have been complicit in their demise from Day 1.

There it is, whilst Graves, Harrison and Downton ride off into the sunset on the gravy train, the rest of English cricket will look back with regret on the day they unwittingly slumbered into the slaughterhouse. Even worse, they’ll reflect that they could and should have done something about it, but hey, that’s just not cricket is it?

County Cricket: Is It To Blame?

In light of England’s performances this winter, a particularly Difficult Winter some might say, it will surprise no one that people are looking for someone to blame. Whilst alcohol and team discipline have been strong contenders, it looks like county cricket will ultimately be the designated scapegoat to cover the ECB’s embarrassment.

The argument is this: County cricket is not creating world-class batsmen, fast bowlers or spin bowlers. The selectors are choosing the best players available, the coaches are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given, and therefore it isn’t the England team’s fault that they are losing.

Is It The Responsibility Of County Cricket To Develop Test Cricketers?

I don’t believe that developing players for England is a priority for county teams, nor should it be. The main focus of every county is to win their next game and ultimately to win the competition. The County Championship is a competition which has run for 127 years and winning it means a lot to the players, staff and fans.

The emergence of Test-ready players has always been a side product of the counties finding promising young cricketers to improve their own team, and then the players reaching close to their potential through training and playing in competitive domestic games. It has never been the counties’ goal.

Is It In The Counties’ Interest To Develop Test Cricketers?

There’s two aspects to this question: Does it help them win games, and does it make a profit.

It could be argued that developing Test-quality players isn’t advantageous for county teams. The current county champions are Essex, who haven’t developed a Test-quality player since Alastair Cook over a decade ago. Yorkshire have produced two world-class batsmen in Root and Bairstow and are essentially punished by having both only play in two games each this season.

So a county which develops a batsman for England gets perhaps 2 years of above-average returns from their player before their England call up, at which point they’re forced to rely on a second-string player to fill the gap. It would arguably be better for them to grow or sign a player who is marginally better than most county batsmen but not so good as to be in contention for an England spot. At least that way they are virtually guaranteed to be able to pick their first choice XI.

There’s little financial incentive to work on development either. There have been three genuinely world-class players to debut for England in the last 10 years: Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. Durham have in recent years provided a world-class allrounder to the England team, as well as their current opener and perhaps their two best fast bowlers. Rather than getting a generous stipend from the ECB for Stokes, who is possibly the lynchpin of the whole England team, they have had their Test status revoked and massive points penalties after having to accept a bailout. Yorkshire have developed two world-class players and yet they probably have the most debt of any county. Including their planned ground redevelopment, they now owe something like £40m.

Neither county is benefitting financially in any significant way from these players. It probably costs a lot of money to find talented youngsters and train them from junior cricket through to the cusp of the England team. It almost certainly makes more sense financially to simply hire journeyman cricketers from other teams, or indeed other countries like Australia and South Africa, than to grow your own.

What’s The Solution?

Firstly, I’m not entirely convinced that debutants coming into the side are necessarily of a significantly lower quality than players in the past. It is the nature of sport that players are rarely playing at their full potential when they are first picked for the national team. Instead, they typically improve by playing against a higher calibre of opposition and by being fine-tuned by the team’s coaches. The players who are on central contracts have very little to do with their respective counties once they enter the national side, and so how can domestic cricket be to blame for them not performing or becoming better cricketers? If players aren’t improving (or even regressing) whilst in the England setup, that has to be an issue of selection and coaching.

The ECB also takes a huge role in attempting to develop the most promising young players in English cricket. Through the England under-19s, Loughborough and the England Lions teams, they get their hands on most of the promising young players long before they’re in contention for the national team. Therefore, one obvious solution would be for the ECB to fix what appears to be a broken system. Andy Flower became the Technical Director Of Elite Development at the ECB in 2014 after he was fired as coach of the England Men’s team, which means that he is ultimately responsible for both the England Lions and the ECB academy at Loughborough. If he has failed to produce one “elite” player in his four years working there, surely questions have to be asked about his effectiveness.

Even if you accept the premise that county cricket needs to do more to create world-class players, it’s not immediately clear what could be changed to make that happen. I would guess that the ECB’s plan of replacing the county youth academies with their own regional youth academies will resurface, having been shelved to placate the counties before they voted in favour of the new T20 competition. This may be the dumbest idea known to man. The national academy at Loughborough has not only failed to develop an elite player in recent years (or ever, as far as I’m aware), I’ve honestly never even heard it being credited for improving a single player. Not one. And they want to take over the county academies, at least some of which do actually work.

There are some suggestions about dramatically changing the structure of county cricket which will quite simply never happen. Some people suggest that the quality of the Championship would be improved if the number of teams was reduced to eight or ten. Whilst this may be true (I personally doubt it), this would require half of the counties to essentially vote themselves out of existence so I can’t see it happening. Likewise, the competitiveness of Division 2 might be improved if it was possible to be relegated to the Minor Counties. There are some clubs which perennially sit at the bottom of the league whilst still cashing their cheques from the ECB, but again for this to occur some teams would have to vote against their own interests. They’re dumb, but I don’t think they’re quite that dumb.

There are always murmurings about the large number of foreign players in county cricket. Commenter StephenFH did some research last year which suggested that 111 players in county squads weren’t qualified to play for England, 26% of the total number. Some people say that if you got rid of these players then there would be more opportunities for English players to be selected and develop. This might be true, but if the foreign players are better than the homegrown players they are keeping out of the team then getting rid of them would also lower the overall standard of the competition. Isn’t it a good thing that English players have to earn their place in the first XI, and have to compete against the best players available when they get there?

