One of the Boys

There are some things that are beyond all abilities. One of those is trying to put up a blog when there’s a power cut that takes out both normal power and also the mobile phone towers meaning a complete absence of online access. This was a piece that was written this morning, but couldn’t be uploaded during a frustrating day, that involved also a total absence of work. As a result, some observations have been changed…

Cricket is an elitest sport. It doesn’t have to be, but it is. Equipment is expensive, certainly, which is why for the young in particular cricket clubs have always strived to provide kit for those making their way in the game. But like tennis, it has the public perception of being a game that is for the elite, the posh, the wealthy – reinforced by only being accessible to view for those prepared to pay a subscription. There’s a disconnect in that, for the clubs themselves are not, in general terms. They are comprised of people from all backgrounds, and all walks of life from the affluent to the impoverished, the public schools to the inner cities – albeit decreasingly so in the latter case. Yet in the administration of the game, and in the opportunities for those coming up through the ranks, this is anything but the case, and an England team comprised mostly of those from fee paying school backgrounds is illustrative of that.

Thus it is that the appointment of Ed Smith as the new national selector is utterly unsurprising at all levels. He fits all the proper metrics – public schoolboy (not a compulsory requirement as much as good evidence of being worthy of consideration), a Thoroughly Good Chap and thus reflective of the kind of Good Chap the other Good Chaps want to see. The apogee of this attitude was the Odious Giles Clarke’s comment about how Alastair Cook “and his family are very much the sort of people we want the England captain and his family to be”. Note the “we” involved there, this is a pervasive attitude throughout the echelons of the ECB, not just one man’s view. It’s not even deliberate, it’s merely that they consistently go for the same people who reflect their own backgrounds and their own values, and therefore they represent exactly the kind of people they would want in the roles. Thus it is no surprise that someone like Andrew Strauss would consider him ideal, nor that someone like Andrew Strauss would be considered ideal himself. A virtuous circle of a small group of self-appointed officers and gentlemen – Flashman at the Charge.

It’s not to say that Smith is necessarily a terrible choice. He spent most of his career on the county circuit, and it’s perfectly possible that he’s sufficiently in touch with the game at that level to be effective. But it is another instance of jobs for the boys, as long as they’re the right sort of boys. Smith of course has been thoroughly forgiven by those Inside Cricket for his unfortunate episode whereby he was caught out first by Krishna Murali and then the Cricket Couch for being very free and easy with the contents of an Economist article which he passed off as his own work. His employers at Cricinfo tried desperately hard to ignore it, and then eventually pulled the article, offering up a mealy mouthed defence by Sambit Bal to justify their ignoring of the whole affair. What was striking was the total absence of any of his writing colleagues defending him, or commenting on the various snide tweets and posts about the whole affair from the proletariat (see “fans, amateur players and supporters”). Even this morning with the news, it was as if it never happened. Johan Hari must desperately wonder how he ended up in the wrong sector.

The others supposedly in the frame for the role were Andy Flower, Derek Pringle and Mike Selvey – men of differing backgrounds certainly, but who still fit into that “right sort of chap” mentality that infests the ECB as an organisation and the cricketing establishment generally. The jobs move around among the same group of people; doing the same thing, with the same views, and perhaps above all else it’s notable that all those in the frame have sided with the ECB wherever possible in any kind of discussion about cricket and governance. To take one item of note, when the film Death of a Gentleman came out, Smith was critical of it, Selvey and Pringle completely silent (Flower as an ECB employee couldn’t be expected to say anything, so for that one he’s excluded), refusing to even mention its release. In Selvey’s case given his senior role at the Guardian, it was nothing but a complete abrogation of his responsibilities as a journalist. It was, and remains, disgraceful, both in terms of his pathetic sycophancy to Giles Clarke and the ECB generally, and the Guardian’s weak refusal to consider the subject then and since. That the Daily Telegraph became the bastion of the English cricket resistance remains deeply ironic. It is unsurprising that this collection of men from the same background, who have proved their loyalty to the cricket establishment in the most testing of circumstances, are exactly the people who would be considered for a role with them; nor that English cricket, so forgiving of those who go on rebel tours to South Africa but not those who stare out of windows, would worry little about such minor things as the integrity of journalism or the integrity of the game. Indeed, they have recently gone even further than merely supporting those who buttress their own worldview by specifically attacking those who dare to ask awkward questions, to the point a non-compliant journalist in the form of George Dobell is being threatened with legal action by the ECB, presumably for the crime of reporting on them without due deference.

Whatever the legal merits, the money to do this derives from supporters, clubs, players, counties and all who have an interest in the game. It is not the ECB’s, no matter how much they might like to think it is, and no matter how much they behave as though that is the case. The ECB is not the game – a simple, obvious point that bears stating simply because it’s not how they appear to see it, and strikes at the very heart of so much of the fury with and loathing of them: that they consider themselves an end in itself, not a facilitator, promoter and protector of the game of cricket. The appointment of Ed Smith and those others considered is not objectionable because he is incapable of the job, nor because it’s remotely the most important thing this month, but because it so beautifully encapsulates the mentality of the people to whom the care of the game was entrusted. No accountability, no democracy, no say in what they do or how they do it, and best of all, they wouldn’t begin to understand why so many object to them. Bringing the game into disrepute is a charge beloved of sporting authorities everywhere, but when thinking about those words: there is no better example of a sporting organisation in this country that manages that repeatedly than the ECB.

Separately, Talksport announced that they had won the rights to the overseas tours to Sri Lanka and the West Indies next winter. The response was resoundingly negative, to the shock of no one. Their coverage will doubtless be professional enough, yet the presence of endless betting adverts and advertorials will be enough to put many off. The one thing that must be said here is that for once this is nothing to do with the ECB, any more than the Ashes on BT Sport was. This is within the gift of the host boards, not the visitors, though it will be interesting to see whether the ECB behave as contemptibly with TalkSport (owned by their friends at Sky) as they did with BT when throwing them under a Twitter bus last winter.

On the other side of the world, rumours surfaced that Justin Langer will be appointed Australia’s new coach, swiftly denied as a done deal, but still likely. Langer is a coach in the same style as Flower to a fair degree, a martinet who demands total adherence to his methods, which may or may not be a good thing for them right now, depending on just what kind of standards are demanded. Perhaps it might work out, though it remains notable that they appear to be looking to choose someone before the two month review into Australian on field conduct is completed.

Lastly for now, today was the day when this blog reached the landmark of one million views. To do so in little more than three years is something we are proud of, particularly given our position on the naughty step in the world of English cricket. There are a small group of journalists who have encouraged us (and Wisden have generally), and have met with us – a common liking for beer proving apparent. It has been almost entirely below the radar which perhaps best reflects the prevailing view that our particular attitude is considered unwelcome by the cricketing establishment. They know who they are, and that they wouldn’t welcome being named and shamed thanked illustrates the point. Nevertheless, they are appreciated. Internally, we’ve had our crises, and it is those who contribute, read, argue with and correct us who are the main reason for keeping us going. Highlighting the readers and commenters has always been a trite observance in many instances, yet sometimes it’s heartfelt and honest. When we say we couldn’t do it without you, it is nothing but the truth. Continue to challenge us daily please.

Here’s to two million, and the absolute certainty that we’ll still never be invited to any ECB events (nor would we accept), we’ll still never try to monetise this place, and we’ll still do it because we love and care about the game we grew up with, played, watched and paid for. It doesn’t make us right, but it does make us a voice, even if from the margins.


Be My Friend

It’s not so long ago that newspapers and broadcast media bestrode the world of information, disseminating news and comment to the public, explaining what was going on and read and watched by the public  in their millions.  The internet changed all that, mostly for the good and sometimes for the ill.  It allowed blogs like this one to take off, gave a voice to a citizen army of writers and broadcasters and fragmented an industry that in some sectors still struggles to generate an income and define what content is worth paying for.  New viewpoints could be heard, if sufficient numbers were prepared to listen, share and discuss, and the democratisation of opinion was held to be a “good thing” even while the established media lamented the loss of control and influence amongst the great unwashed who now had the means of answering back.  Fake news became both a reality, and a term of abuse used to dismiss awkward opinions and shut down debate, and the general level of intolerance toward contrary opinions increased.

But there was a different strand that is only now being discussed and publicly recognised in traditional media  – the centralisation of messaging amongst sports clubs and governing bodies.  In one sense, it’s little different to how business has always operated, advertising being the key means of getting messages across and PR campaigns used to establish a reputation and a brand.  The means may change, but the principles remain the same.  Where it differed in a sporting context was that while the media had always been their means of doing so, there were few methods of exerting control over what was said and what angle the reporting took.  The club or board might not like it, but retaliating against a media outlet was entirely counterproductive, as they could be starved of publicity or constantly referred to as an entity who didn’t like free speech.  The objections in print would reach a wide audience, and be more or less impossible to successfully counter.

What has changed is that a club or a sporting body can now be their own media outlet.  Football clubs have their own TV channels, where they proudly boast exclusive interviews with their own employees, and where the message can be controlled in its entirety under the guise of access.

Tim Wigmore, always one of the more thoughtful cricket journalists out there, and one prepared to ask the most basic and important questions has written an article about this very question, Manchester United’s expressed desire to increase the prevalence of its “news” app providing the catalyst, alongside an acknowledgement that the USA has been moving down the same path.  There are many good points within that, and from a cricket blog perspective there’s a certain amusement to be had given it’s been one of the central themes of the writing on here over the last couple of years.