All of which leaves the usual tinkering around the edges that happens in county cricket. Moving more games to the middle of the season, cutting the number of games, changing the points system, redistributing teams between the two divisions, minor changes to the playing conditions and so on. Basically what happens every year or two anyway. It seems unlikely that such small changes would reap big rewards for the ECB, but it will at least allow them to reassure themselves that they are doing something.

Not that it really matters. After all, we all know it’s really KP’s fault…

Champions Trophy – The Final Group Game

OK. Time for me to write something. I’ve been here, I’ve been there. Cologne on Wednesday, Guildford on Friday. Sleep has been a stranger. But that’s life. I’ve been on the sofa for large parts of the weekend watching the two group games that sealed the fates of Australia and South Africa. Yes, if you remember I tipped Australia. I love being wrong. I’ve had a lot of practice.

Today’s game, and I’ll review it if I have to, was a poor old show. South Africa started out at a sedate pace, as they did against Sri Lanka last weekend, but then collapsed into a heap. Nasser has been banging on about how the big players have come forward, but AB de Villiers was the exception. He hasn’t been at the races in this tournament and will now be able to rest up for the summer while his team-mates undertake the test match heavy lifting. I wonder what South Africa’s version of Oliver Holt or Paul Newman would make of that.

Once South Africa had been dismissed for under 200, it was always going to be a walk in the park. They lost two wickets getting there, but there was never really any alarm. Rohi Sharma’s dismissal to Morne Morkel, however, reminded me of a game I saw 10 years or so ago, when Morkel, who was, I think, a bit quicker then embarrassed James Benning in a T20 game as his bounce caused mayhem. Benning ended backing away a little and losing his composure. Sharma is in a different league, of course, but that wasn’t his finest hour. Food for thought?

India will, in all likelihood, meet Bangladesh in the semi-final, while England, who have been incredibly impressive so far, will meet the winners of tomorrow’s clash between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Frankly, your guess is as good as mine. Pakistan took advantage of dismissing South Africa cheaply but looked woeful against India. Sri Lanka’s batting looked frail against South Africa and then chased down a large total set by India. Strengths and weaknesses….

In other matters I went to Surrey v Essex at Guildford on Friday. I’ll probably put some pictures up in due course. It was a very entertaining day out, even if Kumar came and went in a very short time. I had visited just one session of play previously this season – the opening day – where I saw Mark Stoneman finish his 165. This time I saw him score 181 not out, and he looked magnificent. Sam Curran was also a pleasure, making a breezy half century. All the while though, the presence was too much for me to concentrate on the game. I was too close to the genius, to the aura. I was not worthy seated under the tree.

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Catching a day’s county cricket at an out ground is always fun. Guildford is well worth a visit, with the beer served up of excellent quality and at £4 a pint. It will never catch on. As I said, more on this during quiet periods and when I’ve got my photo-editing software on to some of the pics.

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I did like this one – Dominic Sibley dances down the track and I get the ball at point of impact (almost)

Other heads up for pieces in the future – and you know these aren’t guaranteed – is I’m reading a lot of old books I’m snapping up on Amazon “Used”. I’ve read Bob Willis on Test Cricket. I read Mike Brearley’s regaining the Ashes book from 1977. I am now reading John Snow’s book. It’s tremendous dipping into these old books, because they are anything but andoyne. They are full of forthright opinions, not written with anyone other than their own accuracy and views in mind. I’ve picked up a load of these recently, with books by Tony Greig and a couple more by Brearley to read. I also got Stuart Broad’s recent effort for a couple of quid, as well as the Simon Jones book. Also snapped up the Wisden Anthologies, a few missing B&H Cricket Years from my collection, and now I just have to read them! Any recommendations, let me know.

Finally, not to blow my own trumpet, but more of an explanation. I recently got a promotion at work, which is going to mean that the time I can devote to the blog maybe more restricted than before. I know we are all busy people on here, but given where life has taken me in the last few weeks, I’ve not been able to write as much as I would have liked. It’s life. We’ll do what we can.

Comments on the Sri Lanka v Pakistan game below.

 

Community Service

In this part of the world, and for a certain category of person, April is a special time.  The arrival of spring in itself can warm the soul as well the skin; the profusion of life, the sound of birdsong and the explosion of colour signifies new beginnings.  Yet for some, a small collective, it suggests something rather more.

Across the world, the dates may change, and the climate may be very different, but the principle is identical, and the approach of the cricket season brings out the same mentality and activity wherever it may be.  For those who care start to get ready.  That might include players, who went to indoor nets in January and February, but it also includes all those who do the legwork, who prepare the fixture lists, who seed the grass on the ground, who put up the outdoor nets, who re-wire the pavilion or remove the mildew from the showers.  Those who spend the first part of the month repainting the picket fence outside the pavilion, or who have silently spent the winter ensure the square is ready – year in, year out.  Who go on courses to learn how to do it better, who wince every time the ball bounces badly.

When April itself arrives the same group of people then plan the coaching evenings for the kids, in full awareness that many parents regard this as free babysitting, and they do so on the off chance that one in twenty of the children who turn up may fall in love with the game and therefore could go on to be a playing member for the next thirty years.  They do this even though if that player becomes exceptionally good, they will leave and go somewhere else to play a higher standard.  Possibly and potentially, that might include the county programmes, meaning that all their hard work goes not to their club, but to the wider game.  They will joke that what they really want is a good young player who isn’t very bright, who won’t go to university and who will stay in the area.  But they know they will, and they know they will lose them.  But they pay it forward, in the hope their club will benefit from the hard work someone else put in somewhere else.  The circle of mutual support is a wide one.