The ECB certainly floated the idea of their own subscription channel when musing the broadcast options coming up, and the appeal is easy to see – the revenue accrues entirely to them rather than to an intermediary and they can completely control the themes and provide a direct link to their army of sponsors.  Something approaching that model has been seen fairly clearly in India, where broadcast criticism of the BCCI has been rather comprehensively shut down.  In the UK at least, there are laws preventing the subject of a broadcast exercising editorial control, but that doesn’t apply (currently) to online.  In any case, while the attraction is clear, creating a full on media company is a big undertaking and to that end the ECB realistically still need partners for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there’s nothing especially radical in wishing to control a message, businesses do that all the time though generally speaking, avoiding being in the news is the aim there.  But the creation of their own story is part of the trick, and for employees and members of the industry, it’s nothing especially new.  By way of example, working in the travel and tourism industry I will tend to be very careful about what I say in public – not just in terms of those I work for, but in general.  Becoming the story through controversial opinions is something to be avoided like the plague, except in certain specific circumstances where such opinions are in themselves the currency – viz. Michael O’Leary.

Yet a full on takeover of the message by an organisation like the ECB is unlikely to be the real problem.  When that happens journalists become much more critical anyway, and the example contained within Mr Wigmore’s article, when Newcastle United banned journalists, attracted lots of attention and even more criticism.  By trying to control the story, they lost control of it completely, and freed the media to criticise with no further cost in terms of their relationship.

The far more insidious and dangerous trend in recent years has been the use of soft power to try to direct the narrative.  Sports journalism of the day to day nature requires access to the players and other key people in order to provide copy and generate interest, readership and, yes, clicks.  This can be made more difficult, and the plum opportunities given to those who are onside and can be trusted not to cause too many difficulties.  Those that don’t follow the script find that it’s a little harder to talk to the right people.  This is extremely tough to combat and a fair degree of sympathy for the individual journalist – but not the industry – is warranted.  To turn it around a different way, the three of us on here have no compunctions about what we say for the very good reason that we know for certain there is no prospect whatsoever of us being invited into the ECB’s inner sanctum, or even within the same diocese come to that.  However in our case, we aren’t being paid to do this, and don’t have a boss who can fire us.  But our and other blogs’ freedom comes at a different cost – highly limited contact with those in any degree of power.  A few journalists maintain a back channel to us, and occasionally we are given a heads up on something that they feel unable to write about themselves, which is a curious state of affairs on the one hand, and entirely understandable on another – not least the commercial imperative.

Where it is different for a journalist is that if they lose their access they struggle to do their job, and given it’s their livelihood it’s a real risk to take.  A reluctance to rock the boat is the likely result, and the other side of the coin is that by keeping close to the ECB they can get even better access and thus even greater reach for their articles with obvious personal benefits.  This kind of behaviour is worse by far because the bias is harder to spot, particularly amongst those who only pay cursory attention to the goings on.  It’s for that reason it’s such an attractive way of working for the ECB, or for any other organisation in the same position – limiting dissent, encouraging promotion, and enabling the party line to be maintained.  It’s also the hardest to combat; many journalists are very aware of the problem, but being aware of it and trying to prevent it are two different things.

There’s no real reason to assume this will improve, just the opposite.  In order for sports reporters to do their jobs properly, they need that access and they need to be able to talk to people within the top levels of the game, not just for themselves but for us as readers to try to glean the truth.  From that comes much of the best journalism, whether from sources or openly in interview.  It is a problem for the truth if any time they report on something they’ve learned they are dismissed for daring to talk to people – that is their job.  They face a dilemma in attempting to both gain insight and obtain a good story, while at the same time being entirely aware of what the ECB are up to.  Equally, conspiracy theories about all of them are unreasonable – the vast majority have professional pride and wouldn’t allow it to happen to them and wouldn’t be party to attempts to restrict them.  There are exceptions to that, and those that behave that way tend to attract a degree of contempt for their output.  But it’s rarely a matter of open collaboration, but of being sufficiently vulnerable to rein any criticism in because of the possible consequences.

If much of sport is now nothing more than a branch of the entertainment industry, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the same kinds of rules apply to the reporting.  Interviews with members of the movie industry are almost always on the back of promoting a film rather than for the sake of it – and always remember few people would wish to open up for the sake of it, these interviews are a part of their job and one many of them greatly dislike.  The prevalence of a footnote stating that a player is being interviewed courtesy of a particular sponsor has been an unwelcome development, and creates the dilemma for the journalist as to whether to play that particular game.  It’s hard to criticise them for doing so, yet it remains something of a blight.

There are few material answers to all of this.  Either journalism as a body responds and reacts to the threat to their independence or they don’t, and as is so often the case some of them do just that, and others take the advantages on offer as a trade for their independence.  It will undoubtedly allow them to generate much copy and many readers but at the price of their integrity.  That is their decision, ours is how much trust we have in anything they might say.  Some have found that even when they are right they are no longer believed, to their clear frustration.  But it’s brought on by their own conduct, and the collateral damage of good journalism being considered guilty by association makes it even worse.  We need them, we need them badly, but the truth is that they need us as well.  And that’s what needs to be remembered.

South Africa vs England: 3rd Test 1st day. Not a match report

One of the issues with a blog such as this, is that it’s written by people who have jobs, and jobs that aren’t in (and definitely not Inside) cricket.  That means that any post when a match is ongoing is dependent on being able to have the television or at worst the radio on during play.  In my own case I am fortunate enough to be self-employed with an office at home, and doubly fortunate that having it on in the background doesn’t distract me in the slightest when I’m concentrating on work.  Cricket is like that, it exists but it isn’t necessarily something where full on focus is possible or even desirable all the time.  The same applies when going to a match of course, where much of the time can be spent chatting to others; queuing for the bar (which at Lords can take up to a session of play, so inept are they at looking after their customers); queuing for food (because you don’t want to do that during that portion of the day usually referred to as lunchtime, unless you want to miss even more of the play); or nipping off to the usually vile loo.  Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to stretch the legs that have indentations from the seat in front and where you try to recover some kind of blood flow in a backside numb from a plastic seat presumably bought in a sale at B & Q.

It’s a routine that cricket fans tend to be familiar with, and regular supporters take account of it.  As an aside, a picnic at the cricket is often viewed by the media as being somehow charming, as opposed to the reality of it as being a necessity when faced with outrageously priced, virtually inedible tat you’ve waited an hour to receive – at which point imminent starvation tends to win out over revulsion.

All of which is the background to explaining that with meetings all day, I haven’t seen a ball of the match, and haven’t heard a ball either.  But then you see, as I work for a living, I don’t get paid to watch cricket.  On the contrary, cricket costs me, and costs me a lot of money.  It’s not just tickets of course – for some on here go to far more matches than I do –  or indeed for some like Dmitri, flights, hotels and tickets.  It is also television subscriptions and the TV Licence fee.

This could be viewed as something of a disadvantage on a cricket blog, and indeed in terms of providing brilliant insights on a day’s play, it unquestionably is.  I mean, I could start talking about how late the fonts moved off  the seam on Cricinfo’s ball by ball text, but it’s probably not going to make anyone sit up and ponder.  But here’s the thing, this isn’t a newspaper, and it isn’t written by journalists.  We don’t get paid for this, and more to the point we don’t want to be paid for it.  In fact, let’s go further than that on the point about us not getting paid.  We don’t monetise this site through advertising either.  The odd advert does come up, but that’s a WordPress thing, it’s nothing to do with us.  The option to get banner advertising here is in the settings, it hasn’t been done, and it won’t be done either – neither of us are remotely interested in ever doing that.

And yet the idea that we are frustrated or failed journalists because we pen our thoughts here doesn’t seem to go away.  Let’s be clear about this, neither Dmitri nor myself have the slightest aspiration to join the ranks of the paid hack, to have to pay attention to the possibility of upsetting someone at the ECB, to worry about “access” to players or officials or to  have to write “Sponsored by Waitrose” at the bottom of a puff piece about Stuart Broad’s latest hairstyle (receding by the way, poor lad).  Why would we?  We have our careers and we’re both pretty happy with them.  More to the point, if journalists as a body were doing their jobs properly, then blogs like this would barely exist, for few if any would read them, let alone take the time to make comments which repeatedly teach me new things and find out contradictions and hypocrisies of which I’d otherwise be unaware.  Why unaware?  Well, you see it tends not to be in the papers.  Written by…oh yes.

What is puzzling is quite why some journalists find the blogs to be such a threat.  If they are so irrelevant, inane or downright mad, what’s the problem?  Clearly no one will pay them any attention and readers will instead genuflect to the great correspondents who nobly dispense wisdom on a daily basis.  So why even mention them, why make a pointed comment about the difference between a journalist and a blogger as if one is somehow inherently superior?  Because they get paid for it?  Some people get paid for having sex, we don’t tend to consider it a plus point.

We do get the occasional journalist talking to us directly on here or on Twitter.  It’s quite striking the difference in approach.  The ones utterly unconcerned about blogs tend to be friendly, inquisitive and (he’ll hate me for saying this) full of praise for my partner in crime’s writing.  The ones who are tend to make public comments at odds with what they say directly.  There’s a word for that kind of behaviour, although “insecure” fits, it’s not the one I was thinking of.

The first paragraph of this post detailed some of the joys of going to cricket when you’ve actually paid for a ticket.  How many journalists are in any way aware of any of it?  How many have paid to get in to a Test match and sat in the normal seats?  There’s a TMS commentator who played the game at the highest level and thought tickets were about £20; there is a total disconnect between those who report on the game and those who pay to watch.  It’s a delightful little club, where they really are Inside Cricket, and the rest of us are Outside.  Obvious it may be, and it’s all too often regarded as a trite point by those on the receiving end, but without people going to matches, they truly wouldn’t have a job.  In my line of business I’m acutely aware that without customers I don’t have a job, not least because it’s happened.   And yet there is very little evidence whatever that the media appreciate that most fundamental of points.  The various ECB disasters over the last couple of years were dissected repeatedly from the perspective of those on the inside of the special club.  The wider question of why people should pay a fortune to be treated like dirt at the ground while at the same time being dismissed as irrelevancies never occurred to many of them, because they don’t even realise that’s how it is.