And then there are those who have had their cricketing career, who captain the Sunday 2nd XI, batting at number nine and standing at slip, not enjoying their lack of contribution, frustrated at their waning powers, but deeply aware it was done for them in their youth.  They get little thanks for it, and may well be dead before the 40 year old they introduced to the sport thirty years earlier fully realises what he did for them, who then laments that they never told him quite how important to their life he was.  It was a he, mostly, but in decades to come it will be many a she too.   It already is.

Or there are those who despite their full awareness of the affectionate contempt in which the players hold them still volunteer to do the scoring, a thankless, dull task at the best of times, hated by most, loved by a very few.  They may have no cricketing ability at all, but choose to be involved and choose to help out.  Perhaps instead they go on an umpiring course, to give up their weekends to annoy players by being human and getting a decision wrong.  Come September those same people will compile the annual reports, with statistics, averages and club records.

A further subset go and watch a county match, aware of their small band of fellow travellers with whom they are often on first name terms, despite little in common but a shared passion for a game that passes most of the public by.  They go when the weather is cold and grey, and they go – and are joined by a few others – when it is warm and sunny and the appeal of a cold pint with appropriate on field background entertainment is available – the crack of ball on bat, the cries of fielders as they appeal for a decision to another who has given up a substantial proportion of their life to give back to the game they were brought up with, and who are able to make a modest living from doing so.

For five and a bit months across the country, this pattern prevails.  Some make the teas, traditionally they are tea ladies, more recently not so much.  Many will have little interest or concern, but will drive past a village green filled with cricketers and know that a traditional element of their national character is being played out in front of them.  Like Morris Dancing, they may not wish to be part of it themselves, they may even sneer at those who do it, but it is a precious part of national consciousness.  John Major was laughed at for his references to it, but as definitions of a desired national character go, there are many worse that could be chosen.

Each week the same group, always a small number of people in any club, go through the same process.  They prepare, they work, they give up their time for no other reason than a deep seated love for a sport.  Even within their own organisation there aren’t enough of them, they do several jobs not just one.  Sometimes they may get frustrated at the lack of respect they get for the contribution they make, but they do so not for fame or fortune and not for recognition, but because it needs to be done and if they don’t do it, then who will?

The rarefied atmosphere of the highest level of any sport is a world away from the day to day that makes up virtually all of the game.  Yet professional sport relies on the amateur to a far greater extent than the other way around, even though they both need the other for it to flourish.  But take away professional cricket, and the game would survive.  Take away amateur cricket and there is simply no game at all, which is why the dismissive behaviour towards it remains one of the more despicable attitudes pervading the corridors of power.  They deny it, but all involved know it is there – the ECB won’t even give the “recreational game” as they put it, elected representation to their organisation.  That is the reason this band of brothers and sisters quietly get on with things, with little help, and less interest from above.

These people do it all.  They are the backbone without whom nothing, nothing at all, would exist.  They are a minority within a minority, they provide everything and in return get little except perhaps personal satisfaction for making a contribution to society.  They are denied the right to even see their chosen sport at the top level without paying again for the privilege,  they are belittled and even laughed at.  Decisions are taken that make their lives just that little bit harder, and their response is to give even more time, and make even greater efforts, for no reason other than they feel it is the right thing to do, and that it matters.

Cricket is a sport first and foremost.  It isn’t a business, and it isn’t the opportunity to make vast amounts of money.  That may be a by product for a chosen few, but it is not the driver, it is not the raison d’etre, and those who behave as though it is should be ashamed.  Those who allow it to happen should be even more ashamed, for they could speak up yet do not do so. They betray the work done across the country, across the world, to provide a background for all those who care little for their efforts to exploit.

These are the obsessives.  The fanatics who move heaven and earth to ensure there is something for successive generations to complain about.  They do it in many different ways, from the park in the city centre to the village Common.  They support, morally and financially, all rungs of the game, and they provide the base interest that in turn creates the next level, be it County Championship, T20 or 50 over.

Yes, Mr Harrison, they are obsessives.  Every single one of them.  And you should get down on your knees and thank them for their very existence.  And so should we all.

More Snaps From An Evening In SE11

I do believe later on this weekend that we’ll be having a piece from The Leg Glance, but in the interim I thought I’d stick up a few more pictures from yesterday.

Weather permitting, and enthusiasm in place, I hope to get to one day of the Easter weekend match at The Oval against Lancashire.

Matthew Engel has penned a piece for The Guardian. While I don’t agree with all of it, Engel remains a clever voice on the sport and it is worth a read.

But cricket gave two great things to civilisation: the idea that the umpire’s decision is final, which has now officially been abolished by the review system; and the delicate interplay of individual and team success that really exists only in cricket and baseball. Neither of these exists in the ECB’s big-city game. Nor will there be any vestige of the sense of tradition and loyalty that has sustained this game through centuries of optimistic spring days like this one.

Engel does get it. The county game is in trouble but…

But it also created internal expectations. The players’ pay exploded; the ECB turned into a vast, impenetrable bureaucracy. Hence the constant revolution: the game cannot maunder on pleasantly; it must keep coming up with ever more eye-catching gimmicks.

The players aren’t being rewarded for achievements etc, they are making the supporters pay more to keep them in clover.