It isn’t all of them of course, no one would claim that.  And yet those this isn’t directed at would know that perfectly well from reading it.  They know who they are, and they do good work.

Here’s the rub, great journalism does what a place like this could never do, and wouldn’t even try to do.  It can be majestic, and it can change the world (FIFA, IAAF).  You want to know the difference between a journalist and a blogger?  It’s that you can.  You want to know why there isn’t one?  It’s because you don’t.

Oh yes, the Test match.   Looks pretty even to me.  Here’s a match report:

Discussion on day two below!



Guest Post – Free To Air – The Silver Bullet?

While your friendly blog administator has been lording it up in the bars of Central London, having a whale of a time, Sean B has been working on a guest post for us…..

Fire away Sean…. and many thanks!

FTA – The Silver Bullet?

Much as been made recently of the BBC’s decision to omit any of the Ashes winning England cricket team from Sport Personality of the Year this year, and whilst most are in agreement that SPOTY is but a relic, designed to carry favour with the few sports that the BBC still has left, there has also been general consent that this is a worry for the future of the game. There have been a number of excellent articles written about this, George Dobbell’s piece being the best in my opinion –, and hence I don’t want to cover old ground by focusing too much on this. However I do feel there is more of a piece that needs to be covered around what and if we can possibly do to try and breathe live back into a sport, which for all intensive purposes is struggling to win both the hearts and minds of the British public.


A sensible and much heralded opinion is that the sport has declined in popularity since the end of FTA coverage and the move to Sky, where only those with deep pockets have been able to watch both domestic and international cricket for the past decade. Don’t get me wrong, as much as I think Sky’s coverage of cricket on the whole is excellent (if you take out Nick Knight and Dominic Cork it would be so much better); however their viewing figures compared to the last major series on FTA speak for themselves – In 2005 an average of 2.5m watched the Ashes series on a daily basis with FTA access on Channel 4, with 8.4m people transfixed by the climax of the fourth Test compared to just over 460,000 who watched the final day of the first (and only vaguely competitive) Test of the 2015 series. That is not just a big drop off, that is a complete haemorrhage of cricket viewers.


This has cascaded down further, there are plenty of figures that show the popularity of the sport has also been in sharp decline for the past few years now, with The ECB participation survey highlighting that 844,000 participated in the game in 2014 compared to the 908,000 in 2013 and by Sport England’s own figures that show a decline of just over a third from 2006-2014. I, like most others would welcome the return of some cricket to FTA, even if I think the possibility of this ever happening is incredibly remote (Rupert Murdoch is not renowned for his corporate social responsibility and Sky’s model has always been around locking in big sporting events); however I’m not overly convinced by those arguments that make this the one silver bullet, that will return cricket to it’s heyday of 2005, it seems to be a far too simplistic argument to me. I believe there are a number of factors in place here, some fairly obvious, some far more nuanced, that need to take place before we can see both viewing and participation figures start to head in the opposite direction.


I will happily concede the FTA coverage of the England cricket team, was probably the main reason why I came in contact and started to love the sport. I had no real reason to come into contact with cricket whilst I was growing up, my family are Irish (before cricket got popular over there) and had no interest in the sport. My old man loved football and hence I was taken to football to play in a team at an early age. I also went to a primary school with a small concrete playground and no playing fields, so really the signs weren’t promising that I would ever come in contact with cricket as a sport. This is where FTA coverage was great for me. The summer used to be a barren time with no football, wet summer holidays spent in the UK (certainly in my younger years) and an inordinate amount of boredom if I was stuck inside. I would literally watch any sport – cricket, tennis and sometimes even golf (though that was pushing it a bit) to keep me pre-occupied until the football season started again. As with anything, the more I watched cricket, the more I got to understand it and the more I got to enjoy it, even if watching the England team throughout the 90’s was viewed by many as sheer masochism. This was how I got into the sport and I was absolutely delighted when my old man caved in and bought Sky in 1993 as he missed the Premiership too much (we had spent a couple of years pretending Italian football on Channel 4 was the best league in the world), which meant that I could also start to watch some of the Away tests that Sky was showing as well as feeding my own love of English football.


However, one of my main complaints about the FTA argument is that we’re basing the argument on our own experiences of coming into contact with the game, which in my case is around 25 years ago and certainly not how today’s generation Y or Z (or whatever generation the children of today are, I’ve lost count) would consume content. If I use an example of my Niece and Nephew, who don’t even watch the TV anymore unless there is a film on or they have been told to leave their iPad’s at home. The generation of today can pretty much download any content at any time they want to and hence as a result, attention spans I would guess are shorter than they once were. If they start watching something or playing a game and get bored, then they can switch to watching something else whereas I had 4 channels and snoopy tennis to keep me amused as a child, so you generally stuck with things more, even the slightly more tedious passages of play when Australia were thumping our bowlers to all parts.


The major challenge with all sport, but cricket even more so, is that the cricket players and fans of the future don’t consume information the same way we did at their age, nor looking at Sport England’s figures, do they participate in as much sporting activity as we did 10-20 years ago. I strongly believe you could have shown all of the Ashes tests on BBC One throughout the summer and the demographics of those watching wouldn’t have particularly changed (yes you would get greater numbers with an influx of non-Sky subscribers, but I doubt you would have got too many new fans). I totally agree that we need to open up the sport so more can actively watch games and hopefully look to emulate those at the top of the game (and I believe Sky could help by potentially selling 5 day tickets for £20 on their On Demand Access service) but feel that FTA is but a part of the solution and there needs more focus to stream both live games and comprehensive highlights, especially of T20 games, through the web as it will likely to garner more interest with those who have yet to come in contact with the game. Access is king here and FTA, whilst something I would very much welcome, is only part of the solution.


Another major aspect (and in my opinion of far greater consideration) is how do we get people playing the game again. Football has the monopoly here. It is a sport that is supported across the world and on the whole easier and cheaper to get kids playing it, even with sport participation dwindling massively over the past few years. I started playing football when I was 6, partly because my parents enjoyed the sport and partly because it was a lot cheaper to buy me a football and some football boots and to let me run off some of my youthful energy. You can also play football pretty much anywhere and me and my friends did as kids.


Cricket is more difficult, it is more expensive to buy equipment, less prominent in the majority of schools and has less of a fan base to operate with than say football, as most children will take up the sport of their parent preference. Again, If I go back to my own experiences as a child, I had never really had that much urge to play the game despite enjoying watching it on FTA. We never had a cricket games at primary and secondary school and my only real experience was playing it in the large garden of mutual friend, whose father was passionate about the game. In the end, I was lucky enough to befriend the captain of the town’s under 12 cricket team, who were always on the look out for more players and was invited down to see if I could play (thankfully I had pretty good hand-eye co-ordination and was lively in the field, which meant I got in the team fairly quickly, although my dream of being the next Shane Warne never really made it past first base). I played cricket all the way through my teens and then in various 2nd XI’s into my late twenties, as although, I wasn’t actually that good but could bowl and bat a bit, I still really enjoyed playing the game and was happy to give up parts of my weekend to play.


My point here is that I wouldn’t have had the exposure or chance to play if I hadn’t made friends with the captain of the local team as the access to the sport, especially at state school level where most don’t have a chance to play cricket, is incredibly poor. The crux of the matter is that we will continue to see participation drop, if we do not give more opportunities to those not from the previous hotbeds of cricket (i.e. those that might not have been traditionally viewed as prime cricket material) and this in turn will result in fewer people taking up the game, more cricket clubs closing because they can’t field an XI and eventually a mighty old headache for the ECB, when people stop paying top dollar to attend England test matches as people lose interest.


As much as I find the ECB an insipid and quite frankly an out of touch organization, even they are beginning to wake up to this fact. David Hopps’ article on the appointment of Matt Dwyer, the ECB’s director of participation and growth is an interesting piece –, and highlights some of the real challenges that the sport is currently facing. Cricket more than ever, is the preserve of the wealthy and those that can afford to send their children to Private School. Without doing any particular research, I would guess that most of those currently playing in the England cricket team went to Private School and thereby had access to the facilities that those of us who didn’t, would only dream about (I remember as a kid, my team managed to negotiate 2 winter net sessions a season at the local private school and we felt lucky that we were able to do so.) The Chance to Shine programme, though laudable, has yet to really take off and has only really scratched the surface in engaging children to start playing the sport and needs to be ramped up significantly. We need somehow to get this on the national curriculum otherwise cricket will continue to be a sport of the elitist and local facilities and clubs will continue to be ripped up and shut as many local authorities and schools look to cut their cloth in a world of continued financial hardships. This is both the biggest challenge and opportunity for the ECB, although whether Matt Dwyer and the ECB are up to the challenge is a question in itself, I do wish them good luck though.


The final piece of the puzzle in getting more people engaged in the sport is also by having the opportunity to watch it live. I went to my first test match in 1999, when I was studying at University (or supposed to have been and was lucky my next door neighbor suddenly found himself with a spare ticket) and have attended at least 2 games per year for the last 16 years since. I’ve also been out to watch England tour a couple of times, which I’m sure the ECB are grateful to me in help swelling their coiffures during this time, even if there gratitude normally extends to raising the price of tickets for the following summer. My main observation though is that now it is pretty much impossible to take a family to a Test Match these days unless you have a lot of money to burn (circa £250 for a family of four is mind wateringly expensive). It is getting rarer and rarer to see a parent and their children at one of the test games these days and unfortunately I really can’t see this changing in the short term. The ECB, like myself, understands the metrics of supply and demand and in the majority, though perhaps not this year, the demand has outstripped the supply, hence the ability to charge obscene prices for both tickets and refreshments in the ground. This is where I feel county cricket can come in and help fill the void. As my article earlier in the year suggested, I don’t feel that county cricket is in the rudest of health and I certainly don’t think it helps itself in many cases. That said, I do think that this is the easiest, cheapest and most accessible place to get more people involved with the game (and not just those that turn up on a Friday night at the T20’s to try and shove as much beer down their throats as humanly possible) with a few changes to the schedule and structuring.