An Evening at SE11

I took the opportunity to join quite a few people at the Kia Oval for the opening day of the County Championship as I caught the evening session of the day’s play against Warwickshire. Ian Bell had elected to put Surrey into bat, and the result was the hosts finishing on 327 for 3 in 96 overs. Given the presence of a number of the media’s finest, including Charles Colvile, George Dobell, John Etheridge and Dean Wilson (the last three came very close to me as I left the ground this evening) you won’t need a match report. The bare bones are that Mark Stoneman made a debut to remember with 165 runs before tiredness did for him:

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Stoneman nicks off for 165

Sangakkara played very sedately. He announced himself to the post-tea crowd with a magnificent drive, but then played an anchor role, never looking particularly ill at ease, and stayed to the close on 47 not out.

I took a load of pictures, as always, and after using my favourite photo software, here are some of the results. Hope you enjoy them (Click on each for the full size version).

Hope the people going tomorrow enjoy themselves. They could be in for a very good day.

Guest Post – A Look At County Finances

First up an apology. Man in a Barrel wrote this piece for the blog during the middle of the India v England test series and we couldn’t quite squeeze it into a proper slot pre-Christmas. Then, with all the events going on with me personally in January, it got left by the wayside. MiaB has had his say on the financial situation he sees in county cricket, and it is an interesting take. I find Yorkshire’s financial situation particularly fascinating given who the county owes its future to and the potential for conflicts of interest (if in doubt, read the notes to the ECB accounts). Anyway, MiaB’s views, updated in recent weeks are worth a read, and as always I’d like to thank him (and others) who take their valuable time to write for us. Also, although we all know MiaB can handle himself, take into account he’s a guest writer and not one of us. We want to encourage people, not put them off!!!!

I’m over the other side of the pond at the moment, so now is the time for some more articles if people think they have something to say. There’s a long time before England’s next test. Ok, enough of me, take it away MiaB:

County Cricket Finances….by Man in a Barrel

In the November 2014 issue of the cricketer, there was an article about the generally poor state of the finances of the county cricket clubs.  It came as something of a revelation to me – I always assumed that cricket was a poor relation to football in the UK but that the sponsorship provided by companies such as John Player, Gillette, Benson and Hedges, Cornhill Insurance, Investec, Sky etc was sufficient to keep it in reasonable health.  However, it seemed from that article that the situation was dire.

Football has always been more transparent.  Some teams have tried to float on the Stock Exchange, for example.  However, I think we all know that, in reality, the clubs are rather small financial entities for the most part.  In the book Soccernomics, you can read an interesting selection of financial facts and figures.  It seems that few football clubs are run as money-making machines – remember how Alan Sugar failed at Spurs? – but that very few actually go bust.  Someone always turns up to bail them out.  In practice what that tends to mean is that they are run, at one end of the scale, as shiny toys or status symbols for the very wealthy such as Chelsea, Man City or, at the other end of the scale, as glorified social clubs where the players run around between stands made from corrugated iron and scaffolding props, such as Stevenage Utd.  In between, there are a mass of clubs supported by successful local businessmen or by people who are probably more intent on either developing (or stripping) any available assets.

I tried to locate sources of financial data for the county cricket clubs.  Not many of them had anything available on their websites but I located data for Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.  This was an interesting sample because it included 2 sides with Test match grounds and a comparative minnow.  I intended to put together a blogpost on my discoveries but this coincided with the start of 2015.  The general feeling of disenchantment with cricket that took me over around that time meant that I never completed it.  Subsequent events suggest that my conclusions for this sample are typical of the bigger picture.

The main conclusions were that cricket is not a money-making business; it just about pays its way, if rain holds off.  Most clubs are just about muddling along.  However, it is likely that the clubs that host international matches have been very bold and have over-extended their balance sheets to such an extent that they are close to being insolvent.  In football, many clubs have spent way too much money acquiring players and have amassed significant debts thereby; in cricket they build new pavilions.  Oligarchs and sheiks buy football clubs.  No one has so far come along for county cricket apart from a certain supermarket chief.

I’ll start this overview with Warwickshire in 2014.

Total turnover was £12.5 and they seemed to make an operating profit of £4.7m.  Within these figures, cricket revenues were £3.8m, with a cost of sales of £4.2m.  So, on its own, cricket was loss-making for this county in 2014.  Thankfully, the ECB chipped in with £3.1m – some of which was probably prize money for winning The Blast.

By comparison, the Yorkshire cricket revenues for 2013 were £2.7m and for Worcestershire in 2012 £0.6m – there is a note to the effect that their results were adversely impacted by weather.  For the purposes of this snapshot, it is worth noting that all 3 counties lost money on cricket pure and simple.

In terms of EBITDA – profit before tax, interest and depreciation, the figures were £1.7m for Warks, £0.2m for Yorks and £0.1m for Worcs.  So, you expect the balance sheets to be pretty small-scale affairs.  These are relatively small businesses.

You could not be more wrong.  Warks declare fixed assets of £36.8m, totally off the scale for this size of income statement.  How on earth did they amass so much in the way of fixed assets – the major single element is given as Pavilion Development at £31.1m?

A quick scan shows that they have taken on loans of £21.6m.  Most of it is a loan from Birmingham City Council repayable starting from March 2017 at 5% interest.  It is secured on the freehold land and buildings owned by the club.  Just to cover the interest on this loan would require profits of £1.1m – which would come close to wiping out their EBITDA.  As it was, they charged interest of £1.4m and depreciation of £1.4m, so there was no profit left over.