Now I hadn’t planned when I was first thinking about writing this article about wading into the T20 debate, but the more I think about it, the more essential I feel that this is to the health of the game. As I mentioned in my last paragraph, the T20 blast, which should be the easiest way of getting kids into watching the game, is now largely a no go because of the scheduling of all games on a Friday night. I went to 5 T20 Blast games last year and many of them (especially those at the Oval) would be the last place where I would want to take young children as half of the crowd have decided that it’s a prelude for heavy drinking and as a result, increasingly we are starting to seeing more drink induced episodes of violence, which has no place at the cricket, or anywhere else in my mind. Now don’t get me wrong, there are a number of games that I attended in my twenties where some of the action after tea was a bit of a blur, but it was all pretty good humored and very different to the atmosphere at some T20 games (interestingly, I found the out-grounds to be far more welcoming with a nice mix of young and old, make of that what you will). Nor do I blame the Counties in driving through their desire to have all of the T20 blast games on a Friday, as it’s a great money spinner and indeed essential to some for their continued survival; however the current format of the tournament is a logistical nightmare for Players and Broadcasters alike and in my opinion is of a lower quality to those T20 leagues player around the world (and judging from the comments of the England ODI captain, it looks like the players are in agreement). The more I think about it, the more I feel that we need to embrace a franchise league played in 5/6 weeks over the Summer holidays. Now I understand that this might be seen as heresy in some quarters, but my the two main reasons underpinning my thoughts on this are that:


  • Firstly every game can be aired on TV including some kind of FTA/streaming capacity to be able to better reach the masses so that we don’t get the farcical situation of only a couple of thousand people being able to see Chris Gayle smash the ball around at Taunton or watch Glen Maxwell, Brendon McCullum and other world class T20 players that could inspire a generation.
  • Secondly, by basing this tournament around the Summer holidays and with games scheduled at different times of the day with a sensible pricing policy, then there will be opportunities for all types of cricket fans to attend the games, not just those who see it as a chance to drink a lot of beer on a Friday night.


This I believe would help open up the sport to a whole different range of supporters especially with the carrot of being able to watch and hopefully then try to emulate more world class superstars who I feel, would be far more attracted to come over and play in a shortened tournament as well as likely increasingly the skill level of the competition – a win-win for both fans and players alike.


I also believe the four day game has a part to play in this too, although the scheduling and cost doesn’t help at all at the moment. There has to be a movement by the counties for getting the majority of the games back to starting on a Saturday, when they are most accessible for both those that work and those that have families. The move to Sunday or even Monday starts has meant that it is increasingly difficult to view county cricket, whether you are sold on it’s merits or not, and seems to me to be completely at odds with trying to attract a new audience to the game (as well as increasing attendances for the most difficult format “to sell” to the public.) It’s all very well pointing to increased attendances in cricket, although I think there are many factors here with these statistics (and some that aren’t as perhaps as wholesome as we would like), I’d be very surprised if the demographics of those attending those games, especially the county games, have changed at all. I also believe that the pricing for the games is wrong, with it being relatively expensive for a family to come down and watch a day of county fair (£20 for adults and £12 for children, I believe at Lords). Why not introduce a family ticket for £30 whereby 2 adults and up to 2 children can come and watch the cricket for a day? This would surely make more sense as it will firstly mean a fairly inexpensive day out for a family, build more atmosphere inside the ground and most importantly, provide access to live cricket of a decent quality for a broader audience.


In summary, there are a few fundamental changes that need to be made in my opinion, some of which can be done in the short term and some that will take longer, mainly due to contractual obligations:


  • A franchise T20 competition to take place over 5/6 weeks during the Summer holidays with fair ticket pricing and ability to watch free of charge over YouTube or another similar site
  • Most county games to start on a Saturday with a fairer pricing policy including family tickets
  • The ECB to commit to double it’s spend on grass routes cricket inclusive of investing in pitches and equipment to both cricket clubs and also to show a commitment to invest in cricket at state school level
  • FTA access to at least 1 ODI and 1 T20 International per series – this can be done via one of Sky’s intermediary channels such as Pick TV
  • £20 Sky Access TV tickets to watch a test match in its’ entirety, £10-£15 tickets for ODI’s and T20 Internationals


Now these are simply my opinions and many may will disagree with them, but one thing is for certain is that we can’t simply sit back and hope the current status quo magically produces a new wave of cricket fans, it simply isn’t going to happen, even in Colin Grave’s wildest dreams. The foundations of the ivory towers in which the ECB currently presides are starting to look as unstable as they have ever been and one only needs to look at the current state of West Indies cricket as a reminder that blind faith counts for very little when you ignore the most pressing of problems. Now I do hasten to add, that I’m not trying to directly compare the current situation of West Indies cricket with that of English cricket, the WICB has the unenviable position of making the ECB look like a bastion of a sensibility and a well run cricket board in the extreme, an unenviable achievement in itself; however both have had the same problem, albeit the West Indies on a far quicker scale than in England, in that they are governing a sport that has experienced a serious decline in popularity. The ECB aren’t staring at the precipice just yet, but the cliff is beginning to crumble beneath their feet.


Giles Clarke may have blustered “that Test cricket was in rude health” in the film Death of a Gentleman, but it was just that, desperate bluster. I believe that his decision to sell most of the other cricket nations down the river in his support of creating the big three is almost a “King Canute” situation, desperate to repel the tied, but who’s only answer is play against Australia and India more and in the hope that it might buy him a few more years and boost the coiffures. It indeed might, but I’m not sure it will, it seems like a desperate attempt by a desperate board to make as much money as they can whilst the sun shines; Very soon, the cricketing public will become blasé about another Ashes series or another series against an uncompetitive Indian team (I think it’s closer than anyone at the ECB actually thinks) and will vote with their feet. As I mentioned earlier on in the piece, the ECB has a rudimentary grasp on supply and demand and this may well spring them into some much needed action, after all, no punters, no queue of companies offering to sponsor “Hydration breaks” and a big hit in the ECB’s pocket. The strong ivory tower that the ECB thought they constructed might well have foundations made out of sand after all.


Cricket in England is in decline unfortunately and whilst not in a death spiral just yet, there are plenty of reasons to be very concerned. Unless there is radical and fundamental change in the way cricket is administered in England and in the way that new fans are brought into the game, then cricket risks becoming a relic, mourned by the traditionalists, but largely irrelevant to the rest of modern society. Over to you Colin and Tom, no pressure chaps…




My thanks to Sean – I’ve not edited the piece as I want to encourage people to take these things on themselves. I’m sure he’d be happy to hear comments from you, so fire away!


Just a couple more parties for me. Will be back soon.


Violence Through Silence

I think it shows how weary I’ve become that when I saw the article (quite early in the evening) on KP and the commentary stint I thought I’d leave it be. Nothing surprises me with these clowns any more. That is should go through the conduit of the Daily Mail or Mail on Sunday is little surprise. That Patrick Collins thinks it’s great is little surprise. I’ve no doubt the likes of Pam, who was probably jumping the moon after her little Andy came in and we’ve had this massive turnaround (drawn series at home to New Zealand), and is calling us all KP fanboys, is happy too.

There’s a super piece by Maxie over at TFT if you want to comment. I have and so have other familiar traitors posters (I jest). But I’ve just re-read the Mail article and two bits in particular make my blood boil.

The ECB were outmanoeuvred by Pietersen and his advisors, led by Piers Morgan, during a sustained public relations campaign on his behalf after he was sacked following England’s 5-0 Ashes drubbing in Australia last year.


Pietersen has previously impressed as a television pundit, but pressure from the ECB to keep him at arm’s length this summer indicates that they remain extremely wary of his capacity to polarise public opinion and potentially alienate England supporters with his outspoken views. (my emphasis).

Listen here, journos. I don’t think we had everything to do with it, but it wasn’t you keeping “outside cricket” going, and it wasn’t KP either. There was no sustained PR campaign throughout last year when KP kept largely silent on the matters of his dismissal, as he was bound to do. They had a strategy. Stand back and let the morons at the ECB, aided and abetted by the compliant media to do the rest. Just wait, and thou shall deliver.

The ECB did itself in by appointing Paul Downton, and all the campaign had to do was keep quiet, let some of your lot throw themselves in front of the mighty Paul, and call him Lord Aplomb, and then allow him to open his mouth. I miss Downton because he was useless. He had all the suitability to the job as I have of being a court jester. There’s nothing sustained about the PR Campaign. He wrote a book and you lot took out the bits that mattered to you, and ignored some pretty salient points. And you can’t go f–king anywhere without Piers Morgan’s name coming up. Grow up you morons and admit it. Some of his fans, and many who hated the way he was scapegoated, didn’t buy what you fools were selling. Now some of you have buyer’s remorse on Downton in particular, and Moores as well, you want us to say sorry? Do one.

Which leads to the second point. His commentary may alienate some of the cricketing public. I’ve seen it all now. What do you think his sacking did? Do you think I’ve been writing this blog because I love it and accept it? Do you think I care enough to spend all the hours that I have on this and HDWLIA because I’ve not been alientated by this. And you care about those who have done nothing but insult us all the way because of it? Because we were right over Downton, over Moores, over Cook’s position in the ODI, and yes, over his leadership of the test team. You worry about alienating the people who have stuck their heads in the sand?

It would be hilarious if these chumps weren’t serious. Well done Sam. Paul would be very proud.