If this were a property company, as the investment in buildings would suggest it really is, you would expect the building to generate a return of, say 5%.  Given all the quantitative easing that has inflated asset values and decreased yields, let’s assume 3%.  This would entail getting a profit after interest and depreciation of £1.0, which is way out of sight.  It is tough to see how they would get from a loss of £1.2m to a profit on that scale.

Moving on to Yorks, the figures are comparable.  Fixed assets of £28.5m supported by a pre-tax loss of £0.7m.  They have loans of £24.1m.  However, Warks’s main creditor was the local council.  Recent events show that councils can be persuaded to forgive debts.  I am not sure that, if I lived in Leeds, I would be totally happy for my council to lend £7.6m to a cricket club that was basically insolvent.  Surely there must be a quid pro quo in terms of out-reach efforts and community work?  If there is, the club keep quiet about it.  In any case, the council has a charge over the freehold land and buildings at Headingley and, as an example that the council might be worried, Mr Graves has given a shortfall guarantee.

So far so good.  However, the club has also taken out a loan from HSBC for £3.3m.  This is secured by a first charge over the Cricket Centre and a second charge over Headingley.  HSBC also has a fixed and floating charge over all the assets of the club.  Needless to say, Mr Graves has given another personal guarantee.  The loan is repayable by 2020 and interest is base +4%.  As a commercial institution, HSBC are putting very onerous conditions on the club that they are probably unable to comply with on the basis of their own trading activities.

However, it gets worse; various trusts in the name of the Graves family have “lent” £10.1m to the club – up from £7.1m the previous year.  The increase basically seems to have paid down some of the HSBC overdraft.  So the Graves family is basically bankrolling the club on a day-to-day basis by providing long-term loans.  Interest is payable at base+4%.  C J Graves is personally owed £4.5m and this is repayable on 12 months’ notice and secured by a 4th charge over Headingley.  The 2 Graves trusts are owed £5.6m and are repayable in October 2016, secured by a 3rdcharge over Headingley.

Obviously you have to wonder just how much these charges are worth if HSBC or the council pull the plug.  How much leeway does the HSBC branch have to waive interest or extend repayment terms?  Could they be persuaded to classify it as, say, marketing spend in an attempt to garner local affection? Did the trusts insist on repayment in October 2016?  Time will tell.  However it is clear that both Warks and Yorks need to get their assets sweating a bit harder if the clubs, or Mr Graves, is not to go bust.  You wonder also what impact this might have on the affairs of Costcutter.  Maybe Yorks should be treated as a subsidiary of that supermarket chain.  What would be the impact on the chain if the guarantees given by Graves were called in?

It was a relief to turn to Worcs.  £5.1m of fixed assets supported by loans of £2.7m is at least a conceivable ratio.  True, their income statement makes sorry reading in 2012 but they have a track record of making around £0.3m EBITDA and their 2012 turnover was adversely affected by rain.  However, they have also leased out some land to Premier Inns for 150 years for a 120 room hotel and they are very clear about the need to build a 365 day business instead of one that depends on 50 days of cricket.  This gave them a boost to profits of £0.4m in 2012.

When a football club over-extends by buying players, at least there should be some benefit for the fans in terms of trophies or the chance to see a few galacticos.  Is cricket held in such affection by the fans that solutions will emerge if the counties get into difficulties – such as what happened to Glasgow Rangers or Southampton FC?

Questions that I cannot answer.  But if I were running Yorks or Warks, I would not be sleeping easily at night.

Update

I downloaded the accounts for Yorkshire for the year ended December 2015.  Things have moved on but they are still far from rosy.  The guys are obviously pedalling vigorously so I hope that my assessment does not look as if I am dissing them.  They have worked hard to increase turnover and improve profitability.  Turnover has grown from £6.8m to £8.4m, which I think represents a considerable achievement.  They have also moved to a position where they are making retained profits of £0.4m compared with losses of £0.3m in 2014 and £0.6m in 2013.  It’s a start but nowhere near enough to service the debt mountain.  Debt remains about £24m.

However, you must always beware of the sleight of hand, particularly with corporations in distress.  In 2015, there is an exceptional item of £0.8m as a result of the local authority reconsidering the amount of interest due on its loan and effectively giving the club a kickback.  Without that surge of generosity, the retained profit would disappear.  Also, it is worth noting that the 2014 position benefited from a grant of £0.5m from the ECB, which Yorks used to repay a loan from the ECB.  Smoke and mirrors?  Every little helps.

The real interest is in what has been done to restructure the debt.  Obviously Mr Graves is not able to bankroll the club personally anymore and they were in thrall to the vipers at HSBC.  So they have found a genie, in the shape of another Graves family trust.  To quote from the accounts:

The Graves family trusts have provided loans of £18.9m which has allowed the previous loans from Colin Graves, the Graves family trusts and Leeds City Council to be repaid. As part of the refinancing we are grateful to Leeds City Council who after reviewing the actual cost of interest that the Council had incurred in servicing the debt which demonstrated that the cost to the Council of the loan has been fully met by the Club, accepted £6.5m in settlement of the £7.4m capital outstanding on the loan. This gave rise to exceptional income, net of costs, of £781,106.

As part of the refinancing HSBC agreed to return any capital payments made in 2015, lower their interest rate to 2.5% and defer full capital repayment until 1st October 2018 in return for a First Legal Charge over the Cricket Centre and a Third Legal Charge over Headingley Cricket Ground in respect of the bank loan and overdrafts. HSBC Bank plc also has a fixed and floating charge over all of the assets of the Club, subject to the Legal Charges referred to above.

To enable the repayment of the Leeds City Council debt, further debt has been incurred. CJ & J Graves Accumulation & Maintenance and J Graves Accumulation & Maintenance Trusts loans now stand at £6.7m each bearing an interest rate of 4.625% and with initial capital repayments to be made in 2019 (£2m each Trust) and during 2020 (£1.5m each Trust) with the balance at 31 December 2020. The two Trusts have been granted by the Club joint First Legal Charge over Headingley Cricket Ground and joint Second Legal Charge over the Cricket Centre.

A further £5.5m of debt has also been incurred from the CJ Graves 1999 Settlement Trust bearing an interest rate of 0%. The Club has granted Second Legal Charge over Headingley Cricket Ground and Third Legal Charge over the Cricket Centre.”

So the local authority is off their backs and has accepted less interest than was originally due – I wonder if the details of that arrangement will ever be forthcoming.  It could be that the authority was borrowing at a very low rate and charging the club a higher rate and has decided to waive some of the difference.  Let’s be generous.  HSBC have also reduced the interest rate and granted a repayment holiday.  I guess they can recognise a distressed debtor when they see one and have taken the view that taking control of a cricket ground is outside their area of expertise.  It also helps when you can find someone to loan you £5.5m interest-free.  I can only imagine that the terms of the trust are that it exists to ensure the survival of Yorkshire cricket club.  I hope the beneficiaries are happy.  So it is no longer Colin Graves who supports the club, just a bunch of trusts with £19m of his family wealth tied up in them.  It seems a little bit “Maxwell” to me but at least the cricket club still exists.  I guess that things down in Hampshire are not so very different.  Oh and those family trusts did not get repaid in 2016 – as if we could not have guessed.

In January, David Hopps wrote an article about Warwickshire that echoes what I have been writing here but in a more easygoing way –http://www.espncricinfo.com/county-cricket-2017/content/story/1079949.html

Another point of interest is the recent revelation by Vic Marks about Cook:

we once discussed county cricket and Cook said 14 counties would be infinitely preferable – a very sound argument but how do you get there? “Simple,” he said. “Get rid of whoever are in the bottom four of the second division at the end of the season.” At the time two of those positions were occupied by Surrey and Yorkshire. The implications of their expulsion, while briefly amusing to me, did not seem to have any impact on his thinking.”

 Perhaps Cook was unaware that bankrupting 2 of the clubs who supply Test match grounds might be a self-defeating gesture?

The Wanderer Returns…

Sort of….

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I have to confess that in the last three weeks or so blogging has had to take a back seat. It’s the nature of the beast, as both Sean and Chris can attest, that we aren’t in the privileged position of being able to sit around all day watching and writing about cricket. We have jobs that require our time, and while the workload of mine has waxed and waned over the past few years, I’m in the “it’s so damn crazy it is off the charts” phase. You know I’ve been to Rio, yesterday I was in Helsinki, this week I’ve been interviewing, the previous week I was drowning while suffering from another bloody toothache. This coincided with times when Chris was away and Sean was also busy. So there has been a lack of regular content – long-standing readers know how this blog works and recognise this is what happens.

I was on a plane – or at least waiting for one at the bloody expensive Helsinki Airport – yesterday when the Bangladesh game finished. I had one thought other than wasn’t it nice to see Rashid ram the critics words right back at them, and that was “how would Newman segue in a snide reference to Eoin Morgan” into his write-up. Newman is out there for the ODI phase and is not going to let the uppity Irishman’s decision rest. And, so it was, with some trepidation, that I opened up the Mail Online and read the great man’s piece. And I didn’t have long to wait…

And the most satisfied member of the England side was surely stand-in captain Jos Buttler, who followed his impressive leadership in the first week of a tour dominated by safety concerns with a match-winning all-round display. A penny for the thoughts of Eoin Morgan?

In the absence of a telling contribution by one of his potential replacements – Vince and Bairstow didn’t perform, and Duckett’s 60 was not the compelling hundred the punditerati truly wanted – it had to turn to the leadership issue. Jos Buttler offers a few platitudes, presumably enhancing how much he might get under the new contracts, and that’s “impressive leadership”. Jesus, they are easily impressed. I’m accused, regularly, of having an agenda. I’ve nothing on these people.

Newman isn’t one to let an agenda lie, and it was how he signed his piece off that sums him up:

And it was one that provided food for thought for England’s refuseniks in Morgan and Alex Hales.

I bet it doesn’t Paul. It’s another ODI, in another country, which will be forgotten by most within a couple of weeks, save those who might face the 5 wickets in an ODI debut trivia question in a few years time. Your desperation for them to express regret speaks volumes.

England’s win, plucking one from the jaws of defeat, was a really good one. Good that Ben Stokes played a solid innings in a winning cause and posting his first ODI ton. Jos, once again, showed his incredible ability to smack balls with nothing more than an amazing power from those wrists. It’s hard to write something about wrist power without invoking the old Finbarr Saunders from Viz, but he plays shots I’ve never seen before. There has to be a way to harness this for test cricket, doesn’t there?

I’ll confess I’ve not seen the bowling performance yet. Jake Ball does look to have something, given a more than capable debut in tests, and it does remain to be seen if he is another string we have to our one day bow now that it appears to me as though Mark Wood is going to need to have his workload excessively managed if we are ever going to get him performing. Adil Rashid does what he does on occasions in ODIs – he takes wickets, doesn’t get truly collared, and has snarky comments made about him by certain sections of the media (one of them employed now by TalkShite Two). Newman lived down to this…

Yet ultimately they were indebted to the unlikely figures of Ball, who ended up with the best figures by an English one-day debutant, and Rashid, coming into this series under something of a cloud, for turning the tables.

If you ain’t in the in-crowd, then you are out. Presumably this will be reflected in less money in his central contract. You have to be a “good egg” and we’ll have lots of “good journalism” telling us what is being one of those and what isn’t.

I’m running off a load of cricket from the Tivo onto computer and have the India v New Zealand series on. When I left on Thursday I was being advised that Thakur of BCCI, a new tinpot general who thinks being good at business means he’s top dollar to run a sport, was threatening to cancel the whole series. In the World Baseball Classic there is a “mercy rule” if you are getting thumped too heavily, and with India romping this series on result wickets, and with Ashwin posting figures that pur him up with the all-time champions, then I first thought that Thakur’s sporting instincts for a contest were kicking in. Not really. But what happened since then? I genuinely don’t know other than I’ve had to set the recorder to pick up the highlights in the early hours of the morning because there’s a game on and Kohli’s made a hundred. Given I’ve slept most of the day I’ve not been able to catch up on all the toing and froing, so grateful for a steer. Did Lodhi give him a kick up the arse? Are we going to have India over for the Chumpions Trophy, or as it should be known the “win it and Comma gets a CBE Trophy”?

Sean excoriated the ECB over the Durham fiasco earlier this week and rightly so. Those anti-KP sorts who think we cried and cried purely over the ECB casting out of “our hero” are still welcome to speak now they’ve seen the true nastiness of those in charge. The county that has brought us Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Graeme Onions, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood will now be severely hamstrung in nurturing any further north-east talent because the ECB felt the need to “punish them” as some sort of ludicrous “pour encourager les autres” meme. This is less Battle of Minorca, and more the rattled of Lord’s, who know deep down that all the counties, more or less, are in a dreadful state. I had a look at Yorkshire’s finances, and it’s amazing to look at their debt structure:

yorkshire-accounts

Yorkshire’s turnover in 2015 was £8m. Its staff costs (and other cricket expenses) in 2015 was £3.1m. The cost of providing cricket in 2015 – admin, catering etc. –  was just under £2m. Other overheads were £2.6m. This means EBITDA – your operating profit in crude terms, is £500k. So if you owed nothing, you made half a million quid. Which is, at least a profit. But you can work out that not only is there £25m of debt there, that hasn’t been obtained by popping down to DFS to take advantage of interest free credit for four years. There’s interest to pay.

And that interest is £648k. Their EBITDA doesn’t even cover their interest payments. In finanical analysis terms, this is not particularly indicative of a very secure going concern. Yorkshire announced a profit overall because of an “Exceptional Item” of £781k. The thing with Exceptional Items is that they are meant to be “Exceptional”. I’ve had to study accounts where that term is stretched to breaking point to indicate that a company is healthy. This one is quite interesting.

exceptional

I’m not party to the discussions, but Yorkshire posted a profit in 2015 because they got the local HSBC to reduce the repayment, and in return the bank now has a first charge over one of their facilities. What I’m indicating here is that the cricket club that is held up as a paragon of excellence on the cricket field functions because the head of the ECB has put up his own money – yet still holds the whip hand given it owes him £20 odd million – to save his club. If he had taken the approach of the Durham creditors and said “right, no more to keep you out of the shit”, what would have happened to Yorkshire? I mean, if you really can’t see how there’s potential conflict of interest, you must have a dose of SelfeyRashiditis. Note how that loan from Graves is due to be paid out in the next two to five years. It won’t. It can’t be given Yorkshire’s turnover. Graves will just roll it over.

I’m picking on Yorkshire because, to their credit, they publish their accounts on their website. I saw Ashley Giles having a word or two about Durham’s financial ineptitude but I tried for a while, using my sources of information, and found the only way I could see Lancashire’s accounts was to stump up £12. I love you all, but I won’t do that.

That’s the offence. One that every county’s cricket operations mimics – it doesn’t take a lot of sense to see county attendances will never match the wages needed to pay players – yet Durham need to be punished because their creditors took a much tougher line than Sugar Daddy Graves and his ilk. Before people throw Surrey at me, it has often been said that Surrey is a conference facility running a cricket team. So Durham need to be punished, and so it is that they have been relegated. And deducted points in all three competitions. And been stripped of their test match ground status. One wonders what they might do to a Northamptonshire should they need a bail-out. Would it require them to play Minor Counties cricket? Deduct them 100 points and thus make any game against a team with nothing to play for meaningless and thus destroying what credibility the Second Division has? Again, Sean did his piece, and his pieces at it, and I’ll return to the theme in the coming days or so. But just think through the logical consequences of the decision, of how cricket operates in this country, and what could happen in the future. The ECB have been a disgrace. Don’t worry, I’ll come to Bransgrove in the near future as well.

I have gone off a little on this, and thus not covered some of the other ground I intended to at the start of this piece. That’s fine. I can write some more later. Until then, thanks for sticking with us.

From the Cradle to the Graves

First of all, I’m annoyed, not just a little bit annoyed, but completely and totally incensed by the treatment that our so called administrators have handed out to Durham and I’m not even a Durham fan. The ignominy of being relegated to the 2nd Division on financial criteria rather than cricketing prowess was not bad enough in the eyes of the incompetent fat cats running our board, oh no, they had to give them a massive f**k you as a coup de grace. Here’s your 48 point deduction – put that in your pipe and smoke it, oh and best of all, be grateful for it too, we saved you. Oh and we’re also revoking your Test status, although actually that is probably more of a blessing in disguise.

The circumstances of Durham’s financial demise have been well documented, but let me briefly cover it again, so there can be no doubt where the blame should lie. Back in 2003, Durham were an ambitious club, one who wanted to give fans in the North East, those who had previously been starved of international cricket access to the game without having to travel hundreds of miles to actually see live coverage. This fitted in nicely with the ECB’s stated mandate to spread the national game away from the traditional Test grounds and even their edict that all newly built grounds should have the capabilities and facilities to host Test Cricket.

This was pretty much as good as it got though for our friends in the Northeast. Firstly (and I could with some help here), the choice for Durham’s new shiny international ground was not in surburban Newcastle or even in the more populated Durham, but instead was housed in Chester-Le-Street, a town with a population of 26,000 holding a ground with the capacity of 16,000, the math’s simply didn’t add even back then and now look astonishingly slapstick in the cold light of day. Then there was the small matter of the fact that we already had 6 international venues fighting for on average 5 tests a year (if you account for Lords having 2 games a year) so with the addition of Durham, Hampshire and then latterly Cardiff into the mix, we suddenly had an surfeit of counties desperately hunting Test cricket at their grounds to cover new builds, redevelopment and general running costs with not enough games to go around. Seriously it doesn’t take a genius to realise that this was not going to end well.

So what was the ECB’s solution to this? Well I can think we can all agree that most sensible administrators would’ve sought to manage risk and spread the games as evenly as possible amongst each county to ensure financial viability; however the ECB is not a sensible administrator, it’s a greedy money grabbing pit of self interest, and instead chose a far more lucrative option. The ECB bods in all their wisdom decided that a bidding system would be a far fairer way to distribute the games and the money (for themselves obviously and not the counties). So here we had it, a bunch of increasingly skint counties desperately fighting over those games that weren’t going to be held in London in the hope of getting enough punters through the door to make enough money to survive into the next year, like a group of fat men desperately fighting over the last pork scratching. Yet the ECB sat quietly by, filling their coffers with well over £75 million worth of hard cash and not having to lift a finger. None of the risk, all of the reward, I say old boy.

So to the surprise of no-one, except the ECB, though they I doubt they cared that much, this house of cards came tumbling down in a heap fairly quickly. The writing had been on the wall since the start. Cricket has been in decline for some while, and whilst there are many debates as to the reasons behind this (I could and have written a whole article on this subject alone) one can easily surmise that a lack of cricket on FTA, the general disappearance of the game from the national news and the increased focus on the T20 tournaments meant that interest in Test cricket began to wane quickly. As the counties latterly realised this, it very quickly proved to be a bun fight in who could get the most popular games, with the counties throwing exorbitant amounts of money for an Australia or India game in the hope that they could get them to last 4 days so they could make some money, with the other counties counting the cost of getting a Sri Lanka or a New Zealand Test knowing that they wouldn’t even cover their costs. Indeed a certain Ex-Yorkshire chairman, better known to most readers in his new role had this to say back in 2011:

12142_colin-graves

“The problem we have in England and Wales is we have nine Test match grounds and seven Test matches and nine into seven doesn’t go.” 

“At the end of the day you are playing with high stakes and that’s a big risk business and at this present time, we are not in that.” 

“I’m urging them to look totally at the way we structure cricket, the way it is financed and, going forward, how we are going to stage that,” he said.

“There are some big searching questions there to be answered.”

It’s of course very interesting to note that we haven’t heard a single peep out of Mr. Graves since he was made Chairman of the ECB, let alone hear the answer to these big searching questions. After all, it’s your boat now chaps, but I’m going to take the paddles with me in any case..

And so we now to get to the stage, where a county who followed the ECB’s edict to the letter (though I would conceive that they should have done more to position the stadium in a far more densely populated area) have been handed a massively draconian punishment for racking up serious debts that the ECB’s bidding system not only actively encouraged, but gave them no other option than to. Nicely played chaps, offer false promises with one hand and then crush with the other when the unpleasant reality sets in.

Except this isn’t really about Durham is it? Nor will it be about a Leicestershire or a Somerset, a Northamptonshire or a Sussex when the inevitable happens, and they teeter on the edge of administration. This is about business and that business is an 8-team city franchise, the savior of all English cricket in Colin Graves and his fellow cronies eyes. Sure they have had to go around the houses with the county chairmen, sure there have been meetings, promises counter promises, £1.5million promises but all this is a case of playing the waiting game in the expected hope that the county chairmen spend more time fighting each other and their members rather than noticing the smiling devil at their door. It is not inconceivable that by the time 2019/2020 comes around all of these clubs and many more will be on their knees and willing to accept any morsel their so called benevolent administrators are willing to toss them; oh as long as they are willing to give up some more rights to benefit those who the ECB deem worthy. The thing is that growing the game, as I and many others have said before, is simply not on the ECB’s radar not has it ever been, it knows nothing but the pursuit of financial gain and anyone who gets in the way will be simply cast aside or crushed. After all, Graves has put his neck on the line to make this City franchise competition happen and he is going to do everything in his power to make it happen, so what does it matter if the odd county goes bust along the way, that’s business for you?

I find what has happened to Durham today and will in time happen to other counties very sad, but not in the least bit surprising, after all if you stick your head in the crocodile’s mouth for long enough, one day it will bite. My guess is that it would be fair to say that the dinner of many of the county chairmen might not taste so juicy tonight as they reflect on the fact that with ‘friends like these, who needs enemies’…